LEHRER: New -- new question, President Bush. There are clearly, as we
have heard, major policy differences between the two of you. Are there
also underlying character issues that you believe -- that you believe
-- are serious enough to deny Senator Kerry the job as commander in
chief of the United States?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Hooh! That's a loaded question.
First of all, I -- I admire, ah -- ah -- Senator Kerry's service to
our country. I admire the fact that he is a great dad. Appreciate the
fact that his daughters have been so kind to my daughters and -- in
a -- what has been a pretty hard experience for, I guess, young girls
seeing their dads out there campaigning. I admire the fact that he served
for 20 years in the Senate, although I'm not sure I admire the record.
I won't hold it against him that he went to Yale. Nothing wrong with
that. I, ah --
My concerns about the Senator is that, in the course of this
campaign I've been listening very carefully to what he says, and he
changes positions on the war on Iraq. It's a -- changes positions on
something as fundamental as what you believe in your core, in your heart
of hearts is right -- in Iraq. I -- you cannot lead if you send mexed
miss -- mixed messages. Mixed messages send the wrong signals to our
troops. Mixed messages send the wrong signals to our allies. Mixed messages
send the wrong signals to the Iraqi citizens. And that's my biggest
concern about my opponent. Admire his service, but I -- I'm -- I just
know how this world works. And that in the councils of government there
must be certainty from the U.S. president.
Of course, we change tactics when need to, but we never change our beliefs,
the strategic beliefs that are necessary to protect this country in
MR. LEHRER: Ninety-second response, Senator.
SEN. KERRY: Well, first of all, I appreciate enormously the personal
comments the president just made, and I share them with him. I think
only if you've -- if you're doing this, and he's done it more than I
have in terms of the presidency, can you begin to get a sense of what
it means to your families, and it's tough. And so I acknowledge the
-- his daughters. I've watched them. I've chuckled a few times at some
of their comments.
PRESIDENT BUSH: (Laughs.)
SEN. KERRY: And --
PRESIDENT BUSH: I'm trying to put a leash on them. (Laughs, laughter.)
SEN. KERRY: Well, I don't know. I've learned not to do that, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT BUSH: That's right. (Laughs, laughter.)
SEN. KERRY: And I have great respect and admiration for his wife. I
think she's a terrific person --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you.
SEN. KERRY: -- and a great first lady.
we do have differences. I'm not going to talk about a difference of
character. I don't think that's my job or my business. But let me talk
about something that the president just sort of finished up with. Maybe
someone would call it a character trait, maybe somebody wouldn't.
But this issue of certainty. It's one thing to be certain, but you can
be certain and be wrong. It's another to be certain and be right, or
to be certain and be moving in the right direction, or be certain about
a principle and then learn new facts and take those new facts and put
them to use in order to change and get your policy right. What I worry
about with the president is that he's not acknowledging what's on the
ground, that he's not acknowledging the realities in North Korea, he's
not acknowledging the truth of the science of stem-cell research or
of global warming and other issues. And certainty sometimes can get
you in trouble.
MR. LEHRER: Thirty seconds.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I think -- listen, I -- I fully agree that --
that one should shift tactics -- and we will -- in Iraq. Our commanders
have got all the flexibility to -- to do what is necessary to succeed.
But what I won't do is change my core values because of politics or
because of pressure. And it is -- it's -- one of the things I've learned
in the White House is that there's enormous pressure on the president,
and you cannot wilt under that pressure. Otherwise, the world won't
be better off.
MR. LEHRER: Thirty seconds.
SEN. KERRY: I have no intention of wilting. I've never wilted in my
life. And I've never wavered in my life. I know exactly what we need
to do in Iraq, and my position has been consistent. Saddam Hussein is
a threat. He needed to be disarmed. We needed to go to the U.N. The
president needed the authority to use force in order to be able to get
him to do something because he never did it without the threat of force.
But we didn't need to rush to war without a plan to win the peace.
MR. LEHRER: New question. Two minutes, Senator Kerry.
If you are elected president, what will you take to that office thinking
is the single-most serious threat to the national security of the United
SEN. KERRY: Nuclear proliferation. Nuclear proliferation. There are
some 600-plus tons of unsecured material still in the former Soviet
Union and Russia. At the rate that the president is currently securing
that, it will take 13 years to get it.
I did a lot of work on this. I wrote a book about it several years ago,
maybe six or seven years ago, called, "The New War," which
saw the difficulties of this international criminal network. And back
then, we intercepted a suitcase in a Middle Eastern country with nuclear
materials in it, and the black market sale price was about $250 million.
Now, there are terrorists trying to get their hands on that stuff today.
And this president, I regret to say, has secured less nuclear material
in the last two years since 9/11 than we did in the two years preceding
9/11. We have to do this job, and to do the job, you can't cut the money
for it. The president actually cut the money for it. You have to put
the money into it and the funding and the leadership. And part of that
leadership is sending the right message to places like North Korea.
Right now, the president is spending hundreds of millions of dollars
to research bunker-busting nuclear weapons. The United States is pursuing
a new set of nuclear weapons. It doesn't make sense. You talk about
mixed messages, we're telling other people, you can't have nuclear weapons,
but we're pursuing a new nuclear weapon that we might even contemplate
using. Not this president. I'm going to shut that program down, and
we're going to make it clear to the world, we're serious about containing
nuclear proliferation. And we're going to get the job of containing
all of that nuclear material in Russia done in four years. And we're
going to build the strongest international network to prevent nuclear
proliferation -- this is the scale of what President Kennedy set out
to do with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. It's our generation's equivalent.
And I intend to get it done.
MR. LEHRER: Ninety second, Mr. President.
BUSH: Actually, we've increased funding for dealing with nuclear proliferation,
about 35 percent since I've been the president.
Secondly, we've set up what's called the -- well, first of all, I agree
with my opponent that the biggest threat facing this country is weapons
of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist network. And that's
why we've put proliferation as the -- one of the centerpieces of a multi-prong
strategy to make the country safer. My administration started what's
called the Proliferation Security Initiative, over 60 nations involved
with disrupting the transshipment of information and/or weapons of mass
destruction materials. And we've been effective.
We busted the A.Q. Khan network. This was a proliferator out of Pakistan
that was selling secrets to places like North Korea and Libya. We convinced
Libya to disarm, an essential part of dealing with weapons of mass destruction
I'll tell you another way to help protect America in the long run is
to continue to with missile defenses. And we've got a robust research-and-development
program that has been ongoing during my administration.
We'll be implementing a missile defense system relatively quickly.
And that is another way to help deal with the threats that we
face in the 21st century. My opponent is opposed to the missile defenses.
MR. LEHRER: Just for this one-minute discussion here, is it just --
for whatever seconds it takes, so it's -- it's correct to say that if
somebody's listening to this, that both of you agree, if you're reelected,
Mr. President, and if you are elected, the single most serious threat
you believe, both of you believe, is nuclear proliferation.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I do -- in the hands of a terrorist enemy.
SEN. KERRY: Weapons of mass destruction, nuclear proliferation. But
again, the test of the difference between us, the president's had four
years to try to do something about it, and North Korea's got more weapons.
Iran is moving towards weapons. And at his pace, it'll take 13 years
to secure those weapons in Russia. I'm going to do it in four years,
and I'm going to immediately set out to have bilateral talks with North
MR. LEHRER: Your response to that.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah, I -- I -- again, I can't you how big a mistake
I think that is to have bilateral talks with North Korea. It's precisely
what Kim Jong Il wants. It'll cause the six-party talks to evaporate,
it means that China no longer is involved in convincing the -- along
with us that -- for Kim Jong Il to get rid of his weapons. It's a big
mistake to do that. We must have China's leverage on Kim Jong Il, besides
ourselves. And the -- if you enter bilateral talks, they'll be happy
to walk away from the table. I don't think that'll work.
MR. LEHRER: All right, Mr. President, this is -- this is the last question,
and two minutes. It's a new -- new subject, new question, and it has
to do with President Putin and Russia. Did you misjudge him, or are
you -- do you feel that what he is doing in the name of antiterrorism
by changing some democratic processes is okay?
PRESIDENT BUSH: No, I don't think it's okay and said so publicly. I
think that there needs to be checks and balances in a democracy, and
made that very clear, that by consolidating power in the central government,
ah, he's sending a signal to the Western world and the United States
that -- that -- that perhaps he doesn't believe in checks and balances.
And I told him that.
also a strong ally in the war on terror. He is -- listen, they went
through a horrible situation in Beslan where these
terrorists gunned down young school kids. That's the nature of the enemy,
by the way. That's why we need to be firm and resolved in bringing them
to justice. That's precisely what Vladimir Putin understands as well.
I've got a good relation with Vladimir, and it's important that we do
have a good relation because that enables me to better comment to him
and to better -- to discuss with him some of the decisions he makes.
I found that -- in this world that it's important to establish good
personal relationships with people so that when you have disagreements
you're able to disagree in a way that is effective. And so I've told
him my opinion, and I look forward to discussing it more with him as
times go on. Russia's a -- Russia is a country in transition. Vladimir
is going to have to make some hard choices, and I think it's very important
for the American president, as well as other Western leaders, to remind
him of the great benefits of democracy; that democracy will best help
the people realize their hopes and aspirations and dreams. And I will
continue working with him over the next four years.
MR. LEHRER: Ninety seconds, Senator Kerry.
SEN. KERRY: Well, let me just say quickly that I had an extraordinary
experience of watching up close and personal that transition in Russia
because I was there right after the
transformation. And I was probably one of the first senators, along
with Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire, former senator, to go down
into the KGB underneath Treblinka Square and see reams of files with
names in them. And it sort of brought home the transition to democracy
that Russia was trying to make.
I regret what's happened in these past months, and I think it goes beyond
just the response to terror.
Mr. Putin now controls all the television stations. His political opposition
is being put in jail. And I think it's very important for the United
States, obviously, to have a working relationship that is good. This
is a very important country to us and we want a partnership, but we
always have to stand up for democracy. As George Will said the other
day, "Freedom on the march? Not in Russia right now."
Now I'd like to come back for a quick moment, if I can, to that issue
about China and the talks because that's -- that's one of the most critical
issues here, North Korea.
because the president says it can't be done, that you'd lose China,
doesn't mean it can't be done. I mean, this is the president who said
there were weapons of mass destruction, said "mission accomplished,"
said we could fight the war on the cheap, none of which were true. We
can have bilateral talks with Kim Jong Il and we can get those weapons
at the same time as we get China because China has an interest in the
MR. LEHRER: Thirty seconds, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT BUSH: You know my opinion on North Korea. I can't say it any
more plainly. (Chuckles.)
MR. LEHRER: Right. Well, but when he used the word "truth"
PRESIDENT BUSH: Pardon me?
MR. LEHRER: He's talking about the truth of the matter and used the
word "truth" again. Did that raise any hackles that you --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Oh, I'm a pretty calm guy. I mean --
MR. LEHRER: Okay. All right.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I don't take it personally. (Chuckles.)
MR. LEHRER: Yeah.
PRESIDENT BUSH: But you know, look, we looked at the same intelligence
and we came to the same conclusion, that Saddam Hussein was a grave
threat. And I don't hold it against him that he said grave threat. I
don't -- I was -- I'm not going to go around the country saying he didn't
tell the truth when he looked at the same intelligence I did.
SEN. KERRY: It was a threat. That's not the issue. The issue is what
you do about it. The president said he was going to build a true coalition,
exhaust the remedies of the U.N., and go to war as a last resort. Those
words really have to mean something, and unfortunately he didn't go
to war as a last resort. Now we have this incredible mess in Iraq, $200
billion. It's not what the American people thought they were getting
when they voted.