CNN "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees" - Transcript

Interview

By:  John McCain III
Date: Dec. 4, 2012
Location: Unknown

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COOPER: Senator McCain, do you know why the administration has chosen this, chemical weapons, as its red line and not, say, Assad's use of the air force against its own people? More than, as you know 40,000 Syrians have died so far in this conflict. Why is this the red line?

MCCAIN: I don't know why, Anderson, but I think it's important to note that Bashar al-Assad may interpret that as a green light for everything else, in other words, do everything up to but not including the use of chemical weapons.

But, at the same time, I do understand the concern about the use of nerve gas, which is in their inventory, which depending on how heavily populated the area that they use it on, could result in unbelievable deaths that -- you know, possibly in tens of thousands if they use the right kind of chemical weapon.

So I can understand the administration's concern, but maybe they don't realize that they are also sending a green light to Bashar al- Assad that he can do anything short of that.

COOPER: What would it mean to try to stop chemical weapons from being used?

MCCAIN: I think it would have to be it would be very complicated. I don't think you could send enough American troops on the ground. I don't think that would be an option.

You may have to try to take out these stocks from the air. We do know where a lot of them are. Frankly, I don't -- I have had significant military background, but I'm not exactly sure how you would approach this problem. You would have to then, I think, if it's crossed the red line, you just have to go in and take out Bashar al- Assad and then worry about all these stocks and supplies of weapons of mass destruction.

COOPER: You take him out with airstrikes? Are you talking about troops on the ground?

MCCAIN: I don't know.

If you took him out, then you could go in and secure these areas of stocks and probably with an international force, primarily probably Americans, but only to secure these areas, not to engage in any fighting or get enmeshed in the war itself. It's a difficult challenge.

COOPER: We understand the Obama administration is now considering arming the Syrian rebels, something you have advocated for a long time, obviously in reaction to concerns the administration won't have any sway with the rebels should the Assad regime fall.

Arwa Damon has been inside Syria for more than about a week now. She's been talking to rebels who say they're angry at the international community for its inaction and won't tolerate meddling now. Do you think there's anything at this point the U.S., its allies can do to try to repair that relationship?

MCCAIN: I think we could establish a safe zone from which they could organize and operate.

The other problem, as you know, is the dramatic infiltration over the last year or so of these jihadists, al Qaeda jihadist extremists from all over the Arab world. You name a country and they have come in from there. And, unfortunately, some of the countries that are providing the weapons, those have gone directly to these extremists, rather than to the moderate forces.

And without a place to organize, to set up a government, to do the things that are necessary to take over, they don't have that yet. And finally again, every day that goes by, the problem becomes more difficult, whether it be the weapons they were talking about, the chemical weapons and the nerve gas, or whether it be the influence of these jihadists, or whether it be Bashar al-Assad deciding that, as he has said publicly, that he's going to die there in Syria, and obviously there would be a lot of people that died with him.

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