A while ago, I posted that John Kerry would be doing a live interview with Wolf Blitzer on the Situation Room. Kerry is in the midst of a tour of the Middle East and held a press conference earlier today in Jerusalem.
KERRY OPENS FIRE
BLITZER: Senator Kerry, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to “The Situation Room,” this time from Jerusalem. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover right now.
Let’s talk, first of all, about your trip over the weekend to Pakistan. What did officials there tell you about this U.S. air strike that targeted the number two Al Qaida leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri?
KERRY: Well, obviously, they were very concerned about the loss of life, as are we, of any innocent civilian. But on the other hand, they were also clear that it was their belief there were foreign intruders in that particular target area. So they understood what we were trying to accomplish, and I think they were trying very hard to make the best out of a bad situation.
BLITZER: Do you have any problem with the U.S. government targeting Al Qaida leaders for assassination in third countries?
KERRY: Well, first of all, assassination is a questionable term when you consider that we have been chasing these people and fundamentally at war with them since they attacked us in New York City on September 11th. And we have a joint agreement with the Pakistanis, thanks to their cooperation in that war which is at some risk to them and to President Musharraf, for the ability to do what — you know, hot pursuit, if you want to call it that.
There’s a lot of thought that goes into that kind of targeting. There’s a lot of intelligence work that is done by both sides as to what’s happening. And I think that the record shows that it has not been indiscriminate.
Does it have its risks? Of course it has its risks.
But nobody should underestimate the degree to which, in every country that I’ve been in the last week or so — from India to Pakistan to Afghanistan to here in Israel, and I’m about to go to Jordan and into Iraq — that the leaders of those countries are permitted to eliminate the threats to not just their governments, but to all innocent people by those who have decided to kill innocent bystanders.
BLITZER: So you support this strategy that we saw dramatically unfold Friday with this attack against this target along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan?
KERRY: If we have the proper intelligence and it has gone through the proper channels and we have followed our rules of engagement and decision-making with respect to that intelligence, and we have good reason on that intelligence to believe that there are members of Al Qaida or terrorists who are targeting the United States in that target, I absolutely support pulling the trigger. Absolutely.
You know, this is not a — you know, this is not something for the faint of heart. We are in a situation where there are a group of jihadists who have no real ideology or goal politically other than to simply kill us and kill other people too, for that matter.
Now, does that mean that that’s all there is to this effort? Let me be crystal clear. No. It is not going to be won or decided at the end of a Predator trigger or the barrel of, you know, a soldier’s gun. And I’ve said that many, many times. But where you have those people, where they are gearing up to engage in their dangerous activities, we have to do what we have to do to protect ourselves.
BLITZER: You’re in Israel now. I assume you’ve met with the Israeli leadership of the acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert. What’s it like now? I was there about 10 days ago, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had his stroke. What does it look like to you on the ground?
KERRY: Well, look, there’s obviously a heavy feeling in the hearts of all of the people in Israel, and you can feel the sort of dislocation that everybody’s feeling and the normality of life in this country.
On the other hand, what I also feel is a great strength and resilience and commitment to go forward in an understanding of the course that they’re on.
I was very struck in my meeting with the acting prime minister. He was very engaged, very clear. I think he’s handled this situation with a great deal of grace and a great deal of sensitivity, and I think the people of Israel, likewise, have shown the strength of the democracy and the strength of their government here.
There will be elections for the Palestinian Authority next week. Those will be very, very important in determining what the direction is going to be, and then there’ll be elections in Israel. And yesterday the acting prime minister was named the acting chairman of his new party, of the Kadima, and so I think things are moving along with a clear determination.
This is a country that, as you know, Wolf, from your time here and just covering it, deals with shock and dislocation and loss of life and the challenges of the region on a daily basis. They’re resilient, strong and I think they’re on a very clear course. And I was heartened by it. I really came away with a sense that despite the terrible situation with respect to Prime Minister Sharon, people are determined to move ahead and to make the most of whatever opportunities are presented in the days ahead.
BLITZER: Senator Kerry, as you well know, successive U.S. administrations have regarded Hamas as a terrorist organization. They’re going to be running in these Palestinian elections on January 25th. What happens if they win? What should the U.S. attitude be in dealing with Hamas if they do well? All the indications are they will
do well in these Palestinian elections.
KERRY: Well, first of all, Hamas is not considered to be; it is. Hamas is a terrorist organization, and I was against, as a number of people were against, the notion that a terrorist organization ought to participate.
But this is the Palestinian election. That decision has been made, and Israel has decided to move forward in that context.
So the real question now, frankly — and I met in Jericho this morning with people taking part in that election — the real question is: What happens after the election? If Hamas has a number of people elected and it appears as if they will, then the question for them is: How are they going to behave?
What choices are they going to make, and what choices is Abu Abbas going to make? Is he going to decide at that time to take them on as he ought to and change their constitution, and demand that in order to participate in that government of legitimacy at that point, you recognize the right of Israel to exist and you give up violence?
I mean, Wolf, you can’t imagine sitting at a table governing with people who are negotiating the right of access through barriers, negotiated the movement of goods, and at the same time as they’re negotiating with you about that, in a legitimate government supposedly, they’re blowing up people in buses or restaurants in Tel Aviv or in Jerusalem. That’s an unacceptable contradiction.
And so I think you’re reaching a moment of very real choice for whatever the form of Palestinian government that is going to emerge from these elections.
BLITZER: You’re in a country right now, Israel, that a neighbor, Iran, under its new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would like to see wiped off the face of the Earth, “wiped off the map,” in his words. And they’re now, according to U.S. and European authorities, moving toward developing a nuclear bomb even though they deny that.
Senator John McCain, your colleague, said on television over the weekend here — he said this: “There’s only one thing worse than the United States exercising a military option against Iran, and that is a nuclear-armed Iran. Now, military option is the last option, but cannot be taken off the table.”
What is your thought on a potential military option against Iran?
KERRY: Well, first of all, you never take a military option off the table anywhere under any circumstances. So it’s on the table, but I think anybody who’s studied the situation understands, as I think John McCain said in the comment that he’s making, it is an option that requires an extraordinary level of commitment with long-term
repercussions, and it is truly an option of last resort, and I think people understand that.
Look, the more important thing is that Ahmadinejad’s comments are absolutely stunning in the 21st century. And almost equally as stunning, in my mind, was the lack of universal condemnation across the globe. There were people who commented but it is really shocking to have a leader of any country under any circumstances in the 21st century, after all that we’ve been through and learned, to have them talking about wiping an entire people off the face of the Earth.
So through those statements and through their own actions, Iran has taken its own steps to make itself a significant renegade outlaw nation at this particular moment in time. The question for all of us is how to diffuse and deal with a situation that you don’t want to have to get to the last resort about. I think there are a number of options available to us.
In each country that I’ve visited, the leaders, from Prime Minister Singh in India to President Musharraf in Pakistan, President Karzai in Afghanistan, the acting prime minister here, all of them have said how unacceptable it is for Iran to behave the way it is and to move in the direction it is.
But I do think that Russia, at this point, could play a critical role, and my hope is that before we get to the United Nations, before we reach the point of sanctions — which they must understand that we are going to be united on and they are going to be serious sanctions with real consequences, to have the kind of effect that we had on South Africa if that is what it comes to.
But before that, I think there are still possibilities that Russia might be able to play a very important role here, and my hope is that President Putin and Russia will step up and do that.
BLITZER: Coming up, more of my interview with John Kerry. He weighs in on Al Gore’s charge that President Bush broke the law and is putting the U.S. Constitution at risk.
And he’s got some choice words to say about Hillary Clinton’s attack on Mr. Bush, as well.
More of this exclusive interview; that’s coming up next. You’re in “The Situation Room.”
BLITZER: Before I let you go, Senator, because we’re almost out of time, a couple of domestic issues that I want to just go through, get your reaction.
Listen to what the former Vice President Al Gore said yesterday on the president’s authorization of these secret wiretaps by the National Security Agency, without warrants — court warrants. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law, repeatedly and insistently.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you agree with him?
BLITZER: So what does that mean, if the president is breaking the law?
KERRY: Definitively. Definitively.
BLITZER: What’s the remedy?
KERRY: Well, the president — first of all, with respect to breaking the law, the law that we passed clearly envisions — and the reason we created it — congressional intents could not be more clear here. We created a court. We have that court the power, on moments notice, set up only for the purpose of approving these warrants, to be able to review them in order to protect the constitutional rights of Americans, particularly with the view of what happens when you don’t do that. That’s number one.
Number two, out of sixteen thousand — I think — seven hundred warrants that have been issued, only four have been refused in that entire period of time. And finally, nothing in the law that the administration has pointed to, which the Congress passed to respond to 9/11, where we authorized the use of force, nothing contemplated this kind of constitutional violation. So it is a clear violation of law.
Now, you know, there are any number of different recourses that could be taken. With a Republican Congress, we’ve had a particularly hard time getting any legitimate recourse taken under almost any circumstances, because we don’t have the power to issue subpoenas, we don’t have the power to call hearings. So I think we have to continue to present this issue to the American people and I hope the administration will, of its own admission and its own steps, reverse course, admit the mistake, and try to guarantee that the protections
put in place are adhered to.
BLITZER: Senator Specter says he will hold hearings on this next month, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
KERRY: I’ve heard that, and I hope the hearings are going to be fully bipartisan, that the appropriate people will be called on a bipartisan basis, the Democrats will have the right to have equal numbers of witnesses, and that subpoenas, if necessary, will be issued as appropriate without the chairman having the right to veto them.
BLITZER: I want to also get your comment on what Senator Hillary Clinton said yesterday in going after the Bush administration. Listen to her pointed remark.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): I predict to you that this administration will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you agree with her on that?
KERRY: Boy, you’re throwing at me — you’re throwing every domestic comment of attack on the administration while I’m over here trying to figure out what’s going on, I guess.
I think that administration is one of the most derelict in responsibility in history, sure. I don’t disagree with her. I mean, almost every single issue of importance, with a completely apolitical point of view — look at health care in America. What’s their plan? They have no plan.
Look at General Motors and Ford that are facing the potential of bankruptcy and the lack of jobs overseas. What is the plan? They’re not even engaged in major discussions to figure out how we move forward.
Look at what’s happened to investment in research and development in technology and science and all of the things that create the jobs of the future. Are we going backwards?
The promise of No Child Left behind has been left behind. The environment — we are literally going backwards.
I mean, I’m not going to run the gamut and the list here, but the bottom line is that we are not as safe in the world as we ought to be, and we are not facing up to our responsibilities at home as we ought to be, and I think history will be a harsh judge of those realities.
BLITZER: We have 10 seconds left.
Do you want to tell our viewers how you’re going to vote on the Samuel Alito nomination?
KERRY: No, not from here, and not without having had a chance to review the hearings fully. But I will be back in a couple of days, and I intend to do that as soon as I get back.
BLITZER: Thanks so much, Senator Kerry for joining us. Have a safe trip. We hope to catch up with you from Iraq later in the week. We’ll see you back in Washington. Be safe over there.
KERRY: Thank you.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
KERRY: Thanks a lot, Wolf. Take care.
www.cq.com / Copyright 2006 CQ Transcriptions, LLC. Transcript courtesy of Senator Kerry’s office.