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MSNBC Interview - Transcript


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MSNBC Interview - Transcript


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MS. MITCHELL: Joining us live now from Capitol Hill, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks for joining us --

SEN. KERRY: Glad to be with you.

MS. MITCHELL: -- and congratulations on assuming the chair there.

SEN. KERRY: (Laughs.) Thanks.

MS. MITCHELL: Quite a hearing. Before we get to the foreign- policy implications of her testimony and the obvious mastery that she displayed on any conceivable issue, what about her refusal, really, to make any compromise? There were suggestions by Senator Lugar that if Bill Clinton's foundations don't foreswear all foreign donations by governments and by individuals, that at least limit them to $50,000 or at least report everything that is up to that $50,000 limit, and she basically says we've done enough -- we've met more than the legal and ethical requirements. Is that good enough?

SEN. KERRY: Well, I think for the purposes of her affirmation by the Senate the answer is yes. I think that Senator Lugar made --

MS. MITCHELL: Well, clearly she's going to get confirmed, but do you think it's good enough in terms of making sure that there's no perceived conflict?

SEN. KERRY: Andrea, as I said yesterday, I believe that Senator Lugar raised legitimate questions, and they're shared by members of the committee. The fact is that this is charting, you know, territory that we've never been in before. The Clintons have gone beyond what the law strictly requires, which doesn't in effect completely answer Senator Lugar's concern. And therefore, we're just going to have to go forward, as we are. Everybody's on notice; I think that's the way to frame it.

The secretary-designate said very -- Senator Clinton said very clearly she's aware of this potential, she's going to do everything in her power to guarantee that there is no conflict. And so we're going to have to go forward, and that will be tested by the facts as they unfold. It does present the Obama administration and the State Department with this ongoing question as we do go forward, but all of us are hoping, and I think will proceed in good faith, with the expectation that everybody's going to meet the highest standards. What we really need to turn to now are the major substantive issues that we face.

MS. MITCHELL: Well, let me ask you about that. In terms of Iran, first of all, she talked about a new approach, and clearly they intend to engage with Iran and Syria and other countries. Talking has a certain value. What is the downside of that? Do you see a downside at all in terms of a new approach to Iran?

SEN. KERRY: I don't think there's any downside to a new approach to Iran because, I mean, we're living a downside every single day right now, which is a failed policy. Right now, Iran is proceeding at its own pace without any sense of obligation to anybody to do otherwise to move towards a nuclear capacity. So if that is indeed unacceptable, we have to pursue something else.

I don't think you'd have any legitimacy at all -- and I think this was ultimately why Bob Gates opposed the potential of Israel's action against Iran and an overflight was not granted -- because there is no legitimacy at this point to simply taking some kind of preemptive effort in the absence of having tried more -- more normal diplomacy. So you've got to to through this route in order to explore all of the options that are available to us, and that ultimately will begin to tell us the story of what the options actually are.

MS. MITCHELL: What challenges does Barack Obama and, of course, Hillary Clinton at the State Department face in the Middle East in terms of Gaza -- the shooting war in Gaza?

SEN. KERRY: Well, Gaza -- Gaza is --

MS. MITCHELL: You know, you've got to be supportive of Israel, but how do you deal with Hamas without at least having some channel of communication with Hamas?

SEN. KERRY: Well, there is a channel of communication right now. Egypt is acting as an interlocutor. General Suleiman is I think leading that effort on behalf of President Mubarak's government. President Mubarak has always been an enormously helpful and important go-between in a lot of these issues, King Abdullah of Jordan likewise. There are plenty of folks that we talk to who can engage in some kind of discussion or another. We've made clear what our position is in terms of direct talks, and I agree with what Senator Clinton said with respect to that.

But there's plenty of ways to approach this. In the immediacy, we've got to get a cease-fire. I believe that getting a cease-fire as soon as possible with durable, clear, understandable expectations on both parties' sides is the beginning of a new process. And in fact, I think it is possible that Gaza could be turned into an opportunity for the Obama administration and for Secretary Clinton because it may be the opening that we need to begin to put a peace process back on and to really begin with new players to articulate what the expectations are of both sides.

In my conversations, both with the president-elect and with Secretary Clinton -- Secretary-designate Clinton, I've tried to emphasize -- and I think this is felt by most people -- we have to be a true broker that is viewed by both sides as being a fair broker in this process. The Obama administration will begin that process with a clean slate on Tuesday of next week. And if they use that correctly, I believe we can make progress in the Middle East.

MS. MITCHELL: Let me ask you about Tim Geithner and whether you think it's the appropriate decision by some Senate Republicans, at least one or two senators on the Republican side, to make sure that there is a postponement of that hearing so that Tim Geithner now will not be able to be sworn in. Do you think that his tax issue was important enough to postpone his confirmation?

SEN. KERRY: No, I really don't. If you have an objection to the tax issue or you have a question about it, the time to express that and the time to raise the question is at the hearing itself. Our economy is in need of immediate focus, and I think it's inappropriate. I don't think this is a disqualifier for his assuming the role. It's embarrassing, it's silly, unnecessary in many ways, but I think also legitimately innocent given the nature of the IMF process and the fact that he paid his other taxes. And when you are treated as a self- employed person working in those circumstances, sometimes those things do drop between the cracks.

In my judgment, he's going to be confirmed. And I think to delay the process unnecessarily is to delay our ability to move our economy, and frankly, possibly to cost people jobs, to cost the marketplace confidence, which it desperately needs at this moment in time.

MS. MITCHELL: Thank you very much.

SEN. KERRY: Good to be with you.

MS. MITCHELL: Chairman John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

SEN. KERRY: Thank you.

MS. MITCHELL: Thanks so much.

SEN. KERRY: Thanks, Andrea.


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