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National Public Radio All Things Considered Transcript

Location: Unknown

October 28, 2003 Tuesday

HEADLINE: John Kerry discusses issues of national and foreign policy



In the coming weeks, as we approach the presidential primaries, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED will be interviewing the Democratic candidates for next year's nomination. All the announced Democratic candidates for president have been invited, and today we begin with John Kerry, now serving in his fourth term as United States senator from Massachusetts.

Welcome to the program, Senator Kerry.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts; Presidential Candidate): Delighted to be with you. Thank you.

SIEGEL: You have been critical of President Bush's handling of the occupation of Iraq. Right now, if you were president, what would you do that he is not doing?

Sen. KERRY: I would go to the United Nations and legitimately, with the appropriate humility and the appropriate sensitivity, internationalize our presence. It is wrong for the United States to be viewed as and, in fact, implementing an occupation by ourselves almost.

SIEGEL: Would you be willing to have the US troops that are in Iraq then come under the command of a UN-led force, possibly not led by an American officer?

Sen. KERRY: No. What I would do is provide the civil authority. The humanitarian authority and the infrastructure rebuilding belong under the United Nations. That is the precursor to our ability to have a legitimate international force agreed upon by the UN which brings others to the table to share the burden and the risk, and it is the only way ultimately to reduce the targeting of American soldiers and the sense of occupation. I believe that if we did that, you can keep the security component under American command. I'm quite confident that Kofi Annan and the UN would agree to that.

SIEGEL: If all of those conditions were met, would you then be disposed to vote for the kind of funding for Iraqi reconstruction that at present you're against?

Sen. KERRY: Yes.

SIEGEL: $86, $87 billion worth?

Sen. KERRY: Well, I don't think it costs that much. I mean, the point is that if you're sharing the burden and you're sharing the risk and you're doing this properly, you have reduced the costs significantly, number one. I mean, one of the reasons this is so expensive is the administration's playing games with it. This is the Halliburton Bill, as far as I'm concerned, and there are many ways to do this less expensively as well as more effectively.

SIEGEL: You've emphasized, throughout your campaign, your experience as a veteran. You were a highly decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. What actually do you see as the relevance of your experience as a combat veteran to presidential leadership?

Sen. KERRY: Well, I think it's very relevant in terms of the kinds of questions you ask, or knowledge. I mean, I said on the Senate floor, and I said it in an Op-Ed in The New York Times: We do not want to be cavalier about how difficult it is to win the peace. 'Cause once you're on the ground in these countries, it's very complicated. That's an experience that I knew firsthand. If I had been president, there would have been a very different approach to how we dealt with this or to what our willingness would be to assume a responsibility for a Middle Eastern country almost unilaterally. To occupy a nation by ourselves is a violation of almost 'Foreign Policy 101.' And those are the kinds of lessons that I think come to you very strongly. At the same time, you also understand firsthand some of the issues of troops, troop deployments, some of the risks, some of the military pluses or minuses of certain kinds of solutions, and I think those things serve us well.

SIEGEL: But we've had some great wartime presidents—Franklin Delano Roosevelt comes to mind—who are not combat veterans.

Sen. KERRY: That's correct. I'm not saying it's a prerequisite, but I'm saying it serves you well.

SIEGEL: At that rate that we're going, if you are inaugurated as President in January of 2005, you would face a very big federal budget deficit, and you would face forecasts of more annual deficits down the road. What would your view be of those deficits, that we can or we'll have to live with them for several years, or we ought to come up with some combination of spending cuts or tax increases to set the budget right?

Sen. KERRY: The deficits are serious, and I've taken them seriously throughout my Senate career. I was one of the first three Democrats to become part of the deficit reduction effort of 1985, when Ronald Reagan was doing the same thing George Bush is doing to us. And again in 1993, I joined in the effort to reduce the deficits and be responsible about the budget, but I separate myself from Governor Howard Dean, who wants to balance the budget in about four or five years and who has put Medicare on the table as well as other entitlements, which I think is contrary to democratic values.

SIEGEL: So does that means to take more than four or five years to eliminate this deficit?

Sen. KERRY: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely, we should take more than that time. There's nothing economically compelling that says that you have to do it under that sort of a rigid formula. The important thing is that Wall Street sees that your revenues and expenditures are coming together at a specific point in time. And whether that point in time is seven years or 10 years or 12 years is not as critical as what's happening in the overall economy.

SIEGEL: I just want to ask you one question about immigration policy. A very controversial bill signed into California law by Governor Gray Davis permits immigrants who are not in the country legally to get driver's licences, as they evidently can in several other states. Some states don't insist on legal residence in the country to qualify for, say, in-state tuition at a state university. We seem to have one national policy that says: Enter the US legally or not at all, and then a patchwork of exceptions, de facto and in law, that say, 'Well, if you had to pluck to get in, we're not going to make life to hard for you now that you're here.' Generally, where do you stand on all these questions?

Sen. KERRY: We need immigration reform. We need a serious standard for immigration in the country, obviously. I am in favor of earned legalization for those people who are here now, who have obeyed the law, are working, have paid their taxes, stayed out of trouble. Under those circumstances, we should be converting people to citizenship, but we need to do it simultaneously...

SIEGEL: But they should have a leg up in that process because they got in, even if they got in illegally?

Sen. KERRY: Well, they do have a leg up. They are here. They're here now. They're working. They're contributing to our economy. They've played by the rules. And they have an automatic leg up in the sense that they are here. Others are not. But it's worthless to have an immigration policy if you're not also going to have real rules and laws that we abide by, and visas that mean something. And in addition, in this world of post 9/11, it's important for us to know who's coming into the country. And so we need major immigration reform. Part of that requires investing in the technology to guarantee that your borders are secure and so forth. This administration has talked a big game about homeland security, but they haven't done the negotiating or the funding necessary to actually make us secure. I will.

SIEGEL: Senator Kerry, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Sen. KERRY: Glad to be with you. Thank you.

SIEGEL: John Kerry, senator from Massachusetts and candidate for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. We'll feature interviews with other Democratic candidates in the coming weeks.

Copyright 2003 National Public Radio ®. All rights reserved.

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