The Big Story with John Gibson - Transcript
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Harvard University has chosen an interesting guest speaker this year for the eve of September 11: former Iran president Mohammed Khatami. For a visit like this, the U.S. is usually responsible for providing security, like escorts and traffic services and the taxpayers pick up the bill.
But not this time if Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney can help it. He calls the invite a disgrace and is ordering all state government agencies to decline support for Khatami. Republican Gov. Mitt Romney is with me live now from Boston.
So what is it you want to withhold exactly?
GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS.: Well my preference, of course, would be to withhold enough support services for Mr. Khatami that he decides not to come here and decides to go other places. I think it's a disgrace to have an individual who has been a supporter of Hezbollah, who has advocated the destruction of Israel, who has jailed dissidents and who developed nuclear technology, to have a person of that nature come to Harvard on September 10 and 11, at this critical time, given our history, is totally inappropriate. Probably at any time it's inappropriate. And therefore I have insisted that our state agencies do not provide the support which we would normally provide for a visiting dignitary.
GIBSON: So take a look at this. This is his itinerary of his visit to America. It includes Harvard University, which of course you're concerned with, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Columbia University, here in New York City, Georgetown University in Washington, and the University of Virginia.
Do you think that if you are successful, if you can withhold these support funds, that the itinerary will be reduced by one?
ROMNEY: Well I certainly hope so. I'm not convinced that Harvard will withdraw their invitation and probably the city of Boston will provide the services that would normally be provided by the state of Massachusetts.
But I can at least express my outrage and make sure the taxpayers in my state, some of whom who have lost family members to terrorists, some of whom have families and family members living in Israel and many of whom, including myself, are certainly concerned about the advent of terror coming from Iran, I can make sure that our tax dollars are not being used to aid the visit of someone who is without question a person who calls himself a moderate but at best is a moderate terrorist.
And there's no such thing as a moderate terrorist. A terrorist is a terrorist and he supports terrorist groups like Hezbollah, the destruction of Israel. This is a person who should not be welcomed to the United States, who should not be feted by Harvard University or any other university.
Of course we believe in free speech, but free speech is not welcoming a person to your campus, providing escorts to them and particularly doing so on the anniversary of the most tragic terrorist event in the history of our nation.
GIBSON: Just to jump ahead, you are interested in the White House in 2008 or at least people say you are. This guy is supposedly one of the liberals in the Iranian regime, one of the few that a president could talk to. As somebody who wants to be in a position to deal with the Iranians, is it such a good idea for you to be slapping him in the face?
ROMNEY: Well, I always believe in talking, even with people who are your avowed enemies. The opportunity to exchange perspectives provides an opportunity to learn something about your opponent. But I think establishing a welcoming mat for someone who is known within his country and around the world not to be a person whose words define him, but instead a person who has demonstrated his hate for the principles we love, that's a very different thing.
And so we talk, of course, and we exchange views with true moderates and it's important for this nation to reach out and influence the world of Islam to reject radicalism and accept moderation. But welcoming and have him speak at Harvard University, the world's most renowned university, at least from our country, having him come here sends the wrong signal entirely to the true moderate Islam world and suggests that a person who says the right words, but does the wrong things is able to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people.
GIBSON: If there should be a President Romney in 2008, how will he handle the Iran situation we face now?
ROMNEY: Well, I'm not going to forecast my personal future. That's something I will decide down the road. But clearly, it is essential at the next stage that we employ with Iran is to exert tough sanctions. And for that to occur and to be effective, we are going to have to bring China and also Russia into the mix. And that means we will have to use some of the leverage we have with China. They want access to our market, access to our technology.
We are going to have to use the leverage we have to get China to our side of the table and to agree that the threat of world jihad and terror is just as great a threat for China and for Russia as it is for us. And that effort is going to be essential if we are going to be able to put the pressure on Iran to do what is not in their interest, to make sure that they do not develop nuclear technology that would harm the world.
GIBSON: Governor, if Iran does proceed with its nuclear technology, once again, looking forward to 2008 and the possibility that you might be running, what position do you take that the United States should be doing?
ROMNEY: Well, it's very clear, and that is that we should exert every possible resource we have to keep Iran from developing nuclear technology. That will require not only our strength but the strength of like-minded nations around the world, particularly Russia and China. That's the first order. That's the agenda.
That's where you start, is to put the pressure on Iran, particularly through the freezing of accounts outside the country, potentially limiting their supply of refined gasoline, which they don't have in abundance.
We have tools as the nations of the world to put pressure on Iran to keep them from doing something that is not in the interest of the world. But obviously we will...
GIBSON: Governor, I've got to run, but thank you very much.
Governor Mitt Romney, keeping an eye on President Khatami's visit to Harvard.