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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Interview With Benjamin Netanyahu

Aired September 11, 2002 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The president is on the move, as they say, making his way towards Ground Zero.
Part of the team of correspondents and anchors working Ground Zero today is Bill Hemmer. And Mr. Hemmer joins us now.

It's been a tough, windy day down there. It's good to see you again.

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Boy, it has, Aaron. Thank you. Good to see you again as well.

Listen, there are more than 90 dignitaries representing over 100 countries around the world who have gathered here in Lower Manhattan, one man with us now. The former Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is our guest here just above Ground Zero.

Good afternoon to you.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon.

HEMMER: What brings you here today?

NETANYAHU: I just came as a private citizen to pay my respects.

I was here shortly after the September 11 horror. And I stood down there and looked at these twisted, spiraling pieces of metal that held the building together. And I felt deeply moved then, as I do now, seeing that human circle at the place where so much horror took place. It's to identify with the innocents killed, which included so many Americans, a few Israelis and innocent people from around the world.

HEMMER: Tomorrow, the focus of the president will shift dramatically, almost 180 degrees, really. There is no talk today from him regarding Iraq. That will change when he makes his substantial address before the U.N.

At this point, Israel has shown support for the U.S. effort. Tony Blair, the British prime minister, has, although his people are lacking in agreement on that topic just yet. Why is it that there is such a gulf of lack of support right now when it comes to Baghdad?

NETANYAHU: Well, first of all, I think that the majority of Americans, from what I can gather, and the great majority of Israelis support it. And I suspect there are tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people around the world who support it.

It doesn't necessarily translate into the position of many governments, because governments as a whole have not had a good record in staving off global threats. Europe does not exactly have a stellar record. In meeting the challenge of the Nazis in the 1930s, they waited. They vacillated. They were wrong.

What is required -- and I'm going to say this tomorrow before a congressional committee. They asked me to come and testify there, right after the president makes his speech at the U.N. And I'm going to say that what is required is the kind of courage that the president is showing to take action that may be unpopular, that may not be agreed upon by other governments, but that he recognizes as essential.

And here's the simple logic. If Osama bin Laden had nuclear weapons in 9/11, New York wouldn't exist today. If any part of the terror network acquires atomic bombs, they will use it, just as surely as they used it here. And that has to be prevented. And I think the president is right. He's bold. And he's courageous in pursuing that course.

HEMMER: Let me stop you on a couple points there. You said an awful lot in your answer.

We were watching, by the way, Marine One work its way down here to Lower Manhattan.

It has been said and reported this past week, there are certain European leaders that appear to be coming around, at least in terms of laying down the foundation to Saddam Hussein in saying, "Give us three weeks." And if the inspectors are not back on the ground, they're going to go back to the U.N. and then continue to discuss military action.

Do you get the same sense that there is growing support in that area or not?

NETANYAHU: I think that, if the U.S. leads, others will follow. I think if you wait...

HEMMER: You're convinced of that?

NETANYAHU: Absolutely.

And I think it really doesn't matter that much. It would be good to have a wider coalition. It would be good to have U.N. support. But if you make that a condition, you may not get it. And then what? You won't act? You'll wait for the next bomb, the next bombardment, the next catastrophe to take place, and then go and respond to that?

That is not, I think, a responsible or prudent course of action. I think you seek to gain international support, but you don't make it a condition. Move forward with a mission. That's what counts.

HEMMER: Benjamin Netanyahu, good to see you in New York City. Good luck to you. And we'll see you tomorrow. NETANYAHU: And, by the way, the people of New York, like the people of America, are fantastic. The dictators and the tyrants always get it wrong. They got it wrong on Israel now in the terror attack. They got it wrong in Churchill's England. They got it wrong in America.

A free society, which has debate, which has discussions, free people know how to rally together and take action when they're threatened.

HEMMER: That is one point I will not disagree with you on: the greatest city in the world, New York City. Thank you.

Back to Aaron now -- Aaron.

BROWN: Bill, thank you.

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