The following is a transcript of NBC's "Meet the Press" with host Tim Russert and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
NBC'S "MEET THE PRESS"
JANUARY 30, 2005
SPEAKERS: TIM RUSSERT, HOST
U.S. SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA)
RUSSERT: We are now joined by Senator John Kerry.
KERRY: Glad to be here. Thank you.
RUSSERT: Election day, Iraq -- Condoleezza Rice, the new secretary of State, has just told the United States and the world it, quote, "has gone better than expected." What is your sense?
KERRY: I think it's gone as expected. I think it was a good report by Brian. I think it starkly lays out the challenges, Tim.
Let me begin, if I can, by saying first of all I was just there a few weeks ago. I think our troops today deserve yet again a thanks and a word of praise from everybody. They are at extraordinary risk. They're doing a remarkable job, and I want to give them that credit.
Secondly, it is significant that there is a vote in Iraq. But no one in the United States or in the world -- and I'm confident of what the world response will be -- no one in the United States should try to overhype this election.
This election is a sort of demarcation point, and what really counts now is the effort to have a legitimate political reconciliation. And it's going to take a massive diplomatic effort and a much more significant outreach to the international community than this administration has been willing to engage in.
Absent that, we will not be successful in Iraq.
RUSSERT: Do you believe this election will be seen by the world community as legitimate?
KERRY: A kind of legitimacy. I mean, it's hard to say that something is legitimate when a whole portion of the country can't vote and doesn't vote.
I think this election was important. I was for the election taking place.
You may recall that back in -- well, there's no reason you would -- but back in Fulton, Missouri, during the campaign, I laid out four steps, and I said at the time, "This may be the president's last chance to get it right."
The four steps were: number one, massive rapid training. Number two, you've got to do reconstruction, and you've got to get the services to the Iraqis. Number three, you've got to bring the international community in the effort. Number four, you've got to have the elections.
Well, today we did number four, we had the elections. But the other three are almost -- I mean, they're lagging so significantly that the task has been made that much harder.
And I will say unequivocally today that what the administration does in these next few days will decide the outcome of Iraq. And this is -- not maybe -- this is the last chance for the president to get it right.
RUSSERT: What specifically must President Bush do, in your mind? Who should he call? Who should he meet with? What should he do?
KERRY: Well, you have to behave as if you really are at war.
I'll give you an example. I was in Egypt three weeks ago; I met with President Mubarak. We were talking about training. I asked him, "You know, why don't you do more training?" His response was, "We've offered do more training. We're doing 146 officers today. I don't know why we're not doing more. People haven't followed up with us. They haven't gotten back to us."
I had the same response in Jordan and in other countries, including European leaders who have offered to do more with respect to police training, more with respect to border and other kinds of training that could take place.
We are not doing today the kind of war-footing effort to train people, the Iraqis, to take over their own security. And a year and a half has gone by, Tim, and it has been much of it wasted as a consequence of the administration's approach.
RUSSERT: Do you believe that Iraq is less a terrorist threat to the United States now than it was two years ago?
KERRY: No, it's more. And, in fact, I believe the world is less safe today than it was two and a half years ago.
And, you know, I think this is one of the difficulties of what I tried to carry in the course of the campaign. It is a difficult argument to carry in the middle of a war. After 9/11, in a war on terror, it is exceedingly hard as a challenger to carry the argument that the incumbent president and your country are not doing what's necessary to protect itself. But we are not.
Stephen Flynn has written a book called "Vulnerable America." People should read it. It tells the story of what we haven't done with respect to preparations here at home -- I mean, the sort of minimalist things with respect to container inspection and the other things. We talked about them during the campaign.
But we are not behaving like a country that takes seriously the words of Vice President Cheney and others in the campaign, that there will be another attack, that the threat is growing with respect to a dirty bomb, nuclearization, biological weapons.
And we have an enormous road to travel in order to make ourselves safer in those categories. We're going to hold this administration accountable over these next days to do the things that we need to do.
RUSSERT: Is the United States safer with the newly elected Iraqi government than we would have been with Saddam Hussein?
KERRY: Sure. And I'm glad Saddam Hussein is gone, and I've said that a hundred times.
But we've missed opportunity after opportunity along the way, Tim, to really make America safe and to bring the world to the cause.
I mean, look, I sat with any number of Arab leaders, and I said to them, you know, "Mr. Prime Minister" or "Mr. President, is your country -- do you believe Iraq, being successful there is important?" The answer is yes. "Do you believe that if it's a failed state, that's a threat to the region?" The answer is yes. "Do you believe that it could be a haven for terrorism even more than it is today?" and so forth. The answer is yes.
Then you say, "Well, why aren't you there? What is the problem?" And the problem becomes one of the way in which this administration -- they will tell you openly -- has approached them and the world.
On three different occasions, the Bush administration spurned the offer of the United Nations, the international community. People have offered police training. People have offered peacekeepers. People have offered other forms of assistance. And our administration has gone it alone.
I believe that Secretary Rumsfeld has managed this about as inappropriately and with as much miscalculation as any war leader in our history. I personally called for his resignation over a year and a half ago. Eight hundred thousand people have signed a petition on our Web site calling for his resignation.
I think there's a very strong feeling in the country -- you heard it from Senator McCain and others -- of lack of confidence in the manager of this war.
RUSSERT: Senator Edward Kennedy, the senior senator from Massachusetts, a prime sponsor of your presidential candidacy...
KERRY: I've heard of him.
RUSSERT: ... gave a speech on Thursday. Let me show you what he said and come back and talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA): Once Sunday's elections are behind us and the democratic transition is under way, President Bush should immediately announce his intention to negotiate a timetable for a drawdown of American combat forces with the Iraqi government.
At least 12,000 American troops, probably more, should leave at once to send a strong signal about our intentions and to ease the pervasive sense of occupation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RUSSERT: Specifically, do you agree with Senator Kennedy that 12,000 American troops should leave at once?
RUSSERT: Do you believe there should be a specific timetable of withdrawal of American troops?
RUSSERT: What would you do?