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Kelly Wallace: Leadership roles during fight against terror

Kelly Wallace is a CNN White House correspondent. She joined the Newsroom from Washington, DC.

CNN: Welcome, Kelly Wallace, to the CNN Newsroom.

WALLACE: Good to be with you tonight.

CNN: What is the vice president's role currently?

WALLACE: The vice president continues to be a major player, behind the scenes, in the administration's campaign against terrorism. I say, behind the scenes, because we have not seen the vice president very often. Sunday, after the president delivered a speech to the nation, Dick Cheney was taken to a secure, undisclosed location due to security concerns and a desire by the U.S. Secret Service to keep the president and the vice president in two separate places. On Thursday, the vice president did come to the White House for some time. It is not clear if he will be back at the White House again Friday. But U.S. officials say the vice president continues to participate in all national security briefings and continues to play a key role advising the presidnet on all aspects of this campaign.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How are members of Congress taking the Bush administrations plans to tighten information that could potentially be leaked to the press with a negative reaction?

WALLACE: There was lots of criticism from Democrats and Republicans on Tuesday, after they learned of the president's new policy, restricting access to classified information. Lawmakers complained that under U.S. law, the executive branch must keep the Congress informed, during wartime. Democrats and Republicans said in order for Congress to do its oversight role, it needed access to this information. You could say the White House and Congress reached a truce of sorts. After breakfast with congressional leaders Wednesday, the White House said that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell would continue to brief key congressional committees. But the administration also said that it would decide on a case-by-case basis if lawmakers, other than the four congressional leaders and the chairs/vice chairs of the intelligence committees, would get access to classified information. Both sides seem to be backing the president's decision, but if lawmakers feel they are not getting the info they need, you are likely to hear some complaints.

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CHAT PARTICIPANT: How is this administration seen to be handling foreign affairs, after some initial concerns last November?

WALLACE: Perhaps the best way to answer that is to look at the polls. By an overwhelming majority, the American people seem to feel very comfortable with the job President Bush and his top advisers are doing. While most of Mr. Bush's national security advisers have had plenty of foreign policy experience, there were plenty of questions over the past months about Bush's readiness for the world stage. By most accounts, he got off to a rough start, angering European allies over his position on global warming for example. But during the crisis with China in April over the U.S. surveillance plane and its crew, many people believed the president rose to the occasion. That seems to be the view now, that the president has grown in the job and is interacting extensively with leaders around the world, putting some doubts about his inexperience on the world stage to rest.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Are any world leaders scheduled to meet with the president in the near future?

WALLACE: I believe the next leader to visit the White House will be Italy's Prime Minister Berlusconi on October 15th. The president will also meet with the leaders of Russia, South Korea, China, Japan and Idonesia when he attends the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Shanghai October 21-22. As of now, Bush still plans to make the trip. And next month, I believe the president of the Philippines comes to visit. Indonesia and the Philippines are two very important countries, because the U.S. believes terrorists with ties to Osama bin Laden are operating out of those countries. So after what is considered phase one of this campaign in Afghanistan, the administration may certainly begin to focus in other parts of the world, such as the two countries I just mentioned.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What steps has this administration taken to protect our water supply?

WALLACE: I believe administration officials testified before Congress this week to say that the country's water supply is safe and that extra steps are being taken throughout the government to make sure there is no tampering with water supply systems. As for what exact steps are being taken, I could not say but the administration continues to operate on a heightened state of alert and that any systems, such as water, transportation and energy systems, are being closely guarded.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Will the Arab demonstrations have any effect on policy?

WALLACE: The Bush administration says the demonstrations won't have any impact on U.S. policy, but what the demonstrators do is make what is an already difficult challenge that much more difficult, and that is holding together an already fragile coalition. The concern will be if the protests begin to destabilize countries such as Pakistan, and if they lead some moderate Arab and Muslim nations to back away from supporting, even privately, the U.S.-led strikes against Afghanistan. There is a tremendous amount of anti-American sentiment in parts of the Middle East and Central Asia, and the U.S. is considering ways to respond to that. Secretary of State Colin Powell did an interview with the Arab television network, Al Jazeera, and the White House said the administration is considering a presidential interview request from the network. The U.S. is also using Voice of America broadcasts to convey that this campaign is not against Arabs or Muslims or Islam but is against terrorists. Clearly, this will be a big challenge for the U.S. in the days ahead, especially as we learn more about the damage which results from the continuous air strikes against Afghanistan.

CNN: Thank you for joining us this evening, Kelly. Do you have any final thoughts for us?

WALLACE: Great to be with you, and thanks as always for the terrific questions. It looks like it will be another incredible week at the White House. Watch for more progress on the financial fronts (maybe an expanded list soon from the Treasury Dept. on the individuals/groups whose bank accounts will be frozen), the military fronts (U.S. officials concede there is likely to be a role for Special Forces soon), and the diplomatic fronts (the president will have important meetings next week with the leaders of Russia, China, Indonesia and Japan). Also, the FBI has issued an alert that the government has reason to believe there may be additional attacks within the U.S. and against U.S. interests overseas over the next several days, so watch for continued attention to the threat and to security measures being taken around the country and around the world.

Kelly Wallace joined Newsroom from Washington, DC. This is an edited transcript of the interview, which took place on Thursday, October 11, 2001.


• Kelly Wallace Bio

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