McCain On The Russian Invasion And Negative Ads

Sen. John McCain

Arizona Sen. John McCain speaks at a town hall meeting on the campaign trail Tuesday in York, Pa. William Thomas Cain/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

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Republican presidential hopeful John McCain says that Russia's invasion of neighboring Georgia signals a new political era, but not necessarily a return to the Cold War.

"I don't think there's going to be nuclear-weapons buildups," the Arizona senator told NPR's Renee Montagne. "But I do think that Russian behavior is not acceptable, and we will do what we can to maintain our alliances and friends and make the Russians understand that this kind of behavior is not a part of what we view as the 21st century."

McCain spoke to NPR shortly after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered his troops to halt military action in Georgia.

McCain spoke to Montagne from York, Pa., where he has been campaigning relatively unopposed this week, since his Democratic rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, is on vacation.

In addition to Russia, McCain spoke about the negative ads his campaign produced comparing Obama to celebrity heiress Paris Hilton, as well as his vice-presidential selection process. Below are excerpts of the conversation.

RENEE MONTAGNE: Russia's president did order an end to Russian military operations there. To the degree that that is in effect, and to the degree that peace talks are in motion, how much did statements from the West make a difference here? Because there is an argument that they didn't make much difference at all, that Russia had its own agenda, and it came and went as it pleased in Georgia.

JOHN MCCAIN: Well, I think, to a large extent, unfortunately, that's the case. They want a friendly country on their border. They want to control the oil pipelines that goes through there. And this is clearly in keeping with the Russian ambitions for the old, near a broad control of or absolute takeover of surrounding countries. And this may be trying to send a message to Ukraine and other countries in the region.

Well, there would be those who would say that that message has been sent and heard even beyond the region. What, realistically, could the U.S. in particular do to prevent, as you say, other sorts of influence that the Russians would like to exert in that region?

Well, I think, in the short term, there is limited options, certainly, that we have. Long term, I think we may be in a period of relations with Russia where we have to make sure that we help our friends, that we do what we can to protect democracies and freedom, and make sure that we understand that there is a new era that obviously began when President Putin took over, and so we will adjust our relations accordingly.

And I don't think that there's going to be a re-ignition of the Cold War; don't get me wrong. I don't think there's going to be nuclear-weapons buildups, et cetera, but I think that Russian behavior is not acceptable. And we will do what we can to maintain our alliances and our friends and make the Russians understand that this kind of behavior is not a part of what we view as the 21st century.

So, to move on to domestic questions, Steve Schmidt, who is running your campaign, has said something kind of simple and understandable. He said that a campaign needs one positive message about its candidate and then one good, strong negative message about the opponent. Your camp —

I never heard that statement, and I'd have to know who attributed it to him before I would agree with that. We're not sending any negative message in our campaign. We're drawing differences in positions between myself and Sen. Obama, which are significant. He wants to raise taxes; I want to keep them low. He doesn't want to drill offshore or have nuclear power; I want both. I've never heard Steve Schmidt say we need a negative message in the campaign.

I'm quoting The Wall Street Journal here.

I've run many, many campaigns, and I have never believed that we need a strong negative message. And I've been in –-

However, do you not consider it a negative message, though, when a campaign ad goes on TV that blames your opponent, Barack Obama, for high gas prices or –-

I believe strongly that if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. And he voted for the energy bill that had all kind of tax breaks and giveaways for the oil companies. I believe if you're not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. And it's a big problem in America today.

And are you comfortable with ads where your opponent is being compared to Paris Hilton?

I'm very comfortable with my campaign. And I strongly recommend that people who don't find humor in that relax, turn off the computer and go on it and get some fresh air and try to regain some —

Well, Paris Hilton found some humor in it.

Yeah, sure.

As you know, certainly, everyone is waiting for you and Sen. Obama to announce your picks for vice president. Are you going to wait for the senator to announce his pick first?

No, we're not going to be dictated by Sen. Obama's schedule; we'll be dictated by our efforts to arrive at a — at the most qualified and best candidate.

So can you give us a sense of when you are going to make your pick?

No, I can't.

And who's on your short list?

Thanks for asking. No, I can't do that, either.

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