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Sky News exclusive interview with President George Bush
Friday August 31, 2007

Speers: Mr President, the United States has around 160,000 troops in Iraq at the moment. Australia has in its battle group only around 500 in the relatively safe Dhi Qar province; is this just a symbolic contribution and would it really matter if they were brought home?

Bush: Mm. First, I want to thank the Howard government and the people of Australia for joining this global struggle against extremists and radicals who are trying to impose their vision on the world, and that struggle is found in, ah, being played out in Iraq and Afghanistan right now, and other places, and so I view Australia's contribution to peace and freedom as more than just Iraq. I view it as, one, a strategic partnership with the United States. I view their contribution as intelligence contributions. But I also understand that the, that there's a commitment to helping people live in freedom as the long-term solution to this ideological struggle. And, you know, I'm often asked about coalition troops, and my attitude is our coalition partners ought to be making decisions based upon conditions on the ground because failure in Iraq would lead to, in my judgement, to turmoil, chaos in the Middle East, and other attacks on the United States and other nations. Success will be a major blow to these radicals and extremists that will make it easier for us to say we've done our duty and laid the foundation for peace.

Speers: Well as you know, there's an election only two or three months away in Australia and Kevin Rudd, the opposition leader, is ahead in all of the polls and he has promised to pull those combat troops out of Iraq if he wins. He says he'll consult with the U.S. So if he does win what would you be saying to him; would you be trying to convince him not to do that?

Bush: Well actually I believe he's on my calendar. I of course will be meeting with the Prime Minister and then I'll be meeting with Mr Rudd, and I'm looking forward to it. He doesn't know me and I don't know him and so I look forward to sharing my views; and would ask if he were to win that he consider conditions on the ground before making any decisions, that what matters is success, and I believe we can be successful. And I know it's important to be successful. And I would be glad to explain to him, you know, why am I optimistic that this hard work will achieve what we all want, which is, you know, over time fewer troops and peace. The main thing we want is to make sure that we deal these radicals and extremists a major blow, which is success in Iraq.

See, here's the interesting thing that I hope the people of Australia understand, there are two forms of extremism that have now converged on Iraq, one Sunni extremism in the likes of Al Qaeda. These people in Iraq swore allegiance to the very same person that ordered the attack on the United States of America. Sunni extremists have killed Australians. Sunni extremists that are inspired by this ideology are killing around the world. And then there's the strain of Shiism extremism that is fostered by Iran. And these are the two major threats to world peace and they've converged on Iraq, which should say that we need to do the hard work necessary so we can have peace in the long term for children growing up both in the United States and Australia.

Speers: So you need those Australian troops there?

Bush: Well we need... we need all our coalition partners, and I would hope that... And I understand, look, everybody's got their own internal politics, my only point is that, um, whether it be Afghanistan or Iraq, we've got more work to do. We the free world has got more work to do, and I believe those of us who live in liberty have a responsibility to promote forms of government that deal with what causes 19 kids to get on airplanes to kill 3,000 students.

Speers: What then do you say about the British withdrawing significant numbers from southern Iraq, in what many of your officers say is still, is still a dangerous zone of the country?

Bush: Well I've talked to... I said the exact same thing to Gordon Brown, make sure you're dictated by conditions on the ground. I mean... And he's been... Listen, that's exactly what he said he's going to do.

Speers: So that's not premature, that British withdrawal?

Bush: Well he said that he's going to make conditions, ah, decisions based upon conditions, and by the way the Brits are going to make, keep a presence. When you say withdrawal it makes it sound like all their troops are coming home, but that's not, that's...

Speers: A lot of them.

Bush: ...not what's going to happen.

Speers: But a significant number of them are.

Bush: Well, I... You know, he, he will let me know when he makes that decision. You know, he has said that he is going to make decisions in southern Iraq based upon conditions. They're now moved out of the Basra palace into the, into an air base, which is fine, but they will have a presence there to help this Iraqi government succeed.

Speers: You've had a very close relationship with John Howard. You famously called him the ‘Man of Steel'. If he doesn't win the election and Kevin Rudd does become Prime Minister, given you have differences over such a big issue as Iraq...

Bush: Yeah.

Speers: ...will, will the...

Bush: I, I, I...

Speers: ...alliance still be the same?

Bush: I refuse to accept your hypothesis.

Speers: Well if, if he wins.

Bush: Well that's if. I mean you're asking me to answer a hypothetical. I'm...

Speers: But will the alliance change?

Bush: All I can tell you is is that I remember John Howard has been behind in polls before and he's won it, so I... certainly I'm not going to prejudge the, ah, the decision of the Australian people, and I will end up dealing with whomever and work hard to make sure that the Australian and U.S. relationship is good, but I don't buy into your hypothesis.

Speers: But essentially the relationship won't suffer if Kevin Rudd becomes Prime Minister?

Bush: Look, I'll be glad to deal with the situation. See, that's a loaded question. In this sense you're trying to get me to predict the outcome of the election and I'm not going to do it. I'm just...

Speers: No, I'm just after...

Bush: I don't know enough about it and I... I am going down there to deal with the current Prime Minister who no doubt about it is a close personal friend of mine, and I think a man... he is a man of steel because he's a person who stands on conviction and principle. I don't know Mr Rudd. I'm looking forward to getting to know him. And, ah... that's all I really want to comment about...

Speers: A lot of Australians...

Bush: ...your elections.

Speers: A lot of Australians will be weighing up what's going to happen to the alliance if Labor wins the election.

Bush: You know, as I said, I'm really not going to get involved in your election down there. I am going to be a... I'm going down as the U.S. president, proud of the relationship between the United States and Australia. It is a relationship based upon our common values. It's a relationship based upon good economic ties. And it's a really important relationship. And I presume whoever the U.S. president is after me, and the Prime Ministers to come in Australia, under-... will understand how important that is.

Speers: Labor also wants the alliance to focus more on China and its military build up in particular, its nuclear arms stocks. Should more attention be given to that, and China's tensions with Japan?

Bush: Well we spend a lot of time on China in this administration. I've got good relations with both the Japanese and Chinese leadership. My view is that it's important for there to be a, ah, active U.S. presence in Asia, precisely to make sure that old tensions don't flare up. And I'm pleased with the progress that's being made in Asia. And obviously the interesting relationship nowadays is the trading relationship. Australia fortunately has got a surplus with China, and America, however, has got a major deficit with China.

Speers: Does the military issue concern you?

Bush: Ah, it only concerns me if there's hostility. In other words, it only concerns me if the government declares its hostility toward the world. I happen to believe that China's most important issue internally is for them to grown their economy to deal with... You know, they've got to create like 25 million new jobs a year in order to, in order to, you know, stay even, in order to keep their economy growing, and so therefore my view of China is that they're internally focussed to the extent that they want economic growth and vitality, they're externally focussed in order to get the raw materials they need, but if they ever turn hostile I would be concerned about a, you know, a military...

Speers: Mr President, just finally, a lot of Sydneysiders are complaining about the impost of APEC, and particularly your security detail and how that will affect the city for a week while you're there, almost a week while you're there. Do you have any message for them?

Bush: Well first I'm looking forward to coming to the beautiful city, and to the extent that I inconvenience them I apologise. I, I'm not exactly sure what you're talking about in terms of, ah, of...

Speers: The security lockdown in the city and...

Bush: Well that's the first... you know, I... thank you for sharing that with me. My mind... I've got a lot on my mind and, ah, and one of the things that's on my mind is I'm looking forward to coming to they tell me one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I'm... if I inconvenience people I'm, you know, that's not my intent. My intent is to represent my country in a, you know, in an important meeting in a country that I admire a lot, and a country with whom we've got great relationships, and it's important that we continue to have great relations. You know, I... I hope, I hope people, you know, I hope people understand, ah, why it's done and, um, you know, I just hope it doesn't disrupt their lives too much.

Speers: Mr President, we do look forward to seeing you in Sydney.

Bush: I'm looking...

Speers: Thank you very much for your time today.

Bush: ...forward to it. Thank you for your time.

Spears: Thank you.

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