Briefing by First Lady Laura Bush to Press PoolAboard Plane
En Route Shannon, Ireland
May 24, 2005
Released by the White House
MRS. BUSH: Okay, well, I think we had a very, very good trip. It was a -- we got to see a variety of things, a lot of schools, which I think is really encouraging, girls' schools, which was fun for me to get to visit, but also I think really encouraging about the places we visited, especially Egypt and Jordan with the schools there.
I really think the overriding issue that everyone had, all the people I talked to, was the situation between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and how each country, Jordan and Egypt, are both working on the peace process. And then, of course, when I met with Israelis and Palestinian women, that was the issue they were most concerned with, obviously, it would be their most important issue; but also how important the United States is to the peace process, how everyone, people that I talked to in civil society who talked about the Palestinian-Israeli issue, want the United States to stay involved, they want the United States to push, actually, to make sure there is a withdrawal from the Gaza this summer, but also that the road map is followed. And I heard that from Crown Prince Abdullah and Princess Rania, and of course, from Suzanne Mubarak and from a lot of other Egyptian women who are -- that I had a chance to talk to today and yesterday at the luncheon.
But I think it was a terrific trip. I think we met all the goals we had, but first, just a trip of friendship. Both King Abdullah and Queen Rania I've met before. We hosted them at Camp David. I've seen them several times and they're good friends. And then Suzanne Mubarak has been a friend literally for years. I told Suzanne [Malveaux] that in Barbara and Jenna's baby book is a picture of Mrs. Bush showing a baby picture of Barbara and Jenna right after they were born to Suzanne Mubarak when she happened to be in Washington at the Vice President's house.
So both -- and also, I think, obviously, in Israel, meeting with Mrs. Katsav, that was very important; and then especially important to go to Jericho and meet with the Palestinian women there. Some of those women had been at the State Department for International Women's Day, so I'd already had the opportunity to meet with them and talk with them, and it was nice to see them again.
But each one of the women we met, including at the big reception this morning in Egypt, are very distinguished women in their own rights. They're college professors, they're deans of universities. A lot of times, they're the first woman dean in their university's history. Many of them run NGOs or have started NGOs of their own. A lot of them are concerned with politics. There was actually an opposition woman there this morning. And all of them are very concerned about freedom and democracy, and they're particularly concerned about peace in the Middle East.
So overall, I think it was a very, very good trip. And I had a great time, besides that. It was especially fun to get to go to the Pyramids, to get to go to Mount Nebo, to get to go to all of the sights that we got to visit.
Q: Mrs. Bush, this was a trip where we saw you step out as First Lady in a way that we really haven't before, getting involved in some international issues here. Is that something that you plan to continue? Can you talk about what other countries you might want to visit, what other issues you might want to get involved in?
MRS. BUSH: I actually have already for a number of years spoken out about international issues. If you'll remember, I did the radio address about the treatment of women in Afghanistan. I spoke at the OECD in Paris two years ago. I visited Europe separate from George, went to Prague. So this isn't the first time I've traveled alone. Of course! , I traveled to Mexico and to a number of South American countries for the Summit of the -- Summit of the Americas Spouses meetings over the first four years.
But sure, I'm interested in this. I'm particularly interested in women's rights. I've always been interested in education. It's what I've spent my lifetime working on, and I think particularly girls' education is one of the most important issues facing the world, that if women have the chance to be educated as girls, or as women if they have grown -- if they are that old and haven't had a chance to be educated, civil society will prosper, democracies can prosper, economies will prosper. Women are very, very important to the economy of their country.
And besides the human rights issue, the women want to be involved, the women want to be able to contribute to their countries and contribute to civil society, and, just like men, want to do that. And education affords women the opportunity to do that. And so that's something I've always worked on.
Q: If I could follow up on that. Do you have plans to travel for this term? Any specific regions that you want to go to?
MRS. BUSH: I don't have specific plans right now. But of course, I'll travel with the President when he does to the G8 this summer in Scotland, and maybe do some trip around that, as well.
Q: Mrs. Bush, I'm interested in what you said yesterday about democracy and the need to take it slow. Shouldn't we be encouraging reformers to press -- should we be on the leading edge of reform and encouraging speed?
MRS. BUSH: We are on the leading edge, believe me. We're on the leading edge. And if you listened to the President's inaugural address, if you know what we've already done in Afghanistan and Iraq, I mean, those are issues that we are pressing countries, all around the world.
But let me say this, it has to come, to some extent, from inside. It can't come always from us, from us trying to tell other countries. Other countries have totally different cultures, different traditions. They're not going to have a democracy that looks like ours, and we shouldn't expect them to have a democracy that looks like ours.
In every country we've gone to, steps are being made. We have already a very, very thriving democracy in Israel. Israel is a leader in democratic reform around the world. Now the Palestinian Territories have the opportunity to do the same thing. They had a vote there. They elected Prime Minister Abbas, the first time they have really had a chance to have an election like that. We've seen an election in Iraq, we've seen an election in Afghanistan. Those are all very important. President Mubarak is taking a first step for free and fair elections in Egypt. That's also a very, very important step.
But you know as well as I do that the United States has been a leader in this, especially during the time that my husband has been President. He's the first President who's called for a Palestinian free state.
One of the great things about all the discussion about peace between Israel and Palestine that I had with women all over this region is that everyone really believes we have a chance. They believe that there are two leaders right now, in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories, that are taking huge risks, that are taking huge personal risks to come to the table with each other to try to figure out a way to solve this age-old problem.
And as you know, you've seen it or you've read about it if you're not that old, there have been a lot of times, there have been a number of attempts to have a peace between Israel and the Palestinian Territory. This is the first time there's been an attempt to have a free Palestinian state, and I think that's a very, very important piece of the whole peace process. And I think that's why so many people are encouraged about what will happen. But also -- and I can't reiterate this enough -- they want the United States to be involved. And when your different reporters or you ask about the anti-American feeling, the fact is, each one of these countries want the United States to be involved. We are also an important part of the peace process.
Q: Is there a danger, when you talk about how it took so long for the United States to abolish slavery or to give women equal rights -- you talk about how it took over a hundred years -- is there any danger that we're sending a signal to these fledgling democracies that you can go really slow and you can do it in a way that does not actually comport with sort of all the -- the message of the President on what a free country actually would look like?
MRS. BUSH: No, I don't think so at all. I think what we're telling them, which is what I quote Vaclav Havel as saying, is that democracy is not easy. It's much harder to have everyone in a society know that they are responsible, that they are responsible for their towns, that they are responsible for their schools, that they have a civic responsibility and a duty in a democracy to not just vote, although that's certainly a very important part of it, but to be involved in civil society, to be tolerant and respectful of other people's opinions, to come to the table with dialogue and let other people tell you what their opinions are without taking offense, for instance, or trying -- first, a free press. I mean, all of those are things that you know specifically, and that is how important dialogue is, how important it is to have a free press in each one of these countries.
And that's one of the pillars of a democracy. One thing is a free press, another thing is the right to free speech, for everyone to have the right to free speech. And these are values that we know. But we also know that we're not perfect, and I think that's a very important message to get out, especially as we press countries to try to open up their societies and to build democracies. And that is, we -- it's a constant vigilance to have a democracy, and we know that, and we know it from our history. And fortunately for them, and for all of these other fledgling that we're seeing in central European countries and the former Soviet countries, is they don't have to take as long as we did. They can learn from the mistakes we made and other democracies have made in their long histories.
Q: Mrs. Bush, some of the opposition groups in Egypt were not happy when you made your comments yesterday. They think you're giving cover to Mubarak to take half-steps. What do you say to them?
MRS. BUSH: Well, I said exactly what I meant, which is he has taken a first step, a very, very important first step. And what we all have to see is whether or not -- how this works. As you know, there's still several steps -- they have an amendment, they have a constitutional vote that their parliament will vote on. And so there are a number of steps between what he first said and what will happen with an election.
President Bush has asked that election monitors be allowed to come in to make sure it's a free election. But that -- when you think about where you start and where you end up, every part of it is a step, and every step is important. And to act like you can just go from here to there overnight is na ve, for one thing. And especially I don't want Americans trying to tell people how you're going to go from here to here in no time, because we know that that's not easy and we know that it's, in many cases, not even possible. So I applaud President Mubarak for taking the first step.
Q: What message will you take home to your husband? Is there anything that you've learned that you'll ask him to take additional steps?
MRS. BUSH: I'll talk to him about a number of these things, but I'll also take home other requests that I've heard from a lot of different people. I don't know that you know that most of the schools we visited were USAID-funded or partially funded by USAID. There is a lot of work that we do as a government, the United States government does, in Israel and Jordan and Egypt that we've done for a number of years to fund education, particularly girls' education, an! d to fund civil society work and certainly work in building democracies. And that's really important and I want him to know that.
The Governor of Alexandria, who rode with me to the event and back, thanked me again for the aid that comes from the United States, USAID funding, particularly for schools. And I think that's important, and I think it's important for the President to know that. I think it's important for the American people to know that, that we are spending their money, taxpayers' money, in a good and wise way in these countries to make sure particularly girls are educated but that all people are educated.
Q: Mrs. Bush, you said that the people you talked to, they said it was very important for the U.S. to get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process --
MRS. BUSH: The U.S. is already involved. They just want the U.S. to continue to be involved. They want the U.S. to press both Prime Minister Sharon, of course, and Prime Minister Abbas as they come to the table. And on the other hand, they are also doing the same thing. President Bush Mubarak has been very, very active in the peace process for years, as you know, since the peace between Egypt and Israel, and they are also a very important part of it.
Q: Did they give you a timetable, did they press, did they want the U.S. to become more involved right away, or any kind of sense of the pace of this?
MRS. BUSH: No, the only timetable they -- the urgency they feel is because they think there's a chance right now with these two leaders, with Prime Minister Sharon and Abbas, that there is a -- that they are willing. And because they are, we need to seize this opportunity to move as quickly as we can possibly move to get this peace.
Q: You heard some comments from the Palestinian women when you were in Jericho about the wall and how it was preventing them from getting through. What do you think now about these obstacles that Israel has put up that are affecting these Palestinian women? Is Israel doing enough? Are you concerned -- more concerned than you were before you came here?
MRS. BUSH: No, I think that it was very important for me to hear the issues that they have, but I also understand for Israel that if you think terrorists are coming into your country to blow up a pizza parlor every day, then there is a lot of hesitancy. And one very important part of a peace there is to reject terrorism. And that's one of the reasons that Prime Minister Abbas -- that people feel so hopeful right now, because Prime Minister Abbas has done that, he's asked the Palestinian people to put terrorism aside. And that's a very important piece of it.
The road map -- I'm not all sure what's in the road map -- but every step is going to be very, very important. But one of the first steps is to put aside terrorism, to reject hatred. I mean, those are the two first steps that have to be made so that both countries will feel like -- or the Palestinian Territory and Israel -- will feel like they can come together to work together for a peace.
And that's, actually, what, of course, we're asking for all around the Middle East, and that's to reject terrorism. And I thought it was very interesting today at the Bibliotheca at Alexandrina, when he talked about the Arab group that met there, and one of the things they did was, in their manifesto, was to reject terrorism. That's what we're seeing in Iraq now every day. We're seeing Iraqi people dying because of these acts of terrorism. And everyone in every civil society rejects that. Thank you all, thanks for going with me.
Released on May 24, 2005