RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And two men who have been closely watching the fighting between Georgia and Russia are presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain. Each man's response to the conflict could influence voters on Election Day. We heard from John McCain when we caught up with him yesterday shortly before he hosted a town meeting in York, Pennsylvania.
Good morning, Senator.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presidential Candidate): Good morning. How are you?
MONTAGNE: Pretty good, thank you. We have been reporting, of course, over the last few days on the conflict in Georgia. Russia's president did order an end to Russian military operations. How much did statements from the West make a difference here? Because, one, there is an argument that they didn't make difference at all, that Russia had its own agenda and it came and went as it pleased in Georgia.
Sen. 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 (unintelligible) 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.
MONTAGNE: 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?
Sen. MCCAIN: 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 power. 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, etc. 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.
MONTAGNE: So to move onto 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...
Sen. MCCAIN: 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, in myself and Senator 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.
MONTAGNE: I'm quoting the Wall Street Journal here.
Sen. MCCAIN: I've run many, many campaigns and I've never believed that we needed a strong negative message and I've been in...
MONTAGNE: 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...
Sen. MCCAIN: 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 kinds of tax breaks and giveaways for the - to the oil companies and all kinds of good deals for them. 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.
MONTAGNE: And are you comfortable with ads where your opponent is being...
Sen. MCCAIN: I'm very comfortable...
MONTAGNE: ...compared to Paris Hilton?
Sen. MCCAIN: I'm very comfortable with my campaign and I strongly recommend that people that don't find humor in that relax, turn off the computer and go on out and get some fresh air and try to regain...
(Soundbite of laughter)
MONTAGNE: Well, Paris Hilton found some humor in it.
Sen. MCCAIN: Yeah, sure.
MONTAGNE: What - as you know, certainly everyone is waiting for you and Senator Obama to announce your picks for vice president. Are you going to wait for the senator to announce his pick first?
Sen. MCCAIN: No. We're not going to be dictated by Senator Obama's schedule. We'll be dictated by our efforts to arrive at the most qualified and best candidate.
MONTAGNE: So can you give us a sense of when you are going to make your pick?
Sen. MCCAIN: No, I can't.
MONTAGNE: And who's on your short list?
Sen. MCCAIN: Thanks for asking. No, I can't do that either.
MONTAGNE: Senator McCain, thanks very much.
Sen. MCCAIN: Thank you very much, Renee. It's always good to talk to you.
MONTAGNE: We reached the presumed Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, in York, Pennsylvania.
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