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MSNBC Meet the Press - Transcript

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MSNBC Meet the Press - Transcript

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: showdown with Iran, atrocities in Iraq and a 40 percent reduction in anti-terrorism funds for the two cities hit on September 11th. We'll get the view of a Democrat who would like to be president, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.

Then, the former United Nations chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has a new report on the threat of nuclear weapons worldwide.

And in our roundtable: Hillary Clinton and the Iraq war. Insights and analysis from John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal and CNBC, and Gwen Ifill of "Washington Week" on PBS.

But first, can we stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb? Joining us: the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden.

Welcome back.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE): Good to be back with you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, Secretary of State Rice announced direct talks with Iran were possible if they would stop enriching in their program. This is how David Brooks of The New York Times wrote about it in his column. "The accomplishments over the past few weeks have been impressive. Bush and Rice have created a coherent policy. They have organized the Europeans, Russians and Chinese around that policy. They have put Iran on the defensive, and forced the different factions in the regime to argue about what sort of country they wish to become." Do you agree with that?

SEN. BIDEN: I agree with it in part. I think it's a very positive step, and I think David picks up one of the strong elements of what our policy should have been from the beginning, which was, there's two audiences here. There's the Iranian public and our ability to have an impact on the public and split the—split that country in terms of getting real debate going, and secondly, keeping the Europeans and our allies together and on the same page. And I think it's long in coming, but very welcome.

MR. RUSSERT: If the Iranians refuse to stop enrichment, what should the U.S. then do?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, in my view, we're sort of locked into a position now, because they've got the European—the European three, China and Russia apparently on the same page saying they must stop enrichment. I think what's happening is the Iranians are figuring out there are consequences short of all-out sanctions that affect their economic growth. There's been a diminution in any investment by the major powers in Iran; not because of any policy, but because of the uncertainty in Iran. There's also been a drop in their stock market. They've had—they're having some difficulties. And so I think at a minimum it will keep the world united, and move toward a Security Council resolution that maybe holds everybody together and adds additional sanctions from other countries. And that may have an impact.

But as you know, Tim, myself and Senator Lugar and others have called for direct talks with Iran for the past year and a half. I think we've kind of seen this movie before in Korea.

MR. RUSSERT: If the Iranians simply refuse, and full-speed-ahead with their program to build a nuclear bomb, should we undertake military action?

SEN. BIDEN: No, we shouldn't undertake military action now. It should be the absolute last resort. And one of the things that—I've gotten all the briefings, as most of the people in my position have, and there is no imminent threat at this point. There is a looming threat, there is a threat of a capacity to be able to demonstrate a real threat to the United States and our allies down the road, but there's nothing imminent at this point. And we should be playing the inside and the outside game, both in Iran and outside to continue to put pressure on them, because there's nothing at all certain about the support that this administration in Iran has from its own people. And the one way to unite the 71 million Iranians with a government they do not like would be to attack them.

MR. RUSSERT: Based on our experience with Iraq and intelligence...


MR. RUSSERT: you believe if the president of the United States stood up before the world and our country and said, "Iran has this, therefore we have to undertake military action," would he be believed?


MR. RUSSERT: How do you deal with that?

SEN. BIDEN: You don't except try to build confidence by the way—look, as I understand it—and you usually have better sources than I do, and I'm not being facetious—but as I understand it, this was a bit of a knock-down, drag-out fight between Cheney and, and Condoleezza Rice, and Rice won this round as to how to proceed with regard to Iraq. What you do is you continue to proceed down the line, and apparently Secretary Rice now has the president on, rather than return to the bellicose notions of threats and—and look, it'd be one thing, Tim, if you said to me—and anyone could show me—that military action, A, that there's an imminent threat at the moment; and B, that there was utility in the use of that military action.

This is not the—like a lot of people think—this is not the Israelis taking out an Iraqi reactor, which happened a decade ago. This is a very different, very spread out, very sophisticated program. And, and so the question is what are your reasonable options? And the options are, it seems to me, is to continue to squeeze with the world community the government in Tehran.

MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, we had gone into Iraq hoping to establish an ally in that region. Richard Engel, NBC correspondent over there, interviewed Prime Minister Maliki, the new prime minister, and asked him about Iran. Let's watch.


MR. RICHARD ENGEL: (Foreign language spoken) Would you support American military action against Iran launched from Iraqi territory?

PRIME MINISTER NOURI AL-MALIKI: (Through translator) Iraq will not be a platform for any military action against its neighboring countries, including Iran, because such action would drag the region, and Iraq, into catastrophes.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Whether you're for or against military action, it's quite interesting to hear the Iraqi prime minister talk about the United States and Iran.

SEN. BIDEN: Totally predictable, though, Tim. Totally, completely predictable. The notion that—remember, it was four years ago the president announced the axis of evil. He said there are these three countries—Iraq, Iran and Korea—and implied he had a plan how to deal with them by isolating them. Where are we now? Korea has 400 percent more nuclear capacity than it had when he announced the policy. Iran is—has eliminated the modulus at any democratic instincts: their parliament. There's no democracy there in, you know, in waiting as there was four years ago. And now you have Iraq in a circumstance where the leaders of Iraq, who belong to two parties, the dominant parties, Dawa and SCIRI parties, who have relationships with Iran. So, I mean, so far for a policy that was going to make us safer—I mean, anybody who would think that there would be a welcome mat by the part of an Iranian—an Iraqi government to attack Iran doesn't understand the region at all.

MR. RUSSERT: Does Iran have more influence with Iraq than the U.S.?

SEN. BIDEN: At this moment I think it does. And—well, let me back up. That's not true. The United States has more influence because we still have 130,000 troops there. We have more influence with the Kurds. We have more influence with the Sunnis, although not much influence at all. I'm not sure I would argue that the Iranians have as much influence with the 60 percent of the population that makes up the majority of the parliament now, the, the Shiia, than we do.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to some comments that Maliki made. This is how The New York Times reported it on Saturday: "On Thursday, Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq condemned violence by the American-led coalition against Iraqi civilians. But Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said Friday that Maliki had told the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, that his comments were misquoted. ...

"In The New York Times, Mr. Maliki was quoted as saying that many troops in the American-led coalition, ‘do not respect the Iraqi people. They crush them with their vehicles and kill them just on suspicion. This is completely unacceptable.' Accounts elsewhere quoted him similarly, and a review of the translation on Friday found the quotation accurate.

"In its translation, The Times also quoted Mr. Maliki as saying that the violence he was condemning had become a ‘daily phenomenon.' The review of that quotation found that it was inaccurately translated. Mr. Maliki said the violence had become a ‘regular occurrence' - not a ‘daily phenomenon.'" But here is the prime minister of Iraq saying the U.S. soldiers are mistreating his people.

SEN. BIDEN: Look, Tim. We put our U.S. soldiers in the most God-awful position they can be put in. We put them into a situation without any plan as to how to occupy a country. We put them in with too few troops, without the proper equipment, without the proper defenses. And now these poor guys and women are sitting in the middle of what is a sectarian war. It is no longer—you know, aside—remember that Carville quote back in the ‘92 campaign, "It's the economy, stupid, it's the economy"? It's not the insurgency. It is the sectarian violence, stupid, sectarian violence. And so now you have the leader of a group that is 60 percent of the population feeling significant pressure from his constituency to take on—even though he wants us to stay there—to take on the existing military occupation in, in Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, Senator, all politics is local.

SEN. BIDEN: You got it.

MR. RUSSERT: Whether it's Wilmington or Baghdad.

SEN. BIDEN: You got it, man.

MR. RUSSERT: The prime minster of Iraq is criticizing the United States to shore up his political standing?

SEN. BIDEN: Absolutely. And by the way, guess what's going on in Afghanistan? Same exact thing. Karzai. What's Karzai doing?

MR. RUSSERT: Are these comments not encouraging hostility to U.S. troops?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, I think they do encourage hostility to U.S. troops, and I think what they do is they call for the administration to come up with a plan. Look, the president says, Tim, that it has been saying we're going to stand down when the Iraqis stand up. But there's no plan to help the Iraqis stand together. Now the whole notion here is what's the plan? On one hand, you have the president with a plan how not to lose, but not to win by keeping us there interposed between these constituencies, and you have others calling for just pulling out. What are we going to leave behind? What do we do? That's why I came up with the plan that I have. Come up with a plan that gives some sense of how you keep these three major factions within a country together so that you don't have them blow apart, which is what I worry most about.

MR. RUSSERT: But neither the Republicans nor Democrats accepted your plan.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, no, but a lot of—mark my words, it's going to get a lot more popular as we move down the road here.

MR. RUSSERT: A year ago, let me show you exactly what you said in one of your committee hearings. "My patience is running out. I'm not sure I could in good faith, a year from now" that's today...


MR. RUSSERT: ..."if things aren't drastically different, continue to support American troops being in Iraq."

SEN. BIDEN: Well...

MR. RUSSERT: Are things drastically different?

SEN. BIDEN: They are drastically different. And I tell you what, it's about at the end of the rope. That's why in the proposal that I laid forward, which would take too long to lay out here, but the bottom line here is, we've got to give each of the parties a rationale to stay in the game, keep this country together. As I said repeatedly, all the king's horses and all the king's men are not going to keep Iraq together if there's an all-out civil war, and we're moving closer and closer to that. And the administration continues to rely on, Tim, on something that's not going to happen, and that is that a unity government is going to come along and all of a sudden all's going to be well. The insurgency is going to be quelled and the militias are all going to go back to their neutral corners.

We've got to do something like we did in Dayton, Tim. What'd we do in Dayton when we settled the Bosnian war? We ended up with two distinct territories, we ended up with three different armies, and we ended up with three different presidents, and now they're trying to pull together and become part of Europe. We gave them breathing room in order for them to be able to stay together. That's what has to be done now. And if it isn't, I just don't see any—I don't see any successful end in sight.

MR. RUSSERT: It's time to get out.

SEN. BIDEN: It's getting close.

MR. RUSSERT: This is what you said leading up to the war in ‘02. "He's a long-term threat, a short-term threat to our national security." (April 13, 2002)

"He must be dislodged from his weapons or dislodged from power." (September 26, 2002)

"We have no choice but to eliminate the threat. ... This is a guy who is an extreme danger to the world." (August 4, 2002)

"There was sufficient evidence to go into Iraq." (May 25, 2003)

Looking back on all that, didn't you help feed the appetite to go into Iraq and—which created our current situation?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, I—you know, I guess, depending on which of the various quotes you read, you could say that, but remember what the game was back then. We were trying to resist the effort to pull sanctions off of Saddam Hussein, that's what the world was pushing for. And we got together and we all said, "Look, we're going to give the president the power to demonstrate at the United Nations that the United States is together, and use that power to increase pressure on Saddam to deal with the weapons. We called for—I called for, the inspectors, including Hans Blix, who'll be on here, who I've met with repeatedly during that period, to stay in and go in. The assertion was made by the president that, in fact, there was no imminency about us going in. Repeated quotes I have as well saying there's no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein. But the fact of the matter is, we gave the president a power that, I believe, that he did not very competently use.

MR. RUSSERT: Ted Kennedy said yesterday, voting against the war in Iraq was the best vote he ever cast in his 40 years in the U.S. Senate. Is voting for the war the worst vote you ever cast, in your mind?

SEN. BIDEN: I, I don't think so. I think misunderstanding this administration is the worst miscalculation I've ever made in my career.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton has, unlike you, where last time you were here, you said, knowing what you know today, you would not vote for the war, Senator Clinton has not said that. Do you believe that for Senator Clinton to become the Democratic nominee, she has—and I have to say, to the Democratic Party, that voting for the war was a mistake, and knowing what she knows today, she would not do it?

SEN. BIDEN: I haven't figured out how I can become the Democratic nominee let alone give her advice on how to become the Democratic nominee.

MR. RUSSERT: But is the Iraq war a dilemma for her within the Democratic Party?

SEN. BIDEN: I don't know. Look, I think the, I think the Democratic Party understands Mrs. Clinton's—Senator Clinton's instincts that are consistent with theirs. I will be surprised if the vote on the war in Iraq becomes the defining issue in a Democratic nominating process.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think Al Gore, who won the popular vote in 2000, who was against the war, who has—now has a new movie on global warming, would be a viable candidate in 2008?

SEN. BIDEN: Sure. Sure, I think he'd be viable. And I think he would be welcome. I think it would, it would add to the, to the debate that this party has to have. I'd welcome him getting involved.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think he'll run?

SEN. BIDEN: I have no idea. I truly have no idea.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you a last question on Iraq about Haditha and some of the other alleged atrocities. The fact is, our government knew about that for some time. How high up the chain, based on your information, do you think this goes?

SEN. BIDEN: The secretary of defense.

MR. RUSSERT: And what should be done?

SEN. BIDEN: He should be gone. He shouldn't be in his office tomorrow morning. And I'm so tired of saying this on your show. I've been saying this for two years.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, the president knew about it in March.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, we can't get rid of the president. He's there for two and a half more years. There is a system of accountability. The system of accountability is, it used to be a gentlemanly thing, as they say, when you make serious mistakes, you step forward and you acknowledge them and you walk away. Presidents can't and shouldn't do that. Secretaries of defense can and should.

MR. RUSSERT: There was a report out from the Department of Homeland Security which reduced anti-terrorism funds to Washington and New York by 40 percent. Your reaction?

SEN. BIDEN: Look, this is—the idea that they have us in a debate about how to spread out $740 million dollars to protect America is bizarre. We should be spending much more than that. The idea that we're only spending a hundred--$740 million dollars—Tim, look, they sent—the, the 9/11 commission has flunked this administration and Congress on all the major initiatives relative to making our, our homeland more secure. If we were just to take one year of the tax cut for people making over a billion dollars, that would generate 53 billion in revenue. To implement the entire, the entirety of the 9/11 commission report is $42 billion dollars. As my dad would say—we were talking about our dads earlier—my dad would say, "If everything's equally important to you, nothing's important to you." It's priorities.

MR. RUSSERT: But Senator, you can read the headline, "Biden calls for tax increase."

SEN. BIDEN: Yes. I'll say it again, "Biden says you should not have the new tax increase for people making over a million dollars." They didn't ask for it.

MR. RUSSERT: Tax cut.

SEN. BIDEN: The tax cut. And they'll argue it's an increase.

MR. RUSSERT: So that's a tax increase.

SEN. BIDEN: Yeah. No—"Sign me up. Sign me up." Because in the meantime what happens? We have this ridiculous circumstance where Washington, D.C., and New York City are going to lose funds that are going to go to St. Louis, where they're needed, and we're arguing about—it's like having the blind compete with the hearing impaired. This is bizarre. We should be dealing with our domestic security needs. And the idea that the wealthy people in America aren't patriotic—they didn't ask for this, they didn't ask for this additional increase, and I believe they would support if they knew this money was going to go to fully implement 9/11. I don't know a millionaire in New York who wouldn't be supportive of that.

MR. RUSSERT: The Senate is considering a repeal of the estate tax, which would cost a trillion dollars over 10 years.

SEN. BIDEN: Bad idea.

MR. RUSSERT: Will it happen?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, I don't know whether it will happen.

MR. RUSSERT: Democrats would have to vote for it in order for it to become law.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, yeah, Democrats have to vote for it to become law. I hope they don't vote for it to become law. Look, they've—this—the idea is, so few people pay an estate tax—something like 99 percent of the American people never pay an estate tax.

What we should do with the estate tax is we should adjust it for the economy. We should, in fact, raise the limit that's exempt—I think you can go as high as $8 million dollars—and you should reduce the amount from in the mid 50s down to the low 40s. That would still, in fact, have little impact upon, on the total revenues, and it would allow what is really what people are concerned about: Can you pass on a family business? You should be able to pass on a family business—the family farm, the family automobile dealership. If you're going to pass it on to Charlie, your son, pass it on and don't pay an estate tax.

But this idea of total elimination. What's that mean? Remember, it was Teddy Roosevelt who came up with this idea. Why did Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, come up with it? So there wouldn't be continued concentrations of wealth in America. They already control a significant part of the total wealth in America. This is not a meritocracy.

MR. RUSSERT: Will, will you filibuster if need be?

SEN. BIDEN: I'm not a good filibusterer, but I would join a filibuster, yes.

MR. RUSSERT: The president used his radio address yesterday, and tomorrow in the Rose Garden, to talk about a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

SEN. BIDEN: You know, think about this. The world's going to Hades in a handbasket. We are desperately concerned about the circumstance relating to avian flu—we don't have enough vaccines, we don't have enough police officers—and we're going to debate, the next three weeks, I'm told, gay marriage, a flag amendment, and God only knows what else.

I can't believe the American people can't see through this. We already have a law, the Defense of Marriage Act. We've all voted—not, where I've voted, and others have said, look, marriage is between a man and a woman and states must respect that. Nobody's violated that law, there's been no challenge to that law. Why do we need a constitutional amendment? Marriage is between a man and a woman. What's the game going on here? And now we're going to also vote, right after that, about desecration of the flag. If you can't...

MR. RUSSERT: But aren't these issues ones that the Republicans used successfully to demonstrate that the Democrats were out of sync on cultural and values, in that, in that degree?

SEN. BIDEN: I don't know if they've used it successfully. A fascinating thing Katrina did. Katrina not only blew away the Gulf, it blew away the illusion that these guys were competently able to deal with the real problems that Americans face. And I think this just highlights the fact they have no intention, they have no plan, to deal with health care. They have no plan to deal with our national security. They have no plan to deal with the energy crisis. They have no—I mean, gasoline's going up an incredible amount. I've got a bill, along with others, saying, look, make every single automobile company—by the year 2008 or 9, depending on which one you pick—have flex-fuel automobiles. Make every gas station in America have to have a flex-fuel pump. That would fundamentally begin to alter importation.

But no one wants to offend anybody. We don't want to offend the oil companies. We don't want to offend the auto workers. We don't want to offend anybody. And what are we going to do? Because we don't want to make any hard decisions, let's go talk about gay marriage. I think it's ridiculous.

MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, let me hook back around to Iraq and conclude our interview. If things are the way they are today a month from now, two months from now, three months from now, when, when and where do you draw the line? How much time?

SEN. BIDEN: I draw the line at the point where there is no reasonable prospect of me believing you can keep the country together. And that's when this sectarian violence is so far out of hand that there is no possibility of keeping the country together.

MR. RUSSERT: And how close are we?

SEN. BIDEN: I think we're perilously close. I think we...

MR. RUSSERT: Months?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, as I said to you last time I was on the show, I think the time that that's going to be determined is whether or not they amend the Constitution, which is four more months after they, in fact, get in power, which has just begun now. And so I suspect that's by the fall. We're going to know whether there's been any progress made or not. If there's no progress made—and by the way, Tim, the other thing, pulling the troops out. My proposal calls for no troops there after the year 2007, other than an over-horizon force, and that is, that's going to practically take that long for the military to do it.

MR. RUSSERT: But if you do get out, and the country just disintegrates...

SEN. BIDEN: It will.

MR. RUSSERT: ...and you have a haven for terrorism...

SEN. BIDEN: You do.

MR. RUSSERT: ...and for al-Qaeda.

SEN. BIDEN: You do.

MR. RUSSERT: What have you...

SEN. BIDEN: That's why we...

MR. RUSSERT: What have you achieved?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, you—what you've done is you have put us in the position—this administration has—where you lose Iraq, you lose Afghanistan. Watch Afghanistan. Watch Afghanistan, and watch Musharraf after Afghanistan falls if we don't get smart here. And what you end up with is you end up with trying to contain the policy. That's what I've called for for over a year and a half, a regional conference. Get the permanent five of the United Nations to call for a regional conference of all the parties, set up a contact group, agree on a hands-off policy internally in Iraq so this doesn't develop into a regional war. Nothing's been done on any of this. There's no forward thinking here.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you feel partially responsible?

SEN. BIDEN: No, I don't. I, I've been laying out in detail, on your show and others, for three years how to approach this. And every single recommendation has been rejected. And I would respectfully suggest in almost every instance what I've said has turned out to be—end up being the case.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Joe Biden, as always we thank you for your views.

SEN. BIDEN: Thank you, Tim.


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