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Press Conference with U.S. President George W. Bush and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

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Location: Washington, DC

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PRESIDENT BUSH: Mr. Prime Minister, welcome. So glad you're here. And Therese, thank you for joining us as well. Laura and I are thrilled to welcome you here at the White House. And I appreciate the opportunity to visit with the leader of one of America's closest allies and friends.

And one thing that's for sure: that friendship will strengthen and endure under the leadership of Kevin Rudd. I have found him to be a straightforward fellow. Being from Texas, that's a -- that's what I like. He is thoughtful. He is strategic in thought. And he is committed to the same values that I'm committed to: rule of law, human rights, human decency. And we're so proud you're here.

We spent a great deal of time talking about the economy. One thing we spent time on was talking about the benefits of trade between our two nations and the benefits of a world that trades freely and fairly. And the prime minister was asking me about, you know, my views on Doha. I said it's possible to achieve a Doha Round. He too believes we should work to achieve a Doha Round. However, I informed him that it's -- we're willing to make serious concessions on the agricultural front, but we expect other nations to open up their markets on manufacturing, as well as services. And to this end, Prime Minister Rudd, Kevin Rudd, decided -- said that he would be more than willing to help. And that's -- I'm very grateful.

On a bilateral front, not only is the free trade agreement working, but next Monday we'll be signing an open skies agreement that will further our -- further our friendship and further our commercial ties. And I think that's a great success of your administration and -- and -- and ours as well.

We talked about the environment and energy. There's a interesting moment for all of us to recognize that we can become less dependent, in our case, on foreign oil and at the same time be good stewards of the environment.

We talked about the need to work collaboratively to achieve an international agreement in which the United States is at the table along with developing nations like China and India. In order for there to be an effective international agreement, China and India must be participants.

We talked about the need to help developing nations improve their environment. And one way that we can do so is to commit ourselves to tariff-free trade in technologies that promote low-carbon energy. This is something we're spending a lot of money on in the United States. And we'll continue to do so, because I happen to believe technologies will enable us to be good stewards of the environment and change our energy habits, which we need to do here in the United States.

So I want to thank you very much for our discussions thus far on our economic interests and our responsibilities.

But we also talked about freedom and the need to promote an ideology based on hope and decency. And that's an ideology of liberty. And I want to thank very much the Australian government and the Australian people for their willingness to help a young democracy such as Afghanistan.

The prime minister and I discussed how Bucharest can become a success. And I can't thank you enough for going. And I appreciate very much your strong commitment to helping the Karzai government succeed and thrive. It's in our national interests that we do so.

I also want to thank you very much for being a good, loyal ally on Iraq. Obviously, the prime minister kept a campaign commitment, which I appreciate. I always like to be in the presence of somebody who does what he says he's going to do. You know, oftentimes politicians go out there and they say one thing on the campaign trail and they don't mean it. Well, this is a guy who meant it.

But he also acted like you'd expect an ally to act. And that is, he consulted closely with his friends. His military commanders consulted closely with our military commanders. But the commitment of Afghanistan is not to leave Iraq alone, it's to change mission.

And so he told me about an interesting story. He met with the prime minister, Maliki. Prime Minister Maliki says to Kevin Rudd -- or Kevin Rudd says to Prime Minister Maliki, "What can we do to help you?" It wasn't, "What can we do to abandon you?" He said, "How could we help you?" And he said, "How about training some farmers in dry land farming?" -- something we know something about in West Texas, by the way, Mr. Prime Minister.

And I want to thank you for that. I want to thank you for stepping forward to help Iraq develop a civil society and a strong economy that will enable this young democracy to thrive and help yield peace. People -- I'm sure the press corps is going to say, "Well, aren't you mad at the prime minister for fulfilling his campaign pledge?" And the answer is no, just so -- (don't even need ?) to ask the question now. (Laughter.)

We talked about Iran and our joint commitment to continue to work together to see to it that the Iranians do not develop the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon. We talked about Burma. I want to thank you for your commitment to a free Burma. And finally, we talked about North Korea and the six-party talks and Australia's support for those six-party talks.

We're going to have a good lunch, too. And we'll continue our discussions on a variety of subjects. He's a(n) easy man to talk to. I appreciate his visions. I particularly appreciate his consultations on China. He's an expert on China. It's clear when you talk to him he is an expert on China. And all in all, we've had a good start to this important trip.

And we want to welcome you again, Kevin, to the White House. The podium's yours.

PRIME MIN. RUDD: Thank you.

Thanks very much, George. And it's a pleasure to be here in Washington and -- with my wife Therese. And it's great to be here at the White House. And thanks for your hospitality and having us at Blair House. We really appreciate that.

Our alliance doesn't simply reflect our shared past. Our alliance defines our common future as two of the world's great democracies. I was thinking about this this morning, about the number of president's and prime ministers who have been party to this alliance, both Republican and Democrat, and both, in our country, Labor and Liberal.

This alliance has been supported by 12 American presidents, Republican and Democrat.

It's been supported by 13 Australian prime ministers, Labor and Liberal, and I'm the 14th.

And I'm confident that this alliance has a strong, robust future. And the reason I'm confident of that is because it's rooted in shared values. We actually take the ideal of democracy seriously. It's not a casual thought. It's not a -- it's just not a passing observation. It's something which is part and parcel of who we are as peoples. So when you have an alliance which is rooted in a common set of values, it tends to mean that alliance is going to last for a bit. And there's the things we've done together, right from the Second World War to the present, and there's been many of them. And we've been in the field together, and there are many other areas in wider foreign policy where we cooperate as well.

Turning to the future, the president indicated we discussed the current challenges facing the global economy, and this is, for us in Australia, a global challenge. Obviously, the United States, as the world's largest economy, is fundamentally significant to the way in which this thing plays out. But our response -- and we discussed this at some length -- is looking at how we can get some better transparency out there in financial markets on some of these particular products which are causing problems around the world. There's an upcoming meeting of the International Monetary Fund, and we'll be working on our common positions towards that end.

As the president's just indicated, we also spoke about the Doha Round. My own view is that if ever the global economy needs a psychological injection of some confidence in the arm, it's now, and that can be delivered by a positive outcome on Doha. It takes more than two to tango. It takes a lot of people to tango when it comes to the Doha Round, a combination of ourselves in the Cairns Group, the United States, the Europeans, Brazil, India, others. But what we have agreed -- again, as strong, long-term supporters of free trade around the world as one of the best drivers of global economic growth -- is to work very closely together in the months ahead to try and get a good, positive outcome for Doha -- good for our economy, good for the American economy, good for the global economy.

On foreign policy, the president and I also discussed, of course, Iraq and Afghanistan.

I thank him for his remarks in relation to Iraq. And what he said is absolutely right in terms of my discussions with Prime Minister Maliki in Baghdad early in December.

We have confirmed today to the president, as we'll be confirming to the government of Iraq in Baghdad, a -- an assistance package of some $165 million, a large slice of which will go to how we assist Iraqis, train their people better in agriculture and in the wider economy. Prime Minister Maliki said this is a big need for us. We are a dry continent. We know a fair bit about dry land farming. So we'll be spending a lot of money training a lot of Iraqi farmers and agricultural scientists in the year ahead.

On Afghanistan, I confirmed to the president that we're in Afghanistan for the long haul. It's -- it's a tough fight, but we intend to be there with our friends and partners and allies for the long haul. And I look forward to being with the president at Bucharest soon, so we arrive at a common civil and military strategy with our friends and partners in Europe and elsewhere.

On the other matters which were raised in our discussions, the president has run through them neatly. I won't elaborate on them. But I'll just conclude with this. It's -- it's -- was reminding of me -- for me when I saw the -- the guest book this morning at -- at Blair House. And one of the first entries back in 1944 was a page dedicated to the visit by Labor Prime Minister John Curtin to Blair House. FDR was president of the United States at the time. It goes back to remind me how much this alliance has been the product of common nurturing by presidents and prime ministers for a long time.

Mr. President, you said that you had a warm regard for me because, from a Texan point of view, you found me to be a reasonably straight shooter. I therefore designate you as an honorary Queenslander. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: (Chuckles.)

PRIME MIN. RUDD: In the great state of Australia, I come from the great state of Queensland. It may surprise you that it's bigger than Texas. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah.

PRIME MIN. RUDD: But can I say --

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah. (Laughter.)

PRIME MIN. RUDD: But can I say quickly -- (laughter) -- (chuckles) --

PRESIDENT BUSH: Can you recover nicely -- (chuckles) --

(Laughter.)

PRIME MIN. RUDD: The recovery point is this: Queenslanders and Texans have a lot in common and -- and -- and --

PRESIDENT BUSH: (Chuckles.)

PRIME MIN. RUDD: -- and they get on well. And so from one Queenslander to one Texan, one Australian to one American, I appreciate the relationship that -- that we are forming, part and parcel to the relationship between two great democracies.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you.

A couple of questions a side. John Yang.

Q Mr. President, thank you very much. I'd like to ask you about Iraq -- thank you. Yesterday, in Dayton, in your remarks you said that the Iraqi offensive against criminals in and militants in Basra was a sign of progress. But it's also triggered clashes with supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr. And this morning, U.S. forces were again fighting the Mahdi Army in Sadr City. What does this say about progress in terms of reconciliation in Iraq among the various factions? And what can the United States do, what can you do, what can your administration do to help Prime Minister Maliki make progress in that area?

And Mr. Prime Minister, if I could ask you, when you're in Bucharest next week at the NATO summit, what's going to be your message to the European allies to try to bring them along to have the same sort of commitment you just stated here and a commitment to have military operations with their forces in Afghanistan?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah. John, any government that presumes to represent, you know, the majority of people must confront criminal elements or people who think they can live outside the law. And that's what's taking place in Basra and in other parts of Iraq. I would say this is a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq. There have been other defining moments up to now, but this is a defining moment as well. The decision to move troops -- Iraqi troops into Basra talks about Prime Minister Maliki's leadership.

And one of the early questions I had to the prime minister was, would he be willing to confront criminal elements, whether they be Shi'a or Sunni? Would he, in representing people who want to live in peace, be willing to use force necessary to bring to justice those who, you know, take advantage of a vacuum, or those who murder the innocent? His answer was, "Yes, sir, I will." And I said, "We'll (sic) have our support if that's the case, if you believe in even- handed justice."

And his decision to move into Basra shows even-handed justice, shows he's willing to go after those who believe they're outside the law.

This is a test and a moment for the Iraqi government, which strongly has supported Prime Minister Maliki's actions. And it is an interesting moment for the people of Iraq because in order for this democracy to survive, they must have confidence in their government's ability to protect them and to be even-handed.

And so -- the other thing that's interesting about this, by the way, this happens to be one of the provinces where the Iraqs are in the lead -- Iraqis are in the lead. And that's what they are in this instance. And the United States, of course we'll provide them help if they ask for it and if they need it. But they are in the lead. And this is a good test for them. And of course, routing out these folks who have burrowed in society, who take advantage of, you know, the ability to be criminals or the ability to intimidate citizens, is going to take a while. But it is a necessary part of the development of a free society.

PRIME MIN. RUDD: In answer to your question on Afghanistan, the message I would take to our friends and partners in Europe when we get to Bucharest is, all of us have got to share the burden, and that it's built on an assumption that all of us share a common strategy. So the first message, I think, for all of our friends and partners there in Bucharest is we need to sign up to a common script, both military and civil, in terms of how we actually prosecute and succeed in this conflict. And I believe we can. No point being there unless you believe you can.

And then the second thing is, once you've signed up to a common script, a common strategy, which has both civilian and military dimensions to it in an integrated fashion, to then say to all of our friends and partners let's all step up to the plate to make this work, and across the country of Afghanistan, not just in parts of it.

I'm optimistic that we're going to make some progress in Bucharest. I know the president has put in a lot of effort with a lot of European leaders up until now. We've been talking to some ourselves. And I think we should look forward to a good outcome, because the people of Afghanistan deserve a good outcome.

If I could ask Mark Kenny for his question.

Q Mark Kenny from the Advertiser. Mr. President, both sides have stressed that the alliance is in perfect working order, in good nick.

But how can that be the case? How can the alliance remain unchanged, given that Australia has signaled new foreign policy, with quite different positions from yours on things like Iraq, climate change and potentially over China?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Hm. I guess it depends if you're a half-glass empty guy or a half-glass full guy. It sounds like, to me, our foreign policy interests are aligned. You know, after all, we've committed to an international agreement that will be effective when it comes to greenhouse gases. The prime minister just defined his desire to help this young democracy in Iraq succeed. That's -- that's what we're for.

So I -- I don't see differences when it comes to foreign policy. As a matter of fact, I see common agreement. And one reason why is -- is because we share the same values. And those values are more important than the people who actually occupy the office, by the way. Those are the values that allowed 12 U.S. presidents and 14 Australian prime ministers to be -- to be united in common goals. And so I -- I disagree with the assessment of whatever expert laid that out.

Stephen Lee?

Q Thank you, Mr. President. I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about Iraq and how -- you mentioned criminal elements that are being fought against now. How concerned are you that the violence now reflects in fact a deepening political and civil, even ethnic conflict inside of Iraq? How much now are American forces being drawn into the fighting in the last few hours, even? And how is it going to affect your decision looming on the way ahead? And if I could ask you both, please, to talk a little bit about the crackdown in Tibet and how you see that affecting our relations in China. Thank you.

PRES. BUSH: Okay. Any other subjects you want to wedge in there? (Laughter.)

Okay. Repeat some of those things. He had about five different things. We're getting old, Stephen.

Wait a minute. Look, I -- yes, I've talked about criminal elements. And one of those things that's been well-known is that Basra has been a place where criminality has thrived.

You know, it's a port; a lot of goods and services go through there. And there was a -- from the beginning of liberation, there have been criminal elements that have had a pretty free hand in Basra. And it was just a matter of time before the government was going to have to deal with it.

And you know, I haven't spoke to the prime minister since he's made his decision, but I suspect that he would say, "Look, the citizens down there just got sick and tired of this kind of behavior." You know, most people want to have normal lives. Most people don't like to be shaken down. You know, most mothers want their children to go to school peacefully, and yet that wasn't the case in Basra.

And so, you know, I'm not exactly sure what triggered the prime minister's response. I don't know if it was one phone call. I don't know what -- you know, whether or not the -- you know, the local mayor called him and said, "Help! We're sick and tired of dealing with these folks." But nevertheless he made the decision to move.

And we'll help him, but this was his decision. It was his military planning. It was his causing the troops to go from point A to point B. And it's exactly what, you know, a lot of folks here in America were wondering whether or not Iraq would ever be able to do in the first place. And it's happening.

Now, they're fighting some pretty tough characters, people who kill innocent people to achieve objectives. And yes, there's going to be violence. And that's sad. But this situation needed to be dealt with. And it's now being dealt with, just like we're dealing with the situation up in Mosul.

I have said in my remarks there's been substantial progress, and there has been, but it's still a dangerous, fragile situation in Iraq. And therefore, my decision will be based upon the recommendations of Secretary Gates, the Joint Chiefs, as well as General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, all aiming to make sure that we have enough of a presence to make sure that we're successful in Iraq.

And the reason why it's successful -- important to be successful in Iraq, because, one, we want to help establish a democracy in the heart of the Middle East, the most volatile region in the world; two, we want to send a clear message to Iran that they're not going to be able to, you know, have their way with nations in the Middle East; three, that we want to make it clear that we can defeat al Qaeda. Al Qaeda made a stand in Iraq. They're the ones who said this is the place where the war will, you know, take place. And a defeat of al Qaeda will be a major victory in this war against extremists and radicals.

Four, we want to show what's possible to people. There are reformers all over the Middle East who want to know whether or not the United States and friends will stand with these young democracies.

And so this is vital for our national interests.

And I'm -- I'm confident we can succeed, unless we lose our nerve, unless we allow politics to get in the way of -- of making the necessary decisions, which I have vowed to our military and our civilians in Iraq that that's not going to be the case, so long as I am the president.

And I'm -- as I told you, this is a defining moment, and it's a moment of -- you know, where the government is acting. And it's going to take a while for them to deal with these elements. But they're after it, and that's what's positive.

Tibet -- he wants to talk to you about Tibet. (Laughter.)

PRIME MIN. RUDD: I'll say one or two things about Tibet, and then we'll fix on Australian --

The -- it's -- it's absolutely clear that there are human rights abuses in Tibet. That's clear-cut. We need to be up front and absolutely straight about what's going on, shouldn't shilly-shally about it. We've made our positions clear on the public record -- the Australian government has -- about the need for restraint in the handling of this. I think it would be appropriate for the Chinese government to engage the Dalai Lama or his representatives in a -- in a informal set of discussions about future possibilities when it comes to internal arrangements within Tibet. We recognize China's sovereignty over Tibet. But it is difficult, and it's complex, and it certainly will be matters which I'll be raising when I visit -- visit China myself at the end of this visit abroad.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Just -- Mr. Prime Minister, excuse me. Stephen Lee is anxious on my view on Tibet. And couldn't have said it better, and that's exactly what I told Hu Jintao a couple of days ago: that it's in his country's interest that he sit down again with representatives of the Dalai Lama, he -- not personally, but to have -- have representatives do so -- and that we urged restraint. And I appreciate the prime minister's view and advice on dealing with this issue.

PRIME MIN. RUDD: Paul Bongiorno.

Q Paul Bongiorno with Ten News.

Mr. President, as you noted, Australia will begin withdrawing 500 combat troops from southern Iraq, and I heard that you accept this decision, which did, as you say, play out in our election. But how does it fit with your view, expressed quite strongly again yesterday, that to withdraw troops at this time would be to retreat?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Hm.

Q And you've described our former prime minister as a man of steel. I'm wondering how you'd describe Mr. Rudd.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Hm. Fine lad, fine lad.

First of all, I -- I didn't exactly say that. And by the way, we are withdrawing troops. (Chuckles.) It's called return on success. And our intention is to pull down five -- five battalions by July. Troops are coming out -- five brigades. Excuse me. Troops are coming out, because we're successful. And so I would view the Australian decision as return on success, returning home on success.

That's fundamentally different from saying: Well, it's just too hard. Pull them all out.

That sends a different signal. This is a signal in which we're working collaboratively with the Iraqi government. They know our intentions, and they know we're not going to leave them. In the very same speech, I talk about developing a long-term strategic relationship with Iraq as well. And for those who didn't listen to the full speech, I'll remind you that it's in our interest that we enter into such an arrangement. But a long-term strategic arrangement does not commit any future president to any troop level, nor does it talk about permanent bases. But it does talk about a joint strategic relationship to make sure that the Iraqi people know and the Iraqi government knows that we're not going to leave them in the lurch.

And so we are taking troops out, just like the Australians are, because we're being successful. And his question -- Stephen Lee's question was, well, are you going to bring any further out, not are you going to bring any, are you going to bring any further troops out from that which we committed to do earlier. And the answer is, it depends on what our commanders say and the folks in Washington say, and it compends (sic; depends) upon conditions on the ground. His real question was, have the conditions changed such that you believe your commander's going to make a different recommendation than he might have two days ago? And I can't answer that question. I can only tell you what I'm going to do after -- after we get back from NATO.

Thank you for coming. I have enjoyed it.

Q (Off mike.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah. Heck, yeah.

PRIME MIN. RUDD: (Laughs.)

PRESIDENT BUSH: Thanks for coming.

PRIME MIN. RUDD: Good.


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