NEW YORK, April 20, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Senator John McCain is increasingly being talked about as a leading candidate for the U.S. presidency in 2008. Generally viewed as a moderate, he has not been afraid to ally himself with opposition Democrats on issues like global warming and political-campaign financing. The Vietnam war veteran and former prisoner of war has also always spoken out clearly on a broad range of foreign affairs. RFE/RL's Radu Tudor spoke with McCain on issues ranging from immigration reform, to the United States's relationships with Iran, Iraq, and Russia.
RFE/RL: Immigration is a very controversial subject in the United States at the moment. Why has the U.S. Congress been trying to pass such major changes to the country's immigration laws?
John McCain: We are trying to address [the problem] that we have broken borders and they are uncontrolled. We have an obligation to control our borders. And we need a viable guest-worker program to do jobs Americans won't do and also we need to address the issue of 11 million people who have moved to our country illegally.
RFE/RL: How would the guest-worker program work?
McCain: The guest-worker program is that someone would acquire a tamper-proof biometric visa and enter into a contract with someone in the United States and come and work. Employers who hire people [who] don't have that document would then be subject to prosecution.
RFE/RL: How would some of the proposed changes affect illegal immigrants currently living in the United States?
McCain: We would allow the people who are here illegally -- most of them, anyway -- to earn citizenship by having a background check, pay back taxes, learn English, pay a $2,000 fine, work for six years and then be eligible for a 'green card,' get in line behind everyone else and, within about five years, they could acquire citizenship. That is earned citizenship, it is not an amnesty.
The United States And Iran
RFE/RL: The confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program has been growing quite tense in recent days. In what direction is the situation heading?
McCain: I don't know how the confrontation from Iran is going to play itself out. It is very, very dangerous. I think that any country that announces its dedication to the extinction of its neighbor [Israel] should not be accepted in any international arena, forum, or anywhere else. And I would hope that other countries would understand the seriousness of this threat to world peace, because other countries -- including the United States -- will not stand by and allow the extermination of a nation, which is what the president of Iran has announced is his nation's policy as it makes progress in acquiring nuclear weapons.
RFE/RL: What are the chances of a military strike by the United States against Iran?
McCain: I want to emphasize that there is no probability on the horizon that the United States would exercise a military option. The president [George W. Bush] has just said that he won't take it off the table, meaning that if Iran attacks Israel, the United States is not going to sit by and let that happen. We can't allow countries [to do that]. We learned in the 1930s [that] you can't allow countries to destroy other countries without, sooner or later, paying a very high price for it.
The United States And Iraq
RFE/RL: How would a President McCain get the United States out of the Iraq situation?
McCain: I think that the way that any president is going to get us out is to have the Iraqi military take over more and more of the responsibilities that are being carried out by American troops now, until they can carry out their own security requirements. That is not going to be soon, it is going to be long and hard and tough, but they are making progress in that direction. And also, we have a unity government functioning and the economy of Iraq is improving. It is not when we leave Iraq, it is how we leave Iraq [that matters].
The United States And Russia
RFE/RL: How has Russia evolved politically over the last year?
McCain: I assess evolutions in Russia as very disturbing. When Mr. [Alyaksandr] Lukashenko [sic], the last Stalinist dictator in Europe, was reelected, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin was quick to send his congratulations on an election that was clearly unfair.
RFE/RL: Do you see other problems or disturbing trends with Russia right now?
McCain: The Russians continue to oppress the people of Chechnya and they cannot win a conflict the way that they are conducting it, which is radicalizing the region. They continue to cause problems in various areas, and Mr. Putin continues to seek the reconstitution of the Russian Empire, and I worry about that a great deal and so do many others.
RFE/RL: How do you think President Putin could improve relations with the United States?
McCain: Mr. Putin can prove his commitment to peace in the world if he supports the United States and our allies when we go to the [UN] Security Council for sanctions against Iran for their clear violation of the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] and their continued progress towards acquisition of nuclear weapons. That will be a very important moment in our relationship with Russia. If they veto that resolution, I think the United States, obviously, would have to respond, including, I would suggest, the president not going to St. Petersburg [for the G8 summit].