EXCLUSIVE: George Stephanopoulos' Full Interview With President Bush

ByABC News
October 21, 2006, 1:37 PM

Oct. 22, 2006 — -- ABC's George Stephanopoulos recently sat down with President Bush for an exclusive interview. Below is the entire transcript of their conversation, which covers everything from North Korea to Iraq to the upcoming elections.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. President, let's start with North Korea. Are they about to test another nuclear weapon?

BUSH: Don't know. We're dealing with a non-transparent society.

You know, the last test we heard rumors of a test, and then they called the Chinese up, like...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Half hour before.

BUSH: Yeah, minutes before the test.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But there are rumors again that they've told the Chinese they're thinking of two or three more tests.

BUSH: I haven't heard that. On the other hand, our secretary of state, Condi Rice, is out there, and I'm sure they will share that with her.

If they do, all that we'll do is help consolidate a firm group of nations that are tired of North Korea thumbing its nose at the international community.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Last week, after their first test, you went into the White House and you said that any transfer of nuclear material by North Korea would be considered a grave threat to the security of the United States.

I went back and checked. You've used that phrase once before in your presidency, about Iraq. So are you saying then, if North Korea sold nukes to Iran or Al Qaida...

BUSH: They'd be held to account.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What does that mean?

BUSH: Well, time they find out, George. One of the things that's important for these world leaders to hear is, you know, we will use means necessary to hold them to account.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So if you got intelligence that they were about to have that kind of a transfer...

BUSH: Well, if we get intelligence that they're about to transfer a nuclear weapon, we would stop the transfer, and we would deal with the ships that were taking the -- or the airplane that was dealing with taking the material to somebody.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, if it happened, you'd retaliate?

BUSH: You know, I'd just say it's a grave consequence.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's about as serious as it can get.

BUSH: Well, my point is that I want the leader to understand -- the leader of North Korea to understand that he'll be held to account. Just like he's being held to account now for having run a test.

And the account is that there -- he can no longer count on being at the table with just the United States to try to -- you know, to try to blackmail, really is what he was doing. And now he's going to have to deal with five other nations.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you want these sanctions to work. But China only seems half-committed to them right now.

BUSH: You know, I think I'm getting a little different picture from Condi. They don't particularly want to board ships. But, on the other hand, if there's good intelligence, they'll work with us on that intelligence. They're inspecting cargoes coming across their border.

You know, I read that story that China was only half committed. That's not, that's not...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But is there any real hope that these sanctions are going to convince North Korea to give up their weapons?

BUSH: Well, that's the fundamental question, George. I can't tell you that. But I know you've got to try it. I mean -- and I know that if more than one nation is admonishing North Korea, it is more likely the leader in North Korea will make a rational decision.

It's an interesting question you ask because the truth of the matter is this decision is his to make. We've made our decision.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Tell us how you made the decision?

BUSH: I don't know. And I -- you know, I just don't know. And I -- my hope is is that he's going to make the decision that says: I will honor the agreement I made last September of 2005 -- get rid of my weapons programs and return for a better way forward for my people.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think China can be convinced to help push him out?

BUSH: George, all I can tell you is China has been convinced to be a part of a Chapter 7 resolution at the United Nations which, in itself, surprised a lot of people.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Which worries you more: nuclear North Korea, nuclear Iran?

BUSH: Both. Both. Obviously, there's a geographical difference between the two. Iran is -- North Korea is fairly well isolated, but North Korea can do a lot of damage to -- if she so choose, to create instability in a very important region of the world.

But so can Iran. And, you know, they're both worrisome. And they were worrisome -- and they've both been worrisome prior to my presidency. We just got (inaudible) deal (inaudible).

STEPHANOPOULOS: In 1960, John Kennedy warned that we might have a world with 20 nuclear powers.

BUSH: Yeah.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He was wrong then. But is that a possibility we have to prepare for now?

BUSH: I certainly hope not. I think it's very important for us to be tough on proliferation.

On the other hand, I have put out a new regime to help deal with issues like global warming and the energy shortages that said: You can have a nuclear power plant, civilian nuclear power plant and, in return, there will be a supplier-nation group to provide enriched uranium for you and then we'll collect the enriched uranium.

So my hope is that there's more countries using nuclear power, but without the capacity to make the materials which then could be converted into weaponry...

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're convinced that more nuclear powers is a more dangerous world?

BUSH: No. I'm convinced that more nuclear power is important for the economies around the world and for the environment. And I believe we can do so in a way that does not make it a more dangerous world. And that is, have those of us which are -- have the capacity to enrich uranium to share it with nations and we would collect the uranium after it had been spent.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's been a brutal month in Iraq.

BUSH: That's right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yesterday, 11 Americans killed, another American killed today.

On a day like that, what kind of reports do you get from the battlefield?

BUSH: Well, I get that report, that soldiers were killed...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Every casualty.

BUSH: Yeah, absolutely, I read every casualty, and it breaks my heart, because behind every casualty is somebody with tears in their eyes. Behind every casualty are families that will be mourning the loss of life for a lifetime.

I think the hardest part of the presidency is to meet with families who've lost a loved one.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've done it a lot.

BUSH: I have. And I will continue to do it. I owe it to the families.

I am amazed by the strength of the families and the loved ones. These are people that by and large have told me that their loved one chose to be there and believed in the mission.