McCain on Iran: 'This Is About Human Rights and Values'

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," June 22, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Moments ago, Senator John McCain went "On the Record." Now, is the president doing enough about the growing uncertainty in Iran?


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you, sir.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN R - ARIZ., FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Greta. It's nice to be back with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator -- Senator, should the president to do more about Iran? If so, what can he do?

MCCAIN: I think the president can speak out far more strongly and I think he can reassert American values and our commitment to human rights we first stated on the 4th of July, 1776. And also, could I add, Greta, this isn't about Mousavi. I'm not in favor of any -- either candidates. This is about human rights and values and the repression and oppression of people. We speak out because we think there are universal values that all of us should adhere to. And by the way, if you haven't seen this brutal killing of this new martyr, Neda, you should see it.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you know, if he speaks out more at this point, it might be reassuring to us in America, although there's no -- I mean, we're not going to go through this. But is the information really even able to penetrate Iran with all the sort of repression that is now going on, with them shutting down communication in and out? The foreign journalists aren't not allowed in. Does he -- I mean, is there any sort of real point in it? Or is there?

MCCAIN: Well, I don't think there's any doubt, with modern technology, that they will be able to communicate with one another. And they need our moral support right now. They really need it badly. The repression and the crackdown and the imprisonment and all of the terrible things that go along with brutal regimes are taking place now. You know, there probably were people who said that we couldn't get through -- past the Iron Curtain when Ronald Reagan gave the "evil empire" speech, but Natan Sharansky said it went like wildfire through the gulag and that they were heartened and they were given strength by it.

The Iranian people need to have our moral support now. We don't -- I'm not talking about sending arms. I'm not talking about anything except showing our moral support and our belief in human values, and I don't think that should be hard.

VAN SUSTEREN: If we take, though, the long-term vision, if the president essentially says to the people, We're with you, you know, You people on the streets that are fighting unfair election processes, we're with you, now let's suppose Ahmadinejad actually does win and we have gone out there telling these people to -- you know, to hit the streets. Then what happens?

MCCAIN: Well, Greta, there's no doubt about it being a flawed and corrupt election, and no matter who wins, Iran is permanently changed because the people of Iran have spoken out against a government which we now know is even more repressive and brutal then we had first anticipated. And over time, their assertion and their sacrifice and their commitment to freedom and democracy will eventually allow them to be free. The question is, of course, is how much support do we give them, and the question is whether this regime will see the light of day and understand that it's time for change.

VAN SUSTEREN: It seems to me sort of the two rather lousy choices, one is Ahmadinejad and his history, the other being Mousavi, his history, when -- and during his reign as prime minister, I don't know, 7,000 or 8,000 people didn't agree with him were executed. Is there an option C, at this point, or is it either -- it's either going to be Ahmadinejad or Mousavi, or is there any other possible outcome that you see?

MCCAIN: Well, again, I repeat, it's not Mousavi or Ahmadinejad. It is a free and fair election where people are able to express their will. This is obviously a sign of great discontent with the way that the country is being governed. And do you know, once this reform starts, it usually ends up with total and complete reform. And perhaps over time, there will be a free and fair election that's not between these two individuals but between others who might represent more the principles and philosophy that we support.

In the meantime, it's not about these two. It's about respect for human rights and values. And Daniel Webster back in 1823 spoke up in favor of those that were involved in a Greek uprising against the Turks. It's been our history and our tradition, and it's what makes America what it is!

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it a missed opportunity if the president doesn't speak out more and in stronger terms? And how do you compare that to, for instance, Sarkozy of France's response or Merkel of Germany's response?

MCCAIN: Well, there's no doubt that Prime Minister Brown of England, Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy have all speaking up very strongly, and demonstrators all over Europe and the United States have spoken out very strongly.

I understand from his spokesperson that said today that the president was moved by what he has seen. If he's moved, then I'd like for him to speak out very strongly on the side of values and human rights. And then the issues that exist between the United States and Iran, I think, will be simpler in the long run, rather than dealing with a regime that is clearly illegitimate.


VAN SUSTEREN: Next, more with Senator McCain. And at this hour, the United States Navy is tracking a North Korean ship that could be carrying nuclear material. North Korea threatens war if we stop this ship. Does Senator McCain think we should stop that ship right now and board it? Senator McCain has answers.

Plus -- uh-oh! Former senator John Edwards might have some very bad news tonight about the baby his mistress gave birth to. We have that report.


VAN SUSTEREN: At this hour, the USS John S. McCain is closely tracking a North Korean ship suspected of carrying nuclear material. The destroyer is named after the father and grandfather of Senator John McCain. Now, the North Koreans are threatening war if their ship is stopped, so what should we do? Moments ago, Senator McCain went "On the Record."


VAN SUSTEREN: What's going on vis-a-vis North Korea? Sir, you have been quoted as saying is that even without permission from the North Koreans or from any port where the North Korean ship may go to get fuel, you think that we should board that North Korean vessel. Is that how you feel, sir?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, could I say the U.N. Security Council resolution does not allow boarding. In fact, there is a Korean ship heading for Myanmar right now that may go into port there. I'm sure it won't be inspected by those authorities, may even refuel and go on to Iran or someplace else. There's clear record of Iranian-North Korean involvement in ballistic missile and nuclear weapons and the technology associated with it. That is a clear security threat to the United States of America.

The North Koreans just announced that the truce -- in other words, the truce as a result of the Korean war -- is now over. That means, technically, we're at war with the North Koreans without a truce. And that may be a technical issue, but it's obvious North Korean behavior and Iranian behavior poses a threat to the national security of the United States.

VAN SUSTEREN: Does that mean, sir, that you would board that vessel - - which, incidentally, is named, I guess, for your grandfather and your father, USS John McCain? Would you -- would you -- that vessel that's out there chasing the North Korean vessel. Would you board the North Korean vessel, at this point?

MCCAIN: If I had hard evidence, which the president may or may not have, but he would know and I don't -- if I had hard evidence that there was missile or nuclear weapon technology or other technology that posed a threat to the security of the United States of America by this -- transported by this rogue regime to another rogue regime, I would certainly take whatever action is necessary. By the way, when the British declared against slavery, they boarded ships all the time.

VAN SUSTEREN: How would you define "hard evidence"? Because we've gone through these sort of issues with our CIA, for instance, about whether weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in the last -- you know, eight years ago, but -- how do you define "hard evidence"? Because boarding that ship could be profoundly important or profoundly, you know, bad judgment, you know, at this point.

MCCAIN: Well, you may recall the Spanish boarded a North Korean ship that was loaded with missiles that was bound for -- for Yemen. I think it's very clear that we would have that information or not, and we have ways of gathering that information. So I don't have that information, but any country that poses a threat, particularly the North Koreans, to our national security, we have to take the necessary steps.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are we currently too soft on North Korea, in your view? Are we doing the right thing?

MCCAIN: I think we're trying to do the right thing, and I think the president's efforts should continue. But I think this U.N. Security Council resolution is without much impact because we can follow these ships and ask them to be boarded, but if they refuse, they can't be boarded. And as we see now, they're going into, apparently, a very unfriendly port for refueling or off-loading, and we cannot expect the country (INAUDIBLE) to take action, and so it's, quote, reported to the U.N. Security Council. What do you think the Security Council will do with Russia and China making the decision? I don't think much.

VAN SUSTEREN: This may be the impossible question, but which is more alarming to you tonight, the situation in Iran or the situation in North Korea? And I realize there are other things I could throw into the mix, like Pakistan. But just using Iran and North Korea, which one?

MCCAIN: Well, they're so different. One of them is a long-term problem we have with North Korea, the development of nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver there, and that's an ongoing situation. In Iran, on the streets of Iran today, where young people, average age 33, are being beaten, killed and imprisoned, this is a human values -- this sets -- this charts the course for where this administration's policies towards repressive and oppressive regimes and whether we will affirm -- reaffirm fundamental American values.


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