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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 February 2008, 21:31 GMT
In full: George W Bush's BBC interview
President George W Bush


US President George W Bush has given his first interview to the BBC in almost seven years. Here is the full transcript of his conversation with BBC World News America presenter Matt Frei:

Matt Frei: Mr President, thanks for joining us. You're famous for saying that you don't believe in opinion polls.

President George W Bush: Yeah!

Frei: Do you have any idea how you rate in the countries that you're going to be visiting in Africa?

Mr Bush: No, sir. I don't.

Frei: But, I've got news for you and it's good news.

Mr Bush: All right.

Frei: You rate pretty well. It's sort of - you know, in the average 80s... Is that one of the reasons why you're going there? This is one the parts of the world where you're still very popular?

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Mr Bush: I - I go where needed. And - no, I'm going there because I've got a firm, heartfelt commitment to the continent of Africa and have ever since I became president. General interest - national interest that we have people who are suffering from disease and hunger and hopelessness. The only way a radical can recruit is to find somebody who's hopeless. I mean, their vision is, like, really dark and dim. Plus - I believe without to whom much is given, much is required. And - America's been given a lot. And it's required of us to help those that suffer. So... mine is a mission of mercy and a mission of the cold realism of the world in which we live - based upon the realism of the world in which we live.

Frei: Your administration has given $15bn to treat Aids in Africa?

Mr Bush: Yeah.

Frei: Which is an unprecedented amount of money, and you want to double that amount yet again?

Mr Bush: Yeah.

Frei: This is a huge commitment. And, yet, the administration and you, personally, don't seem to be getting a lot of credit for it.

Mr Bush: Yeah - you know, this is kind of tied to your first question about polls. Polls are nothing more than just, like, a puff of air. What matters is results. And, ultimately, people will be able to make, you know, an objective judgment of a president and his administration and, in this case, a country's commitment. And so I care really about is the results of the programmes. I hope by now people have learned that I'm not one of these guys that - really gives a darn about elite opinion. What I really care about is, are we saving lives? And in this case, we are. As I mentioned in my speech that you kindly listened to - when I first went to Sub-Saharan Africa, 50,000 were receiving antiretrovirals. Today, 1.3 million. And that's a lot in a very quick period of time. But, there's so much more suffering. And that's why I've called for a doubling of aid. The good news is, it's not just America. As I mentioned in my speech, the G8 nations also are supporting this very important initiative. And, you know, it's... like an effort of mercy.

Frei: But, it has made a huge difference, hasn't it? So...

Mr Bush: Yeah.

Frei: Why not take some credit for it?

Mr Bush: Because it's just not my nature, you know? You just gotta understand about me, I'm more interested in seeing results and sharing the credit with the American people. I mean, this is not a George Bush effort. I just happened to be the leader of a nation that's willing to fund this kind of money. And so, I praised Congress in my speech. I praised the American [people] in my speech. After all, they're the ones who funded the effort.

Frei: You were very tough in your speech about Darfur. And, yet again, you called what's happening there genocide?

Mr Bush: Yeah.

Frei: Is enough being done by your administration to stop that?

Benin - Cotonou: arrival ceremony, meets president
Tanzania - Dar-es-Salaam: meets president, tours hospital; Arusha: tours hospital, textile mill and girls' school
Rwanda - Kigali: meets president, visits genocide memorial
Ghana - Accra: meets president, state dinner
Liberia - Monrovia: meets president, visits university

Mr Bush: I think we are. Yeah. You know, I had to make a seminal decision. And that is whether or not I would commit US troops into Darfur. And I was pretty well backed off of it by - you know, a lot of folks - here in America that care deeply about the issue. And so, once you make that decision, then you have to rely upon an international organisation like the United Nations to provide the oomph - necessary manpower... You know, I read - did call it (SOUND GLITCH) genocide, and I think we're the only nation that has done so. Secondly, I did remind people that we're sanctioning leaders. That we have targeted [Sudanese] companies and individuals, including a rebel leader, who have yet to be constructive in the peace process. We [are] beginning to get a sense of these things as they're affecting behaviour. We're trying to ask others, by the way, to do the same thing. Some of who are reluctant; some who aren't. And then, finally, I pledged that we'll help move troops in. And yeah, and as I also said you might remind your listeners, that I'm frustrated by the pace.

Frei: I'll get on to that in a minute. But, I mean, genocide is just a loaded - it's such an important word. And you have committed troops - American troops around the world in other cases throughout... Afghanistan. Why not in this case?

Mr Bush: Well, that's a good question. I mean, we're committing equipment, you know? Training, help, movement. I think a lot of the folks who are concerned about America into another Muslim country. Some of the relief groups here just didn't think the strategy would be as effective as it was. I mean, actually, believe it or not, listen to people's opinions. And chose to make this decision. It's a decision that I'm now living with. And it's a decision that requires us to continue to rally the conscience of the world and get people to focus on the issue. You know, you're right. I mean, we sent marines into Liberia, for example, to help stabilise the country there. And Liberia's on my itinerary where I'll meet with the first woman, you know, elected president in Africa - history. And - but, I just made the decision I made.

Frei: Yesterday, Steven Spielberg - the Hollywood director - pulled out of the Beijing Olympics over Darfur. He said the Chinese aren't doing enough to stop the killing in Darfur. Do you applaud his move?

Mr Bush: That's up to him. I'm going to the Olympics. I view the Olympics as a sporting event. On the other hand, I have a little different platform than Steven Spielberg so, I get to talk to President Hu Jintao. And I do remind him that he can do more to relieve the suffering in Darfur. There's a lot of issues that I suspect people are gonna, you know, opine, about during the Olympics. I mean, you got the Dali Lama crowd. You've got global warming folks. You've got, you know, Darfur and... I am not gonna you know, go and use the Olympics as an opportunity to express my opinions to the Chinese people in a public way 'cause I do it all the time with the president. I mean. So, people are gonna be able to choose - pick and choose how they view the Olympics.

Frei: The Chinese government has been saying - part in response to this that - "America is [slipping back into] Cold War thinking."

Mr Bush: Yeah. Well, you know, they're... I think that's just a brush back pitch, as we say in baseball. It's... America is trapped in this notion that we care about human life. We respect human dignity. And that's not a trap. That's a belief. And that many of [us] in this country recognise that the human condition matters to our own national security. See, I happen to believe we're in an ideological struggle. And, those who murder the innocent to achieve political objectives are evil people. But, they have an ideology. And the only way you can recruit for that ideology is to find hopeless folks. I mean, who wants to join an ideology say women don't have rights? You can't express yourself freely. Religious beliefs are... you know, the only religious belief you can hold is the one we tell you. And, oh, by the way, it's great. You can be a suicider. Well, hopeless people are the ones who get attracted by that point of view. And, therefore, it's in the world's interest from a national security perspective to deal with hopelessness. And it has to be in our moral interest. I repeat to you... I believe to whom much is given, much is required. It happens to be a religious notion. But, it should be a universal notion as well. And... I believe America's soul is enriched, our spirit is enhanced when we help people who suffer.

Frei: I mention the genocide thing also because your predecessor, President Clinton, says that the one thing - one of the key things that keeps him up at night is that he didn't do enough over at Rwanda to stop the killing there. Is it possible that Darfur might become your Rwanda?

Mr Bush: I don't think so. I certainly hope not. I mean, Rwanda was, you know, I think 900,000 people in a very quick period of time of just wholesale slaughter. And I, you know, I appreciate President Clinton's compassion and concern. And, you know, I'm comfortable with making' a decision that I think is the best decision. And comfortable with the notion that once that decision is made we're keeping the world's focus as best as we can on that amongst other issues.

Frei: ... [Zimbabwe is an issue] that certainly Britain and the United States care deeply about. Again, this has been going on for years. What can be done to stop the crisis in Zimbabwe?

Mr Bush: Yeah... it's to speak to the conscience of the world and remind people of the facts... I mean, Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of southern Africa. Today, it's in line for food aid. Zimbabwe was - is now a place where people are repressed 'cause of their beliefs. And you're right. There is not a lot of outcry.... Look, not everything is perfect in this world. And it just requires constant focus. And one way to do it is for the American president to speak out or... the British prime minister to speak out. As you know, I mentioned South Africa. I have great respect for the people of South Africa. I just happen to believe their government could do more - to enhance - you know, a free society in their region. And yeah, there's a lot of frustrations in this world. And there's a lot of hope in this world as well.

Frei: You're nearing the end of your second term. And, I guess, what you call this legacy time. Now, whatever you do and say about Africa, there's only one country, really, that the wider world will associate with you. And that equation is Bush equals Iraq.

Mr Bush: Yeah... yeah.

Frei: Are you happy about that?

Mr Bush: Well, I mean... that's what the current, you know, elite would like everybody to think about. And that's... fine. I think... when history marches on, there will be a little more objective look about the totality of this administration. Of course... the change in the way we... to date in Africa is substantial and different, and lives will have been saved. You know, dealing with liberating 25 million in Afghanistan is part of what I hope people think of when they look at my presidency. Being the first president to propose a two-state solution on Israel and Palestine. I mean, there's a lot of other issues. And I'm happy with Iraq. The... decision to move Saddam Hussein was right. And this democracy is now taking root. And I'm confident that if America does not become isolationist - you know, and allow the terrorists to take back over - Iraq will succeed.

Frei: But, do you regret, rather, I should say that you didn't listen to your - some of your commanders earlier, to send more troops to Iraq to achieve the kind of results that we're seeing now?

Mr Bush: You know, my commanders didn't tell me that early. My commanders said, "We got the right level of troops." You know, war is - you know, it's easy to second get [sic]... the tactical decisions of war. And I fully understand. And expect that to happen. All I can do is base decisions on the considered judgment of the experts. And I did. And - I take full responsibility for every military decision that's been made in Iraq. But, I'm pleased with what's happening now. And the world is beginning to recognise that the decision to send more troops was a pretty tough decision at the time. It's providing enough security for the politics to take place. This morning - you're the first reporter that I've been able to describe these conversations to. But, I did speak to the prime minister, the speaker and two deputy speakers to congratulate them on a series of substantial legislative achievements - that are beginning to say to the world, and more importantly the Iraqi people, reconciliation is happening and the legislative body is beginning to function, which is good news.

Frei: The Senate yesterday passed a bill outlawing water-boarding. You, I believe, have said that you will veto that bill.

Mr Bush: That's not -

Frei: Does that not send the wrong signal...

Mr Bush: No, look... that's not the reason I'm vetoing the bill. The reason I'm vetoing the bill - first of all, we have said that whatever we do... will be legal. Secondly, they are imposing a set of standards on our intelligence communities in terms of interrogating prisoners that our people will think will be ineffective. And, you know, to the critics, I ask them this: when we, within the law, interrogate and get information that protects ourselves and possibly others in other nations to prevent attacks, which attack would they have hoped that we wouldn't have prevented? And so, the United States will act within the law. We'll make sure professionals have the tools necessary to do their job within the law. Now, I recognise some say that these - terrorists - really aren't that big a threat to the United States anymore. I fully disagree. And I think the president must give his professionals within the law the necessary tools to protect us. So, we're not having a debate not only how you interrogate people. We're having a debate in America on whether or not we ought to be listening' to terrorists making' phone calls in the United States. And the answer is darn right we ought to be.

Frei: But, given Guantanamo Bay, given also Abu Ghraib, given renditions, does this not send the wrong signal to the world?

Mr Bush: It should send a signal that America is going to respect law. But, it's gonna take actions necessary to protect ourselves and find information that may protect others. Unless, of course, people say, "Well, there's no threat. They're just making up the threat. These people aren't problematic." But, I don't see how you can say that in Great Britain after people came and, you know, blew up bombs in subways. I suspect the families of those victims are - understand the nature of killers. And, so, what people gotta understand is that we'll make decisions based upon law. We're a nation of law. Take Guantanamo. Look, I'd like it to be empty. On the other hand, there's some people there that need to be tried. And there will be a trial. And they'll have their day in court. Unlike what they did to other people. Now, there's great concern about, you know, and I can understand this. That these people be given rights. The - what - they're not willing' to grant the same rights to others. They'll murder. But, you gotta understand, they're getting rights. And I'm comfortable with the decisions we've made. And I'm comfortable with recognising this is still a dangerous world.

Frei: Can you honestly say, Mr President, that today America still occupies the moral high ground?

Mr Bush: Absolutely - absolutely. We believe in human rights and human dignity. We believe in the human condition. We believe in freedom. And we're willing to take the lead. We're willing to ask nations to do hard things. We're willing to accept responsibilities. And - yeah, no question in my mind. It's a nation that's a force for good. And history will judge - the decisions made during this period of time as necessary decisions. And I [firmly] believe that we are laying the foundation for peace. People have written off the Middle East. It's impossible to change the conditions there. Let's just ignore it. Or let's promote stability, which was part of the foreign policy of the past. I chose a different course. Stability didn't work. Stability created the conditions that were right for these terrorists to emerge and recruit. I happen to believe free societies provide hope. And I would hope that people in Europe, for example, understand that freedom has led to peace, and ought to be supporting the freedom movements and not shy away from the responsibility of the comfortable to help those who long for freedom. And it's hard work. It's really hard work. And it doesn't happen instantly. You know, we live in a world like - and all due respect - the 24 hour news. We live in a world where everything's, like, instant. But, the work we're doing... it takes patience. But, most importantly, it takes faith in the universality of freedom that exists in every heart. And so, yeah, I'm not only happy to defend decisions. I'm confident that they will lead to a better tomorrow.

Frei: Mr President, I gather we've run out of time.

Mr Bush: Thanks.

Frei: Thank you.

Mr Bush: You bet.

Frei: Thank you.

Matt Frei is the presenter of BBC World News America which airs every weekday at 0030 GMT on BBC News 24 and at 0000 GMT (1900 ET / 1600 PT) on BBC World (for viewers outside the UK only).

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