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Bush News Conference: ‘I Have Not Given Up’

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Here is a partial transcript of President Bush’s news conference Wednesday:

PRESIDENT BUSH: I have a brief opening statement, and then I will take a few questions.

I have spoken with the Secretary of State, Jim Baker, who reported to me on his nearly seven hours of conversation with the Iraqi foreign minister, Tarik Aziz. Secretary Baker made it clear that he discerned no evidence whatsoever that Iraq was willing to comply with the international community’s demand to withdraw from Kuwait and comply with the United Nations resolutions.

Secretary Baker also reported to me that the Iraqi foreign minister rejected my letter to Saddam Hussein, refused to carry this letter and give it to the president of Iraq. The Iraqi ambassador here in Washington did the same thing. This is but one more example that the Iraqi government is not interested in direct communications designed to settle the Persian Gulf situation.

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The record shows that whether the diplomacy is initiated by the United States, the United Nations, the Arab League, or the European Community, the results are the same. Unfortunately. The conclusion is clear: Saddam Hussein continues to reject a diplomatic solution.

I sent Secretary Jim Baker to Geneva not to negotiate but to communicate. And I wanted Iraqi leaders to know just how determined we are that the Iraqi forces leave Kuwait without condition or further delay. Secretary Baker made clear that by its full compliance with the 12 relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions Iraq would gain the opportunity to rejoin the international community. And he also made clear--was just--he also made clear how much Iraq stands to lose if it does not comply.

Let me emphasize that I have not given up on a peaceful outcome. It’s not too late. I’ve just been on the phone, subsequent to the Baker press conference, with (Saudi Arabia’s) King Fahd, with (French) President Mitterrand, to whom I’ve talked twice today, (Canadian) Prime Minister Mulroney, and others are contacting other coalition partners to keep the matter under lively discussion.

It isn’t too late. But now, as before--as it’s been before, the choice of peace or war is really Saddam Hussein’s to make.

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And now I’d be glad to take a few questions.

Question: You said in an interview last month that you believe in your gut that Saddam Hussein would withdraw from Kuwait by January 15th. After the failure of this meeting today, what does your gut tell you about that? And in your gut do you believe that there is going to be war or peace?

Answer: I can’t misrepresent this to the American people. I am discouraged. I watched much of the Aziz press conference, and there was no discussion of withdrawal from Kuwait. The United Nations resolutions are about the aggression against Kuwait. They are about the invasion of Kuwait, about the liquidation of a lot of the people in Kuwait. It’s about the restoration of the legitimate government to Kuwait.

And here we are listening to a 45-minute press conference after the secretary stated--secretary of state of the United States had a six-hour--six hours worth of meetings over there, and there was not one single sentence that has to relate to their willingness to get out of Kuwait. And so, Terry, I’d have to say, I certainly am not encouraged by that, but I’m not going to give up. And I told this to our coalition partners, and I’ll be talking to more of them when I finish here. We’ve got to keep trying. But this was a--this was a--a total stiff arm. This is a total rebuff.

Q: Let me follow up, please. Have you decided in your mind to go to war if he’s not out of there by the 15th?

A: I have not made up my decision on what and when to do. I am more determined than ever that the United Nations resolutions, including 678, be--is implemented fully.

Yes, Helen?

Q: Mr. President, Aziz made a pledge that he would not make the first attack. Would you match that? And also, what’s wrong with a Middle East conference if it could avoid a bloody war?

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A: No, I wouldn’t make it, and we oppose linkage. The coalition opposes linkage, and the argument with Saddam Hussein is about Kuwait. It is about the invasion of Kuwait, the liquidation of a member of the United Nations, a member of the Arab League. And it has long been determined by not just the Security Council but by the entire United Nations, that this is about Kuwait.

And that is the point that was missing from his--his explanations here today. . . .

Q: Tarik Aziz, on the subject of the letter, suggested that it was rude in its use of language and somehow inappropriate to a diplomatic communication. I wonder, sir, if you are willing to release the letter now that it has been--run its course, apparently. And if--whether you are or not, would you characterize it for us and tell us what it said?

A: Well let me first describe why I wanted to send a letter. It has been alleged, fairly or unfairly, that those around Saddam Hussein refuse to bring him bad news or refuse to tell it to him straight. And so I made the determination that I would write a letter that would explain as clearly and forcefully as I could exactly what the situation is that he faces.

The letter was not rude; the letter was direct. And the letter did exactly what I think is necessary at this stage. But to refuse to even pass a letter along seems to me to be just one more manifestation of the stonewalling that has taken place. We gave him 15 dates for the secretary of state to meet with him, and he’s off meeting with Mr. A, Mr. B, Mr. C and has no time for that.

So, the letter was proper. I’ve been around the diplomatic track for a long time. The letter was proper. It was direct. And it was what I think would have been helpful to him to show him the resolve of the rest of the world, certainly of the coalition.

In terms of releasing it, Brit, I haven’t given much thought to that. It was written as a letter to him, but let me think about it. I--I might be willing to do it; I might not. I just don’t know. If I thought it would help--help get the message out to him and through an indirect way, maybe--maybe it makes some sense although we’ve been saying essentially the same thing over and over again that was in the letter. . . .

Q: Mr. President, there are reports that you are considering a call-up of up to a million reservists to reinforce the forces that are serving in the Persian Gulf. What can you tell us about that?

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A: I can tell you, nobody’s ever suggested that to me.

Q: Is there any reserve call-up being contemplated--

A: Well, I’ll tell you what I’ll do --I’ll ask the secretary of defense to respond to that question when I get finished here.

Q: Mr. President, can you tell us what your attitude now is about the use of force resolution that you asked for yesterday with the Congress?

A: Well, I had a good meeting with certain members of Congress. I have talked to all four leaders this afternoon--Senator Mitchell, Senator Dole, Speaker Foley, Congressman Michel, I talked to him in person here--and I’m not sure where it stands. We are--I am anxious to see and would certainly welcome a resolution that says, “We are going to implement the United Nations resolutions to a ‘T.’ ”

I don’t think it’s too late to send a consolidated signal to Saddam Hussein, and I think that would be a consolidated signal. . . .

Q: A follow-up if I might. Constitutionally, sir, do you think you need such a resolution, and if you lose it, would you be bound by that?

A: I don’t think I need it. I think (Defense) Secretary Cheney expressed it very well the other day. There are different opinions on either side of this question, but Saddam Hussein should be under no question on this, I feel that I have the authority to fully implement the United Nations resolutions.

Q: And on the question of being bound--the second part of that?

A: I still feel that I have the constitutional authority, many attorneys having so advised me.

Q: Mr. President, I want to ask you about Francois Mitterrand, but Wyatt’s question opens up a whole new--(inaudible)--you talk about you don’t want this to be another Vietnam. If Congress--

A: It won’t be another Vietnam.

Q: If the Congress of the United States refuses to give you a resolution, refuses to give you--even give you a Gulf of Tonkin-type resolution, how can you go to war?

A: I don’t think they’re going to refuse.

Q: Mr. President, you say that Saddam Hussein doesn’t understand yet. Why not a meeting face-to-face? Why refuse any meeting face--

A: Because he’s had every opportunity, and he keeps stiff-arming. We finally said, “This is the last step.” We tried 15 dates in Baghdad. We tried to set up these meetings. And now we tried this one, and there wasn’t one single reason to make me think that another meeting between the United States and Saddam Hussein would do--and the Iraqis would do any good at all. If I felt it would, fine; but it will not.

I talked to the secretary general of the United Nations today, and there is a chance that he might undertake such a mission. Certainly we’d have no objection.

There’s one other reason--and I cite that because this is not Iraq against the United States; it is Iraq against the rest of the world. It is the United Nations that passed 12 resolutions, not the United States. . . .

Q: Mr. President, there have been reports that Saddam believes that if it comes to war, even if he’s driven out of Kuwait militarily, he can survive in power. Is he wrong?

A: I--I think he’s wrong on all of his assumptions about what would happen if it came to war--God forbid.

Q: Would he be killed?

A: I’m not going to answer that. I don’t know the answer to that question.

Q: Sir, you seem to be very skeptical that further diplomacy would work, and yet you’ve said here today that you haven’t given up on a peaceful solution. I wonder where it is you’d find this hope for a peaceful solution?

A: I’m not sure I have great hope for it, but I think when human life is at stake, you go the extra mile for peace, and that’s what we have tried to do. And I’ll continue to think of reasons--I told--I told President Mitterrand, I said, “Look, if you think of a new approach or I do, please, let’s one or the other get on the phone and try.”

Q: You said when you first proposed bi-level talks between Iraq and the United States that it was because you were convinced the message had not gotten through, had not gotten across. Are you now convinced that the message has gotten across?

A: Well, I did listen carefully to--to Mr. Aziz, and--who I thought spoke quite well. I didn’t agree with what he’s trying to do obviously, to confuse the issue by refusing to discuss the point at hand which is the invasion of Kuwait, but I thought he did it well. And I thought he--I thought he kind of sent a signal that they do understand what’s up against them, but I still don’t believe that they think the world coalition will use force against them. I may be wrong, but that’s what I--that’s what I think and hear. . . .

Q: Mr. President, the question of Israel. Tarik Aziz was emphatic that if Iraq is attacked, Israel will be attacked. What are your obligations to Israel? Are you prepared to fight a war throughout the Middle East?

A: That is too hypothetical a question for me to answer. We are prepared to do what we need to do to implicate--to fully implement 678, and I would think that he’d think long and hard before he started yet another war. There is one war on. That’s his war against Kuwait. That’s his aggression against Kuwait. And I don’t think he wants to start another one. So I’m not going to buy into that hypothesis, but the United States would obviously feel that that was a most provocative act. Most provocative.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DICK CHENEY: The question was on possible additional reserve call-up authority.

Under the authority that we’re currently using, I’m authorized by delegation from the President to use up to--to call up to 200,000 reservists for up to 180 days. That authority for some of those reservists who have been called begins to expire in February.

And so, what we currently have in the works is a provision that would use a different provision of the statute that would allow us to keep reservists on active service for as long as two years, and to call under that provision up to 1 million additional reservists. We have no intention of calling 1 million reservists, but that’s the provision that’s available for me. . . .


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