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Senator Boozman Says President Showing Leadership On Cuba , Summit of Americas Starts

U.S. Sen. John Boozman (R) at Little Rock's VA Hospital
Jacob Kauffman

KAUFFMAN: President Obama is in Panama meeting at the Summit of the Americas and it could pay big dividends for Arkansas rice growers. U.S. Senator John Boozman - a Republican from Rogers – joins me in the studio. Thanks for being here. 

BOOZMAN: Thank you so much for having me Jacob.

KAUFFMAN: The more sensational news coming out of the President’s journey to meet with leaders from South America, Central America and the Caribbean, is that for the first time Cuba will be there. Is this one more signal, in an avalanche that better economic ties are around the corner?

BOOZMAN: I think the economic ties are very, very important. In the studies that they’ve done Arkansas really comes out number one with the ability to trade agricultural products so this would be a potentially great market for us. But also, I think it’s something that could be so helpful to the people of Cuba in the sense that when you trade you not only trade goods and services, you trade ideas. You build those relationships, that’s how I think you change the world.

KAUFFMAN: Arkansas’s Congressional delegation isn’t exactly unified on whether it’s worthwhile to for Arkansas to reap the economic benefits and ideology benefits that you just mentioned with Cuba. Senator Tom Cotton and Representative Steve Womack have had reservations about this. What would you say to them? Is it time to take for instance, Cuba of the state sponsors of terrorism list?

BOOZMAN: I’ve got a number of friends that are on both sides of this issue. Since I was in Congress, in 2001, this is something I’ve worked really hard to try and get done because I feel like not only trading goods and services, you’re trading ideas. And then too you have to be consistent. We trade with people like Saudi Arabia - we have a very close relationship with them - China, and the list goes on and on, who certainly have every bit if not worse human rights abuses and things like that. They’re not very far from our shore. I think they’re somebody that with time could become a friend and an ally. They way you do that though is through personal relationships. That’s how you do it, through opening up the ability to get over there and visit and trade, all of those kind of things.

KAUFFMAN: I think I’ve spoke with you before and you said something to the effect that unlike Saudi Arabia, the culture of Cuba is much more similar to ours so it’s a more natural fit in some ways...This next question I’m going to try to trap you so let’s see what happens.

BOOZMAN: [laughter]

KAUFFMAN: We may have a thaw in relations with Cuba – which of course took a turn for the worse in 1962 when Cuba housed Soviet nuclear weapons pointed at the United States. Seeing past that, it seems like a new, rapid development. I know this might pain some of your supporters but do you think the President has showed some leadership in this?

BOOZMAN: Very much so. I had the opportunity to go to Vietnam several years ago. The relationship that we have with the Vietnamese people is tremendous. They very much like Americans, we trade with them readily. I think the President has shown leadership in opening up Cuba. We need to do it and make sure that we’re going into it with the framework, through the powers that he has, but right now I don’t think he’s overstepped his authority and is doing things correctly. At some point I think all of us will be very proud of the initiatives that have gone forward.

KAUFFMAN: Another traditional American enemy Iran, like Cuba, doesn’t have a nuclear weapon and has never made one itself, at this point. The President has struck a tentative deal with Iran about its nuclear energy program. From what you’ve heard so-far, do you support it? Do you think the safe-guards are strong enough?

BOOZMAN: I’m very concerned about it because it’s very difficult to know what’s going on. The President came out at a press conference and basically said this is the deal. Yesterday the Ayatollah came out and said no, this is the deal. They’re totally opposite. That’s why I think it’s so important that Congress weigh in. If you can’t sell it to Congress and you can’t sell it to the American public then you’ve got a real problem. As we go back in the next week or so the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will be taking this up. I think they’ll vote a bill out of committee and that will ultimately pass Congress. It basically says that we’ll have to weigh in and approve whatever deal is struck. First we need to know exactly what the deal is. We’ll have some closed door conference meetings with the administration to try and see exactly if we can figure out what the frameworks are.

KAUFFMAN: I’ve  been speaking with U.S. Senator John Boozman, I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.

BOOZMAN: Thank you so much as always for having me.

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