Interview with Senator John Kerry

Interview with Senator John Kerry

By The Situation Room - October 22, 2012

BLITZER: A former Democratic presidential nominee control has been helping President Obama with debate preparation.

Joining us now is that senator, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He's been playing Governor Romney in some of those debate preparation rehearsals.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Glad to be with you.

Thank you.

BLITZER: I assume the president's ready tonight, right?

KERRY: Well, everybody obviously hopes so. I think he feels terrific. I think he's looking forward to it. He -- he's looking forward to an opportunity to share with America the accomplishments that he's achieved in foreign policy, his agenda for the next four years, and I think particularly to have a chance to show the difference between a president who's made tough decisions, who's been specific, and a candidate for president who has, frankly, been vague on just about everything, with about six positions on everything.

BLITZER: I -- I know that Iran and its nuclear program will be high on the agenda during the 90 minute debate tonight.

Do you believe the United States should engage in direct, one-on-one, bilateral negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program?

KERRY: Well, I think it's up to the president of the United States what forum he's going to choose or not choose. And right now, he's chosen the P5. That's the forum that he's engaged in, obviously. But he has consistently said that he is open to diplomacy and to negotiation in an effort to try to guarantee that we avoid war, if it's possible.

But make no mistake, the president is prepared to follow through on any military option necessary. Everybody knows this is a president who hasn't hesitated to back up his words with action. And I think Iran has had that message delivered to them at any number of occasions, most recently a few weeks ago in the United Nations. But the president prefers diplomacy over war. War should always be a last resort. I would hope Mr. Romney would prefer diplomacy and prefer discussions.

BLITZER: I know U.S. presidents have long said that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists. But as you know, the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, has included Iran as a state sponsor of terror on the State Department's terror list.

Does it make any difference if you negotiate with a terrorist organization, let's say like Al Qaeda or Hezbollah, which is on the terrorist list, or a state sponsor of terrorism?

KERRY: Well, we don't negotiate with terrorists and we shouldn't negotiate with terrorists. And -- and I think, obviously, we've been very clear about that through the years. But there are times -- even Israel, for instance, with -- who obviously negotiated the release of Shalit, Private Shalit, who obviously have had occasions when they've needed to deal with Egypt or through Egypt with some organization or another. There are ways, in diplomacy, to be able to have back channel and other kinds of conversations.

But nobody is talking about entering into any direct negotiation with a terrorist organization, but a government, a lo -- a -- a state is obviously a different issue. And you have to deal with states. We dealt with China. We dealt with the Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union the Evil Empire and it couldn't have been more clear what the differences between us were, but he sat down with Gorbachev and he negotiated. And that had a profound impact on the spread of nuclear weapons.

So, look, anybody who comes along and just makes categorical pronouncements and pretends that that's sufficient leadership is going to lead America into a very dangerous place. This is a dangerous world we are living in right now, Wolf, and you know that as well as anybody. So, you need somebody with the experience and the knowledge, and frankly, the clarity in their policies.

The president said he would get out of Iraq, he got out of Iraq. He said he's going to get out of Afghanistan. He's withdrawing our troops and he's doing what's necessary to transition the Afghan country and to create a military that can sustain them. He followed through on Libya. He did what was necessary there in a very, very intelligent way where it didn't require American boots on the ground or huge expenditure of our taxpayer money, and we accomplished our goal.

BLITZER: All right.

KERRY: And the president is as close to Israel as any president has ever been in terms of our military and intelligence cooperation. So, you measure real things here, not the bluster of a candidate who's had six positions on everything.

BLITZER: but Let's talk about Libya for a moment, because you know it's going to come up in the course of the debate tonight. The argument has been made -- and I'm sure you've rehearsed this with the president that Romney probably will say, if he doesn't others will say, there were warnings, there were attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi leading up to the killing on the 11th anniversary of 9/11.

The British had pulled out because it was too dangerous. The international Red Cross had pulled out because it was too dangerous. Here's the question, did the president know about all of these threats to the U.S. diplomats in Benghazi?

KERRY: Well, the president is going to speak for himself tonight. And I think it's important for the American people to let him do that. But let me just make it crystal clear. The president issued the appropriate orders, issued the appropriate instructions. The president has followed this as closely as he does on a daily briefing.

I think you're aware of that, Wolf. And the president, I believe, has made the right decisions. This is much more complicated than meets the eye. The president has ordered a thorough independent investigation. Secretary of State Clinton has chosen a very respected diplomat, Tom Pickering, and others to pursue this.

But the president will speak to this very forcefully tonight if people want to try to make a political issue out of it. I think what's tragic is that in a moment of tragedy for the United States of America, when we lose American personnel, the first thing Mitt Romney does is goes out and politicizes it. The first thing he does is hold a press conference without even having the information about it.

The first thing he does is try to make it a political football rather than rally together as America did on many number of occasions. And I think it's frankly -- sorry, go ahead.

BLITZER: We're talking about the politics of this, because Rudy Giuliani was on CNN earlier this morning, and he was blistering in his criticism of the way the president dealt with this leading up to the killing of the ambassador and three others.


RUDY GIULIANI, (R) FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: If the president had been privy to the information beforehand, that there were numerous attacks there, planned attacks, including two on the embassy, one in April, one in June in which a hole was blown in the wall of the embassy. Now, all of a sudden, you get an attack on September 11th and you're scratching your head about it?

I mean, my -- well, if it wasn't a cover-up, then the ineptitude of this administration is startling, then they really can't be trusted to protect us.


BLITZER: He basically says the president was either engaged in a cover-up or the ineptitude of this administration is startling. Go ahead and respond to the former New York mayor. KERRY: Well, the former New York mayor is famous for his bluster, and he's famous for criticizing everybody about everything ever since five days and 9/11. And as Joe Biden said a few years ago, you always hear a noun and a verb and 9/11 out of Rudy Giuliani's mouth. But the fact is what he's saying is a lot of malarkey.

He doesn't even know what he's talking about. It's not even an embassy. You just heard him talk about an embassy. I mean, really, I think it's important for people to get their facts together before they start these political attacks at this particular moment. You know, I can remember plenty of occasions when we've had a tragedy somewhere in the world, and I don't see us rushing to make it a political issue in the way that this has been made a political issue.

I think the American people want to know the facts. They're going to hear the facts. They'll see the facts. The facts are that, you know, 30,000 Libyans came out the next day holding up posters of our ambassador, rebelling against the militia that conducted this, if it was a militia, but whoever did it. They undertook to say, we are friends with the United States.

We appreciate what Chris Stevens was trying to accomplish. The parents of Chris Stevens have said their son should not be made a political football. The mother of Sean Smith has similarly said that. I just think it's disgraceful that all the Republicans can do is see a political moment and try to make political hay out of it. I think it's disgraceful.

BLITZER: We're out of time, senator, but do you know who did it?

KERRY: Those facts are being thoroughly vetted by the intelligence community in cooperation with the Libyan government. The president of Libya cited al Qaeda. Other people have cited other groups. That's precisely why you try to figure out -- you know, you aim before you shoot. You need to get the facts and that's precisely what the president is doing.

This administration will thoroughly vet this publicly. Everybody will know what's going on. I personally wrote a letter with all of the members of the foreign relations committee in a bipartisan way asking legitimate questions. But we're not trying to politicize it. We're trying to get the answers. And that's what we deserve.

Not this kind of political attack which doesn't serve our nation, and it certainly doesn't serve the memory of a Chris Stevens who was fighting for democracy over there and who knew what he was doing every single day.

BLITZER: Senator Kerry, thanks for joining us.

KERRY: Thank you. 

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