Here are excerpted highlights from Wolf Blitzer’s interview with President Bush that aired on The Situation Room today…
BLITZER: Because you know your critics say you’re simply trying to scare the American public to score political points.
BUSH: Well, they don’t sit where I sit. They don’t see the intelligence I see. And frankly if anybody thinks there’s not an enemy coming to attack us, they just don’t see the world the way it is…And this is a dangerous world, Wolf. And you know, I know there are some out there that kind of look at the world the way they wish it would be, but the job of the president — particularly one who saw what happened to us on September 11 and vowed that day to do everything to protect the people — is to do just that. That’s our most important responsibility.
On taking Ahmadinejad seriously
BUSH: Wolf, my judgment is you’ve got to take everybody’s word seriously in this world. Again, you can’t just hope for the best. You’ve got to assume that the leader, when he says that he would like to destroy Israel means what he says. If you take — if you say, well, gosh, maybe he doesn’t mean it, and you turn out to be wrong, you have not done your duty as a world leader.
BLITZER: So you take him seriously at that?
BUSH: Absolutely I take him seriously, just like I take al Qaeda seriously when they say they’re going to attack us again, just like I take these extremists seriously when they say they’re trying to disrupt democracy.
BLITZER: George Voinovich, the Republican senator from Ohio, has compared him toHitler.
BUSH: Yes, you know, I mean, people have got strong opinions about him, and I can understand why. He’s a — look, Olmert — Prime Minister Olmert of Israel reaches out to President Abbas of the Palestinian territory to try to help establish a democracy, and there’s an unprovoked attack by Hezbollah on Israel.
On Iran’s nuclear ambitions
BUSH: I’m not going to discuss with you our intelligence on the subject, but time is of the essence.
BLITZER: Is it a few months though?
BUSH: Well, time is of the essence, and that’s why here at the United Nations I spoke with our allies…I’m concerned that Iran is trying to stall, and to try to buy time, and therefore it seems like a smart policy is to push this issue along as hard as we can and we are..
BLITZER: Because a lot of experts say short of regime change in Iran, or military action, there’s no way this leader in Tehran is going to give up that nuclear ambition.
BUSH: We’ll find out. The country can face isolation. They could face, you know, sanctions, or they can choose a better course. The choice is the Iranian leader’s choice. I spoke yesterday at the U.N. and I spoke directly to the Iranian people. It’s important for the Iranian people to know this, that we respect their heritage, we respect their history, we respect their tradition. We believe this can be a great nation if the government, you know, relies upon the talents of its people and encourages and nurtures those talents.
BLITZER: Is there anything you heard from him in his address last night or your analysts that was encouraging?
BUSH: Not really.
On violence in Iraq
BUSH: Yes, you see — you see it on TV, and that’s the power of an enemy that is willing to kill innocent people. But there’s also an unbelievable will and resiliency by the Iraqi people. Twelve million people voted last December. Admittedly, it seems like a decade ago. I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is — my point is, there’s a strong will for democracy.
These people want a unity government. The unity government is functioning. I’m impressed by President Maliki. I’ve talked to him. I’ve seen the decision-making process that he’s put in place. The Iraqi army is still recruiting and training.
On signing immigration legislation
BUSH: Well I just — that’s what I did last time — when I signed the appropriations process. I firmly believe the Senate and the House need to work together on a comprehensive plan to solve this problem. I would view this as an interim step. I don’t view this as the final product. And, I will keep urging people to have a comprehensive reform.
You can’t enforce the border until you have a rational Guest Worker Program. Those people should come here on a temporary basis and then go home. People are sneaking across to work. And, no matter how much equipment you have on that border, people will find ways to do so. And, so it is a rational way to enforce the border. What their talking about in the House and the Senate is a temporary step. If you’re question is:
Will I stop trying to push for a comprehensive reform. The answer is:
no, I won’t stop trying to push for comprehensive reform.
BLITZER: Alright, but you’ll go along with this, if they pass it.
BUSH: Just to remind you, last legislative session they passed an appropriations bill that was essentially security only. And, I signed that. And, we’re implementing that right now to get the border enforced.
On the Pope’s comments about Islam
BUSH: I think he — I was appreciative of the fact that he tried to clarify what he meant. This is a struggle not between religions — and that’s what people have got to understand — it’s a struggle between people who use religion to kill — and those of us who are for peace.
And, to the extent that that issue gets muddied up it confuses people. And, so the clarity helps people get back to the real issue we face.
People say it’s a struggle of civilizations. I strongly disagree with that. I think this is a struggle for civilization. And, to the sense the Pope clarified the issue, I think it helps those of us who are trying to make it clear to the Muslim world imparticular — we’re not fighting Islam. We’re protecting ourselves, and trying to help you protect yourself against people who kill in the name of religion to achieve a political objective.
On his message to the Arab world
BLITZER: This interview is being seen on CNN and CNN International around the world. …You have an opportunity right now to address the Muslim world and the Arab world here on CNN…Tell them what you mean, what’s in your heart.
BUSH: What’s in my heart is that Islam is a great religion and a peaceful religion. I fully believe that most people that live in the Muslim world — by far the vast majority — want peace. And, they want their children to grow up in a hopeful society. There are people in your midst that want to kill innocent people to create fear and terror so that they can achieve their objective of extremist caliphate.
And, the goal of America is to protect ourselves. But, the goal of America is also to stand with moderates and reformers who long for the same thing we want, which is peace.
BLITZER: Is it a mistake to use that phrase, Islamic Fascists?
BUSH: That’s what I’m referring to. I’m referring to extremists and radicals, totalitarians. The point I was making is these people share a common ideology that represses women, doesn’t give people the right to dissent, that has got their narrow view of the freedom of religion. I don’t believe these people represent the true spirit of Islam.