Richard B. Cheney photo

Interview of the Vice President on CBS News' Face the Nation

March 24, 2002

BOB SCHIEFFER: And joining us now, the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney.

Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for coming.

Vice President DICK CHENEY: Good morning, Bob.

SCHIEFFER: I want to begin with Iraq. You have just been to the Middle East. Did you leave that region feeling that Arab leaders would basically oppose an American action against Saddam Hussein? Vice Pres. CHENEY: No, not at all. What I came away with, Bob, is the sense that they share our concern, and that--that the--the notion of a Saddam Hussein with his great oil wealth, with his inventory that he already has of biological and chemical weapons, that he might actually acquire a nuclear weapon is, I think, a frightening proposition for anybody who thinks about it. And part of my task out there was to go out and begin the dialogue with our friends to make sure they were thinking about it.

SCHIEFFER: Because--I ask that because the public reaction was--if one just read what those leaders said in public, it was 'We're unified any kind of action against Saddam Hussein.'

Vice Pres. CHENEY: Yeah. Yeah. I would...

SCHIEFFER: Is that a correct interpretation of the public reactions?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: It was mixed, I think, in terms of the--the public reactions. But each of them can speak for themselves. I had very good sessions throughout the region, many private sessions, one-on-one with my host. I've known him a long time. And I would say that, almost without exception, there is universal concern on the developments we see in Iraq, given Saddam Hussein's history and the evidence that's available, of his pursuit of these deadly weapons.

SCHIEFFER: Did they outline any sort of predicate that they would want to see before action might be taken against Saddam Hussein?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I think the var--variety of concerns in terms of how best to--to focus on it--a lot of focus on the United Nations, for example, and, of course, the key point there is that we already have UN Security Council resolutions on this issue; 687 prohibits him from owning weapons of mass destruction. He signed up to it. It's not been enforced or complied with. A lot of interest in terms of how this relates to other issues; for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a major focus of concern now. But what you find is that--and--and we here in the US c--like to portray it as sort of 'Either you're going to work on one problem or you're going to work on the either.' It's not that easy. You've got to work on both. And to some extent, they're interrelated. And so the--the importance, I think, from the standpoint of the United States is we have to be concerned both with the Iraqi problem as well as the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

SCHIEFFER: Let--let me just go back to the first question I asked, 'cause I want to make sure I understand you correctly. You did not come away feeling that they would oppose an American action against Saddam Hussein if, in fact, that became necessary.

Vice Pres. CHENEY: That's correct.

GLORIA BORGER (CBS News): Mr. Vice President, on its front page today, The New York Times is reporting that intelligence officials believe that Yasir Arafat has forged a new strategic relationship with Iran where Iran supplies the Palestinian Authority with heavy weapons and with money. Can you tell us whether you believe this to be correct?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I've seen the story. I really--I could not confirm it at this point. First of all, I can't talk about intelligence reports anyway. Secondly, we have seen, in one particular case, The Koren-a, a few months ago, a set of circumstances where weapons were moving from Iran through Hezbollah to elements of the Palestinian Authority. We know that occurred. The ship was intercepted, the weapons were--were captured and so forth. To go beyond that, and as that article does, I simply--I couldn't go that far at this point.

BORGER: Well, do you think that it makes sense that the relationship could be more extensive? Does it sound like something that has the ring of truth to it?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I just--I don't want to speculate on it, Gloria. I think it would be--be wrong for me to speculate on it at this point. There are all kinds of cross-cutting currents in that part of the world. We do know that Iran has supported Hezbollah very aggressively and Hezbollah has done everything they can to torpedo the peace process. To the extent that Arafat is engaged in negotiations with the Israelis, that's obviously something that the Iranians and Hezbollah are adamantly opposed to. So I think it's--it's--at this point, I would not make the kind of judgment that I've seen there. I think it's--it's--I--I can't--I can't validate it, verify it.

BORGER: So do you have any reason to believe that Teheran might be harboring al-Qaida members?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: We believe that there are al-Qaida members who have gone from Afghanistan into Iran. Whether or not they're still there or not, I don't know. I think the Iranians have been careful historically not to get too close to the al-Qaida organization. You gotta remember, the al-Qaida organization has been primarily Sunni Muslim and, of course, Iran is primarily a Shiite nation. So there's not a natural affinity there. And Iran has been helpful in some respects in terms of supporting, standing up to the interim government, financial assistance to the--to the interim authority in--in Afghanistan. But they've also been real problems in other respec--regards.

SCHIEFFER: Yasir Arafat, you said--or sent signals--US government did--last week that, in fact, you might return to the Middle East to meet with him under certain conditions. It's my understanding that today the administration is saying those conditions have not been met. Are you going back to see him or what does he have to do in order for you to go?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: Well, the--you--premise of your question, the lead-in was correct. That is at present, there's no meeting scheduled. What we agreed to when I was in--in Israel last week, and both the Israelis and the Palestinians signed up to this, was that if, in fact, Yasir Arafat moves aggressively to implement the so-called Tenet Plan--this is a plan put forward by CIA Director Tenet last summer, it's a series of steps that would get us into a cease-fire--if, in fact, they implement that, then I would agree to meet with Arafat. And the judge, as to whether or not they've met those terms, is to be General Zinni, our special Mideast negotiator who's in the midst of those discussions between the Palestinians and the Israelis. To date, as we meet this morning, circumstances such that we've not yet scheduled a meeting.

SCHIEFFER: Well, what has to happen? You--he--he has to meet--you've got to get a cease-fire, at least take some steps toward that. Has he taken any steps along that line yet, Mr. Vice President?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: Well, if--if you look at--at Tenet--the Tenet proposal in particular, it says you have to resume security meetings between the two sides. That's happening. General Zinni is presiding over such a meeting today. Secondly, there has to be an exchange of information--intelligence information, warning--threat warning between the two. Third, each has to take responsibility for maintaining security in its own areas and not allowing attacks from its territory against the other. There are a series of six steps like that that are--are part of Tenet. And what we've said is until Mr. Arafat actively implements those steps to the satisfaction of General Zinni, there won't be a meeting. So far, those have not been implemented. That doesn't mean it won't happen. It doesn't mean it will happen, but the circumstances that I announced jointly when I was there to say, 'I worked this out with both Sharon and Arafat,' those circumstances have not yet been met.

SCHIEFFER: Well, would you say at this point you're optimistic they might happen, your pessimistic? What--what's your state of mind about that right now?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: Well, I'm--I'm enough of a skeptic, I guess, about the difficulty of all of this. I'm really reluctant to make a forecast, Bob. This has got to be one of the most difficult, intractable problems I've ever seen. Hopefully, my willingness to meet with Arafat, if he meets these conditions, will give General Zinni some extra leverage--leverage in--in his mediation of this conflict. We're going to do everything we can to try to--to bring the bloodshed to an end and get on a political track but we're not there yet.


BORGER: What if Mr. Arafat just doesn't have enough control to--to meet your requirements?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: Well, we know he can do more than he has. We know that they've not yet made a 100 percent effort to contain the violence on their side. If you go back to the Oslo Accord entered into in '93, there was an arrangement there for there to be 30,000 Palestinian Authority security personnel armed to maintain security in the Palestinian areas. That's clearly not happening, given the attacks that are being launched into Israel. When we see a 100 percent effort from Mr. Arafat, when he issues directions to his own security services, when he's very public in--in Arabic telling the Palestinian people to knock it off, that there should not be these kinds of attacks, until he actually moves forward on the implementation of Tenet, there will not be a meeting.

SCHIEFFER: There seems to be some disagreement within the Israeli government itself as to whether Mr. Arafat should be allowed to go to this Arab summit that is going to take place later this week. He basically--as we all know, is basically under house arrest where he is now. Should the Israelis allow him to go to this summit?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: Well, they're--they are divided, obviously, as you mentioned, Bob. Shimon Peres believes he should go. To date, the prime minister has felt he shouldn't go. I think it's our view that the summit is likely to be more productive or more likely to be productive if, in fact, he's allowed to attend. The focus of this summit we think ought to be on Crown Prince Abdullah's proposal--his planned withdrawal by the Israelis to 67 borders in exchange for normalization and getting the other Arab nations to sign up to that. If Arafat's not there, it's more likely in our view that he'll become the focus of the summit instead of the Saudi proposal, and so as a general proposition, we think he ought to go.

BORGER: Mr. Vice President, you have not ruled out sending US troops into this region. Is--is that correct?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I haven't ruled--I haven't ruled sending troops into the region. I mean, I--I'd be careful about how you state that. I've been asked whether or not I think it's a good idea. Frankly, we haven't discussed it. To say we have in the past and do today have US troops on--in the Sinai between the Egyptians and the Israelis, that's part of an agreement that goes back nearly 20 years. The notion that US troops ought to somehow be committed here strikes me as--I'd--I'd have to be shown that it makes sense...

BORGER: Well, if...

Vice Pres. CHENEY: ...and so far, I haven't seen that.

SCHIEFFER: That is a major step, isn't it?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: It would be a huge step, and to this point, it's not been suggested in a formal way that we'd actually take it under consideration.

BORGER: Well, i--is--is there--has somebody asked you to do that?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: No, no.

BORGER: Do you--can you in...

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I've seen press speculation, but I--I think Tom Friedman actually recommended it at one point, but it's not been seriously discussed in our government.

BORGER: Can you envision any way in which you think it might be helpful?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I can--at this stage, no, I cannot.

SCHIEFFER: Well, as I understand it, we have proposed or are amenable to perhaps sending CIA agents into the region to monitor any kind of cease-fire or any kind of--sort of, you know, a monitoring force. That would be different, though, wouldn't it?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: That would. And I don't want to get into the business this morning, Bob, of trying to say, 'We will do this, we won't do that.' The fact of the matter is we're actively engaged in trying to get to the--parties on the track of the negotiations. And I don't want to be in the business here this morning of saying, 'We will do this or we won't do that.' I think that would be inappropriate.

BORGER: With--without getting too specific about your private conversations with leaders in the Middle East, I just want to ask you: How would you generally characterize their attitudes towards Saddam Hussein?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: Oh, I--I--frankly, I couldn't find anybody out there who has anything good to say about him, in terms of the people I talked to. Now maybe they wouldn't say anything positive about Saddam Hussein to me anyway, but--but I've dealt with most of these folks now for many, many years, going back at least to the Gulf War crisis. And I--I'd be am--amazed if any of them have anything good to say about him. They're all--many of them think they're on a target list, that if he ever gets the opportunity, he'll take them out.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. Vice President, I have just been told that a story has moved on the wire that says that Iraq has just announced that it would be willing to receive a delegation to discuss the fate of an American pilot shot down during the Gulf War. Number one, have we ever confirmed that, in fact, an American pilot is being held in Iraq? And, number two, what would you make of this report?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I haven't seen the report except what you've just mentioned, Bob. The--the first night of the air war we lost a pilot, a carrier pilot, Spiker, I believe was his name.

SCHIEFFER: Scott Spiker, I believe.

Vice Pres. CHENEY: Right.

SCHIEFFER: Something like that.

Vice Pres. CHENEY: And--and for several years, based on the report of his wing man, the view was he'd been killed in action. He saw--had seen and explosion and so forth. Years later, at one point, there were--was, in the desert in Iraq, the finding of his uniform, some of the thing--parts of his plane and no body. And so for--in recent years, he has been classified as MIA, missing in action. We don't have any more information or evidence, at least I don't, other than the fact that he is missing in action and did go down over Iraq the first night of the Gulf War. So this is--this is news to me. I don't--I'd--I'd have to see more.

SCHIEFFER: Well, this would suggest--and, I mean, we don't want to take this beyond what the story that's moved on the wire--that he is, in fact, alive. Did we have any evidence that he was alive of we just listed him as missing?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: No, he's just--he's listed as missing because we could not confirm his death.

SCHIEFFER: Would--would we send a delegation if, in fact, they have invited us to do that?

Vice Pres. CHENEY: I--I'd have to take a look at the report and--and probably go back and take a look and see whether or not this is a serious proposition or whether Saddam Hussein's simply trying to change the subject.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for being with us this morning. We appreciate it.

Vice Pres. CHENEY: Thank you.

Richard B. Cheney, Interview of the Vice President on CBS News' Face the Nation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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