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Public Statements

CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript

Interview

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Well, back to one of the top stories. Senior Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman all have been meeting with Egyptian military leaders in Cairo today. They're trying to resolve the case of 19 American workers who now face criminal charges in Egypt.

What is Egypt doing? They're cracking down on what are called non- governmental organizations.

Senators McCain and Graham, they are joining us now live from Cairo.

Senator McCain, I want to start off with you.

Thank you very much for both of you to be here.

You said you're trying not to negotiate the release of these 19 Americans. What is your intent, what is your purpose, and who have you met with so far?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, we have met with the Supreme Council and also the field marshal, Tantawi, who is the head of the provisional government, as you know, the speaker of the parliament. We met with the head of the Muslim Brotherhood and others.

And we have emphasized the importance of the issue to the American people, the importance of it being resolved as quickly as possible. But we -- as I said, we are not negotiators, we are people who want to emphasize the importance of our relationship with Egypt and the importance of this issue getting resolved so we can move forward with very important challenges that Egypt and our relationship faces.

MALVEAUX: And Senator Graham, what did they tell you about those who are being held? Did they give you any assurances at all that they will be released in the near future?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I'll leave optimistic, Suzanne, quite frankly. The Muslim Brotherhood, much to my surprise, said that one of their priorities in parliament is to change the NGO law that these people are being prosecuted under, because most of us tend to forget that during the Mubarak regimes era, the Muslim Brotherhood was very much oppressed by the government. And so they made an open commitment to change this law so that non-governmental organizations would have more freedom, because they saw the NGOs during their time as helpful.

The military very much understands the importance of our relationship. So the term that politicians always use is, "I'm cautiously optimistic," but quite frankly, I'm very optimistic that we're going to get this episode behind us and have a fresh start with the new government.

MALVEAUX: Have they given you a date or a time certain that they would be released?

GRAHAM: I don't want to talk about any details. Again, we're not negotiators. But the sense that this shelf life is due to expire on this issue, and that we want to start over, I think is well understood. And the sensitivity of the issue on both side is well understood. So it's my hope sooner rather than later.

MALVEAUX: And Senator McCain, have they offered in any way for you to actually see these 19 Americans who are in their control?

MCCAIN: We just met with the remaining Americans at the U.S. Embassy, where they are now, and we had an excellent conversation with them.

MALVEAUX: What did they tell you? What are the conditions like?

GRAHAM: And I might add, if you don't mind, it's just not about --

MALVEAUX: Sure. Go ahead, I'm sorry.

MCCAIN: Well, they're in the embassy there, as you know, and they are well taken care of. But there is a certain amount of concern, obviously, tension, because right now they are not allowed to leave the country. And although the conditions that they are in the embassy are fine, there certainly is reasons for anxiety to get this issue resolved.

MALVEAUX: And did you specifically see one of those Americans, Sam LaHood, the son of the transportation secretary?

MCCAIN: Yes, I saw Sam, and I can tell you he's fine, he's grown a full beard, and he's not nearly as good looking as he used to be.

(LAUGHTER)

GRAHAM: But Suzanne, we're also worried about the employees. I just want to put a plug in for the Egyptian employees of these organizations.

John is the head of IRI, the International Republican Institute. Madeleine Albright is the head of NDI. And the accusations against these groups are unfounded and, quite frankly, offensive.

They're not spies. We're not trying to destroy Egypt's future. We're trying to help the Egyptian people.

And we made that very well known, that we don't agree with the premise here. And again, they were in good spirits, it's a hearty group, and the work over here is very important for our country and the world, and we're very proud of them.

MCCAIN: But we are worried about non-U.S. citizens who work within these organizations, and we'll work hard to make sure their welfare is cared for as well. MALVEAUX: In light of that fact, do you worry that you can't protect those, those Egyptians who might -- who are not able to leave like the Americans are?

MCCAIN: Yes, we are concerned. We have their names, and we are making every effort to make sure that they are not in any way held culpable for the violation of a Mubarak-era law which is anachronism, unfair and unjust.

MALVEAUX: And finally, to both of you, I know, Senator Graham, you said that you were optimistic, that you hope that this is resolved fairly soon, that you're working with the Muslim Brotherhood. Are you confident going into the future here that the United States does have a reliable, credible partner here, a real ally in the next leadership here in this country?

GRAHAM: Well, time will tell. Like all politicians, including the ones back home, you have to judge us by our actions.

But when the Muslim Brotherhood spoke about changing this law, and their experiences in the past, that made me optimistic that from their past bad -- from their abuses, they're going to try to create a better future. But at the end of the day, their economy is on its knees, the Muslim Brotherhood has to deliver for the Egyptian people.

Our aid is very important to the Egyptian military. The military in Egypt kept this from being a bloodbath. But we're going to take a wait-and-see attitude.

How do you write the constitution? Will you honor the rights of Coptic Christians in this country? What will be the future of women under the new Egyptian constitution?

MALVEAUX: Right.

GRAHAM: I came here very much concerned, but I'm leaving somewhat optimistic that the Muslim Brotherhood and the new government is embracing a better future, but time will tell.

MCCAIN: Suzanne, very briefly --

MALVEAUX: Sure. I do --

MCCAIN: -- Mubarak -- could I just say, Mubarak was going to go. He was going to leave. And that -- we have to adjust to that reality and hope that on the path of democracy, we maintain our strong relationship with Egypt.

Go ahead, please.

MALVEAUX: And Senator McCain, very quickly here, Senator Lindsey talked about the aid, the $2 billion a year, plus the additional money that the Obama administration has given since Hosni Mubarak has been deposed there.

Do you think Congress is in a position now to reconsider that amount of aid, perhaps take away some of that aid until we find some real concrete action from the Egyptian people in releasing these hostages?

MCCAIN: There is always time to do that. Right now, what we want to do is emphasize the benefits of our relationship, the benefits of getting this issue behind us, and lets move forward with very vital issues.

We know and you know that Egypt is the heart and soul of the Arab world. And our relationship with this government and the success of this government is vital to the United States' national security interests, including Israel's.

MALVEAUX: All right.

Senator McCain, Senator Graham, thank you so much for joining us here. And obviously, if there are any updates on the release of those 19 Americans, we will go to you as quickly as possible for any kind of breaking news.

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