The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
June 17, 2005

Radio Interview of the Vice President by Steve Gill, The Steve Gill Show
The Vice President's West Wing Office
Via Telephone


9:15 A.M. EDT

Q (In progress) of course, talk about Dick Durbin's comments and the plans -- the suggestions by some Republicans to close Guantanamo Bay.

The Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney, with us this morning. And, Mr. Vice President, thanks for being with us.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good morning, Steve. Good to talk to you.

Q Good to have you with us this morning. Earlier this week, we had a caller ask about CAFTA, and we decided to go right to the top, or at least right next to the top to find out about this free trade agreement. We've got some technical difficulties, I guess -- the Vice President can't hear us.

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THE VICE PRESIDENT: It sounds okay now.

Q Okay, we got it. There you go.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think we're in good shape, Steve.

Q Thank you. Appreciate your being with us, by the way, and have enjoyed visiting with you in the past. CAFTA, this Central American Free Trade Agreement is one of the things that some of our listeners are asking about. Ten years ago we passed NAFTA and a lot of promises of what it would do in terms of growing business, growing trade for America -- a lot of the good news about NAFTA hasn't got out there. And it's going to be difficult, I think, for us to sell CAFTA unless folks really understand what NAFTA has done.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right, well, NAFTA has been a -- I think a great success in the fact of the matter in terms of promoting trade throughout the hemisphere. And I think it has gotten a bum rap in terms of the notion somehow it's been a negative. Employment, for example, since they signed NAFTA in the U.S. rose over 20 million jobs. Average unemployment rate has been 5.1 percent for the 10 years since we signed NAFTA. It was 6.4 percent the 10 years before we signed NAFTA. Industrial production rose by 35 percent since we've signed NAFTA. So there's a series of indications there, frankly, that it has, indeed, improved our overall economic situation.

I think you can find cases out there, I'm sure, where individual businesses may have been hurt, but the overall impact on the U.S. economy, I think, has been very positive.

Q One of the things that NAFTA opened up and that CAFTA will do as well is access for our services, banking industry, insurance industry, the legal community. We often think in terms of trade with stuff, raw materials and manufactured goods, but opening up the service markets in Canada, in Mexico -- with GATT into Europe and with CAFTA into these markets, that service industry is also important.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's right. In fact, once we knock down those barriers and encourage the movement not only in goods but, as you say, in services, as well, too, it's an enormous benefit for everybody. And American companies have benefited directly from that, as well as a lot of our business. You look agriculture, for example. Each day that -- NAFTA parties today conduct about $2 billion in three-way trade between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. They got $2 billion a year -- a day in trade just as a result of that agreement.

Q Yes, and when we look at extending these agreements into Central America, we're being told is that we don't have access to those markets while our borders are already open --about 80 percent of the goods coming from CAFTA, just as was the case with NAFTA from Mexico and Canada, our borders were open to their products; it's their borders that are closed to us. And that's really what's being opened up with these trade agreements.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's right, Steve. You cited the right number, about 80 percent of their stuff is coming in right now tariff-free. What this agreement will do is get us access to those markets on the same terms and conditions. And remember these are small South -- Central American countries -- we think about Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, and so forth. But all together, those five Central American countries, plus the Dominican Republic which is included here, as well, too, come to about 44 million people. It's a pretty good sized market out there. It's bigger than our total exports to Russia, India, and Indonesia combined. So it's an important market for us. Agriculture especially will benefit from this in terms of our opportunities to trade and sell our products down there.

There's another element, though, that's very important, I think, we need to focus on. And that's to remember that these are all relatively young democracies in Central America. It wasn't that many years ago when we had major problems of Communist insurgencies, for example, in Nicaragua and El Salvador and a situation down there that was pretty bleak from the standpoint of their overall economic capabilities, and frankly also subject to subversion from Cuba and elsewhere. That's all changed now. They've got democratically elected governments. Their Presidents have put their political reputations on the line to get this agreement approved. Having them integrated with the U.S. economy enhances not only our economic circumstances, but also enhances our security circumstances in the hemisphere.

Q Critics of the agreement and critics of NAFTA say that it also imposes a loss of our sovereignty because suddenly you've got world courts, you've got other trade partners dictating some of our environmental laws, some of our labor laws. Now, arguably, we're also imposing some of our views on labor laws and environmental laws on these countries, as well. But what do you say to those who say we're losing our sovereignty, we're letting others set rules for America?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I don't buy that at all. The fact of the matter is the overall operations will be, I think, of significant benefit. And any time we can enhance the economic activity and the exchanges back and forth across borders, I think American workers can compete, and American businesses can compete anyplace in the world as long as we got a level playing field out there. And what these agreements are all about basically is getting that level playing field, eliminating tariff and sometimes and non-tariff barriers that stand in the way of increased commerce.

Q Another of the arguments in favor of NAFTA and for CAFTA, as well, is that by growing these economies, it will help slow the flood of illegals across the borders that come here looking for jobs and opportunities. If their middle class, if their economic opportunities grow, they've got more of an incentive to stay home. Obviously, with NAFTA -- and a lot of critics of the administration -- it seems that flood of illegals has continued. Will CAFTA do anything to help that, and will the administration focus some on that?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We think it will, Steve. The best estimates -- I just heard these numbers just yesterday -- out of the illegal aliens coming across our southern borders now, roughly half come from Mexico, but about a quarter of them -- 27 percent, 28 percent -- are estimated to come from Central America and cross the southern border with Mexico, travel all across Mexico and then cross our border to get into the United States. What motivates them is primarily economic concerns. They want to be able to earn some money so they can feed their families. And they come to the United States because of the -- the opportunities exist here that don't exist down there.

Well, one of the ways we deal with that -- obviously, we got to do everything we can to secure our borders, but we also need to enhance their opportunities back in their home areas. I think they'd prefer to say home with their families and live down there if they could make a decent living. And when we make it possible for those economies down there to expand, that helps significantly reduce the pressures, I think, in terms of the illegal immigration that we otherwise have to deal with.

Q You mentioned securing our borders, and it's not just a matter of economics and protecting our borders from a cultural, economic standpoint anymore, national security is an issue, as well. And obviously, in this war on terrorism this week, we've had a lot of attention paid to what's going on in Guantanamo Bay with some of the terrorist thugs who have conspired against us. Dick Durbin, as you know, has made some comments comparing our U.S. soldiers to Nazis. Yesterday, Scott McClellan, the White House Spokesman, called his comments "reprehensible." How do you take Senator Durbin's comments? What's your response to his comments?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, this is, I'm sure, a family program, Steve. I have to be careful what I say. (Laughter.) I thought Durbin was totally out of line. I watched some of his comments on the floor of the United States Senate. For him to make those comparisons was one of the more egregious things I'd ever heard uttered on the floor of the United States Senate. But he -- the fact of the matter is the situation at Guantanamo is being very well handled by our military. Remember what's happened here. We've -- during the course of our operations in Afghanistan and then the global war on terror, we have picked up a number of people we call detainees. These are terrorists. These are bomb-makers. These are terrorist facilitators, members of al Qaeda, members of the Taliban from Afghanistan. We have them down at Guantanamo, where they're well treated. They're well housed. They're well fed. Their religious needs and desires are catered to. They're not being tortured or mistreated, but they are a major source of intelligence for us. Plus, we need to keep them off the streets.

Now, a couple hundred have already been released -- that is, been through a review process. And once it's determined that they don't constitute a threat to the United States or have no further intelligence value, then we've, in fact, returned them to their country of origin. In some cases, about 10 cases, some of them have then gone back into the battle against our guys. We've had two or three that I know of specifically by name that ended up back on the battlefield in Afghanistan where they were killed by U.S. or Afghan forces.

Now, the key here to remember is that the 520 we've got down there, these are -- hard-core terrorists is the only way to describe them. They're unlawful combatants. They're out to kill Americans. And if you put them back on the streets, that's exactly what they'll do. All the hand wringing that we've heard from Durbin and others strikes me as totally inappropriate. This is a wide open facility down there. There have been -- over a thousand reporters have visited it. The International Committee of the Red Cross can visit it 24 hours a day at their discretion. We've had 11 senators and some 77 House members have been down there to visit the facility. There are no secrets in terms of how it's being operated, and it is being operated in a decent and humane manner. But we absolutely need to have a facility like that to house some very violent and evil people.

Q So no plans to close it?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, sir. The President wants us to make sure we do a continuous review of the cases down there, and that we're continually updating our policies and so forth. But if we didn't have a place like this, we'd have to create one.

Q We appreciate your time, Vice President Dick Cheney. And are you surprised by the way the Democrats are not condemning Durbin's comments?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think they're swallowing hard. (Laughter.) We'll see what happens. I watched yesterday. Of course, he had to get back on the floor yesterday to try to defend himself. But I just -- it was so far over the top that I'm just appalled that anybody who serves in the United States Senate would even think those thoughts.

Q Vice President Cheney. We appreciate the time with you, look forward to seeing you again, and appreciate your spending some time with us this morning.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right, Steve. Say hello to everybody in Tennessee.

Q Will do it. Come down and see us. We don't have quite as good trout fishing as you do out in Wyoming, but we're happy to have you come down and wet a line sometime.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right. Thanks.

Q Talk to you soon, thank you.

END 9:27 A.M. EDT

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