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George W. Bush Administration: Remarks at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

(April 18, 2007)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Please be seated. Thank you all very much. I appreciate your hospitality, Mr. Chairman. Thank you very much for the fine job you're doing. I am honored to have just taken a tour of this important museum with Sara Bloomfield, who arguably is one of the best museum directors in the country -- (applause) -- particularly if you can put up with the board of directors that I've named. (Laughter.)

I thank you all for serving. I appreciate you taking on this important assignment. My friends on the board will tell you that I hold the Holocaust Museum dear to my heart. You will hear me express my appreciation for the work that is being done here, and I mean it sincerely.

I thank very much Elie Wiesel for joining us. He is a -- he's a big figure in the life of the world, as he should be. He speaks with moral clarity. And I can't thank you enough for being a leader of talking about what is right. And I'm honored to be in your presence. (Applause.)

I am traveling with some members of my administration, starting with the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. Thank you for being here. (Applause.) Presidential Special Envoy to Sudan, Andrew Natsios. (Applause.) And the newly-minted, or newly sworn in U.N. Ambassador Zal Khalilzad. Mr. Ambassador, thanks for coming. (Applause.)

I want to thank the members of Congress who have joined us, appreciate you taking time. I thank the members of the diplomatic community who have joined us. I'm honored that you are here. I thank the survivors of the Holocaust who have graced us with your presence. (Applause.)

We meet at a time of sorrow for our nation. Our flags fly at half-mast in memory of 32 souls whose lives were taken at Virginia Tech on Monday morning. That day we saw horror, but we also saw acts of quiet courage. We saw this courage in a teacher named Liviu Librescu. With the gunman set to enter his class, this brave professor blocked the door with his body while his students fled to safety. On the Day of Remembrance, this Holocaust survivor gave his own life so that others might live. And this morning we honor his memory, and we take strength from his example.

This is a place devoted to memory. Inside this building are etched the words of the Prophet Isaiah: "You are my witness." As part of this witness, these walls show how one of the world's most advanced nations embraced a policy aimed at the annihilation of the Jewish people. These walls help restore the humanity of the millions who were loaded into trains and murdered by men who considered themselves cultured. And these walls remind us that the Holocaust was not inevitable -- it was allowed to gather strength and force only because of the world's weakness and appeasement in the face of evil.

Today we call what happened "genocide." But when the Holocaust started, this word did not yet exist. In a 1941 radio address, Churchill spoke of the horrors the Nazis were visiting on innocent civilians in Russia. He said, "We are in the presence of a crime without a name." It is an apt description of the evil that followed the swastika. Mankind had long experience with savagery and slaughter before. Yet in places such as Auschwitz and Dachau and Buchenwald, the world saw something new and terrible: the state-sanctioned extermination of a people -- carried out with a chilling industrial efficiency of a so-called modern nation.

Some may be tempted to ask: Why have a museum dedicated to such a dark subject? The men and women who built this museum will tell you: Because evil is not just a chapter in history -- it is a reality in the human heart. So this museum serves as a living reminder of what happens when good and decent people avert their eyes from hatred and murder. It honors those who died by serving as the conscience for those who live. And it reminds us that the words "never again" do not refer to the past -- they refer to the future.

You who are survivors know why the Holocaust must be taught to every generation. You who lost your families to the gas chambers of Europe watch as Jewish cemeteries and synagogues across that continent are defaced and defiled. You who bear the tattoos of death camps hear the leader of Iran declare that the Holocaust is a "myth." You who have found refuge in a Jewish homeland know that tyrants and terrorists have vowed to wipe it from the map. And you who have survived evil know that the only way to defeat it is to look it in the face, and not back down.

It is evil we are now seeing in Sudan -- and we're not going to back down. For 22 years, Sudan was plagued by a civil war between the north and south that claimed more than 2 million lives. That war came to an end in January 2005, when Sudan's government and rebels in the south signed a comprehensive peace agreement that the United States helped to broker. Under this historic accord, Sudan established a Government of National Unity that includes a First Vice President and other cabinet members from the country's south. It also established a government for Southern Sudan that the United States is providing with aid and other assistance.

Unfortunately, just as peace was coming to the south, another conflict broke out in the west -- where rebel groups in Darfur attacked government outposts. To fight this rebellion, the government in Khartoum unleashed a horse-mounted militia called the Janjaweed, which carried out systematic assaults against innocent civilians.

The human toll has been staggering. More than 200,000 people have died from the conflict -- or from the malnutrition and disease that have spread in its wake. And more than 2 million people have been forced from their homes and villages into camps both inside and outside their country.

Ending the violence in Darfur requires better security for the people of Darfur; it requires progress toward political reconciliation. Today, more than 7,000 African Union troops have been deployed to Darfur and they serve courageously. But the problem is the area they patrol is the size of Texas -- 7,000 people is not enough to provide the security the people of Darfur need. Ultimately the violence will continue until Sudan's government and the rebel groups reach a political settlement that includes traditional community leaders, representatives of civil society, and African and Arab tribes in the region.

This museum cannot stop the violence. But through your good work, you're making it impossible for the world to turn a blind eye. Earlier I saw an exhibit that puts faces on the millions of men, women, and children who have been killed or driven into the desert. I also saw an interesting new venture that you've arranged with Google Earth. As a result of this partnership, millions of Internet users around the world will be able to zoom in and see satellite images of the burnt-out villages and mosques and schools. No one who sees these pictures can doubt that genocide is the only word for what is happening in Darfur -- and that we have a moral obligation to stop it.

The United States is helping to lead this effort. Last May, I announced an agreement for Darfur that we helped broker between the Sudanese government and the largest rebel group. It's a positive agreement. It gave us some sense of optimism that we could help stop the genocide. Under this agreement, Sudan's government promised to disarm the Janjaweed and punish all those who violate the cease-fire. The main rebel group agreed to withdraw into specified areas.

In August, the United Nations followed up this agreement with a new Security Council resolution. This resolution authorized the U.N. Mission in Sudan to extend its forces to Darfur -- and to transform the existing AU forces into a larger, better equipped U.N. peacekeeping mission. The U.N. recognized there were not enough forces in Darfur to bring security and peace.

In November, the United Nations, the African Union, the EU, the Arab League, the government of Sudan, the United States, and 12 other nations reached another important agreement at a meeting in Addis Ababa. This agreement strengthened the terms of the cease-fire; it re-energized the political process and called for a joint U.N.-AU peacekeeping force to go into action, a force that would be nearly three times the size of the existing AU force.

These are all good agreements. They represent a clear plan to end the conflict. And if implemented, they would allow the people of Darfur to return home to their villages safely, and begin to rebuild their lives in peace.

Unfortunately, these agreements have been routinely violated. Sudan's government has moved arms to Darfur, conducted bombing raids on villages, they've used military vehicles and aircraft that are painted white -- which makes them look like those deployed by humanitarian agencies and peacekeeping forces.

Many rebel groups have also pursued violence instead of peace. The groups who have not signed onto last May's peace accord have splintered, and they're roaming the Darfur countryside pillaging and stealing at will. They have killed civilians, they've plundered vehicles and plundered supplies from international aid workers, they've added to the lawlessness. The government in Khartoum has been unable to control the problem -- and they made it even worse last fall with a failed military campaign designed to crush the groups.

While there is now a temporary lull in the fighting between the government and militias and rebel groups, millions of displaced people remain highly vulnerable to attack. The increased lawlessness and instability has made it difficult for aid workers to deliver relief to those who need it -- some organizations have been forced to evacuate their staff for safety reasons. Once again, the consequences are being borne by defenseless men, women and children. That is the story being told here at the Holocaust Museum, and I appreciate what you're doing.

The brutal treatment of innocent civilians in Darfur is unacceptable -- it is unacceptable to me, it is unacceptable to Americans, it's unacceptable to the United Nations -- at least, that's what they've said. This status quo must not continue.

Just this week, Sudan's government reached an agreement with the United Nations to allow 3,000 U.N. troops and their equipment into the country to support the AU force. The world has heard these promises from Sudan before. President Bashir's record has been to promise cooperation while finding new ways to subvert and obstruct the U.N.'s efforts to bring peace to his country. The time for promises is over -- President Bashir must act.

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, is now in discussions with President Bashir to get the government of Sudan to meet all its commitments. President Bashir should take the last chance by responding to the Secretary General's efforts -- and to meet the just demands of the international community. He must follow through on the deployment of the U.N. support forces. He must allow the deployment of the full, joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force -- and take every necessary step to facilitate its deployment. He must end support for the Janjaweed, he must reach out to the rebel leaders, and allow humanitarian aid to reach the people of Darfur. And he must stop his pattern of obstruction once and for all.

I have made a decision to allow the Secretary General more time to pursue his diplomacy. However, if President Bashir does not fulfill the steps I outlined above in a short period of time, my administration will take the following steps:

First, the Department of the Treasury will tighten U.S. economic sanctions on Sudan. This new effort will allow the United States to enforce more aggressively existing sanctions against Sudan's government, by blocking any of its dollar transactions within the U.S. financial system. As part of this effort, the Treasury Department will add 29 companies owned or controlled by the government of Sudan to its list of Specially Designated Nationals. This designation will bar these companies from the U.S. financial system -- and make it a crime for U.S. -- American companies and individuals to willfully do business with them.

Second, we will also target sanctions against individuals responsible for the violence. These sanctions will isolate designated individuals by cutting them off from the U.S. financial system, preventing them from doing business with any American citizen or company, and calling the world's attention to their crimes.

Third, I will direct the Secretary of State to prepare a new United Nations Security Council resolution. This resolution will apply new sanctions against the government of Sudan -- and against individuals found to be violating human rights or obstructing the peace process. It will impose an expanded embargo on arms sales to the government of Sudan. It will prohibit Sudan's government from conducting any offensive military flights over Darfur. It will strengthen our ability to monitor and report any violations. And in the next days, we will begin consulting with other Security Council members on the terms of such a resolution.

If Sudan's obstruction continues despite these measures, we will also consider other options. Last week, I sent Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte to the region. He informed Sudan's government and rebel groups that our patience is limited, that we care deeply about the human condition in Darfur, that it matters to the United States that people are suffering. I have spoken in the past about the need to end Sudan's use of military aircraft to attack innocent civilians. We're also are looking at what steps the international community could take to deny Sudan's government the ability to fly its military aircraft over Darfur. And if we do not begin to see signs of good faith and commitments, we will hear calls for even sterner measures.

The situation doesn't have to come to that. I urge the United Nations Security Council and the African Union and all members of the international community to stand behind the Addis Ababa framework and reject efforts to obstruct its implementation. The world needs to act. If President Bashir does not meet his obligations to the United States of America, we'll act. (Applause.)

As we continue to pressure the government of Sudan to meet its commitments, we will continue our engagement in support of the people of Darfur. My administration is increasing support for the Transitional Darfur Regional Authority -- it's an interim authority designed to help the people of Darfur improve local government and build foundations for a healthy economy. We are increasing support for Sudan's First Vice President and the United Nations and African Union special envoys, who are working to bring the rebel groups together and get them to sign on to the peace process.

We're continuing our humanitarian assistance to the people of Darfur. Since 2005, the United States has devoted more than $2 billion to humanitarian relief and development -- and I thank the American people for their generosity. We'll continue to bring relief to the people of Darfur. We'll continue to insist that rebel groups and the Sudanese government allow international workers to deliver this relief to the people who depend on it.

All of the people in this room and people in this country have a vital role to play. Everyone ought to raise their voice. We ought to continue to demand that the genocide in Sudan be stopped.

During my tour of the Darfur exhibits this morning, I was shown a photo of a one-year-old girl who had been shot as her mother fled the Janjaweed. Although the mother had tried to protect her baby, it was to no avail. When the photo was taken, an observer nearby began to shout: "This is what they do! This is what happens here! Now you know! Now you see!"

Thanks to the efforts of people in this room, the world knows and the world sees. And now the world must act.

Thank you. (Applause.)

Sources: White House