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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

Interview

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MR. GREGORY: We are back, our special Libya coverage, joined now by the top foreign policymakers in the Senate. From Cairo, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Senator John Kerry; chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan; and Republican members of the Armed Services Committee, Senator Jeff Sessions.

Welcome to all of you.

In terms of the end game here, Senators, President Obama earlier this month couldn't have been more clear in terms of what he wanted to happen to Colonel Gadhafi. Listen.

(Videotape, March 3, 2011)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA: Let me just be very unambiguous about this. Colonel Gadhafi needs to step down from power and leave.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: And yet, Senator Kerry, I want to hear from all of you in terms of reacting to this. You heard from Admiral Mullen this morning that, in fact, Gadhafi could remain in power and this military mission could still be seen as a success. Do you agree with that?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA): Well, the goal of this mission, David, is not to get rid of Gadhafi, and that's not what the United Nations licensed. And I would not call it going to war. This is a very limited operation that is geared to save lives, and it was specifically targeted on a humanitarian basis. It is not geared to try to get rid of Gadhafi. He has not been targeted. That is not what is happening here. So, in my judgment, we have to see where we go from here. Remember, in Kosovo after the initial efforts, President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland and Viktor Chernomyrdin of the Soviet Union came and were--Russia were involved immediately in diplomacy, and he ultimately was persuaded to do things. I think there's a lot of room here for a lot of different initiatives. But this operation was not specifically geared to get rid of Gadhafi.

MR. GREGORY: Well, Senator Levin, is that the right outcome? Again, the president couldn't have been any more clear about what he wants to have happen, and yet he's launched a military operation without that goal?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI): He has a military operation with very clear mission, and that's what the president should do is have a clear mission and to avoid mission creep. And one of the things that I know our military are very--were very concerned about was that there could be mission creep. They don't have that concern anymore because this mission has been very carefully limited. After a few days there's going to be a handoff. After the air is cleared of any threats, there's going to be a handoff to our allies, and this mission will then be carried on by French, by British, and by Arab countries. And that's very important. One of the reasons I predict that there will be strong bipartisan support in the Congress for the president's decision is because it is a limited mission, no boots on the ground, and because he has done this with great caution, with great care. And I saw that in person in the White House on Friday and was very impressed...

MR. GREGORY: Well...

SEN. LEVIN: ...by the caution and the care that the president is putting into this.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Sessions, as a Republican, do you support what the president's done, specifically some of the limits he's placed on no U.S. ground forces being committed?

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL): I'm supportive of that at this point. And I do think, however, the no-fly zone, as it's being executed, has proven Senator Kerry and Senator McCain in their call for a no-fly zone correct. They did that several weeks ago. And certainly, had it been done several weeks ago, we'd be in better shape than we are today. So the fact that it has been...

MR. GREGORY: Are you actually concerned that this is too little, too late?

SEN. SESSIONS: Well, I think that's a very real concern. We could end up with the, the rebels having lost momentum and creating a prolonged stalemate in which Libya and the people of Libya are subjected to violence for months and maybe even longer than that.

MR. GREGORY: Senator...

SEN. SESSIONS: We--I can't quite see where we are heading. I can't see exactly where the endgame is, and I do think it is a troubling situation. We just hope for the best and maybe this will be successful. But I don't see the certainty of it for sure.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Kerry, to kind of synthesize some of reaction out there, it's--what are we doing? What are we doing in Libya? Your ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee told our own chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell on her program on MSNBC a couple of weeks ago the following. I'll put it up on the screen. "Our dilemma," Senator Lugar said, "very frankly, is that we are not in a position to police each of these countries to establish governments that we believe are just for the people, and even to find partners, in some cases, who are likely to exemplify our ideals of human rights and democracy."

SEN. KERRY: Well, Senator Lugar is a wise, wise, you know, counselor on these issues, and I have nothing but enormous respect for him. But we're not policing Libya. We are engaged in a humanitarian initiative to prevent the slaughter of innocent people, to prevent a dictator from dragging people out of hospital beds, and they disappear, and he kills them, to ruling his country by pure force when there is an indigenous movement to try to join with the rest of the countries in this Arab awakening that is taking place. And the important thing here, David, is to see this in the larger context. I think we have enormous interest here personally, the interest of making clear to Tunisians, to Egyptians, to others who are moving towards this awakening that the rest of the world is not going to stand by while people are slaughtered by somebody who has lost...

MR. GREGORY: But, Senator Kerry, I have to interrupt.

SEN. KERRY: ...all legitimacy to be able to govern. Let--yeah.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Levin, there is a double standard at work here. I mean, how do you not look at the region...

SEN. KERRY: No.

MR. GREGORY: ...and say, well, the United States did not intervene on behalf of Shiites who were being repressed by a Sunni monarchy in Bahrain when Saudis sent in troops, but we're choosing Libya to take this stand...

SEN. KERRY: Well, David...

MR. GREGORY: ...and when a lot of people think--let Senator Levin respond to this--this is a civil war that we're intervening in.

SEN. KERRY: But can I just add that I profoundly disagree with that.

SEN. LEVIN: Yeah. What you're missing, it seems to me--now, what you're missing here very, very--you're missing a lot here is that this is the world that has made a decision. This is a unique situation where the entire world has come together, including the Arab world, and has said the Gadhafi slaughter needs to be stopped. It is not just we, the United States. It's quite the opposite. One of the reasons there will be congressional support here is that the president has taken the time to put the world community together, to get the world community to say to Gadhafi, "This slaughter must stop." That is not true in those other countries, and it's a very important fact.

MR. GREGORY: OK. Senator Kerry, go ahead, make your point on this as well.

SEN. KERRY: Well, I have a couple of points to make. Number one, the president has been crystal clear about Bahrain. He has said that the violence needs to stop in Bahrain. The crown prince of Bahrain has offered to have a mediation, to have a national dialogue. And the truth is that, in Bahrain where there is a 70 percent Shia population, you have a certain amount of mischief being made by Iran and by Hezbollah, and it's simply not the same situation. But moreover, the Arab community, I mean, the Arab League, is the game changer here. They asked us to come in. The Gulf states, the GCC, asked us to come in. The opposition pleaded with the international community to help prevent this slaughter. I think it would be unconscionable in the face of the first time the Arab League and the Gulf states are turning to the world for help in order to move towards greater enfranchisement of their people for the United States to move away.

MR. GREGORY: Quickly...

SEN. KERRY: That would be a denial of everything we, we supported in Egypt, of everything we've supported in Tunisia, of everything we support every single day with respect to democracy and freedom.

MR. GREGORY: I want--Senator Sessions--I want to ask one other question on this before I want to get to some of your views on Japan and the fallout for America.

Senator Sessions, should the president have consulted and sought authorization from Congress for this action?

SEN. SESSIONS: I'm not sure he needed to have done that, but I frankly think we could have been better briefed on it. Senator Levin, I know, and I'm sure Senator McCain and Senator Kerry and, and Lugar have gotten more briefings than the average member of the Senate and House has gotten. But it is a factor that we know that the president has to be in contact with Congress. He's now out of the country, and that probably has been less than it should have been at this point.

MR. GREGORY: I want to turn to Japan, another crisis that the president is facing, and, of course, what the Japanese are dealing with. Here are some of the latest facts to emerge out of the disaster in Japan. The death toll now upwards of 8,100. Still so many missing, and the number of missing well over 12,000. Some signs of hope, though. Incredible images coming out of Japan early today from Ishinomaki as there were incredible rescues of a, of a teenager as well as an 80-year-old grandmother who was stuck inside of her house. Thankfully, though, those two people were rescued.

But, Senator Levin, the--as the nuclear emergency continues in Japan there are real questions about the future of nuclear power in this country. After Three Mile Island back in 1979, as a young senator you called for a moratorium of six months on any nuclear power plants in the United States. Should that hold true now?

SEN. LEVIN: Well, I think there ought to be a period here where all of our nuclear plants are tested very, very carefully to make sure that they are safe, and to make sure that this cannot happen here. But I don't think that we can say that we're not going to continue to use nuclear power. Europe depends heavily on it, and they have found it to be safe. We use it a lot. We have found it, since Three Mile Island, to be safe. And it seems to me that the great hope that we have, ultimately, in terms of greenhouse gas is to move away from fossil fuels. And although I think we have to be mighty careful about nuclear power, we should put a lot of effort into seeing what we can do with the waste, that we cannot give up on that possibility because of the climate change which is occurring from fossil fuels.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Kerry, about 30 seconds here. How big of a blow has nuclear power, as part of our energy mix, been dealt here?

SEN. KERRY: Well, I think it's taken some hit, obviously. But I think it's going to cause everybody to look for the fail-safe methodology and what the next generation of nuclear power might or might not be. I think, you know, of equal urgency is simply responding to the demand of climate change and the need to move away from fossil fuels. The faster we build an energy grid in America that we move to solar, thermal, other things, I think the marketplace will make that decision for us.

MR. GREGORY: Senator Sessions, after the gulf oil spill, after the nuclear emergency in Japan, do you think the president is capable of leading a bipartisan effort to really make energy policy a priority, and to lead to some change?

SEN. SESSIONS: He's--he has to do that. He has not done that. The Energy Department seems to be putting out more roadblocks on American energy production than actually leading in the way to produce more energy. We need more clean, American energy. Now, that is a driving force for this country right now. We're not seeing that leadership. We've got gulf oil production blocked basically by not getting permits. Only two have been made and, and--since the oil spill.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

SEN. SESSIONS: And we need to get moving. We simply cannot afford not to.

MR. GREGORY: I'm going to have to make that the last word. Senators, thank you all very much.

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