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CNN "State Of The Union With John King" - Transcript

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KING: A shot of the capital there on a late September Sunday here in Washington. Joining us now, two men who work in that building, two leading senators in both the foreign policy and military debate and on domestic policy.

Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana is here with me in Washington and Republican Senator Bob Corker joins us from Tennessee.

Let me start -- you just heard Secretary Gates, and, Senator Bayh, let me start with you, because you're on the Intelligence Committee. He says there's no doubt this is an illicit nuclear site. Iran has now acknowledged it exists. The United States has made it public, will have its first conversations across the table with Iran coming this week.

In those conversations, should there be any carrots at this moment or all sticks?

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: Well, it needs to be both, John, but more sticks, frankly, at this moment than carrots. We've tried a variety of inducements to the Iranians over the years, being included in the global economic trading system, a number of other things. Frankly, none of that has worked.

What they respect more than anything is strength. They're contemptuous of weakness. The one time the Iranians have actually reached out to us behind the scenes and offered to be cooperative was following the invasion in Iraq, where we had invaded first Afghanistan, then Iraq, and they began to think, whoa, are we next?

So I think it needs to be mainly stiff economic and financial sanctions, with the possibility of other options lurking in the background if they don't change their behavior. That gives us the best chance of getting them to give up their program.

KING: And, Senator Corker, should the United States sit down one-on- one with Iran right now, or is that in and of itself a gift they don't deserve?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I think the P5 Plus 1 meeting's set up this week is the right venue. I think the table couldn't be set better for that meeting. And I agree with Senator Bayh. I think we should be very -- very tough on them.

The fact is, the world community is now, I think, more united than ever to confront Iran. And this is information we've had for some time. I think making it public this week and Iran actually coming forward and saying that it was true certainly turns the table.

And I think we have a tremendous opportunity for the first time in a long time for a breakthrough.

KING: So let's consider the moment. You will have this meeting this week. Iran has been caught, essentially, defying its commitments to the world community. But everyone is saying, well, have these meetings and maybe have sanctions down the road.

Some would say, you might have more leverage if you imposed the sanctions now and then had the meetings, so that Iran had a steeper hill to climb. Would that be a better approach?

BAYH: Well, sooner is better than later, John. Time is a-wasting here. But the problem is, in order for sanctions to be effective, you've got to get the Russians and the Chinese on board. That may take a little time.

So if it's just us and our Western European allies, we could do that very quickly, but the Chinese are now providing a third of the gasoline for Iran. That really is their Achilles' heel. And so, to be effective, you really need the Chinese to come to the table, and they're notoriously slow in these kind of things.

The Russians have been making more positive noises recently, but I suspect they may take at least a month or two to, you know, nail down exactly what we're going to do.

KING: And so what happens, Senator Corker, if the Chinese are, as Senator Bayh puts it, notoriously slow? Do the United States have many options if the Chinese are reluctant to go along with very tough sanctions?

CORKER: Well, we have lesser options, sanctions-wise, if they do not go along, but I think instead of moving ahead, you know, let's see how quickly they're going to let our inspectors in. The fact is, we know they're probably today clearing out evidence of what they're doing there. So how quickly are we going to get our inspectors in? How assured will the Chinese be as to what was happening there?

This facility clearly -- I went through a classified briefing Friday. This -- this facility, I can assure you, was not set up for commercial purposes. And -- and I think to, again, the Chinese have just seen this intelligence this week, to allow them to digest this, hopefully to become more rigidly opposed to what's happening there is important.

And, again, let's -- let's -- we've got a few weeks here in front of us. They're very important. I don't know how the table could be better set, as I said earlier. And let's -- let this play out over the next couple of weeks.

I think we now see, though -- Israel had this same intelligence. I think we now see why they've been certainly very concerned about what's happening there, as it does impose an existential threat to them, and I think we can see why they've been very concerned.

KING: Well, let me ask the question this way, Senator Bayh. An intelligence success here, but is this the only one? What do we know? Or what don't we know? Are you worried about that?

BAYH: Well, as you know, we can't discuss specifics on the air, John, as much as you might like that. But let's just say, Iran is more open than North Korea, but we have imperfect knowledge with regard to Iran. And one of the difficulties with a military strike -- and, you know all options need to be kept on the table -- frankly, for one of the purposes of bringing the Chinese about.

But one of the problems with a military strike is, by definition, you can only attack what you know where it exists. So the possibility does exist that there may be other sites about which we are simply unaware at this time.

KING: And, Senator Corker, when you heard Secretary Gates saying, look, all options should be kept on the table, but let's be candid, essentially, was his point. He said a military strike would set them back. You couldn't take them out, especially because they're reinforced underground facilities.

Is that the right posture for the administration? I mean, if you're the president of Iran right now, you essentially know the Obama administration says, "Well, sure, the military option is on the table, but it's not so great"? CORKER: Well, look, I think we need to also take into account there are movements inside Iran that have not existed in decades. And the fact is, there's a lot of turmoil internally. I think we need to look at which sanctions actually call that to move ahead.

Military action certainly would unify the country very quickly against us. So, look, military option certainly needs to be on the table. I know Israel certainly has their antenna up in that regard.

But the fact is, we have an opportunity, with all of the countries now, the P5 Plus 1, to actually put sanctions in place. It will do severe damage.

Again, let's let that play out. Let's don't jump ahead. We've got a couple of weeks here that I think are going to be very, very important, and we haven't had this opportunity that I can remember.

KING: Senator Corker describes the stakes. I want you to come in, but I want to ask you a question about what we hear from our government. This is the National Intelligence Estimate. It was published in November of 2007. This is a public document.

At the moment this was published, the Bush administration knew about this facility in Iran. That was knowledge of the intelligence community at that time, according to Secretary Gates. But this document says that the government has high confidence -- high confidence -- that Iran has stopped the weapons aspect of its nuclear program.

Help me out here. If they say there's no doubt this facility is to develop nuclear weapons, Senator Corker says he saw the briefing, he has no doubt, why would our government put out a document that says, "Well, they're not at the nuclear weapons business anymore"?

BAYH: John, I objected strongly to the wording of this estimate at the time because I did think it was misleading. And you need to look at a footnote in there that actually explains what's going on.

There are three different parts to a nuclear program. One is getting the fissile material. They're going rapidly ahead with that part of it. Second is a delivery mechanism, ballistic materials, that sort of thing. They're going rapidly ahead with that aspect, as well.

The third is the design of a warhead. And that is what they apparently suspended some years ago. But they've got the designs -- this is something else they lied about. They got the designs, the know-how to in fairly short order go forward with that.

So the NIE made it look like they'd suspended the entire program, when, in fact, it was just one component of it, which they could restart on fairly short notice.

KING: All right. We've got to work in a quick break. We'll be back with Senator Corker and Senator Bayh in just a minute. We'll talk about whether the president should send more troops to Afghanistan and some domestic fights here at home. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Don Lemon here is at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. Time for a quick check of your headlines.

At least 75 people are dead in a flood in the Philippines. A tropical storm unleashed the heaviest rainfall in the capital city in 40 years. 80 percent of Manila is under water, 300,000 people had to evacuate to escape the rising water.

Filmmaker Roman Polanski faces possible extradition to the United States for being arrested in connection with a sex charge from the 1970s. Swiss Police say he was taken into custody yesterday as he arrived from France to attend the Zurich Film Festival. Polanski fled the U.S. in 1978 after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl.

I'm Don Lemon. I'll see you back here at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Now back to "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King.

KING: We're back with Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana and Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Gentlemen, I want to move on to the big decision the president faces about Afghanistan and your thoughts on what appears to be a bit of a conflict. You have General McChrystal, the commanding general on the ground, who says he needs more troops, perhaps as many as 40,000.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has told Congress we're going to probably need more troops in Afghanistan.

Secretary Gates in the interview we just had didn't quite say so, but those who know him well say, if you listen closely to his talk about we cannot fail, we cannot give the Taliban this victory, and his rejection of the comparison with the Soviets, that that was Secretary Gates' way of leaning forward in the idea that he would support more troops.

And then, Senator Bayh, you have Vice President Biden, Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, who we are told are very skeptical of sending more troops into Afghanistan, worried, A, that it won't work, and, B, that politically it could become a Vietnam-like scenario.

Do we need more troops in Afghanistan? And are you worried the administration has an internal conflict?

BAYH: The number of troops is a tactical question, John, in pursuit of a strategic goal. The president sets the strategy and then will listen to his commanders about how many troops he needs to achieve that strategy. And what you heard the secretary say is, very clearly, we need to decide an essential question.

Is Afghanistan capable of being a coherent nation-state? Can they reconcile their differences enough where their government can have enough trained troops and police to control their own territory? If so, that's the ideal outcome, and it warrants us giving them another couple of years to try and develop that capability so we can withdraw. If not, if they're just going to be different ethnic and religious groups, always a weak and corrupt central government, then devoting more resources to try and prevent the inevitable probably doesn't make much sense and you ought to deal with this with a lighter footprint.

So that's the question the president is trying to resolve, and it was made more difficult by the recent elections, which were very corrupt. Karzai is not a strong leader, doesn't have much authority around the country, so that's really what he's deciding.

Can Afghanistan, with our help, be a coherent nation-state? If yes, more troops would be warranted; if no, you take a different approach.

KING: But, Senator Corker, Senator Bayh lays out a pretty rational -- let's ask these questions and get to an answer, but as we have this process, we already have the commanding general on record saying I need more troops and, if we don't act quickly, the enemy might win.

CORKER: Well, look, I think it's -- I met with Secretary Gates on Thursday morning and, as you know, was in Afghanistan on Election Day. I think it's perfectly -- and I met with McChrystal there. I think it's perfectly legitimate to spend some time trying to articulate what success is.

It's easy to talk about what failure in Afghanistan might mean. I think it's been more difficult to actually articulate what success is. And until we can do that, I think it's appropriate to take some time.

Look, at the end of the day, counterterrorism leads to a strategy of counterinsurgency, which means winning the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan. In a poor country like Afghanistan, that ends up meaning nation-building.

And so I've heard discussions lately of partial nation-building, maybe focusing on the Department of Interior. To me, it's still a little fuzzy as to what success means. And I think it's -- again, I think we should sit down, understand what success is, and then put in place the ability to make that happen.

And, again, even talking with Secretary Gates Thursday morning, and when he speaks, I listen. I think he's the most credible person on this topic. But I think he was having some difficulty with me even articulating what success is.

So let's spend -- let's spend a little time talking about that. Let's realize we're dealing with a president that is, let's face it, has some -- has many deficiencies, someone who I think looks at this mission in many ways as more our mission than his, or at least that's what he has said directly to me.

So we have some issues there. Let's -- let's spend a little time and let's make sure we get this right. That's what we should do when we have men and women in harm's way. KING: Let me try to bring us back home in our closing couple of minutes here. I want to focus on the health care debate. We have two men here who have been skeptical about a public option.

Senator Bayh, you have said maybe, but you have to prove to me you're going to reduce the deficit.

Senator Corker, you say you think it's a bad idea.

As you watch the Finance Committee, let me just a simple question here, because they have so much work still to do. Are we -- are you confident, are we any closer to a bill that can have broad bipartisan support, or are we, in fact, closer to a Democrat-versus- Republican Armageddon in the Senate?

BAYH: Well, it looks as if it's going to be unlikely, to use your term, John, to get broad bipartisan support. You might get Olympia Snowe. I mean, Bob Corker's a very reasonable person. We could agree on many things, but there may be some elements in this he just ultimately can't agree with.

So the real debate is within the Democratic Party. And even getting that consensus, which I think will ultimately be achievable, is taking time and will be difficult.

KING: Senator Corker, do you see any evidence -- I know you have said let's do this incrementally -- if they go the 51 votes in the Senate, what's going to happen?

CORKER: Well, I think it's going to rip our country apart in many ways, and I think it's short-sighted. So I think there's so much, John, that we have common ground on that we could focus on and move the ball 50 yards down the field and then let's focus on some of the tough sledding that has to do with the delivery system.

There's many pilots and other things that need to occur at HHS and CMS. Much of what we do in the public arena affects the private delivery system itself. And I just think it's a shame that things are going as they are.

To me, the night the president gave his speech, that was a departure date of moving towards something that was more partisan, something that I think is regretful, something that I think is going to be damaging to our country.

KING: All right, gentlemen, we'll watch what comes out of the committee and we'll bring you back when we have something specific in front of us to debate. Thank you for your views on the world issues especially.

Senator Corker in Tennessee, Senator Bayh right here with us, thank you very much.

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