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pd19ap04 Statement on Signing Legislation To Provide for the Conveyance to the...
those in Iraq who trade in hatred and conspiracy theories would find a larger audience and gain a stronger hand. We will not step back from our pledge. On June 30th, Iraqi sovereignty will be placed in Iraqi hands. Sovereignty involves more than a date and a ceremony. It requires Iraqis to assume responsibility for their own future. Iraqi authorities are now confronting the security challenge of the last several weeks. In Fallujah, coalition forces have suspended offensive operations, allowing members of the Iraqi Governing Council and local leaders to work on the restoration of central authority in that city. These leaders are communicating with the insurgents to ensure an orderly turnover of that city to Iraqi forces, so that the resumption of military action does not become necessary. They're also insisting that those who killed and mutilated four American contract workers be handed over for trial and punishment. In addition, members of the Governing Council are seeking to resolve the situation in the south. Al Sadr must answer the charges against him and disband his illegal militia. Our coalition is standing with responsible Iraqi leaders as they establish growing authority in their country. The transition to sovereignty requires that we demonstrate confidence in Iraqis, and we have that confidence. Many Iraqi leaders are showing great personal courage, and their example will bring out the same quality in others. The transition to sovereignty also requires an atmosphere of security, and our coalition is working to provide that security. We will continue taking the greatest care to prevent harm to innocent civilians, yet we will not permit the spread of chaos and violence. I have directed our military commanders to make every preparation to use decisive force, if necessary, to maintain order and to protect our troops. The nation of Iraq is moving toward self-rule, and Iraqis and Americans will see evidence in the months to come. On June 30th, when the flag of free Iraq is raised, Iraqi officials will assume full responsibility for the ministries of Government. On that day, the transitional administrative law, including a bill of rights that is unprecedented in the Arab world, will take full effect. The United States and all the nations of our coalition will establish normal diplomatic relations with the Iraqi Government. An American Embassy will open, and an American Ambassador will be posted. According to the schedule already approved by the Governing Council, Iraq will hold elections for a national assembly no later than next January. That assembly will draft a new, permanent constitution which will be presented to the Iraqi people in a national referendum held in October of next year. Iraqis will then elect a permanent Government by December 15th, 2005, an event that will mark the completion of Iraq's transition from dictatorship to freedom. Other nations and international institutions are stepping up to their responsibilities in building a free and secure Iraq. We're working closely with the United Nations envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, and with Iraqis to determine the exact form of the Government that will receive sovereignty on June 30th. The United Nations election assistance team, headed by Karina Parelli, is in Iraq, developing plans for next January's election. NATO is providing support for the Polish-led multinational division in Iraq. And 17 of NATO's 26 members are contributing forces to maintain security. Secretary of State Powell and Secretary of State Rumsfeld and a number of NATO defense and foreign ministers are exploring a more formal role for [[Page 582]] NATO, such as turning the Polish-led division into a NATO operation and giving NATO specific responsibilities for border control. Iraqis' neighbors also have responsibilities to make their region more stable. So I am sending Deputy Secretary of State Armitage to the Middle East to discuss with these nations our common interest in a free and independent Iraq and how they can help achieve this goal. As we've made clear all along, our commitment to the success and security of Iraq will not end on June 30th. On July 1st and beyond, our reconstruction assistance will continue, and our military commitment will continue. Having helped Iraqis establish a new Government, coalition military forces will help Iraqis to protect their Government from external aggression and internal subversion. The success of free Government in Iraq is vital for many reasons. A free Iraq is vital because 25 million Iraqis have as much right to live in freedom as we do. A free Iraq will stand as an example to reformers across the Middle East. A free Iraq will show that America is on the side of Muslims who wish to live in peace, as we have already shown in Kuwait and Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan. A free Iraq will confirm to a watching world that America's word, once given, can be relied upon even in the toughest times. Above all, the defeat of violence and terror in Iraq is vital to the defeat of violence and terror elsewhere and vital, therefore, to the safety of the American people. Now is the time, and Iraq is the place, in which the enemies of the civilized world are testing the will of the civilized world. We must not waver. The violence we are seeing in Iraq is familiar. The terrorist who takes hostages or plants a roadside bomb near Baghdad is serving the same ideology of murder that kills innocent people on trains in Madrid and murders children on buses in Jerusalem and blows up a nightclub in Bali and cuts the throat of a young reporter for being a Jew. We've seen the same ideology of murder in the killing of 241 marines in Beirut, the first attack on the World Trade Center, in the destruction of two Embassies in Africa, in the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, and in the merciless horror inflicted upon thousands of innocent men and women and children on September the 11th, 2001. None of these acts is the work of a religion; all are the work of a fanatical political ideology. The servants of this ideology seek tyranny in the Middle East and beyond. They seek to oppress and persecute women. They seek the death of Jews and Christians and every Muslim who desires peace over theocratic terror. They seek to intimidate America into panic and retreat and to set free nations against each other. And they seek weapons of mass destruction to blackmail and murder on a massive scale. Over the last several decades, we've seen that any concession or retreat on our part will only embolden this enemy and invite more bloodshed. And the enemy has seen, over the last 31 months, that we will no longer live in denial or seek to appease them. For the first time, the civilized world has provided a concerted response to the ideology of terror, a series of powerful, effective blows. The terrorists have lost the shelter of the Taliban and the training camps in Afghanistan. They've lost safe havens in Pakistan. They lost an ally in Baghdad, and Libya has turned its back on terror. They've lost many leaders in an unrelenting international manhunt. And perhaps most frightening to these men and their movement, the terrorists are seeing the advance of freedom and reform in the greater Middle East. A desperate enemy is also a dangerous enemy, and our work may become more difficult before it is finished. No one can predict all the hazards that lie ahead or the costs they will bring. Yet, in this conflict, there is no safe alternative to resolute action. The consequences of failure in Iraq would be unthinkable. Every friend of America in Iraq would be betrayed to prison and murder, as a new tyranny arose. Every enemy of America in the world would celebrate, proclaiming our weakness and decadence and using that victory to recruit a new generation of killers. We will succeed in Iraq. We're carrying out a decision that has already been made and will not change: Iraq will be a free, independent country, and America and the Middle East will be safer because of it. Our coalition has the means and the will to prevail. [[Page 583]] We serve the cause of liberty, and that is always and everywhere a cause worth serving. Now, I'll be glad to take your questions. I will start with you. Vietnam Analogy Q. Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, April is turning into the deadliest month in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad, and some people are comparing Iraq to Vietnam and talking about a quagmire. Polls show that support for your policy is declining and that fewer than half of Americans now support it. What does that say to you, and how do you answer the Vietnam comparison? The President. Yes. I think the analogy is false. I also happen to think that analogy sends the wrong message to our troops and sends the wrong message to the enemy. Look, this is hard work. It's hard to advance freedom in a country that has been strangled by tyranny. And yet, we must stay the course, because the end result is in our Nation's interest. A secure and free Iraq is an historic opportunity to change the world and make America more secure. A free Iraq in the midst of the Middle East will have incredible change. It's hard--freedom is not easy to achieve. We had a little trouble in our own country achieving freedom. And we've been there a year, Terry [Terence Hunt, Associated Press]. I know it seems like a long time. It seems like a long time to the loved ones whose troops have been overseas, but when you think about where the country has come from, it's a relatively short period of time. And we're making progress. There's no question it's been a tough, tough series of weeks for the American people. It's been really tough for the families. I understand that. It's been tough on this administration, but we're doing the right thing. And as to whether or not I make decisions based upon polls, I don't. I just don't make decisions that way. I fully understand the consequences of what we're doing. We're changing the world. And the world will be better off, and America will be more secure as a result of the actions we're taking. Troop Strength/Timing of Withdrawal From Iraq Q. Thank you, Mr. President. What's your best prediction on how long U.S. troops will have to be in Iraq? And it sounds like you will have to add some troops. Is that a fair assessment? The President. Well, I--first of all, that's up to General Abizaid, and he's clearly indicating that he may want more troops. It's coming up through the chain of command. If that's what he wants, that's what he gets. Generally, we've had about 115,000 troops in Iraq. There's 135,000 now, as a result of the changeover from one division to the next. If he wants to keep troops there to help, I'm more than willing to say, ``Yes, General Abizaid.'' I talk to General Abizaid quite frequently. I'm constantly asking him, does he have what he needs, whether it be in troop strength or in equipment. He and General Sanchez talk all the time, and if he makes the recommendation, he'll get it. In terms of how long we'll be there: as long as necessary, and not one day more. The Iraqi people need us there to help with security. They need us there to fight off these violent few who are doing everything they can to resist the advance of freedom, and I mentioned who they are. And as I mentioned in my opening remarks, our commanders on the ground have got the authorities necessary to deal with violence and will--will in firm fashion. And that's what, by far, the vast majority of the Iraqis want. They want security so they can advance toward a free society. Once we transfer sovereignty, we'll enter into a security agreement with the Government to which we pass sovereignty, the entity to which we pass sovereignty. And we'll need to be there for a while. We'll also need to continue training the Iraqi troops. I was disappointed in the performance of some of the troops. Some of the units performed brilliantly. Some of them didn't, and we need to find out why. If they're lacking equipment, we'll get them equipment. If there needs to be more intense training, we'll get more intense training. But eventually, Iraq's security is going to be handled by the Iraqi people, themselves. [[Page 584]] Let's see here--Terry [Terry Moran, ABC News]. Decisionmaking on Iraq Q. Mr. President, before the war, you and members of your administration made several claims about Iraq, that U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators with sweets and flowers, that Iraqi oil revenue would pay for most of the reconstruction, and that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction, but as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said, ``We know where they are.'' How do you explain to Americans how you got that so wrong? And how do you answer your opponents who say that you took this Nation to war on the basis of what have turned out to be a series a false premises? The President. Well, let me step back and review my thinking prior to going into Iraq. First, the lesson of September the 11th is, when this Nation sees a threat, a gathering threat, we've got to deal with it. We can no longer hope that oceans protect us from harm. Every threat we must take seriously. Saddam Hussein was a threat. He was a threat because he had used weapons of mass destruction on his own people. He was a threat because he coddled terrorists. He was a threat because he funded suiciders. He was a threat to the region. He was a threat to the United States. That's the assessment that I made from the intelligence, the assessment that Congress made from the intelligence. That's the exact same assessment that the United Nations Security Council made with the intelligence. I went to the U.N., as you might recall, and said, ``Either you take care of him, or we will.'' Anytime an American President says, ``If you don't, we will,'' we better be prepared to. And I was prepared to. I thought it was important for the United Nations Security Council that when it says something, it means something, for the sake of security in the world. See, the war on terror had changed the calculations. We needed to work with people. People needed to come together to work, and therefore, empty words would embolden the actions of those who are willing to kill indiscriminately. The United Nations passed a Security Council resolution unanimously that said, ``Disarm, or face serious consequences.'' And he refused to disarm. I thought it was very interesting that Charlie Duelfer, who just came back--he's the head of the Iraqi Survey Group--reported some interesting findings from his recent tour there. And one of the things was, he was amazed at how deceptive the Iraqis had been toward UNMOVIC and UNSCOM, deceptive in hiding things. We knew they were hiding things. A country that hides something is a country that is afraid of getting caught, and that was part of our calculation. Charlie confirmed that. He also confirmed that Saddam had a--the ability to produce biological and chemical weapons. In other words, he was a danger. He had long-range missiles that were undeclared to the United Nations. He was a danger, and so we dealt with him. What else--part of the question--oh, oil revenues. Well, the oil revenues are--they're bigger than we thought they would be at this point in time. I mean, one year after the liberation of Iraq, the revenues of the oil stream is pretty darn significant. One of the things I was concerned about prior to going into Iraq was that the oilfields would be destroyed, but they weren't. They're now up and running. And that money is--it will benefit the Iraqi people. It's their oil, and they'll use it to reconstruct the country. Finally, the attitude of the Iraqis toward the American people--it's an interesting question. They're really pleased we got rid of Saddam Hussein, and you can understand why. This is a guy who was a torturer, a killer, a maimer; there's mass graves. I mean, he was a horrible individual that really shocked the country in many ways, shocked it into kind of a fear of making decisions toward liberty. That's what we've seen recently. Some citizens are fearful of stepping up. And they were happy--they're not happy they're occupied. I wouldn't be happy if I were occupied either. They do want us there to help with security, and that's why this transfer of sovereignty is an important signal to send, and it's why it's also important for them to hear we will stand with them until they become a free country. Elisabeth [Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times]. [[Page 585]] Hindsight on September 11 Q. Thank you, Mr. President. To move to the 9/11 Commission, you, yourself, have acknowledged that Usama bin Laden was not a central focus of the administration in the months before September 11th. ``I was not on point,'' you told the journalist Bob Woodward. ``I didn't feel that sense of urgency.'' Two-and-a-half years later, do you feel any sense of personal responsibility for September 11th? The President. Let me put that quote to Woodward in context. He had asked me if I was--something about killing bin Laden. That's what the question was. And I said, ``Compared to how I felt at the time, after the attack, I didn't have that.'' I also went on to say, ``My blood wasn't boiling,'' I think is what the quote said. I didn't see--I mean, I didn't have that great sense of outrage that I felt on September the 11th. I was--on that day I was angry and sad, angry that Al Qaida had-- well--[inaudible]--at the time, thought Al Qaida, found out shortly thereafter it was Al Qaida--had unleashed this attack, sad for those who lost their life. Your question, do I feel---- Q. Do you feel a sense of personal responsibility for September 11th? The President. I feel incredibly grieved when I meet with family members, and I do quite frequently. I grieve for the incredible loss of life that they feel, the emptiness they feel. There are some things I wish we'd have done, when I look back. I
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