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MSNBC Interview - Transcript


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MSNBC Interview - Transcript

MSNBC Interview With Senator John Kerry

Subject: Relations With Iran And North Korea

Interviewer: Andrea Mitchell

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MS. MITCHELL: Democratic Senator John Kerry is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, thank you very much. Welcome.

SEN. KERRY: Glad to be with you.

MS. MITCHELL: Well, we want to talk about what the president has said. He has used words like "appalled," "outraged," "condemn," "deplore," yet John McCain, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Senator Lindsey Graham and others all say that the president has not gone far enough. What do you think the president should be saying? Should he be going farther? What are the risks here?

SEN. KERRY: I think the president has been pitch-perfect on this, and I regret that we evidently are sort of seeing more politics than statesmanship with respect to this issue. Frankly, I think it's been a wasted week of discussion about what the president, you know -- the level of what the president has said, because I think he's been perfect all along with respect to this. He went to Cairo, after all, and he could not have laid down a clearer gauntlet with respect to democracy, the aspirations of people in the region. That is something that a Republican president didn't do for eight years.

I think the president had an impact on the election in Lebanon, and I don't think there's any question but that part of what is happening in Iran today is a consequence of the tension in Iran itself over the direction it ought to take, whether or not they shouldn't engage with the world, be going on a different track with a nuclear program, deal with the problems internally of their own economy, of people's aspirations. This is all bubbling to the surface, I think, partly because the ayatollah and Ahmadinejad don't have a United States just to point at and point a finger at and make the enemy.

So I think you've got to really step back and look at the reality of what is happening in Iran today and in other parts of the world. I think the president is being very careful. He has condemned the violence. He has been clear about the democracy movement. He's been clear also about not wanting the United States to be a foil, and that's exactly what the president ought to be fighting for.

MS. MITCHELL: The senator has said -- the senator -- the president has said that this is self-generated, that this is an Iranian issue. Yet, at the same time, the White House would like people to think that the Cairo speech had some impact on it. Which is it? Is the United States -- is this new president inspiring protests and inspiring what happened in Lebanon and the freedom movement in Iran? Or is it really self-generated?

SEN. KERRY: I think it's self-generated, but I think that the president's speech in Cairo, as well as the -- the -- the offer for a different future is part of what gives energy to that self-generation. I mean, the people who self-generate are doing so because they have a chance to believe in something different.

And wherever it's offered from, not just the president of the United States, but in many other places, not the least of which in Tehran itself and the universities, among people who have access to the Internet, who Twitter and so forth and so on, though that shouldn't be overblown. All of these things, I think, are contributing to that self- generation. Make no mistake. This is coming from an anger of the Iranians themselves about their perception that their vote, their feelings about their democracy have been stolen from them. And that's really where it's been energized. But I --

MS. MITCHELL: We're hearing from -- what we're hearing from the administration privately is that there isn't going to be any engagement right now. The State Department made that very clear yesterday, that the whole policy of engagement with Iran has to be put on hold while this is going on. It's really impossible for the president to sit down and negotiate on anything right now with the Ahmadinejad administration. Isn't that correct?

SEN. KERRY: Absolutely correct. It would be unseemly let alone impossible. And right now, it's just not possible. There is some evidence that the supreme ayatollah is himself choosing a different kind of path where he doesn't really want to engage and where it serves them better in terms of maintaining the revolution and therefore maintaining power to keep the United States at bay, keep it as an enemy, and go down a different road. This is the fight, though, that is going to take place in Iran itself over the course of these next weeks and months. And this is -- you know, whatever is happening in Iran and the election itself doesn't end in these next days if they succeed in suppressing it. And none of us know what the outcome will be.

But this is going to go on. What has happened is already transformative for the future of politics of Iran, and we just -- none of us really know exactly where it's going to go. But it would be impossible to sit down at this particular moment.

MS. MITCHELL: Do you have any concerns about how surprised we were by the way things evolved in Iran? There really is not a whole lot of intelligence coming out of there.

SEN. KERRY: Well, of course not, Andrea, because we rely, really, on, you know, people who have ties to Iran, experts here in this country, scholars, others. We get it secondhand. We have no diplomatic presence of our own in Iran, regrettably. And that's another lost opportunity.

Many people thought that, in the waning days of the Bush administration, an interest section was going to be opened. There was a lot of talk about it, and then the administration pulled back and didn't do that. We'd be a lot better off today if we had that interest section in Iran.

MS. MITCHELL: I wanted to ask you about the women of Iran. It's so remarkable to see the images of the women leading the way. Roger Cohen, memorably in The New York Times, wrote first-person accounts of what the women were like on the streets. Now we have this young woman, Neda, who was not a demonstrator, a victim, but has been, in her martyrdom, become a symbol of the women's movement. To what do you attribute the strength and the courage of the women who are so discriminated against in Iran?

SEN. KERRY: Well, exactly that. They've had years and years of living a life that is discriminatory. And, you know, the biases against them, I think they have for years been chafing against it. And there are many, many women who have been to university, who are in university today, who want a different future. They've lived the lives of half an inheritance, of half a treatment, of discrimination.

And, you know, the Iranian people are a very, very intelligent, very accomplished people. And the way they have been treated recently, since 1979, runs counter to the aspirations that have come with the achievements of their -- of their history.

I think the real story of this -- of this post-election period is the story of women and what they are defining for Iran and for its future. And the courage and the example that they've set is really quite extraordinary.

MS. MITCHELL: Just quickly, I wanted to ask you about North Korea, North Korea making more threats today. We don't, under the new U.N. sanctions, have the right or ability to board their ships. We're tracking a ship. We're hearing now that perhaps it won't be a long- range missile; if there is a missile fired next week, it would be a medium-range missile and not much of threat. But what options do we really have? Should we really crack down financially now under these new U.N. sanctions and try to squeeze this regime?

SEN. KERRY: Well, yes, we ought to get tougher in terms of the sanctions. But, frankly, I hope they fire all their missiles into the sea. I think it's a fairly stupid policy, provocative, obviously, for exactly that purpose. But the truth is that, you know, maybe they're upset that the attention turned away from them and to Iran in the last few days.

I think the greatest threat is to China, South Korea and Japan. And while we are somewhat threatened because of the proliferation challenges, they have a far more immediate threat. And my hope is that China particularly is going to join into an effort to put in place a series of ratcheted-up sanctions that begin to squeeze the North a little harder than they have been and to send a much tougher message. I think they are the principal player in this. They have the greatest leverage, the greatest ability to affect the outcome.

MS. MITCHELL: And just quickly, let me just impose on you. The Senate Finance Committee on which you serve -- the Finance and Banking Committees at all disturbed that Citi is about to award, or is planning to award big pay raises, perhaps to get around the bonus stigma? They're still under -- you know, they took TARP money. Should they be awarding big pay raises, or is that, as they say, what they need to do in order to compete?

SEN. KERRY: I think there is a lot of concern here, still, about the attitude of some in the financial marketplace. There's a lot of concern here that, you know, because of the press of business, and we've been so amazingly, intensely involved in the budget, in the earlier stimulus package, in the early TARP package, et cetera, that we have not been able, yet to get to the full measure of reform that needs to be put in place.

Our hope is that -- you know, that better judgment will prevail and in the end, that people will -- look, we understand that, in the normal course of business, people have to be paid appropriately. There is competition in the marketplace. You have to attract good people.

All of those things are true, but you also need to do these things within the limits of what people perceive of what the marketplace will bear, in terms of the sense of appropriateness and decency given the challenges that our economy faces. And we hope that people will respond appropriately.

MS. MITCHELL: All right. It's always good see you.

SEN. KERRY: Thank you. Thanks a lot.

MS. MITCHELL: Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, thank you very much.

SEN. KERRY: Thank you. Good to be with you.


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