"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
8:59 A.M. CDT
Q Many strategists say that we'll never get to the bottom of this crisis unless the U.S. engages directly with Syria and Iran. Why not talk to them directly about this, and have a back-and-forth conversation?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that's an interesting question. I've been reading about that, that people have been posing that question. We have been in touch with Syria. Colin Powell sent a message to Syria in person. Dick Armitage traveled to Syria. Bill Burns traveled to Syria. We've got a consulate office in Syria. Syria knows what we think. The problem isn't us telling Syria what's on our mind, which is to stop harboring terror and to help the Iraqi democracy evolve. They know exactly what our position is. The problem is, is that their response hasn't been very positive. As a matter of fact, it hasn't been positive at all.
And in terms of Iran, we made it clear to the Iranians that if they would honor previous obligations and verifiably stop enrichment of nuclear materials, we would sit at a table. And so there's a way forward for both countries. The choice is theirs. Now, I appreciate people focusing on Syria and Iran, and we should, because Syria and Iran sponsor and promote Hezbollah activities -- all aimed at creating chaos, all aimed at using terror to stop the advance of democracies.
Our objective, our policy is to give voice to people through democratic reform. And that's why we strongly support the Siniora government. That's why I've articulated a two state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, two democracies living side-by-side in peace. That's why Condi went to see President Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Territories, to assure him that we're committed to a democracy. That's why we're making sacrifices in Iraq -- to build democracy.
In other words, we believe democracy yields peace. And the actions of Hezbollah through its sponsors of Iran and Syria are trying to stop that advance of democracy. Hezbollah launched this attack. Hezbollah is trying to create the chaos necessary to stop the advance of peace. And the world community must come together to address this problem.
Q Mr. President, you've been quite specific in Hezbollah's role as the creator of this conflict. But what is the magnet, what is the pressure point, what is the hook to get this group to accept a cease-fire, to stop shooting and to stop kidnapping soldiers from across the border of another country?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I would hope it would be international pressure on not only Hezbollah, the group of Hezbollah within Lebanon, but also its sponsors. And that's the whole purpose of the United States working with allies and friends, is to send a clear message that sponsoring terror is unacceptable. It's the great challenge of the 21st century, really.
Q Do you --
THE PRESIDENT: Let me finish for a minute.
Q I'm sorry..
THE PRESIDENT: It is the great challenge of this century and it's this: As young democracies flourish, terrorists try to stop their progress. And it's the great challenge of the United States and others who are blessed with living in free countries. Not only do terrorists try to stop the advance of democracy through killing innocent people within those countries, they also try to shape the will of the western world by killing innocent westerners. They try to spread their jihadist message -- a message I call, it's totalitarian in nature -- Islamic radicalism, Islamic fascism, they try to spread it as well by taking the attack to those of us who love freedom.
And as far as this administration is concerned, we clearly see the problem and we're going to continue to work to advance stable, free countries. We don't expect every country to look like the United States, but we do want countries to accept some basic conditions for a vibrant society -- human rights, human decency, the power of the people to determine the fate of their governments. And, admittedly, this is hard work because it flies in the face of previous policy, which basically says stability is more important than form of government. And as a result of that policy, anger and resentment bubbled forth with an attack, with a series of attacks, the most dramatic of which was on September the 11th.
You know, your question is can we get people to -- a terrorist group to change their attitude. What we can do is we can get state sponsors of terror to understand this behavior is unacceptable, and that we can convince some people in terrorist groups that there is a better way forward for them and their families.
Remember, Hezbollah is a political party within Lebanon. They actually ran people for office. The problem is, is that they're a political party with a militia that is armed by foreign nations and, obviously, this political party with militia was willing to try to influence the Middle East through unprovoked attacks.
And what Condi is working on and I work on is to remind people about the stakes in the Middle East. And those stakes include not only helping the Lebanese government firm up its democracy -- remember, we worked with the French two years ago to boot out Syria. Syria was inside Lebanon and we felt that in order for a democracy to flourish, Syria needed to remove not only her troops, but her agents, her intelligence agents, for example.
And, obviously, there are some in the region that don't want the Lebanese government to succeed. I also happen to believe that as Prime Minister Olmert was making progress in reaching out to President Abbas and others in the region to develop a Palestinian state, that that caused a terrorist reaction. Remember, this all started with the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by militant Hamas, followed shortly thereafter by the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah.
And, finally, the third most notable battleground in the advance of liberty is Iraq. It's interesting, if you go back to the work of Mr. Zarqawi, he talked about fomenting sectarian violence in order to stop the advance of democracy. The challenge of the 21st century is for free nations to help those who aspire to liberty. And, you know, the first question is, do people aspire to liberty? And the answer is, absolutely -- look at the 12 million people who voted in Iraq. Or look at the people who went to the polls in Lebanon. It's just clear to me that there will be terrorist activities that will try to stop people from living a decent, hopeful life.
And what you're watching now is the diplomatic efforts to address the problem. I know there's -- I sense a certain impatience in your voice about diplomacy coming to a conclusion. What Secretary Rice is doing, as well as me, is we are dealing with a lot of different interests. Remember, each nation at the Security Council has got its own domestic issues to deal with, as well, and so it is -- I wish things happened quicker in the diplomatic realm -- sometimes it takes a while to get things done. But what the American people need to know is we've got a strategy -- a strategy for freedom in the Middle East which protects the American people in the long run. And we've got a strategy to deal with the situations that arise in the Middle East -- first Lebanon; of course, the Iranian nuclear weapon issue.
Q If I could follow Nedra's question. She had asked, Lebanon --
THE PRESIDENT: I can't remember that far back. (Laughter.)
Q Lebanon's parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, who has been negotiating for Hezbollah, has rejected the first resolution, saying it's unacceptable, they want the Israeli troops to pull out immediately. Is that a negotiable point? And, also, Secretary Rice, will you be reaching out to Berri, as you had spoken with him before?
THE PRESIDENT: Whatever happens in the U.N., we must not create a vacuum into which Hezbollah and its sponsors are able to move more weapons. Sometimes the world likes to take the easy route in order to solve a problem. Our view is, it's time to address root causes of problems. And to create a vacuum, Suzanne, is unacceptable. It would mean that we haven't addressed the root cause.
The idea is to have the Lebanese government move into the south so that the government of Lebanon can protect its own territory, and that there be an international force to provide the help necessary for the Lebanese government to secure its country. Remember, in Germany, the first thing I said was -- or one of the first things I said, I think I said this -- help me out here, if I didn't --
SECRETARY RICE: I think you did.
THE PRESIDENT: -- was we want the Siniora government to survive and to be strengthened. The linchpin of the policy is to support democracies. And so the strategy at the U.N., the diplomatic strategy is to support that notion, because a democracy in Lebanon will not only help that nation address its long-term issues -- such as rebuilding, providing a hopeful life -- but a democracy on Israeli's northern border will stabilize -- help stabilize the region. We are committed to a democracy in the Palestinian territory.
President Abbas, in his conversations with Condi, talked about moving forward with democracy. There are people who can't stand the thought of a society based upon universal liberty from emerging. And that, in itself, ought to be a warning signal to those of us who care deeply for peace, that people would be willing to kill innocent citizens in order to stop the advance of liberty.
Now, I've talked a lot about the universal appeal of liberty, and I readily concede some people aren't willing to -- some say, well, you know, liberty may not be universal in this sense -- America imposes its will. We don't impose liberty; liberty is universal.
It's one of the interesting debates of the 21st century, I think, that some would be willing to say it's okay for people not to live in a free society. It's not okay for us. If you love peace, in order to achieve peace you much help people realize that which is universal -- and that is freedom.