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Senators Reed & McCain and Rep. King on "The Situation Room"

Senators Reed & McCain and Rep. King on "The Situation Room"

By The Situation Room - May 1, 2012

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of Afghanistan. President Obama and President Hamid Karzai, they have just signed a long-term strategic cooperation agreement at the presidential palace. We'll eventually get videotape of that signing ceremony and hear what the president had to say.

We do know that the president said based on a report we got from producers on the scene, he says the president -- the president says, "We'll achieve our goal of destroying al Qaeda. We have the capacity to wind down this war and have peace."

Let's talk about what's going on with New York Republican Congressman Peter King. He's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

First of all, your reaction, Congressman King, to President Obama's surprise visit to Afghanistan for this signing ceremony today?

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, as president and commander-in-chief, I applaud him being in Afghanistan. I think it's important for the troops to see the president and certainly after all of these years of fighting where the troops have done such heroic work and did such an outstanding job. I think it's important for the president to be there and signing the agreement with President Karzai. I mean, I reserve judgment on the agreement so we get a chance to see it.

But he's our commander-in-chief, he's representing the country. I wish him well. I think it is always very good when the president of the United States can visit a war zone, especially on such a key moment as this.

BLITZER: So, you're not among the Republicans saying he's spiking the football and doing a victory lap on this the first anniversary of bin Laden's death?

KING: I'm reluctant to say anything critical of the president when he's out of the United States. As far as the trip to Afghanistan, that's certainly within his purview as commander-in- chief. I do believe in the last several days, though, where he has I think -- first of all, he did a great job in ordering the killing of bin Laden. I know people in the Situation Room, I know the tough decision he had to make, I give him full credit for that.

I don't think it was right to put out campaign commercials being critical of Governor Romney. That was politicizing an historic event. I can't picture General Eisenhower doing that. I can't picture Harry Truman doing it.

To me, it was a wrong thing to do. And also if we can get into that, you just had Jose Rodriguez on. You can say that he was able to have bin Laden killed because of intelligence obtained in the previous administration.

All of that, though, to me should not be the topic. He's entitled to mention the killing of bin Laden, but to dwell on it the way he's done I think is a mistake.

But having said that, his visit to Afghanistan is perfectly right. I applaud him for doing it.

BLITZER: Who's right and based on everything you know, and you may not have access to all of the intelligence information. But I know you have access to a lot. Jose Rodriguez, the former has of CIA's clandestine services, who says the enhanced interrogation provided the initial tip that eventually resulted in bin Laden's death or Carl Levin and Dianne Feinstein who say he is flat-out wrong?

KING: From al that I know, I agree with Jose Rodriguez. I can tell you the day that bin Laden was killed, I had a former CIA employee call me that day and detailed to me what he believes the information from the courier came from those interrogations. That was long before this debate even began. It was actually the day that bin Laden was killed.

And from talking to people like General Hayden and others, I believe that the enhanced interrogations were extremely important and extremely vital, and I think the president was wrong during the campaign referring to that is torture. I believe it was a necessary evil that had to be done at the time.

But again, bottom line is that bin Laden is dead. I think it was the combined efforts of the Bush and Obama administrations, which is the way foreign policy should be run, especially on key issues like this. And the fact that the president's campaign has tried to politicize it in the last several day, I just think it's wrong.

BLITZER: As chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, do you believe for all practical purposes al Qaeda's operation, global operations for all practical purposes are effectively dead?

KING: No, I don't. I think the al Qaeda central has been dramatically weakened. But now we have offshoots in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in the Maghreb, al Qaeda in Iraq, we have to be very concerned, the Boko Haram, also al Shabaab.

So, in many ways, even though I doubt al Qaeda could ever carry out another 9/11-type attack, they can still in some ways be more lethal because they're under the radar screen. They've metastasized. They've morphed. And we also have to be very concerned about the homegrown terrorists in our own country that are being recruited over the Internet.

So as we saw with the attack on Times Square, with the attempted attack on Times Square, the attempted attack on the New York City subway system, that al Qaeda or its offshoots are still capable of carrying out an attack. We've scored tremendous success over the last 10 years. Al Qaeda is also adopting. I think we're ahead of them. We have to stay ahead of them. And we can't let our guard down.

BLITZER: We're getting new pictures. Stand by for a second. I want to show viewers these pictures.

Take a look at this. This is the president of the United States and the president of Afghanistan shortly after they signed their strategic cooperation agreement at the presidential palace in Afghanistan. You see it right there. And here are the two leaders walking out of the presidential palace, the U.S. flag and the Afghan flag.

Here's a blunt question for you, Congressman King -- can the U.S. really trust Hamid Karzai to deliver? Because he's been so erratic especially in recent years.

KING: He certainly is an inconsistent ally. I'm not here to argue for Karzai, but I do believe we need to use whatever leverage we have with Karzai and whatever influence we have with the Afghan government no matter who is there.

It's not because he's a friend of ours and not because we trust him. We have to show that it's in his interest and ours. It's in Afghanistan's interest and ours to make this work. This is not based on love. It's not based on friendship. It's based on the harsh reality of life.

The fact that neither Karzai nor the U.S. wants the Taliban to come back. If the Taliban comes back then we have to worry about al Qaeda coming back in and that will bring back the terrible days prior to September 11th.

Where all the people of Afghanistan were suffering and it was used as a base of operations to carry out attacks against the United States. To me this is strictly mutual interest, very hot/cold interest that we have and Karzai in Afghanistan have.

BLITZER: Congressman King, thanks very much for joining us on this important day. Congressman Peter King of New York is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

The president, by the way, at that signing ceremony with Hamid Karzai said there will be difficult days ahead. Afghan people will take control of their future. I am confident Afghan people will understand that the United States will stand by them.

The breaking news coverage, the president of the United States in Afghanistan getting ready to address the American people from Afghanistan. Our coverage will continue in a moment including much more on the death of Bin Laden and the race for the White House.

Mitt Romney marking the one-year anniversary himself, plus President Obama's surprise visit to Afghanistan. New pictures and new information coming in. We expect the tape of the president's signing ceremony with Hamid Karzai to arrive shortly. We'll, of course, have that for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of Afghanistan right now. The president of the United States has just signed a long-term, strategic cooperation agreement with Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan.

We are waiting for the videotape to come in. We will have it for you shortly. Meanwhile, some Republicans have accused the president of spiking the football, celebrating, when it comes to Bin Laden on this, the one-year anniversary of his death.

Now one prominent critic is speaking out about his trip as well. Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She's up on Capitol Hill.

Dana, you had a chance to speak exclusively with Senator John McCain just moments ago. What did he say?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he had been very, very critical, Wolf, of the political ad that the president's campaign put out boasting about getting Osama Bin Laden and also hitting Mitt Romney on that issue.

But on this particular trip, John McCain was anything, but critical.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: What do you think about the president's surprise, secretive trip to Afghanistan?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I think it's a good thing. I think it's always good when the president goes to where young men and women are in harm's way.

And I think that many of us who have been involved in Afghanistan are very supportive of the strategic partnership agreement, which I'm sure he'll be talking about, and we think the agreement is good. We obviously would like to know the details.

BASH: Now Senator, you have been very outspoken, very critical of what the president did recently, politically with an ad boasting about getting Osama Bin Laden and hitting Mitt Romney for it. Do you think that this trip is also part of his political campaign?

MCCAIN: No, I can't accuse the president of that. A lot of people both here and in Congress including Senator Lindsay Graham and Senator Lieberman worked on this strategic partnership agreement and it's important that we send a message to friends and enemies alike that the United States has a long-term commitment to Afghanistan.

BASH: So this is not spiking the football in the end zone, as he said.

MCCAIN: No, I don't view it as that, and I wish the president would explain more often to the American people why Afghanistan -- it's important that Afghanistan not return to a base for attacks on the United States of America.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BASH: And, Wolf, that is one of the main reasons why John McCain and probably other Republicans are not criticizing the president because of the fact that they were criticizing him for not speaking enough about Afghanistan except for the "State of Union Address."

He has not given a major address on Afghanistan since June of 2011, that's almost a year ago. And John McCain, of course, is somebody who steeped in military history and of course, generally reference for the concept of commander in chief speaking to the troops.

Another reason why he says this is a good thing and of course, he is somebody who has said that he does not believe that the president's policy of pulling the troops out by 2014 is good, which is why he says the agreement that says the U.S. commitment will be longer than that.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Dana, thanks very much. Senator McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Arms Services Committee.

Jack Reed is a key Democratic member of the Senate Arms Services Committee. He is in Afghanistan right now. He is joining us on the phone from Kabul.

Senator Reed, thanks very much for joining us. I take it you've known for a while that the president was going to be showing up for the signing ceremony with Hamid Karzai, that's why you're there right now, is that right?

SENATOR JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND (via telephone): No, Wolf. We are here to visit military personnel in Afghanistan and we found out this afternoon the president would be coming in and we were fortunate enough to be invited to the signing for the long-term relationship agreement. We are here to see the troops and talk to the commanders.

BLITZER: Is there a firm agreement as to how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014, Senator Reed?

REED: No, there's not. The military command is here, General Allen and his colleagues are going periodically report to the president about the threat, the capability of the Afghan forces and about the contribution of not just U.S. forces, but the NATO forces. And they'll advise the president on what the Afghan forces will be and that's going to be done as the situation develops over the next several years.

BLITZER: And there's no agreement on how much U.S. aid, economic and military aid will be provided to the Afghans after 2014, is that right?

REED: That will probably be discussed in more detail in Chicago because NATO as well as other non-NATO, but this strategic framework is the basis for discussion and the assistance -- in Afghanistan for the next several years in order to continue to not only confirm the terrorists and insurgency --

BLITZER: Take us inside. You were at the signing ceremony that was just completed, is that right?

REED: Yes.

BLITZER: So take us inside the presidential palace in the Afghan capital right now, first of all, security. How secure -- how dangerous is it right now for the president of the United States and some top senators and you're on a congressional delegation there?

REED: Well, the security precautions were, as you would expect, very rigorous. Just a few weeks ago there was an operation within Kabul, but this was a very carefully planned security operation.

It was quite evident by the personnel, by the cooperation between Afghan forces as well as U.S. security forces and, you know, I think this is something that the president was right to come here and is right now on his way to Bagram to thank the troops. Every day they face more dangers.

BLITZER: All right, Senator, stand by for a moment because we're just getting in the video now from the presidential palace in Afghanistan. They're going to be showing us the actual signing ceremony of the president of the United States.

This is the raw video coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. There you see Senator Carl Levin standing there together with David Plouffe, and Senator Reed. We are looking at you talking to the David Plouffe, the president's senior adviser, Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee, some Afghan officials there as well.

We are getting ready for this signing ceremony. It occurred a little while ago, but only now the videotape is being fed in and we can see some of the pictures coming in. You can see some of the dignitaries arriving right now, and taking a closer look.

There's Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan on the left. There's General Allen, the White House chief of staff, Jack Lou, you can see him over there in the glasses and the darker hair.

They're getting ready to be seated and Jack Reed to the left and Carl Levin and others and some of the Afghan officials who will witness this historic signing ceremony, and as I've been pointing out, this is basically a framework agreement for some 10 years, but a lot of the details have to be resolved. How much U.S. economic and military assistance will continue to flow to Afghanistan after 2014?

How many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014? What will be the role of those U.S. troops? Will they simply be engaged in training? A lot of these questions remain to be resolved.

Senator Reed, you're still on the phone with us, and I assume you can't see what we're showing our viewers, but these were some of the pictures of the president walking in with Hamid Karzai.

They're going to be speaking and right now they're going to be doing the signing ceremony. I take it, Senator Reed, they signed the agreement first and then they spoke. Is that what happened?

REED: No, they spoke first. President Karzai led off and then President Obama and then they signed the documents.

BLITZER: All right, let's listen to Hamid Karzai. Senator Reed, here's Hamid Karzai, the president actually -- looks like that videotape just froze. Here's Hamid Karzai, the president.

All right, he's speaking in Pashtun right now. My Pashtun is not that good. I don't think Senator Jack Reed's Pashtun is very good. John King is watching all of these unfold as well.

Senator Reed, you were there and this is videotape feeding in right now. Did he speak for long in Pashtun or did he eventually get to English?

REED: His entire speech was in his language and then the president spoke in English. There were translation services for us in the audience, headphones. Their speeches were short.

Both presidents were quite complimentary and recognized the sacrifices of the citizens of both Afghanistan and the United States in this common struggle.

And they were very short speeches and the documents aside and exchanged and signed by the other president to each other and the president was en route to visit American soldiers in Bagram Air Base.

BLITZER: Did you have a chance during the course of your visit to Afghanistan to meet with the Afghan president? Because I've got to tell you, Senator Reed, I know you quite well.

You and I spent time together in Iraq back in 2005. You're very passionate on these issues as you should be, a former U.S. Army ranger. Did he explain some of the rather bizarre anti-American statements he's made in recent months to you?

REED: We met for about an hour, President Karzai, both Senator Levin and I, we made very, very clear, you know, that we were in a common effort, that we recognized the sacrifices of the military forces and people of Afghanistan.

And that we suggested or just spoke and wanted to make sure he understood how important what he said was and how much it resonated in the United States and recognition to our sacrifices have to be made.

My listening to him this evening he was -- he did, in fact, recognize the sacrifices of the American personnel and diplomatic personnel in this effort.

And we also spoke about the issues of border security and what he could do and his country could do to help strengthen their borders and also the capacity of his government to meet out corruption and provide better services to his population.

It was a very frank and candid exchange and it's about an hour- long meeting.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment. I want to update viewers. Senator Jack Reed is in Kabul. He was at the signing ceremony between President Obama and President Hamid Karzai.

This is videotape feeding in. President Karzai speaking in Pashtun unfortunately, we don't have a translation of what he is saying. We will be hearing from President Obama. He'll speak in English so we'll hear that momentarily. John King is watching all of this unfold.

The problem with President Karzai, John, and I covered him for a long time. He has a tendency to say one thing to the visitors like Senator Jack Reed and President Obama in English stuff that the U.S. likes to hear, but when he's speaking to his own folks back in Afghanistan, it's oftentimes very, very different and occasionally very bitterly anti-American.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not only to his own people at home, but local politics he has to play and sometimes the United States understands that after the horrific killing and I understand some of that language.

But Wolf, I don't know if Senator Reed is still with us, he appeared with the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and said some things that most U.S. officials have found quite troubling.

He has been the president now for 10-1/2 years. First the interim president, the acting president and now the elected president and you go back to the Bush administration, the days after 9/11, they said some days he's on and he says the right things and he starts to do the right things and other days he's ranting anti-American and forgive me, but the corruption record speaks for itself.

The delays and the length of time, the length of money and the length of training to get the Afghan forces up to speed, speaks for itself, the lack of infrastructure, economic process speaks for itself. Not saying for a moment that these aren't extraordinarily difficult challenges for President Karzai, but there's a lot of frustration.

BLITZER: I'm sure you're frustrated, Senator Reed. Senator Reed is joining us on the phone from Kabul as we await the remarks from the president of the United States at this signing ceremony.

Give us your thoughts of what John and I just pointed out to our viewers in the United States and around world that there are often times two very different Hamid Karzais out there.

REED: Well, we may, again, in our discussion today with the president we made it very clear that his comments resonate far beyond Afghanistan and that there has to be acknowledgement of significant sacrifices that not only we have made.

But our NATO allies and scores of other countries around the world, his comments this evening were in his native language, and they were complimentary and very positive, and that's what with I think people are hearing tonight. 

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