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ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" -Transcript

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ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" - Transcript

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. We begin today with the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just back from Pakistan and Afghanistan, Senator Joe Biden. Welcome back.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE): Great to be here, George.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get to the news, but first, you had a scare this week -- an emergency landing in the mountains of Afghanistan. What happened?

SEN. BIDEN: What happened was we were about 10,000 -- actually, 9,000 feet going through these jagged mountains and all of the sudden we noticed that we were -- instead trying to get over these peaks, we were dropping down and a really bright young pilot -- snow squall hit, we lost visibility, and he had noticed a road at 7,000 sitting up in probably the only level patch of ground around and he was able to land on it and after that, there was no problem.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You were lucky.

SEN. BIDEN: Oh, yes. We were lucky it didn't happen 15 minutes earlier when we were in the middle of those mountains. We probably still would have been able to land, but we it would have taken a heck of a long time to get out of there, but it was amazing how quickly there were F-15s flying over for cover; we didn't particularly need it. Out of nowhere there seem to be guards on the roads carrying rifles and the convoy took two and a half hours to get up this mountain to pick us up and get us back down. Probably the scariest part of it was coming back down with the snow --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Going down on the mountain. I'll bet.

SEN. BIDEN: -- in a vehicle. But it was -- I think we were fine other than that one brief moment.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's go to the reason you were there. You saw the elections --

SEN. BIDEN: Yes.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: -- in Pakistan. President Musharraf's party defeated soundly this week and a lot of American officials here appear to be worried that the defeat of Musharraf's party means that it's going to be more difficult to go after al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan. Of course, that will spillover into Afghanistan. Do you share that worry?

SEN. BIDEN: No, I don't. I think, quite frankly, the biggest problem we have here is defining who the insurgents and who the terrorists are. To the Pakistani people it's a guy named Massoud and rag-tag bunch of anti-government terrorists in the border area who are in league sometimes with al Qaeda, sometimes with the Taliban, sometimes with neither, and it's always been a destabilized area. Musharraf's military has not been able to demonstrate it's been very effective there anyway. As a matter of fact, they cut a deal, as you remember, the last election -- prior to the last election in the tribal areas. That didn't help us very much.

Our focus is al Qaeda and indirectly the Taliban. Their focus is other things, but they're all kind of the same mix.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The United States has started to go after the al Qaeda and Taliban targets inside Pakistan really without approval from the Pakistani government. This week, Senator John McCain seemed to take issue with that although he trained his fire on Barack Obama.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): (From videotape.) There's a lot of national security challenges and I know how to handle them. Senator Obama wants to bomb Pakistan without talking to the Pakistanis. I think that's dangerous.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We did learn this week that the administration went after al-Libi in Pakistan without approval from the government. Do you approve of that policy?

SEN. BIDEN: Look, it's been a government policy for the last two presidents that if we have, quote, "actionable intelligence" where al Qaeda is that we would move on it absentee ability or willingness of anyone else to move.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No matter what the Pakistani government says.

SEN. BIDEN: No. No matter what the Pakistani government says. Now, the question is talking about it is not such a good idea, but the idea of it being some new policy -- I mean, John's -- it's kind of surprising to me John's unaware that that's been the policy. The converse of that is John saying if he knew where bin Laden was, we had the ability to take him out, he would not take him out without permission?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll ask him. Let me ask you one more question about Pakistan. Reports in the "London Sunday Telegraph" this morning that President Musharraf is preparing an exit strategy -- that he'll resign or retire rather than be forced out by the new parties in control of the government. Is that a good idea?

SEN. BIDEN: Probably, but I hope the government doesn't -- look, the emphasis is -- we met with each of the parties. We met with the PP, the winning party, Benazir Bhutto's party, her husband is now essentially running it. We met with the M Party, which is Sharif's party. And we all three -- myself, Hagel, and Kerry -- all said, look, focus on the future, not the past. There's an easy way to transition Musharraf out of this. We were the first people to meet with Musharraf the morning after the election. He walked in -- George, I've known him for a long time. He said, look. The results are in. I lost. I'm prepared to be a transition -- he didn't use these words -- a transition figure here. The presidency is less powerful than the prime ministership. Once the parliament sets up and running, it's their decision to decide what to do about the courts, their decision to decide what to do. I'm prepared to respond to the parliament. I firmly believe if they do not focus on old grudges -- and there's plenty in Pakistan -- and give him a graceful way to move, that it will be exactly what the "Telegraph" of London reported apparently.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So rather than impeach him, give him the space to resign.

Let me also ask you about -- you didn't say anything there. (Laughter.)

SEN. BIDEN: I would say that were I their political advisor, that's what I would advise.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me move on then to the broader threat.

I know you come back quite worried about the situation in Afghanistan right now. The military analyst Tony Cordesman is actually in the "Washington Post" this morning describing Afghanistan and Iraq as two winnable wars, but he says it will take long-term security commitments, probably beyond 2012 in both cases. Do you believe both these wars are still winnable? What will it take to win them?

SEN. BIDEN: Yes, but they are not winnable militarily. Neither one is winnable militarily. Our military has done a magnificent job in changing the situation on the ground in Iraq. It's provided an opportunity. But the reason it succeeded is not just because of our military -- because of the Awakening, which is those 80,000 Sunnis who have now decided to cooperate temporarily, and Sadr deciding not to let the ceasefire end. So we have this moment, George, and it requires a political solution. The political unity of Iraq rests in this decentralization. It rests in the federal system, a plan -- if it's not the same plan that I and others and now the majority of the Congress have voted for, but it requires a decentralization of power in order to hold that country together.

If that occurs, then it frees up enormous resources to allow us to do what we know we have to do in the forgotten war, Afghanistan. We've spent in six years what we spent in three weeks in Iraq. The entire amount of money we've spent in Afghanistan adds up to three weeks of what we spend in Iraq, and we're in jeopardy of losing Afghanistan. You lose Afghanistan -- Afghanistan and Pakistan are like Siamese twins. You cannot separate them. That's where bin Laden is, that's where al Qaeda is, that's where uncertainty is, that's where we're not paying any attention and we need a lot more resources.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But you do make the point that the surge, because it's helped bring down the violence, bring down the number of attacks, has created a space for a political movement.

SEN. BIDEN: Yes. Exactly. Yes.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the things that Cordesman says, and I want to show our viewers this, is that because of that we shouldn't withdraw too quickly. He says the present successes of the U.S. win- and-hold strategy in Iraq will be difficult to sustain with the reduction to 15 brigades and even more difficult to sustain if U.S. forces are reduced beyond this level before Iraqi forces and political accommodation create the conditions to make such reductions less risk prone. So what he's saying there is we should stick by the pause in reductions that General Petraeus, Secretary Gates are calling for this summer. Go down to 130,000 troops, stay there for a while. Can you consider that?

SEN. BIDEN: Yes. But George, it all depends on the political dynamic. Tony and all the rest of these guys talk in terms of only the effect of the military. You pause for what? What are you pausing for? You're pausing to maintain the stability. Now, what's going to happen? If you don't figure out how to integrate 80,000 Sunnis in the Awakening who we're paying $300 a month into the Iraqi government, if you don't figure out what the long-term political future that country is and begin to put it in place, because everything -- (unintelligible).

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But isn't that starting to happen? We've seen some of this legislation start to pass? We have seen, as you point out, Muqtada al-Sadr say, I'll extend the ceasefire.

SEN. BIDEN: What we've seen, George, is we've seen three things that don't add up -- the de-Baathification -- and our good friend Mr. Chalabi is in charge of that -- may turn our expelling 7,000 Sunnis rather than integrating people. We don't know that yet. If you've noticed, they're talking about provincial elections, not implementing the constitution allowing each of these provinces to decide whether they wish to have a region, meaning have more control over their own security.

It's there to be done, but what's happening now, is we're just letting this sort of happen rather than try to corral the opportunities here, bring in the international community not in terms of forces, but in terms of the international community. The Permanent Five came in and if they called a conference bringing in all the neighbors saying, look, we're all going to abide by a federal system in Iraq as their constitution calls for, you'd begin to be able to move things very rapidly.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But coupled with the diplomatic push, then you're willing to consider this pause -- (unintelligible).

SEN. BIDEN: Yes, I always have been.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's in contrast, though, to what many Democrats have voted, what both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton say -- that we should have a timetable starting withdrawals basically this summer.

SEN. BIDEN: Quite frankly, my timetable is attached to and always has been political progress. If there's political progress, I'm prepared to have more troops a little longer if you're moving towards stability. The degree to which there is no political process underway, it means that our military forces there --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But there has been some political progress.

SEN. BIDEN: There has been some. There has been some, but here's my worry, George. If there's not a considerably greater effort in dealing with the long-term political solution here; that is, decentralize rather than centralizing power, by this time next year we're going to be in chaos again. And so we have a moment here. Our military always does what we ask them to do. The political part of the process seldom has stepped up to the ball.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me move to Cuba where Raul Castro likely to replace his brother Fidel as head of state today. Senator Obama has said -- he said again on Thursday that he's willing to consider talking to Raul Castro. He says with preparation, but without preconditions. Is that wise?

SEN. BIDEN: Yes, probably. Look, we're in a position of significant transition here. The end is in sight now. The end of the Castro era is in sight. His brother is probably going to run the show, but he doesn't have a whole lot of legs left, and so we should be preparing what that transition is going to look like. We should be taking independents moves now from establishing mail service to allowing more frequent travel of family members, et cetera, but not lifting the embargo until there is a response to political prisoners, all the things that are wrong with this Castro administration.

Now, in this moment of transition, for an American president to be looking like he's willing to reach out and accommodate a rational transition to a free and open society -- that's a positive thing, that's not a negative thing. And you notice, Senator Obama has talked about setting the groundwork ahead of time and laying this out.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Preparation.

SEN. BIDEN: Preparation. And so in that context, it is not an irrational idea. It's probably very positive.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How about the situation in Kosovo. We saw the burning of the embassy in Serbia this week. The U.S. embassy warned Serbia today to protect Americans, to protect the embassy. How dangerous is that situation? What more should we be doing?

SEN. BIDEN: I think it is dangerous, but, look, the alternative was even more dangerous. To not recognize the independence would even be more dangerous. So everybody looks at things now like, my goodness, Biden and others have been talking about the independence of Kosovo. Look at this happening. This is a very bad thing.

Conversely, had we not recognized it, then you'd have a very different circumstance -- (unintelligible) -- and more profound. I believe you're seeing two things. Kostunica, who is not a good guy, and the Russians have predicted chaos. It's in their interest to see that occur, but my information as of this morning before I got on the show is there are elements within the new government that are genuinely trying to find the bad guys, genuinely trying to find the perpetrators of this. They understand this is a choice between East and West here. They know if they do not gain control -- the Serbian government does gain control of this kind of activity, then they're likelihood of becoming a part of NATO, they're likelihood to become a part of the EU, they're likelihood of being anchored in the West, which even they want to have happen, is going to be very much in jeopardy. So it's a jump ball right now. I think we should keep the pressure on to anticipate and expect.

They have a president who's a solid guy, and this is going to be see as you go. It's not as dire as it's made out to be, although it is a tricky moment. If you noticed, the Serb police in the northern part of Kosovo, a lot of people expected them to just go over. They haven't.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It didn't happen.

SEN. BIDEN: They're staying at their posts. So it's not settled yet, but it's not as dire as some people are painting it.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Before you go, let me get a little politics in here. Your state, Delaware, Senator Obama won that by 10 points on Super Tuesday. Does that obligate you as a super delegate to vote for Obama at the convention?

SEN. BIDEN: No, it doesn't. But I tell you what, the voters are going to take care of this. We're not going to -- I'm not at all worried the super delegates are going to be rolling in and taking a position that is contrary to what the majority of or the majority of individuals or states have done in terms of their preferences. You're going to see those of us who are super delegates falling in line in effect with where the party is in my view. I don't think you'll see a lot of outliers.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There was a piece in the New York Times last week that said that you and several others had conversations with Vice President Gore -- former Vice President Gore about just this matter. Figuring out a way -- the super duper delegates, you, Congressman Pelosi, former Vice President Gore coming in to try to get an amicable finish to this. How far along are those talks and when would you act?

SEN. BIDEN: A, I've spoken to Gore. I've not gotten into any specifics like that. We're not going to have to act. And as old Russell Long from Louisiana used to say when I first got there, I said, Mr. -- I was trying to get him to vote for something for the Delaware Valley -- and I said, but we have a deal, Mr. Chairman. And he said, Joe, I ain't for no deal I ain't in on. I ain't on that deal. I'm no party to trying to organize super delegates or figure out how to avoid that clash. I think it will take care of itself.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And then one final question. Maybe you think this will take care of itself as well. Senator Clinton says she wants to seat the Florida and Michigan delegations. You abided by the rules when you were running, didn't campaign there. Should those delegations be seated?

SEN. BIDEN: As now, no, but there's going to have to be something worked out. Look, we can't ignore those states without risking losing them in the general election. There's going to have to be something worked out and what may work out is either she wins outright without needing them or he wins outright without needing them and I think --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But they can't be the difference to put here over the top.

SEN. BIDEN: I don't think so. I don't think so. There would have to be some accommodation.

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