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Sen. John McCain Discusses Explosive Attack on USS Cole, Escalation in Mideast Tensions

Aired October 12, 2000 - 9:30 a.m. ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And let's bring in our guest. Sen. John McCain joining us now from Washington.

Senator, a lot going on around the world we'd like to talk to you about this morning. First, the explosive attack on the USS Cole.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, Daryn, it's obviously a terrible tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those who were killed, missing and injured. This is a despicable and disgraceful act. We clearly do not know who's responsible for it.

KAGAN: But does it sound like a terrorist attack to you?

MCCAIN: Well, I don't think there's any doubt. I also believe, Daryn, that we will find out; and once we find out, that we will exact a price, a very heavy price on those who perpetrated this despicable act.

KAGAN: Do you think this is tied into what's happening in the Mideast right now?

MCCAIN: Well, I can only speculate, but it's an act of terror inflicted on American property and lives, and so there's very little doubt in my mind that there is at least some connection between that and the situation in the Middle East. But I don't want to speculate until we have hard information.

And, again, I want to emphasize I believe the United States of America has the intelligence capability. We will find out. And when we do, a very heavy price will be paid by those who perpetrated this outrage.

KAGAN: Well, speaking of retaliation, let's move on, then, to what's been happening today in Ramallah. We just had an Israeli official, a defense official on saying that what was happening with the helicopters firing on Ramallah was indeed not retaliation for what happened to those Israeli soldiers earlier today.

MCCAIN: I think we're seeing, perhaps, our worst fears being realized there in that part of the world. I believe that unless something turns around rather quickly, we could see further escalation and open welfare, whether it be in Ramallah, the West Bank, Gaza or Lebanon, Syria. I support the administration's efforts strongly to bring this -- to defuse this crisis that's looming that could be the greatest since the '73 war, '67 war. And it's very, very serious. It has very serious consequences and it is clearly in the United States national security interest to see this situation defused.

I don't think it's appropriate for me to criticize the Clinton administration at this time, but I do believe that Mr. Arafat has been very intransigent and Mr. Barak and his predecessor, by a couple of offices, Yitzhak Rabin, went a long way towards peace and Mr. Arafat has not budged. It's time that Mr. Arafat came to the table also to try to defuse this very explosive situation.

KAGAN: When you say something needs to turn around, what exactly can happen? What can the U.S. encourage to happen?

MCCAIN: I don't think there's any doubt that if Mr. Arafat calls for a cessation of these activities that they will at least be dramatically reduced. I'm not sure he has total control, but he certainly has enormous control. I also...

KAGAN: Do you think he has enough control to prevent something like what happened today with a mob charging a Palestinian police station?

MCCAIN: I do. I do. He has a 40,000-man police force that is well-armed which could enforce some kind of discipline there. I also believe that the Israelis can show additional patience, although I certainly understand why it's running out. The Israelis obviously value the lives of their soldiers, as do the Palestinians value the lives of their people. But Mr. Arafat, I think, has to step up now.

But I do not think it's appropriate for me or any other politician right now to criticize the administration while this very serious crisis is going on. There'll be plenty of time afterwards for dissecting.

KAGAN: Monday morning...

MCCAIN: Exactly, exactly.

KAGAN: ... quarterbacking a little bit. I appreciate you not wanting to criticize the administration.

I want to get back to your point about patience. When you talk about the Israelis running out of patience, the Palestinians say we're talking about two Israelis soldiers versus 90 Palestinian civilians. And why is there not the outcry over the Palestinian civilians like there would be over two Israeli soldiers that they claim were in the wrong place?

MCCAIN: I believe that all of us, no matter what -- whether it be Palestinian or Israeli citizens, we lament and decry the loss of life. I do believe, I do believe that Mr. Arafat has both the obligation and the ability to bring a lot of this under control. I don't think that the Israelis have handled this exactly right throughout, but I think it's very clear to most objective observers where the provocations began and where the provocations continue.

The whole moral of the story is the urgency right now is to restart the peace process before this thing really lurches out of control and the entire Arab world literally is involved in this one way or another.

KAGAN: And then to take that a step further, for Americans who have not followed this as closely, explain to those people why it is in U.S. interests and why Americans need to care about what's happening an ocean and a thousand miles away.

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, from the most crass viewpoint, a significant part of the world's oil supply resides in that part of the world. If there were a cutoff of the oil supply, then it could be of great seriousness. There are weapons of mass destruction, perhaps, in places like Iraq. There are a part of the world that, if it erupted in flames, there could be another war that could even involve Egypt, whom the Israelis have been at peace with for many, many years.

This could involve a significant part of the world, the world's oil supplies, and perhaps the loss of thousands of innocent lives. This is a very serious situation, one that has been simmering. We made great progress from Camp David on, although slow, and now all of that is at risk as we see more and more Arab nations being sucked into this situation, who have been able to stay out of it for a long time. And the shadow of Saddam Hussein looms throughout.

KAGAN: Sen. John McCain, you've been in this business a long time, appreciate your insight and your time today, sir.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Daryn.

KAGAN: Thank you much. Good to see you.

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