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updated 4/18/2004 11:47:30 AM ET 2004-04-18T15:47:30

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PLEASE CREDIT ANY QUOTES OR EXCERPTS FROM THIS NBC TELEVISION PROGRAM TO "NBC NEWS' MEET THE PRESS."

NBC News

MEET THE PRESS

GUEST: Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, presidential candidate

MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert, NBC News

This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS(202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)

Meet the Press (NBC News) - Sunday, April 18, 2004

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  And we are here in the battleground state of Florida, Florida, Florida.

Senator Kerry...

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA):  It's Florida.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...welcome.

SEN. KERRY:  Glad to be here.  Thank you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  As you well know, this is a 50-50 race between Bush and Kerry, but there is one area where the president has opened up in a significant lead. And in the interest of candor and clarity, I want to give you a chance to answer a question right up top, and I promise we'll talk about the nuance later on.  But the American people, I think, would like a yes or no answer: Do you believe the war in Iraq was a mistake?

SEN. KERRY:  I think the way the president went to war is a mistake.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you what the American people have been saying about statements the candidates have been making:  Which candidate says what he believes?  Bush, 53; Kerry, 38.  Senator Kerry says what he believes, just 33; thinks--he says what he thinks people want to hear, 57.  The AFL-CIO has been a focus group, and Lee Strope of the Associated Press got a copy of that.  And this is what they found--this is a supporter of yours--that "Kerry's image is still vague.  The Bush campaigns flip-flopping attack has made inroads against many of the participants hearing or seeing comments."

SEN. KERRY:  Tim, you know, I have to tell you something.  I'm thrilled with where I am right now. The Republican Party has spent $50 million in a matter of about seven weeks to distort my record, to completely mislead Americans about me and about my record.  Now, we're in a position now to be able to respond and introduce myself to the country.  I look forward to that.  I look forward to Americans getting to know who I really am.

Let me give you an example.  George Bush has no record to run on.  He has a record to run away from. He can't come to a city and talk about creating jobs, because he hasn't created them.  He's lost them.  He can't come anywhere and talk about health care for all Americans, because he has no plan.  He can't come and talk about keeping the promise to our children and our schools because he broke it and he doesn't fund it.  He can't talk about cleaner air or cleaner water because he's going backwards on those policies.  So what does he do?  He distorts my record.  This president not only misleads America about my record; he misleads his own administration.  He misleads his security adviser.  He misleads his secretary of state about his own planning for a war.

I think the American people, over the next months, are going to get to see that I have a plan.  I have a plant to get people back to work.  I have a plan to provide health insurance to all Americans.  I have a plan to cut the deficit in half and move us down a road of fiscal responsibility.  And Americans are going to hear the truth, which has been sorely lacking from the political discussion of our country.

MR. RUSSERT:  But do you have a plan to deal with Iraq?  This is what you...

SEN. KERRY:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  This is what you wrote in The Washington Post last Tuesday: "Our country has
committed to help the Iraqis build a stable, peaceful and pluralistic society.  No matter who is elected president in November, we will persevere in that mission."

SEN. KERRY:  Yes, we will.

MR. RUSSERT:  That sounds exactly like George Bush.

SEN. KERRY:  It's different.  Let me explain the difference.  You know, last night I got a phone call, Tim, from a great friend of mine from Vietnam, and he was agonized, as I think a lot of veterans are, as they see our young men and women over there trying to distinguish between friend and foe, being ambushed in convoys, not even safe on the airport road, from the airport to Baghdad.  I mean, this is extraordinary where we find ourselves.  This administration misled America.  Nothing is more important than how a president takes a nation to war, how a president decides to put young men and women at risk for our nation.  I believe this president broke faith with the rules of how a president does that.  He even broke faith with his own promises to the country.  He...

MR. RUSSERT:  But what can you do now, Senator?

SEN. KERRY:  I'll tell you exactly, but it's important to understand why so many countries are unwilling to come to the table now.  It may well be that we need a new president, a breath of fresh air, to re-establish credibility with the rest of the world so that we can have a believable administration as to how we proceed.  But here is the bottom line:  Number one, you cannot bring other nations to the table through the back door.  You cannot have America run the occupation, make all the reconstruction decisions, make the decisions of the kind of government that will emerge, and pretend to bring other nations to the table.

Now, finally, George Bush is doing what I and others have recommended for some period of time. Ambassador Brahimi is there.  George Bush, astonishingly, said at his press conference the other day, "Brahimi will tell us who we'll turn the government over to."  So, in effect, he's transferred to the U.N. now just the decision about what government we'll turn it over to, but he won't transfer to the U.N. the real authority for determining how the government emerges, how we will do the reconstruction of Iraq.  I think that's a prerequisite to bringing other countries to the table.  That simple.  It's that simple.

MR. RUSSERT:  Should George Bush convene a summit at Camp David with the head of the U.N., the Germans, the French, the Russians, the British?

SEN. KERRY:  I think it takes more than a summit.  I think this administration has proven, frankly stunningly, ineffective in diplomacy.  Just even in the announcement in the last few days, I think there were Arab leaders who were taken by surprise by this announcement.  I don't think that surprise evidences the kind of groundwork of diplomacy necessary.

Now, here's what I'll do.  If I'm president, I will not only personally go to the U.N., I will go to other capitals and I will have my secretary of state legitimately empowered to be able to be a full secretary of state, speaking for the administration, which we now know from Bob Woodward's book is not the case.  The war within this administration over who's in charge of what and whose voice is being listened to is unlike anything I've seen in modern days.

MR. RUSSERT:  If you were elected one year from now, will there be 100,000 American troops in Iraq?

SEN. KERRY:  It depends on what the situation is you find on the ground on January 20th of 2005.  I will tell you this, Tim.  I will immediately reach out to other nations in a very different way from this administration.  Within weeks of being inaugurated, I will return to the U.N. and I will literally, formally rejoin the community of nations and turn over a proud new chapter in America's relationship with the world, which will do a number of things. Number one, change how we're approaching North Korea.  Number two, change how we're dealing with AIDS globally.  Number three, change how we're doing with proliferation with Russia and other countries.  Number four, change our approach to global warming and the effort of 160 nations.  And that will take some of the poison out of the well that this administration has put there.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator, the concern I think people have watching is that there's no other guarantee that these other nations are going to come forward with any kind of troops or help.  Now, this is the way--Democratic adviser Ivo Daalder had this to say:  "[Kerry] faces questions about whether his alternative has been overrun by events--whether it is still realistic for the U.N. to accept political responsibility for Iraq, or other nations to contribute more military help, when conditions are so chaotic..."

SEN. KERRY:  That's an accurate...

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me just finish here.

SEN. KERRY:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ivo Daalder, a national security adviser to President Clinton: "Is the U.N. more
capable of running Iraq than we are?  If we turn this over to NATO, are we going to get a significantly larger number of troops?  In both cases, the answer is no."

And then NATO Secretary-General George Robertson added this.  He said, "The Afghan stabilization has prevented NATO from getting involved in Iraq.  We're trying to get it right to make sure it works in the long term.  ...And before we take on any new obligation, like Iraq, I think we've got to get Afghanistan right."

The U.N. today, front page of The Times.  U.N. envoys are worried about going back in there.

SEN. KERRY:  Sure, they are.  Of course, they are.

MR. RUSSERT:  So if Iraq is not secure, how can you possibly say the U.N. and NATO are going to come to our rescue when they don't have the troops or the interest of going in there?

SEN. KERRY:  Tim, that is the dilemma.  That is exactly the quandary that President Bush and this administration have put the United States of America in.  And the tragedy is that there were three great opportunities for this administration to make it otherwise.  Opportunity number one was when we voted and when the president broke his promise to build a legitimate coalition by being patient with the U.N. inspection process.  Opportunity number two was when the statue fell in Baghdad and Kofi Annan invited the United States to come to the table and offered help and we rejected it.  And opportunity number three was when this president went to the U.N. last fall and once again did not invite people, didn't even acknowledge the kind of difficulties we were in that might have elicited some sympathy from other
people.

Now, here we are.  I believe the following very deeply.  Number one, we cannot fail.  I've said that many times.  And if it requires more troops in order to create the stability that eliminates the chaos, that can provide the groundwork for other countries, that's what you have to do.

MR. RUSSERT:  How do you define failure?

SEN. KERRY:  Well, I think failure is the lack of a stable Iraq.  I think a failed state in Iraq is failure.

MR. RUSSERT:  Islamic regime similar to Iran would be acceptable?

SEN. KERRY:  You could even go further than what I just said and suggest that if we are stuck for a long period of time in a quagmire where young Americans are dying without a sense of that being able to be achieved, I think most Americans will decide that's failure.

MR. RUSSERT:  Could you accept a Shiite theocracy running Iraq similar to what we have in Iran?

SEN. KERRY:  I think that what is important is to have a pluralistic representation.  It doesn't have to be, at least in the early days, the kind of democracy this administration has talked about, though that's our goal and we should remain there.  But what is critical is a stable Iraq.  Now, I'm convinced and you know, friends, colleagues, from the Senate, for instance, other people, have traveled abroad.  They've talked to leaders of other countries.  They've talked to me in return, and I am convinced that there are other options but you have to change your--look, if the Defense Department issues a memorandum and it says "Any country that wasn't with us, don't bother applying for any reconstruction in Iraq," now there's a heck of a way to invite countries to the table, Tim.  Our diplomacy has been about as arrogant and ineffective as anything that I have ever seen, and I think if you ask people all around the world, that's exactly what they'll tell you.

MR. RUSSERT:  There's a lot of concern as to just how much influence you would give the United Nations in American foreign policy.

SEN. KERRY:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  And people refer back to an interview when you first ran for Congress, back with The Harvard Crimson, where you said, "Kerry said the United Nations should have control over most of our foreign military operations.  I'm an internationalist.  I'd like to see our troops dispersed through the world only at the directive of the United Nations."

SEN. KERRY:  That's one of those stupid things that a 27-year-old kid says when you're fresh back from Vietnam and angry about it.  I have never, ever, ever, in any vote, in any policy, in any speech, in any public statement advocated any such thing in all of the years I've been in elected office.  In fact, I say the following and I say it very clearly, I will never cede the security of the United States to any institution and I will never cede our security to any other country.  No country will have a veto over what we need to do to protect ourselves.  But, that said, I will be a president who understands, as every president of the last century did, Tim, that multilaterism is not weakness, it is strength, and we need a president who understands how to reach out to other countries, build alliances.  His father did a brilliant job of it.  We
need to do the kind of alliance-building that we have done traditionally.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator, what your opponents have seized upon is not what you said in 1970 alone but a vote that you cast regarding the Iraq war, and that was after voting for the president, authorizing him to go to war, you voted against $87 billion...

SEN. KERRY:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...to fund the troops.  They're on the air now with a commercial, and here's part of it.  Let's watch:

(Videotape):

Unidentified Man:  Mr. Kerry.

Unidentified Woman:  No, body army and higher combat pay for our troops.

Unidentified Man:  Mr. Kerry.

Unidentified Woman:  No, better health care for Reservists.

Unidentified Man:  Mr. Kerry.

Unidentified Woman:  No.  And what does Kerry say now?

SEN. KERRY:  I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.

Unidentified Woman:  Wrong on defense.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  And what you're referring to there at the end is that you wanted to roll back the Bush tax cut in order to pay for the $87 billion for the troops in Iraq.  And yet, just a few weeks before that vote, you were on "Face the Nation" and this is what you said.  "I think we need to roll back the top end of the Bush tax cut."  Question...

SEN. KERRY:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ..."If that amendment does not pass, will you then vote against the $87 billion?" 

Kerry:  "I don't think any United States senator is going abandon our troops and recklessly leave Iraq to whatever follows as a result of simply cutting and running.  That's irresponsible.  ...I don't think anyone in Congress is going to not give our troops ammunition, not give our troops the ability to be able to defend themselves."

And yet you voted against that very amount of money.

SEN. KERRY:  There's nothing inconsistent in either of those statements and that advertisement displays really how sad and full of distortion, almost pathetic, the Republican approach to this is.  First of all, they had a series of no's:  Mr. Kerry on this; no.  Mr. Kerry on this; no.  It wasn't a series of votes. It was one vote and that is a distortion to the American people.

Secondly, that vote would never have prevented any of the body armor, ammunition or anything from getting to our troops.  That's a lie.  That's just an outright lie.  In fact, the president of the United States himself, Tim, threatened to veto that very bill if we put health care for Reservists in the bill.  The president threatened to veto that bill if we had loans instead of a grant.  Think of that.  The president threatened to veto that bill, and yet he is now accusing me for voting no.

Secondly, I voted to have that bill paid for by reducing the tax cut to the wealthiest Americans so we would be responsible fiscally and that was a way to do it.  Now, when they weren't willing to do that and they weren't willing to change their policy to bring other nations to the table to reduce the cost to Americans, you're darn right I voted against it because one of the lessons I learned in Vietnam is when the policy is wrong, fix it, and I voted to fix it.

MR. RUSSERT:  If there's another bill to provide money for the troops, you'll vote against it again?

SEN. KERRY:  It depends entirely on what the situation is, Tim.  I'm not going to say that.  What I'm saying is even the generals in Iraq said the money in that bill had no impact on their ability to continue to fight.  We had money all the way through January, and if my vote had been the deciding vote, you know as well as the president knows, as well as every Republican knows, that if I'd been the deciding vote, we would have sat down at a table, we have worked out exactly how we were going to do this intelligently and we would have had a better bill.  That's how you change policy.  You stand up for principle.  That was a vote for principle.

And what the Republicans are doing is one of their craven, misleading, distorting ads, spending millions of dollars trying to suggest I'm not strong on defense.  I'm not going to let these Republicans, not for one instant, ever accuse me, who's voted for 16 out of 19 biggest defense bills in our history, who has supported our troops, while they're cutting even the VA budget.  I'm not going to listen to them talk to me about patriotism and defense of country.

MR. RUSSERT:  But the Republicans, Vice President Cheney included, have pointed out to a comment that you made during a Democratic debate which they think undercuts your support of the war on terrorism.  "The war on terror is...occasionally military.  ...  But it's primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world."

SEN. KERRY:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  You do not believe the war on terror is primarily a military operation, not a law
enfor...

SEN. KERRY:  No...

MR. RUSSERT:  You don't.

SEN. KERRY:  ...not primarily.

MR. RUSSERT:  You don't.

SEN. KERRY:  Not primarily.

MR. RUSSERT:  You do not.

SEN. KERRY:  Not primarily.  Tim, Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaeda. America really needs to stop and focus on the truth again.  This administration--and we now know it from Bob Woodward's book.  I mean, you can go through the series of events in August when the president was at the ranch taking the longest vacation in presidential history.  During that time, the president was talking about Iraq more than he was talking about al-Qaeda. Andy Card came back and made an announcement that they didn't introduce a new product in August because that's not what you do in August.  They introduced it in September.  They came back and started down the Iraq road.  They kept looking for a connection. George Tenet kept saying no connection.  The intelligence people said no connection.

MR. RUSSERT:  This is the war on terror, Senator.

SEN. KERRY:  But let me just finish.

MR. RUSSERT:  The war on terror is a law enforcement, not military...

SEN. KERRY:  No.  I said "primarily."  And here's why.  If you don't know--if you're going to fight an intelligent war on terror, you don't want to fight it here in America.  You do want to fight it abroad. You want to fight it where the cells are originating.  And in order to know who they are, where they are, what they're planning and be able to go get them before they get us, you need the best intelligence, best law enforcement cooperation in the world.  Now, I've always said once you know where they are, will you use the Delta Force or SEALs or Rangers or Special Forces of some kind?  Absolutely.  And I will not hesitate to use those forces effectively.

In fact, this administration--I was the one who pointed out they failed to use our forces effectively in Afghanistan.  We had Osama bin Laden cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora.  Rather than deploy the 10th Mountain Division or the 101st Airborne or the Marines, rather than use the best military in the world to go kill the world's number-one terrorist, what did we do?  This administration held them back. They sent the Afghans up into the mountains who a week earlier had been on the other side, and they let him escape.

I think that I can fight a far more effective war on terror.  I will build alliances and ooperation.  I will make America safer.  But I will use our military when necessary, but it is not primarily a military operation.  It's an intelligence gathering, law enforcement, public diplomacy effort, and we're putting far more money into the war on the battlefield than we are into the war of ideas.  We need to get it straight.

MR. RUSSERT:  You've been, obviously, extremely critical of President Bush's handling of foreign
policy and his role as commander in chief.  A year ago in March you made a commitment, and this is what you said.  You "voted to authorize military action but has accused President Bush of rushing into war, [but he] said he will cease his complaints once the shooting starts.  `It's what you owe the troops,' said a statement from Kerry.  `I remember being one of those guys and reading news reports from home. If America is at war, I won't speak a word without measuring how it will sound to the guys doing the fighting when they're listening to their radios in the desert.'"

Are you concerned that you're sending the wrong message to the troops by not showing solidarity in terms of the war in Iraq?  And have you broken your pledge?

SEN. KERRY:  No, I haven't.  Because, number one, I did adhere strictly to that through the period of the success of the war, when we finally had taken control of the country.  Secondly, I've talked to troops who have come home. Troops have come up to me and contacted me.  They're concerned now about what is happening.  Families are deeply concerned.  I mean, Tim, I met a family in Ohio, and I read about another family in Iowa, that had to take up a collection; they had to have a cake sale or a garden sale in order to collect money to buy armor to send to their kid in Iraq.  This administration that's talking to us about $87 billion sent these troops into war without adequate parts, without adequate ammo, without adequate water.  They weren't ready in some respects, and they didn't have the kind of latest state-of-the-art equipment that they ought to have.

Now, I think the job of the president of the United States is:  number one, to maximize the ability to succeed in your mission; number two, to minimize the risk to American troops; and number three, to minimize the cost to the American people.  In every respect, George Bush has gotten this backwards.

MR. RUSSERT:  Your criticism will continue?

SEN. KERRY:  Yes, sir.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me see if we can clean up a...

SEN. KERRY:  Now, as I say that, look, Tim, let me be very clear to you:  We are united around our troops.  We support our troops.  They're extraordinarily courageous.  We have the best military we've ever had in the history of our country, and they deserve a strategy that's going to minimize the risk to them.  But I am united, along with everybody else, in knowing that we have to have a success in not having a failed Iraq.  That we are united in.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me see...

SEN. KERRY:  And they are engaged in a mission to do that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me see if I can clean up a comment that you made in March that created an awful lot of controversy and stir.  "I have met more leaders who can't go out and say it publicly but, boy, they look at you and say, `You gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy, we need a new policy'--things like that. So there is enormous energy out there.  Tell them, wherever they can find an American abroad, they can contribute."

The Washington Times added this:  "Although Mr. Kerry indicated that he had met in person with foreign leaders who privately endorsed him, he has made no official trips abroad in the past two years.  Within the United States, he has had the chance to meet with only one foreign leader since the beginning of last year, according to a review of his travel schedule."

Specifically, which foreign leaders have you met with who told you that you should beat George Bush?

SEN. KERRY:  Tim, first of all, that is an inaccurate assessment of how I might or where I might be able to meet or talk to a foreign leader, number one.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you have talked to foreign leaders who told you...

SEN. KERRY:  Number--Tim, what I said is true.  I mean, you can go to New York City and you can be in a restaurant and you can meet a foreign leader. There are plenty of places to meet people without traveling abroad.  Number two, I'm under no obligation--I would be stupid if I were to sit here and start saying, "Well, so-and-so told me this," because they have dealings with this administration.  This administration doesn't talk about its private conversations, and nor will I.  I invite you, I invite The Washington Times editorial, go to European, go to foreign capitals, travel in the world.  Talk to any American businessman who has been abroad, talk to any of our colleagues who've traveled abroad, and the conversations they've had.  Never has the United States of America been held in as low a regard internationally--and polls have shown this--as we are today.  We're not trusted and this administration is not liked.

MR. RUSSERT:  So you stand by your statement, you met with foreign leaders who told you...

SEN. KERRY:  I stand by my statement.

MR. RUSSERT:  Israel assassinated Hamas leader Rantisi.  Do you support that assassination?

SEN. KERRY:  I believe Israel has every right in the world to respond to any act of terror against it. Hamas is a terrorist, brutal organization.  It has had years to make up its mind to take part in a peaceful process.  They refuse to.  Arafat refuses to.  And I support Israel's efforts to try to separate itself and to try to be secure.  The moment Hamas says, "We've given up violence, we're prepared to negotiate," I am absolutely confident they will find an Israel that is thirsty to have that negotiation.

MR. RUSSERT:  On Thursday, President Bush broke with the tradition and policy of six predecessors when he said that Israel can keep part of the land seized in the 1967 Middle East War and asserted the Palestinian refugees cannot go back to their particular homes.  Do you support President Bush?

SEN. KERRY:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  Completely?

SEN. KERRY:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  You also said in December that you would consider as presidential ambassadors to the Middle East President Clinton, but also former President Carter and Secretary of State Baker.  You then met with Jewish leaders and said, "I will not send Carter or Baker."  Why?

SEN. KERRY:  I think that what I was trying to talk about, Tim, was a kind of potential for
bipartisanship as to how you might be able to approach putting a special envoy in place.  The names obviously need to be acceptable to everybody within the community.  You've got to do that as a matter of diplomacy.  Subsequent to those names being floated, obviously, some people have different views about it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why do you think Carter and Baker are not acceptable?

SEN. KERRY:  Well, that's not important.  What's important is how to resolve the crisis, how do you move forward.  I believe there's a way to move forward, I'm convinced of that.  Now, I think what the president did in the last few days is to recognize a reality that even President Clinton came to.  If you're going to have a Jewish state, and that is what we are committed to do and that is what Israel is, you cannot have a right of return that's open-ended or something.  You just can't do it.  It's always been a non-starter.  I personally said that at a speech I gave to the Arab community in New York at the World Economic Forum.  I've said that.  I've also said that it is realistic because we know that at Taba they negotiated the annexation of certain territory.  So it's really stating a reality.

What this administration has not done that it needs to do, what we need is a diplomacy that is ongoing and engaged with the Arab community in order to help to create and help emerge the kind of entity that will provide a peaceful resolution to this.  Israel has no partner, no one to be able to negotiate with today. I think the United States and this administration could have done a much more effective job of helping
that to emerge, but they were completely disengaged.  I will not be disengaged.  And I will have
somebody involved in that at the highest level that has the respect of the community, the trust of Israel, and we will be able to move forward.

MR. RUSSERT:  We're here in Florida and relations with Cuba are a very important issue.  This is what John Kerry said in 2000 about that situation. And John Kerry, "who's a member of the foreign relations committee said in an interview that a reevaluation of relations with Cuba was way overdue.  We have a frozen, stalemated counterproductive policy that is not in humanitarian interests nor in our larger credibility interest in the region.  There's just a complete and total contradiction between the way we deal with China, the way we deal with Russia, the way we have been dealing with Cuba over the last several years.  It speaks volumes about the problems in the current American electoral process.  ...The only
reason we don't reevaluate the policy is the politics of Florida."

We don't have an embargo on China.  We don't have an embargo on Russia.  We have one on Cuba and what you're suggesting is because of the power of the Cuban-American lobby, that's why our policy's in place.

SEN. KERRY:  I think in the year 2000, the politics are very different from where they are in 2004. I think there's been a dramatic change in the community in Florida itself.  Now, I met with members of that community.  All through the years I've been in the Senate, for 20 years, Tim.  I have never suggested lifting the embargo.  I don't suggest you just lift the embargo. That's not what I'm talking about.  But for anybody to suggest that what we've been doing has worked, that it has somehow--I mean, look what happened with the Vallera program recently.  A whole bunch of people got arrested and put in jail.  What I want to do...

MR. RUSSERT:  Why not lift the embargo and overthrow Castro...

SEN. KERRY:  Here's what I'm going to do.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...with trade and with kindness and have people simply say "You can't maintain your status as a dictator when people are traveling free and exchanging ideas and exchanging goods."  And that is the kind of way...

SEN. KERRY:  Tim, I've been before...

MR. RUSSERT:  ...with China and Russia--as you point out, with China and Russia it has worked in terms of trying to break down some of those barriers, make it less totalitarian, certainly at least in Russia. Why not try it with Cuba?

SEN. KERRY:  Well, Tim, as you know, I led the effort with John McCain to try to open up Vietnam and we moved against many of those kinds of arguments.  I think I know how to do this.  But in the case of Cuba, there are a lot of different crosscurrents that are important to be sensitive to.  What I have done is sat down with members of the community and listened, and I find that there is a willingness within the community to begin to think about other alternatives and options.  I wouldn't want to just announce a policy without sitting with people in the community, listening carefully, trying to build a consensus and see what we can do.  But I...

MR. RUSSERT:  We should keep the embargo?

SEN. KERRY:  But I wouldn't just give something for nothing but I would begin to encourage travel.  I've suggested that.  I think that's appropriate.  I think remittances might be considered and might be helpful in order...

MR. RUSSERT:  But keep the embargo?

SEN. KERRY:  For the moment I would like to see what we can negotiate, what we could try to move forward, and I'd like to see how the Cuban community itself might be able to build a consensus about an approach.  I think that's a smart way to do it and that's what I'd like to try to do.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before we take a break, I want to talk about Vietnam.  You are a decorated war hero of Vietnam, prominently used in your advertising.  You first appeared on MEET THE PRESS back in 1971, your first appearance.  I want to roll what you told the country then and come back and talk about it:

(Videotape, MEET THE PRESS, April 18, 1971):

MR. KERRY (Vietnam Veterans Against the War):  There are all kinds of atrocities and I would have to say that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free-fire zones.  I conducted harassment and interdiction fire.  I used 50-caliber machine guns which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people.  I took part in search-and-destroy missions, in the burning of villages.  All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare.  All of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down.  And I believe that the men who designed these, the men who designed the free-fire zone, the men who ordered us, the men who signed off the air raid strike areas, I think these men, by the letter of the law, the same letter of the law that tried Lieutenant Calley, are war criminals.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  You committed atrocities.

SEN. KERRY:  Where did all that dark hair go, Tim?  That's a big question for me.  You know, I
thought a lot, for a long time, about that period of time, the things we said, and I think the word is a bad word.  I think it's an inappropriate word.  I mean, if you wanted to ask me have you ever made mistakes in your life, sure.  I think some of the language that I used was a language that reflected an anger.  It was honest, but it was in anger, it was a little bit excessive.

MR. RUSSERT:  You used the word "war criminals."

SEN. KERRY:  Well, let me just finish.  Let me must finish.  It was, I think, a reflection of the kind of times we found ourselves in and I don't like it when I hear it today.  I don't like it, but I want you to notice that at the end, I wasn't talking about the soldiers and the soldiers' blame, and my great regret is, I hope no soldier--I mean, I think some soldiers were angry at me for that, and I understand that and I regret that, because I love them.  But the words were honest but on the other hand, they were a little bit over the top.  And I think that there were breaches of the Geneva Conventions.  There were policies in place that were not acceptable according to the laws of warfare, and everybody knows that.  I mean, books have chronicled that, so I'm not going to walk away from that.  But I wish I had found a way to say it in a less abrasive way.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Senator, when you testified before the Senate, you talked about some of the hearings you had observed at the winter soldiers meeting and you said that people had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and on and on.  A lot of those stories have been discredited, and in hindsight was your testimony...

SEN. KERRY:  Actually, a lot of them have been documented.

MR. RUSSERT:  So you stand by that?

SEN. KERRY:  A lot of those stories have been documented.  Have some been discredited?  Sure, they have, Tim.  The problem is that's not where the focus should have been.  And, you know, when you're angry about something and you're young, you know, you're perfectly capable of not--I mean, if I had the kind of experience and time behind me that I have today, I'd have framed some of that differently. Needless to say, I'm proud that I stood up.  I don't want anybody to think twice about it.  I'm proud that I took the position that I took to oppose it.  I think we saved lives, and I'm proud that I stood up at a time when it was important to stand up, but I'm not going to quibble, you know, 35 years later that I might not have phrased things more artfully at times.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Boston Globe reports that your commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Grant Hibberd has suggested that you perhaps didn't earn your first Purple Heart and question whether you should have left Vietnam after six months.  In order to deal with those kinds of issues, when I asked President Bush about his service in the Texas Guard, he agreed to release all his military records, health records, everything.  Would you agree to release all your military records?

SEN. KERRY:  I have.  I've shown them--they're available to you to come and look at.  I think that's a very unfair characterization by that person.  I mean, politics is politics.  The medical records show that I had shrapnel removed from my arm.  We were in combat.  We were in a very, very--probably one of the most frightening--if you ask anybody who was with me, the two guys who were with me, was probably the most frightening night that they had that they were in Vietnam and we're...

MR. RUSSERT:  But you'll make all your records public.

SEN. KERRY:  They are.  People can come and see them at headquarters and take a look at them.  I'm not going to--but I'll tell you this.  I'm proud of my service.  I'm proud of what we did.  I know what happened.  And the Navy 35 years ago made a decision and it's the Navy's decision and I think it was the right decision.

MR. RUSSERT:  Your wife said recently--a few years ago--that you had bad nightmares, which were very frightening, about Vietnam.  Do you still have nightmares?

SEN. KERRY:  No, I don't.  I don't, but I did for a period of time.  You know, movement or sounds might jostle you into a kind of awareness.  I don't know a lot of people who were in combat who haven't had them, but, no, I don't anymore, I'm glad to say.  I don't even have nightmares about George Bush and this election, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  We're going to take a quick break.  We have a lot more questions with John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for president, right here on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  A lot more with Senator John Kerry:  the economy and every other issue we can think of, right after this.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back in Florida, Florida, Florida, battleground state, talking to John Kerry, Democratic candidate for president.

Senator, again, in the interest of candor and clarity, you have promised to create 10 million jobs...

SEN. KERRY:  Yep.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...and cut the deficit in half in your first four years.

SEN. KERRY:  Yes, sir.

MR. RUSSERT:  If you don't achieve those goals, would you pledge that you would not seek re-election?

SEN. KERRY:  Well, it would depend on the circumstances.  If I don't because there's a war or
something terrible happens, of course I'm not going to make that pledge.  But if I walked away from my promise, which I won't do, I wouldn't deserve to be re-elected.  Look, I know I can create 10 million new jobs for this country.  Bill Clinton, when he ran in 1992, pledged to create eight million.  Guess what, Tim?  He created 11 million.  We're now a bigger economy with more people.  There's no reason we can't create 10 million jobs. But you can't do it with George Bush's failed policy.

I will make this country and our economy stronger by restoring fiscal responsibility.  And what I've promised to do--and I have a plan.  George Bush has no plan except tax cuts that take place seven years from now for the wealthiest Americans.  My plan is to give 98 percent of all Americans a tax cut now.  I will give 99 percent of all American businesses a tax cut now. And I pay for it.  And I show precisely how I pay for it.  And I'm going to reinstate the pay-as-you-go principle that we lived by in the 1990s so that, if we're going to have a program, we're going to have to show Americans how we pay for it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator, if you repeal the top bracket of the Bush tax cut, you get about $50 billion a year.

SEN. KERRY:  Actually, you get about--you get more than that, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  It's pretty close.  $200 billion over four years.  And if you go through and add up
your--if you...

SEN. KERRY:  Tim, no, that's wrong.  You get about $850 billion over 10 years.

MR. RUSSERT:  It--well, it kicks out later.

SEN. KERRY:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  But initially, your first four-year term, it's about $50 billion a year.  If you go through and add up all the campaign promises you've made, about health care, education, environment, the National Taxpayers Union said it's about $280 billion a year.  So if you're saving $50 billion, if you will, in terms of the tax cut...

SEN. KERRY:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...with new revenues coming, but adding all that new spending...

SEN. KERRY:  The National...

MR. RUSSERT:  ...you're not going to be able to balance the budget.

SEN. KERRY:  Wrong.  They--you know, I love these experts in Washington who have an interest, incidentally, and so they skew things the way they try to figure them out.  The fact is, they don't take into account savings.  They don't take into account the innovative ways I'm going to pay for things.  Let me give you an example.  When I say I'm going to give 99 percent of American businesses a tax cut, they just sort of figure, "OK, that costs this much, we're going to deduct it."  I'm not doing it that way.  I'm taking that--I'm giving that tax cut by taking away the current subsidy that American workers give to businesses that move overseas.  Currently, there's about $12 billion--you, Tim, are paying money to help workers in Buffalo lose their job and go overseas, and you're subsidizing the company that made
the decision to go overseas.  I want to provide the incentive to the company that stays in America and make them more competitive here.

Secondly, education.  I have a way of paying for my education plan they don't take into account because I'm going to change the current way that we provide the subsidy to the loan grant program.  Today Congress sets a fixed rate.  And who sets the rate, do you think?  Well, the interest groups, the power and the lobbyists.  I want the marketplace to set the rate.  So we're going to have an auction competition for who gets that business from the government, which is a good, competitive, healthy, capitalist way to do it.  And that's going to result in $14 billion worth of savings.

So let's be real here.  I have shown, number one, I will do pay as you go.  I will cut the deficit in half in the first four years and we're going to show exactly how we're going to do that program for program.  And I've been honest.

MR. RUSSERT:  All right.

SEN. KERRY:  I've said if we can't do--if we can't pay for my national service program, I'm going to have to scale it back.  George Bush has no plan. He has spent $6 trillion in the last about four years, unpaid for, driven up the highest deficits in American history.  I think we can do better.  I know we can create those 10 million jobs and I'm going to do it.

MR. RUSSERT:  We always have a lot of spending programs which will be offset by savings, and many of those savings don't materialize.  One program we know is going to cost money, Social Security and Medicare.  There are now 40 million Americans on those programs.  There's soon to be 80 million.  The trustees of Social Security told us this, that if the programs remain in their current form, we're going to have to either cut benefits by a third or double the payroll tax from 7.5 percent to 15 percent for the average wage earner. Back in 1995, you said we have to be bold.  And it might be unpopular, but we should consider raising the retirement age and means testing.  Do you stand by those statements?

SEN. KERRY:  No, I rejected that.  We looked at that and we found that we don't have to do it.  But you know what's interesting, Tim--I wish I had the power to press this button and put up on the screen what you said, because back in 1997, on November 9, you sat with Bill Clinton, and what you said to Bill Clinton is--you said, "Mr. President, by the year 2001 Medicare is going to be bankrupt and you're going to have to raise the retirement age.  You're going to have to raise the premiums and you're going to have to cut the benefits."  That's what you said.  Guess what, Tim?  He didn't do it.  We didn't do it.  And we made Medicare whole until the year 2029.  We made Social Security whole until 2037.

Along comes George Bush.  We have a downturn in the economy, an increase in expenditures for the military, and a big, big, big tax cut we can't afford. And all of a sudden, you look worse for Social Security and Medicare.  I'm going to put us back on the track that we were in the 1990s.  We said we were going to save Social Security first, and we had the ability to do it, without doing all these terrible things that you're saying.  I'm not going to do those.  I'm not going to cut Social Security benefits.  I'm not going to extend the retirement age.  And we're not going to have to raise the premiums. We can fix Social Security beginning with a stronger economy.

MR. RUSSERT:  Double the number of people on it with current spending?

SEN. KERRY:  Tim, we're going to have a bigger economy.  We have more Americans who are
working.  We have the ability to grow out of it.  Now, if we don't do that--let me give you an idea.  You and I earn a lot of money.  We're very lucky.  If you live to be 85, Tim, do you think it's right that somebody who earns $30,000 a year after you've gotten all your money out of Social Security, after you've gotten everything and more than you paid is paying you money?  I think there are plenty of ways to look at things.  We don't have to tell Americans it won't be there, because it will be there.  And we certainly don't have to cut benefits to pay for George Bush's unaffordable tax cut.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me ask you a question that may not be popular in Michigan. Are you still for
raising the gasoline miles per gallon to 35 by the year 2013 for all cars and trucks?

SEN. KERRY:  Well, that's a goal.  It's a worthy goal.  And America ought to try to set the goal.  But I've said to people in the industry, I've talked to UAW workers, I've talked to Carl Levin.  I'm not wedded to one way that we're going to do that.  There are plenty of ways to do that.  But presidential leadership requires doing things that are responsible, Tim.  Here we are in the wake of 9/11...

MR. RUSSERT:  That was your legislation.  You stand by that.

SEN. KERRY:  Well, we did that--we tried to do that that year, but both John McCain and I said at the time--you can go back and look at the quote--we said we're not fixed in stone as to the number or how we do this.  We're ready to negotiate.  The problem is nobody wanted to negotiate because they had the votes.  As president, I'm going to move the United States of America towards energy independence.  I'm going to set a goal, that by the year 2020, 20 percent of our electricity will be produced from alternative and renewable sources.  We'll create 500,000 new jobs doing that, Tim.  We can reduce our dependency on Middle East oil.  I don't think any young American ought to ever be held hostage to America's dependency on oil in the Middle East.  We deserve a president who wants to move America toward energy independence, clean energy, alternative energy.  We'll be drilling gas and oil for years to come,
but we can move in a new direction and I intend to do that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ralph Nader--we are in Florida.  Ralph Nader, in the year 2000, received 97,000 votes here in Florida.  Al Gore lost by 537.  In New Hampshire, Nader received 22,000, Gore lost by 7,000.  You said the other day that you were considering a meeting with Nader was in the works.  Will that happen?

SEN. KERRY:  I hope so.  I'd love to meet with Ralph Nader.  I've known Ralph for 30 years.  I have great respect for so much of what he has done through his lifetime.  I worked with supporting his public interest research groups and some of the work he did.  I think we have a lot of common interests, frankly.  My hope is that throughout this campaign I'm going to be talking to people who supported Ralph Nader, and I hope that by the end of this campaign those people will decide John Kerry is going to change the direction of our country.  John Kerry can beat George Bush.  We need to beat George Bush and I will make it unnecessary for them to support Ralph Nader.

MR. RUSSERT:  You said recently--your campaign said that you were considering selecting your vice president some time perhaps in May, which is a matter of weeks from now.  Is that your timetable or will you wait till the convention?

SEN. KERRY:  I'm fascinated by what I've been reading about time--I haven't said a word, and I know that Jim Johnson, who's doing the research for me, has not said a word.  I will choose a vice president some time between now and the convention, period.

MR. RUSSERT:  Closer to the convention?

SEN. KERRY:  Between now and the convention, period.

MR. RUSSERT:  When Geraldine Ferraro was selected in '84 by Walter Mondale she released her tax returns but didn't want to release her husband's tax returns.  You are now in a situation where you released yours but your wife has not released hers.  Mrs. Ferraro's husband ultimately released his tax returns to make sure there was not conflicts and so forth in terms of public scrutiny.  Will your wife release her financial data, her tax returns?

SEN. KERRY:  Well, my wife is doing exactly what the law requires.  I mean, we have laws in
America, and the law requires that the candidate release their tax returns.  But we also have far more intrusive ethics forums today.  If you want to see what my wife's holdings are, plenty of people have, you can go to our Senate ethics forums.  It shows you almost entirely what we have.  It's very, very, very intrusive.  So, before people start getting excited about this, I think they ought to, number one, think about what the law requires and, number two, they ought to go look at those forums.  If they're not satisfied with that, we'll see where we are.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you may consider releasing them if necessary.

SEN. KERRY:  My plan is to live by the law, Tim, and that's what we ought to do, and she is and she has.  And I say to you, go to those ethics forums and see if they don't satisfy you.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before we leave, this was John Kerry on March 10:

(Videotape, March 10, 2004):

SEN. KERRY:  We're going to keep pounding, let me tell you.  Just beginning to fight, here.  These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group that I've ever seen.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Who's crooked and lying?  The president?

SEN. KERRY:  I was talking about the attack machine.  If you get on the Internet today, Tim, if you listen to what's on talk radio, and go out there and see the concerted, coordinated Republican attack machine, you will see an extraordinary level that demeans American politics.  And I think most Americans--you know what Americans want, Tim?  They want the truth.  They want an honest vision for our country.  I'm going to offer a real economic plan, unlike George Bush who's gone back on his promises on the war, back on his promises on children, broken his promises on the environment, broken his promises on job creation, broken his promises on health care, has no plan at all.  I have a plan on each and every one of those.  We're going to make this country stronger and safer, and we're going to take us to a better place.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before we go, you and George Bush were both members of Skull & Bones, the secret society at Yale.  The rule is, if someone mentions Skull & Bones, you walk out of the room.  If you're both in a...

SEN. KERRY:  You trying to get rid of me here?

MR. RUSSERT:  You're both in a presidential debate and the moderator says "Skull & Bones," you both leave the podiums?

SEN. KERRY:  I doubt it.

MR. RUSSERT:  You'll hang in there.

SEN. KERRY:  I think you'll see both of us have our two--you know I'd love to have a debate with the president right now.  There's so much to talk about for our country.  Why not say to our nation, every month, let's have one debate on health care.  Let's have a debate on foreign policy.  Let's have a debate on education.  Let's really talk to the country the way Lincoln and Douglass and others have historically.  Barry Goldwater, as you mentioned, was going to fly around with Jack Kennedy.  We can do better for Americans.  I'd love to see that happen.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator John Kerry, thank you for your views.

SEN. KERRY:  Thank you.

Mr. RUSSERT:  And we'll be right back.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Thanks to our great affiliate WTVJ Channel 6 in Miami.  You guys are tremendous.

That's all for today.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

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