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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

VP Speaks to Commonwealth Club of California

Aired August 7, 2002 - 12:24   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now we are going to move from the president, who is speaking in Mississippi, and check in on the vice president, Dick Cheney. He's speaking in San Francisco, California, at the Fairmont Hotel Ballroom, the guest of the Commonwealth Club, an organization, the largest public affairs forum, actually, that hosts events, brings in public leaders to talk about politics, culture, society, the economy.
And the vice president was talking about the economy. Now he's taking questions from journalists and members from the Commonwealth Club.

And we are going to listen in for a moment.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MODERATOR: Last Friday, the Senate gave the executive fast track authority. What does the president plan to do with it?

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have been, because of our lack of fast track authority, it was, when it last expired early in the Clinton administration, it was not renewed, and as a result there have been numerous trade negotiations around the world over the last seven or eight years that we've not been a party to. And we want to actively participate in the Doha round that was kicked off last year in Qatar, in the gulf.

We've got a fairly aggressive agenda that I referred to in my speech with respect to South America and Central America, and we're eager to consider, as the president said yesterday when he signed the bill, the possibility of free trade agreements with not only Morocco and Chile, but also Australia, a number of other places around the world where we think it would be -- will be able to offer a significant improvement in our trading relationships.

So we think it's a very important authority. It doesn't deny the Congress the opportunity to vote by any means, they have to approve whatever we negotiate, but it'll be an up or down vote, they have to take it as a package, they won't be able to offer amendments in ways that would in effect involve the Congress in negotiating these trade agreements. That's a good system, it's been there for about five different presidents, and we think it's a very important piece of legislation that the president signed yesterday.

MODERATOR: There are many, many questions, as you might imagine, about Iraq. And one is, what key political events need to occur before the U.S. or an international coalition commences an invasion of Iraq?

CHENEY: Well, let me say a word about Iraq, because it is, obviously, it's become a focal point of attention. I think it's important for us to remember exactly what the circumstances are, that Saddam Hussein, at the end of the Gulf War, entered into an agreement, it's embodied in the U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, that basically required him to get rid of all of his weapons of mass destruction, to end his nuclear weapons program, to get rid of his chemical and his biological weapons, and provided a mechanism, an inspection regime, so that the international community could be confident that he had, in fact, done that.

What we know now, from various sources, is that he has continued to improve the, if you can put it in those terms, the capabilities of his nuclear -- or his chemical and biological agents, and he continues to pursue a nuclear weapon. That program suffered a severe setback in 1981 when the Israelis bombed the Osirik (ph) reactor. It obviously suffered a major blow when we did Desert Storm and the aftermath of that. But we know from testimony from defectors, including his own son-in-law, who used to supervise the program, came out in the mid- '90s, that he's resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

He sits on top of 10 percent of the world's oil reserves. He has enormous wealth being generated by that. And left to his own devices, it's the judgment of many of us that in the not too distant future he will acquire nuclear weapons. And a nuclear-armed Saddam Hussein is not a pleasant prospect, I don't think, for anyone in the region or for anyone in the world for that matter.

Sooner or later the international community is going to have to deal with that. But, again, I think it's important for us to remember that the transgressor here, the one who's not complied with the U.N. Security Council resolutions, the one who's not lived up to the commitments that were undertaken at the end of the Gulf War is Saddam Hussein. And I think the burden ought to be on him to prove that he in fact is in compliance. And I'm not sure at all that that's likely to happen.

So the international community will have to come together in some fashion and figure out how we're going to deal with this growing threat to the peace and stability of the region, and obviously potentially even to the United States itself.

MODERATOR: If Iraq agrees to international weapons inspections, would we call off the war or not move forward in that effort?

CHENEY: Well, let me emphasize that the president has not made a decision at this point to go to war. We're looking at all of our options. Would be irresponsible for us not to do that. But the issue here isn't inspectors. That's a secondary item, if you will. The issue is the fact that he's required to dispose of his weapons of mass destruction, and the inspectors are merely the device by which the international community can assure itself that he's done so.

So many of us, I think, are skeptical that simply returning the inspectors will solve the problem. A great deal depends upon what conditions they would operate under.

CHENEY: Would they be able to go anywhere, anytime without notice on extensive searches? You've got to remember, he's had about four years now to hide everything that he's been doing. And he's gotten to be very good at that, worked at it very aggressively. So even if you had the return of inspectors, I'm not sure they would be able to do enough to be able to guarantee us and our friends in the region that he had, in fact, complied. He's gotten very good at denial and deception.

But we do know, as I say, from defectors and from other sources that he continues to have robust programs. And a debate with him over inspectors is simply, I think, would be an effort by him to obfuscate and delay and avoid having to live up to the accords that he signed up to at the end of the Gulf War.

MODERATOR: There are many questions evidencing some concern about Saudi Arabia. For instance, how does the U.S. justify continual alliance or even inaction against Saudi Arabia, seeing that's where the pilots who terrorized our nation came from?

CHENEY: There has been a lot of talk with respect to Saudi Arabia. I think it's important, first of all, to recognize that we've had a very good relationship with the Saudis now for about 60 years. It's been a very productive relationship, in terms of the values that we gain from it and that the Saudis gain from it, as well.

And while we do have our differences -- obviously, there are fundamental differences in our cultures, in our political systems and the way we operate -- that doesn't mean that we should, in any way, ignore the benefits that both countries derive out of that very close relationship.

So I'm comfortable that we can have honest differences with the Saudis. Certainly, the Saudi government had absolutely nothing to do with the events of 9/11.

There were and there are in al Qaeda individuals of varying nationalities, some American citizens, many from other countries in the Middle East and southeast Asia. It is, in fact, the al Qaeda organization, a multinational entity. It happens that Osama bin Laden, the man who founded it and set it up, is Saudi by birth. He's been, in effect, stripped of his citizenship by Saudi Arabia.

So it would be a mistake for us to assume that the events of 9/11 were in any way, shape or form sanctioned by or supported by the Saudi government.

MODERATOR: We now have a question from an audience member.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Vice President, while we're on the subject of the Middle East, can you talk a little bit about the administration's evolving policy with regard to Israel? Can you discuss any potential link or perceived link between our policy with regard to Israel, not with Iraq? And beyond condemning violence, how this latest round of violence might change the administration's policy?

CHENEY: The United States is actively committed to trying to bring about a resolution of the decades-old conflict now between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The president is heavily engaged in the effort, as are Colin Powell and the rest of us.

The president, in effect, broke a lot of new ground back in June with his speech on the subject when he, in effect, called for fundamental reforms in the Palestinian Authority as sort of a prerequisite to being able to make progress. The ultimate vision, clearly, is for two states -- Israeli and Palestinian -- living side by side with peace and security for both.

We believe that is not possible, after years of effort, unless there's some fundamental changes in the Palestinian entity. So we pushed aggressively for reform. We've got a major effort underway that involves the European Union, the Russians, the United Nations, as well as many Arab nations in the region -- the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians and so forth.

We hope that that effort will bear fruit, that there will be created a Palestinian entity, if you will, that is capable of being an effective interlocutor for the Israelis and that will set the stage then for the kinds of resolutions that, obviously, are going to be required in order to bring that conflict to an end.

We feel like we're making progress, but I don't want to underestimate the extraordinary complexity and difficulty of the task at hand. It is as impracticable a problem as I've ever tried to deal with, but I think we are making progress.

But there's a long way to go and a great deal of suffering on both sides, both Palestinian and Israeli, but establishing a viable Palestinian Authority is going to be key to being able to safeguard Israel against attacks launched against Israel from the Palestinian territory and beginning to make progress in the basic peace process itself.

MODERATOR: Mr. Vice President, turning to the economy a bit, a two part question. How can you resurrect investor economic confidence when so many high profile leaders in companies are under investigation for fraud and accounting proprietors? And I know you know this is likely to come up, but people want to know, how would the accounting practices of Halliburton while you were there hold up under the current new corporate checks and balances law?

CHENEY: Well, I, first of all, have great affection and respect for Halliburton. It's a fine company, and I'm pleased that I was associated with a company and with the men and women of Halliburton, some 83,000 strong around the world during my tenure there.

There currently is an inquiry under way by the SEC with respect to Halliburton's accounting practices. I am, of necessity, restrained in terms of what I can say about that matter, because there are editorial writers all over American poised to put pen to paper and condemn me for exercising undue improper influence if I say too much about it, since this is a matter pending before independent regulatory agency, the SEC.

If you're interested in the facts of the Halliburton situation, I'd refer you to the Halliburton website. I would recommend you pull up the transcript of the quarterly conference that was held a couple of weeks ago, the security analyst, where my successor CEO Dave Lesar and the current CFO responded for a long time to a lot of very detailed questions about the SEC inquiry. And I think, from my perspective, I need to leave it there.

MODERATOR: Another question from the floor then.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vice President, Dick Cheney.

QUESTION: My question has to do -- with the war on terrorism and the massive weapons of destruction, why don't we have better relationships with Iran -- that supports Hezbollah, that sent that ship to Israel with those weapons for the Palestinians? Thank you.

CHENEY: I'm sorry. Why don't we have better relations with Iran?

QUESTION: Yes.

CHENEY: Well, the situation in Iran is interesting. It's different than circumstances elsewhere out there. The government, current government in Iran, clearly has actively and aggressively supported, especially, Hezbollah. It has been a major source of state-sponsored terrorism, if you will, and devoted to the effort to destroy the peace process.

We find that clearly something that we can't accept. And we've made clear our opposition to that as well as to their efforts to try to acquire weapons of mass destruction. They're actively working trying to acquire ballistic missile technology as well as nuclear weapons themselves.

But our argument with Iran is not with the Iranian people. What we find is, I think, that the potential exists that, underneath that regime whose policies we find so objectionable, there is a growing body of opinion on the part of the Iranian people that favors and supports democracy, that wants to build a good relationship with the United States, that believes in opening to the West, and we think the prospects there are promising in some respects.

The president spoke out recently about the yearning of the Iranian people for democracy. We think that's something we need to support and we've been very forthright in encouraging that. So we'll see what happens.

But that's clearly a different situation than we have in some of the other places we're operating.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, the last question. Do you expect to be on the GOP ticket as the vice presidential candidate in 2004? Under what conditions would you reconsider plans to seek reelection? And then, put a different way, how's your heart? (LAUGHTER)

CHENEY: Well, I suppose two people are going to figure very prominently in that decision. One is, obviously, the president, and the other is my wife.

(LAUGHTER)

And I have enjoyed immensely my time with the president.

The return to public life carries certain penalties. You pay a price once you get into the public arena, because you do become a target.

But by the same token, the opportunity to serve alongside President Bush for these last two years, the campaign and all that we've been through as an administration, has been, clearly, I think the high-point of my professional life. And I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

In terms of what happens next, he'll have to make a decision. By this time, about two years from now, when the convention rolls around, in terms of deciding who he wants to have serve as his vice president in a second term.

CHENEY: And that will be his call. And I'll be happy to support whatever decision he chooses to make.

With respect to my health, it's good. I have been probably better watched now than I have ever been. I've got, you know, the doctor following me around every place I go -- literally. When I get on the elevator, there's a guy there with a black bag.

(LAUGHTER)

Actually, two guys with black bags. One has the football; the other has medical capabilities.

(LAUGHTER)

So, I don't have any complaints. I'm proof-positive of the enormous value of the wonders of modern medical technology. And for that I'm very grateful. I've been able to pursue a full and active career, even though I have Coronary Artery Disease.

So, if the president is willing and if my wife approves, and if the doctor say it's OK, then I'd be happy to serve a second term. But I emphasize again, that's the president's call, not mine.

(LAUGHTER)

MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Mr. Vice President, for joining us today.

PHILLIPS: Vice President Dick Cheney, delivering remarks to the Commonwealth Club of California, there at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Commonwealth Club of California is the nation's oldest and largest public affairs forum.

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