Sen. John Kerry Meets with Syria's President
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
And earlier, Madeleine, before the program, I spoke with Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat. He's on a tour at the Middle East now, you know. And in Damascus today, he met with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad - this after spending the weekend in Iraq. So I began asking Senator Kerry about this comment from President Bush yesterday to the Washington Post: We're not winning. We're not losing.
Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): Well, we're definitely not winning. There are some critical things that we need to do to get this right in the next months. So it's very clear that the entire region is in crisis and interconnected in that crisis. It seems to me that the war, as the president has described it, has been continually in military terms. And there's nobody out here who believes that there's any resolution militarily. This has to be done diplomatically and politically. And hopefully, in the next days, we can get the diplomacy in place that brings together the kind of coalition that can resolve the differences between Shia and Sunni.
CHADWICK: What about this idea of a surge in American troops - another 15,000 or maybe 30,000 American troops to be sent to Iraq and, specifically, Baghdad for a period of six or eight months at least?
Sen. KERRY: If a surge is unaccompanied by the kind of political resolution that I've just described, it would be a catastrophic mistake. You can put another 100,000 troops into Iraq and it's not going to make a difference without resolving the fundamental differences between the stakeholders. This is a power struggle. It's a power struggle between Sunni - who run the country for years and now aren't - and Shia - who were oppressed for years and now have won at the ballot box where they could never win before.
So it's a question of how you get one side to get what it can't win at the ballot box, and the other side to give up when it won in a sufficient level that you can find some accommodation. If you can't do that, you're going to see, I think, a lot of killing for some period of time, and possibly even a full-scale civil war.
CHADWICK: You've just met with Syria's president Bashar al-Assad. Of course, there have been suggestions that the United States might try to get Syria to help out in some way with Iraq. Did you raise that with President Assad? And if so, what was his response?
Sen. KERRY: I was here with Senator Dodd, and we had a long discussion about that, a long discussion about all of the interconnected issues - Lebanon, al-Qaida, and Iran. And the fact is I think there are very real possibilities that Senator Dodd and I will certainly relate to the administration that we think that could follow up on and they could conceivably elicit some greater cooperation. I believe that possibility is real. And I think that they certainly spoke clearly, definitively and specifically about the ways in which they're prepared to do (unintelligible) with respect to Iraq and how important they think it is that there be a regional-wide effort.
CHADWICK: Senator, you know that another Democratic senator, Bill Nelson, was in Syria just a couple of weeks ago. After that visit, there was kind of pronouncement from the White House that it was not helpful to have U.S. Senators speaking to the Syrian government, that this might confuse things in some way. And I just wondered what your reaction is to that.
Sen. KERRY: I emphasize to you, as we did to the administration, that I met with Secretary Rice before I left. But, you know, we are separate and co-equal branch of government. We have important responsibilities to our constituents -the American people - for foreign policy. We saw an election of profound importance last November, where the Democrats took control of the Congress.
And we have responsibilities as chairmen of sub committees, as members of the foreign relations committee, to get this right. I've been at this for a long time now, and the efforts I've made with Vietnam, the efforts I made with the Philippines, with Central America, Latin America - they all came about because we have prepared to try to engage in the discussion.
And I just believe it's important to talk. Ronald Reagan talked to Gorbachev. Richard Nixon sent Kissinger to talk to the Chinese. We need to engage. This is too dangerous a world not to. And we're trying to help the administration. And I think they will be pleased with today's discussion, I really do.
CHADWICK: Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts on a tour of the Middle East in Syria today, and on his way to Israel after a visit to Iraq over the weekend.
Senator Kerry, thank you for speaking with us.
Senator: It's my privilege. Thank you.