- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2001

These excerpts are from the transcript of Vice President Richard B. Cheney's comments at a luncheon meeting March 2 in the Old Executive Office Building with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

Q: We understand that you would like to comment first on the budget and taxes.
Mr. Cheney: Yes. I think we're off to a good start. I think the budget and tax package is very sound. A couple things I guess I'd emphasize: I've listened to the debate back and forth and listened to some of the comments from our friends on the other side.
It's important to understand that this is a very conservatively based budget. I mentioned to somebody the other night that the first State of the Union speech I ever heard in the chamber was Lyndon Johnson's last, 32 years ago. I was a newly hired junior staffer on the Hill and I remember standing at the back of the hall leaning over the rail, listening to LBJ give his speech.
In 32 years, I don't think I've ever seen a budget as conservatively based as this is. If you look at the economic assumptions, we have assumed a rate of growth below the Blue Chip forecast, 3.1 percent instead of 3.3 percent. We assume a rate of growth in revenues below the rate of growth in the economy. We used a static model to analyze the impact of the tax cut, so that there's no feedback anticipated at all, which we think is very conservative because there clearly will be some feedback.
We've set aside reserves and contingencies in terms of our expectations with respect to spending. The baseline that we work from assumes a rate of growth in the entitlement programs. It also assumes the inflation rate and discretionary spending. So nobody's cooked the books here. There's no asterisk that says, "Savings yet to be identified." So any suggestion that somehow we haven't been cautious in terms of our assessment about the future and our expectations with respect to revenue I think is simply inaccurate.
There are a couple of other charges I've heard. One was that after the tax cut there's no room for anything else. And that's just not true, just fundamentally not true. There's 4 percent growth in discretionary spending. All the president's campaign-related initiatives are in there. Social Security is taken care of, in terms of all that being set aside. We pay down $2 trillion of debt.
One of the arguments we've heard is that, gee, you need to pay down more debt. I'm not sure why you would want to do that, since we're paying every bit of debt that comes due over the course of the next 10 years. The only way you could pay down more is if you were willing to pay a premium to get people to turn in their Treasuries early. It doesn't make any sense at all as an economic or budget matter to do that, to pay a premium, in effect, to retire debt.
We're getting rid of $2 trillion of debt. When we get through, debt as a percentage of GDP will be the lowest it has been since World War I. So it's a very solid, very sound budget from that respect.

Remembering Reagan era

One of the other things that I disagreed with in some of the commentary the other night was, one of our friends said that, gee, nobody wants to go back to the bad old Reagan days. And I just think that's a total misrepresentation, first of the Reagan days, and secondly of what we're doing here.
What I remember from the Reagan era is that when President Reagan came to town he inherited a real mess in terms of the economy. We had a 14 percent rate of inflation, 21 percent interest rates (the prime); the economy absolutely in the tank. We were in the midst of the Cold War. We had a military that had gone to pot during the course of the Carter years. And he made a couple of decisions. And we had a tax rate, top rate of 70 percent, [for] federal income taxes. He made a couple of decisions that I think were absolutely crucial, were correct, and contributed in major ways to getting us to where we are today.
He decided we needed to rebuild our military, which was the right decision, which made it possible for us to win the Cold War; and one of the reasons we have a surplus today is because we won the Cold War because, instead of spending 6 percent of GDP on defense, we're spending less than 3 percent of GDP on defense today. That accounts for a big chunk of the surplus.
The other thing he did, obviously, was to embark upon fundamental changes in tax policy, to generating a lot of capital, encouraging people to work harder and save more and earn more, and that those fundamental changes in the tax code in the early 1980s were in fact responsible for a lot of the prosperity we've enjoyed over the last 20 years.
The other thing to keep in mind is this is not 1980. There are some principles that I think are appropriate here, but then we had a Cold War. Today we don't have a Cold War. The Cold War is over with. Then we had a dramatically different set of economic circumstances than today. Today we're coming off a period of relative prosperity. Hopefully we'll avoid a recession. It's not clear yet.
We really do want to look long-term with this tax cut and take down those rates in all the brackets, so the top rate will only be 33 percent.
But to make first of all, to misrepresent history in terms of what happened during the Reagan era, and secondly then to draw inappropriate parallels, it seems to me doesn't help in the debate. And it's important, if we're going to have an informed, intelligent debate over budget and tax policy, that people be reasonably honest in terms of their representation of facts.

'What we ran on'

Q: Don't they also leave out the spending factor? It seems to me that's always unmentioned by the Democrats is the spending that took place in the 1980s also.
Mr. Cheney: Yes. We had serious spending problems in the 1980s. We also had a Democratic House and all your appropriations bills originate in the House. Once we got a Republican Congress, we got welfare reform, we got a balanced budget.
So, you know, we could argue a lot about the last 20 years of American economic history, but if we're going to proceed forward I think we do need to be appropriately cautious in terms of making statements that simply aren't accurate.
Q: I notice the Democrats demonize the 1980s, but they didn't use the word "Ronald Reagan," which I think they probably figure is a little radioactive from their standpoint.
Mr. Cheney: They say he's our most popular former president now.
Q: What about folks who say that the fact that President Bush came up with his tax cut figure was in response to Steve Forbes on the campaign trail, that that number materialized at that point and he's been sticking with it ever since? Why are these figures so magical?
Mr. Cheney: Well, a lot of time and effort went into putting the tax package together. I was involved just on the periphery of it. I wasn't part of the economic team during that period when it was assembled. But we think it's the right way to go, and there's been a constant, continuous effort throughout the campaign and since the election to try to get the president to negotiate with himself, to back off and change his fundamental position.
The argument during the campaign was people don't care about taxes, that it's not at the top of their list of priorities. The argument after the election was: Gee, you didn't win by a very big margin here; you're obviously going to have to concede up front your positions on these key issues like tax policy. We said: No, we're not going to do that. This is what we ran on, this is what we believe, this is what we're going to ask Congress to pass. We've been very consistent all the way through.
Steve Forbes is a good man but I think it would be a mistake to look at this as only some kind of a bounce from Forbes in the primary. I don't agree with that analysis at all. I haven't seen any evidence of it. I never heard anybody inside say that in two years.
'Reasonably aggressive'

Q: The Republicans voted this out of committee the day after they got the budget, basically. What does that say about the atmosphere of bipartisanship in Washington, given that this is obviously something that the Democrats are not buying into?
Mr. Cheney: Well, I'll bet most of them vote for it on final passage.
Q: Well, but how do you get from here to there?
Mr. Cheney: Well, we got started. We got it out of committee. It'll come to the floor now. There will be ample opportunity to debate it. It's going to get a lot of debate in the Senate. It's going to take longer in the Senate, but that's the normal cycle anyway.
So I don't have any qualms about trying to move it in a reasonably aggressive fashion. If it's going to have any positive impact in terms of the current downturn in the economy, we need to get through it fairly fast. I think what the Ways and Means Committee did yesterday is make the lowest rate retroactive to the first of the year, so you'll get some kick this year hopefully in terms of the economy.
There's not enormous complexity to the bill. The content of it has been known for a very long time. We're moving exactly what we said we were going to move. It's not something that was just cobbled together in the dark of night. It's something that we campaigned on for months, discussed and debated during the campaign for months. Now we're in office and it's our time to move and that's what we're doing.
Q: What's your role going to be on Capitol Hill on this, to get this through?
Mr. Cheney: Well, I would really enjoy casting the tie-breaking vote in the Senate if the president's tax package were to tie. I think, though, when it comes right down to it, I think we'll have more than 50 votes for it. I don't know that we'll get to 60, but I think there's clearly going to be debate over timing and over exactly what ought to go into the package and how big it ought to be. But in the end I think we're going to get most of what we wanted. And my job is clearly, from one standpoint, to serve as the presiding officer in the Senate and get to cast the tie-breaking vote. That's my only real job. All the rest of this is just at the pleasure of the president.

Lunch with senators

Up until, I guess until Nixon, vice presidents didn't even have offices downtown. So Harry Truman lived on Capitol Hill. But I've spent a lot of time up there. I'll go up, I try to get up there at least one full day a week. I usually go up on Tuesdays. I spend time over on the Senate side. I have lunch with all the Senate Republicans. I will from time to time I haven't yet, but I've been invited and plan to accept an invitation from [Senate Minority Leader Tom] Daschle to meet occasionally with the Senate Democrats.
I've got an office on the Senate side where I have meetings built around that lunch. Then I go over on the House side to the office I've got over there. Now, Denny Hastert gave me H-208, that old Ways and Means Committee room right off the House floor, and I have sessions over there. Lots of times I'm back up there a second time or a third time during the week. It just sort of depends on the congressional schedule. And I'll continue to do that.
I end up lots of times being a conduit, delivering messages back and forth. I know a lot of the members on both sides, so I'm able to sit down and talk with them on whatever is on their mind.
We put together a fairly aggressive program of my going up and meeting with various groups. I met with the Blue Dogs the other day. I meet with, what is it, the Wednesday Lunch Bunch, all the various groups and organizations among members.
Q: So will you be sort of the enforcer on Capitol Hill while President Bush is out there selling it to the public at large? Is that sort of how you see your role?
Mr. Cheney: Hmm, I don't think I'd use the word enforcer.
Q: Intimidator?
Mr. Cheney: President Bush has spent a lot of time with the Congress himself. He's seen as many members of Congress as I have in the last six weeks. They like to see me, but they'd rather see him if they have a choice. But I will be there to help out. My congressional staff folds right into Nick Calio's operation in the White House. They meet together all the time. So we coordinate very closely on everything we're doing. It's all one team. So I'm available to meet with members, to make presentations, talk with the press, whatever is required to support the package.

The Miller factor

Q: What do you make of the Zell Miller phenomenon? Here's a freshman senator. Freshman senators traditionally don't have very much to say about anything for a while. He comes into town, he's not elected, and he sounds almost like one of your guys. That was a remarkable page one story we had the other day.
Mr. Cheney: I saw that. Well, I'm a big fan of his. Partly too, he's not your average rookie. This guy's been governor, just came off the campaign trail, clearly is very direct and outspoken. Also, he and the president get along very well and spent time together as governors. I think that probably helps, too. But he's had the courage of his convictions to stand up and look at something and say: I agree with that, it's important. I think, I would hope that there'll be more Democrats like that.
Q: Will this have any influence on breaking some of the Democrats away from the party-line vote?
Mr. Cheney: Hopefully it'll be easier for the next one to do the right thing.
Q: Have you gotten any signals that there's anybody else out there like that? Is there a strategy of going after southern Democrats?
Mr. Cheney: Well, we're clearly going to focus on those who, by virtue of their past votes or philosophy, we think are potentially get-able. We had the votes last year on the marriage penalty and the death tax that passed and then Clinton vetoed the bills. So there's a track record there, to sit down and look at members who voted for those. I would think it would be hard this time around to vote against something you just voted for last year.
We'll also look at those members who come from states where maybe there's a split delegation and the Republican has already signed on and committed, or where we ran especially strong. Think about Georgia. You've got Zell Miller signed on. We carried Georgia by a comfortable margin. We hope [Georgia Democratic Sen.] Max Cleland would think about it.
Q: Speaking of issues that are going to be coming before the Senate, John McCain is rallying the troops to get some campaign finance reform passed. Do you want him to succeed?
Mr. Cheney: Well, what we have said about campaign finance reform, what the president said and campaigned on, is that he's prepared to support an acceptable bill. The McCain-Feingold bill as introduced doesn't meet those criteria. That doesn't mean that the legislative process won't ultimately present us with a bill that the president can sign. But he wants to see some changes in it.
The question of when the bill comes up, the time agreement between McCain and [Senate Majority Leader Trent] Lott, that's something for the senators involved to settle. The bill's going to be up. There's going to be extended debate, the opportunity for amendments. So I guess it's not a question: Do I hope the senator will succeed? I would hope that what ultimately emerges from the process is a bill the president can sign.
'Unwise limitations'

Q: We're told that when he came to see President Bush and you about this he got the impression you were less supportive of his position than the president, and was wondering whose view would carry the day. Do you consider yourself having a more negative view of McCain-Feingold than the president?
Mr. Cheney: Well, I can't remember how it came up now, but the subject came up of my views on campaign finance reform. I don't set policy in the administration; the president does. The president's made clear his views and I support his position. What I get to do in return for serving is I get to put my views on the table and make my case and my arguments. But in the end he makes the decisions and I salute smartly and do everything I can to help him succeed on his views.
Over the years, it's no secret my views have been that I've been more concerned in the past about unwise limitations on political activity imposed by the government. It's always been a pet peeve of mine. I believe in total disclosure, but I also am very cautious about trying to impose limits on the political process.
Our view, the president's view and the administration policy is that he's prepared to support a bill if it's got provisions in it that are fair and equitable, paycheck protection, things like that.
Q: Your opponents, Democratic opponents and some in the liberal media, have characterized you as a puppet master who pulls the strings on the president. They're trying to portray him as a lightweight. You obviously have read all of this when you were brought on board as the vice presidential candidate. How do you respond to that?
Mr. Cheney: It's silly. You know, he took a lot of heat when he appointed me in some quarters. Then during the early stages of the campaign, before the debate, some of those same folks questioned the wisdom of picking somebody who was, quote, not a sterling campaigner from a small state like Wyoming. It turned out those Wyoming electoral votes were pretty important.
Then after the election he sent me up and asked me to get cracking on the transition. I did, and all of a sudden he's being criticized because I'm, quote, doing too much. It's all silly.
I mean, the fact of the matter is he's been absolutely, totally consistent. When he asked me to sign on, even before that, when we were going through the process of when he had asked me to help him find somebody to serve as his running mate. What he laid out then in terms of his aspirations, what he was looking for, was he wanted somebody specifically who could help govern, who was not interested in going out and worrying just about the electoral map. That was secondary to him. That's what he said publicly, that's what he said privately, that's what he said to me when he asked me to do it and when I signed on.

'True to his word'

All we ever had was a handshake. There's no contract. There's no letter of understanding or anything like that. I didn't say, well, I'll do it if you'll let me do the following 14 things. He said: I want you to sign on and you'll play a significant role in my administration and be a very important part of the team. I said: Fair enough. So we're off.
Since then, he's absolutely been true to his word. His style is very much the way I like to work. It's the way I ran my company when I was at Halliburton: You hire good people, you give them goals and objectives to follow, broad guidelines, and then turn them loose. You don't micromanage them.
As I say, he's been very consistent all the way through that. He's put together a hell of a Cabinet, the best Cabinet I think this town has seen in a very long time, using a blend of experience and new talent, people with experience at the federal level and the state level, and folks who are, I think, philosophically compatible with him and will support his policies and his views. The White House staff I think has performed superbly. We've got some great people. I've been through five transitions and I've never seen one this smooth. And it's all because of the president.
So the suggestion or the notion that somehow he's not running the show is just silly.
Q: You and your staff have gone to some lengths to almost downplay the significance of your influence and power. In Washington, isn't that the ultimate sign of influence and power? I mean, it's so rare to have a guy in Washington saying: Well, I'm not really that powerful.
Mr. Cheney: Well, it's just the way I work. I always have. I came back I'd made a decision some years ago that I'd had a great tour in the public sector. I did a lot of time in '94, 160 campaigns, raised a lot of money for the party, had a PAC and so forth. Part of that was to decide whether or not I wanted to run myself, and I decided not to. I went out and said: That's it, I'm going to go enjoy private life; I'm young enough to have another career. So I went away and did that.
I came back because I watched him operate for five years. I watched him operate for five years as governor of Texas, worked with him on the campaign, and worked with him on the VP selection process, and became convinced that he was exactly what the country needed and that I had an obligation to help if I could. Very few people are ever asked to do that.

'Hell of a ride'

Given all of the enormous benefits I have derived during the course of my career, the least I can do, if he really was convinced I was the guy to do it, was to set aside my own personal considerations and sign on. And I did, and it's been a hell of a ride. I have not regretted it for a minute. It was a great campaign. The 35-day recount, who could have scripted something like that? Nobody could have.
Q: Time passes quickly when you're having fun.
Mr. Cheney: Yes. But also, he's great to work with. He's quick and decisive, makes decisions, doesn't look back, marshals the arguments, listens to the debate, likes the give and take of debate. You can just watch him operate. The speech the other night was a great speech. I thought his inaugural speech was a very good speech. A year ago, nobody would have said George Bush was going to give a great speech. He's good at it.
Q: Do you think he's grown better?
Mr. Cheney: Sure.
Q: I was looking back at his performance in the first primary debates, which for some Republicans were cringe-making. I don't know how you felt about it. But it seems like he's developed a great deal. How does he feel about that?
Mr. Cheney: I think he recognizes that. We all learn with experience. You can't go through a presidential campaign as rough as this one, or as close and hard-fought as this one, and not learn from it and grow from it.
Also, I was always impressed with the way he handled that recount period of uncertainty cool, unflappable, focused, not down in the weeds, which isn't his style, but rather, again, put together the best team you can, get Jim Baker to go to Florida and supervise the operation with the best legal talent you could marshal to run the operation, make the key decisions, stay on top of things.
But if you get a guy as good as Jim Baker to oversee your Florida operation, and it doesn't get any better than that, trust Jim Baker. If you don't have confidence in him, then you ought to get somebody else.'More effective'

That's not the way a Bill Clinton manages, for example. I always thought the way George Bush operates is a lot more effective. It gives you a much better result, I think, long-term because in effect you've got people out there that you've given guidance to and they're smart enough and talented enough and experienced enough to be able to take that guidance, and start to make decisions, know where the president stands, know what he believes in, and you don't have to worry about making a decision one day and then having the signals change in the White House the next and having the rug pulled out from under you, which weakens and undermines the authority of all your Cabinet every time that happens.
So he's off to a great start, and he deserves to be. We'll have our rough times, I'm sure. Every administration always does. But I feel very good about things.
Q: Secretary Powell has come back from the Middle East, where he seems to have modified the position expressed earlier about the sanctions and what would have to be done to get the sanctions eased. Are people singing off of different pages of the hymn book or have the words changed? Before he left he said that there would have to be certain things done before the sanctions were lifted, and then when he ran into static from the Arab governments he changed the position while on the trip. What is the administration's position on getting the inspectors back in as a condition of easing the sanctions?
Mr. Cheney: Well, I guess what I'd do is back off a step. General Powell's trip has been an important development, obviously. But I think you've got to look at the situation we inherited in the Middle East and, frankly, it's a mess. I think if you'd look at the situation in the Gulf over the years, we've seen a steady erosion of the sanctions regime. A lot of examples. The Chinese have been in there with fiber-optic cables for the air defense network. The Syrians opened up the pipeline, selling oil Iraq selling oil out through Syria, with the cash going back directly to the Iraqis, not going through the U.N. escrow account. You've got flights going in there now.
The regime that had been put in place some years ago has clearly been allowed to atrophy and it's broken down. The second problem you've got is that the other Arab states in the Gulf are clearly very concerned about the rising criticism within their own publics with respect to the impact on the Iraqi people of the sanctions. The third thing that's happened is that base access out there has been limited. We don't have the kind of wide-open access to military facilities that we did some years ago.

Peace talks 'haywire'

Then you add to that the situation with respect to the peace process and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the way that blew up. I think, over the course of the last year, the Camp David talks that went haywire, putting Jerusalem front and center as the sort of the be-all and end-all of negotiations before it really was ripe for solution, destruction of the Barak government, the resumption of violence on the West Bank as the talks broke down with respect to the intifada. Now you've got a new government in Israel, not yet in power.
One of the things that's happened is that to a greater extent than ever before the peace process, the situation between Israel and Palestine, now oftentimes comes up in your conversations with the Gulf states. It used to be when you traveled to the Gulf they were interested in U.S. relations, they were interested in the military situation in the Gulf, they were interested in economic and military cooperation with the U.S. They almost never talked about Israel.
All of that's changed now, because the breakdown, if you will, in the peace process has slopped over now and clearly has had an impact again on the publics in those states and created added political problems for our friends in the region.
That's the situation we've inherited. So now what we've got to do is try to construct a policy out there that can be sustained over a long period of time that's focused on key objectives. That's what we're doing. That's where Colin was. It was important for his trip to go out and talk to everybody in the region, which he's done, as well as some of our European allies.
I would expect in the not too distant future we'll be in a position to give you a clearer picture of what we expect and of what our policies will be in terms of going forward. But you've got to, I think you've got to be able to regroup and refocus, so that we do in fact once again have the support of the front-line states out there, as well as the other major members of the coalition to figure out how you move forward.
Q: It looked like Mr. Powell was making policy with every different stop. The question on the sanctions seemed to be very solid and clear and consistent. It is not today. It is not clear and consistent today. What are you going to do about the sanctions? Are they going to get removed or what?
Mr. Cheney: We're spending a lot of time on that very issue. I'm not ready to enunciate a new policy. He was out there specifically to explore the attitudes of our friends and allies, not just on the sanctions question, but on the whole range of policies.
He just got back Tuesday. We've had one session that I've participated in since then where we've kicked that around, and I would expect in the not too distant future to be able to articulate what our approach is going to be.Chinese violations in Iraq

Q: You mentioned the fiber optics in Iraq. President Bush the other day said something to the effect that it's risen to the level where we want to send a message to the Chinese. That sounded almost ominous. Can you shed more light on your concerns with this development? What exactly are you going to do in regards to China's help to Iraq?
Mr. Cheney: Well, I think we've already done it, in effect, by pointing out the fact that they appear to have been operating there in violation of the sanctions by installing that capability for the Iraqis. There've been some reports since then that they've taken that on board and are considering our position.
Q: Could you give us some idea of what Mr. Powell means when he talks about smart sanctions? Is this what you're talking about, the fiber-optic cables, the kind of technology that is weapons-related? How do you implement smart sanctions? That almost has to go to the source countries of those products.
Mr. Cheney: Smart sanctions I think I would interpret as sanctions that are targeted on commodities and goods, more focused, if you will, in the things we're concerned about, rather than just sort of a broad-blanket approach. If you're worried about his trying to resume production of weapons of mass destruction or trying to refurbish his conventional military capability or building up his forces sufficiently so that he could once again threaten his neighbors, those might be some of the targets that you would focus on to make sure that what you were doing was calibrated in such a way as to have its maximum impact on those kinds of commodities and be less concerned about other things that weren't related to his military capabilities.
Q: How do you implement it?
Mr. Cheney: Well, you've got to work with potential suppliers. You've got to retain control over his funds. One of the keys is, as long as he's selling oil in the international market, to make sure that the revenue from that goes through that escrow account and the U.N. retains control over those funds as a very important step. Working with the other members of the coalition and the front-line states to have them on board for this kind of policy so that they don't become sources of contraband, if you will, for the Iraqis is an important part of the process.
Q: How difficult is it going to be to get the Arab, the so-called front-line states, back in line? It seems like we had the Egyptian ambassador out to our place recently and he was just talking about the mood of the Arab populace is just so down on this, on the sanctions against Iraq, because all they see is starving children and things like that, and it's really, really just impacted the populace heavily.
Mr. Cheney: Well, it's part of why it's a difficult task. I think there are questions, such as well, I'm trying to think here of what's public and what isn't. That's the challenge for diplomacy and that's one of the reasons you need to be able to go back and sort of refocus the whole program.

'Great relationship'

We've had a great relationship with the Egyptians over the years. Mubarak's a good friend for a lot of us. He's very important in that part of the world. Half the Arabs in the world live in Egypt.
What General Powell did on his most recent trip was to stop in and see the Saudis and the Kuwaitis and the Egyptians and the Syrians. That's all part of the process of trying to reassemble the coalition around a policy that we've got a consensus on and that people are willing to live with and support.
Q: Is it still the position of the government, our government, that inspectors, U.N. inspectors, have to be let back in before the sanctions can be taken off? Has that changed?
Mr. Cheney: You know, I think we'd like to see the inspectors back in there. That was part of the last resolution was it 1284? at the U.N. I don't think we want to hinge our policy just to the question of whether or not the inspectors go back in there.
Q: So the inspections are not as crucial or as critical as we said they were?
Mr. Cheney: It may not be as crucial if you've got other measures in place and you've got a regime that people are willing to support. So we'll have to see. Again, we haven't addressed that particular issue yet.
Q: Have you gotten any reading from the front-line states on how strongly they feel about those inspections?
Mr. Cheney: I haven't. But I haven't talked to General Powell about that.
Q: We have written stories about evidence that Russia has moved tactical nuclear weapons into a supposedly nuclear-free zone of the Baltics Kaliningrad. The Poles are very concerned about this, have asked for inspections. What are your thoughts and, since Poland is now a member of NATO, why wouldn't we support their call to have inspections here?
Mr. Cheney: I haven't looked at it. I mean, I've seen one or two of your stories, but I haven't focused on it.Balkans pullout not 'imminent'

Q: On another European question, the Balkans, Mr. Powell made some statements which I think sound a little bit contradictory. Your policy is not really clear on that point, either, whether we want our troops to stay or whether we want our troops to go, and whether we're going to accept the consequences of a pullout of American troops, with the signals it will send to the Serbs and the various other parties in the region. What is our policy at this point?
Mr. Cheney: Well, the policy is very much to support the effort. We've got several thousand U.S. troops in Bosnia and Kosovo. They will continue there until such time as the alliance makes a decision to change that posture. There is a drawdown of some 750 troops that will take us still keep us above the floor that we've agreed to in terms of U.S. presence, but will reduce our presence there to some extent.
This is one of the areas that I would expect would be reviewed as we talk about the review of our commitments around the world. What we've said in the past is that this is an area that we would use as an example of an area where over time you would hope that we could make our contribution more in terms of those unique capabilities the United States has our intelligence assets, our logistics capabilities, our air assets and let the Europeans pick up more of the role of ground force presence.
But that's not anything imminent. We've used that in the Balkans as an example of the kind of specialization we might want to see long-term. But we've made it clear to our European allies that, with respect to Balkans policy, we're going to work closely with them, consult with them, work through NATO in terms of any change with respect to our commitments.
Q: So you're not yet ready to put a timetable on when we might get our ground forces down to zero and use these other assets that you talked about?
Mr. Cheney: No, we're not ready to do that, ready to put a timetable on it.
Q: But ultimately you would like to see that at some point?
Mr. Cheney: I've said carefully and precisely exactly what I meant to say.
Q: China clearly continues to be a serious violator in terms of weapons proliferation and in terms of human rights. Concretely, how is this administration's policy toward China going to differ from the previous administration's?
Mr. Cheney: Well, I guess I would expect that we will deal I would hope we would deal in a manner that's more consistent over time, that makes it clear to the Chinese that we do have certain interests we care a lot about and that we expect them to be cognizant of, take notice of.

No 'force' on Taiwan

We've made it clear that we want to go forward with ballistic missile defense. We clearly have strong feelings about the future of Taiwan and the importance that the ultimate resolution of the PRC-Taiwan situation is by peaceful means, not by resort to force.
I think we want good relations with China, but they've got to be based upon a realistic assessment of what our mutual interests are. You can't sort of ratchet it up and ratchet it down on an emotional basis. We do need to be consistent over time. I always felt, for example, that Bill Clinton's nine-day sojourn in China a couple years ago was a mistake. It's one thing to go and visit China. You should do that. It's a mistake to let them dictate to the president of the United States how many days he has to stay or that he can't stop and see Japan on the way coming and going.
So I think the Chinese should expect that there's no reason why they can't have good relations with the U.S., but it's got to be on the basis that they understand that we do have certain fundamental interests and we expect them to be cognizant of those interests.
Q: Are we technically capable of building a missile defense at this point, a missile defense system?
Mr. Cheney: There's a lot of work that needs to be done. Again, it's one of the tasks Don's got over at the Pentagon. There's no question about the threat. We know the threat's there. He's the premier expert probably in the country on the question of the ballistic missile threat. I think that the program that the Clinton administration was pursuing is probably inadequate, was unduly constrained by the provisions of the ABM Treaty. And the position the president took during the campaign, that I think is absolutely on target, we all supported, is that we recognize there's a threat and we want to develop defenses. We'd like to make it clear that the ABM Treaty should not stand in the way of doing an effective job of research and ultimate deployment of limited defenses, and that we're prepared to move as aggressively as we can to develop a ballistic missile defense.
We also are concerned that the system do more than just cover the continental United States, that we be able to offer our allies and friends around the world some protection as well.
Q: Including Taiwan?
Mr. Cheney: I'll leave it right where I've left it.Pennsylvania Avenue

Q: We had a story this morning that this new panel has been selected to study the reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue. We've found that this is one of the hottest hot-button issues among conservative Republicans. We've been surprised at how deep-seated the sentiment is for reopening the avenue. People have all kinds of reasons for wanting it. The most emotional argument is that Washington is not Port au Prince, that people should have a right to drive past the White House. During the campaign the president indicated that he wanted to reopen the avenue. Then he seemed to back away by saying, well, if the Secret Service says it's okay. As you know, there's no such thing as a federal agency in Washington that wants to give up turf, literal or otherwise. What's going to happen on that? Are you guys going to reopen the avenue?
Mr. Cheney: I haven't seen the study. Some study panel, you say?
Q: Yes. It's a story this morning that a panel has been named to study it and make a recommendation to the president.
Mr. Cheney: Oh, this is Interior and
Q: Well, it's got some local people. Interior is on it. It's got some local people. Then we also had a story about what the security agencies in Jerusalem, London, and Paris do, and they're much less oppressive in the way they protect their head of state. Is the administration going to do what it said it would do during the campaign?
Mr. Cheney: Well, I think the judgment needs to be made based upon a realistic assessment of whether or not there is a threat. I don't think we would want to keep the avenue closed unless we believed there was a security threat. That assessment's got to be made by professionals.
By the same token, if there is in fact a security threat, it would be probably silly to reopen the avenue. It ought to be based on some objective view of what the threat is, rather than sort of an emotional response to it. I like driving in front of the White House, too, but I do think you need to sit down and look seriously at whether or not having the street that close to the White House would enhance the risk to the president of the United States.
With respect to what other security agencies do, none of them are protecting the president. There probably is no more attractive target to the bad guys than the president. So I think we need to be cautious in terms of how we proceed.

The Clinton pardons

Q: We understand politically why you don't want to get involved in the pardons debate, but doesn't the president at some point, as the chief law enforcement officer of the country, have to deal with this? And is there any thought being given to revamping the pardons process or trying to rework it somehow?
Mr. Cheney: What would you suggest he do as the chief law enforcement officer?
Q: Well, I'm just wondering. At some point does he need to, for example, instruct the Attorney General to investigate, or a special prosecutor?
Mr. Cheney: It looks to me like the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York is already investigating.
Q: But questions have been raised about her efficiency.
Mr. Cheney: I haven't raised or seen any of those questions. I don't think it's something that this White House needs to get involved in. The president has made it clear that Congress is going to have to do whatever Congress wants to do. They've got their responsibilities and obligations and they're doing that. But for us to spend a lot of time in the Bush White House worrying about Bill Clinton's pardons strikes me as not very useful.
Q: Do you think any reassessment of the pardons process is necessary?
Mr. Cheney: I don't. I think you could say Bill Clinton made some lousy decisions that we'd like to think our administration would not make. But there's no guarantee in the Constitution that we won't have a president from time to time who makes lousy decisions.

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