This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," November 13, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
MARTHA MACCALLUM, HOST: Well, increasing tensions between the United States and Russia tonight over missile defense.
Today, the U.S. rejecting Russia's suggestion that — hey, why don't both countries stop all missile defense plans in Eastern Europe? Defense Secretary Robert Gates is calling the Russian proposal unacceptable. He says building the U.S. defense system in the area would help protect Russia as well against a possible attack from nearby Iran.
FOX's Jennifer Griffin joins me live now tonight from the Pentagon with more details. Boy, this sort of smacks of some of the conversations that happened during the Cold War, Jennifer.
JENNIFER GRIFFIN, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, there certainly has been a lot of belligerence. You'll remember, just hours after Mr. Obama won the presidency, the president of Russia gave a very odd speech in which he threatened to place missiles on the edge of Poland, Kaliningrad. Today, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates decided to respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Russia's more recent behavior has been troubling as well. Within hours of the conclusion of the American election, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev responded by threatening to place missiles in Kaliningrad. Hardly the welcome a new American administration deserves. Such provocative remarks are unnecessary and misguided.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: Gates chose to fire this shot across the bow at Russia at a press conference following a NATO meeting in Estonia in Russia's backyard. And that is just what has Russia ticked, that the U.S. wants to build a missile defense shield for Europe and Poland and the Czech Republic, to defend, the Pentagon says, against Iranian missiles. The Russians see this as a personal affront even though the Pentagon says the shield is clearly not aimed at Russia whose thousands of nuclear warheads could easily overwhelm the system.
Today, the Russian president seemed as if he were already negotiating with the next administration, offering to not direct missiles at Poland if the next president scraps missile defense.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DMITRY MEDVEDEV, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We might reverse this decision if the new U.S. administration is going to once again review and analyze all the consequences of its decisions to deploy missiles and radars.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: Gates firmly rejected this offer, Martha.
MACCALLUM: All right. Jennifer Griffin, thank you very much.
So, how will President-elect Obama and the incoming administration deal with this very crucial missile defense issue? My guest says that while it is too early to make any conclusions about this, Obama's initial actions point toward a weakening of the U.S. defense position, in his opinion.
All right. FOX News contributor and former U.N. ambassador, John Bolton is here.
Ambassador, good to see you. Thanks for coming in tonight.
JOHN BOLTON, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Glad to be here.
MACCALLUM: So, let's talk about what happened, because you point to a very specific incident that was a phone call between Barack Obama and Poland's leader, Lech Kaczynski. And you think there were missteps made there. Tell us what you saw.
BOLTON: Well, clearly the Polish president wanted some reassurance that having gone out on a limb to host this U.S. missile defense base that President-elect Obama would carry through on the commitment that the Bush administration made.
And while we don't know exactly what was said in the conversation, the two participants came away with diametrically opposite impressions. The Poles put out a press release saying that Obama had reaffirmed U.S. commitment to build the base. Obama then issued a rebuttal saying, "Well, no, I'm sticking with my campaign position," which is very ambiguous on the subject of missile defense. So, the Poles have been left out hanging and the Russians now continue to press what they clearly want to see which is to try and get Obama to back away from what the Bush administration had done.
MACCALLUM: All right. So, one of the, you know, sort of ways that Barack Obama has looked at this, according to his campaign and what you point out in your article, is that he wouldn't go ahead with putting these missile defense systems in place unless the technology was proven, that they would actually work to defend, you know, those parts of Eastern Europe from any incoming attack from Iran or the Middle East. What do you think about that?
BOLTON: Well, President-elect Obama's campaign position is a paradigm of ambiguity, saying you're not going to deploy until something works is a formula that allows you to put off a decision forever. And remember, the Russians here, in a sense, are having a flashback to the 1980s and President Reagan's "Star Wars" defense. They know that their efforts to keep up with the U.S. back then bankrupted the then Soviet economy.
BOLTON: And with oil prices falling, they're worried about the same thing here.
MACCALLUM: All right. So, you know, you say that you would have expected, you know, from all your years in diplomacy, that perhaps the back channels in this whole thing would have discussed it, perhaps the back channels would have said, you know, that this is what the Polish — the leader of Poland intended, this is what Barack Obama intended. Are you really saying that you are not supporting this? Why do you think that didn't happen?
BOLTON: Well, I think this is part of the naivete and inexperience. Senator Obama said during the campaign he had hundreds of foreign policy advisors. There is no doubt that the every foreign leader that the president-elect speaks to has something on his or her agenda that he wants to get. And the ground rules for these conversations should have been laid out in advance, you know, both sides will say after, it was a good conversation and they promised to meet and so on, rather than getting into the specifics.
So, this is — if this is an indication of how President-elect Obama negotiates...
BOLTON: Once he takes office, we have something to worry about, I think.
MACCALLUM: Before I let you go, just to kind of draw all this together, what do you think President Medvedev takeaway from this would be, when, you know, the proposed plan under the Bush plan would be to put these missile defense systems in Poland to protect that part of Eastern Europe from any attack from Iran, and then you have the new — incoming president say, "We're not so sure we're going to put them there," right after Russia has said, "We're going to put some (ph) right across the way"?
BOLTON: No, if I were sitting in Moscow, I'd say this shows weakness on the part of the incoming administration. The Russians said yesterday they're not going to negotiate any further with the Bush administration on missile defense. They're going to wait for the Obama presidency and they're going to hope they can overwhelm him, intimidate him, threaten him or find other ways to get him to back away from our missile defense program.
MACCALLUM: All right. John Bolton, thank you very much. Good to have you here tonight, ambassador.
BOLTON: Thank you.
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