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Text: Bush News Conference on Iraq

We have found a person who has got the will to work for peace, and that's Prime Minister Abbas. And we'll work through the issues that are nettlesome, and there'll be some big issues that come along.

But the first thing that has to happen is the Palestinian people have got to realize there's hope in a free society. And that they choose a leader that is most likely to--choose to back the leader that is most likely to deliver that hope.

_____Bush Press Conference_____
Video: The Post's Dana Milbank and washingtonpost.com's Terry M. Neal evaluate the president's news conference.
Video Excerpt: Bush on Hunt for Hussein
Video Excerpt: Bush Defends Iraq Claims
Video Excerpt: Bush on Gay Marriage
Text: Complete Transcript
_____From The Post_____
Bush Takes Responsibility for Iraq Claim (The Washington Post, Jul 31, 2003)
Upbeat Tone Belies Downside Risks (The Washington Post, Jul 31, 2003)

QUESTION: I want to ask you about something else in your State of the Union.


QUESTION: You spoke and got great applause from both sides of the aisle about a new initiative in Africa for AIDS, and mentioned the figure $15 billion over three years. When the AIDS community and some of the activists got into the budget, they said--when they saw your budget they said it was really a little less than that. And these conversations have gone back and forth, and they said it was really more like $10 billion in new money. And then somebody told me it was really more like $400 million for the first year.

I want to ask you here, in the Rose Garden, will you reiterate that $15 billion figure and make sure, personally, that it's really delivered to Africa?

BUSH: Yes, I will, absolutely. $15 billion, now, that's not new money. The person who said it's $15 billion on top of that which we're already--or $10 billion on top of that which we're already spending goes to $15 billion.

Secondly, there is some discussion about the first-year budget. In other words, we didn't send up a budget--$15 billion over five--we didn't send up $3 billion.

We sent up something less than $3 billion because we didn't think the program could ramp up fast enough to absorb that amount of money early.

Some people then have said, "Well, wait a minute, he doesn't believe what he said.'' We'll that's just simply not true. Matter of fact, after my trip to Africa, I know we're doing the right thing even more.

But the OMB came up with a plan that allows for a smaller amount in the beginning. I think it's a little less than $2.5 billion initially. And it ramps up more in the out-years as the program is the program is capable of absorbing a lot of money.

You know, one of the things we looked for over there in Africa is whether or not countries could absorb money. For example, was the distribution system for anti-retrovirals in place? It doesn't make any sense to load up on anti-retrovials if the distribution system won't get them out. In other words, there's some things some countries have to do to prepare for the arrival of a lot of money, and we recognize that.

The commitment is there, absolutely. And matter of fact, we're doing the right thing in Africa. The American people have got to understand that we're a blessed country. And when we find the kind of suffering that exists in Africa, we will help. And we are.

You want to ask a Liberian question? Please do.

QUESTION: Do you expect American troops to be landing in any large force in Liberia soon? And how far can the U.S. go in other international conflicts? When are we stretched too thin?

BUSH: Yeah, very good question.

First of all, the conditions that I laid out for the Liberian rescue mission still exists: Charles Taylor must go, cease-fire must be in place, and we will be there to help ECOWAS.

And so we're working to get those conditions in place and we will continue working to get them in place until they are in place, at which point we will then take the necessary steps to get ECOWAS in place so that we can deliver aid and help to suffering Liberians.

I also want to remind you, the troop strength will be limited and the time frame will be limited, and we're working on that.

The idea, of course, is to go in stabilize the situation, get the NGOs moving back into their positions to be able to help deliver aid and then work immediately with the United Nations to provide blue helmets--maybe blue helmet some of the ECOWAS forces in place, provide other blue helmets and that the United Nations would then take up the peacekeeping mission as well as the political mission, in order to provide the framework for a transition to democracy and hopefully that will help stabilize the situation. I think it will.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about Iran, one of your other countries in the axis of evil.

One of the things we learned from that march to war is that when you start warning countries they better pay attention. Are we now in the early stages of a march to war in Iran or are they more like in the category of North Korea?

BUSH: Look, I remember right after Iraq the first thing that happened out of some writers' pens was that, "Oh, no, they're getting ready to attack either Syria or Iran.'' You know, the march to war is just a campaign that's just going to march everywhere.

All options remain on the table. I believe that the best way to deal with the Iranians at this point in time is to convince others to join us in a clear declaration that the development of a nuclear weapon is not in their interests.

I believe a free Iraq will affect the lives of Iranians. I want to thank the diaspora here in the United States, particularly in L.A.--which reminds me, my last question is going to go to Ed, so you can prepare for it, Ed.

We've got a lot of our fellow citizens who are in e-mail contact, phone contact with people who live throughout Iran, and I want to thank them for that.

Interestingly enough, there's a TV station that I think people have read about that's broadcast out of L.A. by one of our citizens. He or she has footed the bill. It's widely watched.

The people of Iran are interested in freedom, and we stand by their side. We stand on the side of those who are desperate for freedom in Iran. We understand their frustrations in living in a society that is totalitarian in nature. And now is the time for the world to come together to send a clear message.

And so I spent time with Prime Minister Berlusconi on the ranch, and I talked to him about the need for the EU to send a very clear message, along with the United States.

As you know, some of you have been on trips with me to Russia and you remember me talking with my friend Vladimir Putin about the need to be mindful of the Iranians' desire to have a nuclear weapon. We're making progress there.

I really believe that we can solve this issue peacefully. But this is an issue that's going to require a concerted effort by nations around the world to work with the United States, particularly in Europe, to speak clearly to the Iranian administration.

The other thing that's interesting about Iran is that they do have Al Qaida. They've admitted they've got Al Qaida. Now, that's positive, that the Al Qaida's not talking to anybody. I mean, I would rather them be held somewhere other than out moving around plotting and planning.

And I would just hope the Iranians would listen to the requests of countries in their neighborhood to turn them over. In other words, some of the countries of origin for these Al Qaida operatives have asked for those Al Qaida detainees to be sent back to the country of origin. It would be very helpful for the Iranians to make that decision.

Ed, last question.

Hold on for a minute, please.


QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. President. Since California is on your mind, I'd like to ask you about the recall campaign.

Since you're not only the leader of this country, but as someone who came into office under extraordinarily partisan circumstances, do you view this recall, which was funded almost entirely by one wealthy Republican who would like to be governor, as a legitimate democratic exercise? And do you have a candidate in this fight, since one of the potential successors is somebody you've backed before?

BUSH: Ed, let me tell you how I view it. I've got a lot of things on my mind and I view it like an interested political observer would view it. You know, it's, kind of, a funny--we're not used to recalls in Texas, for example, thankfully.

I think that the most important opinion is not mine, but it's the people of--the Californians. Their opinion is what matters on the recall. It's their decision to decide whether or not there will be a recall, which they decided. And now they get to decide who the governor is going to be. And that's really my only comment I got.

Listen, thank you all very much for giving me a chance to come and answer some of your questions. For those of you who are traveling to Crawford, gosh, did you luck out, and we look forward to seeing you there.

Thank you.

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