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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Showdown: Iraq -- Analyzing the Summit

Aired March 16, 2003 - 15:00   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world. Many nations have voiced a commitment to peace and security and now they must demonstrate that commitment to peace and security in the only effective way, by supporting the immediate and unconditional disarmament of Saddam Hussein. The dictator of Iraq and his weapons of mass destruction are a threat to the security of free nations. He is a danger to his neighbors. He's a sponsor of terrorism. He's an obstacle to progress in the Middle East. For decades, he has been a cruel, cruel oppressor of the Iraq people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush in effect throwing down the gauntlet, saying to the countries that aren't on board yet, come on board tomorrow, or we are moving ahead with war. You can see them as they lined up to talk to the press just about an hour and a half ago. I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington along with Wolf Blitzer.

Wolf, I think it's -- the path is pretty clear -- unless these countries change their mind, we are looking at military action.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And it could be within a day or two or three. It almost takes your breath away when you think about what potentially could be unfolding in the coming days. Let's go right to the Azores where this historic summit has been taking place. CNN's Chris Burns traveled there. He's there now. He watched all of it unfold.

First of all, Chris, what's happening right now?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right now, dinner is wrapping up, the last moments that the leaders are spending together. President Bush with the leaders of Spain, Britain and the host country, Portugal. They spent a dinner together after that very important news conference where those statements made, and that came after just one hour of meeting. Apparently, a very well-scripted get- together, mainly to show they are closing ranks, they are giving an ultimatum, not right away to Saddam Hussein, but to the international community. They should vote for that U.N. resolution that they want to get passed tomorrow.

And if not, if there aren't the votes, they will go ahead in the next few days, apparently, to disarm Saddam Hussein by force, so very, very dramatic words from these leaders, from President Bush, from Tony Blair of Britain, from Jose Maria Aznar. They said that they will be working the phones feverishly over the next day to see if they have those votes. And President Bush also looking past Saddam Hussein, talking about the post-Saddam Hussein era, and holding out a character to the Iraqi people, saying we could life the sanctions -- he will lift the sanctions if Saddam is gone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: And Iraq's liberation would be the beginning not the end of our commitment to its people. We will supply humanitarian relief, bring the economic sanctions to a swift close, and work for the long- term recovery of Iraq's economy. We'll make sure that Iraq's natural resources are used for the benefit of their owners, the Iraqi people. Iraq has the potential to be a great nation. Iraq's people are skilled and educated. We will push as quickly as possible for an Iraqi interim authority to draw upon the talents of Iraq's people to rebuild their nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNS: A very strong message from Tony Blair of Britain saying that the leaders there have lost their patience after 12 years of trying to disarm Iraq, after four and a half months of this latest Resolution 1441, in their minds, not getting anywhere. Tony Blair saying that they're tired of delays.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Some say there should be no ultimatum, no authorization of force in any U.N. resolution, instead, more discussion in the event of noncompliance. But the truth is that without a credible ultimatum authorizing force in the event of noncompliance, then more discussion is just more delay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNS: Tony Blair and Spain's Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar very much under fire at home facing political apparel for supporting Bush. That is why, in part, they and President Bush are supporting a speeding up of this road map for the Middle East peace process. They did mention that in their joint statement, also as sort of an indicator of how soon things could happen. President Bush is traveling with his speechwriters. There are indications that he could deliver the speech very soon, perhaps even tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris, we heard the president say, "Tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world." And then he went on to say, "Tomorrow is the day we will determine whether diplomacy can work." But he left open the issue of this additional U.N. Security Council resolution, whether he will force the vote, as he said he would, at his news conference earlier in the month, whether he will go forward, and demand that there actually be a head count among the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council. That question was left open, I assume, because the U.S. still doesn't know if it still has the necessary votes. BURNS: Absolutely, Wolf. At the moment, they only have, so far, four guarantees of votes of the nine they need. And they still risk, of course, a veto by France, Russia, or China. And if it went down in flames, it would cause severe embarrassment perhaps even greater problems not just for Mr. Bush but also for Mr. Blair and Mr. Aznar. So they're being extremely careful about committing to a vote, but they're being very determined, that they say, they want to make sure that when and if they have the votes, they want to push a vote tomorrow. In they don't, they're going to move to the next step -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Burns in the Azores. You see Air Force One parked right behind him. The leaders are having dinner right now. They're expected to leave soon. The president will be flying back across the Atlantic to Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C. Chris, thanks very much -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, as we just heard, Wolf and Chris discussing, just to recap, the United States, Britain, and Spain have informally co-sponsored or floated is probably a better word, a second U.N. resolution on Iraq. Now, that resolution, that informal resolution, caused deep divisions among the members of the U.N. Security Council. And with that in mind, let's just quickly take a look once again at who is siding with whom. The United States, Britain, Spain, and Bulgaria, another member of the council, are in favor of resolution. However, Russia, France, Germany, China, and Syria say they are opposed. But Mexico and Chile are among the countries to watch. They and some other countries are undecided.

As we just said, Russia along with Germany and France, are those calling for the U.N. Security Council to set a timetable for Iraq to disarm, give them a little more time. For Moscow's reaction to the Azure summit, let's turn now to our Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty.

Jill, I think the last time we talked to you, there had been no real reaction out of the Russian capitol. Are they saying anything yet? Do you have any indication of when they're going to say anything?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Judy, we just checked with the president's press service, and in fact I asked them how late they'll be working tonight, but there is no official reaction. And in a sense, it may be predictable. Tomorrow would be the day probably that we would hear. It's late here in Russia, but of course, those decisions will be made. That decision will be made by President Putin and it really is a huge decision for him. After all, he has been warned by the United States, or at least Russia has been warned by the United States that there could be a price to pay if they use their veto.

So in spite of that, the Russians have been saying for weeks now, that if that resolution, the second resolution has a threat of force and it's an ultimatum, which obviously this is, it will veto it. So if Mr. Putin stuck by his guns and did not -- and used his veto, then at least told President Bush that he's going to use his veto, it might shift the situation so that the resolution wouldn't be brought up for a vote. And that would be very helpful for President Putin because after all he would have to put that relationship with George Bush, which is a new relationship and really rather delicate still -- he'd have to put that on the line.

Now Igor Ivanov, the foreign minister, has said -- in fact, just a couple of days ago, in fact, said that the Russian position is not meant to undermine the relationship between Russia and the United States. He says, "We believe that we are now partners and partners can disagree. And if we believe that our partners are going to make a mistake, then we will tell them that we think they're going to make a mistake" -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Jill Dougherty raising the question whether there's any price to pay for the Russian president if they don't go along with some sort of second resolution. But we'll get to that later on. Our Jill Dougherty in Moscow, thanks very much -- to Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll see, Judy, if that special relationship that Gorge W. Bush supposedly has with Vladimir Putin pays off in these final hours, whether emerging in these final hours of diplomacy.

We are now getting some reaction from one of the key players in this drama. Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, spoke out just a few minutes ago. Let's listen to hear what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HANS BLIX, U.N. CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, I think we are both aware that there is a meeting -- there are meetings of the Security Council and that I will have to be in the Council tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. I think we're also clear that would need to have a clarification on what we could do in Baghdad. We were there in the middle of January. We were there in the middle of February. And from the Iraqi side, therefore, it seems that they think it would be sort of natural to come into the middle of March as well. However, we are in a different situation right now and it has to be considered more carefully.

We are the servants of the Security Council, and I will not take any such step without some consultation at least with the president of the council. I also think that it needs -- we need to know very precisely what we can achieve, what we could achieve if we were to go there. So I think we have a little time today and tomorrow. We will work on our work program. We will give to the Security Council, and then meanwhile, we will also think about this invitation. I don't exclude it, but there are many other things that are happening in the world. Just listen to what they say from the Azores. We need a bit more clarity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, first of all, what do you think of the Azores summit? What's your perception of it? And No.2, what do you think of Colin Powell's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that you ought to get your people ready to pull out? BLIX: Well, I think we would expect to have some other messages from the U.S. side if they were going to war imminently. We would expect that the U.N. side to have this come through normal channel and not through the media. But of course, it looks very -- it's very threatening. The whole thing -- from messages from the Azores seem to me that -- I listened to President Bush and he talks about the liberation of Iraq and he talks about the misdeeds and about the use of weapons of mass destruction and so forth. Whereas Blair and Aznar, I think, still were talking about the possibility of bringing together some consensus in the U.N. around a solution, which would expect a declaration from President Saddam himself about the adherence to disarmament and, at the same time, concrete -- some concrete steps to demonstrate the sort of down payment, if you could call it here, on disarmament. This has been discussed in the Security Council. It has not, so far, been accepted.

Now, there have been different talks about dates, but one has to distinguish between what is -- how many -- time is it needed for complete disarmament in Iraq. I have talked about months, not years. Others have talked about 120 days. But when the British talked about 10 days, then talking about a token fulfillment of some things like interviews abroad, or the total destruction of the missile program. That's a different thing. And it seems to me that a very crucial point relates to whether such a consensus would allow each of the parties and each of the members of the council, at the end of the days set to decide whether Iraq has complied, and if it has not complied, to take the mission it wants. That's -- I think is where the...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does that -- Dr. Blix, does that tell you -- when you talked about President Bush and Tony Blair, does that tell you that it was divided?

BLIX: No, I have not used that expression. I will not use that expression. I simply think they talked a little bit about different matters and I am sure I have no indication.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They seem to be making very clear, though, at least President Bush, that he wanted a decision by the end of tomorrow, that there was going to be some decision, either the Security Council was going to take it or else perhaps the United States was going it take it. Did you get that message as well?

BLIX: I am listening with great interest with your interception.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Earlier today, it was announced earlier that it would announce some withdraw, a partial withdraw, at least equipment from Iraq. Can you catch us up to what exactly has been removed from Iraq? Why? What can we expect in hours, if not days, and what can we look forward as far as your own activity, be it, meet the Council or otherwise in making that decision?

BLIX: Well, I understand that five helicopters have left or are leaving out of eight helicopters and that it has to do with their insurance, that if they lose their insurance, they don't want to stay, which is understandable. So they're leaving. Three are still there.

We still have something like 140, 150 inspectors in Baghdad, and that's a little lower than we usually have, but this is also a period in which we have had a rotation. People stay there for three months and then they go, and that's the period we have had. So we are a bit low. But -- and we'll see. We'll watch it hour by hour where we go. And I'm in touch with secretary-general with this because there is U.N. personnel in Iraq. And he and I will keep close touch about it from our -- evidently, the welfare and the safety of our stuff is a paramount consideration for us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: We're listening to Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, a man who has been at the center of the showdown with Iraq, but in the last day or so, has almost been shoved off to the outside because we just heard the leaders at the summit in the Azores saying that we're looking for reaction tomorrow regardless of what happens in these inspections and if we don't get the kind of support that we need, then the U.S. and the few countries that supporting the U.S. will go forward with military action. Let's quickly bring in our correspondent at the United Nations today, Michael Okwu.

Michael, I heard Hans Blix say, it looks very threatening, these messages coming out of the Azores. He said President Bush was talking about the liberation of Iraq but then he made a distinction between what he said he thought he was hearing from Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Aznar of Spain.

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly, right, Judy. He made it very clear that he was not going to use the word "division" at all although, essentially, that's what he was saying. He was saying President Bush, using language about possible war with Iraq without necessarily using the word "war." And of course, the other two leaders there, talking about consensus building, about what are some of the key points, some of the key tasks perhaps, that the Iraqis could be proactive about, about fending off military action.

So the chief weapons inspector repeating some of the things that he said in the past, essentially that he'd like to see the inspections process continue, that they've been -- the Iraqis that is, have been proactive recently, certainly as the pressure has gotten a little bit more pronounced here, and that he can be effective.

Tomorrow, as you might have heard him say, the Security Council will be meeting late in the afternoon. This is as a response to the Russians, the French, and the Germans, saying they would like very much to talk to him about his program of work, a phrase that you're going to be hearing a lot in the next couple of days here at the United Nations. Mr. Blix is required under existing resolutions to come forward with some sort of work program for the Iraqis to comply with, very key disarmament plans and expect the Russians, the German, the French, perhaps the Chinese to pull Mr. Blix off the sidelines, as you put it, and get him right front and center because according to these past resolutions, he should have some 120 days for the Iraqis to comply and basically resolve some of these remaining tasks, something, of course, that this faction of the Security Council has been pushing.

WOODRUFF: Well, Michael, very quickly, if he is going to be brought back into the center, it's not going to be among the four leaders we saw in the Azores. They didn't even mention the U.N. weapons inspection process. So if he's going to get back into the action, it's going to have to come from somewhere else.

OKWU: Well, that's exactly right. The fact is that you did not hear Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush and Mr. Aznar mention this at all. Clearly, they were engineering a public front on this. They have their own agenda, clearly and understandable. Mr. Blix, of course, has been pushing for the inspections process for quite some time now. He has said that he does not -- this is not going to be resolved in days. It won't be resolved in weeks. It, certainly, is going to look like months. Some of the smaller swing votes on the Council, countries like Angola, Cameroon, Guinea, Pakistan, Mexico, Chile, all of them saying they would like to see a 45-day deadline for the Iraqis. The U.S. officials have been saying this is a non-tarter. Mr. Blix, obviously, would like to see a little bit more time for the inspections process to work.

WOODRUFF: You can almost feel the frost in the air between the U.N. weapons inspectors and the United States. Michael Okwu at the U.N. thanks very much --Wolf.

BLITZER: You know you and I listened to Hans Blix very closely, and it seemed like he was singling out the Bush administration for some criticism as opposed to British or Spanish governments, almost defending them, which is sort of highly unusual for a U.N. weapons inspector who is responsible to the Security Council.

WOODRUFF: I don't think I've heard -- we've heard anything like it. We know that behind the scenes, there's been a lot of tension between the weapons inspectors and the U.S., because at times, the Bush administration has, in effect, said we don't -- you know we don't put any stock in this process. As far as we're concerned, they aren't helping matters any. And today, you saw that again. President Bush moving straight ahead. No mention of the weapons inspectors and yet, Wolf -- and Mr. Blix, for his part, saying yes, threatening noises coming out of there. George Bush, code words -- I think we're saying -- George Bush is saying we're about to go to war.

BLITZER: And you also heard him express his irritation with the Secretary of State Colin Powell, who earlier today here on CNN, expressed concern for those U.N. weapons inspectors, that they could be held hostage. They might not be allowed to leave by the Iraqi government. And Hans Blix saying that kind of talk in the media is not necessarily all that responsible right now, at least giving that impression. It's a highly unusual situation for a U.N. diplomat to be in. We're going to continue to watch all of this.

Let me also recap what we're getting out of Baghdad. The Iraqi President Saddam Hussein saying even as the summit was unfolding in the Azores, the Iraqi president denying that Iraq has any weapons of mass destruction. His foreign minister, Naji Sabri, going on television and saying that the country is bracing for war at any hour, and announcing plans to provide some five months' worth of rations for Iraqi citizens.

We're going to continue our special coverage. We have much more coming up, including some new polls that show more than half of Americans support U.S. troops invading Iraq in the upcoming weeks. Coming up, we'll have details from those latest public opinion polls and we'll also speak live with the former U.S. assistant secretary of state, James Rubin -- he'll join us from London -- and our own CNN analyst, Ken Pollack, about their take on this Azores summit. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: The country at center of all this diplomatic and military preparation, military maneuvering, if you will, and diplomatic discussion is Iraq. We want to go quickly now to the capitol of Iraq, to Baghdad, where CNN's senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson has been for some days.

Nic, the rest of us are looking at maybe there's a sliver of a chance to avoid war. But meantime, in Baghdad, the people around -- Saddam Hussein himself and the people around him have to be preparing for the worst.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Really, Judy, that does seem to be happening. As of late last night, when the Revolutionary Command Council decided to divide the country into essentially four areas for military control. And again tonight, even as President Bush, Prime Ministers Blair and Aznar were speaking in the Azores, President Saddam Hussein was on television here meeting with his military commanders, saying that the country is combat and tactically, fully prepared for the possibility of war and even threatening anyone that invaded Iraq that Iraq would turn into a massive fire that would burn any invader. Also, President Saddam Hussein questioning who made America the unjust judge of the whole world and said the whole aim of the United States and Great Britain at this time were to hide the fact that Iraq does not have any weapons of mass destruction.

Really the people of Baghdad here beginning to feel that war could be coming. We have talking about it for weeks now, the fact that people have been making some quiet preparations. Tonight, people are lining up at gas stations. There seems to be no doubt in people's minds here, at least, that the potential for conflict is getting very close -- statements from government ministers, Foreign Minister Naji Sabri. We've heard over the last number of weeks that Iraq has been preparing its people, providing enough food rations to people so that they can survive a lengthy conflict, if you will. We heard the foreign minister reminding people, again, that they provided another month of food of rations, making it five months of food rations, food for the people of Iraq all the way through to August -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Nic, this may be a tricky one for you to talk about, but if you listen to the Bush administration, they make it sound as if, the U.S. and others come in, it will be an effort to liberate the people of Iraq, that they'll be separated from a tyrant who has made their lives miserable. How do the people of Iraq see this?

ROBERTSON: When we talk to people here, whenever we go out with our cameras, we go out with a government official. When people talk to us here with our cameras, they will say to us that they 100 percent support President Saddam Hussein. The government would point to the fact that president of Iraq got 100 percent support in a referendum last year.

Now, when you talk privately with people they, express a different view. There doesn't seem to be that resounding support, if you will. But what people say, however, privately and publicly, is while they may -- or at least privately -- while they may recognize that they could have a better leadership, what they say is that they don't want a change of leadership brought out by an invasion brought about by an invasion by American forces. They see the United States here in the context of its relationships with the Palestinian people and in Israel. They see the United States as a dominating force. They don't see it as a force that would come here and liberate them. The way that that particular situation plays here in the media here is that the United States only wants to come and get control of Iraq's oil, only wants to extend its control over this region. But even privately, people say an invading force, an American invading force, really, we don't like that, even if we do want change, we don't like that idea of an invasion -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Nic Robertson, clearly a different picture from that that the Bush administration, Wolf, has been attempting to portray.

BLITZER: And we're showing live pictures now, Judy, of the tarmac in the Azores. The Air Force One -- you see the engine there from Air Force One. The president of the United States having wrapped us his dinner with the prime ministers of Spain and Britain and the host country, Portugal, getting ready to fly back across the Atlantic right here outside of -- to outside of Washington, Andrews Air Force Base. He'll be getting back to Washington late tonight. And tomorrow, being D-day, if you will, the day that he said will determine whether diplomacy can or cannot work.

And as we watch these live pictures and we get ready, Judy, for the president to board Air Force One and return to the United States, I couldn't help but noticing the strategy that the Bush administration put out today. President, of course, meeting with these leaders in the Azores, having this news conference, but earlier in the day, putting the vice president of the United States out on some of the Sunday morning interview programs, the Secretary of State Colin Powell on some others. In effect, the two wings, if you will, of the Bush administration. The hawk, the Vice President Dick Cheney, we haven't heard much from him lately, at least publicly in recent months and the so-called dove, the diplomat, the Secretary of State Colin Powell, who pushed aggressively to bring this issue to the United Nations Security Council.

The administration, at least in my assessment, anxious to show that all wings of the administration are on the same page.

WOODRUFF: I was going to say, now, if it was ever hawks and doves, it's there now speaking with one voice, whatever bird we want to call them, they are together, as far as we know. Of course it is very hard to know, as you know very well what goes on inside, inside the administration; some reporting will tell us some of this, and we will learn as the months and the weeks unfold ahead of us just how much division there is.

But you are right, Wolf, right now it appears they are on the same page. We are moving most likely to the war.

BLITZER: And the president of United States saying earlier today, the most memorable quote of today, I think it's fair to say, "tomorrow is the moment of truth for the world."

We are going to continue our special coverage. Much more coming up. Stay with CNN for the latest on the summit in the Azores.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Our special coverage of the summit in Azores, with four leaders, the president of United States, the prime ministers of Portugal, Spain and Great Britain, coming together just a little over an hour, an hour or two ago, to say that they are united, that they are calling on the rest of the world, as they put it, to join the United States and others in condemning Saddam Hussein and joining in an effort to get him to disarm, or else, or else likely the move to war.

President Bush saying tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world, and going on to describe what will happen after a military move on Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: And Iraq's liberation would be the beginning, not the end, of our commitment to its people. We will supply humanitarian relief, bring the economic sanctions to a swift close, and work for the long- term recovery of Iraq's economy. We'll make sure that Iraq's natural resources are used for the benefit of their owners, the Iraqi people.

Iraq has the potential to be a great nation. Iraq's people are skilled and educated. We'll push as quickly as possible for an Iraqi interim authority to draw upon the talents of Iraq's people to rebuild their nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: President Bush and the other leaders, as you just heard there, saying the president said at the moment of truth for the world, the other leaders coming together to agree that in one day, other countries that support the United States, Great Britain and Spain have got one day to come on board, or the United States and these other countries will lead a military action against Iraq.

So, Wolf, as we we've been saying all afternoon, it couldn't be any clearer?

BLITZER: Very clear. Let's get further analysis. And joining for that two special guests. In London, James Rubin, he is the former assistant secretary of state, he worked under Madeleine Albright when she was the secretary of state, and here in Washington, CNN analyst Ken Pollack of the Brookings Institution, a former CIA official, also a former official at the National Security Council.

James Rubin, first to you. It looks like diplomacy has been given 24 hours to live or die. I assume that will focus the minds of France, Russia, Germany, those countries that have been opposed to what the U.S. and Britain have been trying to achieve?

JAMES RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Exactly, Wolf. If you think that there was a diplomatic reason for this meeting, and I think there's some real doubt about that, it may have been more political for Aznar and Bush, Blair at home but if there is a diplomatic meaning, it is to send a message to these people that we were not kidding when we said to only give you a few more days to decide, that you really need to come up with your final bottom lines, your red lines.

What is the farthest that you can go? The president of France, Chirac, has told CNN that he would be prepared to consider 30 days. But at the end of those 30 days, he is still not saying, would he authorize war if Iraq didn't comply. And so there may be one final round, although it doesn't seem very likely to work. One final effort in the next 24 hours to see whether everyone can agree on some number of days and agree on what happens after those days. The middle six countries -- the so-called swinging six -- these are the countries that surprised the administration. They understand France was going to veto. They understood Russia was going to oppose. But they have been surprised at how firm these middle six countries have understood in refusing to take a stand either with France and Russia on the one side, or America and Britain on the other.

And I think they are trying one last diplomatic gambit. President Bush said that Chirac put his cards on the table about a veto. This is a very, very high-stakes poker game, really, where the president and the prime minister are saying to these countries, it's last call, make your final bet, and then maybe, maybe we will have something to talk about.

BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures, by the way, of Air Force One, the president getting ready to leave. Leaving right now after having dinner with the prime ministers of Spain, Portugal and Britain to return to the United States.

Jamie, it looks like the president, who was clearly irritated, I use that word diplomatically, if you will, by the French position. He showed -- clearly showed contempt for the position of France. He wants to see if France is going to blink over these next 24 hours.

Is there a chance that the French government of President Jacques Chirac will in fact come around and say, you know what, it's better than to let the U.S. go to war, we have a new proposal that the U.S. might be able to live with?

RUBIN: Well, I don't think the French have blinked yet. Their eyelashes may have fluttered, however. They have signaled that if Blix is comfortable with a 30-day timeframe, that they are comfortable with a 30-day timeframe. The problem is the president and the other -- Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Aznar, don't know what comes at the end of those 30 days, and this is where there has been a complete breakdown in trust.

The French say they want to have a meeting at end of those 30 days to judge compliance. What the president of the United States needs or what Prime Minister Blair might need to convince President Bush to even consider it, is a commitment from France, that if at the end of those 30 days the inspectors are still working but haven't finished their work, haven't met these tests, France will authorize war.

That is not yet quite the position of France. And without that, I don't think Blair has any ability to go to Bush in some desperate last hour effort to, say, negotiate. The middle six countries, the ones in the Security Council that the Bush administration has been surprised haven't supported them have been very frustrated that they've seen what they regard as zero flexibility on the administration's part. They move from a 120 days to 45 days, this middle six. They have tried to come up with an ultimatum and they have got nothing.

And we may have seen the reason this morning as Vice President Cheney is now worried, that if we extend the deadline at all, we face the risks that Saddam Hussein will attack us, rather than the United States attacking them.

WOODRUFF: Let's bring in Ken Pollack, CNN analyst, and also with the Brookings Institution. Is that a real concern, Ken, as the vice president raised today that if we delay this any longer, which is what some of these countries are holding off -- holding out, would like to have happen, that there's a chance that Saddam could move first?

KEN POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: I'll be honest with you, Judy. I don't think so, I think that's an absolute red herring. I think the idea that Saddam Hussein is going to attack us, honestly, it would be the best possible thing for us.

You heard General Wesley Clark talking earlier about the real dangers that we face. And while it's true that our troops are somewhat vulnerable right now, it's always important to remember that Saddam's ability to attack those troops is extremely limited. And at point of fact, there is nothing in the world that would rally international support around the Bush administration going to war with Iraq, like the Iraqis attacking first, and especially if they used weapons of mass destruction, making clear that they had been lying all of this time.

I actually think that the bigger problem for the Bush administration is exactly the opposite, which is, that if they do decide to give some kind of an ultimatum and it does last even five days, but especially if it lasts for 30 days, the bigger problem for the administration is not that Saddam would attack first -- as I said, I think that would be the best possible thing for them, both politically and militarily -- militarily, because you'd be getting those Iraqi troops out in the open, where U.S. air power could pulverize them, and you would be getting the Iraqis to use their small force of missiles and aircraft against dispersed U.S. troops in areas where they are not going to have a very good advantage.

But I think the bigger issue out there is, in fact, the opposite. That if they give this ultimatum, Saddam will give additional partial cooperation. That during that 30-day clock, he is not going to sit idly. He is going to come up with additional concessions just as he has been doing all along.

And there are lots of additional concessions that Saddam can make to show, to pretend that he is cooperating without actually disarming, and I think that's the real key for the administration is that if they agree to another five or 15 or even 30 days, the big problem for them is that Saddam will give some additional cooperation, and at the end of that tract, you will have less support for war than if you went now.

WOODRUFF: Fascinating, you are saying if the administration waits, then they could get cooperation, which is something they don't want. But rather than go down that line of reasoning, Ken, how big a risk is the United States taking if it ends up going forward without additional U.N. Security Council backing?

POLLACK: Well, this is -- this is the big issue out there. It depends on how exactly we don't get the U.N.'s backing. If we go to the U.N. and we force a vote and it gets defeated, I think Tony Blair and Aznar of Spain are going to have a big problem. Because if it's defeated, then you are going to have a lot of people say saying -- and you heard the French ambassador to United States say this earlier today on CNN -- the war would, in fact, be illegal.

The fact that the French are hinting at is the United States, if you are going to go to war, don't put the U.N. resolution out there, because if it gets vetoed, then the war would be illegal. What they are hinting at is that they agree that we have all the justification we need to go to war if we don't put it to a vote.

So that could become problematic for the British and the Spanish.

But I think the biggest issue out there is if we don't get U.N. support is the longer term one, of what does this mean for the transatlantic alliance, what does it mean for the United Nations, what does it mean for the reconstruction of Iraq?

And I'll be honest with you, even in terms of the reconstruction of Iraq, I am willing to believe that we will have additional European and international support after the war is over, because I think there will be countries that are going to want to contribute to Iraq's reconstruction. Not just for their own narrow economic reasons, but also because they're going to see Iraqi people in need, and they are going to want to help out. But I think a bigger issue out there for the United States is what I keep calling the crisis after Iraq. We have to keep remembering that Iraq is not going to be the last war we face, the last tyrant we face, the last issue of terrorism or weapons of mass destruction or the last humanitarian crisis we face. There are going to be countries in the future who are going to pose similar threats to the United States, and Iraq in some sense is unique, in that, if we really had to, we probably could solve the problem with Saddam Hussein by ourselves -- invade, occupy, rebuild all by ourselves. We don't want too, because it's very costly. But we could.

But there are probably going to be countries out there that we are going to face crises with that aren't going to lend themselves to our unilateral capabilities, where we are really going to need international support that might not be forthcoming if this time around we really dissed the United Nations, made clear that we were not interested and go a unilateral route.

WOODRUFF: Ken Pollack, raising some very important issues and questions that we're all going to be thinking about and trying to look for answers in the days and weeks to come.

Ken Pollack, thanks to you, and thanks to Jamie Rubin in London. Both of you helping us put some perspective and some understanding on the events of today.

And, Wolf, what we have been looking at are some pictures taken just a short time ago before President Bush took off from the Azores. In effect, working the rope line; we are not clear who these people are, perhaps they are just ordinary citizen.

BLITZER: They could be Portuguese. There are U.S. military families who live there. There is a base there where U.S. troops, and the president does what he always does in these kinds of situations, goes through, shakes some hands, thanks them. People obviously wanting to take pictures of the president of the United States.

He is now aboard Air Force One, getting ready -- he is actually flying back to Andrews Air Force Base, just outside of Washington, D.C., getting ready for what he says will be a moment of truth tomorrow, Monday, in the world of diplomacy. Whether that diplomacy will bear results, of course is anyone's guess at this point. Doesn't look very likely, though, based on everything we know.

We're going to continue to watch and listen, but we have much more coming up. How close is the U.S. to war, coming up. Does the news from the summit mean the United States is nearing an attack on Iraq? We will talk to the retired U.S. NATO Commander General Wesley Clark, about the troops and a battle plan. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back to the CNN special "The Azores Summit." I am Judy Woodruff in Washington, along with my colleague, Wolf Blitzer. Momentous decisions being made in the next 24, 48, 72 hours by a number of countries. The United States may have to decide whether to go to war.

Let's go quickly to the Pentagon and to our senior correspondent there, Jamie McIntyre. Jamie, we are told that the U.S. military is prepared to go to war at anytime now. Having said that, is there anything left to do to get everything in place?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the U.S. would still like to get a last-minute permission from Turkey to get overflight rights and base some special forces there. It's too late for the U.S. military to send the 4th Infantry Division into Turkey, as they originally planned. By the way, the 4th Infantry is the best- equipped division in the U.S. military, with the latest equipment, which will all be sidelined because of the diplomatic roadblock there.

Also, Pentagon sources tell CNN that the U.S. is at least two days away from war. But beyond that, they won't speculate on the timetable. So as not to compromise tactical surprise. But there are two big caveats with that. One is, assuming that there is no political development that delays the start of the war, and assuming that Iraq doesn't take any provocative action that could start the war sooner. If Iraq attacks U.S. troops, takes U.S. hostages, attacks its neighbors, all of those things could trigger a war at any time -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And we just heard analyst Ken Pollack saying, if that happened it would actually be good for the Bush administration, because it would give the U.S. military in a way a pretext and give them a chance to, I think as he put it, obliterate whatever piece of the Iraqi military step forward.

Just quickly, Jamie, on the Turkey question, if permission from Turkey is not forthcoming, to what extent does that delay any ability on the part of the United States to accomplish its mission?

MCINTYRE: None, none, actually, because they basically made all of the plans to work around it. The big thing they have to do is either move the aircraft carriers south into the Red Sea -- there's two of them -- or get permission from Jordan, to overfly Jordan.

WOODRUFF: All right, simple and straight. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. Thanks very much.

We are going to take a break. When we come back, Wolf, our coverage continues.

BLITZER: That's right, Judy, we have a lot more coverage coming up, including troops at Camp New Jersey. What do they think of the president's comments from the summit. We will go live to Kuwait for the latest reaction from the 101st Airborne Division. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We have much more coming up. How are U.S. troops dealing right now on the last breath of diplomatic activity? When we come back, we will go to the front lines. Our Ryan Chilcote was watching President Bush and the other leaders at the summit with members of the U.S. 101st Air Assault Unit. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Quarter of a million U.S. troops and another 40,000 or so British troops are poised for an attack on Iraq. For their take on how this day's historic events are unfolding, we go to Kuwait and Camp New Jersey. That is where we find CNN's Ryan Chilcote. He is with the 101st Air Assault Division. He is joining us now live via videophone. What is the reaction over there, Ryan?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have to be frank, the vast majority of the soldiers here from the 101st Airborne did not hear that press conference. It took place at 9:30 in the evening. At that time, most of the soldiers already back in their tents. Many of them already sleeping. Things tend to end pretty early here and begin pretty early, particularly these days.

But I did go to what is called the MWR tent; that means the morale, wellness and recreation tent. It's a place where the soldiers go to play ping-pong, to play cards, to play dominoes, to watch television. And I did catch a group of about three dozen soldiers watching that news conference. It was a bit difficult for them to hear. So they were really paying attention to what was being said. The leaders' messages really competing with a lot of noise mainly from the ping-pong table.

But those soldiers did listen very carefully. And after I had a chance to speak with them, all of them saying that they are ready to go. They sort of listened with a very cautious acceptance, I would say. And they told me after that they're ready to go. This is why they came here. This is what they get paid to do.

A lot of them talked about if they have to go, that they looked at this as being a necessary evil to make the world a safer place. These soldiers really believe that Saddam Hussein poses a threat, both to the United States and the world, and they believe that they'll be making the world a more safe place by going to Iraq. Some more pragmatic views. One soldier told me, look, it's hot here, we're ready to go. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we get to go home. So the whole spectrum of feelings and perspectives from the ideological to the pragmatic, Wolf. Back to you.

BLITZER: Ryan Chilcote in Kuwait, with the front-line troops. Ryan, thanks very much.

And, Judy, as we wrap up this hour's coverage, it's fair to say, 24 hours from now, we presumably will know whether diplomacy has or has not worked.

WOODRUFF: That's right, Wolf. We're going to be watching a very few places. Washington, the United Nations, London, Paris, Moscow, and -- but all signs after today's summit, so-called summit, I think you have to say, in the Azores, because it seems pretty scripted to those of us who were watching, are that the march to war has begun. That it's -- short of a political or diplomatic miracle, nothing's going to change.

BLITZER: It was about as choreographed as these summits can be. The president and the other leaders, the prime ministers arrived. They barely had time to meet before they were reading their statements and answering questions.

WOODRUFF: Before they made the statements. I think we can pretty much forecast what is going to happen. The only question is exactly when? If President Bush speaks tomorrow night, we could be going to war. We heard Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon say they'll be ready within 48 hours.

BLITZER: All right. We'll be watching. Obviously the stakes couldn't be higher, Judy, thanks very much.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

BLITZER: And that does it for our CNN Special Report, "Showdown Iraq: The Azores Summit." Stay with CNN, though, for much more coverage throughout the day and into the night. Coming up next, it's CNN LIVE SUNDAY with Anderson Cooper. Then a special report at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, "Showdown Iraq: the Azores Summit" with our own Aaron Brown. Then "Larry King Weekend" at 9:00 p.m. eastern. Until then I am Wolf Blitzer in Washington. For Judy Woodruff, thanks very much for watching.

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