Interview with Senators John McCain & Lindsey Graham

Interview with Senators John McCain & Lindsey Graham

By The Situation Room - February 20, 2012

BLITZER: And joining us now from Cairo, Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham.

Senators, thanks to both of you for joining us. Lots to discuss.

But I want to start with Syria first. Very much on the minds of a lot of folks. Are you both saying that the United States should now start arming the opposition to President Bashar al Assad, the rebel forces in Syria?

Senator McCain, first to you.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: What we're saying is that there should be no option left off the table. The massacre goes on. There's risk of stalemate.

Hezbollah is in Iran -- excuse me, in Syria. The Iranians are there. The Russians are supplying with arms. And the massacre goes on.

There's lots of ways of getting weapons and assistance to the resistance there besides the United States direct shipment of arms. There's a contact group that the United States is joining with in Tunisia this Friday and I believe they need medical, technical and all kinds of assistance and every option should be on the table, including the way to get weapons to them.

I would remind you that we intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo because massacres were taking place. A massacre is taking place in Syria today and with all options need to be on the table.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, General Martin Dempsey, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he raised some concerns, saying maybe this is premature right now in an interview with our own Fareed Zakaria. Among other things, General Dempsey said there's indications that al Qaeda is involved and that they're interested in supporting the opposition.

If the U.S. were to provide arms or others for that matter, friends of the U.S. provide arms, how worried would you be that they might get into the hands of al Qaeda?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, number one, I think it's in our national security interests to break Syria away from Iran. And I do believe that al Qaeda tries to fill vacuums wherever they exist.

But I don't buy the narrative that the Syrian people are risking their lives and that they're appearing on CNN every night -- your network is doing a good job -- to become a branch of al Qaeda. So, yes, I'm worried about al Qaeda trying to fill in vacuums.

I do believe as Senator McCain said, it's in our national interests to get Assad out. The Arab League has spoken boldly. The idea of trying to arm the opposition forces needs to be considered very much considered.

And at the end of the day, what happens in Syria really can change the course of the Mid East and I do hope we can break them away from Iran. But you know, General Dempsey is a fine man.

But when he said that he thought the Iranians were rational actors, I just want to go on record. I don't think it's rational for a country to try to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador in a restaurant in Washington.

I don't see what Iran is doing is being rational. I see it as being dangerous and so that's why we need to make sure Syria ends well.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, let me follow-up on Iran for a moment because it looks now like the U.S. is trying to discourage Israel from launching any sort of pre-emptive military strike to try to take out or weaken Iran's nuclear potential out there.

Comments from General Dempsey now Tom Donalin, the president's national security adviser is in Israel meeting with Israeli officials. What do you know about this? Is this smart to try to discourage Israel right now from taking military action?

MCCAIN: Look, Israel understands very well what the threats to them are, to very existential threats to the state of Israel is and that is a nuclear armed Iran.

So I think that their judgment is going to be made on their view of what the threat is. Obviously, we want to avoid, if at all possible, every means possible, that -- to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon, but as the president of the United States or Barack Obama said, Iran with a nuclear weapon is unacceptable and I'm sure the Israelis feel the same way. And after all, they're probably the first target.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, let me get to Egypt. You're in Cairo right now. Why are you upbeat that the Egyptian government will release, will allow these pro-democracy workers, including the son of the U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray Lahood, Sam Lahood, to get up and leave the country? What makes you upbeat about this?

GRAHAM: Well, I've talked to people here and we talked to the Muslim Brotherhood and this is definitely a work in progress, you know, when the Muslim Brotherhood did well in the elections and it caused concern for me.

But we had a meeting today and they said the NGO law they want to change it because when they were in the opposition standing up against Mubarak, these laws were used to oppress them. We talked with the head of the Egyptian military today.

We have a valuable relationship. The aid we provide is important. When you talk about rational, I think people are beginning to understand that the charges against these organizations are not fact-based. They are politically motivated.

John McCain is the head of IRI. Madeleine Albright is the head of the NDI. These organizes are not trying to divide up Egypt and over time, this is calming down a bit and I don't know the outcome, but I do know this.

It is in all of our interests to get this episode behind us. These people have done nothing wrong in my view. The Egyptian legal system is moving and I'm optimistic that rationality will take over and the relationship between us and Egypt is important.

I know we're broke at home. I'm willing to invest American taxpayer dollars in Egypt if it will help to stabilize this region and created a democracy in the ashes of kind of an autocratic regime because what happens in Egypt really does matter to us.

BLITZER: And Senator McCain, you know, there are some who believe that there are elements in Egypt right now who are simply itching for a crisis, a rupture, if you will in the used to be strong relationship with the United States.

In order to allow them, if you will, to serve their peace treaty with Israel, are you among who sees that conspiratorial theory underway right now by the actions, the recent actions of the Egyptians?

GRAHAM: I think that there are groups and individuals who hold every view in Egypt today, but I believe the majority of their parliament who we met with today and the majority of their military do not want to see an aggregation of the treaty with Israel and as you know, that's what triggered the aid we've been extending to Egypt ever since as a Camp David accords.

I don't think they want to see that. They're consumed with their own internal problems. Huge debts and deficits, shortage of hard currency, unemployment, I want to tell you, Wolf, they have their hands full with their domestic challenges that they have today.

BLITZER: Senators McCain and Lindsey Graham, thank you. 

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