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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Bush Speaks on Iraq, Halliburton

Aired December 12, 2003 - 14:45   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take you back to the White House. The president was introducing the new HUD srecretary, now being questioned about Halliburton. As you know, top story in the last couple days. Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And their investigation will lay the facts out for everybody to see. And if there is an overcharge like we think there is, we expect that money to be repaid.

QUESTION: Mr. President, Secretary Powell's been meeting with unofficial Middle East peace negotiators despite Israel's objections. And there's other signs of U.S. dissatisfaction with Israel. My question is, what does Israel need to do to convince you that it's doing its part in the peace process?

BUSH: You may remember I gave a speech on June 24, 2002. I laid out exactly what I think must happen in order for us to achieve peace in the Middle East, in order for the Palestinian state to emerge that is at peace with Israel.

And I haven't changed my opinion. Step one is for all parties to fight off terror, to stop the few from destroying the hopes of the many. Step two is for the Palestinians to find leadership that is willing to reject the tired old policy of the past and lead the Palestinian people to not only a democratic state but a peaceful solution of differences.

Israel must be mindful that the decisions they make today will make it difficult to create -- must be mindful that they don't make decisions that make it hard to create a Palestinian state. It's in Israel's interest there be a Palestinian state. It's in the poor, suffering Palestinian people's interest there be a Palestinian state.

The Arab world has got a responsibilities to see that this vision be implemented.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) contacts with the unofficial negotiators?

BUSH: I'm sure the secretary of state meets with all kinds of people all the time. But the policy of this administration was laid out in the Rose Garden for everybody to see and everybody to listen to. You might remember, I took that policy to Aqaba, Jordan. I stood up in front of the world and said this man, Abu Mazen that came to the Oval Office, said, "I'm willing to join you, Mr. President, to help fight off terror."

Because he understood that terror was what was preventing progress from being made. He said, "I'm willing to work to put the institutions in place for a Palestinian state."

BUSH: And as we began to make progress, he got shoved aside. And that's why we're stalled where we are today.

It's time for Palestinian leadership to emerge that believes in peace and believes in the aspirations of the Palestinian people.

I see you've got something that you'd like to ask. First let me ask you a question. As you're heading into -- my turn to ask you a question.

(LAUGHTER)

So this is your first Christmas season as a mom.

QUESTION: Second, actually. Eighteen months.

BUSH: Exactly right.

(LAUGHTER)

Good answer. I was just trying to check and see if you knew...

(LAUGHTER)

... if you and I both knew how old your child was.

Do you have a question to the president?

QUESTION: Yes, I do, sir.

Mr. President...

BUSH: Do you remember what it is?

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: You can throw a person, you know that.

(LAUGHTER)

Mr. President, many of your critics are saying that you should distance yourself from Halliburton.

BUSH: Yes?

QUESTION: And they say it's an albatross around this administration's neck, particularly the vice president and you. What are your thoughts about that?

BUSH: My thoughts are is that I expect anybody doing business with the United States government to be transparent and to give the taxpayers a good return on their money. That's what I expect. And if anybody's overcharging the government, we expect them to repay that money.

QUESTION: Mr. President, in light of the New York Times editorial today, tell me why...

BUSH: Let me stop you. I don't read those editorials, so you're going to have to -- maybe you ought to ask the question not in that context, but in another context. Sorry to interrupt you.

QUESTION: All right, sir. Tell me why former Secretary of State Baker's ties with the Carlisle Group and with Baker Botts don't pose a conflict of interest in this new task you have given him of restructuring Iraq's debt.

BUSH: Jim Baker is a man of high integrity. He's a man of enormous experience. And it makes sense for him to serve our country on an important mission, and that mission is to encourage countries to forgive debt so the Iraqi people can more easily grow a nation that is prosperous and peaceful.

BUSH: And Jim Baker is -- Jim Baker -- we're fortunate to have Jim Baker agree to serve our country. We're fortunate he decided to take time out of what is an active life, but one out of the press, and one that's probably not nearly as stressful as it has been when he's been involved in public service, to step forward and serve America.

We're fortunate that he is willing to do that, and I thank him for that. And I'm really happy that he has agreed to serve.

His mission is to go to Paris and to Berlin and Moscow and London to convince these countries to forgive debt. And I'm hopeful they do forgive debt. I'm hopeful that they're willing in some cases to contribute for the first time to the efforts of the Iraqi citizens.

You see, it's in the interest of their countries that Iraq be free and peaceful. As a matter of fact, it's in the interest of all countries that Iraq be peaceful and free. It makes us all more secure.

Imagine what the effect a peaceful and free Iraq is going to have in the heart of the Middle East, where there's so much violence and hatred.

And so, Jim Baker is on a noble mission. He'll do a great job.

I didn't mean to dis the New York Times editorial page, but I just didn't -- I'm not reading it a lot these days.

(LAUGHTER)

Or anybody else's, for that matter.

QUESTION: I have no ties with the administration.

(LAUGHTER) BUSH: You didn't mean to dis it either, then.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Mr. President, the dollar fell again against the euro. Mr. Snow, your Treasury secretary, says that the decline has been orderly, boosting exports.

Do you plan any intervention to stop the slide of the dollar?

BUSH: My answer to that question about the dollar is that this government is for a strong dollar and that the dollar's value ought to be set by the market and by the conditions inherent in our respective economies.

And our economy is very strong and is getting stronger.

BUSH: But the policy, the stated policy and not only the stated policy, but the strong belief of this administration is that we have a strong dollar.

Well, listen, thank you all.

Alphonso, congratulations.

ALPHONSO JACKSON, HUS SECRETARY NOMINATION: Thank you, Mr. President.

BUSH: Appreciate you coming.

PHILLIPS: The president of the United States announces his new appoint there, the head of HUD now Alphonso Jackson. There were a number of questions concerning Halliburton, a story we've been covering, has been on the front page of "The New York Times" as the president mentioned also, in the editorial pages.

Halliburton, as you know, is the oil services company once run by Vice President Dick Cheney. The Pentagon has conducted an audit of this company that's doing work in Iraq and questions have now been raised about a potential overcharge of $61 million on a contract to bring gasoline into Iraq from Kuwait under Halliburton.

So did Halliburton profit from overpriced gas? The president is saying that if indeed there was an overcharge, that this money must be repaid to taxpayers and that investigation will continue.

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