Hot Stories for the Week of Feb. 14

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", Feb. 19, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: OK, the hot story, Dubya’s whirlwind. And just hours from now, he begins on this whirlwind trip to Europe, four days, four stops, four big meetings, NATO (search), President Chirac (search) of France, Chancellor Schroeder (search) of Germany, and then the very important meeting with Vladimir Putin (search), the president of Russia.

Well, let’s start with Chirac, because this is going to be the most agreeable meeting that Bush and Chirac have had in about four years, because they really agree on the subject matter, and that’s Syria. And, of course, Syria has provoked both Chirac and Bush, France and the United States, not only because they’re harboring terrorists, not only because they’re allowing Iraqi insurgents to shuttle across the border with Iraq, but particularly because of this assassination, this explosion that blew up Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon, where Syria dominates Lebanon, has troops there, has for a long time, and would really like to erase the border between the two countries.

And with this explosion, the finger points — now, there’s no conclusive evidence, but the finger points at Syria. Listen to Secretary of State of Condi Rice on exactly this point.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: The Syrians, given their position in Lebanon, given their interference in Lebanese affairs, given the fact that their forces are there, given the terrorists that operate in southern Lebanon with Syrian forces in close proximity to them, does put on the Syrians a special responsibility for the kind of destabilization that happened there, and that this sort of thing could happen.


BARNES: Well, it was pretty clear what she was getting at there.


BARNES: Look, one of the options, you know, you can freeze the Syrian assets, you can stop them from using these banking clearing houses that do international transactions, you can limit how far their diplomats can go in the U.S. from Washington or from the U.N., or you can take tougher measures. But something’s going to happen.

JUAN WILLIAMS, GUEST CO-HOST: Well, you know, the idea of a united Syria-Iranian front really offers the possibility of destabilizing them, at least. And therefore, there’s not much option. But the problem is, what do you do? You got to go beyond U.N. sanctions. I don’t think there’s much power there. But for the moment that’s what Condoleezza Rice (search), our secretary of state, is proposing, and that’s what she’s saying is the tough fist within the velvet glove that’s coming from the Europeans that are doing the negotiating.

But I’m telling you, what’s behind it, ultimately, is the U.S. willingness to put some military punch in there and go after the Syrians. And I don’t think we’re in position, given what’s been going on in Iraq, to deliver the punch.

BARNES: Juan, I had no idea you were going to be more hawkish than I am on this subject.


BARNES: But I defer to you.

Now, look, another issue is one you touched on, Iran. You know, when you go in and talk to administration officials, they tick down a list of all the things that the Iranians are troublesome on, you know, not only nuclear weapons, which we suspect they’re making, and sponsoring terrorists, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, but listen to President Bush.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I look forward to, again, on this trip to discussing strategies, ways forward with the Europeans, to make sure we continue to speak with one voice, and that is, Iran should not have a nuclear weapon, and how to work together to make sure they don’t.


WILLIAMS: Well, I don’t understand this, because the president’s good friend, the man he’s seen his soul, Vladimir Putin, says, Oh, no problem. He’s going to continue cooperating with the Syrians in terms of nuclear weapons.

BARNES: Well, that’s why the president’s going to meet with him.

WILLIAMS: Well, but it sounds to me like they don’t have a similar view of what’s taking place. And this brings me back to this whole topic.


WILLIAMS: It’s not that I’m being more hawkish than you, Fred. I’m simply saying, given what we have done, that’s what this is leading to, and it’s a warning. I mean, we have to be careful about how we put these ducks in line, because it’s leading us towards military intervention.

BARNES: Yes. Well, the Iranians are a problem, and Putin is obviously wrong about this, and the president’s going to have to correct him, I think. Now, whether Putin will agree or not, I don’t know.

But you also have to be deft in dealing with Vladimir Putin, because the Russians are not our enemy. Now, we disagree with them on Iran, and they’ve done some other things we don’t like. But in terms of the war on terror, the alliance with Russia is important, and particularly in terms of checkmating China and the, you know, resurgent Chinese nationalism and so on, but with the Russians on our side.

WILLIAMS: Well, be careful.

BARNES: Yes, yes.

WILLIAMS: Remember, they’re antidemocratic.

BARNES: Yes, well, I know. But we don’t — well, they’ve moved somewhat in that direction. But I think ultimately, the trend in Russia is toward democracy, maybe after Putin.

Now, one more subject, Iraq. The president, I don’t think he’ll gloat when he goes to see the European leaders, and gloating is, is never attractive. But he can say, look what’s happened in Iraq now. We’ve had a democratic election. There was a huge turnout. They’ll have a government probably with a, a prime minister, probably Ibraham al-Jaafari, who’s a Shi’ite, who’ll probably be named prime minister next week.

And, I mean, things have really moved ahead in Iraq. The problem is, I think the president’s going to find in talking to Chirac and, and to Schroeder, that they’re not, they’re still not going to offer any help in Iraq.

WILLIAMS: No. In fact Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, was able to get them to promise some help with training a small number of officers. It’s negligible.

BARNES: Yes, exactly.

WILLIAMS: But here’s the thing. It’s a start. And you would hope that President Bush would be able to add to this notion of persuasion. And what he’s been very clear about, he’s in the business now of building alliance with these Europeans. That’s the purpose of this trip.

BARNES: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

WILLIAMS: But I don’t see that he’s going to get much feedback. So it’s got to be that he goes over there and says, Look, here’s the reason that we, that you’re, it’s in your best interests, Europeans, to play ball. And the reason is it’s key to Middle East peace.


WILLIAMS: Because they’re very interested in getting the Palestinians to cut a deal with the Israelis and stop the possibility of another, you know, implosion in the Middle East.

BARNES: You know, it wouldn’t be, it wouldn’t be politic or diplomatic for the president to say this, but I think he, he’s justified in saying it to Chirac and Schroeder and Putin on Iraq, I was right, you were wrong.


BARNES: Now, he’s not going to say that, but it, but it’s true.


WILLIAMS: I’m glad you’re not giving him advice because that’s not the right stuff.

BARNES: That’s true, though.

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