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McConnell Discusses War on Terrorism

Location: Washington, DC

May 18, 2003 Sunday

HEADLINE: Interview With Adel Al-Jubeir; McConnell, Nelson Discuss War on Terrorism; Cisneros, Rohrabacher Debate Illegal Immigration

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, KENTUCKY: Well, there's no question that in the past, Wolf, they tried to have it both ways. Now, this attack has occurred. It's an opportunity to see whether the kingdom really can pivot and be fully on board in the war on terrorism. And fully on board means doing something about the madrassas, doing something...

BLITZER: Those are the religious schools.

MCCONNELL: The religious schools. Doing something about the clerics and their wild anti-Israel and anti-American rhetoric. And indeed, fully cooperating with the FBI, allowing the FBI in and fully cooperating with them in finding who did this. We didn't have that full cooperation after the Khobar Towers incident in 1996.

BLITZER: Osama bin Laden, as you know, Senator McConnell -- 15 of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 were Saudis. Was that a coincidence, or are the Saudis friends or foes to the United States in this war on terror?

MCCONNELL: Well, it's clear that Osama bin Laden is hostile to the Saudi regime. It's inexplicable, it seems to me, they're not completely on our side on this. But obviously, they've tried to have it both ways. They want to pander to the elements inside Saudi Arabia who are sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, and at the same time realize in many ways the survival of the regime depends upon cooperation with us.

This is an opportunity for them, as I said earlier, to pivot and get fully on board 100 percent in the war on terrorism. I think it's the only way this regime is going to survive. It's reforming itself and getting fully on board with us in the war on terrorism.

BLITZER: It looks, Senator McConnell, like it was an al Qaeda operation in Saudi Arabia, and it looks like an al Qaeda operation in Morocco. Do you accept that assumption?

MCCONNELL: Well, that seems to be the case. Everybody who is an expert on al Qaeda seems to believe that it was an operation...

BLITZER: So does that mean that Osama bin Laden and his group are resurfacing now and still have this kind of capability to cause this kind of death and destruction?

MCCONNELL: Well, the president said consistently the war on terrorism is not over and some people didn't believe him. The war on terrorism isn't over, and they've demonstrated that they can carry out, on foreign soil, attacks against relatively soft targets here in this week. We should not be surprised. The president said consistently this war is not over.

BLITZER: All right. I'm going to let Senator McConnell just quickly weigh in before we take a break. Go ahead.

MCCONNELL: Yes, well, I mean the Democrats have been wanting to change the subject back to the economy, the argument being that somehow the war on terrorism is moving along nicely. It's been the president who said the war on terrorism is not over. Obviously, it isn't, and I'm glad that my friend Bill Nelson and all of those Democrats who are running for president now understand that.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We're continuing our conversation with the U.S. Senate majority whip, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and the Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator McConnell, another terrorist bus bombing, suicide bombing in Jerusalem earlier today. Israelis very angry, understandably so.

Some Israeli members of the cabinet apparently suggesting that it's time for Prime Minister Sharon to kick out Yasser Arafat from Ramallah, from the West Bank, now that there's a new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmud Abbas, in place. Would that be a good idea?

MCCONNELL: Well, certainly marginalizing Arafat is the policy of the United States and of Israel. That's why we have Abu Mazen now as the prime minister. We hope that he's going to actually have some real authority to move the PLO in the direction of peace.

Arafat is a problem, a serious problem. That's why we're not dealing with him.

BLITZER: And do you think he personally is behind some of the terrorist actions?

MCCONNELL: It is not a coincidence that any time Arafat is in the ascendancy, nothing happens good. Violence, terrorism, all the problems that keep this settlement from ever occurring.

BLITZER: So you see him more of a problem, as opposed to a solution.

MCCONNELL: He's not the solution, we know that.

BLITZER: Well, those are pretty strong words, saying that you're more interested in giving rich people tax cuts as opposed to protecting the national security of the American people.

MCCONNELL: Well, these were the same guys who, last fall, were delaying passage of the homeland security bill.

Clearly, the president—and all you have to do is look at the polls to understand the American people have enormous confidence in the president to lead the war on terror and to protect us here at home.

And I think the administration is doing everything it possibly can to get us up to speed here at home. I think it is noteworthy that we have not had an additional attack in the United States since September the 11th, 2001. Not that that will never happen, but we've had a pretty good period here.

There have also been a lot of top operatives of al Qaeda that have been arrested. We've made significant progress.

BLITZER: We only have a few seconds, Senator McConnell. Will there be a compromised version—the House tax cut proposal, the Senate tax cut proposal—that is passed before Memorial Day next weekend?

MCCONNELL: It would be pretty hard to do it by Memorial Day. This package is about growing the economy. If we grow the economy, everybody is going to have more revenue, both the federal government and the state governments. It is going to be hard to get this package together in one week.

BLITZER: Well, if the House wants $550 billion in tax cuts, the Senate approved $350 billion, what, do you just split the difference and come up with $450 billion? I assume you'd be happy with that.

MCCONNELL: I'd be happy with that. We may have a hard time going about $350 billion because of the situation in the Senate. But we want to put as much oomph, as much juice, into this growth package as we can, even if, Wolf, we're left with the $350 billion amount.

BLITZER: So, it would probably be closer to $350 billion than $550 billion.

MCCONNELL: It probably will.

BLITZER: All right, Senator McConnell, we have to leave it right there. Thanks very much.

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