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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript


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BLITZER: He probably has the keenest insight into China. We are talking about Jon Huntsman.

The former Utah governor is joining us now from Manchester, New Hampshire. He is former U.S. ambassador to China, which closely monitors what's going on in North Korea.

Governor, we'll talk about the primary in New Hampshire coming up. But if you were president of the United States right now, and you'd like to be president of the United States, Kim Jong Il dies, would you formally express condolences to the people of North Korea?

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I would, to the people of North Korea, because the people of North Korea are not responsible for the suffering by their dictator leaders. It's been an awful regime.

Now two generations worth and they are getting ready to move into the third. You've got 25 million people over there, Wolf. You have seen it firsthand. Eight million of them suffer and starve during the very cold winter months.

They are punished unnecessarily. It is a brutal dictatorship and it ought to change. There may be an opening here. It's hard to know, but my hunch is that Kim Jong-un being as inexperienced and young as he is, is going to try do everything he can do win over the party (inaudible) and to win over members of the Central Military Commission, which he will have to do now to solidify power.

That means he is going to shoot a short range ballistic missile into the Yellow Sea. It means he will engage into saber rattling and do all of the crazy antics that North Korea has become famous for.

And it's going to create a very uncertain environment through not only the entire peninsula, but throughout Northeast Asia, which by the way, is one of our largest trading regions. There is instability in North Korea.

It sometimes impedes free flow of commerce and trade and investment, which means it may hinder some of our exports from the United States going into region whether it's Japan, Korea, China, Russia or Taiwan.

So the implications are quite profound and we should be doing everything we can to promote stability. BLITZER: What about this fear and some analysts have expressed it to me over the past 24 hours that the whole place could unravel in coming weeks, months.

And that nuclear arsenal, all those are artillery weapons along the DMZ and who knows what could happen on the Korean Peninsula. How worried should we be about that scenario?

HUNTSMAN: This is an uncertain period. You got to remember that Kim Jong-un has been part of a transition now for over a year. So he has been winning over the party (inaudible) for a long time. He's increasingly received the titles of power.

They named him chairman of the Funeral Committee, which would suggest to everybody that he is a top dog in the country. But now he is standing alone. And now the generals are going to look at him differently and the party leaders are going to look at him differently.

He is going to have to win them over all again. And that means there should be no blue sky between the United States and South Korea. There should be no blue sky between the United States and Japan.

And we should be in consultations with China, and we should be in consultations with the Russians as well. In collecting as much information as we can about how things are playing out internally in this very murky environment.

The Chinese have an interest and it is the same as ours. We want stability in the region because we are trading and we are trying to prosper from economic opportunities there. The Chinese are in a very precarious position.

Because any disruption in North Korea will immediately cause a spill-over, perhaps millions of refugees, across the Yellow River and beyond, into the region which is, you know, a very prosperous economic region for the Chinese and that would be a disastrous outcome. So the Chinese are very concerned about this now.

BLITZER: They have a huge interest obviously as well. Ron Paul, your Republican presidential rival, he says get all U.S. troops out of Korea, all 28,000 or so. He has said this forever. Get them out of Korea, Japan, Germany, not only Iraq and Afghanistan. Would it be wise to remove the 28,000 forces from South Korea?

HUNTSMAN: No, they should stay there because we have an immediate danger and threat coming out of North Korea. It is a nuclear country. We don't understand them. People don't know where the nukes are.

People don't really understand the command and control governance system of those weapons. Until there is stability, which is to say, until we reach the time where there is a nuclear free Korean Peninsula, which should be our goal.

I think they play a very important role because we have a couple of very important allies right there in the neighborhood in South Korea and Japan.

Not to mention the fact, Wolf, that northeast Asia is soon to be home to about 20 percent of world's GDP. That means a huge amount of economic opportunity for the United States.

Our exports go there. Those exports create jobs right here on home front. So we have some significant interest in that neighborhood.

BLITZER: Let me go to a different part of the world, the Middle East right now, Egypt. I don't know if you saw this video, but it is so troubling to me and so many of our viewers around the world. A young woman beaten, look at this picture.

They ripped off her clothes. These Egyptian police and they literally started stomping on her stomach and dragged her away. This picture has become an iconic picture. If you were president right few, what would do you about what is happening on streets of Cairo because God knows it is pretty ugly.

HUNTSMAN: We have values in this country and we should be standing tall for the values that we project to the rest of the world among them, liberty, democracy and human rights and fair treatment of people.

And we should be talking about that. The president should be using the bully pulpit with respect to that, but the winds of change are going to continue to blow in the Middle East and we should be careful about who we line up with at this point.

Because it could take years before we know what the power structure of these countries and flux will actually be whether that's Tunisia, whether it's Libya or whether it's Egypt. In the meantime, we've got Israel.

And it's been a long time since we reminded the world what it means to be a real friend and ally with the United States. What the U.S. is real relationship is all about. That to me is concern number one.

Because the region needs know that we are tight with Israel, that we have security and economic, values driven relationship with Israel because I believe when that is strong, it has the ability to impact the broader region as well.

BLITZER: Do you have confidence that President Obama is doing the right thing? Knows what he is doing as far as the Korean Peninsula is concerned? The Middle East is concerned? What is your state of confidence in the president's national security right now?

HUNTSMAN: Well, he is surrounded by people who presumably know the issues well. There is no reason the president would know it well. He hasn't spent any time there. I have lived in Asia four times. I know the region exceptionally well.

It's always better, Wolf, when have you a president who has a very well defined and engrained world view based upon real experience, based upon time on the ground, based upon being a practitioner in the area of foreign policy.

That is something I bring to this race that is very unique. No other Republican in the race has any kind of foreign policy experience at all. Maybe legislating a few things in Washington, but that doesn't count. Being a practitioner of foreign policy out in the field is increasingly important for the United States.

BLITZER: Your numbers are going up in New Hampshire. You are spending almost all of your time in New Hampshire. Moderate Republicans and independents who can vote in New Hampshire, why should they vote for you as opposed to Mitt Romney?

HUNTSMAN: I'm a consistent conservative, Wolf. I'm a consistent conservative who has not waivered, not flip-flopped, not waffled. They might not agree with everything that I have done, but I have a solid core.

And I'm the only one on the race who is going to be able to tackle our two deficits that we suffer from now as a people. One is an economic deficit. We all know that we can launch an industrial revolution in this country based upon China going down and allowing us to pick up that investment.

But the second deficit is just as corrosive, it isn't an economic deficit. It's called a trust deficit. We need a president who's going to be able to say, Congress, you need term limits, who's going to be able to Congress, we're going to close the revolving door that allows members of Congress to float right on out to become lobbyists.

And trade in on their relationships for millions of dollars leading to greater cynicism among the American people. We need a president willing to go to Wall Street and say we have banks that are too big to fail.

We have to do something about that. It isn't fair that we are setting ourselves up as a country and as a people for more bailouts in the future. We've done that. We have been there. We're not doing it any more.

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, thanks very much for coming in. Good luck.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Wolf. I appreciate it.


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