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Federal News Service - Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC



SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, Lindsey, Lindsey, Senator Graham --


SEN. MCCAIN: Senator Graham, please.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Senator Graham -- (inaudible) --

SEN. GRAHAM: I don't want to break up a tradition that—long held—that every senator speaks all the time. And here's what I want to say --

SEN. MCCAIN: (Laughs.)

SEN. LIEBERMAN: You're a senator now. (Laughter.)

SEN. GRAHAM: Oh, I'm slowly learning, yes. (Laughter.)

One thing that our nation needs is for all the senators and all the congressmen and everybody involved in government to rise to the occasion. These are dangerous and treacherous times for our nation.

And I want to say publicly that Senator Lieberman's presentation in Munich was outstanding. It made me proud to be an American, it made me proud to be a member of the Senate. Senator McCain has been a voice in foreign policy for a long time, and I'm a Republican and he's a Republican. But for the fact that Senator Lieberman would stand up with Rumsfeld and McCain and have a united front about what our nation needs at this time was heartening. And it's time to accentuate the positive. The mood in that room, among all the European nations except a couple, was that we're with you, we understand what 9/11 was about and you're right, 17 resolutions is enough.

So these are tough, difficult times, and it's no time for any politician or country to have a small view of the world in which we live in. So I'm honored to be here with these gentlemen, trying to bring us together as a nation.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Lindsey.


Q Well, two questions. One, what do you feel that France and Belgium's realistic—and Germany's—realistic objections are? And two, is there anything Saddam Hussein could do in the next four days that might change your viewpoint?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: I'll go to the second first. I mean, I think the United States' position—our position for a long time has been that the United Nations report on Saddam Hussein's Iraq after the inspectors were ejected in 1998 made clear that he had enormous quantities of chemical and biological weapons capable of killing millions of people that he never accounted for. And so, I've always felt that we sent the inspectors back in now to give them a last chance to prove that he had destroyed all those weapons of mass destruction. And he hasn't yet done that.

The fact that he's letting the U-2s go over Baghdad is a nice small step, but the only thing he can do, I think, to get himself out of material breach of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 is come clean, acknowledge that he has weapons of mass destruction and either prove to us that he destroyed them or show us where they are. Otherwise, he faces the serious consequences in the resolution.

And as for France, Germany and Belgium, I think what they ought to do is make clear that they're not going to stand in the way—they may not—they're obviously not ready to march with us at this point. But they ought to get out of the way if the rest of Europe and the United States feels that military action is necessary to enforce these resolutions. And that means allowing NATO to begin to plan—only plan—for the defense of Turkey from Iraqi action and also to make clear that they will not veto any second Security Council resolution.


SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you. Let me just add one comment.

The alliance has been around for more than 60 years.

In the words of Lord Robertson, the secretary-general of NATO, who is one of the most highly regarded men in Europe, this is an unprecedented act on the part of the Belgian, French and Germans, to veto a planning for defensive weaponry to be put into a country. This is not whether they will side with us, as Joe said. This is simply a proposal to put defensive weaponry into the front-line state that has a border with Iraq. It is—it is—it is hard to understand.

Q The chairman of the House Armed Services will be here later today. He's going to talk about having hearings considering the possibility of saying to Germany, after troops from Germany are deployed to Iraq, maybe they should not go back to Germany. Do you think there would be any movement on the Senate side, or is that too premature?

SEN. MCCAIN: I don't know what Joe and Lindsey's opinion are, but let me just say that I think all of that would be premature. I think there will be plenty of time to discuss the merits and demerits and roles and missions of all countries that are involved in NATO.

But let me just point out, the Germans are in Afghanistan, the Germans are in Bosnia, the Germans are in Kosovo. The Germans continue to contribute in every way, including financially, to the NATO alliance. The French do not. The French have done none of those. So I think we have to make a clear delineation between the behavior in the French and the Germans.

Look, we all know why the Germans are where they are. It's because Gerhard Schroeder wanted to get elected and he played the anti-America card.

I guess my final point on this is that we have to go through a reassessment of roles and missions in Europe, not dictated by the behavior of France and Germany, but dictated by the realities that we now face new and different threats. And we met with General Jones, who we hold in the highest regard, who has a vision for the future of NATO that preceded this particular dust-up and will succeed it. And so we think that that vision for NATO ought to be debated and given a lot of consideration because I think it has a lot of merit; and that is, forward stationing of troops and rotating of troops into different parts of Europe on a rotating basis rather than the permanent stationing. But I don't think that has anything to do with our relations with Germany.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: John is absolutely right. And it's a very progressive and interesting idea that General Jones, our supreme allied commander in Europe, discussed with our delegation on Friday in Brussels, but it in no sense is a reaction to the current disagreement between Germany and the United States, and it ought not to be seen that way.

The other thing to say is that, you know, we're upset about what France, Germany and Belgium are doing in the case of the Iraq crisis, but they're part of the transatlantic family. They're part of the, as I said before, the greatest alliance, military alliance in history. And the important thing is for them—and us, I suppose—to act in a way that doesn't do permanent damage to the family.

We're having a dispute right now, but it ought not to break up the family. And if we do this right and they do it right, it will not.

And what John says about Germany is right. The other thing I'd add simply is that they've been very helpful in the war on terrorism. They are providing security for American bases in Germany. This is a momentary dispute, and we're not going to let it break up the long- standing strong relationship.

Q Can I ask you, coming out of Munich, your informal conversation, what was your sense of just how flexible Germany and France are on the NATO issue? Do you get a sense of an opening there, or that they're just posturing for the media, or --

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Well, I mean, there weren't—there was only one representative of France there, I believe: the defense minister. She spoke, and then there wasn't much of a chance, at least that I had, to speak any more with her. There were many—of course, it was in Munich. And so, the foreign minister, the defense minister, a lot of parliamentarians were there. And frankly, in our conversations—I'd ask my colleagues to give their impression—the general tone of the conversations was to feel real regret about the dispute between the U.S. and Germany and trying to find a way to not have it do lasting damage. So I felt that among the Germans I spoke to there was a kind of unease about the disagreement we're having now. And put it another way: Dr. Merkel, who's the—Angela Merkel, who's the head of the opposition coalition in the parliament, gave a very strong statement of support for the American position at the—she's in the Bundestag—for the American position regarding Iraq. So German opinion is divided. And for the most part, people face to face were talking to us in the terms that they didn't want this to do lasting damage. They—I thought they were uncomfortable.


SEN. GRAHAM: My two cents' worth. I think you're dealing with two different political dynamics. The Germans have put themselves in a political box based on the last campaign. A very aggressive campaign, a come-from-behind campaign, playing an anti-American card that had never been played before. So everything they do now is in the context of their political statements.

I think the French has been embarked on a strategy of trying to diminish NATO. And they have been more calculated over a longer period of time.

As to any effort by the House or the Senate to put a chill over a French and—excuse me, German and U.S. relationships by changing the military configuration, I would be opposed to that right now. I served in Germany for four years. The Germans are helping. Thousands of American troops are passing through Germany as I speak without any hindrance at all. So there's two different dynamics between France and Germany, and we need to understand that and make decisions based on that.

Q If I can just follow it up real fast. France, they have a (strange ?) history with NATO to begin with.

SEN. GRAHAM: You noticed. Yeah.

Q So how seriously do they take it?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, we had a briefing—and I don't know how much to disclose. But there was a sense among our representatives in NATO, and who follow this closely, that the French have a sort of a planned strategy to weaken NATO to try to strengthen their role in the European Union.

I don't see Germany playing that game. And we need to come to grips with the French strategy and challenge it, because I think it is counterproductive and we need to be one family. If they do have a desire to weaken NATO as a planned strategy, we need to stand up and say please reevaluate.

SEN. MCCAIN: On the issue of the French, the French are playing a very high risk game here because with their veto or Belgium's veto was their proxy of this prepositioning of defensive equipment in Turkey, we'll go ahead with it; we will do it in a bilateral fashion. We will protect our troops, we will have the equipment there. And so what France risks is the United States and like-minded allies acting outside of NATO so we don't have to worry about their veto, and thereby rendering France irrelevant in the entire process. So it's a very big gamble for the French to be behaving like they are.

I think the general consensus is once we get through Iraq, our relations with Germany will return to basically a normal status where they're of enormous assistance. Look, they took over the command of forces—peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan. I mean, they have—they --

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Just this week, wasn't it?

SEN. MCCAIN: Yeah, they've been remarkable. So—but the French, I think, are playing a very high risk game here, and risk rendering themselves irrelevant in the entire deliberations and actions of the Atlantic alliance.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Let me just come back to something John said earlier on, and it goes to the heart of our resolution. You know, there is a new Europe, not as distinguished from the old Europe, but the new Europe is a configuration that goes from West to East. And that's the remarkable thing about these 10 -- the Vilnius 10 or the Vilnius 7 and the Adriatic 3, that they have joined with the eight nations to the West that issued the initial statement of support for our position. And it is a new Europe.

I think one of the most thrilling meetings we had on the weekend was with the 10, and they're so committed to the alliance and so proud of their ability now to affect history by making the statement they did, and they have a real sense of empowerment. And you know, for us it was a thrilling moment because we've lived now to see these countries come from—out from within the horror of the Soviet bloc to independence, market economies, and now being significant players in world events. And that is the new Europe.

Thank you all.

SEN. MCCAIN: Thanks very much. Thank you. Thanks for coming.

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