On Tuesday, Hardball's Chris Matthews interviewed Vice President Joe Biden about Iran's nuclear capabilities.
Below is the complete transcript for the first part of the interview. The second part will air Wednesday.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, HARDBALL: Mr. Vice President, should the United States be worried about Iran and its nuclear program worried?
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, when you say worried — we are concerned about it. We're doing everything in our power to prevent Iran from being able to acquire a nuclear weapon. We think we're going about it the right way. That's why we're seeking very strong sanctions at the U.N. right now.
MATTHEWS: Do you think they would use one if they had one? Would Ahmadinejad have the whatever, whatever that thing is, to actually launch a nuclear weapon, knowing what you know about him?
BIDEN: Well, I think that's unknowable. I don't think you can wait around and wonder whether he'd do it. That's why you cannot take a chance to let that occur. By the way, beyond whether or not it would ever be used, the mere fact of the acquisition of a nuclear weapon by the Iranians would, I think, kick off an arms race in the region that would be incredibly destabilizing for generations to come.
So there's a lot at stake, whether or not Ahmadinejad would, quote, "use it." The question is, we're not even sure what he controls.
MATTHEWS: What do you mean?
BIDEN: Well, what I mean by that is, you know, you have — the question is, how much of the security apparatus does he control day to day? There's a lot we don't know.
MATTHEWS: Do you think he's the boss?
BIDEN: Well, it's hard to tell, to tell you the truth. I think that he is the — there is some concern that the — that the Republican— that the — that this is becoming more of a military dictatorship...
MATTHEWS: The Revolutionary Guard.
BIDEN: The Revolutionary Guard. But the truth is, no one knows for certain. But the bottom line with regard to Iran and nuclear weapons is it's in no one's interest — no one's interest — for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the Saudi Arabians — it's not just the Israelis you're visiting with right now, other Arab countries, particularly the — do you think they're worried that Ahmadinejad or someone in Iran could actually use a weapon like that, or use it to taunt them?
BIDEN: Well, look, I think they're worried on multiple levels. And it's not just the Israelis. You point out it's the Saudis. I think the entire Middle East, I think from the Egyptians to the Turks, everybody's worried about what it would mean.
When you have a nuclear weapon, it allows — the thought is that it allows a lot of pressure to be placed upon neighboring countries to refrain from objecting to things that are unacceptable, actually unacceptable conduct. And so whether or not it would be used or not used, the one thing it would be, would put a great deal of pressure on those very countries we're talking about to acquire a nuclear capability themselves. And that's in nobody's interest.
MATTHEWS: Let's talk geography. The United States is a long way from Iran, and we're lucky for that. We don't have to worry about a regional threat. We don't have to worry about an intermediate strike perhaps or a short-range missile. But the Israelis do have to worry about that. That difference in geography, what does that do to our difference in policy towards — are they more sensitive to Iran than we are in their nuclear threat?
BIDEN: Well, I — the answer is yes, I think they are, and the proximity is the reason. But they're also concerned about what kind of — what kind of neighborhood they'd be living in with Iran with nuclear weapons. It's a tough neighborhood to begin with.
BIDEN: But it'd be even a tougher neighborhood to live in if you had the Egyptians and the Saudis or anyone else feeling compelled to acquire a nuclear weapon themselves. So there's nothing positive about it. And from the point of view of the Israelis, it's an existential threat. Their very existence, they think, is at stake.
MATTHEWS: At what point, when Iran has the capability to build such a weapon or when they actually had one they could launch, when would they become an existential threat to Israel?
BIDEN: Well, first of all, that's a decision that I don't think Israel had made...
BIDEN: ... and I don't think there's any bright line been drawn. I don't think that's -- and that's a decision that to speculate on I think is not very helpful. The question...
MATTHEWS: You and the president, when you talked, maybe you can't tell me now what that trip wire is, but is there one in your head? Is there one in the president's head, a trip wire?
BIDEN: We are doing everything that is within our power and we will do everything to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, having the capability to use a nuclear weapon. And you know, there's a lot at play here. There's a lot going on, a lot going on internally within Iraq (SIC), the timeframe in which they could acquire that, what action we could take to slow that up or prevent that. All of that's in play.
That's why we think the best course of action to take now is to declare, A, we are not going to allow them to acquire a nuclear weapon, and B, to continue down the course we're on, which is to get international sanctions that have teeth in it that cause them to change their mind.
MATTHEWS: Are we building a bigger bunker buster, so that we can knock out what they have with a larger...
BIDEN: Oh, I'm not — I can't comment on anything like that. Look, we — the president of the United States is in a position that he can guarantee America's security as is, so I'm — but I'm not speculating on anything like that.
MATTHEWS: Why do you think that he is, Ahmadinejad, or whoever's calling the shots, the mullahs in charge, the clerics — why are they sort of talking about moving their weapons system, their facilities, and making them more available to attack, like putting them on the surface? We're hearing stories like that. Are they teasing the Israelis? What are they doing?
BIDEN: Look, I think that Ahmadinejad would do anything to take the focus on Iran off of Iran, what's happening internally within Iran.
MATTHEWS: OK. The politics?
BIDEN: The politics.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the people of Iran are turning against this this leader of theirs?
BIDEN: Well, it's clear a significant number of people do not think this leader, quote, Ahmadinejad, is a legitimate leader. They don't think he won the election.
MATTHEWS: Do you think (INAUDIBLE)
BIDEN: And it's clear the action that he's taken, the action that the Israeli — excuse me — the Iranian government has taken has been brutal and has caused, I think, even greater disregard on the part of the people in Iran for their government. So I think they've got a real internal problem.
MATTHEWS: Does the United States take the position that the election was illegitimate?
BIDEN: Well, the United States takes the position that the action, the way in which the election was conducted, was not in keeping with international norms, and that the way in which all those who protested were treated was outrageous. It was beyond the norms of any nation that calls itself a democracy.
MATTHEWS: Let's talk about America and American politics. A lot of our viewers are Jewish Americans. They're very concerned about the state of Israel and its long-term existence. When you think about it -- and you're a great friend of Israel.
Everybody knows that. Let me ask you about this question. It's not just they have the weapon. Is there a fear — and did you hear it today when you talked to the president and to the prime minister — is there a fear that if they have a weapon, or they're close to getting one, even if they never use it, that that will discourage immigration to Israel, that will encourage people leaving, young people in the future not to live here? Is there concern it'll ruin the neighborhood?
BIDEN: There was no discussion specifically on that point with the president or with the prime minister, but there clearly is that concern. That concern exists. It exists on the part not only of Israelis but a lot of other people. It will — it will drastically affect the neighborhood.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the president, our president, Barack Obama. Do they have any sort of skepticism about his roots?
BIDEN: I've not heard anything. As a matter of fact...
BIDEN: ... here's what I heard today. When we came out of — I was at a private meeting with the prime minister for over an hour. We walked out. We made a joint statement. He started off pointing out that under Barack Obama, there's been significant cooperation on military matters, the qualitative edge for the Israeli forces, cooperation on missile defense, cooperation — I mean, he went through this whole litany.
BIDEN: And it's true. This president — President Obama has been aggressive in his support of Israel and the commitment that Israel's security is closely tied to ours. We, in fact, are committed to Israel's security. Nothing has changed.
MATTHEWS: Why did you feel that you — I saw what you wrote in the book at the president's house today. And we all love Shimon Peres, but you felt the need to write, "We have an unshakable bond with Israel." Did you feel the need to say that?
BIDEN: No, it's just a reaffirmation. Look, it's always — what I learned a long time ago is just because you told your wife you loved her when you got married, if you fail to repeat it — you know, all these relationships...
MATTHEWS: What a politician
BIDEN: All these relationships have to be worked at.
MATTHEWS: I got you. You have to keep asking.
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