Transcript: Sens. Rockefeller, Roberts on 'FNS'

The following is a transcribed excerpt of 'FOX News Sunday,' Sunday, February 20, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: With new worries about terror threats, a nominee chosen for director of national intelligence, and President Bush off on a week-long trip to Europe, we thought it was a good time to check in with the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Chairman Pat Roberts, who joins us from Tampa, and the vice chairman, Jay Rockefeller, here in studio.

And, Senators, welcome to both of you.


WALLACE: As we said, President Bush left for Europe this morning, a trip during which he wants to try to get the allies to press Syria and Iran to clear up Iraq.

Senator Roberts, after the troubles of the last four years, is this, in a sense, a test of the Atlantic alliance?

U.S. SENATOR PAT ROBERTS, R-KS: Well, it may well be. I think we are getting more cooperation. I think the trip by the president is to mend fences or basically to mend what may be public opinion.

Obviously, the situation in Iraq has been controversial. And I think he'll do just that.

But the thing that I'm excited about, and I know that Senator Rockefeller is, both Jay and I think that the appointment of Ambassador John Negroponte, and then more especially the appointment of his deputy, Lieutenant General Michael Hayden, they — I think they represent an excellent team.

And I think, from the standpoint of General Hayden, he knows the intelligence community forwards and backwards. He's one of the most respected people in the intelligence community. And, then, with the ambassador, I think he's got a lot of respect overseas.

And I think people need to know that it was a world — a world — intelligence failure on the WMD situation of last year that we investigated on the intelligence committee.

And so I think, with the ambassador's appointment, I think a lot of credibility will be gained overseas as well with our allies.

WALLACE: Senator Rockefeller, I'm going to get to the Negroponte appointment in just a moment, but let me ask you a follow-up on the president's trip. What can President Bush realistically expect, do you think, from the French and from the Russians, and do you believe that diplomacy can sway Iran or Syria?

ROCKEFELLER: I'm not sure that diplomacy can sway Iran or Syria, but I think we have to try. I think the most important part of this trip — and I think the president, you know, could surprise us, as the European leaders could, because I think there's an instinct that there's got to be some pulling together with all of this nuclear proliferation going on.

I think his most important conversation will be with President Putin of Russia, because he has come out very recently and said the Iranians are not producing nuclear weapons, it's only nuclear power, and, therefore, he's going to go ahead and continue helping them. And I think that's a stern conversation they need to have.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you, first of all, Senator Rockefeller, how stern does that conversation need to be?

Some of your colleagues in the Senate are saying that, when you combine the fact that Putin is going to continue to help the Iranians build a nuclear reactor, and there have been some retrenchments on the democratic reforms in Russia, I think it's McCain and Lieberman have talked about suspending Russia from the G-8 industrial democracy.

Should we begin to really wave some sticks at President Putin?

ROCKEFELLER: I don't think this is the proper time, because I think — we had a hearing last week in which they talked about loose nukes or unaccounted for nuclear weapons that the Russians had in their stockpile but which have disappeared. And I think that President Putin ought to be very worried about that within his own country, not only from Siberia, but also Chechnya, a former part of his country, et cetera. And I think that should be his focus. And I think it will be part of his focus.

WALLACE: Senator Roberts, let's talk about the Iranian component of this. How solid is the information that we have that Iran is developing, has a nuclear weapons program? And do you believe their promises to the Europeans that they have stopped the enrichment of uranium?

ROBERTS: I think probably the key words are to trust and to verify. Our own intelligence community has said that Iran has been developing their capability, not only in regards to nuclear power, but also in regards to WMD for some time.

Now, the International Atomic Energy Commission says that, yes, they did cheat, but now they're no longer cheating.

We're very hopeful, with our European friends, that we can get to the bottom of it, but I think the key word is trust and verify. And I think if we can get our European friends to be a little more aggressive, then we can have certainly more success than we have had in the past.

But the intelligence community is going to keep up on that. And that's what Jay and I want to do on the Intelligence Committee this year, look at our capabilities. Are we capable of getting the best possible consensus, threat analysis with our collection, our analysis, and our information access? That's one of the things we want to do in the committee to make sure that our capabilities in Iran are such that we really do know what is going on, and then sharing that with our allies.

WALLACE: Senator Roberts, let me follow up on another threat, almost next door. How hard is the evidence that Syria was behind the assassination of former Lebanese President Hariri?

ROBERTS: It's a little premature, I think, to really put the full blame in regards to Syria, but I think the actions by the administration were exactly right.

We withdrew our ambassador. We are certainly putting the pressure on.

They've been in Lebanon far too long. That is problem. And Syria has just not been behaving in the way that we would want if we're going to bring any stability to the Mideast.

WALLACE: Senator Rockefeller?

ROCKEFELLER: I think that the president of Syria is at a real crossroads in his career. He's an Alawite, which is a very small minority. He's got a lot of problems in the Kurdish northeast of his country. He runs a country where most people don't share his ethnic background, so to speak.

And he recently fired his intelligence chief and got a new intelligence chief, who happens to be the brother — the husband of his sister. So what does that tell you?

I don't think he's been able to get control of his own bureaucracy. And until he gets control of his own bureaucracy, which is a fairly tough, mean bureaucracy, I'm not sure he's somebody we can count on. And I think we have to be fairly tough toward him.

WALLACE: Let me talk about one more trouble spot, if I can, with you, Senator Roberts, North Korea. They announced last week something that a lot of people had already believed, that they have nuclear weapons, but there's been some question as to whether they're bluffing or not.

One, do you believe that North Korea does in fact have nuclear weapons? Does our intelligence indicate that?

And, if so, how advanced is their program? Do they have a nuclear missile capability?

ROBERTS: Well, basically the intelligence community has said for some time they've had between one or two and now there's a range. And sometimes that range on the high end tends to really worry you.

And also their recent statement they're going to go it alone, they're not going to take part in the six-party talks, they don't even want any bilateral talks — but that's nothing new for Kim Jong Il and also North Korea. They love to bluster, and their capability in regards to WMD of all types is about the only thing that allows them on the world stage.

So we take that very seriously, and again what we're going to do on the Intelligence Committee, with Jay's help — and it will be a bipartisan effort — to look at our capabilities in regards to what is the right intelligence from, say, North Korea and Iran and other countries like that.

But with North Korea, yes, I do think they have the capability.

And it isn't so much whether they would use that weaponry. It is the whole business — they are in the business of nuclear terrorism, and if they would deliver that to a nonstate actor or any kind of a terrorist group, with the kind of missiles they have, it could conceivably reach either — well, it could reach California. It could reach Hawaii, not to mention other countries of the Mideast, more especially, Israel.

WALLACE: Senator Rockefeller, let's talk now about Ambassador Negroponte, who the president named to be the first director of national intelligence.

There's talk about human rights abuses in Honduras when he was ambassador. There are some questions about whether this is the right time to remove him as the ambassador to Iraq. As the ranking Democrat on the committee that will vote to confirm him or not, is he going to have any trouble getting confirmed?

ROCKEFELLER: No, I don't think he will be. And I think the main reason for that is that President Bush made a superb appointment in, not only John Negroponte, but also General Hayden of the National Security Agency.

Look, Negroponte is not of the intelligence community but understands it. He's not of the military but understands it. He comes from the State Department, a 40-year career. If you don't think they have turf battles in the State Department — those are some of the — that's rugby. And he knows that stuff. He knows how to handle people.

And what's going to be important is that when he comes to his first few tests with Rumsfeld over a decision, that he back — the president — back up Negroponte. That's going to be the real key. Will the president, not just announce him, praise him and say that he has the authority to determine budgets and all the authority he needs, but will he back him up when he's challenged?

WALLACE: Senator Roberts, let me ask you about that. Because when he was appointed, Negroponte, who's had a lot of tough jobs, said that this would be his most challenging assignment. How are we going to know — how are you going to know if, in fact, he really is the intelligence czar and if he is able to — I don't know how to put it — but if he wins the battles with Rumsfeld at Pentagon and Goss at CIA?

ROBERTS: Well, Jay and I are going to meet with him on a regular basis.

When I talked to him that morning, when he gave me a call, and said he was going to be the new national director of intelligence, I said both Jay and I will want to work with him, and the committee will want to work with him.

I think the key thing is what Jay said. When the president made the announcement, he said he's going to be the doorkeeper of intelligence. He's going to be the one that he really relies on in regards to saying, "Okay, what's a good idea? What's a bad idea?"

ROBERTS: If John says it's a good idea, I'll listen to it. If it's a bad idea, I won't."

So most of the concern that we have had on the intelligence committee, here's a man who will have the responsibility to be the new DNI, but would he have the authority?

I think the president laid that to rest. He is his man in regards to intelligence.

And I think that question was asked of the president. If he got into a tussle with Secretary Rumsfeld, who would win? And the president really laid that aside. He said, you know, we have a lot of differences of opinion. I like, you know, those kind of things in this administration. But he said, "This is the man for me for intelligence. He will be my chief briefer. He will be in the room."

And so I think that, you know, that is certainly all to the good.

And, then, don't forget Mike Hayden, who is probably one of the most respected people, if not the most respected, in the intelligence, say, community.

So I think we have a good team, and I think that he will have the authority, and the committee will be working with him very closely to make sure he has that authority.

WALLACE: Senator Rockefeller, one last area I want to get into. CIA Director Goss briefed your committee this week and gave a chilling assessment of the threat, continued threat, from al Qaida. Let's watch that, if we can. Here it is.


PORTER GOSS, CIA DIRECTOR: It may be only a matter of time before al Qaida or other group attempts to use chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons. We must focus on that.


WALLACE: We've been living, of course, under that threat since 9/11. Any reason to think that the threat is more pressing, more immediate now than it has been?

ROCKEFELLER: In the sense that half of the nuclear materials, pieces and parts of it, are unaccounted for by the Russians — and a lot of them, these places are in rural areas — I think you can legitimately look at North Korea and the unaccounted-for nuclear weapons parts in Russia and have a real debate as to which is more threatening to the world right now, because the point is that a lot of those people who protect those places can be bribed.

Terrorists can come in and buy part of those. And that's the theory that I think Porter was talking about, that a lot of those lost nuclear weapons can be out circulating in the terrorist community. And if that's so, that's probably as dangerous or more so than North Korea.

WALLACE: Senator, we're going to have to leave it there. Senator Rockefeller, Senator Roberts, thank you both so much for joining us and talking with us today, giving us a kind of tour of the horizon.

Thanks an awful lot.

ROBERTS: Thank you.