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CNN Paula Zahn Now Transcript

Location: Unknown

September 25, 2003 Thursday

HEADLINE: Interview with Senator John Kerry; Interview With Syrian Foreign Minister

GUESTS: Farouk al-Sharaa, George Bruno, John Kerry, Robin Preston, Jim Caswell, Arianna Huffington

BYLINE: Walter Rodgers, Joe Klein, Jeff Greenfield, Paula Zahn, Jeanne Moos

Ten Democrats face off in a presidential debate. Are Syrians flooding into Iraq to kill U.S. troops?

ZAHN: And a new player took center stage in today's debate among the 10 major Democratic presidential candidates. Retired General Wesley Clark admitted he had lots to learn after joining the race just eight days ago.

I am joined now by one of the candidates who took part in the debate, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Thanks so much for dropping by after...


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: No, it's great. Thank you.

ZAHN: It must be so frustrating to stand up there with nine other candidates and try to find an issue that you can cut through with.

KERRY: Well, it's frustrating, but everybody's facing it. I mean, what's important right now, Paula, is to be able to share with Americans my vision for how we make our country safer and stronger. I can do a better job of defending America's interests abroad. I can make more friends in the world and restore or respect and influence, and frankly, do a much better job of making us safe in this world of terror. And I know how to put people back to work and provide health care to Americans, and do a better job with our schools.

This president is on the wrong track. He's moving in the wrong direction. The deficit is getting bigger, more people out of work. I believe we need leadership that knows how to go in the right direction and that's what I'm prepared to do.

ZAHN: A lot of people were surprised, including myself, that you guys gave—and we should say Carol Moseley Braun was there, too—Wesley Clark a honeymoon tonight. Was there a strategic calculation to not put on any gloves on?

KERRY: I don't think so at all. But, I mean, he's got to speak for himself. He's got to offer his own programs.

Look, I've been in the Democratic Party...

ZAHN: You beat up Howard Dean pretty badly tonight.

KERRY: I've been in the Democratic party for 35 years. I welcome him to the Democratic party, number one.

I will say that I'm a little surprised that somebody running for the president of the United States has been thinking about it for six months has so little to say on national domestic issues.

But right now, I want to focus on the ways in which I can put Americans back to work and connect to the average American to make them understand they're not getting a good deal under George Bush. George Bush is driving up our deficit, saddling our children with debt, guaranteeing that we can't make the choices we need to to invest in our cities. Governors are raising taxes, cutting services, just so we can take money from the average American and transfer it to the wealthiest people in the country. I think that's wrong, and I'm going to roll back the high end of the Bush tax cut. The tax cut that goes to the wealthiest Americans we can't afford, Paula.

ZAHN: Let's come back to your position on Iraq. And...

KERRY: Sure.

ZAHN: Is there a contradiction with your support of allowing the troops to go over to Iraq and now being so highly critical of this post-war...

KERRY: No, none whatsoever. There's no contradiction at all.

I am absolutely convinced I voted for the security of the United States of the America with the assurance of the president that he was going to go to the United Nations and build a international coalition, that he was going to make a plan to win the peace, that he would do the preparations, he would respect the U.N. process and that he would go to war as a last resort.

The president set the date for the start of this war. Not us. And he did not go as a last resort. He broke his word to the American people. He broke his word to the Congress and through us, the American people themselves. And he rushed to war. He doesn't have a plan. We need to go to the United Nations, Paula. We need to get the sense of American occupation off the table. We need to strengthen America by taking the target off our troops and bring the world to the table to help us.

ZAHN: But even you have to acknowledge that is a very tough challenge. You talk to anybody at the State Department...


KERRY: It doesn't have to be a challenge.

ZAHN: ..and they said the most troops you could get out of Europe right now is 2,000 and maybe at best out of Asia 15,000.

KERRY: And the reason for that, Paula, is because the president hasn't done the diplomacy, because the president has proceeded with arrogance.

Look at his speech just the other day. He went to the United Nations. Did he really invite them in in an inviting way? Did he indicate any kind of sort of humility in the approach? None whatsoever. And you know what? He walks out of there, doesn't even listen to the other people speak, and sends a message that turns everybody off. That's not the way to bring other countries to the table.

ZAHN: You have consistently been critical of the Bush administration...

KERRY: Because they have done a terrible job.

ZAHN: ...reconstruction plan.


ZAHN: Do you think Donald Rumsfeld should be asked to resign?

KERRY: Yes. Absolutely. He did not do the planning. He rushed this to war. He has not listened to the military personnel. Our military is weaker today. They're overextended. He and Mr. Wolfowitz proceeded with false assumptions. And in their arrogance they didn't listen to General Shinseki. They kicked him out of the way. They stomped on his reputation. And he was right. It did take more troops.

These people, I think, have proceeded in an arrogant, inappropriate way that has frankly put America at jeopardy, put a young Americans—I mean, this is not—you know, this is—these are young Americans who are now in greater jeopardy in Iraq than they had to be, and it looks more serious for the longterm than it had to be.

ZAHN: Secretary Rumsfeld called for a greater humility in an op- ed piece today. Do you see any scenario under which...


KERRY: Well they didn't show it yesterday. They didn't show it at the U.N. Where is the humility if you're not prepared to say to people some of the things you need to bring them to the table? If they had—when that statue fell in Baghdad, that was the ripest moment for us to say we need help now in managing the peace. And other countries would have flocked to our side providing we're willing to share some of the power.

But right now America is treating Iraq as a prize. It's a country, and it deserves to be treated within the community of nations through the United Nations. That is the only way ultimately for the United States to get rid of this sense of American occupation and get the target off our troops, and get this administration's hand out of the taxpayers' pocket, so we share expenses.

ZAHN: If you're going to succeed in doing everything you're talking about doing, you're going to have to best some nine candidates. You are trailing in the...

KERRY: Actually I'm not.

ZAHN: ...neighboring state of New Hampshire. Our polls show you are.


ZAHN: Are you behind Howard Dean in your polls?

KERRY: Just two days ago—just two days ago the polls showed that there are only two candidates who beat George Bush, myself and Wes Clark. And I do it without any of the high exposure that either of those candidates, Wes Clark or Howard Dean, have had.

My numbers are moving in New Hampshire. They're moving in Iowa. Just yesterday Governor Shaheen endorsed me in New Hampshire, and the firefighters endorsed me yesterday in Washington. I believe my campaign has momentum. I believe I'm growing.

ZAHN: Do you think you can take New Hampshire?

KERRY: Here's the reason why.

ZAHN: That you can't take New Hampshire?

KERRY: Here's the reason why—because I'm the only candidate running who has both national security and foreign affairs and military experience, and who has significant experience at putting people to work, at helping to fight for health care, reforming education and dealing with our domestic issues.

Americans want experience, Americans want leadership, and I'm the one candidate though brings both of those qualities to this field.

ZAHN: I should note you said here's why I can. You still didn't say yes about New Hampshire. I guess that was implied. All right.

KERRY: I don't want to be—I don't impetuous or presumptuous. I intend to.

ZAHN: All right.

KERRY: And I'm going to do my best to, and I'm going to rely on the people of New Hampshire to make that judgment.

ZAHN: Senator John Kerry, thanks dropping by tonight.

KERRY: Thank you.

Content and programming Copyright 2003 Cable News Network Transcribed under license by FDCH e-Media, Inc.

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