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Howard Dean is the governor of Vermont and the Democratic frontrunner in the U.S. presidential race against George Bush. After delivering the first major foreign policy speech of his campaign in Los Angeles on Dec. 15, he talked to Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels and other members of the Pacific Council. Excerpts below.

QUESTION: What is the significance of Saddam Hussein's capture?

ANSWER: It is certainly justifiable to celebrate that Saddam has been captured. It is good news for Iraqis and Americans alike, and indeed for the world. I hope very much that he will give up the information we desire about weapons of mass destruction.

My position on the war has not changed. The administration launched the war in a wrong way at the wrong time without adequate planning and without sufficient help. Saddam's capture moves us no closer to defeating enemies that pose a much great danger -- Al Qaeda and its terrorist allies. Nor does Saddam's capture address the urgent need to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the risk that terrorists will acquire them.

In short, though very good news, the capture of Saddam has not made America safer.

I hope the administration will use the opportunity of Saddam's capture to move U.S. foreign policy into a more effective cooperative direction. To do this we need to work with free Iraqis to build a stable, self-governing country as quickly as possible, not prolonging our term as Iraq's ruler. To succeed, we need to urgently remove the label of "made in America" from the Iraqi transition. We need to make reconstruction a truly international project -- one that integrates NATO, the United Nations and other members of the international community and reduces the burden on America and American troops.

Q: Why do you disagree with the Bush administration policy of "preemption" and "regime change" against countries perceived to be a threat to the United States?

A: Regime change in Iraq is a wonderful thing. But I've never found the evidence convincing that Iraq was an imminent threat to the United States. Iraq was a regional threat. Therefore, it fell to the United Nations to enforce the Security Council resolutions Iraq was violating. Iraq may or may not have complied with the United Nations. But the president never gave the Iraqis a chance. He preempted them by contemptuously dismissing the U.N.'s role, making it clear he would go in with or without them. That was a terribly destructive thing to do.

America has lost more than 400 soldiers; more than 2,200 have been wounded; $166 billion has been spent in Iraq. Saddam Hussein is a frightful person. I am delighted he has gone. But there are many frightful people in the world, many of whom we would no doubt be better without.

But the use of force by America should be confined to the immediate defense of our country -- which is why I supported the war in Afghanistan. And the use of force should be used only for an "imminent" threat. If we knew Osama bin Laden was going to fly planes into the World Trade Center, we would have had every right to stop him ahead of time. Finally, the use of force should only be justified when other world bodies fail to act, which is why I supported intervention to stop genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo under President Clinton.
I would have supported intervention against the Shiite and Kurd massacres after the first Gulf War.

The Dean Doctrine would allow the use of force unilaterally only under these conditions.

Had the United Nations given the United States permission as a multilateral force, I would not have hesitated to go into Iraq. But going in unilaterally has done nothing to increase the safety of the United States.

President Bush has called Iraq the crossroads in the battle against terrorism. That is so only because he made it so. There are Al Qaeda acting in Iraq today that weren't there a year ago.

Q: Is the American-led war against terrorism a war with Islamic fundamentalism?

A:. There is no clash between the West and Islam. Instead, there is a struggle underway between moderate Islam and a radical minority that seeks to hijack Islam for its own narrow aims. The United States too often unwittingly strengthens the hands of the radicals. Our unilateralism and our ill-considered war in Iraq has empowered the radicals. We ought to be doing the opposite.
America should seek security through the rule of law, not dominating others by becoming a law unto itself.

Q: What about dealing with North Korea, which is considered the more imminent of the remaining "axis of evil" threats?

A: This president, George W. Bush, is about to become responsible for North Korea becoming a nuclear power. Why don't we negotiate directly? We are missing an extraordinary opportunity. There is no disgrace in the most powerful nation on earth negotiating bilaterally with North Korea while also pursuing a multilateral track.

We have missed that opportunity because the hardliners in the Bush administration somehow believe we will be made to look bad by a small country that may or may not possess nuclear weapons. The possession of nuclear weapons by North Korea could potentially qualify as an imminent threat.

We can negotiate away those weapons, particularly if we send a strong signal to the Chinese. But we can't send a strong signal. Why? Because the hardliners and Secretary of State Colin Powell can't resolve their differences.

The way we get into situations like Iraq is by insisting that "it is our way or the highway." It is possible to achieve domestic security aims by negotiation most of the time. We put ourselves in a position where we end up going to war unilaterally because we have failed to do things ahead of time that might allow us to avoid that course.

Q: Do you agree with (Israeli Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon's position that there should be no negotiations until terror stops? Or do you support initiatives like the Geneva Accord that want to move forward to final resolution of issues without that condition?

A: First of all, the situation on the ground is changing as we speak. Even Likud Party members now understand that you can't have a Jewish democracy while holding on to the West Bank, because if they do they may have a democracy but not a Jewish state or a Jewish state but not a democracy.

How do we get there? You have to stop the terror. If a bomb goes off in Jerusalem and kills 26 children, the Israelis will do whatever it takes to achieve security.

It is not my policy that you have to end terror before you can begin negotiations; that is my perception of reality. It is a fact. There can't be peace as long as terror goes on.

The Geneva Accord is a very positive development. It is attractive because it moves away from the incremental approach -- as in the road map offered by President Bush. It may be that the only way, as proposed in the Geneva Accord, is to solve the hard problems first, not last. I don't sign on to every provision. I don't know if it is going to work. But we've got to try it. It is a worthwhile effort produced by both Palestinians and Israelis who took personal risks. I applaud that.

Moreover, no American president will ever be able to bring peace to the Middle East as long as our oil money goes to Saudi Arabia, which turns around and funds Hamas and teaches small children throughout the Islamic world to hate Americans, Christians and Jews.

It is time to stand up to the Saudis and embark upon a renewable energy policy so we aren't dependent on Middle East oil. We can't fix the Israeli-Palestinian problem without stopping the terror; we can't stop the terror without saying to the Saudis that they cannot continue to fund schools of hatred, without standing up to the fundamentalists and strengthening the hand of the moderates. We're not doing that now.

The first thing I would do as president is call the person who has had the most experience pulling Palestinians and Israelis together over the past 25 years --
Bill Clinton -- and ask him to represent me and help bring peace to the region.

Q: Last week President Bush told Taiwan to moderate its ambitions for independence. Do you agree with that view?

A: We have also to make unambiguously clear to the Chinese that Taiwan must not be taken over by force, only by negotiations.

Thus, I would have made the same statement Bush made last week discouraging Taiwan's President Chen from seeking a referendum. But I would not have made the statement standing next to the premier of Mainland China. That sent a wrong message, even though the policy is correct.

China is a strategic ally, though sometimes an economic competitor. I believe the Chinese alone can effectively disarm North Korea. And I believe they will do that because they don't want to see the Japanese develop nuclear weapons in defense. Yet, the trade imbalance with China is rapidly becoming intolerable because of the huge hemorrhage of the standard of living between the Rockies and Alleghenies. They are not complying with human rights, labor or environmental standards. Those have to become part of our trade agreements. It is a balance. In the long run, China is the most difficult but important relationship for America in the future.

Q: Beyond North Korea, what would be your main focus in making sure terrorists don't obtain weapons of mass destruction (WMD)?

A: The most important challenge the United States will face in the future is catastrophic terrorism using weapons of mass destruction. Here, where stakes are highest, the Bush administration has, remarkably, done the least.

It has focused on eliminating the worst people; but we also need to focus on eliminating the worst weapons. Just as important as finding Osama bin Laden is finding the sleeper cells trying to obtain WMD. Above all, it is critical to increase efforts to secure the vast nuclear, chemical and biological weapons inventory left over from the old Soviet Union.

Despite the heightened challenge after 9/11, the administration has failed to increase the budget for the so-called "Nunn-Lugar" (former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn and U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar) program (to employ former Soviet scientists and fund the destruction of weapons in Russia --ed). This must change and become one of the highest priorities.

(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 12/16/03)