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Lieberman: 'This is the test of our generation'


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Sens. Lieberman, left, and McConnell
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Joe Lieberman
Mitch McConnell
George W. Bush

(CNN) -- Did President Bush's speech Monday night on Iraq's future give lawmakers what they wanted to hear? Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky shared their thoughts with CNN's Paula Zahn following the speech.

ZAHN: Sen. McConnell, the president warned Americans that there are some difficult days ahead. He said there not only will be the appearance of chaos but he fully expects the terrorists to become more active and more brutal.

What should the American public be prepared for between today and the turnover date of June 30?

MCCONNELL: I think the most important thing is that the president, unfortunately, has to keep repeating over and over again some facts that the American people need to bear in mind: 15 NATO countries have 17,000 troops there, 37 countries have pledged either direct assistance or debt relief.

We've got significant international cooperation, both during this phase and looking down the road. And it's also important to remember that this whole transition that the president laid out will occur over about a thousand days.

It took us in this country 12 years to get from the Declaration of Independence to the U.S. Constitution.

We're so impatient. But there is a plan in place. There has been for some time. The president tonight reiterated it. And I hope more people listen to it because the plan is clearly in place and will work.

ZAHN: Sen. Lieberman, will the plan in place work? We just had Secretary Albright on, who more or less suggested that it is unrealistic.

LIEBERMAN: There are obviously no guarantees here. But I do think tonight that the president did what he has to do in this speech and in the ones that will follow in the next weeks, which is to shore up American support, to remind the American people why we must win this battle against the terrorists and the Saddam loyalists and to remind them that he has done some of the things that his critics asked him to do, including me.

He has now gone to the United Nations. He has now increased the number of American troops there and is prepared to send more to keep the security so that democracy can take hold.

I hope that all of us in both parties who have said that we have to stay in Iraq and finish the job in pursuit of our own values and of our own security will pull together and make it happen and not be part of a chorus of doubters that will undermine the support of the American people more.

We've got to stay united here as best we can to support our troops, but to support our cause. In my opinion, this is the test of our generation. And if we don't win it in Iraq, we're going to face it much closer to home in the years ahead.

ZAHN: No, I don't think anybody doubts that conclusion of what you just said there, Sen. Lieberman. But I guess the question I have for you, Sen. McConnell -- how disturbing is it to you, some of the reporting that Joe Klein just shared with us earlier, that a high-ranking U.N. official has told him that they're having a great deal of trouble putting a government together?

Now, that's one of the points the president mentioned tonight, saying that he had hoped to even hear some of the names, perhaps, sometime soon in advance of the turnover. Is that disheartening to you?

MCCONNELL: It sounds like some of the arguments we had in trying to put our country together. These are people who have different opinions, but they are working hard to come together and create something brand-new for Iraq, which is a constitution and an opportunity to choose their own leaders for the first time in the history of the country.

Whoever said that was going to be easy, particularly when you have a security problem on top of it -- look, you can view with alarm every single thing that goes wrong, but I think the best thing to do is to keep in mind the long-term view here.

The plan is in place. We're moving through it step by step. The transition will occur on June 30th. Elections will occur. A new constitution will be drafted. And there will be new leaders elected in Iraq, all within a thousand-day period, which is really a remarkable timeline, particularly in this day and age.

ZAHN: Sen. Lieberman, there are obviously three disparate factions that this government has to worry about uniting, the Shias, the Kurds and the Sunnis. Do you have concerns about that, short-term and long-term?

LIEBERMAN: Democracy is not easy. It's sometimes messy. But the folks in Iraq, thanks to the courage and skill of the American military, have options before them that they never would have dreamed they would have today, and that's because Saddam, that brutal dictator is gone.

And we have the United Nations in there now, through ambassador Brahimi, trying to negotiate an agreement between the Shias the Sunnis and the Kurds. I believe he can do it.

But what's most important is that before long, the Iraqi people are going to get to do it. They're going to get to vote. And I think if the American people don't lose -- if we don't lose our will, we're going to look back with real pride at what our troops have done and what we can do together for the Iraqis, but also to secure our values and our security.


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