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Transcript of Bush Interview

THE PRESIDENT: No, what we're going to do is we're going to make sure that the missions of the National Guard and the Reserve closely dovetail with active Army units, so that the pressure that you're speaking about is eased.

The Post: Why do you think [Osama] bin Laden has not been caught?

THE PRESIDENT: Because he's hiding.

The Post: Our allies have done all they can do to help catch him?

THE PRESIDENT: We're on the hunt.

The Post: Do you think others are on the hunt, too? Are you happy, content with what other countries are doing in that hunt?


The Post: Anyone you're not happy with? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Look, bin Laden is elusive, and he is in a remote part of the world. And we are -- I am -- I can't think of anybody in the world who is our ally who isn't willing to do what is necessary to try to find him. And so I am pleased about the hunt, and I am pleased that he's isolated. I will be more pleased when he's brought to justice, and I think he will be.

The Post: How concerned are you about the enormously high levels of anti-Americanism, particularly in the Muslim world? And is that an indication that somehow the terrorists are winning the hearts and minds of those people?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, it's interesting. The people of Afghanistan, which is a part of the Muslim world, are really happy that the government of the United States, along with others, liberated them from the Taliban. I suspect that people in the Muslim world, as we speak, are thrilled that supplies are being delivered by U.S. servicemen and women. The Iranians -- the reformers in Iran are, I suspect, very hopeful that the United States government is firm in our belief that democracy ought to spread. In other words, there are some places we're not popular, and other places where we're liked.

And there's no question we've got to continue to do a better job of explaining what America is all about; that in our country you're free to worship as you see fit, that we honor the Muslim faith, and that if you choose not to -- we don't want territory, we want there to be freedom. And I've talked to Condi [Rice, the nominee for secretary of state] about this, and she agrees that we need to work on a public diplomacy effort that explains our motives and explains our intentions.

I also believe that some of the decisions I've made up to now have affected our standing in parts of the world. I remember in the debates, somebody asked me about Europe. And I said, well, they wanted us to join the International Criminal Court, and I chose -- I said, that's not the right posture for the United States of America, or some saying I should have negotiated with [Yasser] Arafat for the four years I was president -- obviously, prior to his death -- and I chose not to because I didn't feel like he was a person who could deliver peace.

I called Abu Amas the other day, and I told him I'm looking forward to seeing him again and working with him -- or Abu Mazen. So I believe that when it's all said and done, those in the Muslim world who long for peace will see that the policies of this government will lead to peace.

The Post: A parochial question for The Post in D.C.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm trying to stay concentrated.

The Post: What's that?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm just trying to stay concentrated. You've got a whole --

The Post: . . . I've got to ask you at least a couple domestic questions. Your answers are short, though.

THE PRESIDENT: A lot shorter than usual.

The Post: It's good, short is good. Why should D.C., which is a top terrorist threat, why should they have to spend $12 million from their budget -- from their homeland security budget they get from the federal government -- to provide security for the inauguration?

THE PRESIDENT: The inauguration is a high-profile event, like a lot of other events that, unfortunately, in the world in which we live, could be an attractive target for terrorists. And by providing security, hopefully that will provide comfort to people who are coming from all around the country to come and stay in the hotels in Washington and to be able to watch the different festivities in Washington and eat the food in Washington. We've got people coming from all around the country, and I think it provides them great comfort to know that all levels of government are working closely to make this event as secure as possible.

The Post: Only two-thirds of the beneficiaries of Social Security, as you know, are retired people. The rest are disabled and people collecting survivor's benefits. Do you think that the rising costs of disability and survivor's insurance is causing the overall Social Security problem, and can you promise that the benefits will not be touched under your reform plan?

THE PRESIDENT: We will look at all aspects of Social Security, of course, but the main focus I have been on, focusing on -- the main issue I have been focusing on is the retirement system aspect of Social Security, because it is a pay-as-you-go system. The number of payers is declining quite rapidly relative to the number of retirees. And that, thus far, has been our focus, because that is the part where the Congress needs to focus.

And to answer the disability insurance, we have no plans of cutting benefits at all for people with disabilities.

The Post: So they'll definitely remain untouched?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I said, we have no plans for cutting benefits.

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