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Transcript: What is the most serious threat to national security?

Sen. John Kerry and President Bush debate foreign policy issues Thursday night.
Full transcript of the September 30, 2004 presidential debates. 
• Question 6 -- When should troops come home? 
• Question 11 -- When will the war in Iraq end? 
• Question 15 -- Why not send troops to Sudan? 
• Question 18 -- Did Bush misjudge Putin? 
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John F. Kerry
George W. Bush

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.

If you are elected president, what will you take to that office thinking is the single most serious threat to the national security to the United States?

KERRY: Nuclear proliferation. Nuclear proliferation. There's some 600-plus tons of unsecured material still in the former Soviet Union and Russia. At the rate that the president is currently securing it, it'll take 13 years to get it.

I did a lot of work on this. I wrote a book about it several years ago -- six, seven years ago -- called "The New War," which saw the difficulties of this international criminal network. And back then, we intercepted a suitcase in a Middle Eastern country with nuclear materials in it. And the black market sale price was about $250 million.

Now, there are terrorists trying to get their hands on that stuff today.

And this president, I regret to say, has secured less nuclear material in the last two years since 9/11 than we did in the two years preceding 9/11.

We have to do this job. And to do the job, you can't cut the money for it. The president actually cut the money for it. You have to put the money into it and the funding and the leadership.

And part of that leadership is sending the right message to places like North Korea.

Right now the president is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to research bunker-busting nuclear weapons. The United States is pursuing a new set of nuclear weapons. It doesn't make sense.

You talk about mixed messages. We're telling other people, "You can't have nuclear weapons," but we're pursuing a new nuclear weapon that we might even contemplate using.

Not this president. I'm going to shut that program down, and we're going to make it clear to the world we're serious about containing nuclear proliferation.

And we're going to get the job of containing all of that nuclear material in Russia done in four years. And we're going to build the strongest international network to prevent nuclear proliferation.

This is the scale of what President Kennedy set out to do with the nuclear test ban treaty. It's our generation's equivalent. And I intend to get it done.

LEHRER: Ninety seconds, Mr. President.

BUSH: Actually, we've increased funding for dealing with nuclear proliferation about 35 percent since I've been the president. Secondly, we've set up what's called the -- well, first of all, I agree with my opponent that the biggest threat facing this country is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist network. And that's why proliferation is one of the centerpieces of a multiprong strategy to make the country safer.

My administration started what's called the Proliferation Security Initiative. Over 60 nations involved with disrupting the trans-shipment of information and/or weapons of mass destruction materials.

And we've been effective. We busted the A.Q. Khan network. This was a proliferator out of Pakistan that was selling secrets to places like North Korea and Libya. We convinced Libya to disarm.

It's a central part of dealing with weapons of mass destruction and proliferation.

I'll tell you another way to help protect America in the long run is to continue with missile defenses. And we've got a robust research and development program that has been ongoing during my administration. We'll be implementing a missile-defense system relatively quickly.

And that is another way to help deal with the threats that we face in the 21st century.

My opponent opposed the missile defenses.

We must have China's leverage on [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Il, besides ourselves. And if you enter bilateral talks, they'll be happy to walk away from the table. I don't think that'll work.

Next question: Did Bush misjudge Putin?

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