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McCain Bemoans Spread of Nuclear Arms

NOAH ADAMS, host

Today, John McCain said if he becomes president, he will make controlling the spread of nuclear weapons a priority. But the Republican presidential candidate also left open a possibility of developing new nuclear weapons in the U.S.

Senator McCain delivered his speech on foreign policy at the University of Denver. It did not go entirely smoothly, as NPR's Jeff Brady reports.

JEFF BRADY: McCain's speech was interrupted three times by antiwar protesters and the shouted replies of McCain supporters.

Unidentified Woman #1: Iraq is (unintelligible); Iran has never been a threat.

Unidentified Man #1: Then move there.

BRADY: Each time, Senator McCain waited while the protestors were escorted out.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): This may turn into a longer speech than you had anticipated.

(Soundbite of laughter, applause)

BRADY: McCain strayed from his prepared speech only a couple of times. But when he did, most of the crowd approved.

Sen. McCAIN: And by the way, I will never surrender in Iraq, my friends. I will never surrender in Iraq.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BRADY: Returning to his text, McCain quoted John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan about the risk of having too many nuclear weapons in the world. And he criticized Democrats and Republicans for not doing enough to stop the spread of such weapons. But he also said the U.S. must continue to deploy nuclear deterrent. The presumptive Republican nominee also talked about developing an international repository to store spent nuclear fuel so it doesn't get reprocessed for weapons.

Sen. McCAIN: It's even possible that such an international center could make it unnecessary to open the proposed spent nuclear fuels storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

BRADY: Nevada is considered as swing state in the upcoming election, and voters there have long objected to the Yucca Mountain site.

Jon Wolfsthal is with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and advises Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. He says there wasn't much new in McCain's speech, and he's not buying the campaign's line that this is a departure from the Bush administration's foreign policy.

Mr. JON WOLFSTHAL (Center for Strategic and International Studies; Advisor, Hillary Clinton Campaign): He positions himself just outside the Bush administration, but not really that far. A lot of this is really either current administration policy or pretty reliable Republican public policy.

BRADY: McCain did depart from the administration on something called the robust nuclear Earth penetrator, often referred to as the bunker buster. McCain said he would cancel all further work on it. Terilyn Huntington(ph) was pleased to hear that. She's a graduate student studying foreign and security policy at the University of Denver. She's also a McCain supporter, and she thinks the program was not a wise use of money.

Ms. TERILYN HUNTINGTON (Student, University of Denver): Yeah, I mean, if we're talking about choosing between developing bunker busters and developing better aircraft carriers or better fighter planes, I'd pick those two options over the bunker bombers any day.

BRADY: While that element of the speech set McCain apart from the White House, it would not likely affect the bunker buster program, which already has been denied funding by Congress. McCain also repeated an implicit criticism of Democratic candidate Barack Obama and his willingness to talk to hostile foreign leaders. The Obama campaign responded by saying McCain's speech embraced, quote, "many aspects of Barack Obama's non-proliferation agenda," close quote, and said Obama had worked with key Republicans interested in the issue in the Senate.

Jeff Brady, NPR News Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jeff Brady
Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.