MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Iraq. Who will emerge as the next prime minister? How widespread is the terrorist insurgency? And how long before the Iraqis are able to secure their own country without American troops? With us: from Baghdad, Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton of New York and Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. Clinton and McCain from Iraq, only on MEET THE PRESS.
Then, the president names John Negroponte as the nation's first director of national intelligence. And is there an emerging crisis with Iran or North Korea? Insights and analysis from Katty Kay of the BBC, Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, Dana Priest of The Washington Post and Robin Wright of The Washington Post.
But first: Yesterday, Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain were on the ground in Iraq, and we spoke to them from Baghdad.
Senator McCain, as leader of the congressional delegation, let me start with you. What are you being told about the size and intensity of the insurgency there in Iraq?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R-AZ): I think it's still sizable. It is still intense. We still haven't gotten an exact number, and part of that's understandable because there's full-time terrorists and there are sympathizers and there's people who are just apathetic. But I think that the challenge is still extremely great. Obviously, we've changed the equation from Iraqis vs. U.S. troops to Iraqi vs. U.S. government, but it's going to be a long, tough struggle, in my view.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, how would you describe the scope of the insurgency?
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, (D-NY): Well, Tim, this is an issue that Senator McCain and the rest of the delegation and I have been probing because it is something that concerns us. When I was here last at the end of 2003, at least with respect to Baghdad, I was not under as severe security restrictions as we are at this time. So obviously, the number of attacks average about 50 a day, we're told. But there are parts of the country that are fairly secure and stable. I think the important thing is to recognize that the Iraqi security forces are now more engaged, and have to be, and the new Iraqi government, as it takes hold, will assume greater and greater responsibility for dealing with the insurgency. So we are watching this and trying to gather as much information as possible, but it's really now going to be largely up to the Iraqi people and their new government to determine how effective this insurgency is in the future.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator McCain, the director of the CIA, Porter Goss, said this week that Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the new breeding ground for international terrorists. Have you learned anything about that during your trip so far?
SEN. McCAIN: I don't think that there's anything illogical about that. Iraq has attracted people from all over the Middle East to come and fight, and they are being financed at least to some degree, by the same people that financed Al-Qaeda, including some who didn't. And I think it's a major challenge, and it argues for success. If we fail, then this place would become a breeding ground, and I think we all understand that we're not going to win the war on terror inside the borders of the United States of America. That, I think, indicates how much is at stake here.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe we have enough American troops on the ground right now?
SEN. McCAIN: I think we have in numbers probably enough. I would very much like to see more Marines, more Special Forces, more civil affairs people, more linguists, but the critical time was about two years ago at the beginning when we didn't have enough troops here to stop the looting, to bring about a reasonable environment in places like Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul and other places in the Sunni triangle. I think we're paying a very heavy price for the mistakes we made. But having said that, we cannot afford to lose, and I have to be "guardedly"--and I emphasize that--optimistic about what has happened mainly because the Iraqi people took such great risks to go and vote in risking their own lives so that they can choose their own government. I think it showed a determination on the part of the Iraqi people, which surprised many and pleased most of us.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, what should the American people know about the number of American troops that will have to remain in Iraq for a considerable period of time?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, Tim, we have just finished meeting with the current prime minister, the deputy prime minister and the finance minister, and in our meetings, we posed the question to each of them as to whether they believed that we should set a firm deadline for the withdrawal of American troops. To a person, and they are of different political parties in this election, but each of them said that would be a big mistake, that we needed to make clear that there is a transition now going on to the Iraqi government. When it is formed, which we hope will be shortly, it will assume responsibility for much of the security, with the assistance and cooperation of the coalition forces, primarily U.S. forces.
So I think that what the American people need to know is, number one, we are very proud of our young men and women who are here, active duty, Guard and Reserve. We've seen many of them today, and we'll see more of them tomorrow. And so we all can be very grateful for their service and also very admiring of their sacrifice for other people's freedom. But secondly, we need to make sure that this new government in Iraq can succeed. There are lots of debates about, you know, whether we should have, how we should have, decisions that were made along the way with respect to our involvement here. But where we stand right now, there can be no doubt that it is not in America's interests for the Iraqi government, the experiment in freedom and democracy, to fail. So I hope that Americans understand that and that we will have as united a front as is possible in our country at this time to keep our troops safe, make sure they have everything they need and try to support this new Iraqi government.
MR. RUSSERT: Then you would disagree with any call for immediate withdrawal of some troops or a specific timetable?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, Tim, I understand the feelings behind that call. I mean, there is a lot of reason when we're back at home to argue about this policy. But at this point in time, I think that would be a mistake. I don't believe we should tie our hands or the hands of the new Iraqi government. Now obviously, as this government has stood up and takes responsibility, there may come a time when it decides for its own internal reasons that we should set such a deadline and withdrawal agenda. But right now I think it would be a mistake.
We don't want to send a signal to the insurgents, to the terrorists that we are going to be out of here at some, you know, date certain. I think that would be like a green light to go ahead and just bide your time. We want to send a message of solidarity. And in addition, I would hope that at this point now, we could get more international support. It is not in anyone's interests, not, you know, the people in this region, in Europe or elsewhere around the world, for the Iraqi government to be brought down before it even can get itself together by violent insurgents. So it's not only U.S. commitment, I think and hope that there should be commitment from others as well.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator McCain, the exit strategy that is the most obvious to all is that the Iraqis train 200,000 men and women who are willing to shed blood for their new government. Realistically, straight talk express, how long will that take?
SEN. McCAIN: Years, to do it completely. I'm hopeful that within a year or so that we will see the transfer of these responsibilities being passed over to Iraqi military police. As Senator Clinton pointed out, in the south in Basra, and in the north in the Kurdish areas, it's very stable. But the Sunni triangle is still incredibly volatile. And could I just add one point to what--in response to the question you just asked Senator Clinton. It is in everybody's interest to see democracy succeed. And our European friends can help us in a thousand ways. These people need computers. They need paper. They need training in setting up bureaucracies and institutions of government. We plead with our European friends, take part in this. It's in your interest to see it succeed as well as ours. And for the life of me, I do not understand why the Europeans haven't been more forthcoming.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the results of the election. It appears that Ibrahim Jafari may emerge as the Shiite candidate for prime minister. He has spent considerable time in Iran. His party, the Dawa Party, has had terrorist connections in the past. Senator McCain, what do we know about this potentially new prime minister?
SEN. McCAIN: Well, I think we know that he is the--probably going to be the prime minister. But let me also point out, the Shias were split, number one. And two, they got less than 50 percent of the vote, which means they are not the majority party. And they do want to work with Sunnis. They do want to work with the Kurds. And even if they didn't want to, they could not, according to the rules of the adoption of the constitution, act unilaterally.
And by the way, everyone that we've talked said they understand that they have to welcome the Sunnis into the government. They have to respect the rights of the Sunnis, and there is a significant number of Sunnis that want to be part of the process. Now, there's a lot that aren't.
Iran is certainly a threat. When I say that, Iran has had designs on this country, they've fought a couple of wars, as you know. But I do not believe that Persians are going to be that popular with Arabs, number one. Number two is that just because they share the same religious ideals does not necessarily mean that they want the Iranians to have an inordinate influence on Iraq. I think they are nationalists first and Shias second, at least that's my hope.
But I also want to emphasize again, this is going to be long, hard, tough, difficult. These people have never had this experience. And we're asking them to set up a very delicate process, and it's going to be extremely tough. We're going have setbacks, is what I'm trying to say.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, are you concerned that the new prime minister of Iraq, Mr. Jafari may, in fact, have strong connections with Iran, and what do we know about his background? Who is he?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, Tim, I think that there are grounds both for concern and for, you know, vigilance about this. But again, I am willing to look at the situation and, you know, not yet jump to any conclusions. First, it is a historical fact that he, along with the Dawa Party, have had connections with Iran. Now, part that was because, you know, the enemy of my enemy is my friend and there was an effort in the opposition to Saddam Hussein to get support from anywhere you could. So naturally, given Saddam Hussein's attitude toward Iran and toward the Shias and the Kurds, people were looking for help and support. There are also family ties and religious ties.
However, there was a very strong message conveyed to us in our meetings, including by the finance minister who is part of the overall Islamic alliance, that they understand very well the need for them to be independent and they're striving to achieve that. It is like any nascent democracy. There are going to be bumps along the road. But I don't believe there is, by any means, a large body of opinion that wants to cede independence and control over Iraq's future to Iran.
Having said that, I think we have to watch this very closely. There are obviously areas of influence. There is a temptation on the part of the Iranians to try to fund, you know, their own interests on this side of the border. But there are some checks and balances in the law, and I hope that they will be embodied in whatever constitution goes forward. And the final thing that I would say is that we need a vigorous involvement by Sunnis and we need a vigorous involvement by other Shia who are not in any way connected with Iran as well as the very strong involvement of Kurds. So given the way this is playing out now, I think we should just withhold judgment as to what--who will emerge and what that will mean.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator McCain, speaking of Iran, Russian President Putin said yesterday that he is convinced Iran does not intend to build nuclear weapons. As you know, President Putin has also been responsible for some very undemocratic actions in his own country. What should President Bush say to President Putin on Thursday when they meet about Iran and about what's going on in Russia?
SEN. McCAIN: Well, I think he should say, "Vladimir, you made a serious foreign policy mistake in your handling of the Ukraine elections, and you're making another serious mistake as regards to Iran." The evidence is overwhelming that Iran, at least, has made enough steps towards acquiring a nuclear capability that we should all be concerned, and the evidence is very clear. And so I believe that Mr. Putin has got to understand that he is on the verge of isolating himself in many respects, whether it be in his war on Chechnya, whether his refusal to remove his bases from Georgia, his latest performance as far as Ukraine is concerned and now a mistake in foreign policy towards Iran--this Iranian situation. We should join together with Russia and stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction wherever they may be, including Iran's nuclear capability.
MR. RUSSERT: Should we begin to think about excluding Russia from the so-called G8, the gathering of the industrialized nations?
SEN. McCAIN: Absolutely. I thought we should do that some time ago. And the damage that Mr. Putin is doing to his own economy, because he's going to discourage outside investment with his treatment of the Yukos thing, but he should be excluded from G8 because his behavior obviously, in my view, warrants at least temporary exclusion.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, how do you feel about the meeting between President Bush and President Putin this Thursday?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, Tim, I'm hopeful that the president will not just look into his soul but perhaps convey a very strong case against some of the moves that President Putin has been making. I really regret that because of the focus on Iraq, understandably so, it appears that we have taken our eye off the ball in a number of places around the world, and I would include Russia in that.
You know, I am not yet in favor of, you know, taking actions like excluding Russia from the G8. I think we need to have vigorous diplomatic engagement at this point. And the administration, at least to my view in trying to follow this, has not really been so engaged. At the end of such engagement, at the end of an effort to try to, you know, move President Putin back on the path to democracy and free market economies and other matters internally, as well as trying to speak out strongly and engage him on the basis of some of the interference in Ukraine and elsewhere, if that proves unsuccessful, then perhaps I would agree that we have to take some additional measures. But I first would like to see the president and the administration re-engage at the highest levels and be very vigorous in their diplomatic efforts with Russia.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator McCain and Senator Clinton, if Iran just refuses to stop development of their nuclear program, what do we do?
SEN. McCAIN: I think we have to first convince our European allies of the magnitude of this threat and the necessity to take action. The Europeans, at least to a large degree, are only interested in carrots and no sticks. So we have to convince them of that. Then we have to go to the United Nations for diplomatic and economic sanctions if necessary.
We cannot rule out completely the military option if it's absolutely the absolute last resort, but there's a lot of things we can do in between time. Look, a nuclear-capable Iran in this part of the world is incredibly unsettling, including to the state of Israel. So it's a serious challenge, but I would exhaust every possible measure before considering the military option. But you cannot completely rule it out. First step, let's get united with the Europeans or have them unite with us as we go for sanctions if it's necessary.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, do you agree with cannot rule out a military option?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, Tim, I think, first of all, we do have to get engaged. I believe that the United States should be at the table and not just outsource this important negotiation to the Europeans. You know, I just have a fundamental disagreement, I guess, with the attitude of the administration with respect to a number of difficult areas. You know, I don't think it hurts us to be vigorously engaged, to be there, you know, conveying our point of view, to make sure we're aware of, you know, every possible option for both carrots and sticks. And I think with both Iran and North Korea, we've been missing.
Now, one can argue that that was a deliberate strategy by the administration because, you know, in the end of the day they're more interested in regime change than in anything short of that. I hope that's not the case. And one way they could disprove that suspicion is by becoming vigorously engaged with Great Britain, France and Germany, and also with Russia.
You know, what Putin said the other day was they were going to try to set up some system that would involve the control over the plutonium, and, you know, take spent fuel rods in and out of Iran. I don't know how realistic that is, but, you know, it would be very difficult for us to, you know, intervene and stop that or at least understand better whether it could be accomplished with appropriate safeguards when we're not involved.
So I would hope, first and foremost, that, you know, we get re-engaged. As important as Iraq is to our future in so many ways, I think we've seen that there are a number of other places around the world that can have a direct impact on our national security and, therefore, I would hope we would, you know, be able to really get to the table and see what we could do before there's any talk of anything else.
MR. RUSSERT: But you would not rule out a military option?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, you know, Tim, I don't think that you either rule it in or rule it out. I think that, you know, depending upon circumstances, it's something that, you know, the American government would have to, you know, consider. But, for goodness sakes, I think we are a very long way from beginning to have that conversation, if we ever have to have it. But I don't believe in having any president of the United States or anybody, you know, in a position like Senator McCain and I in the United States Senate, you know, saying we would take anything off the table. But before we get to that question, let's try to, you know, deal with the many other possibilities.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn homeward on an issue that is very important to people watching this morning, and that is Social Security. Senator McCain, there's a big debate in your Republican Party about whether or not, as part of the solution to Social Security's solvency problem, that you lift the cap so that you would pay payroll tax, Social Security tax, not just on the first $90,000 of your income, but perhaps even higher. Could you support that as part of a compromise?
SEN. McCAIN: As part of a compromise I could, and other sacrifices, because we all know that it doesn't add up until we make some very serious and fundamental changes. I'm proud of the job that Senator Lindsey Graham has been doing in his leadership position on this issue and showing some courage.
Look, in 1983, we all know that Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan agreed, and Republicans and Democrats agreed. If you examine that agreement, it had to do with increasing the retirement age, increasing taxes; there was a lot of sacrifices that were made. But it was the only way to save it. So my answer is, if everything's on the table, certainly that should be something that's on the table because, according to polls I've seen, that's the one thing that most Americans agree is probably a viable option, but not by itself but with other changes that need to be made. And if we don't, then we might as well say, "Look, it's not going to change."
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, last week on this program, Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York said the president's plans for Social Security reform are dead. Do you agree?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, we don't know what the plan is yet, Tim. So it may be a little premature to make such an announcement. But until we know exactly what is being proposed, it's kind of a vacuum at the moment. So I'm waiting to see what the president proposes.
MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, you both had a chance to speak before the New Hampshire Chamber of Commerce this week. Why New Hampshire? Why did you choose to speak to the New Hampshire Chamber of Commerce?
SEN. McCAIN: You want to answer it first?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, Tim, I was--that's right. After you, Alfonse. I was asked to speak to the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, so it wasn't statewide, by our colleague, Senator Sununu. And I must rush to disabuse you, if there's anyone watching and thinking of a great big audience and drawing whatever conclusions one wishes. In a very small room in the Capitol, there were about eight or nine people sitting around a table, and we had a lovely discussion.
SEN. McCAIN: And my excuse is that John Sununu asked me to speak to them, and I was glad to do so. And I spent some time in Portsmouth in the year 2000, and I enjoyed their company. And by the way, one of their issues was the BRAC process was to whether the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard would survive or not, and I did not assure them that was necessarily the case, although it's certainly a wonderful shipyard.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator McCain, a serious question: Do you think the lady to your right would make a good president?
SEN. CLINTON: Oh, we can't hear you, Tim. We can't hear you.
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah, you're breaking up. I am sure that Senator Clinton would make a good president. I happen to be a Republican and would support, obviously, a Republican nominee, but I have no doubt that Senator Clinton would make a good president.
MR. RUSSERT: Equal time, Senator Clinton. The gentleman to your left?
SEN. CLINTON: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: We may have a fusion ticket right here.
SEN. McCAIN: Thanks for doing that to us. Thanks for doing that to us, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: A fusion ticket.
SEN. McCAIN: We're both in trouble.
SEN. CLINTON: Yeah. We're in trouble now. Thanks a lot.
SEN. McCAIN: We're both in trouble.
MR. RUSSERT: Be safe, everybody.
SEN. CLINTON: Thanks, Tim.
SEN. McCAIN: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: And coming next, our roundtable talks about the appointment of John Negroponte as the nation's first director of national intelligence, appointed by President Bush. And the world's hot spots: Iraq, Iran, North Korea and more, all coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Our roundtable with Katty Kay, Andrea Mitchell, Dana Priest and Robin Wright, after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Welcome all. You heard John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Remarkably similar in their views. "There may have been mistakes made, but now all Americans and the world must unite in Iraq." John McCain, twice: "It's going to be hard, tough, difficult struggle." We asked people all across America in our Wall Street Journal/NBC POLL. Look at this. Iraq, is the war generally over, 23 percent; most challenges remain ahead, 73 percent.
Robin Wright, a few weeks ago, the world was euphoric, the purple-stained fingers, the heroism of Iraqis voting. But now is the hard reality. This is far from being resolved.
MS. ROBIN WRIGHT: Oh, absolutely. This is a--of all the challenges we've faced in Iraq, this is the toughest year because Iraqis are taking on not only the burden of government but writing a constitution and trying to begin dealing themselves with the insurgency as the United States and some of its allies beef up the training of Iraqi forces. More and more you're going to see Iraqis on the front lines with the Americans either in mentoring roles or supportive roles. You know, the challenge is that the insurgency isn't going to go away. It's a life-or-death issue for them. They fail in Iraq and the stakes are not just who rules in Baghdad but the movement of a certain brand of militant Islam with its own agenda throughout the region.
MR. RUSSERT: Andrea Mitchell, you heard Hillary Clinton say that we should not have a withdrawal of troops at this time. There should not be a timetable, that that would be a green light to the terrorists, totally separating herself from Ted Kennedy and other Democrats; quite striking.
MS. ANDREA MITCHELL: Very striking. Hillary Clinton, since she joined the Armed Services Committee, which was her choice and what she wanted when she went to the Senate, has positioned herself very smartly for other own political future, both in '06 and potentially '08. And she has made herself very much a moderate Democratic voice on these defense issues. She spent a lot of time with the military in New York state, but she's also been a couple of times to Baghdad, and she, today, in your interview, very clearly said that we should not be withdrawing, we should not be sending those signals to the insurgency and she is very cautious about positioning herself in the middle of this political spectrum.
MR. RUSSERT: Next big decision in Iraq, who will be the next prime minister? One of the leading candidates, we see here, Ibrahim Jafari, there he is. Let me show you what the current prime minister, Allawi, told David Ignacious of The Washington Post: "As he prepares to leave office, Allawi worries that [Iraq] remains on the edge of a precipice. The danger Allawi sees is that new Iraq's unity will be shattered by a wave of revenge and retribution--as a new government dominated by Shiite Muslims settles old scores with Sunnis, Baath Party members and secular Iraqis. ... `To get religion and politics mixed together could spell disaster for us, frankly,' Allawi told Ignacious. ... He's afraid that the next government, dominated by a coalition of Shiite religious parties blessed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, will push its agenda so aggressively that the country will divide along its religious, ethnic and political fault lines."
Katty, how big of a problem is that?
MS. KATTY KAY: I think there are concerns about Jafari. In the past, his party has said that it only wants Shia Islamic law as the one source of law for the country. The good news, however, is they have to share power. The Kurds, who are largely secular, from the north of the country, got a big share of the vote in January's elections and now the Shia parties have to do a deal with the Kurds. Also Jafari himself has made--has said things that make us think that actually he's more of a unifying figure. He has reached out to the Sunnis and said he wants to include them. He's also reached out to the Kurds and said he wants to recognize their demands for autonomy but within the context of a unified Iraq. So there are some positive signs coming out of what Jafari has said recently. Last year also, he was voted Iraq's most popular politician, which suggests that actually a lot of Iraqis feel that he would be a good figure as prime minister.
MR. RUSSERT: Dana, we can vet any potential prime minister of Iraq, and we may have concerns about the Dawa Party and their ties with terrorism, but does it make any difference? Do we have any role in picking the next prime minister of Iraq?
MS. DANA PRIEST: Oh, not in picking them but in trying to give them sticks and carrots to make the coalition that they're trying to put together work. And I think that's what the intelligence community and the military is doing right now. You saw the Shiite leaders try to reach out and say, "Let's not have revenge killings." And as you know, or as you can bet, the intelligence world is working with him directly and with his foot soldiers to make sure that that doesn't happen and to continue to support a more constructive reaching out to the Sunnis.
MS. MITCHELL: Just one footnote on Jafari. He is a bit mysterious in his past. He was in Iran during the '80s. And his party was a party, the Dawa, which led the attacks against American and French interests in Kuwait and also in Beirut. So there are some concerns, and he is being investigated.
MR. RUSSERT: Stay tuned.
MS. WRIGHT: No, I was just going to say that Dawa was also very active, probably the leading party inside Iraq, against Saddam Hussein at a time. So it has tremendous legitimacy inside the country, and it also is a wide umbrella organization for a lot of different trends. So you have those who are using militant —
MS. MITCHELL: Right.
MS. WRIGHT: — but the majority of them who are now willing to work within the system.
MR. RUSSERT: Here is President Bush leaving this morning, heading for meetings with the European leaders, boarding Air Force One, a very important trip, the first, obviously, meetings he will have after the Iraqi elections. Here's an article from the National Journal, which kind of condenses the president's challenge.
"The [Iraqi] election's remarkable success...makes it far more difficult for Europe's war opponents to maintain their accustomed stance of moral superiority. The election does not repair the broken justification for the war, it does not redeem the errors of postwar planning and execution and, at least for now, it will do nothing to lighten America's military and fiscal burdens in Iraq. What it does do is make a certain kind of European smugness untenable."
MS. KAY: Representing European smugness here. I think it's certainly true that over the last few months, we've seen a huge change, particularly in the attitude of France, and France being the major critic of the war in Iraq, perhaps that is representative. Partly it was President Bush getting re-elected. The Europeans, old Europe in particular, has realized they've got to deal with him for another four years.
The success of the elections in Iraq, frankly, chastened many of the war critics in France. They now feel that this extraordinary thing happened in Iraq, and they had not been leading the push to have change in Iraq. And also the meeting between Abu Mazen and Ariel Sharon has changed attitudes in France. Whether that change in tone will translate into substantial changes in policy between Europe and America is very different.
Fundamentally, the way Europeans feel that we should deal with the Middle East is very different from the way America feels we should deal with the Middle East. Europeans on the whole would like slow, cautious chipping away at reform. They don't like the idea of coming in with the big sticks. They don't like the idea of U.N. sanctions. They don't really like the idea, particularly, of military action even in countries like Iran or in Syria. So there is a lot of caution in Europe about America's approach to how you bring about what we would like to see as stability, what America would like to see as dramatic democratic reform in the Middle East.
Added to that, there are a host of issues on which we still disagree, the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto climate change accord, Iran, making Hezbollah a terrorist organization. So whether this warmth in tone--and it's very real, but there is a desire now in Europe to work with America in a way there hasn't been in the last few years--but whether that would translate into real substance, I'm a bit more cautious.
MR. RUSSERT: Some of the European leaders are saying, "Well, we'd like to get engaged and do more, train troops, perhaps share in the economic recovery, but the president is so personally popular amongst our people, our options are limited." Is that an excuse or is that real?
MS. KAY: I think there is definitely a feeling that you're not going to have European troops, French troops, in Iraqi sands. They are prepared to train Iraqi troops abroad. They've forgiven debt for Iraq already, which was a big issue. That's what the Americans wanted. But when it comes to actually having French or German troops in the Iraqi desert, no, it's not going to happen.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, it was interesting to watch Condoleezza Rice when she went and sort of warmed Europe up for George Bush's arrival. In her meetings with Chirac and with Schroeder in Germany, they were falling all over themselves over her, and the press there was extraordinarily welcoming. But when it gets to the tough issues, like Iran, sanctions on China, relationship with the U.N. and any training of troops for Iraq within Iraq, that is simply not going to happen. And I think that the president will run right up against Europe wanting to get right with America, especially post- inaugural, but then there's the inaugural address, there's the other side of George Bush, which does scare them. They are very worried about what his intentions may be regarding Iran.
MR. RUSSERT: Dana?
MS. PRIEST: You know, despite all of the differences, in the war on terror the Europeans and the Americans have been very, very close in terms of real operations, including the French. The French are up there on the Pakistan-Afghan border with American forces, doing some of the toughest work. The French intel community works very closely with the Americans, and so do the British and the Germans. So even though there's a lot of political differences when it comes to terrorism, there actually are many more similarities and a lot of tough actions being taken together. So I think that will--you know, that helps that foundation. And I think a lot of European diplomats I spoke to recently, especially the French, were looking for an attitude change. They want to be respected. They don't want to be dissed. They want to be considered independent, like they are.
MR. RUSSERT: Robin Wright, one of the more interesting meetings on Thursday: George Bush and Vladimir Putin. You heard Hillary Clinton saying, "I hope he does more than just look into his soul," referring to a famous comment by the president with his first meeting with Putin. You heard John McCain say that Putin is "on the verge of isolating himself." The president has to talk to Putin about his comments saying that Iran does not have ambition for nuclear weapons. He has to talk to the president about tyranny and freedom, the themes at his inaugural address, and some of the undemocratic behavior that Putin's taken in Russia. What is going to happen in that meeting?
MS. WRIGHT: Well, the danger is that Vladimir Putin will use a good old American trick of filibustering and not get to some of the tougher issues on that agenda or not come to any kind of agreement. There are some real serious problems in stark contrast to the last time the two men got together and actually did connect with each other on a very fundamental level, and again, at Bush's ranch in Crawford.
This time, this is going to be the toughest leg of this trip, because the president, in trying to deal with weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, the issue of democracy and Iran, particularly--there are no easy ways out. The Russians have taken a very tough position on continuing to help Iran's peaceful nuclear energy program, which the West feels could be used to subvert and convert into a military program. It's--I'm not sure that we're likely to get anything out of it. It's likely to be the most dissatisfactory part of this trip.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Katty Kay, an American electorate will look to the president to see whether or not he's following through on his inaugural themes of saying to Putin, "You're not, in fact, running a democracy anymore. You're supplanting free elections with government appointments."
MS. KAY: Absolutely. And President Bush goes to that meeting in Bratislava knowing that you have critics on both the left and the right here in America who are saying, "You need to push President Putin on human rights," from Amnesty International saying, "There are very bad things being done in Russia," and also from the right, saying, "We need more change towards democracy in Russia." And look at what happened in Ukraine. Putin's support for the existing regime in Ukraine was not seen as helpful here.
The problem is, with the doctrine of liberty and freedom everywhere, as President Bush was saying in his inaugural address--the immediate problem, the question behind that is: Well, what about those countries which America is allied with--Russia, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt--those countries where you have good relationships but which are not standard bearers of democracy and freedom? This is--when President Bush made that inaugural address, the immediate response, I have to say, in Europe was, "Well, yes, that's great, but you cannot have either a cookie-cutter policy for all those countries, and you are opening yourself up immediately to allegations of hypocrisy."
MR. RUSSERT: The contrast between idealism and the harsh reality of geopolitics. We're going to take a quick break and come back and talk about the appointment of John Negroponte as the nation's first director of national intelligence, right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
The president appointed on Thursday John Negroponte to be the nation's first director of national intelligence. He said that he, Negroponte, will brief the president, which is a very big deal in Washington. He also added this about his power and priorities.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: It will be John's responsibility to determine the annual budgets for all national intelligence agencies and offices and to direct how these funds are spent.
MR. RUSSERT: You control the purse strings, you control the agencies is the rule of thumb. The New York Times editorial on Friday had a different view. It wrote: "As envisioned by the 9/11 commission, the intelligence director was supposed to impose order and coordination on the work of the nation's 15 spy agencies, whose rivalries in the months leading up to the catastrophic Al Qaeda attacks proved so damaging. Now, thanks to tireless Pentagon lobbying, craven Congressional back-room dealing and a lack of firm leadership from the White House, the new director will have to do this without the full hiring, firing and budgeting authority that ought to go with the job. That leaves Mr. Negroponte facing grueling turf battles with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a major feature of the new job."
Dana, who's right?
MS. PRIEST: Well, the editorial is right. If you look at the 435-page bill, you would expect that to give some clarity to this issue, but in fact, it's made a lot of really important issues very vague. And the only way that Negroponte is going to get the power that the 9/11 families thought he should deserve is if he stays next to the president and the president makes it clear all the way down the line to everybody, including Donald Rumsfeld, that Negroponte is the man.
The bill says that he can--he must participate in the development of the budget. He has the authority to transfer and reprogram funds. But it doesn't say he has the last word over all the budget. We talk a lot about the budget, but actually one of the more important aspects of the vagueness of the bill and yet to be determined how it will all be worked out is counterterrorism.
For instance, the most important relationships we have on counterterrorism are with foreign intelligence chiefs. Almost all of the terrorists that have been either killed or captured since 9/11 have been done so at the hands of foreigners. Who now should the foreign intelligence person meet with when he comes to the United States in order to maintain that relationship? Will it be CIA Director Porter Goss, who has officers in the field working with them? Or will it be Negroponte, who is closer to the president? And those relationships are crucial to maintaining a very aggressive stance vis-a-vis terrorism. And it's not clear. And I think that's just one other issue that is going to have to be worked out in the coming months.
MR. RUSSERT: The whole purpose of creating this new super director, this new czar, was to have all the intelligence-gathering on one control panel. So everyone's talking to one another, whether it's defense institutions or state intelligence or the NSA or the FBI, anybody. Is that going to happen?
MS. MITCHELL: Well, it's all about territory and where your proximity is to power, as Dana was just saying. First of all, he is going to brief the president every day. How is he going to get the information to create that 20-page briefing paper? Well, the fear now at the CIA and the likelihood is that he is going to recruit from CIA, the regional directors, the top analysts who write that brief and bring them under his leadership. And, in fact, he may temporarily until they build headquarters for him, actually take over Porter Goss' office at CIA on the seventh floor, and Goss would move down to the sixth floor with a slightly less wonderful view. But the real power is now going to be within John Negroponte.
I would bet that if he can get his arms around the budget process and if he can hold off attempts by Don Rumsfeld at the Pentagon to create his own mini CIA, that he will then really succeed in at least that first level of communication.
I think, Dana, that he is going to be the one dealing with these counterterror leaders from overseas, because the counterterrorism center has already been taken from CIA, and then this new counterterrorism center is now created under Negroponte under the law, as well as the real power by bringing these people together. The other key factor we haven't discussed is Mike Hayden, his deputy, and that's someone who was the head of the NSA, the spy satellite, spy caching —
MR. RUSSERT: The big ears in the sky.
MS. MITCHELL: Exactly.
MR. RUSSERT: — sucking up all the information, the National Security Agency.
MS. MITCHELL: He not only knows intelligence, but he has a military background. He is somewhat feared at the Pentagon because he is very independent and I think he will help Negroponte navigate this terrain.
MR. RUSSERT: Like every new bureaucracy, it takes a while to get organized and get established, and it's difficult focusing on turf battles when you're trying to focus on the war on terrorism. Robin?
MS. WRIGHT: Well, you know, I think that John Negroponte brings particular skills to this office in that he has been not just a lifelong diplomat, but he has worked at the United Nations with a lot of different parties. He's helped set up the largest American Embassy we've ever had anywhere in the world, in Baghdad. He has the skills to work with people and work out some of the turf wars as well as the kind of talents to work through the ABCs of creating this brand-new office. There are a huge number of questions that are not answered by the legislation, and he's methodical enough, I think, to know what has to be--to prioritize, to be able to deal with them, to also deal with the international community because that's his skill. He knows many of the characters who are engaged in discussions about the war on terrorism, about Iraq.
And, you know, I think it was a very imaginative choice. There was clearly no one that was perfect for this job in the intelligence community. And coming as an outsider, he comes without the baggage of having dealt with any of them, having had a record in any field and yet has the kind of talents that are pretty good for this job.
MR. RUSSERT: Katty Kay, I remember the creation of the Homeland Security Department, such growing pains in terms of getting the color-coded security warnings or even organizing terrorist watch lists. Different agencies had different lists. We'd see former Attorney General John Ashcroft making announcements that Homeland Security didn't know about. How difficult is it dealing with these new upstart agencies?
MS. KAY: Well, I think the keys are going to be having the purse strings and having access to the president and Donald Rumsfeld. And look at Donald Rumsfeld this week. If ever we saw Donald Rumsfeld back in fighting form this week and giving everybody up on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats alike, a hard time, this was it: refusing to answer questions about Iraq, refusing even really to be very courteous up on Capitol Hill. Well, if that's the new Donald Rumsfeld that John Negroponte is going to have to deal with, then he's got a tough battle cutout ahead of him.
And as you say, trying to implement this kind of change on this kind of level is a very difficult task. What he does have in his favor is a recognition amongst Republicans and Democrats that it has to happen, that there is such a widespread desire, speaking both to Republicans and Democrats last week, that there has to be a change, that they do have to have an intelligence czar now after the failings in the run-up to 9/11 and the failings to the run-up to the war in Iraq, that he has got that support behind him.
MR. RUSSERT: Dana?
MS. PRIEST: Aside from moving the boxes around, the real issue here is collecting more information. And one of the things that this is likely to do is to give Porter Goss' CIA a smaller but more intense role in that mission. No longer will they have to worry about the presidential briefing or managing the community and Porter Goss has already signaled that what he wants to do is bring the agency back to its core missions of stealing secrets, penetrating terrorist or enemy targets and then bringing that information home. And he this week gave the president his plan for increasing the human intelligence side of the CIA by 50 percent over several years. We've not seen that document yet, and we may never. But it's going to include some of the most difficult things to do. It's not eyes in the skies. It's people on the ground who may have to live in a country for a decade before they become productive, never having their families with them, really hard spy work.
MR. RUSSERT: James Bond.
MS. PRIEST: James Bond.
MS. MITCHELL: It takes a long, long time for those people to develop their identities.
MS. PRIEST: Without the fancy car.
MS. MITCHELL: It's very, very hard work and it'll take a long time.
MR. RUSSERT: Andrea Mitchell, Katty Kay, Robin Wright, Dana Priest, thank you for a great discussion.
We'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: Start your day tomorrow on "Today" with Katie and Matt then the "NBC Nightly News" with Brian Williams.
That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.
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