Vice President Cheney Talks to 'This Week'

Vice President Richard Cheney was interviewed by ABCNEWS' Cokie Roberts for This Week on Sunday, April 8. The following is the complete, unedited transcript of their conversation.

COKIE ROBERTS: Mr. Vice President, thank you for joining us.


ROBERTS: Anything new on the situation in China?

CHENEY: No. Our diplomatic efforts continue. We are engaged, I would say, in intense diplomatic activity on the issue with respect to the EP-3 in China, but there is nothing new to announce at this point.

ROBERTS: Now, as of Friday, we were getting reports from the White House that a deal was expected momentarily over the weekend before this morning. What happened? You are not anticipating the military response to China?

CHENEY: I don't — I don't know that anybody — there may have speculation on the part of staff people, but we are making progress. But it is complex a diplomatic negotiation. I don't think it should be — I wouldn't want to characterize it in any fashion, the fact that it is not resolved yet. I expect it will be resolved. I think it is important that it get resolved. The longer this goes on without resolution, clearly the more difficult it becomes to manage the relationship and avoid risk to the long-term relationship with China, but we are making progress, and we are continuing to work on the problem.

ROBERTS: I want to get to that long-term relationship, but, first, we have had some statements over the weekend. Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the International Relations Commission, has referred to the crew members as "hostages." Are they hostages?


ROBERTS: Why not?

CHENEY: Well, because we have access to them, because they are being treated very well, because we expect they will be released shortly.

ROBERTS: Well, let me show you the definition of "hostage" according to the U.N. Convention on Hostage-Taking: "Any person who seizes or detains and threatens to kill, to injure, or continue to detain another person in order to compel a third party" — by which they mean a state — "to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition of their release commits the offense of taking the hostage." Now, the Chinese government is asking for an apology. That is a condition of release. And the Liberation Army is saying no more surveillance flights as a condition of release.

CHENEY: First of all, the plane and the crew are in China because of the accident that occurred in international air space. We had every right to be in international air space, and that is really not at issue here from our standpoint. We had no choice — the crew had no choice, but to land on Chinese territory at an air base, because of the damage to the aircraft. The question now is resolving the matter in an effective fashion so that we can get on with our business so that the crew will be returned. I think that is very different from the situation in which somebody forcibly acquires, obtains, and holds people.

ROBERTS: But they are being detained against their will.

CHENEY: Listen, Cokie, this is an effort. One of the things you have to be very careful about as we go through this whole process is that it is important that there be quiet diplomacy to get it resolved, that the situation not be inflamed, especially by some of the press coverage and commentary that goes forward. Now, news organizations have their job to do. I've got my job to do as a public official and part of this administration. It is important that it be allowed to proceed at pace in accordance with the need to get the matter resolved as quickly as possible and not "inflamed" in terms of the use of hot-button words to describe the situation.

ROBERTS: Well, some in the press, in the conservative press, are saying that the quiet diplomacy is not the way to go. As you know, the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, has a scathing editorial out called "Humiliation," and here is what one of the quotations — "Whatever the risk may accompany a policy of confrontation and containment, the risks of weakness are infinitely greater." They said the president was "groveling to the Chinese" when it spoke to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Are you under fire from the right?

CHENEY: No, absolutely not, and I think with all due respect to Bill Crystal who, I guess, is the editor of the Weekly Standard, I think Bill is trying to sell magazines. That absolutely is not the case. I think we have had widespread support for the way the President has handled this. He has handled it very effectively and very efficiently. I think members of Congress, for the most part, have been very responsible, and I do think we will get it resolved. The Weekly Standard or any other publication is free to write whatever they want, but that is a newspaper column. It is not any reflection, in my opinion, of the way this matter ought to be evaluated.

ROBERTS: There are implications that this could go on a while. General Sealock is asking for twice-daily visits, which implies we will be there many times. Is there time pressure here? What point does this start to —

CHENEY: I will say, without putting a clock on it, I think it is fair to say that the matter needs to be resolved relatively quickly; that each day that goes by without resolution makes it more difficult to avoid having this incident damage the long-term relationship between the United States and China, and that is not in anybody's interest. So it is important to get it wrapped up.

ROBERTS: So is one way of wrapping it up to apologize?


ROBERTS: Under no conditions?

CHENEY: We have made it very clear we don't think an apology is in order.

ROBERTS: Let's take a look at an ABC poll about the long-term relations. Should the U.S. apologize? Yes, 40 percent. No, 54. Cut back on spy flights? No interest in that. Move to restrict trade? Yes, three?quarters saying to move to restrict trade. More than 2 to 1, they are calling China an unfriendly country. It has already damaged long?term relations.

CHENEY: Well, I think that just reinforces the point I made that it's important to wrap this up as quickly as possible, to avoid having it affect long-term relationships between the United States and China. Public opinion is important in the United States. It does affect the way Congress deals with various and sundry issues. So it is important to get it wrapped up relatively quickly.

ROBERTS: And are there other things being considered if it does not? Do we withdraw the ambassador? Do we —

CHENEY: At this point, we have no reason to believe that it won't be wrapped up, say that it is a period of very active diplomacy right now, even as we meet, and we are hopeful that it will be resolved shortly.

ROBERTS: There have been some reports in the foreign press that the U.S. crew members could be put on trial. What do we do if that happens?

CHENEY: That is all inflammatory comment, Cokie. That is the part and parcel of what the Weekly Standard — there is no reason to expect that.

ROBERTS: And no consideration of not having the Olympics in China?

CHENEY: Cokie, you have an obligation this morning to try to make news. I have an obligation to make sure we don't make news. We have got to get on with the business of dealing with this problem. It is a very important problem in terms of the relationship between the United States and China long term, and it will get resolved.

ROBERTS: Easter is next Sunday. If the crew members are there over Easter, what does that do?

CHENEY:Cokie, I am not going to get into that business. I have said what I have to say on the subject.

ROBERTS: Then let's turn to domestic policy.

CHENEY: All right, sounds reasonable.

ROBERTS: The Senate this week voted, as you know. You spent the week in the Senate.

CHENEY: I did.

ROBERTS: Your first week in the Senate. On the president's tax bill, the plan under the budget, cut it by a quarter. The Democrats are saying great victory for them and saying that if you had worked with them from the beginning, you would have done better. Let's take a look at what the Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle had to say: "We have said from the beginning if you had worked with us, we would reach bipartisan compromise. He chose not to, and he got beat." Why not work with the Democrats?

CHENEY: Well, first of all, I would point out that Tom never voted for the package, nor did 35 of the Democrats in the Senate. Where we were a year ago was George Bush had gone to work and spent literally months putting together a tax package that became a cornerstone of his campaign. A year ago, the Democrats were opposed to any tax cut at all. Then Al Gore came out for $250 billion worth of tax cuts. Then, later on in the summer, it was $500 billion. That is where it was on Election Day. After the election, Tom Daschle came out for $800 billion in tax cuts. Later on in January, it is $900 billion in tax cuts. We finally at this stage — we have the full tax package passed through the House, both the tax package as well as the budget resolution. We have a budget resolution in the Senate, and we will go to conference and we will end up with something very close to what the president asked for, not because the Democrats opposed us and not because the president compromised. If he had compromised early on, as had been suggested by all the wise talking heads and by Mr. Daschle, we wouldn't be anywhere near the level we are at. We are going to get a very good tax cut for the American people, but it is primarily because the president provided leadership on this issue, and, ultimately, Congress had to approve a significant tax reduction.

ROBERTS: But it appears that you have snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory because he has gotten very close to what he was asking for, but by beating up on the members of your own party, it was called the vice president's torture chamber.

CHENEY: Well, I thought that was a bit of an unfair comment, but we did have some interesting sessions for sure.

ROBERTS: It comes out appearing that you lost when they didn't go with you, when you could have just gotten them there to begin with.

CHENEY: I am not concerned about appearances. The president is concerned about results, and the results are we have a $1.6 trillion tax cut approved on the House and passed by the House. We've got 1.2 of the budget resolution in the Senate. We will go to conference between the House and the Senate, and we will probably end up someplace —

ROBERTS: But you've got the —

CHENEY: — close to splitting the difference between the two.

ROBERTS: But you've got the 1.2 because the Democrats in the end are coming there and bringing over 15 Democrats.

CHENEY:We got there because the president provided leadership on this issue, and all of the wise talking heads in Washington said, "Oh, gee, you can't run on tax cuts. A bad idea. The American people don't care," or "You have had a close election."

ROBERTS: But you did not get what you were looking for.

CHENEY: "You've got to give up the cornerstone of your program?"

ROBERTS: But you did not get all of the Republicans voting for this.

CHENEY: All of that was bad advice, and the advice now, the proper approach is to continue to work with Congress as we have. It has all been very civil and very pleasant, and we will go forward now to conference and we will get a very good number out of conference that will be somewhere between three and four times what was originally proposed by the Democrats.

ROBERTS: And when you say working with the Congress, does that mean working with the Democrats in Congress?

CHENEY: We work with anybody, Cokie. We will sit down and talk to Democrats, we talk to Republicans, liberal, conservative, anybody who wants to talk.

ROBERTS: They say if the President had spent time exerting his famous charm with them as opposed to going to the States and trying to hammer them, which clearly did not work, that it would have been better for him and that he would have gotten the same result without appearing to have lost.

CHENEY: Well, but we don't think — from our standpoint, we think it is a significant win. Now, tell me the last time that we had a tax cut of this dimension approved. It has been a generation, and the only way we got there was because of the presidential leadership, because he was willing to stake out a position, stick with it, month in and month out, campaign on that basis, take it to the American people, and after he got elected get it passed. Here we are, less than a hundred days into the administration, and we have got full House approval of the budget, full House approval of the tax cut, and partial approval of the tax cut in the Senate. We will get in the end a package very close to what the president asked for.

ROBERTS: But was the president somewhat weakened in the process?

CHENEY: I don't think so. I think he is going to be much stronger.

ROBERTS: The spending side also did not go exactly the way that you had planned. The president wanted 4 percent, said that was enough. It is 7 percent in the Senate on spending.

CHENEY: That's right.

ROBERTS: So that was also a defeat.

CHENEY: Well, but this is the budget resolution. It sets the targets. It doesn't actually —

ROBERTS: But as you know, the appropriations usually come in higher.

CHENEY: And the president has the right to veto appropriations, and this president is eager to veto appropriations that come in over budget. If Congress is going to pass porked?up appropriations measures, they will run into a veto —

ROBERTS: Over their budget or over his budget?

CHENEY: Well, I think probably the standard guide will be his budget. He will have to be persuaded that there ought to be modifications to his budget.

ROBERTS: And will it have 4 percent?

CHENEY: Four percent is our objective.

ROBERTS: So you are saying that any appropriations bill that comes in over 4 percent will be vetoed?

CHENEY: No. No. What I think the way to look at it is, we will now go to conference between the House and Senate. The amount of spending ultimately approved in the budget resolution will be somewhere under 7 percent, maybe slightly over 4 percent once Congress finishes its work, but each of those then has to be implemented in an appropriations bill. The President has made it clear if those appropriations bills come in with excessive spending, spending he doesn't think could be justified, he will, in fact, veto them.

ROBERTS: Now, one other topic. You have been put in charge of energy.

CHENEY: Right.

ROBERTS: And the budget also included some money for negotiations with other countries on global warming, despite the president's rejection of the Kyoto Treaty, and does not include any money for drilling in the Alaskan reserves. Defeated on the energy as well?

CHENEY: Cokie, you have got a one-track mind, and with all due respect, I just think it is flawed thinking. If you look at — let's talk about Kyoto for a minute. To say that we killed the Kyoto process, Bill Clinton negotiated the Kyoto Treaty, but didn't have the courage to send it forward to the Senate because he knew it would be defeated. The Senate voted 95 to nothing to reject the proposition in the Kyoto Treaty. John Kerry, who is now fond of beating up on President Bush for his position on Kyoto, voted against the Kyoto Treaty. The treaty goes into effect when it is ratified by 55 countries. Only one country, Romania, has ratified it. Kyoto was dead before we hit town. All President Bush did was speak the truth about it. Now, the fact of the matter is we are concerned about global warming. We will do a lot of work on global warming. We have got a Cabinet task force that has met twice within the last two weeks on this subject, and we are moving aggressively forward to get into the whole area. Kyoto was a dead proposition before we ever arrived in Washington, and all we did was to make it clear that the U.S. would not be bound by it.

ROBERTS: And no money for ANWR?

CHENEY: Well, if we get legislation approved, then there will be money for ANWR, but we expect to go forward on ANWR. We think there is a lot of work to be done there. We think it is an important priority. It will be part of our energy report to the president within a couple of weeks, and it will be a good package.

ROBERTS: How is your health, Mr. Vice President?

CHENEY: Very good.

ROBERTS: People have been worrying about you this week up on the Senate floor.

CHENEY:Well, they should have been up there watching me in the torture chamber, administering to my colleagues.

ROBERTS: And they have survived.

CHENEY: So far, there were no casualties this week.

ROBERTS: Thank you very much.

CHENEY: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Thanks for being with us, Mr. Vice President.

CHENEY: Thank you.