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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Rep. Dennis Hastert Speaks on Capitol Hill

Aired March 19, 2003 - 10:02   ET

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

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: In the Kuwaiti Desert, where a sandstorm has been brewing, there's also something else brewing, the imminence of war that is thundering overhead.
CNN's Ryan Chilcote with the Army's elite 101st Airborne Division.

Let's check with him right now.

Hello, Ryan.

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good news, Leon.

That dust storm appears to be receding, being replaced, though, by a whirlwind of activity of military activity out here. There's a real feeling that time is running out, not only for Saddam Hussein, but also for the U.S.'s soldiers to get ready. We spoke with the general, commanding general of the 101st Airborne, and he described some of the things soldiers are doing to make sure they're ready to go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. ARMY: Today we're doing a variety of precombat inspections, loading of vehicles, checking communications, cleaning weapons, issuing final supplies, and a host of other activities that are all associated with our normal preparations for combat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHILCOTE: Well, Leon, this isn't only about weapons and ammunition. As you know, this is also about soldiers, and the soldiers are mentally preparing themselves to head out. A lot of soldiers lining up at the AT&T calling center to make last calls home. For 30 cents, they can call home. A lot of soldiers making last calls to their spouses.

I listened in, actually eavesdropped on one of the conversations. It was a soldier calling his wife, and I listened to him say to her, look, honey, I might not be able to call you for a few days, I want you to know, I know you won't believe me, but I want you to know I'm going to be safe.

So soldiers both professionally preparing themselves for what they might be asked to do, and also mentally and maybe even spiritually preparing themselves for the call should that call come to head north -- Leon.

HARRIS: Ryan, what I'm curious about is whether or not you've had a chance to sit down and talk with any soldiers one on one to see how they go through in their minds the whole process of preparing themselves for the possibility of their not coming back?

CHILCOTE: Yes, well, that's obviously a pretty serious concern among these soldiers. Most of the soldiers that I'm with are very confident. I'm embedded with the 101st Airborne's Third Brigade. And the Third Brigade was actually in Afghanistan. They returned just seven months ago. They were there for six months. So they're not exactly green, if you will, to desert warfare. They've done this before. They're feeling pretty confident. I think one of the things that makes almost all of them worried is the prospect that chemicals could be used. So they're ready to go, but obviously a little bit nervous about what might be ahead of them -- Leon.

HARRIS: Yes, and for good reason, too.

Ryan Chilcote, appreciate that. Take care. Be careful. We'll check back with you later on.

CHILCOTE: As you heard Ryan say, from sand to sea, U.S.-led forces appear to be readying for battle.

CNN's Frank Buckley is aboard the USS Constellation in the Persian Gulf. The ship, which is the oldest of the of nations' active aircraft carriers, carries the radio call sigh "War Chief." The name will certainly be put to the test in the opening days of the offensive, as this carrier group launches an aerial bombardment by warplanes and missiles that U.S. commanders say will be ferocious.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICE ADM. TIMOTHY KEATING, CMDR., U.S. 5TH FLEET: But make no mistake, when the president says go, look out, it's hammer time, OK? It is hammer time. We are going to make the world safer for our children and our grandchildren.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Dozens of missiles-carrying warships and as many as 1,000 aircraft are amassed in the Gulf region.

CHILCOTE: Let's go to Turkey now where lawmakers are soon go to be reconsidering that country's role in the U.S. war plans. Specifically, they're going to talk about whether or not Turkey should reverse its ban on overflights of U.S. military missions.

Our Harris Whitbeck is standing by in Incirlik. He joins us with more.

Hello, Harris.

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Leon. Back in 1991, on the eve of the first Gulf War, this base was teeming with activity. About 4,000 sorties were flown here during the first phase of the war. That is certainly not the case today. The base is extremely quiet, and that is because Turkey has not yet decided on what role it might play in the conflict with Iraq. The parliament has received a motion from the government. That motion would allow the U.S. to carry out overflights, to use Turkish airspace to launch attacks against Iraq.

But so far, the idea of using Turkish territory for troops to come in here to establish a northern front is not being discussed and will not be put forth, at least this time around.

Now we expect the parliament to vote on the overflights issue tomorrow on Thursday. And that, according to some in the United States, is cutting it pretty close. Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told his counterparts in Turkey they needed a decision by the Turkish government soon, because things were obviously quickly reaching a head in the region -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, what do we know then, Harris, at this point about the leadership of Turkey? Where do they stand on at least allowing U.S. access to the airspace?

WHITBECK: The leadership supports the idea of U.S. Access to the airspace. The leadership of Turkey wants to be involved in the conflict. They say that they need to have a say in what happens, particularly in northern Iraq, which houses a large population of Iraqi Kurds. They fear that whatever happens to them might have an affect on the Turkish Kurdish population, specifically Kurds in northern Iraq. The fear is that they might try to declare independence there, and that would inspire a similar moves here in Turkey.

However, a group of Kurdish leaders met with Turkish officials and with a U.S. envoy.

HARRIS: Sorry to cut you off, Harris. We have a new development that's taking place right now in Congress, on Capitol Hill.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: ... cooperating with foreign countries and international organizations to obtain Iraqi compliance with all relevant United Nations security council resolutions regarding Iraq. Pursuant to house rule 12, I will refer this report to the committee on international relations. In addition, for the information of the members, I will submit the document in its entirety for printing into the Congressional record.

Let me remind members that this document is pursuant to legislation and the statute that we passed last year. This is not a declaration that we are in any specific type of activity at this time. It's only is the pursuit of the statute that was passed last year. Any further announcements will be shared with the Congress.

Thank you.

HARRIS: Let's try to figure out exactly what we heard here. We just came in somewhat after house speaker Dennis Hastert had begun his remarks.

Let's go our to John King, our senior White House correspondent, standing by.

John, what exactly is it that we heard this morning. I understand there was something of a letter or some sort of communique sent from the White House to the Congress. Is that what we were hearing here?

JOHN KING, CNN CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Leon.

What the speaker was doing in that brief presentation was notifying the colleagues that the White House filed this brief report. It just runs three paragraphs. But this is a legal filing required by that resolution - that Congress passed last October, authorizing the president to use military force in Iraq. That resolution authorized force only if the president determined that diplomacy failed, and that he had determined that diplomacy alone would not bring Iraq into compliance with the United Nations resolutions that it disarm. In those three paragraphs filed by the White House overnight, we are told, President Bush told the Congress he has made that key judgment that they believes he must invoke the authority given to him by Congress to use military force because the president deemed diplomacy has failed to disarm Saddam Hussein.

Word of this filing came this morning at an off-camera briefing with the White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who told us the president is, of course, continuing consultations with his military advisers. There was a small National Security Council meeting here this morning. We saw some of the members arriving. Also a separate meeting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to go over the military planning.

Ari Fleischer telling reporters, and through the reporters, the American people, that as we are on the brink of war, the president hopes the process is as short as possible, but there are many unknowns, and we do not know the duration of the military conflict that lies ahead, and that the American people should be prepared for some loss of life.

Ari Fleischer also saying, unfortunately, in his view, that there are no indications from Baghdad, none at all, none whatsoever, that Saddam Hussein will accept the president's ultimatum and leave and head into exile.

Mr. Fleischer says the U.S. is detecting some unease among other senior Iraqi officials, but he says it appears Saddam Hussein will stay to fight and that the window for war begins -- opens at 8:00 tonight.

HARRIS: In the meantime, John, what else is on the president's plate this morning?

KING: He has a meeting an hour from now with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That meeting to discuss steps being taken by the federal government, and of course a key city, New York City, to prepare for the possibility that as we prepare for war overseas, there could be domestic terrorist attacks here at home. The president wanted to compare notes, we're told, with the mayor. We are told the mayor might come to the White House looking for federal assistance, as his city and other cities implement security improvements that are costing billions and billions of dollars.

Secretary Ridge and Mayor Bloomberg, we are told, will come out and speak to reporters after the meeting. So we might get a little bit more insight, not only into the domestic terrorist threat, but into the president's mood and his thinking as he is just hours away about a decision to go to war.

HARRIS: Good deal. We'll be back to Washington to cover those remarks when they do happen.

Thank you, John. John King at the White House. We'll see you soon -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Let's talk about the United Nations right now. At the United Nations, the protest more of symbolism over substance. Foreign ministers from France, Russia and Germany will address the United States to rail against the U.S.-led decision to abandon diplomacy.

CNN senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth offers a preview of what will happen today, beginning this hour.

Take it away, Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Carol, the foreign ministers of Russia, and France and Germany are here now inside the Security Council, and within minutes, they're going to be a leading a discussion on Iraq.

Here you see them just a short time ago, these three here, despite the collapse of the diplomacy here at the Security Council, and perhaps with war just hours away. One French diplomat said this meeting is to envision the future, two points will be made it would have been possible to find peace through diplomacy and disarmament if there was just more time, disarmament with short deadlines not working, and the United Nations has to remain at the center. A Chinese diplomat saying today's meeting will prove that it was possible to achieve disarmament. Why do they say that? Because Hans Blix is going to give his outstanding remaining tasks that would have to have been completed by the inspectors. But they're not in Iraq, but the meeting is still going forward.

These diplomats from France, Russia, Germany still believe that it would have been possible with a few more months' work by Dr. Blix. Remember when the world used to hang on every word from the chief U.N. weapons inspector. Well, now, not many will be listening that closely. Meanwhile, Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed AlDouri still insist his country does not have weapons of mass destruction, and he discussed the state of affairs a short time ago uptown in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOHAMMED ALDOURI, IRAQI TO AMB. TO U.N.: I think if there's a war that means...

QUESTION: What are your plans, sir? If we go to war, what are your plans?

ALDOURI: If there's a war, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HARRIS: Will you stay here in the country in New York?

ALDOURI: Of course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROTH: Mohammed AlDouri, Iraq's ambassador, said will be here for weeks, years, he said. He believes if there is a war, he said it's a campaign of genocide. The United States, of course, with this meeting today, not giving it much attention. Colin Powell not coming here. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw also not here. That's just the way things are. Maybe the U.N.'s final moment here regarding politics. But in terms of humanitarian aid, that's where the countries may find some agreement. They'll be coming up with a resolution soon regarding all of those U.N. programs that are designed to help the people of Iraq.

COSTELLO: Yes, and President Bush has been on the phone pushing for humanitarian aid from other countries.

Richard Roth, reporting live from the United Nations today.

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