Can Relations with Europe Be Mended?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," February 21, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: President Bush telling our European allies to move on, calling, as you just heard, differences over Iraq as a passing disagreement. Joining me now is former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson. He’s of course, the Governor of New Mexico at the present moment.

So, Governor, Bush was nice; he came and said nice things. So do you get the sense that it’s time for the Europeans, and that they know it’s time for the Europeans to get over it?

BILL RICHARDSON (D), GOVERNOR, NEW MEXICO: Yes. And the fact that the trip is taking place, even if they don’t necessarily sign any agreements, is important. The President’s tone is conciliatory; the fact that he’s seeing almost every European leader is good.

We have to get past Iraq because if the United States and Europe can team up together, nothing can stop changing the world towards making it better. This is a hugely important alliance and my view would be concentrate now on the three areas that bring the most potential agreement.

One, how can we deal with Syria (search) and get them out of Lebanon? Two, how can we have a carrot and stick policy with Iran? Right now it seems to just be a bunch of carrots to the Iranians to abandon their nuclear weapons program.

And then thirdly, on Mideast peace: if we get engaged, things are a little better there. And that’s where Europe and especially France has a lot of influence with Syria and with the Palestinians. So I think this trip does present a lot of good opportunity.

GIBSON: OK, Governor. Remember when you were the U.N. ambassador, and you’d have some very difficult problem. And you would want to say, as President Bush did say over Iraq, there is a time for force, where force has to be used. The Europeans have seemed to be very resistant to that idea.

How can we get along with them over these issues if they won’t accept the notion that sometimes force is necessary?

RICHARDSON: Well, I do believe the president handled it right when it came to Iraq when he said, "What we want from you, Europeans, is help us train some of the Iraqi security forces." He didn’t ask for troops from the French, from the Germans. I think what he is doing is sending the message that that combative president, the aggressive U.S. policy is now shifting towards reconstruction, towards the elections.

That’s what you want to do. I think the biggest problem now, John, is on Iran (search). What the Europeans want to do is negotiate the issue of Iran and keeping its nuclear weapons. I think the President is right when he says there has to be carrot and stick: that there has to be sanctions towards Iran by Europe, by America if the Iranians don’t abandon their program.

So, you don’t want to talk about force right now. I don’t think that is a viable option anyway when we’re so stretched in Iraq, we’re stretched in Afghanistan. So, I think Secretary Rice deserves credit for setting up what seems to be a good atmosphere that might lead to more understanding in these three areas, where it’s vitally important that the U.S. and Europe work with each other.

We need the Europeans to resolve these issues. We can’t do these three issues alone: the Middle East, the Iranian issue.

GIBSON: But Governor, the Europeans are going at Iran and have been for some time. The British, French, and Germans asked the President to please keep quiet about it; "don’t be making rash or intemperate remarks. We’ll go in and deal with them." It hasn’t worked.

So when the President says, "All right, we’ll try sanctions next." Suppose that doesn’t work?

RICHARDSON: Well, I do think there that the next compromise might be bringing the Iran issue to the United Nations to the Security Council (search), where the superpowers can debate it and which moves closer to our position, which I think what the President — and I sense the Bush administration wants to do — is they want to stop this nuclear proliferation by the Iranians, as they well should be.

But the Europeans want to negotiate it and reward the Iranians with peaceful nuclear development. I believe that our position of having some sanctions if they don’t perform, if they don’t change their policy, make sense. So you move into the next arena which is the Security Council.

Right now, John, talking about force, talking about taking out some of those Iranian nuclear sites where we don’t necessarily know where they are is really not an option. So, he’s, I believe, approaching it correctly.

GIBSON: Governor, before I run out of time — but I got another question for you — but do you think that force should be off the table? Do you think the Iranians should know, "Oh, the Americans won’t bomb us, they won’t invade us, they won’t send in black teams?" Should it be off the table?

RICHARDSON: No, no, no. You don’t have ever the military option off the table, on any case: on North Korea, on Syria, on Iran.

GIBSON: So you leave that there?

RICHARDSON: Front and center.

GIBSON: Let me ask you about one more thing.

He’s going out there to see Putin and they have some disagreements about democracy in Russia, which we thought was moving along the road to democracy. But you also heard Porter Goss (search) last week say, "I can’t assure this country that Russian nukes, suitcase nukes or other nukes, are all secure."

What can the President do with Mr. Putin to try to take that threat out of the picture? .

RICHARDSON: Well, here’s where the administration, I think, has missed the boat a little bit. They should have at the top of the agenda with Putin an agreement with Russia that basically secures the hundreds of thousands of nuclear materials that exist in Russia, that could build about 40,000 nuclear bombs that could be stolen by terrorists as Porter Goss said.

We don’t have a good verifiable agreement with the Russians. It’s a program that is not funded properly. It’s a program loose nukes of Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Russia is our biggest threat, and our almost obsession with Iraq has prevented us, John, from really looking at these other nuclear proliferation issues that could be the most danger to our people in America and overseas.

So, I would like to see an agreement, a new agreement — there is one run by the Department of Energy (search), which is about $1 billion — but it’s clearly not enough that would involve U.S. and Russia having an inventory of all these weapons, nuclear materials, finding ways to secure them, making sure Russian scientists are not leaving and being bought out by the North Koreans or Iranians.

But also, saying to President Putin, "Look, we care about your democracy moving that way. We care about Chechnya, we care about your helping Iran. But here is one direct bilateral program with the U.S. that you’ve got to do a better job." Because there are a lot of these nuclear materials, as Porter Goss said, unaccounted for that could be shopped at terrorists, that terrorists may already have them and we’re kind of a little behind on this.

GIBSON: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a former ambassador to the U.N. Governor, it’s good to talk to you. Thanks for coming on today.

RICHARDSON: Thank you, thank you.

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