CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Pete King Dutch Ruppersberger
Date: March 4, 2012
Location: Unknown

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CROWLEY: Joining me now here in Washington, Democratic congressman Dutch Ruppersberger and in New York Republican Congressman Peter King.

Gentleman, thank you both. First to you Congressman King, you heard the president's speech. It was clear to me that he was trying to say to those in the room and to Israel in general look, the U.S. is not going to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. We would move in before that, but we first want to try diplomacy. Is that what we take out of this speech?

REP. PETER T. KING, R-N.Y.: Yes. Now as an American, I want to believe my president. The question is whether or not the Israeli government and the Netanyahu government are going to fully trust the president. There's been some bad blood in the past. Even today, though, in his speech where he was saying we stand with Israel and saying in effect why any attacks should be put off are not done in the next several months by Israel, but then he used words like loose talk and bluster. Well, if he's talking about the Netanyahu policy or people in the Israeli government I don't think it helps to use terms like that. And Israel has a real concern.

Israel can't afford to make a mistake. Their window of opportunity is shorter than ours is. And I think if they are convinced that President Obama will ultimately take action to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon if military action is necessary then they would go along with them. But I don't know right now if they trust him. And that's really why tomorrow's meeting with Netanyahu is so important.

CROWLEY: And I know Congressman Ruppersberger that you were with the prime minister in Israel about a week ago, correct?

REP. DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER, (D) MARYLAND: Chairman Rogers of the intelligence committee and I met with Netanyahu about a week ago in Israel, yes.

CROWLEY: And there is this matter of trust that Congressman King brings up that Israel has to believe that the U.S. is there for them and in that relationship between Netanyahu and President Obama has been tough.

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, let me say this, first thing it has to be clear the to the American public and to the Israeli public that generally the United States is behind hem 100 percent. I think the president said, from what heard in his speech today, that if in fact Israel's security at risk we will be with you 100 percent.

Now from our role on the intelligence community -- and Peter knows this, he's also on the committee with us -- I think right now that we have a better relationship with Israeli military and Israeli intelligence than we've had in the history of our relationship with Israel and the United States.

My conversation and Mike Rogers' conversation with Netanyahu basically was we've got to stop the rhetoric and stop negotiating the issue in the media and talk together like allies would. We know, and the president said, he is not for containment, containment means we do not want the Iranian government to have the nuclear weapons and we will do what we can to stop that.

We have to remember that it's all about Iran. They're a bad country, not the people but the leadership there are bad. They export terrorism. Right now the lethal weapons are going to Syria. They were willing to attack the Saudi Arabian ambassador in our country, killing Americans.

So this is something that we really have to focus on not only nuclear weapons and protecting Israel and the world but also the issue of exporting terrorism with respect to Iran.

CROWLEY: Congressman King, I want to use both of your expertise as members of the intelligence committee, because I think the first question the American people might have when talking about oh, don't worry, we're with you, we'll go bomb Iran if we're convinced that the time is right and that they're about to acquire nuclear weapons that we would first like to know how we know that they have them.

Do you have -- can you give us any sense how close the U.S. feels Iran is to that point?

KING: I mean, Dutch and I have to be careful as to how we say this. I have no doubt that Iran is getting extremely close to being able to have a nuclear weapon that's operational. There can be some debate as to exactly what month that would occur in and there's also a debate whether or not they would make it operational or do they just want to go 99.9 percent of the way and then be able to make it operational whenever they want to.

Israel probably has a shorter time line than we do, but also Israel believes that even if we agree on the time line, Israel's capacity to take out Iranian nuclear sites is a lot shorter than ours because they don't have the same type of bunker busters we would have that type of weaponry so that's the concern -- and going back to what Dutch was saying about rhetoric. It's not just rhetoric between the president and Prime Minister Netanyahu. I mean, going back to several years ago when Netanyahu was really treated badly at the White House by the administration, going back to when the president suggested almost the moral equivalency between Iranian nuclear weapons and the Israeli settlements.

So there has been that bad blood. If they can get that out of the way, fine, but they have to work on it and the president is being held accountable for some of the things he'd said over the last several years and has to get the Israeli prime minister's trust.

CROWLEY: Let me put you on pause here for a minute. We've got to take a break, but we'll come back with more with Congressman Ruppersberger and Rogers right after this break.

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CROWLEY: We are back with Congressmen Dutch Ruppersberger and congressman Peter King of New York. Thanking you again both for joining us. Both on the intelligence committee.

Picking up on what Congressman King just said, it seems to me that the translation of all of that is that the U.S. and Israel need to come to the same red line that you know here's our definition of the red line after which we have to do something, and that Israel has to trust that the U.S. would do something once Iran moves up to that line in terms of developing nuclear weapons. Is that correct?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, first I think what the president said today in his speech he is clearly there as the leader of this country, the commander in chief. Now, when Chairman Rogers and I were over in Israel we met with the head of Mossad, who is their intelligence agency. There is no question that intelligence is going to be the best defense in making a determination whether or not there's going to be a next step as it relates to Iran. We want them to stop and we, as the president said in his speech, Teddy Roosevelt, you know, you speak softly but you carry a big stick. And we have to show to Iran right now the game is over, no bluff; we're going to do what we have to do to protect Israel but not only Israel but the world.

What I would like to see is the same type of formula we used in Libya. The whole world needs to come together and stop Iran. They're dangerous to the whole world. They're dangerous to Israel, the United States. You look at what they tried to do, as I said before, with the other Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia.

We need to get the Arab League involved. We need to get the world to say we're going to stop you, Iran, one way or other. That also takes political pressure off of Israel. Because, for Israel to go alone, first thing, they're stronger with us, with the United States of America, but secondly, we're not going to let them go alone. I -- that's -- that's not going to happen if eventually we have to do the things that we have to do.

CROWLEY: Congressman King, in his speech today and prior to this in an interview, the president has intimated that some of the criticism of his policy toward Israel, the criticism that he hasn't been a strong backer of Israel, is based in U.S. politics. Would you agree with that?

KING: Basically, no. I mean, listen, there's always going to be some politics involved, and I'll give Dutch credit; I think, between the two of us, we try to keep politics out of foreign policy.

But the president, I mean, did, going back in 2009 and 2010, have a very confrontational policy toward Prime Minister Netanyahu. And a part of that may have been personal. But, I mean -- but the aftereffects of that are being felt today.

And I agree with Dutch, by the way. Our military and our intelligence between the Israelis and the Americans is as close, if not better, than it's ever been. There's no issue there.

It's really a question of Israel believes it does not have the same length of time the U.S. has to take out Iran's nuclear sites. And, you know, when Dutch says we have to get the Arab League and the others involved, I agree that would be ideal. Israel may feel, hey, they only have several months in which they have to act, and the Arab League may not be there.

So that's why it's really up to the president, I think, tomorrow, in his one-on-one with Prime Minister Netanyahu, to be able to convince him that he is serious, that the United States is determined to use whatever has to be done, take nothing of the table to take out and to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

And again, I don't think it was right for the president to use the word "bluster" today because that, to me, again, was minimizing the policies that Prime Minister Netanyahu has been talking about, and that's considering the possibility of an attack. CROWLEY: Congressman Ruppersberger, I'm going to give you the final word here and ask you do you agree that the relationship between these two men has really been rocky and therefore, sort of, stood in the way of trust?

And do you also agree with Congressman King's assessment that Iran is getting mighty close to development of a nuclear capability?

RUPPERSBERGER: OK, well, personally I think a lot of relationships are different. One president handles policy a different way. I think, if there was a problem with the relationship, that's between them. But they're leaders of different countries. They're leaders of countries that are going to back each other up, that are allies. So I think it's more about the facts, the data, the intelligence that comes in, about where we're going to go.

Today's speech was clear. The president said we're going to back Israel; we're not going to let Iran have nuclear weapons, which is clear, and we're going to do what we have to do.

We hope the sanctions will work, and they are working now. But if they don't, we're not -- we're going to do what we have to do.

Now, the second issue, as far as Peter King -- what was the second...

CROWLEY: Oh, the second issue was how close are they to having nuclear capability?

RUPPERSBERGER: Oh, how close. I think, right now, both Israel and the United States intelligence will say they're not there for a bomb. But I wouldn't trust them; they're getting closer; they're -- all of their actions look like they're moving in that regard.

It's about intelligence. We have some of the best intelligence in the world, and with the two countries coming together with other countries helping us, we will know when it's time, and then we will know what we do as far as protecting Israel, protecting the Middle East and the United States from Iran.

CROWLEY: Congressman Ruppersberger, Congressman King, thank you both so much for your expertise.

RUPPERSBERGER: Sure.

KING: Thank you.

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