PRESIDENT BUSH: It’s my honor to welcome Prime Minister of our close friend back to the White House. We’ve just had a good discussion about peace and security, about prosperity. I first want to say that I understand what terror has done to economy. Terror has affected our economy; terror has affected the Israeli economy. But we’ve got great confidence in the Israeli economy. We’ve got great confidence in the Israeli people. The greatest asset Israel has is the brainpower and ingenuity of her people. And I’m convinced that the economy will be strong.
I appreciate so very much the fact that the Prime Minister is committed to working with his Cabinet to move some of the Palestinian money to the Palestinian people; that he cares about the human condition of the Palestinians; and that under a monitoring system to make sure that the money being sent back to the Palestinian people will not be used for terrorist activities, that he is willing to work with his Cabinet to do just that. I believe that’s important.
We talked about the framework for peace, the idea of working toward peace, the idea of two states living side-by-side in peace as a part of our vision. And to this end, Bill Burns, Ambassador from the State Department, is going back to the Middle East to continue to work on the process; continue to work toward achieving concrete, real, objective and measurable reforms, so that there’s a peaceful future for the region.
So, Mr. Prime Minister, thanks for coming. It’s good to welcome you. I appreciate you being here.
PRIME MINISTER SHARON: I would like to thank you, Mr. President, for having us again here. I would like to express our deep appreciation to your leadership facing the world terror. We regard terror as the most dangerous thing, and seeing the terror spread now, seeing that under your leadership the world will be able to face the terror and contain terror and stop terror.
We have been facing terror for over 120 years, and we still face terror. But we believe the day will come, and hope it will be soon, that we’ll be able to start peace negotiations. I believe that Jews and Arabs will be able to live together. And we, on one hand, are taking all the necessary steps against terror. And we will continue to defend our citizens. In the same time, we’ll take all the necessary steps to move forward the political process. And I believe the day will come and we’ll have peace.
We had an interesting discussions here, very important. I would like to thank you, Mr. President, for the friendship and cooperation. And as far as I remember, as we look back towards many years now, I think that we never had such relations with any President of the United States as we have with you, and we never had such cooperation in everything as we have with the current administration. I would like to thank you for that, and we are looking forward for better future for all of us.
Q: Mr. President, have you asked the Prime Minister not to respond if Iraq attacks?
PRESIDENT BUSH: first of all, I have told the Prime Minister that my hope is that we could achieve a disarmament of the Iraqi regime peacefully. I haven’t given up on the fact that we can achieve it peacefully. We have no plans to use our military unless we need to. I explained to the Prime Minister, just like I explain to every citizen who is interested in this, the military is my last choice, not my first choice. So we talked about the desire for the U.N. Security Council to be strong, and for the nations that care about peace to see that Saddam is disarmed. And he’s got to disarm himself. That’s what we talked about.
Q: Mr. President, I would like to complete my colleague’s question. If an Iraqi missile lands in Tel Aviv, killing tens of people —
PRESIDENT BUSH: An unprovoked attack — if tomorrow an Iraqi missile lands?
Q: Theoretically, and it can be practically.
PRESIDENT BUSH: If Iraq were to attack Israel tomorrow, I’m sure there would be appropriate response.
Q: How should Israel respond? How should you respond —
PRESIDENT BUSH: If Iraq attacks Israel tomorrow, I would assume the Prime Minister would respond. He’s got a desire to defend himself.
Our hope is that the Iraqi regime will disarm peacefully. But I can’t [guarantee] — maybe Saddam will attack tomorrow. He’s certainly a dangerous man. And he’s got to understand that the international community won’t tolerate an unprovoked attack on Israel — or anybody else, for that matter. Of course, he’s done it in the past. That’s what I’ve explained to the American people. He’s attacked two nations. He’s gassed his own people. He’s a dangerous man. That’s why he must be disarmed. And that’s why the international community must work to disarm him.
Q: It’s been more than a month since you said you expected the United Nations to act in days or weeks on a new Iraq resolution. How much longer are you prepared to wait, and why aren’t you losing patience?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Because it takes a while to get things done in the U.N., I guess is the answer. I’ve made the commitment to go to the U.N., I’ve asked the U.N. to act. We have got to deal with members of the Security Council. There are differing opinions on members of the Security Council. And we’ve got to work hard to reach a consensus, a resolution that will, on the one hand, do everything it can to disarm Saddam Hussein; and also has got the capacity for there to be consequences should he not disarm. And therefore, we’re working closely with the Perm Five, as well as others on the Security Council, to reach this resolution.
I am a patient man. I think it’s important. I made the decision to go to the U.N. And therefore, we’re willing to work with the U.N. If the U.N. can’t act, however, if they’re unable to act, if once again, after 11 years and 16 resolutions, they cannot bring themselves together to disarm Saddam Hussein, then we will lead a coalition to do just that. But, in the meantime, we’re giving the U.N. time to listen to the arguments and to, hopefully, come together soon to get a resolution which will achieve the objectives.
Q: Mr. President, the Hizbullah is threatening to escalate the situation in the Israeli northern border, and Israel has intelligence information that Palestinian terror organizations are also planning to escalate and have more terror attacks because the United States might attack Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein. Is there any limitations on Israel to defend itself? Did you ask the Prime Minister not to take certain measures if he’s attacked by Hizbullah or by the Palestinian terror organization?
PRESIDENT BUSH: We certainly want to work with Israel and we’ll make it clear to Hizbullah, nations housing Hizbullah, whether in the context of Iraq or not, we expect there to be no attacks. This is terrorist activity, and we will fight terror wherever terror exists.
The doctrine that says if you harbor a terrorist still exists. And again, apart from Iraq, we expect Hizbullah not to attack our friend. And so we will work with Israel and work with other nations, making it clear to them our position on harboring terrorist activities.
Thank you all.