President's Remarks in Q&A with Press Pool

 

Thursday January 1, 2004

Brooks County Airport
Falfurrias, Texas

2:32 P.M. CST

THE PRESIDENT: Wish everybody a happy New Year. It's a good way to start the new year, outdoors -- in my case, with my dad. And it's -- I know this part of Texas real well. It's a spectacular part of our state.

And we were just on a ranch with -- owned by a lady who knows it's important to protect the environment by taking care of the land. And as a result of her taking care of the land, worrying about bird habitats, we happened to see a lot of birds today. But most importantly, I was with my dad. It's a great way to start 2004.

I'm looking forward to 2004. We'll continue to stay focused on our economy, so people can find work and stay focused on working to keep the peace, and -- by spreading freedom and by holding people to account who are willing to harm innocent people around the world. But it's a -- I think 2004 is going to be a great year.

And in the spirit of great years, I'll answer a few questions.

Q How was the hunt?

THE PRESIDENT: It was good fun. You know, when you hunt quail, you get a lot of exercise. As you know, I like exercise. And so my Dad and I, and Ms. Negley, whose ranch we were on, walked a lot of territory, watched the dogs work, and knocked down some birds.

Q How many?

THE PRESIDENT: I think I shot five. The limit in Texas, I believe, is 15. I'm not that good a shot, but it was a lot of fun.

Q Did you talk to Mr. Baker?

THE PRESIDENT: Pardon me?

Q Did you talk to Secretary Baker?

THE PRESIDENT: I did talk to Secretary Baker. He came by for lunch. First, I thanked him for spending as much time as he did on the road for our country. As you know, he went to Europe first and then recently went to the Far East. He reported on his visits with Prime Minister Koizumi and President Hu Jintao. And he was very positive about his meetings. He's going to come back up and brief Condi and me in a little bit of time.

Yes, ma'am.

Q Where's he going next?

THE PRESIDENT: Where's he going next? He's yet to go to the Middle East, and he's going to let me know when he thinks the timing is good for that.

Q Can I ask you about what you did for Iran, in terms of the easing restrictions for humanitarian aid?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes.

Q Does this ease -- represent an easing of our relationship with Iran?

THE PRESIDENT: What we're doing in Iran is we're showing the Iranian people the American people care, that we've got great compassion for human suffering. And I eased restrictions in order to be able to get humanitarian aid into the country.

The Iranian government must listen to the voices of those who long for freedom, must turn over al Qaeda that are in their custody and must abandon their nuclear weapons program. In the mean time, we appreciate the fact the Iranian government is willing to allow our humanitarian aid flights into their country. And it's a good thing to do. It's right to take care of people when they hurt, and we're doing that.

Q Do you see any signs that the Iranian government is doing any of the things that could lead to a stronger relationship?

THE PRESIDENT: My hope is, is that they will hand over al Qaeda to their countries of origin, that they will get rid of their nuclear weapons program in a verifiable way, that they will listen to the IAEA and the United Nations and get rid of the programs they said that they're willing to do.

And as well, it's very important for them to listen to those voices in their country who are demanding freedom. And we stand strongly with those who demand freedom.

Yes, Mark.

Q Mr. President, how worried are you about the attempts on the life of President Musharraf, and what does it mean for the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciated talking to President Musharraf. I told him how much I was hopeful that he continued to join us in the war on terror. Obviously terrorists are after him. And he sounded very confident that his security forces would be able to deal with the threat.

President Musharraf has been a friend of the United States. He's been a "stand-up guy" when it comes to dealing with the terrorists. We are making progress against the al Qaeda because of his cooperation. We need to do more, particularly on the Pakistan-Afghan border. He sounded confident, and therefore I feel confident about his security situation.

Q And what about Pakistan's nuclear weapons? Are they secure?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, they are secure. He is -- and that's important. It's also important that India, as well, have a secure nuclear weapons program. We're hopeful that the Indians and the Pakistanis in upcoming meetings will be able to begin a dialogue on a variety of issues. It looks like they're making progress toward reconciling differences.

Slowly but surely positive things are taking place, and I commend the leaders of both countries for taking steps toward a peaceful reconciliation of major issues that have divided them.

Q Did Attorney General Ashcroft take too long to recuse himself from the leak investigation?

THE PRESIDENT: Did he take too long?

Q Why did he take so long to recuse himself?

THE PRESIDENT: You're going to have to ask him. I mean, I don't know the details which caused him to recuse himself. That's up to people inside of D.C. to tell you what's going on with the case. He doesn't talk to me about it, he doesn't brief me on it. My only point is, is that I'd like to find out the truth as quickly as possible.

Q Are you concerned that it's taking as long as it is?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm not involved with the investigation in any way, shape or form. I've told the members of the White House to totally cooperate. I think you'll find that there has been total cooperation. And the Justice Department and the investigative team -- which, by the way, is a team comprised of professionals who have done this in the past -- will proceed at a pace necessary to find out the truth. And the sooner they find out the truth, the better, as far as I'm concerned.

Last question, and then we've got to go back to Crawford.

Q Your administration has announced some measures with regard to mad cow.

THE PRESIDENT: Did we do what?

Q With regard to mad cow, do you think there is more that needs to be done, and --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I've talked to Secretary Veneman about this issue. I told her that I want her to take the steps necessary to make sure that the food supply is safe, and that the American consumer can be confident. And she is looking at different ways to do that. As a matter of fact, she announced some measures the other day.

Q How much time do you think Americans can feel safe eating beef?

THE PRESIDENT: I think they should be. As a matter of fact, I ate beef today, and will continue to eat beef.

Thank you all very much.

Q What are you going to do for your New Year's resolution?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, my New Year's resolution this year is to work -- stay physically fit to the point where I can run -- in other words, rehab my knee. I miss running. The elliptical machine is good, but it just doesn't have that same sense of -- that running gave me. So that's one of my resolutions, which may require eating less desserts, kind of getting a little trimmer, to take the pressure off the knee.

I wish everybody a happy New Year, and 2004 is going to be a great year for this country. It's going to be a year in which the world will become more peaceful and more people will be able to find work, and that's important.

Thank you all.

END 2:40 P.M. CST

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