WASHINGTON – Celebrating his “first victory” in the war on terror,President Bush Tuesday thanked Afghan President Hamid Karzai for his courage and help in rebuilding Afghanistan.
In a Rose Garden press conference after a private White House meeting,both presidents described Afghanistan as a country that once served as shelter for terrorists but now embraces women's rights,echoes with music from marketplaces and blossoms with clean running water and hospitals in many places.
Bush praised American and Afghan coalition forces for reducing the number of Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds and their dedication in hunting down new ones.
“Today the Taliban has been deposed,al Qaeda is in hiding,” Bush said.
Afghanistan's constitution now protects the rights of women,who,in Bush's words,were once “beaten for wearing brightly colored shoes,” but will now contest for seats in the national assembly. Of the 3.8 million voters registered for the September elections,35 percent are women,Karzai said.
Afghanistan is replete with clinics and hospitals that give vaccines against measles and polio for children who once suffered from malnutrition and struggled to survive through childhood. Today,children welcome soldiers with flowers,Karzai said.
Bush outlined a number of new initiatives to further solidify peace and push for progress. They include:
* Providing full support for Afghanistan until terrorism is eliminated and democracy is established;
* Investing in training for elected politicians;
* Printing millions of new textbooks and building more schools to end illiteracy and foster ethnic tolerance;
* Expanding educational exchange programs to serve 250 Afghans,up from 100 who studied in the United States last year;
* Spending $5 million in training and grants for small business in Afghanistan and promoting bilateral economic ties.
Speaking to a group of reporters in 88-degree heat that forced Karzai to doff his green robe,Bush called Karzai “a true friend” and “a strong ally in the war on terror.”
A smiling Karzai thanked Bush.
“I thanked America for the help that it gave us to liberate ourselves,” Karzai said about a meeting with members of Congress earlier in the day. “One likes to stay here and not go – it's such a good country,” Karzai joked about his visit.
Karzai noted accomplishments such as the steady growth in the Afghan economy,open universities,a national army accepted by the people and efforts to build a police force.
Although Afghanistan is prospering,it remains focused to fight the country's drug problem,Karzai said,asking Bush for help to “fight this menace.”
Reporters asked Bush about issues raging from whether Iraqis will be ready to defend themselves from insurgents after they are granted sovereignty on June 30 and if they will be able to secure Saddam Hussein on their own.
Bush said arrangements are being made to assure Hussein will remain under strong security and stand trial “for the horrendous murders and torture that he inflicted upon the Iraqi people.”
Karzai added that,once caught,wanted terrorists Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar also would be tried for crimes against “the international community.”
Responding to questions,Bush said the U.S. economy has overcome a recession and continues to grow stronger despite the war. Stimulating growth in the small-business sector created most new jobs,he said,and corporate scandal was also dealt with “on a bipartisan fashion.”
“We encouraged the entrepreneurial spirit to flourish by letting people keep more of their own money,” Bush said. “ Some might have said,‘Well,let's strengthen the federal government.' I made the decision to strengthen the pocketbooks of the people.”
Bush said there's more to be done,including tort reform and adjusting health care costs. He would not discuss election plans,particularly recent polls showing him falling behind Sen. John Kerry,the all-but-certain Democratic nominee.
“My job is to continue to lead,” he said.