Questions and answers
at the press conference by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and US President George W. Bush following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Heads of State and Government
Q: Mr. President, European countries are talking about lifting their 15-year arms embargo on China. What would be the consequences of that, and could it be done in a way that would satisfy your concerns?
President Bush: Well, I talked about this issue with President Chirac last night, and Prime Minister Blair, and I intend to talk about here in a couple of hours at the European Union meeting. We didn't discuss the issue at NATO, by the way.
And here's what I explained. I said, there is deep concern in our country that a transfer of weapons would be a transfer of technology to China which would change the balance of relations between China and Taiwan, and that's of concern. And they to a person said, well, they think they can develop a protocol that shouldn't concern the United States and I said I'm looking forward to seeing it, and that they need to make sure that if they do so that they sell it to the United States Congress; that the Congress will be making the decisions as to whether or not, you know, as to how to react to what will be perceived by some perhaps as a technology transfer to China.
But it was an important dialogue. It was a very open dialogue. There's no... very constructive. And so they will... as I understand it, and I don't want to put words in people's mouth, but I am told that there is a... they've heard the concerns of the United States, they're listening to the concerns of the administration as first articulated by Secretary of State Rice, and they know the Congress is concerned. And so they will try to develop a plan that will ease concerns. Whether they can or not we'll see.
Q: Do you think it might fly?
President Bush: Pardon me? I don't know, it's all speculation at this point. The purpose of this trip has been to articulate concerns that are being expressed throughout the government, both in the executive branch and legislative branch, about the decision, or the potential decision. And I've been listening, and you might call this a listening tour. That people have got things on their mind and they want me to hear it, and part of what they've got on their mind is the dialogue taking place with China and the European Union.
Q: I'm Laurent Zecchini from Le Monde. Mr. President, about a week ago in Munich we have had the old and the new Rumsfeld...
President Bush: (Laughs)...
Q: ...but the thing is... the thing is...
President Bush: Same old Bush.
Q: Yeah. But the new Rumsfeld is still saying the mission determines the coalition. What does that mean exactly, Mr. President? Does that mean that for you this Alliance, NATO, is just one tool in the American tool box to face crisis?
President Bush: No, I think... you know, you're going to have to ask Secretary Rumsfeld what he meant by that when he said it. I'll tell you what I think, and since I'm his boss it's probably pretty relevant...
President Bush: I think it is the vital relationship for the United States when it comes to security. And it is a relationship that is... has worked in the past and is adjusting so that it works in the future. It's a relationship and an organization that needs to make sure that its capabilities meet the threats of the 21st Century, and so this is a vital relationship.
And as the Secretary General mentioned, that there needs to be a political component, a place for us to come and have a strategic dialogue. He has raised that issue, Chancellor Schroeder raised the issue. And everybody heard Chancellor Schroeder loud and clear. Everybody heard the Secretary General loud and clear, and that is, is that in order for NATO to be relevant it has to be a place where people feel comfortable about talking about strategic issues. And we do talk about strategic issues.
And what Jaap has just said, and you're welcome to clarify what you just said, if you feel like it, but he said he's going to come back with an action plan to make sure that NATO's relevance is strong, not only as... to have the capabilities necessary to defend our respective securities, but as a place for us to have meaningful dialogue.
Isn't that what you said?
de Hoop Scheffer: Yes, I could start by adding, of course, it's young Bush and young de Hoop Scheffer who are talking here. I mean, that goes without saying.
To come back, to come back to your question, it is indeed, as President Bush has said. It is... NATO is a political military organization. And when we want in the areas where we operate, be it Afghanistan, be it Kosovo, in Iraq, if NATO wants to go on keeping the public parliamentary support for its operations and for its missions, we really need to discuss the key political questions surrounding those operations and missions.
And you cannot deny that when NATO is reinforcing its Mediterranean Dialogue, when NATO is reaching out into the broader Middle East and you know that the reactions have been very positive up till now, it is relevant for the NATO Alliance to discuss these issues in the broader sense. You can't do the one without the other, and as President Bush was saying this is the path. I'll try to lead, because a vital Alliance means that this Alliance is a vital political military organization. That is the object of the exercise, to say it like this.
Q: Some of the contributions on Iraq involve only a few people, modest amounts of money. Is this going to be enough, or is it largely symbolic?
President Bush: Now, you know, first of all, when you look around the table, Steve, that you see countries that have made enormous contributions and the biggest contribution of all is when they've sent a person into combat and that person lost their life. That is a significant contribution. And the United States of America is grateful for those contributions. And we honour every life.
The key is to make sure that those lives that were lost don't go down in vain, that a free and democratic and peaceful country emerges. Every contribution matters. Twenty-six nations sitting around that table said it's important for NATO to be involved in Iraq. It's a strong statement. And NATO is involved in Iraq, and NATO is doing a vital mission, which is to help an officer corps emerge.
The truth of the matter is, in order for Iraq to be a secure country there has to be a chain of command that is effective and works. So that commands go from a political body to a military. And the military commands goes down so that people enact the orders in order to keep the people safe. That is what has to happen and NATO is providing an officer training mission which is vital.
Every contribution matters. And every country ought to be proud of the fact that they're contributing to the world's newest democracy. This organization is an organization that's based upon values. Values that have stood the test of time. Values that are universal. And values that are necessary for the world to be peaceful. And the contributions made into Iraq are based upon those values. And I am grateful.
Q: Robert van de Roer for NRC Handelsblad from the Netherlands. I have two questions, one for the President and one for the Secretary General.
President Bush: Finally, he got a question.
Q: Well, I'll put my question first to you, Mr. President. The wider European audience, it won't be a surprise for you, is still sceptical about the policies of your administration, often being considered as dictating or unilateral. Now on this trip you have launched a sort of major charm offensive, at least the Europeans will see it that way. But the question is...
President Bush: (Laugh)... Well, thank you, I appreciate it. The first time I've been called charming in a while.
Q: But the question is, what are you going to do really differently in your second term to improve transatlantic relations? And for the Secretary General the question is, what should the Europeans do to improve transatlantic relations?
President Bush: Well, our bilateral relations are very strong with many countries, like your country. We've had four years great relations. And as a matter of fact, last night my dinner with President Chirac reminded me that except for one major issue, and that being Iraq, we've done a lot together in my first four years. If you think about, we participated in Afghanistan together. We participated in Haiti. We're working on the global fund to battle AIDS. I mean, there's a lot we have done together.
The major issue that irritate a lot of Europeans was Iraq. I understand that. You know, I can figure it out. And the key now is to put that behind us. And to focus on helping the new democracy succeed. It's in our interest. It's in your country's interest, it's in my country's interest, that democracy take hold in the greater Middle East.
The policy in the past used to be, let's just accept tyranny and for the sake of... you know, my cheap oil or whatever it may be, and just hope everything would be okay. Well, that changed on September 11th for our nation. Everything wasn't okay. Beneath what appeared to be a placid surface lurked an ideology based upon hatred. And the way to defeat that ideology is to spread freedom and democracy. That's what NATO understands. That's one of the reasons why... NATO's one of the reasons why Europe is whole and free and at peace, because democracies defeat hatred and suspicion.
And so I will explain, continue to explain as best I can to sceptical people about my policy, that is based on this concept that we all share, no matter your views on Iraq or not, and that is every human being deserves to be free, and that human dignity is vital, and that free societies are peaceful societies. And I will make a commitment to... again, to you, just like I made yesterday, and will continue to make, that I'll take those values into the Middle Eastern peace process.
As I said in my state of the union, peace is within reach. That's right about here. And we've got to work together to achieve that. And so my message is that the past is, you know, I made some hard decisions, as did other leaders, by the way, in Europe, about how to enforce 17 different United Nations resolutions on Iraq. Not one resolution, but 17 different resolutions. And we liberated Iraq, and that decision has been made, it's over with, and now it's time to unify for the sake of peace.
And I believe that message, I believe... forget the charm part. I believe that message is a message that people can understand. And they're beginning to see that the strategy is working. You know, millions of people voted in Afghanistan. I doubt many of you here were writing articles about, oh gosh, the elections in Afghanistan are going to be incredibly successful. It didn't seem like it was possible, did it? But yet, there's something in everybody's soul, in my judgement, that is ours to be free, and the people of Afghanistan showed that, by the millions. Not by the handfuls, but by the millions when given a chance to vote. Same in Iraq. And there's an election in Ukraine. Two elections in Ukraine. And then there was the election in the Palestinian territory. Freedom is on the march is the way I like to put it. And the world's better off for it. And I look forward to continue to articulate how we can work together to keep freedom on the march.
Thank you all very much.
President Bush: Appreciate it. Thank you.
de Hoop Scheffer: Let me...
President Bush: Oh, I'm sorry!
de Hoop Scheffer: No no no. Let me...
President Bush: He gave me a hand signal that said he didn't want to answer. (Laughs) You don't know what this means. That means end the press conference.
de Hoop Scheffer: I signalled to the President this was too difficult a question, but nevertheless, nevertheless I'll answer you very briefly.
President Bush: I’m sorry.
de Hoop Scheffer: NATO is 26, not 25 plus one, or 24 plus two, and NATO showed today that these 26 allies in Europe or the United States of America, or Canada, will and must strengthen this Alliance, this very successful Alliance, which is doing with the U.S. and European participation all the things I started to discuss in my introduction.
Second remark would be that, Europe integration, including in security and defence matters is important, but in that area it's of the utmost importance that also that process takes place in complementarity with NATO and without duplication. That's important for NATO. It's important for the European Union. That's why I want this wide NATO-EU agenda that's relevant.
European integration is a great process, and I always say I'm an Atlanticist and I'm European, but here is the point where we are now standing in NATO Headquarters, where we see "the" primary forum for transatlantic security cooperation and we'll do that at 26, and not at 24 plus two or 25 plus one.
Thank you very much.
President Bush: Now we're finished.