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CNN American Morning Transcript

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SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Despite the efforts of the Bush administration, the controversy over U.S. intelligence and the war in Iraq is far from over.

Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who is running for president, has been calling for a full accounting on the intelligence issue. His offensive is sure to continue today when he gives a scheduled speech on national security.

Senator Kerry joins us this morning.

Nice to see you.

Good morning.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I'm glad to be here.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

KERRY: Good morning to you.

O'BRIEN: You have called for an investigation into what exactly President Bush and the White House knew vis-a-vis intelligence. Do you think, then, that the country was taken into war with Iraq under false pretenses?

KERRY: We don't know the answer to the question, but we need to know the answer to the question because the security of our country is at stake. Our relationships with other countries are at stake and the lives of young Americans are still at stake.

I think we need to internationalize this, bring other countries in, take the burden off our troops and get rid of the sense of American occupation.

O'BRIEN: You voted, though, to give the president authority to go to war before the State of the Union speech was given. So isn't it sort of backtracking to some degree to say that those 16 words, as the White House likes to call it, is so critical in the whole debate?

KERRY: It's not just the 16 words, it's all of our intelligence. I mean we were told they had weapons that could be deployed within 45 minutes. We were told they had unmanned vehicles that had the ability to deliver.

I mean there are a series of things here. Colin Powell came to the Foreign Relations Committee and told us, in answer to one of my questions, the only reason to go to war were weapons of mass destruction.

So I voted to give the president the power to go to the U.N. in order—and to have the threat of force in order to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. But we all had the right to have the president do that properly. We had the right to expect he would build a coalition, exert the diplomacy necessary and be effective. And I think it is proven he did not have a plan to win the peace.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit about the plan that you'll be announcing in your speech—at your speech in the Bronx today.


O'BRIEN: The plan that would call for more support for first responders, the firefights and the police, that would improve their equipment, that would improve their training. You've also said that homeland security really is way grievously truly under prepared, under funded.

If you look at the budget deficit that we have now, all these things sound they cost a lot of money.

How do you pay for that?

KERRY: You pay for it by not giving the wealthiest Americans another tax cut. I mean look at the budget deficit today, $455 billion. We've been saying to this president, Mr. President, this is the wrong plan for the economy. We're losing jobs, not creating them. We have to grow the economy. But we also have to be responsible where we put money.

Look, the first, most important thing is that our front line responders and defenders are adequately funded and we have police and firemen being laid off. We shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in New York City. It's that simple.

O'BRIEN: Your initiative is called the Father Judge Fund, 100,000 new professional firefights, 100,000 new police on the street.

Give me a price tag on that.

KERRY: Well, the police, we had 100,000 police. They're starting to cut that program right now. I fought for that program in 1994. It's made a difference in reducing crime across our country. The police are not just responders, they are preventers. If we train our police adequately and deal with terrorists properly, we may be able to prevent more terrorist acts, and that is a way of protecting America.

On the firefights, it's several billion dollars, but it's nothing compared to what we're spending every day in Iraq.

O'BRIEN: You have talked about the alerts, the national alerts that are sometimes raised and then lowered again whenever there's a sense that there's an unclear terror threat coming to the United States. Some people would say—you'd like to see it more specific, more targeted.

KERRY: Correct.

O'BRIEN: Some people in national security would say well, it doesn't work that way. We get chatter. It involves some U.S. target and we cannot possibly specifically say OK, the target is Omaha, Nebraska; only people there should raise the terror threat, everyone else doesn't have to, that it's unclear.

How would you respond to that one?

KERRY: There's a vigilance level that you need in the United States and you want to keep people vigilant. But there is a more specific level of targeting. In fact, within the intelligence community, they have a better sense of where some of those targets are than scaring an outlying community in a rural part of America. You don't need to do that. I think...

O'BRIEN: You would like more specific information?

KERRY: I think you can be more specific in certain instances. It depends on the instance. But certainly you don't need to just code up the entire United States of America and some rural and other communities, which winds up, I think, scaring an awful lot of people unnecessarily.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit about the troops overseas. The 3rd Infantry Division, as you well know, now being told they're going to stay longer in Iraq than they had originally thought. And it looks like foreign nations are saying you know what, we're not going to send troops to help out, as many people thought would happen.

What would you do in this situation? How long do you think troops should stay and how would you go about bringing in more international troops?

KERRY: We have to win the peace. That is essential. Because winning the peace is critical to winning the war on terror. But I said from days before the president even decided to go in that it was important to build a real global coalition, that you wanted to operate from a position of great strength. That means having more countries involved with us in a genuine way. By doing that, you don't have an American occupation. You take the target off of American troops. You reduce the costs to Americans. You raise the chances of success.

And what I would do is bring the United Nations, go to the United Nations—and for this administration, they're going to have to go eating crow a little bit. They're going to have to go and say we need you to help us do this. And to not do that is to act out of pride and to put American soldiers at risk because of that pride.

As a veteran of Vietnam looking at that Vietnam Wall, I see almost half that wall is filled with names that were largely there because we didn't have the willingness to try to do the things necessary to not act out of pride.

O'BRIEN: The Bush administration woefully under prepared to keep the peace?

KERRY: I think the Bush administration had no plan for really winning the peace here. They allowed the looting of a nuclear plant. They allowed the looting of Baghdad, the looting of materials that might have shown us something about weapons of mass destruction. Clearly they, you know, look at the newspaper stories today about widespread rape of women in Baghdad. I mean people are fearful.

We simply didn't have the plan put in place to adequately win the peace because the president rushed in a way that didn't build the kind of coalition necessary to make America stronger and to make our troops safer in the long run.

O'BRIEN: Senator John...

KERRY: And many of us said that before the war.

O'BRIEN: Senator John Kerry, nice to see you.

KERRY: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Thanks for joining us on AMERICAN MORNING.

KERRY: Thank you.

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

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