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Adam Ignatov
Adam Ignatov

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Interview of Mrs. Bush by Voice of AmericaThe Waldorf-AstoriaNew York, New York8:32 A.M. EDTQ Mrs. Bush, thank you for setting some time aside to talk to usabout an issue that I know is very near and dear to your heart, that youhave championed, and that's the plight of the people of Burma.We'rehere at a time when really the eyes of the world are on Burma.MRS. BUSH: That's right, and that's what I hope the people of Burmaknow -- how much people, especially in the United States, are watchingthe events that are unfolding there. There have been photographs of theprotests on the front page of our major newspapers. Every newspaper inthe United States, many of them, have also had op-ed pieces on theireditorial pages. I hope that the people of Burma know that the worlddoes stand with them and that we are watching them. And I hope that theruling generals know that, too, that any sort of violence or suppressionof these peaceful protests will be deplored by the world.Q Well, today we had the first hints that they might push back, thatthere might be some violence -- some tear-gassing, some arrests. Do youfear for the people of Burma?MRS. BUSH: I do, I'm very concerned. I pray for the people of Burma.I'm awed by their courage. These last protests that have been peaceful,as we know the people of Burma are -- the people of Burma are peacefulpeople, we know that. We know that the democracy champions there want apeaceful reconciliation, a way to work with the ruling generals to buildthe democracy they want, to build their economy again.Burma was known for being a very wealthy country, rich in naturalresources. And now the economy is in shambles after so many years ofthis military rule.Q This morning, when we woke up here in New York, we saw some newimages. You talked about the images of the peaceful protest. Today wesaw the images, the first grainy, blurry images of some of the violencethat's starting to occur.Do you think that these images -- now that Americans and the West arereally seeing it, I think they're really starting in large numbers topay attention -- that this might galvanize support here in the U.S. forwhat's going on in Burma?MRS. BUSH: Yes, definitely. I think there's a lot of support.Obviously we hear it out of the United States Congress. Already membersof Congress have put out statements urging the generals not to resort toviolence, saying in those statements that they're inspired by thecourage of the protestors.Earlier this summer, I stood with every member -- every female member ofthe United States Senate, both Republicans and Democrats -- as they alsourged the military regime to have a peaceful reconciliation with all thepeople -- the people of Burma who only want their government torecognize the problems that they're having and to start to work withthem on a real dialogue of peaceful reconciliation.Q Does it surprise you that it was the monks and the nuns, theserevered religious figures in Burma, who have really taken the lead now?MRS. BUSH: Well, I think they are the ones who can take the lead,because they are revered, and because they're known -- Buddhist monksare known for peace, for wanting peace.And so I think it's very, very important. Their addition to the otherprotests have made a huge difference, and one of the reasons I think theworld is paying a lot of attention.Q The images, these images we keep talking about that are coming outof Burma, the monks and the nuns in the streets, and the lay people justforming human chains around them for their protection -- what goesthrough your mind when you see an image like that?MRS. BUSH: Well, I love that image. I think -- I love the idea ofpeople holding hands to protect this cordon --Q Almost dancing around --MRS. BUSH: Exactly, to protect the monks standing on the edge of thecrowd.And the other image that was so moving to me, that I saw a tinypicture of, was the picture of Aung San Suu Kyi when she was able tocome to the gate of her home where she's under house arrest and see themonks there, who had been, fortunately, allowed to go in to see her.And I was so moved by that photograph of her.Q Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.Are yousurprised, just what you see in traveling around the world and meetingwith women in various countries, that it's a woman who's leading thepro-democracy movement in Burma?MRS. BUSH: Well, no, not really, not at all. I mean, one of thereasons I even became interested in Burma is because I learned about herand read her book, "Freedom from Fear", and learned about her story andher courage and her sacrifice, not even being able to say good-bye toher husband as he was dying from cancer because he was not allowed intoBurma and she was afraid to leave because she knew she'd never beallowed back.All this long time, off and on, of the last 18 years, being under housearrest, being in some sort of detention -- all of that really shows thesacrifice that she's making for the people of Burma and the hopes thatshe has and the dreams that she has to have a free and democratic Burmathat can join the rest of the world and can flourish with all theresources that Burma has.Q Mrs. Bush, First Ladies have a habit of taking up causes.Mostoften they're domestic in nature -- literacy, which is yours -- yourmother-in-law, when she was the First Lady, was one of them.MRS. BUSH: That's right.Q Lady Bird Johnson, who recently passed away, and highwaybeautification and planting flowers all over the country in America, andWashington, D.C., with all our flowers --MRS. BUSH: That's right.Q -- owes her a lot of debt. But what was it actually that sparkedyour interest about Burma? Rather unusual for a First Lady to championa cause overseas. You talked about Aung San Suu Kyi's book and herstory.But there's a personal connection here for you, isn't there?MRS. BUSH: Well, I have a cousin who is an active Burmese advocate --she's not Burmese, but obviously an advocate for Burma and the Burmese,and she also got me interested.But what really started it all was right after September 11th, when welooked into Afghanistan and saw the plight of women there. I was struckby, like many American women were, the idea of women being forbidden tobe educated, not to even be able to leave the house unless they have amale escort, not being able to work. All of the things that we saw inAfghanistan made me then move on to look at other countries around theworld, and particularly at the way women are treated in some of thesecountries. I know that countries can't succeed unless everyone, bothmen and women, have a chance to contribute to their societies.And then slowly, I became interested in Aung San Suu Kyi after that, andthen in the plight of the Burmese people.Q There are signs right now of tension; there are fears. We'vetalked about those.MRS. BUSH: That's right.Q Are there also signs of hope? Let's go back to the images, okay?The images -- old images of people in Germany, the former East Germanydancing on the Berlin Wall; of freedom movements, in the Philippines andIndonesia, a little bit closer to Burma. Is there hope for Burma?MRS. BUSH: There is hope; absolutely there's hope for Burma. And Ithink that is one of the feelings that we all get as we look at theseimages, this very cautious hope that this time the people have turned apage and have said, we're not going to stay oppressed and we're going tomove on. And the people on the street, the Buddhist monks who have ledthe protests, along with all of the people from every walk of life --business people, students -- who have also come out.And at this time, I want to say to the armed guards and to the soldiers:Don't fire on your people. Don't fire on your neighbors. Join thismovement so that Burma can join the rest of the world and become thedemocracy that so many people in Burma -- in fact, the National Leagueof Democracy party was overwhelmingly elected in the 1990 elections, andthen that was suppressed by the ruling military regime.So I hope -- there is certainly cautious optimism. I'm also obviouslyvery concerned for the safety of the protestors and the people of Burma.I want them to know we're praying for them.Q There is a government there that has been so unpredictable. Andhow do you pressure a government like that if they don't seem to carehow people think about them abroad?MRS. BUSH: Well, they don't seem to care, certainly, and they are very,very isolated, even moving the capital to -- in the middle of -- faraway from Rangoon, in the middle of a jungle, sort of, so that it's verydifficult to get to. And I think that shows part of their isolation,and certainly gives the message that they're not interested in what thebroader world thinks about them or their country.But I do think their neighbors can press them -- China and Indiaparticularly can have a very important role. We hear, but it's notsubstantiated, that China is urging the regime not to react in a brutaland violent way against the protestors. I hope that's the case. I hopethat both China and India, who have sway with Than Shwe and with theother generals because of their trade and their economic partnerships,will also speak out and urge the generals to now really start, like ithappened in South Africa at the end of apartheid, to reconcile, to builda democracy, to free the political prisoners, including Aung San SuuKyi, and give their country a chance to build.All these years have been wasted since 1990. The economy has gottenworse and worse. And in a country that produces so much oil and gas,it's really terrible that their own citizens have had their prices offuel doubled since August 19th. And that's what really precipitatedthese protests. But I think that is also when people said, enough isenough, and started to protest.Q It just evolved from there.MRS. BUSH: From that.Q If there is violence, and even if there isn't, if there is changein Burma, by the gun or by peaceful means, will the world be willing andable, given all the other crises in the world, to step in and help?Because we have health conditions there, education --MRS. BUSH: That's right, and even many international health groups thatare NGOs are not in Burma because either they are frustrated by notbeing able to reach the people they need to reach because the regimedoesn't let them, or they can't get a real dialogue with the regime.The International Red Cross came out, which was very unusual for them --they very seldom come out and make statements -- but they came out andsaid that the situation in Burma with the regime was intolerable. Andthey haven't been able to deliver help. The Global Fund on AIDS andMalaria and Tuberculosis also has had a very difficult time getting into deliver the aid to people that need it in Burma.But yes, I think that every international organization like those -- theWorld Food Program -- all of them, if they are allowed to, willimmediately go into Burma with as much aid as they possibly can bring inthere.Is it going to be easy now for the Burmese to build their economy at theend of this long decline? No, of course not. The hard work will beginif there is reconciliation, and they can start to build their country.It will be very difficult. But do I think the Burmese can do it?Absolutely. We have -- I have great respect for the people of Burma. Iknow they're peaceful; I know they're intellectual; I know they prizeeducation. And they're hard-working. And can they build their countryagain?Sure, absolutely. And I know that many, many governments andorganizations would help.Q And in short, you have hope.MRS. BUSH: I have hope. I have very cautious hope. But I hope thatthe page is turned, and that they have moved on and realized it's timeto stop the regime. I want to encourage the generals to start thereconciliation, move aside, and let a democracy build.Q Mrs. Bush, thank you very much for talking with us live.MRS. BUSH: Thanks so much. Thanks a lot.* * * * *Q We are sitting just a few blocks from the United Nations, where alot of action yesterday --MRS. BUSH: That's right.Q -- on what's happening in Burma. Were you pleased -- good news?MRS. BUSH: Yes, I think so. President Bush, as you know, during hisspeech, announced further sanctions against the ruling members of themilitary, including visa bans for them and their family members. I knowthat he has spoken to many leaders who are here, starting at the APECmeeting in Australia with Secretary Rice. They spoke to a number of theAsian countries that were there about Burma, about putting pressure onthe regime.And then, of course, on this trip in New York at the United NationsGeneral Assembly, he's had to speak -- had the chance to speak with anumber of people, including the Secretary General of the United Nations,Ban Ki-moon. And as you know, Ban Ki-moon mentioned Burma also in hisspeech yesterday. He has urged Gambari, the special envoy, to get intoBurma as soon as possible so that the U.N. will know what's really goingon.And of course, we want and hope for a U.N. resolution.Both China andRussia, as you know, vetoed last year.But I hope this year they'lljoin the rest of the countries. The EU has spoken out about Burma. Alot of other countries have. And so the President will continue to talkto leaders from each of these countries, especially ASEAN and otherAsian countries that can have some profound influence on the Burmesemilitary rulers.Q Okay, let me shift gears a little bit -- another part of the world,another part of the world that's in trouble. Well, you and I, we sharesomething -- we share a love of books.We've talked about this beforeover lunch. We have a shared passion for a book called "The KiteRunner", which was set in Afghanistan.It's a wonderful novel about twoboys who grow up, and their lives reflect the turmoil of their country.You've recently been there, to Afghanistan. You told me it holds aspecial place in your heart. And recently when we sat down at thisluncheon with all the other women who cover the White House, we askedyou to describe the most memorable event of your tenure as First Lady.And you didn't skip a beat. You said it was Afghanistan; it was cuttingthe ribbon at the American University.MRS. BUSH: That's right, the new American University that's being builtthere.And President Bush and I just had a showing of "The KiteRunner", the movie, which will be released, I think, in November at theWhite House theater. Khaled Hosseini, the author, was there with us, aswell as a number of people from the U.S. State Department, who aredirectly responsible for working with Afghanistan. The Ambassador fromAfghanistan and his wife were with us, as well. And then we asked theAmbassadors from the Netherlands and Canada, both countries who havejoined us in Afghanistan, in the rebuilding of Afghanistan.But one of the people there is the new President of the AmericanUniversity in Afghanistan, Dr. Stauffer. And he said to me -- and Iwould have never thought of this -- but he said, you have a great legacybecause you were there when this University was founded, when weannounced that we were going to build this American University in Kabul.And it made me feel great, of course. I was really thrilled about that.But I also hoped that the people of Afghanistan know that Americanpeople are standing with them.All of these recent terrorist bombingswith the Taliban are very worrisome to the people of the United States.I know the people of Afghanistan want to build their country, rejectviolence, and be able to live a normal life after these years of warthat they've had.Q How much of Afghanistan's future depends not on guns but onschools? And what are the opportunities for education in a countrywhich is still, as we said, under such turmoil?MRS. BUSH: Well, can you imagine how they were just a mere six yearsago, where girls weren't allowed to go to school, where women who mightrun a secret school in their basement ran a huge risk and could've beenarrested or jailed for doing that? And now, fortunately, schools areopening up all over Afghanistan. A huge number of young people are inschool. Adults who missed learning to read, because of the -- growingup during the years of the Taliban, are also now urging people to startliteracy classes for adults so they can join in.An economy cannot thrive if half of its people are totally denied anypart in it. And so also the economy of Afghanistan can build once womencan also have a chance to contribute. And I see that now with companiesthat women are starting. I met with a group of Afghan businesswomen whowere in the United States being mentored by somebody who was in the samebusiness as they are starting.I met with them just a couple of weeksago at the White House. And that's very, very encouraging.Q Health care. They're having such problems with it. Infantmortality has been so high in Afghanistan.MRS. BUSH: Highest infant and maternal mortality in the world --Afghanistan had. But that rate is decreasing, which is really goodnews, because as people are educated about health, and as these healthcenters open, women who are educated are more likely to have healthybabies and less likely to have problems; or, if they start to haveproblems, know to seek help from a health care worker quickly.Q So education is the first step for these women. From there it justgrows.MRS. BUSH: That's right.Q And it builds and it goes into other fields, as well. What aboutthe problems they are now having with HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan?There'ssuch a social taboo about that.MRS. BUSH: Well, that's true worldwide. I mean, there's still a hugestigma in many parts of Africa, as well. People don't get testedbecause they are afraid to even know if they are HIV positive.But nowwe have these antiretrovirals.So a positive test -- a positive HIVtest is not the death sentence it was.It's very important for peopleto be tested, and this is true in the United States, as well, so thatyou know what your HIV status is and you can protect your loved ones.So I hope that message also gets into Afghanistan. If you are HIVpositive, there are antiretrovirals you can go on, and live a veryhealthy life.Q You've kept a close watch on the fate of the Afghan women since thefall of the Taliban. How far have they come and what's the biggestchallenge they face?MRS. BUSH: Well, the biggest challenge, of course, still, I think, isthe whole idea that women are not equal. That's not only a challenge inAfghanistan, that's a challenge in many other parts of the world, aswell. But getting an education. As soon as people can be educated,they should be.We have a wonderful teacher recruitment and training project at theAfghanistan Teacher Training Institute, which I also visited when I wentto Afghanistan. The Institute provides a safe dorm so women who come infrom the provinces have a safe place to live while they're being trainedto be teachers. Then they can go back home, open community schools, andtrain other teachers, in a cascading effect, with the idea of getting asmany schools open as quickly as possible all over Afghanistan.That's been successful. I think over 400 teachers have been trained.No telling how many people they've trained as they've gone back intotheir own communities.Q How much is Afghanistan's future tied to the fate of its women, ifthey rise up?MRS. BUSH: Well, if they rise up, the whole economy can rise up. Imean, that's what we find out.If women are successful, then the wholeeconomy and the whole country can be successful, because women are theones at home with the children. If women are educated, they're muchmore likely to be an advocate for their child's education. They're muchmore likely to have healthy children because they can read a medicinebottle; they know what warning signs are; they can get their child to ahealth care provider if they know what the symptoms of certain diseasesare. So women can really lift a country.And we can tell, from the way Afghanistan was during the Taliban, thatthe denial of rights to women


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