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Transcript from Bono's 'Meet the Press' Appearance

MSNBC, June 26, 2005

 

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back on Meet the Press. With us now from Dublin, Ireland, the lead singer of U2 and the co-founder of DATA: Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa. Here's Bono.

Welcome. This coming Saturday and a week from Wednesday, huge concerts around the world and then a final concert in Scotland called The Final Push. What is The Final Push all about?

BONO: Yeah. Well, the G8 is such a big thing here in Europe. I know it used to be in the United States. I mean, in Europe it's like the Super Bowl. You know, you have the eight most powerful men in the world meeting someplace, in this case on a golf course in Gleneagles, Scotland, and people are wondering, you know, what will come out of it and whether -- is it just a talking shop? Or in this case, is there a chance for history?

Those of us that have been working on development issues in Africa, in particular, are holding out that this could be a historic breakthrough, a real sea change on issues facing the poorest of the poor. And there will be hundreds of thousands of people turning out, religious groups, student groups. Prime Minister Blair and -- published the Commission for Africa, which is a new analysis of aid and effective aid and how to spend it, and the need, he says, and most of the world agrees, is about $50 billion. And we can really turn things around on that continent but we have to have agreement from everybody, especially the United States, if we're to get there.

MR. RUSSERT: You say from everybody. In fact, you gave an interview to Time magazine. "Question: Which of the G8 leaders do you think remains the toughest nut to crack? Bono: The most important and toughest nut is still President Bush. He feels he's already doubled and tripled aid to Africa, which he started from far too low a place. He can stand there and say he paid at the office already. He shouldn't because he'll be left out of the history books. But it's hard for him because of the expense of the war and the debts."

How much pressure do you think should be on President Bush at this time?

BONO: Well, I think he's done an incredible job, his administration, on AIDS. And 250,000 Africans are on antiviral drugs. They literally owe their lives to America. In one year that's being done. But it can't just be AIDS. It has to be the environment in which viruses like AIDS thrive, or malaria. I mean, 3,000 Africans die every day of a mosquito bite. Can you think about that, malaria? That's not acceptable in the 21st century and we can stop it. And water-borne illnesses -- dirty water takes another 3,000 lives -- children, mothers, sisters.

Yes, there's a lot of pressure on President Bush. If he, though, in his second term, is as bold in his commitments to Africa as he was in the first term, he indeed deserves a place in history in turning the fate of that continent around. If he doesn't I fear that even the good work that he has started will be forgotten by history and that really makes me very, very sad, because I worked on a lot of this stuff, the AIDS initiative and the Millennium Challenge, and really want to see -- I think he deserves his place in history here. I believe he has the heart for it, but his advisors are going to have to let him go to Gleneagles with something other than timid proposals and pilot programs and rhetoric. They're going to have to let him sign, you know, a proper check. One billions dollars is all it would take to save a million lives from malaria, with bed nets, etc., $1 billion. Four billion dollars, you could change the world. From the United States, an extra commitment of $4 billion.

MR. RUSSERT: There is a new television campaign sponsored by yourself and other organizations, which features former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela. Let's just watch a piece of that.

(Videotape of "The One Campaign Ad"):

MR. NELSON MANDELA (Former President of South Africa): We now need leadership, precision and political courage. They have an historical opportunity to open the door to hope and the possibility to offer better future for all.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: "Political courage." Those words seem to be a direct challenge to President Bush and the other leaders.

BONO: Yeah. Yeah, it is a challenge. It's just one of those moments. You know, you have the French and the Germans agreeing with the British. That already is extraordinary in these times, believe me, in Europe. The French, you know, have their colonial past in Africa, and they see themselves as an interface and are ready to step up to .7 percent GDP commitment by 2011. The British .7 commitment. And, you know, the United States is down at about .17, .2 is within sight. But really to get serious about this, the United States has to get up to .3, .4, .5. That's our wish here.

And we know it will take time to get there. We know you've got a deficit problem. We understand there's a war being fought. But, really, if we're to take this issue seriously, and we must, because in 50 years, you know, when they look back at this moment, they'll talk about the war against terror, they'll talk about the Internet, and they'll talk about what we did or didn't do about this continent bursting into flames. It is the most extraordinary thing to watch people dying three in a bed, two on top and one underneath, as I have seen in Malawi, in Lilongwe, Malawi. I mean, it is an astonishing thing. And it's avoidable. It's an avoidable catastrophe. You saw what happened with the tsunami. You see the outpouring, you see the dramatic pictures. Well, there's a tsunami happening every month in Africa, but it's an avoidable catastrophe. It is not a natural calamity.

MR. RUSSERT: One of your fellow organizers of the concert, Sir Bob Geldof, is quoted as saying that he wanted no ranting or raving at President Bush or Prime Minister Blair about the war. He was quoted of saying, "We want to bring Bush in, not run him away." Is that a stated goal of the meeting in Scotland with a million people on the street not to protest the war but to be in favor of increased aid to Africa?

BONO: Absolutely. This is the other war. This is a war that can be won so much more easily than the war against terror, and we wish the president and others luck in winning the war against terror. But this -- there will be a time when AIDS, you know, they'll find a vaccine, it will be over, malaria will be over. No, this is an issue that I think can unite Europe, can unite the world. And remember the rest of the world are very suspicious about the G8 countries, about the industrialized world. They're not sure, you know, if we have any values. They're not sure who we are. They meet us with our military, they meet us with our trade, our movies, our, you know, commodities. But they need to meet who we are on a deeper level. And that's where they meet us with foreign assistance.

And if it's spent well, if it's not used to redecorate presidential palaces and as it's not now. This is targeted, focused aid we're talking about now, only given to people who are tackling corruption. Then everyone's with them. Now, this is, I think, this will unite people. And I fear -- and it's the reason I'm talking to you today -- that, you know, because there's so much going of in America with the war in Iraq and stuff, that you might miss this opportunity. I love America. I believe in America. It offends me, it upsets me when the rest of the world thinks America is not doing enough. The president is right to say they're doing a quarter of all aid to Africa. He has doubled, even tripled if he follows through, aid to Africa. But they are about to double aid, the rest of Europe, to double aid, so that will leave America as one-eighth of all aid going to Africa if they don't match that. And that's not a place Americans want to be, one-eighth. And that will be Europe doing four times as much as America. You know, I want to encourage Americans just to give their president permission. I know he wants to do this, but his advisers must break with this kind of fiscal conservativity on this one issue. This is the moment to be generous right now. I'm sure of that.

MR. RUSSERT: The concerns that many in the administration have and many people across the country were reflected in this article in yesterday's New York Daily News. The headline: "Can music really save Africa? Concerts help but corruption hurts." And the article goes to say, Bono, "Many -- in the West and in Africa -- doubt that canceling debt and pouring billions more into Africa will do any good while the continent remains plagued by disease, civil war and corruption. Makeda Tsegaye, an Ethiopian activist based in Kenya, said writing off debts without demanding democratic reforms would be counterproductive. "A rare occasion of debt-relief is not going to solve the problem." Corruption at the highest levels of many of Africa's governments has meant that much of the money given in aid ends up used as the personal slush funds for dictators. "It's always meant that -- just making a deposit in the Swiss bank account of the leaders," said Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute."

Enormous ramp in corruption and many of the countries that are on the list to be aided are on the State Department list of countries that violate human rights. How can you assure people in the United States that the money that will be given to Africa, the debt that will be forgiven, will not wind up in limousines and private jets, with dictators who abuse their own people?

BONO: This is the number-one problem facing Africa, corruption; not natural calamity, not the AIDS virus. This is the number-one issue and there's no way around it. That's what was so clever about President Bush's Millennium Challenge. It was start-up money for new democracies. It was giving increases of aid flows only to countries that are tackling corruption. That's what's so clever. It's -- the implementation of the Millennium Challenge has not happened. It is in trouble. They recognize that. President Bush is embarrassed about that. They're trying to put it right. But the idea, the concept was a great one. Debt cancellation also has conditionalities built into it. People need to know this.

So no one is talking about aid in the old sense, the money down a rat hole thing. No one wants that. It makes matters worse, not better. This is newtargeted aid. Now, there will be some countries where mercy is needed and aid has to go -- certain levels of aid have to go. You can't hold people responsible, the populace responsible for their dictators. But in those instances, you just root the aid away from the governments and through the NGOs on the ground. That's the modern way.

MR. RUSSERT: There was an article in The Guardian in London suggesting that you and Mr. Geldof were being used by Prime Minister Blair and President Bush, and let me just read it and give you a chance to respond. "[Bono and Geldof] are lending legitimacy to power. From the point of view of men like Bush and Blair, the deal is straightforward. We let these hairy people share a platform with us, we make a few cost-free gestures, and in return, we receive their praise and capture their fans. The sanctity of our collaborators rubs off on us. If the trick works, the movements ranged against us will disperse, imagining that the world's problems have been solved."

Are you concerned about that?

BONO: As a hairy person, yes. I'm very concerned about that. It is the biggest risk that we take as activists, but I've been in the room with Condoleezza Rice. I've been in the room with President Bush and Tony Blair and Chirac and Schroeder and on the Democratic side, you know, with John Kerry and all over Congress. Am I being used? In a certain sense perhaps, but it works both ways. If they deliver, we must deserve applause. We must give the respect.

And on the debt issue which they've delivered in this last week, they deserve credit. If they blow it, then they deserve our boos and our hisses and they will lose our audience, and our audience is a big audience. I don't mean the U2 audience, but music constituency. They're the floating vote. They're the people who haven't made up their mind where they're going to vote. And believe me, I've been in the heartland of America. I've been in every city just in the last year either with U2 or on speaking tours and churches and schools. And people want to believe that this can be the generation that says no to stupid poverty, you know, and it's an obscenity. And in a world of plenty, children are dying for lack of food in their belly. We can actually do something about this. It's not mistrusted Irish rock star nonsense. There's a critical path. Cleaver people than I have put price tags. There are mechanisms in place to prevent the money being wasted. We must do this. This is -- our generation demands it. There's an audience out there that demands it, and if we blow it, I know that I'm going to be embarrassed and this is -- yes -- and there's a lot at stake here.

MR. RUSSERT: What do you believe will happen at the G8 meeting?

BONO: I think in the next week, if the U.S. looks deep into its soul and more importantly its wallet and says, "Look, if we want to win the war against terror, we have to win the war against poverty." I didn't say that by the way. Colin Powell said that, a military man, and if want to win the war against poverty or be seen at least to show global leadership here, we are going to have to put our hands in our pocket in ways that we don't want to, but this is the moment, this is the time, and we have the rest of the world waiting. They're already in agreement, as I said to you earlier, the French, the Germans, the Italians, and if America comes through and leads this, I promise President Bush, I promise the people of America 'cause these are hard choices to make. I understand that, but this will be something in 50 years' time, in 25 years' time people will be very proud to have been a part of.

MR. RUSSERT: Bono, aka Paul Hewson, we thank you very much for joining us and sharing your views on Meet the Press.

BONO: Thank you very much, Tim. Thanks for having me on the program. God bless you.



© NBC News, 2005

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