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Guests: Nat'l Sec. Advisor Jones, Sen. McCain

Guests: Nat'l Sec. Advisor Jones, Sen. McCain

By This Week - May 10, 2009

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello again, and happy Mother's Day to all of the moms watching. We're going to begin with a Sunday first.

General James Jones, welcome to THIS WEEK, your first appearance as national security adviser.

JONES: Exactly. Thank you.

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STEPHANOPOULOS: You all had a busy week this week. The heads of Afghanistan and Pakistan came here to the United States to meet with the president -- to meet with the president's entire team.

And you seemed to be on the same page, yet after the meetings, the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, said that all air strikes -- all American air strikes in Afghanistan must end. Will the U.S. comply with that demand?

JONES: Well, I think that we're going to take a look at trying to make sure that we correct those things we can correct, but certainly to tie the hands of our commanders and say we're not going to conduct air strikes, it would be imprudent.

That's part of the combined arms package and so we probably would not do that. But we are going to take very seriously the -- and redouble our efforts to make sure that innocent civilians are not killed.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does President Karzai understand that you're not going to comply with that demand? And what do you expect his reaction to be?

JONES: Well, I think he understands that we have to have the full complement of our offensive military power when we need it. We have to -- we can't fight with one hand tied behind tied behind our back.

But on the other hand, we have to be careful to make sure that we don't unnecessarily wound or kill innocent civilians. But the other side of the coin is that it -- what makes it difficult is the Taliban, of course, not playing by the same rules.

They're using civilians as shields. So we have to take a look at this, make sure that our commanders understand the -- you know, the subtleties of the situation, the complexity of it, and do the right thing.

So it's a difficult problem, but it's not unsolvable.

STEPHANOPOULOS: President Karzai also said while he was here that he believes Osama bin Laden is alive. Yet President Zardari of Pakistan says he thinks bin Laden is dead.

What is the best U.S. intelligence right now?

JONES: I think the best intelligence is that we gauge our reaction based on what intelligence we have. And it is inconclusive. Secondly, we wait and see how long it has been before we've seen him actually make a statement, release a video, and make our judgments on that.

The truth is, I don't think anybody knows for sure.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, let me ask you about that, because we saw some audio tapes from Osama bin Laden in both January and March of this year, and it's my understanding that U.S. intelligence thought that those were authentic.

JONES: Mm-hmm.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what has changed since then to make the intelligence inconclusive?

JONES: Well, as of March, they thought it was authentic, but we don't have any firm information that says that that has changed one way or the other. So I think we'll just continue to press on and we'll see what happens there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What does your gut tell you?

JONES: I -- my gut -- I would like to know conclusively if that's not the case. And I think we have that evidence.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does it matter any more if he's dead or alive?

JONES: I think it matters symbolically to the movement, for sure. But it's clear that that movement has been resilient in replacing their leaders as quickly as we are able to capture or eliminate them.

But I think symbolically it would be a very big thing if he weren't.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you about Vice President Cheney, he has been something of a media tour lately. And the big point he is making is that the Obama administration actions, repealing some of the Bush administration counterterrorism policies, announcing you're going to close Guantanamo, ending enhanced interrogation techniques are all putting America at risk of another attack.

Now that is a serious charge coming from a former vice president. What's your response?

JONES: Well, I would take issue with some of those allegations. And I think, frankly, in the Bush administration there wasn't complete agreement with the vice president on that score.

The truth of the matter is that the Obama administration inherited a situation at Guantanamo that was intolerable. There are only two people had been - who had entered a plea, they both had been released with time served. Hundreds of people went through Guantanamo and were released. Many of those are back on the battlefield right now waging war against us again.

The Obama administration has put a stop to that temporarily as you know. We do have some decision points coming up. The president is absolutely committed to making sure that we recognize the rule of law principle, we don't make America less safe and that we continue to try to find the right balance in what could be a multi-layer approach.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get to more on Guantanamo in a second but let me just press this one more time. The vice president, former vice president says the Obama administration is putting America at risk of another attack.

JONES: Oh, I don't believe that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's clear enough. Let me ask you more about Guantanamo, then. Because the Congress has sent several more strong messages to the administration about Guantanamo this week. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, David Obey, did not include the money for closing Guantanamo in his war spending bill and Republican leaders in the Congress have mounted a campaign against bringing any of the detainees from Guantanamo into the United States. Here's Senator Kit Bond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRISTOPHER S. BOND, R-MO.: Whether these terrorists are coming to prison in Kansas or a halfway house in Missouri or any other state, I can tell you this. Americans don't want these terrorists in their neighborhoods.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: In fact, the Republican leadership has introduced legislation called the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act which would require approval from both the governor and the state legislature of a state before any detainees can be brought in. What does the administration think of that legislation?

JONES: Well, the first think I would say about that is there has been no decision taken. This is an issue that we are - the president is studying but absent the final determination this is all speculation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you have determined - you don't know exactly how but because we're asking other countries to take detainees, that we're probably going to have to take some as well. Secretary Gates said that to the Congress this week.

JONES: We're going to have to figure that out and those discussions are currently under way so it would be premature to comment on what the president might or might not do at this particular point.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But how about the legislation? They are saying before anyone comes back, a governor and a state legislature must approve. Do you have any problems with that?

JONES: Well, we'll take that under advisement. These are near term subject that are currently being discussed and that is going to have to be one of the decision points and one of the discussions that we'll have on this issue but it hasn't been determined yet.

STEPHANOPOULOS: This - I'm just a little confused on that because Secretary Gates did say a couple of things when he testified this week. He did say that some would have to be brought into the United States. He said there's this problem of 50 to 100 detainees who can't be tried and can't be released and we're going to have to find a way. In fact, the Pentagon is looking into building a prison.

You're saying now you've already made the threshold decision that some detainees are going to have to come to the United States.

JONES: Well, if you're going to ask other to take some, you're going to have to figure out how you're going to have to do that and that's where we are right now. No decision has been taken as to exactly how to do that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Because this has become so thorny - the president wants to close Guantanamo by the January deadline. Are you open to extending that deadline? This has turned out to be quite a difficult decision to implement.

JONES: Well, the - again, the very discussions on these issues and how to do this are currently on the table at the White House. We are coming up on the 20 May deadline for a decision so there will be some announcements made in the near future but no decision has been taken yet.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the president has not ruled out bringing back military commissions try them, either, correct?

JONES: I think the - all options are on the table. The president has said that at some point there may be a multi-layered approach that has to be developed in order to solve this problem but it's clear that we want to maintain our values, we want to protect the judicial process and this president is not going to do anything that's going to make American safe - less safe by bringing people into the country that is going to put ourselves at risk. That is simply not going to happen.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring up the issue of gays in the military. The president has said he wants to reform that policy, allow gays to serve openly in the military and actually a remarkable letter from the president was released this week to Lieutenant Sandy Tsao, who was a serviceperson who was discharged from the military because she's a lesbian and there is this handwritten note I want to show our viewers right now from the president to Sandy in which he says, "Thanks for your wonderful and thoughtful letter.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It is because of outstanding Americans like you that I committed to changing our current policy. Although it will take some time to complete, partly because it needs congressional action, I intend to fulfill my commitment, Barack Obama ."

Now, this is in the Congress right now. Will take legislation to completely overturn but some of the president's supporters like Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey say that what the president can do right now is issue an executive order to review the policy and order the military to stop investigation and prosecutions while that review is going on, while the Congress is considering this legislation. Will the president issue such an order?

JONES: Well, that is, of course, up to the president. And this issue is something that has been brought up during the campaign. We have had preliminary discussions with the leadership of the Pentagon, Secretary Gates, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, this is, as you know, George, better than most, this is an issue that is not going to be a light switch but more of a rheostat in terms of discussing it and building - having the discussions that have to be had with the military in order to make sure the good order and discipline of the military ...

STEPHANOPOULOS: And I understand that and this is a complicated issue.

JONES: So it's a complicated issue. It will be teed up (ph) appropriately and it will be discussed in the way the president does things, which is be very deliberative, very thoughtful, seeking out all sides on the issue and trying to ...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if the president is against the policy, why not suspend prosecutions and investigations while that review continues?

JONES: Well, maybe that's an option that eventually we'll get to but we're not there now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of your former colleagues in the military, a thousand flag and general officers including 50 four stars have written a letter to the president opposing any change in the policy, saying that their past experience as military leaders make them concerned about it. They think it's going to have effect on morale, discipline, unit cohesion, what do you say to your former colleagues?

JONES: Well, I think - as I said, this is illustrated by the fact that this is a very sensitive issue and it has to be discussed over time and it has - all sides have to be heard. But I think most of us who have served in the military believe that the standards of conduct is what determines the good order and discipline. So as long as conduct by all members of the military is not detrimental to the good order and discipline, then you have cohesion in the ranks.

But there is ...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that gets to the heart of the problem. I mean, if you're saying any kind of homosexual act is conduct ...

JONES: I'm saying that it applies - it has to be a uniform policy for all members of the military in order to function as a military has to function. We will have long discussions about this. It will be thoughtful. It will be deliberative. The president I know will reach out to fully understand both sides or all sides of the issue before he makes a decision.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it will be overturned.

JONES: I don't know. We'll have to - the president has said that he is in favor of that. We'll just wait - we'll have to wait and see - as a result of the deliberations and as a result of the - in the months and weeks ahead. We have a lot on our plate right now. It has to be teed up at the right time so - to do this the right way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you one final question. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel is coming to the United States next week. He will be here next Monday and the Israeli newspaper "Haaretz" reported on a telegram, reporting on a meeting between you and a European foreign minister.

Let me show you what that said. It said that, "according to this telegram you told the foreign minister, ‘The new administration will convince Israel to compromise on the Palestinian question. We will not push Israel under the wheels of a bus put we will be more forceful toward Israel than we have been under Bush.' Jones is quoted in the telegram as saying that the U.S., E.U. and moderate Arab states must redefine a satisfactory end game solution."

Does that mean you're going to press Prime Minister Netanyahu to full accept a two-state solution?

JONES: I think it means that this administration is going to engage fully. That is to say, using all aspects of the interagency process to make sure that the security of Israel is not compromised, that the issue of Palestinian sovereignty also has its place at the table. There are many expectations around the world, in the Arab World and in the European community that we are at a moment where we can make progress with regard to the Middle East. It's going to take American leadership and American involvement and I think the signal is going to be that all levels of our government we're going to do everything we can to encourage this longstanding problem to gradually come to - show clear progress that we're intent on ...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is there any way to make progress if Israel doesn't say they're clearly for a two state solution.

JONES: I think obviously Israel has said it's for a two state solution, at least...

STEPHANOPOULOS: The prime minister hasn't said that yet.

JONES: That was the position of the former government. And we understand Israel's preoccupation with Iran as an existential threat. We agree with that.

And by the same token, there are a lot of things that you can do to diminish that existential threat by working hard towards achieving a two-state solution. This is a very strategic issue. It's extremely important. And we're looking forward to having a good, constructive dialogue with our Israeli friends when they visit Washington in the next seven or eight days.

STEPHANOPOULOS: General Jones, thank you very much for your time this morning.

JONES: It's my pleasure to be with you, thanks.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And let me bring in Senator John McCain .

Welcome again.

MCCAIN: Thank you, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You just heard General Jones, let's pick up right there. Does President Obama have to say quite clearly to Prime Minister Netanyahu, we've got to begin with the two-state solution?

MCCAIN: Well, I think that it has been previous policy in previous Israeli governments. We respect the results of a democratic process. And the fact is that I think that we have to push the entire peace process forward.

But I'm not sure the timing is right, right now, with a new government in Israel for us to dictate to them their policy. But I applaud the Obama administration's renewed efforts to try and move this process forward.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me also ask you about Guantanamo. You saw that the general and I talked about that. And you and President Obama share the same goal where you both say that Guantanamo should be closed. You and the president share the same goal on the enhanced interrogation techniques.

Yet, especially on Guantanamo right now, it appears that there has been rising opposition to the Congress -- to this, what appears to be a necessity, that some of these detainees are going to have to come to the United States.

So how do you work with President Obama to meet the goal that you both have set? MCCAIN: Well, I don't know how you walk it back to the initial announcement. To announce you're going to close Guantanamo within a year, and not have a comprehensive package for how you address these issues that understandably have arisen.

I mean, what do you do -- what kind of process do you put the people through that remain? How do you ensure that they don't return to the battlefield, as about 10 percent of them have, including some very high-ranking people?

What should have taken place, in my view, was the announcement of the closing and an announcement of exactly how we're going to put these people on trial. The Military Commissions Act that Senator Graham and I originally proposed is clearly what they are returning to.

How you -- where you're going to put the people that are enemy combatants that you don't have enough information to convict them, but it's clear that they can't come back...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: That key group, the 5,200, are probably going to have to come and be detained here in the United States, correct?

MCCAIN: I don't know what they're going to do. Because...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Would you be opposed to that?

MCCAIN: I would certainly be -- would -- well, I don't know if I would be "opposed" to it, because I would probably want to judge them on a case-by-case basis. I understand the local objection. And senators and congressmen objection to saying, here are some people that we're just going to dump onto the community.

But we could have avoided all of this if there had been an announcement of the closure of Guantanamo and the process for resolving the cases of people who are detained there, whether you release them, whether you ask other countries to take them, what the process for trial is, what the process of those that you just discussed who are "enemy combatants" but you can't convict.

That is a terrible mistake. Announce the closure, but don't address the underlying problems that a lot of us have been wrestling with for years.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So -- but how do you fix it now?

MCCAIN: I would say, I'm not going to close Guantanamo until I have a comprehensive approach to every aspect of this problem of the detainees. I have put them on trial, who tries them, what are the rules of evidence? What is the case of interrogation techniques that were used? At which time that that evidence would be admissible.

There's a whole series of subsequent issues.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're no longer for closing -- you're no longer for closing.

MCCAIN: I'm for closing Guantanamo, and I said I was for closing it. But I'm for a comprehensive solution of all of the issues surrounding Guantanamo, which now obviously are facing serious roadblocks in Congress, because the announcement was made without addressing the underlying problems associated.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So relax the deadline, no January deadline?

MCCAIN: I would relax -- I said I wanted to close Guantanamo, but I also said I wanted to address all of the issues. So I never set a deadline. But so, no, I wouldn't set a specific date until I had resolved all of the issues surrounding the detainee question, including a military commission that would be appointed and authorized to address some of these cases.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about this issue of "don't ask, don't tell"?

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's now been bedeviling the military for 15, 16 years right now. Growing support to reform the policy. More than 100 members of Congress say it should be reformed. Former chairman of the joint chiefs, General Shalikashvili, have said it should be reformed. Where are you on that today and how would you reform the policy if at all?

MCCAIN: Again, I've said for months, I will be glad to have a thorough review of the policy by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and their recommendations. You might recall it was General Powell who weighed in back early on in the Clinton administration that said we need to have this policy and it's been successful. We now have the best- trained, best-equipped, most professional military in the history of this country in my view.

So I would rely on a study by the Joint Chiefs of Staff as how the impact of changing this policy would have on our ability to carry out our military missions and then I would make judgments from there.

But in all due respect, right now the military is functioning extremely well in very difficult conditions. We have to have an assessment on recruitment, on retention and all the other aspects of the impact on our military if we change the policy.

In my view, and I know that a lot of people don't agree with that, the policy has been working and I think it's been working well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But let me ask you about your party. Not working ...

MCCAIN: Not working.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not working as well. You've got this "Time Magazine" cover this week saying, "Endangered Species, the Republicans". Is your party an endangered species?

MCCAIN: I probably would not go that length. We all work in cycles for many years. We have seen parties down and parties up. That's a great thing about American politics. But having said that, do we have to do a better job of getting our message out? Do we have to do a better job recruiting candidates? Do we have to do a better job of outreach? Outreach to many Americans that don't feel that they can be part of our party? Absolutely. Absolutely.

And this conversation that Eric Cantor , which some have criticized and others have begun, I think it's a great thing. Why not have a conversation with the American people. Find out what they want.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Vice President Cheney has been part of that conversation as well and he's been saying that the party should not moderate. Here's what he said this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I think it would be a mistake for us to moderate. The idea that we ought to moderate basically means we ought to fundamentally change our philosophy. And I for one am not prepared to do that and I think most of us aren't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I think we're kind of in a word game here. I don't want to moderate, either. I think our policies, the principles of our party are as viable today as they have in the past. In all due respect, the previous administration, by letting spending get completely out of control, by betraying some of those principles of our party, cost us a couple of elections.

And maybe I didn't do a good enough job communicating with the American people. But we have to improve our outreach and our communication and that doesn't mean betrayal of principles. I think maybe it means that adjusting to the 21st century in communications, in values, in goals, in all the things the American people want.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But some of your closest associates say it's more than a communications problem.

MCCAIN: It is.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your former campaign manager Steve Schmidt came out and said unless the party has a more live and let live philosophy on issues like gay rights and gay marriage, your own daughter has taken the same position, you're not going to be able to attract especially the young generation.

MCCAIN: I think we have to be an inclusive party. That does not mean betrayal of fundamental principles. One of the fundamental principles of the Republican Party is to as much as possible, to let people lead their own lives without government interference in their lives. To go as far as their hopes and dreams and aspirations will take them.

We have to understand that there may be a candidate that can win in one part of our country like the South, may not be able to get elected in Pennsylvania. And local needs and local issues are important but fundamental principles can be articulated. I believe America is a right of center nation. I believe the Republican party is a right of center party. We have to get in synch with the American people ...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that mean more toleration of those who believe that women should have the right to an abortion? Of those who believe that gays and lesbians should have full civil rights? MCCAIN: It means that we can have people in our party who do not have the same views on specific issues as long as we share common principles.

Now, I don't agree with my daughter on specific issues. I still love my daughter and I respect her views and I think there is a place for her in the Republican Party. I do. I think we've got to broaden our - enlarge our tent and at the same time stick to our fundamental principles which are right of center. And I don't - it's not that hard, I don't think, except that we've got to do a better of job of saying, for example, Hispanic voters in my state and in the Southwest are pro-life, small business, low taxes, patriotic, et cetera.

We should be able to get a lot more Hispanic participation in the Republican Party.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, Senator, thank you very much. We'll see if it happens in the future.

You mentioned your daughter. Let me also wish a happy Mother's Day to your mom, Roberta, 97, still going strong. I read she's going back to Europe again in the fall?

MCCAIN: Thanks. She is. And she is incredibly active. It's great to be with you, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good to see you, Senator.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

 

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