Q Mr. President, this is the first head of state, Pope Benedict
the XVI, you will ever greet on a tarmac. I was stunned to learn
this. Why are you going and greeting him at an airstrip? Usually
the heads of states come here.
THE PRESIDENT: Because he is a really
important figure in a lot of ways. One, he speaks for millions.
Two, he doesn't come as a politician; he comes as a man of
faith. And, three, that I so subscribe to his notion that there
are -- there's right and wrong in life, that moral relativism
has a danger of undermining the capacity to have more hopeful
and free societies, that I want to honor his convictions, as
Q You read his book on Europe, I'm
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I read parts of
Q What do you take generally from
his appraisal of Europe and the world? And why is this
relationship between the United States and the Holy See so
important to you?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, it's
important to me because the Holy Father represents and stands
for some values that I think are important for the health of the
country, and when he comes to America, millions of my fellow
citizens will be hanging on his every word. And that's why it's
I really don't want to get into --
spend time being critical of Europe. My main objective is to
make sure our country is strong and solid and remains in the
lead. One of the tenets of my foreign policy is that there is an
Almighty, and a gift of that Almighty to every man, woman and
child is freedom. And, you know, His Holiness speaks with that
kind of clarity.
I'm also, as you know, a believer in
the value of human life for the -- whether it's -- you know, the
most vulnerable amongst us. And he speaks clearly to that, as
Q Yes, I want to talk about that a
little bit later, because you -- you know, he has commended, and
no doubt will again, for your bold stance on pro-life issues. I
want to touch on some of the points he will no doubt raise.
One of them is Africa. I watched
with great interest your visit to Africa. You looked like the
Pope of Tanzania when you arrived. (Laughter.) I mean, the whole
town erupted. People I don't think have given you just desserts
or credit for what you've done there. You've quadrupled aid to
Africa. Your President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is now
treating 1.4 million people. The malaria treatment is
unbelievable -- something like 50 million people now being
helped. When you look at that -- I was told by a group of people
who came here to meet you at the White House, you said, to whom
much is given, much is expected.
Is there a compulsion of faith here,
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
Q -- with this aid?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's a combination
of faith and practicality. From the practical perspective,
hopelessness is the only way for ideologues who murder the
innocent to be able to recruit their followers. No one who's got
a vision as dark and dim as al Qaeda can possibly say to
somebody, follow me, my vision is hopeful or positive. Its like,
you're so hopeless, this is your only out. And therefore,
dealing with disease and hunger and despair helps defeat this --
these bunch of ideologues.
And then, secondly, I believe it's in
our individual and collective interests to use our great
blessings to help others, whether it be at home or abroad. And
so, "to whom much is given, much is required" is a part of my
belief. And I say to people all the time that it's in our
national -- it's in our moral interests. It invigorates our soul
to know that we have saved a baby that could be dying of a
And I'm looking forward to talking to
His Holy Father, and I will remind him this isn't a George W.
Bush deal; this is America. This is
America at its best. But, yes, it was
amazing to see the great appreciation that the citizens share
for -- with us -- or about us.
Q Let's talk a moment about Iraq.
The Pope will no doubt raise this.
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q I think his perspective is going
to be very different from what we're reading in the newspapers
this week. I think what he'll primarily talk about, and if my
sources at the Vatican can be believed, he will probably talk
about the 40 bombed churches --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q -- 40 percent of the refugees
being Christian --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q -- he's very concerned about that
Christian minority in Iraq.
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.
Q When he spoke to you in 2007 he
raised this. What is the administration prepared to do for this
fledgling remnant of Christianity -- an ancient community there?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, absolutely. You
know, it's something we have been doing all along, is urging the
government to understand that minority rights are a vital part
of any democratic society. And by the way, my concern isn't just
for minority rights in Iraq; it's for minority rights throughout
the Middle East.
And I have dealt with the Holy Father
about -- with not only the issue of Iraq, but also the issue of
Catholics in -- and Christians in the Holy Land. I can remember
very well, early in my presidency, I think it was Cardinal Egan
or maybe Cardinal McCarrick came to see me about the mosque
encroaching on the Catholic -- the great Catholic Church, and
would I use my influence with the Israelis to convince them to
be mindful of the need for minority rights? And I said,
absolutely. In my visit to the Holy Land, this recent time,
there's a lot of concern about the kind of, the -- I guess,
non-acceptance. I met Sisters that were in the Galilean area
that were just serving mankind so beautifully, and yet their
leadership was concerned about minority rights.
So my view is like -- Iraq is
important, but I've used our influence all throughout the
region. And I've used our influence all
throughout the world to promote rights
for all religious minorities, including China.
Q. We saw that Archbishop Rahho, he
was murdered in Iraq. This past weekend --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, yes.
Q -- an Orthodox priest slain on the
doorstep of his home. Is the administration -- do you believe
that this is religiously motivated violence?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I do. I believe
they're -- I believe what they're trying to do is trying to send
messages -- "they" being the killers -- trying to send messages
that it's not worth your time, that you must abandon the efforts
of helping this free society deliver. I don't think this is
government-sponsored. I think these are a bunch of thugs and
killers who have this kind of dark, dim view of the world, and
are willing to kill anybody who's willing to stand up to them.
And it's not just these religious
figures. There are a lot of innocent men, women and children who
are being killed by them, as well. This is their techniques,
this is their tactics, and it's the same type of mentality that
caused people to fly airplanes into our buildings to kill 3,000
of our citizens.
Q What can we tangibly do? What can
the administration tangibly plead with the Iraqi government to
do to protect this fledgling minority? Is there anything we can
THE PRESIDENT: Well, one thing we can
do is to keep our troops there long enough to have a civil
society emerge, and go after them, and go after these killers,
and bring them to justice so they quit killing people, including
our own troops, because this is a war.
Q Would you commit our troops to
protecting those communities where they're endangered?
THE PRESIDENT: I commit our troops to
helping the Iraqis provide safety for all innocent Iraqis. In
other words, I -- you got to
understand that what you're witnessing
is not just an assault on innocent Christians; you are
witnessing assault on innocent people of all faiths by a group
of cold-blooded killers who want to drive the United States out
of the Middle East because they hate free societies.
Q Even here on Capitol Hill, we're
hearing talk of withdrawals.
They want this drawdown. General
Petraeus is at this very hour saying we shouldn't be doing this,
we should have a pause. What is your take? Now, even members of
your own administration in the Defense Department are saying we
might not be able to respond to other events if we have our
troops spread this thin.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I disagree with
those people. There's nothing -- the real threat for the 21st
century is dealing with these thugs and killers. They're the
ones who attacked us. We got to defeat them overseas so we don't
face them here. And our people are very well trained to take on
And so, therefore, my answer is, is
that whatever it takes to help succeed. And to answer your
question, the best thing we can do for minorities, particularly
Christian minorities, in Iraq, or any minority in Iraq, is to
help this society develop into a peaceful society, where
minority rights are respected.
Q Even your critics say they are
amazed by you, and baffled by you, because you remain so
positive, so upbeat -- (laughter) -- so on point. How much of
that is a function of your faith?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's a very good
question. You know, I don't think you can disassociate your
faith with how you live your life. I mean, I think it's all
engrained. And I am optimistic because I happen to believe in
certain universal principles, and I do believe that freedom is
universal, and if just given a chance, people will live in a --
will self-govern and live in a peaceful, free society.
And history is my witness. I mean,
after all, one of my best buddies in the international community
was Prime Minister Koizumi. My dad fought the Japanese. Prime
Minister Koizumi and I worked to keep the peace. It's an amazing
-- it's one of the great ironies.
And my faith has -- you know, my faith
has been so sustaining in the midst of -- in the midst of what
is a pretty hectic life, full of flattery and criticism. And
faith keeps a person grounded. Faith reminds people that there's
something a lot more important than you in life.
I've been inspired by the prayers from
ordinary citizens. And I have come to realize one -- more
clearly the story of the calm in the rough season.
Q Let's talk for a moment. You had
Cardinal Zen, who is a freedom fighter --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q -- in Hong Kong. You invited him
to a private meeting here at the White House, which was totally
unexpected. You are now planning on going to the Olympics there
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q -- to be at the opening ceremonies
at the Olympics. You just said earlier, freedom is a gift from
the Almighty. Considering the human rights record --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q -- of that regime, how can you in
good conscience go to that ceremony, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: Because I -- you know,
I'm going to the Olympics, for starters. And I've -- my plans
aren't -- haven't changed. And the reason why is because I can
talk to him about religious freedom prior to the Olympics,
during the Olympics and after the Olympics -- which I have done.
I don't need the Olympics to express my position to the Chinese
leadership on freedom. I just don't need them -- because that's
all I have been doing as your President. In other words -- if
people say, well, you need to express yourself clearly about
freedom of religion, my answer is, what do you think I've been
Q Angela Merkel boycotted it --
THE PRESIDENT: I don't think she
boycotted it, necessarily.
Q She's not attending the Opening
Ceremonies, it appears.
THE PRESIDENT: She's not attending the
games, period. She's not going to -- I don't think she's going
to Beijing at all, at least that's what she told me. But, look,
I hear all this rhetoric. I want to be an effective President.
And I don't think it -- as I say, I'm going to Beijing. And I'm
-- we're talking about the Chinese people, as well. And the
question is, does the American President take [sic] decisions
that will enable the next President to be effective or not --
because I've made my case; these Chinese leaders know exactly my
position. I've talked about freedom of religion every time I
visited with them. I've talked about Darfur. I've talked about
Burma. I've talked about the Dalai Lama. As a matter of fact,
I'm the only President to ever stand up in public with the Dalai
Lama here in the United States. So they know my position.
And my question that I think about is,
if I politicize the Olympic Games, will that make it less
effective for me to deal with them, or more effective? But
nobody needs to call old -- tell old George Bush what to -- that
he needs to bring religious freedom to the doorstep of the
Chinese, because I've done that now for -- I'm on my eighth year
Q This stick-to-it-iveness that I
just saw in your eyes here I think animated this stem cell
decision that you looked at, prayed over, spent a long time
considering with experts from across the field. In 2001 you met
with then-Pope John Paul II; he encouraged you not to endorse
federal funding. You didn't; you restricted the federal funding
of embryonic stem cell research.
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q As a result of that move,
alternative technologies were analyzed; adult stem cells have
now produced 80 -- cures for 80 different diseases. Do you feel
THE PRESIDENT: That's an interesting
question. I don't take these things personally, nor am I that
concerned about my own personal standing based upon an issue. I
feel like it was the right decision to begin with, and we'll let
history judge whether or not vindication is the right word.
Q Or confirmed in your decision,
THE PRESIDENT: Well, yes, I do feel --
I feel like it was the right decision then, and obviously the
data has now shown that -- I hope it shows to people it's the
right decision. But, you know, I think it's going to be -- by
the way, I think this is the beginning of what is a very
interesting debate that future Presidents are going to have to
deal with, and that is science versus ethics, the value of life
versus saving life -- supposedly. And it's -- I believe -- I've
obviously drawn the line in the sand that honoring life in all
forms is a touchstone for good science.
Q Do you think in your lifetime you
might see a pro-choice Republican nominee for President?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. That's an
interesting question. No telling what you'll see in my lifetime
when it comes to American politics -- from both sides.
Q Do you think it's important,
though, to have a pro-life President on the Republican ticket?
What might be the ramifications?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it's important
for people to understand that a culture of life is in our
national interests and that -- it's also important to understand
that the politics of abortion isn't going to change until
people's hearts change, and fully understand the meaning of life
and what it means for a society to value life in all forms --
whether it be the life of the unborn, or the life of the
elderly; whether it be the life of the less fortunate among us,
or the life of the rich guy. I mean, it's a moral touchstone, I
think, that will speak to a healthy society in the long run.
And I don't know what's going to happen
in American politics, I really don't. I do know that in order
for a President to be effective he better bring a set of
principles from which he will not deviate, and articulate them
as clearly as he can -- or she can -- and then not worry about
immediate popularity, because popularity comes and goes, but
what doesn't change are solid principles. And I'm going to
remind His Holy Father how important his voice is in making it
easier for politicians like me to be able to kind of stand and
defend our positions that are, I think, very important positions
Q Mr. President, final question.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir.
Q You said, famously, when you
looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes you saw his soul.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q When you look into Benedict XVI's
eyes what do you see?
THE PRESIDENT: God.
Q Good way to end the interview.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, sir.
Q Thank you, sir. My pleasure.
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