The President. I have a brief statement, and then I will ask the two with me to make comment, and then I'll be glad to take maybe two questions and turn the meeting over to both of these.
On Friday, I announced that Congresswoman Lynn Martin of Illinois had agreed to take on the job of Secretary of Labor, and I've been visiting with her again about that just now in the Oval Office. And it is very clear to me that she's going to bring extraordinary insight, a lot of talent to this very important Cabinet Department. Working Americans have a friend in Lynn Martin, and she understands the challenges facing our work force. She knows that it's going to take this nation, to remain competitive as we head into the 21st century, a strong, competitive work force. She also knows that only a quality work force will produce quality goods and services, and that means workers that are motivated, highly trained and, most of all, educated.
Education is indeed the centerpiece of the democratic ideal. And the historic meeting that I held in 1989 with the Nation's Governors in Charlottesville set this nation firmly on a course toward education reform. And so, it is especially significant today that I am able to announce that former Governor of Tennessee Lamar Alexander is my nominee to assume the helm at the Department of Education.
Lamar, if you will remember, was at the forefront of the movement to restructure our nation's schools. When he was chairman of the National Governors' Association, he was instrumental in bringing education reform to the very top of the agenda. No Governor in the country is so clearly identified with the imperative to improve education in America. And as I said in Charlottesville, education is our most enduring legacy, vital to everything we are and can become. And much of what went on in Charlottesville was started a couple of years earlier by Lamar Alexander.
You know, Lamar, that working with your former colleagues, we have agreed on six very ambitious national goals for American education. And our mission is clear, and I look forward to your leadership to help us achieve these goals by the year 2000. I am delighted and grateful to both of you for undertaking these two very important assignments.
Lynn, do you want to say a word?
Representative Martin. Thank you, Mr. President. American men and women are the finest in the world. They know we're not just facing a changing decade but a century to come. I look forward to making sure that the future for the American worker is even brighter; that with common sense and compassion and the competence that is part of the Bush administration, that we will make sure the 1990's are a time to be remembered as a pinnacle for chance and opportunity for the men and women who compose the working force for America.
And I look forward to working with Lamar Alexander. His education and that change are part of what the future holds. If I do my job it means that somewhere, sometime, someone's life will be better, someone will have a better chance. And that's really what government is supposed to be about.
And for a moment, perhaps because it's the Christmas season and a holiday season for everyone, I'd like to give a special thanks not just, of course, to the President but to his White House staff, who's been incredibly cooperative, and to two Democratic Senators from my home State of Illinois, who have gone well beyond what they've ever had to say or do to be extraordinarily gracious. And perhaps that says what's really right about our political system -- that when it comes time to make sure that a future is better, that working together we can make it happen. Thank you very much.
The President. Lamar?
Governor Alexander. Mr. President, and Lynn. Mr. President, I remember the first thing you did during your inauguration week, because I was sitting right over here: you met with teachers. And I remember you said to them a little story about Sam Houston, that he wrote once that the most important contribution he ever made in life was the year he spent teaching in Maryville, Tennessee. My home is Maryville, Tennessee, and my parents were teachers. When I was a Governor I discovered that our State's major need was better schools, colleges, and universities. For the last 3 years, I've had the privilege of being president of a very good State university.
So, Mr. President, you've asked me to do something that I know you value and I've learned to value very, very much. The best example I can give of that is the big new Saturn plant in Tennessee. Families have moved there from all over America to learn how to try to build an American car that can compete with Japanese and European cars. And the UAW foreman there tells me that after they found out what it takes to do that, that they asked two questions. The second question is: Where can I get good schools for our children? And the first question is: Where can I go back to school?
If we're going to have the kind of America that we want to have -- if we're going to understand our democracy, going to be competitive, if we're going to keep our good jobs -- we're going to have to answer those questions: Where can we find better schools for our children and -- something we often miss that Lynn brought up -- where can working men and women in America go back to school themselves, so we can retrain today's work force?
I think we're fortunate to have a President who, in the midst of trying to stay one step ahead of this busy, dangerous world, is willing to try to be an education President. I think my job is to understand his goals, develop a plan, and to help him do that. And I appreciate and am grateful for the chance to do that.
Q. Mr. President?
The President. Thank you very much. May I introduce to you Mrs. Alexander, who's with us, came up from Tennessee today also. Some of you may remember her from the Governor's days. But we're just delighted you're with us.
Yes, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International]?
Persian Gulf Crisis
Q. Mr. President, the Iraqis are saying that only they have the right to call the shots on dates for talks. And Secretary Baker seems more hopeful. What's your stand today?
The President. Mine has not changed since yesterday. And I spelled out my position as clearly as I possibly can. So, I hope these talks will take place. But I saw the statements out of Iraq. Those statements concern me far less than the statements I see that there is no flexibility on Saddam Hussein's part about what he calls Province 19, which flies directly in the face of the United Nations action. That's the substance of all this, and that's what concerns me.
Q. Do you think we're closer to hostilities?
The President. I hope not. I certainly hope not.
Yes, Terry [Terence Hunt, Associated Press], and then Jim [James A. Miklaszewski, NBC News]. Then I'm going.
Q. Is there any flexibility in your insistence on that January 3d deadline for getting talks going, or if it doesn't happen by then are you just going to throw in the towel and wait until the 15th?
The President. Let me say, Terry, I think people understand that when you give a person 15 dates, a man who's been meeting on 20 minutes' notice with a wide group of leaders from all over the world and characters from all over the world, that we've been very flexible on this. And so, I just would leave it calmly where it sits right now, without speculating on what I might or might not do. The U.N. resolutions are clear. He must be out of Kuwait -- that means entirely -- by January 15th. It's very clear to the world that that's what the objective is. So, if you try to keep -- for reasons of his own -- moving down towards that deadline, it just seems obvious to the world what he's doing.
Q. Actually, you sound a little more flexible today than you did on Friday. You said you don't care to speculate -- --
The President. I'm just in a calmer mood today. [Laughter] Calm.
The President. Monday morning, Monday morning. Monday morning. Got a big day out there, and I just didn't want to get too fired up here this early in the morning. [Laughter]
Q. Well, what difference, Mr. President -- if it could mean averting armed conflict -- what difference does 9 days make? The difference between the 3d and the 12th?
The President. Listen, if I thought that meeting on the 14th would permit him to comply fully with the United Nations resolutions, I'd be very flexible. But that's not possible.
Q. Well, what will Mr. Baker do? Is he going to negotiate? Do you want him in there early enough so that he can persuade a man who this morning said that Kuwait is part of Iraq and that is unflinching?
The President. Well, this is the problem, Ann [Ann Compton, ABC News]. I mean, he keeps making these statements that fly directly in the face of the international sanctions taken by the world, international position taken by the United Nations Security Council. So, the purpose of the talks is, a lot of people that think they understand him don't feel that he believes we are serious. They don't feel that he thinks we will use force. Some tell me as recently as yesterday -- one of the great leaders on that part of the world told me that he feels that Saddam Hussein simply does not understand the debate in this country. He thinks it means that our country is divided and that we cannot go forward to do our part in implementing the U.N. resolutions. And he's just as wrong as he can be.
So, my thought was, if a talk with `Aziz, a talk with Baghdad would help make that clear, so much the better. That was the purpose. And if there's talks, that will be the purpose. It will not be to make concession. We've got an opportunity for a new world order, but that opportunity will be lost if an aggressor gets one single concession. It will be, and that's my view; it is the view of the coalition partners. But I still feel it is important that the man understand that we are serious about this.
Yes? Then I got to go.
Q. Mr. President, given what you just said and what Saddam said this morning once again about Province 19, may we know what you're thinking now, then, about January 15th?
The President. No. You just wait and see.
Q. At midnight January 15th? Are you more driven now to see action at that point?
The President. Well, I think at midnight, if he's not totally out of Kuwait, the U.N. sanctions must be fulfilled. So, let's see. I'm still hopeful there's a peaceful solution to this problem.
Well, thank you for your interest in labor and education. [Laughter] And I will now turn this -- no, no more questions. No, no, no, I've been too accessible here. We're going into a Christmas mode here where I won't be doing as much of this kind of work.
Q. Sir, just something on -- --
Q. Just on the two nominees.
The President. No, I can't do it. I just can't do it. Can't do it.
Note: President Bush spoke at 9:30 a.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to President Saddam Hussein and Foreign Minister Tariq `Aziz of Iraq.