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Inside Politics

Transcript: Did Bush misjudge Putin?


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Sen. John Kerry and President Bush debate foreign policy issues Thursday night.
TRANSCRIPT
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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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: All right. Mr. President, this is the last question. And two minutes. It's a new subject -- new question, and it has to do with President Putin and Russia. Did you misjudge him or are you -- do you feel that what he is doing in the name of antiterrorism by changing some democratic processes is OK?

BUSH: No, I don't think it's OK, and said so publicly. I think that there needs to be checks and balances in a democracy, and made that very clear that by consolidating power in the central government, he's sending a signal to the Western world and United States that perhaps he doesn't believe in checks and balances, and I told him that.

I mean, he's also a strong ally in the war on terror. He is -- listen, they went through a horrible situation in Beslan, where these terrorists gunned down young school kids. That's the nature of the enemy, by the way. That's why we need to be firm and resolve in bringing them to justice.

That's precisely what Vladimir Putin understands, as well.

I've got a good relation with Vladimir. And it's important that we do have a good relation, because that enables me to better comment to him, and to better to discuss with him, some of the decisions he makes. I found that, in this world, that it's important to establish good personal relationships with people so that when you have disagreements, you're able to disagree in a way that is effective.

And so I've told him my opinion.

I look forward to discussing it more with him, as time goes on. Russia is a country in transition. Vladimir is going to have to make some hard choices. And I think it's very important for the American president, as well as other Western leaders, to remind him of the great benefits of democracy, that democracy will best help the people realize their hopes and aspirations and dreams. And I will continue working with him over the next four years.

LEHRER: Ninety seconds, Senator Kerry.

KERRY: Well, let me just say quickly that I've had an extraordinary experience of watching up close and personal that transition in Russia, because I was there right after the transformation. And I was probably one of the first senators, along with Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire, a former senator, go down into the KGB underneath Treblinka Square and see reams of files with names in them.

It sort of brought home the transition to democracy that Russia was trying to make.

I regret what's happened in these past months. And I think it goes beyond just the response to terror. Mr. Putin now controls all the television stations. His political opposition is being put in jail.

And I think it's very important to the United States, obviously, to have a working relationship that is good. This is a very important country to us. We want a partnership.

But we always have to stand up for democracy. As George Will said the other day, "Freedom on the march; not in Russia right now."

Now, I'd like to come back for a quick moment, if I can, to that issue about China and the talks. Because that's one of the most critical issues here: North Korea.

Just because the president says it can't be done, that you'd lose China, doesn't mean it can't be done. I mean, this is the president who said "There were weapons of mass destruction," said "Mission accomplished," said we could fight the war on the cheap -- none of which were true.

We could have bilateral talks with Kim Jong Il. And we can get those weapons at the same time as we get China. Because China has an interest in the outcome, too.

LEHRER: Thirty seconds, Mr. President.

BUSH: You know my opinion on North Korea. I can't say it any more plainly.

LEHRER: Well, but when he used the word "truth" again ...

BUSH: Pardon me?

LEHRER: ... talking about the truth of the matter. He used the word "truth" again. Did that raise any hackles with you?

BUSH: Oh, I'm a pretty calm guy. I don't take it personally.

LEHRER: OK. All right.

BUSH: You know, we looked at the same intelligence and came to the same conclusion: that Saddam Hussein was a grave threat.

And I don't hold it against him that he said grave threat. I'm not going to go around the country saying he didn't tell the truth, when he looked at the same intelligence I did.

KERRY: It was a threat. That's not the issue. The issue is what you do about it.

The president said he was going to build a true coalition, exhaust the remedies of the U.N. and go to war as a last resort.

Those words really have to mean something. And, unfortunately, he didn't go to war as a last resort.

Now we have this incredible mess in Iraq -- $200 billion. It's not what the American people thought they were getting when they voted.

Next: Bush, Kerry closing statements


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