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Transcript: Admiral Mike Mullen on 'FNS'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published July 06, 2009 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a rush transcript of the July 4, 2009, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
CHRIS WALLACE, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST: Joining us now, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.
Admiral, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday" and happy Fourth of July weekend, sir.
ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN: Good morning, Chris. Happy Fourth to you.
WALLACE: You join the president in Moscow tomorrow for a summit with Russian leaders. They have now agreed to open their airspace to flights of U.S. troops and weapons over Russia into Afghanistan. How much will that help with the war effort?
MULLEN: Well, any effort in terms of being able to support the kind of logistics effort that is significant is very helpful.
And as we were talking just before we — I came on, I was just in Russia last week, met with my counterpart — the first time that I'd been there to meet with him — to discuss — to renew — move towards renewal of military relationship with the Russians.
And that will be an important part of this summit as well.
WALLACE: Well, I want to pick up on the state of U.S.-Russian relations. Here's what President Obama said this week about the message that he intends to bring to Moscow. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The old Cold War approaches to U.S.-Russian relations is outdated — that it's time to move forward in a different direction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: From your meetings, do the Russians agree that the Cold War is over or, as Mr. Obama said about Prime Minister Putin, that they have one foot in the old way of doing business and one foot in the new way?
MULLEN: Well, I've met with my counterpart twice, once in Helsinki several months ago and then again last week. And the indications I get from him are he's anxious to move forward.
We have things in common that we need to work on. Afghanistan — neither country wants to see the Taliban return to Afghanistan. The kind of efforts we share in counterpiracy, counterterrorism, a focus on Iran — and we obviously have areas of difference. I would cite missile defense as certainly a big one.
WALLACE: But do you have a sense that the Cold War is over in their minds or not?
MULLEN: Well, I think — I think they want to move forward. I mean, that's — from my counterpart, certainly, the indication is they do want to move forward, and they want to do it in a way where we look — basically deal with each other from positions of respect. And certainly, that's how I've approached my interaction with him.
WALLACE: You pointed out one of the areas where you're disagreeing, and that's missile defense, and particularly the Russian objection to the setting up of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
There's nothing in the Obama budget for that system. Is the president committed to installing it in Eastern Europe, or could he conceivably make a deal with the Russians?
MULLEN: Well, he's directed us to undertake a very extensive review, and that is ongoing and won't be done until this year.
The whole issue of missile defense from my perspective is focused on defense of Europe. Obviously, the Russians see it differently. So I think we've — we're going to have to work our way through that.
I visited Poland as I left Moscow the other day, and certainly they're anxious to see us move forward. And clearly, we've had engagements with Czechoslovakia as well. I think all of that is certainly a part of what will be determined later this year.
WALLACE: But I'm just trying to get a sense — as the president sits down with the Russian president and prime minister, is missile defense in Eastern Europe negotiable?
MULLEN: From my perspective, that's something that President Medvedev and President Obama are going to have to work their way through, and the details of that will be — will obviously be part of the discussions that they undertake later this week.
WALLACE: Speaking of missile defense, the North Koreans fired seven -- seven — missiles...
WALLACE: ... on Saturday and four missiles on Thursday. What are they up to, Admiral? And do we think that they're still going to launch a long-range missile towards Hawaii?
MULLEN: Well, they certainly still have that potential. These seven missiles that were fired yesterday were relatively short-range. It's similar to what they did in 2006. He's clearly trying to send a message. That said, I think — and it's a clear violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution.
WALLACE: What do you think's the message they're trying to send?
MULLEN: Well, I think that — I mean, the — I believe that the international community has to continue to come together. I think the international community has stayed strong with respect to this Security Council resolution.
WALLACE: But what do you think is the message that the North Koreans...
MULLEN: Well, it's very difficult to figure out exactly what the North Korean leadership is up to. It's not predictable historically. He clearly wants to continue to be belligerent and thumb his nose at the international community.
And beyond that, it's difficult to tell. But it's very destabilizing, potentially.
WALLACE: Admiral, as I just said, 11 missiles fired in three days — is this any time for the president to be cutting missile defense as he does in his new budget?
MULLEN: I'm comfortable. We've worked our way through the missile defense readiness that we need right now, and I'm comfortable with the preparations that we've taken that we can defend our interests very specifically.
Again, I think the long-term future with respect to missile defense will be determined in how we move forward with this review and the various pieces — the Navy piece, the land-based piece, the air side of this — that we put together in the long run.
WALLACE: In Afghanistan, the U.S. has launched a new offensive with 4,000 Marines in Helmand province. How certain are you that this new strategy, which is certainly based on the troop surge in Iraq — that it's one that will work and that they will be able to hold presidential elections in Afghanistan next month?
MULLEN: Well, I'm very comfortable that we have the troop — the troop numbers about right in the south. That offensive just started.
The whole goal of this is to provide security for the people of Afghanistan. They really are the center of gravity. And that leads to an environment that supports elections later this August. That's a big milestone in that country. And we want them to be open and free and fair and be able to provide as much security as we possibly can between now and then.
WALLACE: You talked about troop levels. I want to talk about not just in southern Afghanistan but throughout the country...
WALLACE: ... because there seem to be mixed messages this week about our troop level policy for Afghanistan.
National Security Adviser James Jones was quoted this week as telling U.S. commanders they are not to expect any more troops beyond what the president has already promised.
You were quoted the next day as saying the top new commander, General McChrystal, is going to make a review, and he can ask for as many troops as he wants. Admiral, which is it?
MULLEN: I've had — I've had discussions with General Jones, also with the president, and I think we're all committed to making sure we resource this correctly.
President Obama has committed the forces that we've asked this year. General McChrystal, who is the brand-new leader there, is in the middle of an assessment. He'll come back in about 45 days with his assessment in terms of what he needs.
My guidance to him had been, "Tell us what you need, and then come back and we'll work that." And it's guidance that both General Jones and the president understands and support.
I think one of the points is we have to make sure that every single American that is there is one that we absolutely need.
In addition, the commander on the ground has to assess with a new strategy, and he's a — and new leadership — really zero base — not just what's there, but what he needs for the future, and we expect that sometime the end of July or middle of August.
WALLACE: What's the latest about the missing American soldier? Who's holding him? And have they made any demands?
MULLEN: Well, I wouldn't get into any details about that, but — in terms of the kinds of things that could compromise the efforts. Clearly, we've got a full court press on trying to find him. We're doing everything we possibly can. And obviously, it's a very difficult situation, but we're very focused on it.
WALLACE: In our last minutes, I'd like to do, to the degree that you're comfortable with this, a lightning round of quick questions and quick answers.
Vice President Biden has told Iraqi leaders that if that country returns to sectarian violence that the U.S. is likely to end its commitment. Do we mean that?
MULLEN: What I've seen with our troops coming out of the cities in the last week has been very positive. The politics are really critical in Iraq between now and over the next, certainly, months as they look to elections in January.
So I think the message there is clearly that the political leadership in Iraq has to do as much as they possibly can to make sure security is sustained.
WALLACE: But if they were to devolve back into sectarian violence, we are prepared to just wipe our hands of it?
MULLEN: Well, that's a decision, obviously, for the administration, certainly for the president. But we're not there right now, and I don't see the trends — anything at this point leading in that direction.
WALLACE: Given the political repression in Iran in the last few weeks with the election and then the crackdown, the brutal crackdown in some cases, on the protests, do we want to keep trying to engage the Iranian regime?
MULLEN: That's a decision for the president to make. Very clearly, I'm — as everyone was, I'm — and is — troubled by the level of violence and what happened but wouldn't comment extensively on the political events inside a country like this.
But I remain concerned about Iran. On the military side, they still continue to develop nuclear weapons. They still support terrorism. And I think they're a country that we're going to have to deal with.
WALLACE: A report in the Washington Times this week said that you believe that a military strike against Iran would spur Iran's nuclear facilities, would spur a bloody retaliation against U.S. interests in the Middle East and around the world, and that you have come to believe we're going to have to learn to live with an Iranian nuclear weapon. Is that true?
MULLEN: Well, actually, I honestly didn't even — I didn't see that report. I've been one who have been concerned about a strike on Iran for some time because it could be very destabilizing, and it is the unintended consequences of that which aren't predictable.
That said, I think it's very important as we deal with Iran that we don't take any options, including military options, off the table. And that's something that the president is certainly both aware of and he obviously has to make decisions about how he's going to continue to approach Iran.
WALLACE: Which would be more destabilizing, the blowback from a military strike against the nuclear establishment in Iran, or Iran having a nuclear weapon?
MULLEN: I think — I think both outcomes are really, really bad outcomes. And that speaks to the very narrow space that we have to try to resolve this so that neither one of those things occur.
WALLACE: Admiral Mullen, we want to thank you. Thanks for coming in today. Safe travels to Russia later this — later today.
MULLEN: Thank you, Chris.
WALLACE: Coming up, the two House leaders on health care reform and what can be done to kick-start the economy. Back in a moment.
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