Juan Williams on Interviewing President Bush President Bush spoke with NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams in an exclusive interview Monday morning. It was the president's first broadcast interview since the State of the Union speech last week.

Juan Williams on Interviewing President Bush

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, we talk with the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.

BRAND: First, though, we're joined by NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Hi, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Hi, Madeleine. Hi, Alex.


BRAND: Hello. Well, earlier today you sat down with President Bush at the White House for an exclusive one-on-one interview. And before we hear you talk about that interview, let's hear you actually interviewing the president.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Harry Reid, the senate majority leader, says that if you have an incursion into Iran, he expects that you would come to the Senate for approval.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I have no intent upon incur - going into Iran. I mean this is the kind of thing that happens in Washington. People ascribe, you know, motives to me beyond a simple statement.

Of course we'll protect our troops. I don't know how anybody can then say, well, protecting the troops means that we're going to invade Iran, if that's what he's talking about.

I mean we will protect our interest in Iraq. That's what the American people expect us to do. That's definitely what our troops want to do. And that's what the families of our troops want us to do.

And if we find the Iranians are moving weapons that will end up harming American troops, we'll deal with it.

BRAND: Juan, we'll deal with it. Is the president being more emphatic now than he has been in the past?

WILLIAMS: You know, it's really interesting, Madeleine. On the one hand he's saying the United States has no intent - no hostile intent - against Iran. But he's saying, gosh, you know, if they continue to act as they have in the past and get involved in the Iraqi war, then we will take actions to protect our soldiers.

And he suggests that this is what the military would want. It's what the American citizens would want. And of course if that therefore leads to going into Iran, that he would not hesitate.

So in that sense it seems as if he's saying, well, if I happen to stumble into this, it's unavoidable. It's not my fault. It's going to be the fault of the Iranians.

BRAND: Last week the president and the vice president seemed to be giving slightly different messages when it came to Iraq, Vice President Cheney speaking to Wolf Blitzer on CNN. What did the president have to say about that when you asked him?

WILLIAMS: It's so interesting. Here he - here what you hear the president - in a moment, Madeleine, here you'll see the president initially saying, well, you know what, the vice president understands the need to make some changes.

But here listen to what the vice - what the president had to say himself.

President BUSH: I think the vice president is a person reflecting a half glass full mentality. And that is he's been able to look at - as have I and other hope other Americans have - the fact that the tyrant was removed, 12 million voted, there's an Iraqi constitution in place that is a model for - and unique for the Middle East.

I will tell you, 2005 was a great year for freedom. And then the enemy took a good look and said what do we need to do to stop the advance of freedom? And 2006 was a tough year. And I have said that the progress is not good enough.

BRAND: So Juan, he's saying basically that he and the vice president do see eye to eye. There aren't any differences, right?

WILLIAMS: Well, he's trying to minimize the difference. But it's hard to get around the idea - last week, as you mentioned, Madeleine, the vice president was saying we've had many successes in Iraq (unintelligible) success.

And here's the president having said that he's responsible for all the errors that have been made, saying, you know what, the vice president - he went on to tell me - understands why we have to add troops, because we are having problems.

So he was suggesting that maybe the vice president was emphasizing the glass half full, but acknowledged the realities on the ground.

BRAND: And you also asked the president about that pending Senate resolution - or one of them - on Iraq, which says that it's not in the interests of the United States to send troops, send more troops there. What did he say to that?

WILLIAMS: Well, this again brings us back to Vice President Cheney, because the vice president has suggested that really that was doing nothing but helping the insurgents and the bad guys.

And what the president had to say was of course it's a democracy and people are going to have their way of looking at it. But he did say that what's important for the American people and for the Senate to understand, that it is in America's interest to make sure that we defeat what he called the insurgents there in Iraq.

His suggestion was they could be coming over to the United States bringing the war here if we don't, in fact, stop them right there at that front. And so he was making the case that if the national interest is the key phrase in that resolution, he believes that people who are familiar with the situation in the war, people will understand what's at stake, will come to his assessment that it is in our national interest to continue the fight in Iraq and to make sure that we have success there.

BRAND: NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams. Thank you, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Madeleine.

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