Transcript of Karl Rove on Fox News Radio's 'The Tony Snow Show'

Karl Rove is interviewed on Fox News Radio's "The Tony Snow Show"

February 23, 2006

TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS RADIO HOST: Joining me now, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove. Karl, good to have you.

KARL ROVE, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Good morning, Tony. How are you?

SNOW: I am doing great. Let's talk about the ports issue. There are a number of angles. First, a lot of Republicans got themselves way ahead of this story, saying, You got to shut it down, or You've got to drag it out, or whatever. Do you sense that the tide is beginning to turn? And have you had any communication from previously contrary Republicans who seem to indicate that they might be willing to change their minds?

ROVE: Well, I think the more information that people get about this proposed transaction and the more they come to understand that the security of America's port terminals remains under the direction of the United States Coast Guard and the Customs, the more comfortable people are becoming with it.

SNOW: Is it the president's view that if this deal does not go through, that our national security will be weakened because we not only will have offended an ally, but sent a message to people that want to help us in the war on terror that they can't count on us?

ROVE: I think that's a good way of putting it. On three levels this would be problematic to our national security interests: First of all, it would send a very strong message that if you, like the United Arab Emirates, are a strong ally in the war on terror — which they have been. They've helped us damp down terrorist financing because they have one of the big banking centers in the Middle East, they were one of the first countries to step forward and to participate in the Container Security Initiative.

More U.S. Navy vessels dock at ports in the United Arab Emirates than dock at ports in anywhere outside the United States. We have used their air facilities, they have one of the most sophisticated air training facilities in the world that's located there that we use. They've been enormously supportive in Afghanistan and Iraq. I mean, the message would be, "Be a loyal ally to the United States, have a big target painted on your government by Al Qaida for cooperating so aggressively with the United States in fighting the war on terror, and what you'll get is a slap from the United States in return."

The second problem is, is that, look, this is in a very vulnerable part of the world a great military asset for us. We use their air bases, we use their ports. They service our U.S. Navy ships. They service our planes. It is vital to the security interests of the United States to maintain this relationship.

And finally, it is — look, I repeat: These people are operating ports all around the world. There are vessels that come from ports operated by Dubai World Ports in Australia, in Africa, in Latin America and Europe and Asia, coming to the United States. And they are, according to the officials at the Department of Homeland Security, one of our best and most eager partners in the Container Security Initiative to assure that those containers, as they come to our shores, are secure and safe.

SNOW: A lot of Americans have been sort of appalled by the spectacle of angry Muslims rioting over cartoons. Do you think the spectacle of the United States — members of Congress, including key Republicans — the leaders of both houses and a number of other prominent Republicans — rebelling against this looks similarly absurd in the Arab world?

ROVE: Well, you know, it doesn't paint a pretty picture of the United States, particularly when again, the UAE is such an ally. One thing to keep in mind, though, is is that, look, the employees of the company are U.S. citizens. I mean, the people who are manning these container terminals in Miami and Newark and Philadelphia and New York are — and New Orleans — are U.S. citizens. And the thought that somehow or another, you know, sort of like, okay, somebody who works for a Japanese auto company is going to become a Japanese follower, rather than an American devotee, I mean it just doesn't make sense.

SNOW: You have talked about people getting to know more — the president, or the White House, is going to be conducting briefings of members of Congress —

ROVE: Yes.

SNOW: — on this.

ROVE: Yes. Congress is — members of Congress are on recess, so most of them are outside of Washington, but we are — we began briefings with staffs of the committees in the House and Senate yesterday. There's a briefing today — Senator Warner has members of his committee in town, so we'll be briefing members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

When members begin to return next week, we have the top people at State and Defense and Commerce and Treasury and Department of Homeland Security who are involved in this issue that we are making available to go brief members and share with them the background on the extensive review that was conducted of this proposal.

SNOW: Is it safe to say, then, that a lot of members who are speaking with a sense of authority actually don't know all the facts?

ROVE: Well, look, I talked to some members in the last several days, and they have an interest in finding out more about it. But, yes, most members are just picking up and reading something in the newspaper, hearing something on talk radio.

But I would remind you, this transaction was first reported in the press on October 31st of last year by Bloomberg, by Bloomberg Wire Service. The companies, the P&O and Dubai World Ports, made an announcement on November 29th.

This has been a well-known, long-known transaction. Where it sort of gained an additional head of steam was when one of P&O's partners in the management contract for the Port of Miami filed a lawsuit. You know, they would like to — and it's understandable — they'd like to get the whole contract. That's business. But that's really what grabbed the public attention, you know, essentially, you know, several months after the deal was announced.

SNOW: Some members of Congress say they want longer to study this. Dubai Ports World seems to be not averse to that. Would the president accept a slight delay in implementing the takeover by Dubai Ports World of P&O, which was the previous operator of these terminals?

ROVE: Yes, look, there are some hurdles, regulatory hurdles, that this still needs to go through on the British side as well that are going to be concluded next week. There's no requirement that it close, you know, immediately after that.

But our interest is in making certain the members of Congress have full information about it, and that, we're convinced, will give them a level of comfort with this. I repeat again, this is a British company today that is managing container terminal facilities at six ports. The security for their activities is under the control of the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs. And the workers are, virtually all of them, you know, U.S. citizens. I suspect there are a couple of Brits in management positions. After the sale, it'll be the same people, because that was the deal. They wanted to buy the company, and with it, the employees to operate it. And again, the security will remain under the U.S. Coast Guard and under the U.S. Customs. I mean, what'll change is the bank from which their paychecks come, I suspect.

SNOW: Yes, it's a holding company that will be cutting checks. But, again, I just want to be absolutely — so, if there's an extended period — some members of Congress saying 45 days — that's not a deal killer for you? The president's willing to go along with that if he thinks it's going to be constructive?

ROVE: What is important is that members of Congress have the time to get fully briefed on this. They're going to be coming back next week. We intend to work closely with them in order to give them a comfort level on this.

SNOW: Based on what you're seeing, do you think this issue has turned — I've heard a lot of Republicans at the beginning of the week saying, "Deal's bad. It's unbelievable." There was a blind quote from Tom DeLay today saying, "All (ph) is outrageous." Is it your sense that this is beginning to turn, and the president will have the votes?

ROVE: Well, I think so. You know, I'm hearing more willingness to look at the facts on this. I mean, when I turn on the evening news, and the evening news has good coverage of it, that's a sense of something.

But, look, I mean, what's going to be really key is having a chance to talk to first, staff, that we're doing now, and then the members themselves when they come back and go through the circumstances of the investigation and the details of the deal.

SNOW: Will this include Democratic staffers?

ROVE: Oh, sure. In fact, I think yesterday, there was some bipartisan staff briefings, and I think there's a specific briefing of the Democratic Caucus staff. But, yes, Democrat staff members are invited to these meetings.

SNOW: The question I get a lot is, "How on earth did you guys" — meaning the White House — "get yourself behind this story?" It became the train that just sort of flattened out a lot of people for a few days. How'd that happen?

ROVE: Well, I'm going to leave it others to analyze the media play on this. But again, you know, to me, the interesting thing is this was a story — this was announced last October and November. If this is so immediately contentious and so immediately dangerous, why wasn't there a furor when it was announced last fall?

I mean, this thing sat out there for essentially two months in the public press, known to the — printed in the business pages, printed in the press, clearly identified as a deal in which Dubai World Ports had made an offer for P&O that had been accepted. And it didn't become contentious until the last few days.

SNOW: Once more through the other thing. The president didn't know about it, the defense secretary didn't know about it. A lot of these people saying the treasury secretary didn't know about it.

ROVE: Well, the president did know about it. He was — the chief of staff, Andy Card, alerted him before the press kerfuffle. There was a process called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. And there's a process. And they review a number of these transactions a year — some years, as many as several hundred. Last year, there were 65 of these that had to go through this process. And there is a process by which these are reviewed and carefully discussed among the departments. If there is disagreement about it, it rises to another level. If there continues to be disagreement about it, it rises to another level. This went through the normal order of things.

SNOW: And it doesn't come to the president, as I understand it, unless there is a confirmed concern for national security.

ROVE: Yes, if there are significant disagreements about it, it comes forward.

Now, as part of this process, particularly at the first stage, there are always questions raised. For example, the Department of Homeland Security raised questions about the nature of the — about the nature of the sale. And as a result — they raised these concerns and as a result, as part of that, the company's agreed to certain — made certain commitments regarding security and continuation of security programs and policies that were in place.

So, this goes through an exhaustive process, questions are raised, the questions are either answered to everybody's satisfaction, or if they're not, it goes to a higher level.

SNOW: The point is, as you mentioned, there are hundreds of these transactions.

ROVE: That's right.

SNOW: It's not like somebody comes in and shakes the president awake every time somebody has a sale that involves a foreign company.

ROVE: Right.

SNOW: If so, he'd never get any sleep and he'd never get any work done.

ROVE: Exactly. Exactly.

SNOW: Okay, so we've got the review process. You think the whole thing, though — you feel pretty confident that the deal's eventually going to go through.

ROVE: It's important to the United States, it's important to our standing in the world that the message be that if you are an ally of the United States, an important partner in the war against terror, that we will treat you fairly and equally.

And it's also important that the message be that — within — we're not going to win the war on terror by ourselves. We need — we need to win the hearts and minds of moderate Muslim governments and Muslims around the world. And this just sends a very bad signal that a partner of the United States would be ill-treated, unfairly treated, particularly when the concerns, from our perspective, are not justified. People have raised an issue about security. That is entirely appropriate. But upon examination, it's not the company that's in charge of security, it's the United States —

SNOW: Yeah.

ROVE: — government that's in charge of security. We ask them to do things, we monitor those things, but ultimately it's the Coast Guard and the Customs, which are in charge of each one of these operations at our ports —

SNOW: Yeah.

ROVE: — and are carefully monitoring the situation.

SNOW: You mentioned the war on terror. There's been a lot of speculation that the bombing yesterday in Samarra somehow is going to lead to civil war. Are you — is the president concerned about that?

ROVE: Look, there's — we remained concerned, obviously, about the situation in Iraq, but it's really interesting how this is unfolding. Zarqawi, you know, is a determined enemy, and what may have happened as a result of this — we're not certain exactly who is responsible for it, nobody's stepped forward, but I think the general sense of the Iraqi people is that this was a provocative act designed to bring about civil war.

SNOW: So you —

ROVE: And as a result, there's, I think, a counter effort to that. I thought it was incredible that Sistani went out and said the things that he did. I suspect we're likely to see similar unity expressed by both the political and religious factions in Iraq in opposition to this attack.

SNOW: So you expect this is going to strengthen the opposition to the terrorists?

ROVE: I think it could. I think it's likely to. I mean, this is clearly a deliberate attempt by someone to provoke a split among the Shi'a and the Sunni, which only works to the advantage to those who want to halt the spread of democracy in Iraq. And I think the Iraqi people are smart enough to see that and respond accordingly. And certainly every indication we've had thus far from the leadership of the country is is that they're going to stand together in an effort to call for calm and call for religious peace.

SNOW: All right. Karl Rove, deputy White House chief of staff.

ROVE: Thank you, Tony.

SNOW: Thanks.

ROVE: You bet, buddy. Thank you.


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