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Laura Bush: U.S. will have female president in 'the next few terms'

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First lady Laura Bush

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Laura Bush
Condoleezza Rice

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- First lady Laura Bush spoke Friday with CNN anchor Zain Verjee before leaving for Liberia to attend the inauguration of the first female president in Africa. Laura Bush is going be leading a U.S. delegation to the inauguration ceremonies. They take place Monday in the capital, Monrovia.

VERJEE: Why is it so important for you to attend the inauguration ceremony of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think it's a very, very historical time for Liberia, of course, and really for the whole continent of Africa to have the first woman president. Liberia just has had 14 years of civil war, of a lot of problems. And they just ended up with a really good, competitive and fair election. And it's really thrilling that Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson is going to be the new president.

VERJEE: She's a magnificent woman, isn't she?

BUSH: She is.

VERJEE: Very, very powerful.

As an American woman, seeing that Africa has its first elected president who is a woman, what does that make you think? Do you think it's time that America...

BUSH: I think it will happen, for sure. I think it will happen probably in the next few terms of the presidency in the United States.

VERJEE: Who would you like to see?

BUSH: Well, of course, a Republican. Maybe Dr. [Condoleezza] Rice.

VERJEE: Yes?

BUSH: Yes. And she says she definitely is not running.

VERJEE: But you would like to see her run?

BUSH: Sure, I'd love to see her run. She's terrific.

VERJEE: I have grown up in Africa. You know, I've seen sort of the poverty, the HIV/AIDS there that really devastates the continent. The lack of education programs, as you are well aware of.

How do you think you can make a difference, even a small difference, to the lives of African women and Africans in general in the projects that you are trying to do?

BUSH: Well, I think that when -- actually, if we talk about it, if we speak out from all over the world and talk about how important it is for girls to be educated; how if girls are educated, they have much more of a chance to be able to negotiate their own sex life, for instance, to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. And then to be able to contribute to their economies, to their societies.

As we look around the world and we see countries where women are left out, we usually see an unstable, not very prosperous economy. And we know that for countries to be able to really succeed, everybody needs to be able to be involved.

VERJEE: There was a very dramatic moment a couple of days ago in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings where Mrs. Alito just sort of broke down, cried and left the room on hearing her husband being criticized.

BUSH: Do I ever feel like doing that?

VERJEE: Yes, I mean -- have you...

BUSH: Every once in a while.

VERJEE: Do you ever feel like crying when you hear the president being criticized, called a liar, being abused?

BUSH: Well, no, not really. But I will say I called Martha Alito yesterday to tell her to hang in there. I do think it's really important in the United States for people like Judge Alito to be treated with respect.

I think it's very important for the Senate to have a very civil and respectful hearing for anyone that has been nominated for the Supreme Court or for the other jobs that require Senate confirmation.

But on the other hand, my family's been in politics for a long time. And I think you do develop a thick skin. Does it ever not hurt? You know, not really.

VERJEE: So you don't take it personally?

BUSH: Well, you try not to take it personally. But that's what I want to say, is that I think personal attacks are what people don't like and are what are really unwarranted.

VERJEE: Let's talk a little bit about the families that you meet whose sons or daughters have been killed in Iraq. What's it like for you to comfort them, to console them? Especially if these are families who no longer believe in the cause, no longer believe that Iraq is worth it and that it was all in vain. How do you console them?

BUSH: Of course, as you can imagine, it's unbelievably difficult. For them, what they have to suffer, what they'll suffer for the rest of their lives with the loss of somebody they loved best. And then for the president and for me to meet with these families and to know what they've lost and what they've suffered.

VERJEE: What do you say?

BUSH: Amazingly enough, many times they are the ones that comfort us. In a lot of cases, military families have a tradition of being military families. The fathers themselves or the mothers were in the military. And it's a proud tradition of their family. In many, many cases, the grandparents were also in the military.

But, you know, what we say is what we say today, to you, which is, we do think it's worth it, that we know we can really make a huge difference in the world if Iraq, in the middle of the Middle East, can build a stable democracy. It will be unbelievable, really.

I mean, it will be something that will be so strong for all of the other surrounding countries, for Palestine, for Israel, for this opportunity to build peace there and to build strong and stable countries.

VERJEE: And finally, I know the president has an iPod; you don't have an iPod.

BUSH: I have an iPod. No, I have an iPod.

VERJEE: So, I'll ask you then, what's on your reading list for 2006? What are you reading now?

BUSH: Well, right now, let's see, I'm reading a really great book about Gertrude Bell. Gertrude Bell was a British woman who was really very ahead of her time. She did a lot of travel in what we would call the Middle East and Arabia ... . And she was very influential in actually the designation of Iraq as we know it at the end of World War I. And it's a book about a very, very fascinating and adventuresome woman, but also a very interesting time.

VERJEE: Do you ever recommend your books to the president to read?

BUSH: Sure. Yes, we share books with each other a lot.

VERJEE: All right, thank you so much, Mrs. Bush.

BUSH: Thank you.

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