Interview with Senator John Kerry

Interview with Senator John Kerry

By The Situation Room - December 5, 2012

BLITZER: Dramatic confrontation on Capitol Hill. The former United States senator, Bob Dole, appeared on the Senate floor in a wheelchair to urge the United States passage of an international treaty promoting rights for disabled people around the world, but Republicans blocked it yesterday.

One of the most vocal supporters is Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He's joining us now live. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: Glad to be with you. I'm happy to be here.

BLITZER: You needed 67 votes to ratify this treaty. You got 61 votes. There were some Republicans like John McCain who went ahead and voted in favor, but a lot of them didn't, and in part, this is at least what some of their staff told me, it's because the former senator, Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate, raised this issue saying that this international treaty would undermine his ability to deal with his daughter, for example, Isabella, who's disabled. Listen to what Santorum said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't often bring Isabella out for any types of public events. But Karen and I felt very, very strongly that as a mother and father of a disabled child, that we needed to speak for those in the disabilities community who have grave concerns about this convention.


BLITZER: He went on to say, if approved, that this international treaty, the United Nations would, in effect, be able to tell people in the United States how to deal with his daughter, Isabella and some Republicans were citing that as a reason for rejecting the treaty. What do you say?

KERRY: Well, I have great respect for both Rick and his wife, Karen, and their daughter and their family. He's a strong family man. But, he either simply hasn't read the treaty or doesn't understand it or he was just not factual in what he said, because the United Nations has absolutely zero. Zero.

I mean, zero ability to order or to tell or to even -- I mean, they can suggest, but they have no legal capacity to tell the United States to do anything under this treaty. Nothing. There is no ability to go to court. There is not one requirement of a change in American law. And there is no way to tell an American parent anything.

Now, that is according to our Supreme Court of the United States. That's according to the language in the treaty itself. And this is a treaty that was negotiated by Republican president, George Herbert Walker Bush.

It was signed by Republican president, George W. Bush at the U.N., and Republican attorney general, Richard Thornburg, has testified, the former attorney general of the United States, there's no legal requirement whatsoever for the United States to change anything.

So, Rick Santorum was just not factual. Now what he did was he gave some people here an excuse to hide behind that when they know that there are people who hate the United Nations, who don't want any United Nations treaty. And so, they gave them a reason to be able to say this is why I'm voting against it.

We're going to come back with the hearings next year, again, that will show people exactly what the facts are. We'll have all the witnesses in. I think it can be this positive. And ultimately, I would be prepared to put into the treaty language of the resolution of ratification, language that can make it even more clear than it is today if that will satisfy them.

BLITZER: The other argument that some of these Republicans were making at least to me privately over the past few days, when I was beginning to get interested in this treaty, was that they wanted to make a statement that they just don't like, as you say -- they actually hate the United Nations, and this was a way to send that message around the world. What do you say to that?

KERRY: Well, there's some who feel that way. And I think it's a tragedy because despite some of the faults of the U.N. and some of the problems that there are in terms of bureaucracy and other problems, if you didn't have a United Nations, you would have to invent one. There is no way for this complicated world of ours to possibly deal with some of the issues we have without a forum like the United Nations where you have the ability to air your views.

Now, we don't like some of those views. We will never like some of those views. We will disagree with some of them. But the fact is, the United Nations is on the ground, keeping peace in various nations around the world. It's indispensable to many different efforts in the world.

And while there are some people who hate it, because they think we're giving up something for it, I think the large weight of history is, that we have gained much more than we have ever given up, and it has never taken away American sovereignty.

There is nothing the United Nations can do that affects the United States without our consent, ultimately. And I think that has been very clear through its history.

BLITZER: What about a different issue? In Egypt right now, I know you met with the Egyptian national security adviser. I just interviewed him here in the SITUATION ROOM. The demonstrations are violent. There've been fatalities today. They're trying to burn the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters. They're going after the presidential residency there. What's going on from your perspective?

KERRY: Well, what's going on is that Egypt is a highly polarized, highly divided society today. It had a close vote. It has a majority, you know, who are very concerned about the longer term future in terms of transparency, accountability, democracy. And those people are very unsettled by what President Morsi did when he announced these emergency powers.

Now, in fairness, I think it's comprehensible to a lot of us that President Morsi was deeply concerned about the ability of Mubarak -- of Mubarak appointed and Mubarak controlled effectively judges to make decisions about the completion of their constitutional process. I don't think it was well-handled.

I think they would probably agree today that they didn't handle it well, and they have to find a way to reach out to the opposition with clarity, boldly, bring them to the table and let all parties in Egypt be part of the fashioning of Egypt's future. I think too many people felt shut out of that, and that's why you're seeing this reaction in the streets.

BLITZER: How close is Bashar al Assad's regime in Syria to using chemical weapons?

KERRY: Well, I think -- I hope not close, because the administration stood up and drew a very clear red line along with other countries. And so, whatever thoughts they may have had about it, I hope they are moving back from those, because it would be an enormous game changer in everybody's calculation.

I think the Russians are deeply concerned about what they've been hearing about it. I think even Iran and others in the region. Hezbollah, others have to be deeply concerned. So, my hope is, that they have pulled back from it

More importantly, I think it underscores the danger of the unraveling of this regime at this moment and the need for a lot of countries to step up their engagement in a way that changes President Assad's calculation about his future, so that there could be an orderly negotiated transition.

The alternative is, much more dangerous for everybody in the region and maybe far more costly in terms of lives.

BLITZER: We got to leave it there, but one very quick question. What do you think of John McCain calling you Mr. Secretary?

KERRY: Well, what did he think of me calling him Mr. President? Sometimes, we fool around up here, and nobody takes it too seriously.

BLITZER: I'm going to take it seriously, see what happens down the road. Senator, always good to speak to you. Thanks so much.

KERRY: Thank you. Good to be with you. Thanks. 

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