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First Lady Laura Bush's Whirlwind Mideast Trip

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record ," October 29, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Tonight, first lady Laura Bush goes "On the Record," but this is no ordinary interview. Last week, we traveled with the first lady on a whirlwind trip through the Middle East, four countries, five days. Now, she was there to raise awareness about breast cancer, and we were given unprecedented access to Mrs. Bush during our tour through the region. And all this week, you — yes, you! — will go behind the scenes and see everything we saw and did...

During the day on Monday, the first lady met with breast cancer survivors at a "pink majlis," a pink tent located within a hospital in Abu Dhabi. It's a place where women can come to talk openly about a subject that remains very taboo in this part of the world. That day, we had our first chance to sit down and speak with Mrs. Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAN SUSTEREN: Mrs. Bush, nice to see you in the United Arab Emirates.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: That's right. Here we are in the pink majlis, which I think the perfect place to talk about breast cancer awareness and this partnership we have in the Middle East.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is this? I mean, it's a gorgeous pink room. Explain a little bit more what this (INAUDIBLE)

BUSH: It is so beautiful. It's a tent, really, in the Arab tradition. And it's in the middle of the Sheikh Khalifa medical hospital, which is where we are. But this is a place for women to come talk about breast cancer in a safe and private place. Here in the UAE, it's like the United States was about 25 years ago, when women didn't mention breast cancer. People were embarrassed to talk about it. And because of that, by the time — if a woman discovered a lump or went to the hospital, she would present at such a late stage, it would be very hard to have successful treatment.

And that's what's happening here. There's a lot of breast cancer in younger women, and of course, younger women aren't expecting it and so they're late to go to the hospital and get treatment. And in fact, they have a very high rate of mortality.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you actually spoke to some women here...

BUSH: That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... listening to their personal stories.

BUSH: I heard a couple of very interesting stories. One is a woman who's — here in the Arab world, in many cases, when a woman has breast cancer, her husband will divorce her. But one woman tells the story of her husband and sons who were so in solidarity with her, they shaved her heads when she lost her hair and came to therapy.

But we did hear from another woman whose husband did leave her when she got the diagnosis with breast cancer. But she said, in fact, she found out she was a lot stronger than she thought she was. And she's been able to get a job and that it ended up being not such a bad thing after all.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, we're going to dog you all week, following you.

BUSH: That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: But this interest in breast cancer, and particularly in the Middle East, is not new for you. This started a while back. This is just sort of putting another spotlight on it. This is an ongoing project for you.

BUSH: That's right. I've been a breast cancer advocate for a long time. My mother had breast cancer. So did my grandmother. They both were survivors of breast cancer. My mother is still living, and my grandmother didn't die of breast cancer.

But early, on when Susan — when Nancy Brinker started the Susan G. Komen Foundation, I lived in Dallas and that's where she started it, and so I was a volunteer for Susan Komen when it was still just a big luncheon in Dallas as their fundraiser, before there were Races for the Cure all over the world, like there are now.

But also, I want to say that two first ladies, Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan, because they spoke out about their own bouts with breast cancer as they were going through it, that really helped in the United States. That got the word out to women to do self-exams and to have a regular mammogram. And because we know that there's not a cure for breast cancer, but if you discover a cancer early, you're much more likely to have a successful outcome.

VAN SUSTEREN: Beginning, though, I think it was June of last year, the partnership, you — it's sort of an extension of your interest in this. Explain — I mean, explain the partnership because the viewers may not understand that.

BUSH: Yes. Well, this is a partnership between the United States State Department and these Arab countries, three of which I'll visit during this week, the United Arab Emirates, where we are today, Saudi Arabia, where we'll be signing their partnership tomorrow, and then Jordan, where we'll be later in the week.

And this is because there is a high incidence of breast cancer and also because in these Arab countries, women still don't speak about breast cancer or mention breasts. And so this is a way to bring the advocacy that we've developed in the United States to women here. It's a way for American women to reach out to women in the Arab world and to say that we have a lot in common, a lot more in common than we might realize.

And so I think it's a really important public diplomacy effort, medical diplomacy effort, actually, on the part of our government with these — in partnership with these governments.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, your day has been a jam-packed one so far. I'm only halfway through the day, I might add. Earlier today, you met with some young women leaders. And one of the things that I thought was sort of interesting was that — how television's a lousy way to learn about each other, isn't it.

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: It really is.

BUSH: That's right. These young leaders that we've met are also part of a Middle East partnership. It's an education partnership that brings young Arab students to the United States to study in U.S. universities, to live with families in the United States. And of course, what these young women found out was not only did they have a stereotype about Americans, but Americans had a stereotype about them. And being able to meet in person, they learned that we all have a lot more in common as human beings than we have differences.

And they also learned that Americans weren't the television shows that we think of, and that, in fact, Americans have very solid values in general, we're a very religious country.

VAN SUSTEREN: I notice when one young woman was talking about an Americans weren't the television shows that we think of and that, in fact, Americans have very solid values, and in general, we're a very religious country.

VAN SUSTEREN: I noticed that when one young woman was talking about her wonderful experience in my home state, Wisconsin, you sort of (INAUDIBLE) mentioned that she should go to — that someone should go study in Texas, too.

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: I saw the sort of — the Texas push when she was saying how much she admired Wisconsin.

BUSH: Well, she was talking about communications. She's a communications major. And I happen to know about the communications school at the University of Texas. And so I thought that was a good way for them to reach out.

She wanted — her idea was at that she would make these documentaries to show Americans that Arab women weren't like we thought they were and that you can actually speak to them. She said that was one of the things that happened on campus, where boys thought they couldn't speak to Arab girls. And in fact, they could. So that's why I mentioned the University of Texas.

VAN SUSTEREN: So it wasn't to — it wasn't to one-up me on Wisconsin, then.

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: It's sort of interesting. I mean, your own daughter, Jenna, has just written a book, which we've interviewed her about, "Ana's Story," is that when you — when you — when these young people travel to another country, they really — they learn so much, don't they, I mean, whether it's the Arab women here going to the United States or vice versa.

BUSH: They really do. And our world has gotten so small because of television and because of the Internet and because so many people are traveling. So many American young people are working, are volunteering in other countries or traveling in other countries. And I think that's a great way for us to reach out to each other.

VAN SUSTEREN: It was interesting today, the — here in the United Arab Emirates, the women could have a mammogram, if they're citizens, they can get it free. We don't have that.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's right. They — they have everything for free here in the United Arab Emirates. This is a very, very wealthy oil country, and they've become a very important financial center for this part of the world. Abu Dhabi and Dubai both are known as financial centers. So they — the people, the Emiratis, that live here have all free health treatment in this very hospital where we're in, and others.

VAN SUSTEREN: And then this afternoon, we're going to a luncheon?

BUSH: That's right, going to the luncheon hosted by the mother of the UAE, Sheikha Fatima. She's the widow of the former sheikh of UAE and mother of the crown prince here now. But she has been very, very active in making sure women have — are treated well, and especially get the medical care they might need.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is this the first time you meet her, or do you have any — I mean...

BUSH: No, this is the first time I've met her, and I'm really looking forward to it.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I should probably mention that you get acknowledgement, you're the first first lady ever to visit this country.

BUSH: That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: That's fun.

BUSH: That is fun.

VAN SUSTEREN: And then we go back to the United States, and we continue to put the spotlight on there (ph).

BUSH: We will, absolutely. I mean, this is something that I've been interested in for years. And so we'll talk about it there, as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, Mrs. Bush. And of course, we're going to — as I said, we're going to dog you. We're following you all week long with cameras and everything else. So thank you very much.

BUSH: Thanks so much, Greta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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