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CNN "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees" - Transcript

Interview

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COOPER: What's your reaction to news that Kofi Annan is stepping down?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I hope what we knew would fail would be motivation for the United States to be more involved in stopping this massacre.

The administration has been relying on sort of two flimsy reasons. One was that the Russians would convince Bashar Assad to leave, and the other the Kofi mission. Both of which we knew were doomed to failure. So hopefully, this will motivate the administration to become more involved, provide weapons, a safe area and assistance to stop the massacre.

COOPER: At this point, what do you want to see happen? You want to see weapons provided. Do you believe some sort of air strikes are necessary?

MCCAIN: Not necessarily air strikes, Anderson. What we need is a safe area where they can train and equip, treat the wounded, help the refugees, and say to the Syrians that they cannot attack that area. And if it requires air support to prevent that, then use whatever means necessary to make sure that sanctuary is protected.

COOPER: As we reported, it has been widely reported President Obama signed a presidential finding allowing for covert agents in the Syrian opposition. I'm not sure who leaked this information. CNN got it from two different sources. I'm not sure their motivation for leaking this information.

Do you buy that? Do you think it's too little too late? We don't know when this finding was signed. But is that a move in the right direction?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it's a move in the right direction. And I don't know any more than has been reported, but we need to make sure that those weapons are there, the right kind of weapons. But we also need a safe area.

You know that every day that goes on as you have reported there's more danger concerning the security of the chemical weapons and there are more and more foreign fighters, extremist elements entering the fight. So it is clearly in our interest to accelerate the end of Bashar Assad, which we all agree will happen, but how long and how many have to die is the question, and that's directly related to the United States' direct involvement.

COOPER: I want to ask you about those foreign fighters. I interviewed an international journalist, one of two who was actually kidnapped by foreign fighters. There are other reports about al Qaeda inspired or al Qaeda linked groups there.

There are some people who see that in the United States and say, well, look, this is now an opposition that has al Qaeda in it. We should not be supporting them in any way. Do you see the presence of foreign fighters as a reflection of the nature of the opposition, of the politics of the opposition, perspective of the opposition, or do you see it as a vacuum that jihadists are filling?

MCCAIN: Clearly a vacuum. The people that began this revolution were not jihadists; they were not al Qaeda. IN fact, they're the exact opposite of al Qaeda. They're people who peacefully demonstrated for the kinds of things that we cherish.

And as the conflict has dragged out, there has been more and more of these jihadist extremists who have come into the fight. I still am confident that the Syrian people will embrace democracy the same way the people of Libya just did. But the longer it drags on, the more likely it is that these foreign fighters will have a greater, greater influence and the more difficult it will be to bring that country back together once Bashar Assad is gone.

COOPER: Senator John Kerry said yesterday that there's a so- called red line as far as what it would take for military intervention and that, quote, people who need to know, know what it is. I don't know if he's talking about chemical weapons. Do you know what that red line is?

MCCAIN: I have no idea. I do know that every day that goes by, the more there's the possibility, and I emphasize possibility, that some of these chemical weapons could fall into the wrong hands, even into the hands of Hezbollah, which of course, could pose an enormous threat to Israel.

COOPER: There's a disturbing video that went viral that was posted, apparently, by opposition members of them basically killing, gunning down what they said were captured regime supporters, fighters. When you see that, what does that tell you? Is that just the nature of war? We've certainly seen plenty of videos from the regime being brutal to, you know, unarmed demonstrators. We're now seeing this from opposition forces. What is it -- how do you see that?

MCCAIN: Tells me it's terrible and awful, and reprehensible, but it's also again an argument for a sanctuary where the government, such as they had in Benghazi in the case of Libya, where the government can set up the Syrian national council and issue orders and instructions that this kind of atrocity must stop; otherwise they will lose legitimacy with the people of Syria.

COOPER: Senator McCain, thank you very much.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

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