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Transcript: What is Kerry's position on pre-emptive war?


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Sen. John Kerry and President Bush debate foreign policy issues Thursday night.
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Full transcript of the September 30, 2004 presidential debates. 
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CORAL GABLES, Florida (CNN) -- The following is a partial transcript of the debate between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry held Thursday night at the University of Miami. The topic of the debate is foreign affairs, and the moderator is Jim Lehrer of PBS:

LEHRER: New question. Two minutes, Senator Kerry.

What is your position on the whole concept of pre-emptive war?

KERRY: The president always has the right, and always has had the right, for pre-emptive strike. That was a great doctrine throughout the Cold War. And it was always one of the things we argued about with respect to arms control.

No president, though all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to pre-empt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America.

But if and when you do it, Jim, you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.

Here we have our own secretary of state who has had to apologize to the world for the presentation he made to the United Nations.

I mean, we can remember when President Kennedy in the Cuban missile crisis sent his secretary of state to Paris to meet with DeGaulle.

And in the middle of the discussion, to tell them about the missiles in Cuba, he said, "Here, let me show you the photos."

And DeGaulle waved them off and said, "No, no, no, no. The word of the president of the United States is good enough for me."

How many leaders in the world today would respond to us, as a result of what we've done, in that way?

So what is at test here is the credibility of the United States of America and how we lead the world. And Iran and Iraq are now more dangerous -- Iran and North Korea are now more dangerous.

Now, whether pre-emption is ultimately what has to happen, I don't know yet.

But I'll tell you this: As president, I'll never take my eye off that ball.

I've been fighting for proliferation the entire time -- anti-proliferation the entire time I've been in the Congress. And we've watched this president actually turn away from some of the treaties that were on the table.

You don't help yourself with other nations when you turn away from the global warming treaty, for instance, or when you refuse to deal at length with the United Nations.

You have to earn that respect. And I think we have a lot of earning back to do.

LEHRER: Ninety seconds.

BUSH: Let me -- I'm not exactly sure what you mean, "passes the global test," you take pre-emptive action if you pass a global test.

My attitude is you take pre-emptive action in order to protect the American people, that you act in order to make this country secure.

My opponent talks about me not signing certain treaties. Let me tell you one thing I didn't sign, and I think it shows the difference of our opinion -- the difference of opinions.

And that is, I wouldn't join the International Criminal Court. It's a body based in The Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial.

And I wouldn't join it. And I understand that in certain capitals around the world that that wasn't a popular move. But it's the right move not to join a foreign court that could -- where our people could be prosecuted.

My opponent is for joining the International Criminal Court. I just think trying to be popular, kind of, in the global sense, if it's not in our best interest makes no sense.

I'm interested in working with our nations and do a lot of it. But I'm not going to make decisions that I think are wrong for America.

Next question: Will diplomacy work in North Korea, Iran?


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