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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

The New Iraq

Aired April 20, 2003 - 12:00   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington -- actually, just a few minutes after noon -- 11:00 a.m. in Crawford, Texas, 6:00 p.m. in Vatican City, 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks so much for joining us for this special LATE EDITION, "The New Iraq."
We'll talk with Henry Kissinger, William Cohen and Zbigniew Brzezinski in just a few minutes, but first, let's check in with CNN correspondents covering the news around the globe.

We're also standing by, we're expecting to hear momentarily from President Bush. He's been attending a church service for those POWs -- two of the POWs in Fort Bliss, Texas. The president expected to emerge from the church momentarily. We will have live coverage as soon as he comes to the microphone.

In the meantime, we're standing by. We have some breaking news. Our Barbara Starr is over at the Pentagon. She's been learning about new developments, what the U.S. military has in mind, long term as well as short term, in Iraq. Barbara, tell us what you have.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, hello to you, Wolf. Yes, CNN can now confirm that the U.S. military is considering what type of long-term military relationship it wants to have in Iraq, and one of the things on the table is the possibility of some type of U.S. military basing relationship inside Iraq.

Now, this would be a very unusual step, and it would really reflect the changes since the war has ended, of course, because Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said for months now the U.S. will stay only as long as it takes to install a new, secure, stable government in Iraq and then the U.S. military will leave.

But, of course, things get a bit more complicated. What the military is looking at is four key bases, Baghdad International Airport, Tallil air base in the south, the H-1 airfield in the west and the Bashur airfield in the north. This would provide the U.S. some type of footprint or potential presence in all the key sectors of Iraq.

What's not clear yet, very early stages, very early thinking here is whether or not the U.S. is going to look at some type of permanent basing relationship, or some type of intermittent access.

Now, what officials tell us adamantly is all of this will depend on some type of negotiated agreement, of course, with a new Iraqi government. Of course, all of this would have to be in consultation and agreement with some new Iraqi government that will emerge in the months ahead.

But what is really clear what's happening here is this is the new U.S. military footprint in the Persian Gulf 12 years after Operation Desert Storm. The regime of Saddam Hussein is gone. Presumably it no longer poses a military threat to Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. The concerns now turning more towards Syria. The U.S. wanting some presence there for that type of situation, but there may be little reason to have the U.S. military presence continue in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, because, of course, Iraq no longer exists as a threat, and, in fact, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week essentially confirmed the details of this whole notion when he said to reporters and I'm quoting, "the subject of a footprint for the United States post-Iraq is something that we're considering and discussing" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, I'm going to -- I'm going to break away from Barbara Starr because the president is going to be walking out of this door within the next few seconds, we're told, and he's going to be going to the microphones.

He's been attending church services with his wife, Laura Bush. Those are the two POWs with him. Let's listen in as the president goes out. Clearly, he met privately with the two Apache helicopter pilots. Let's listen in.

(LIVE EVENT)

BLITZER: And there he is, the president tapping the shoulder of David Williams, Chief Warrant Officer as well as Ron Young, another Chief Warrant Officer. Those are the two Apache helicopter pilots who were POWs, posing with Mrs. Laura Bush, as well.

The president, having received them, met with them after church services at Fort Hood, Texas. The president is going to be heading back to his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Let's keep these pictures up as the president and Mrs. Bush leave this church and bring in our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. Some of the news the president just made. He said there is now some positive signs coming from Syria. He says they are beginning to get the message, the Damascus government of President Bashar Al-Assad. The president has been putting the pressure on Syria, Suzanne. Any indication what some of those positive signs might be?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House has been looking at some positive signs just within the last couple of days, the fact that they have announced that they've closed the border. They were looking very closely at that, whether or not that really meant much of anything, just how porous it is.

Also, the fact that Syria said that it was now requiring visas for those entering into the country. That was something that was rather a lax policy when it came to the Syrian government. These are two signs that, yes, perhaps Syria is cooperating, and the president mentioned that he believes that they have gotten the message.

As you had mentioned before, of course, very tough rhetoric coming from the Bush administration. Caused quite a bit of alarm from some European allies and others who felt that perhaps this meant that the Bush administration, the military was going to take a left turn into Syria when it came to military action. Of course, the president and others saying that there was no intention of that, but certainly taking advantage of the moment, the political capital after the successes of the war with Iraq.

The president also addressing just whether or not they are ready to declare victory. The foreign minister of Australia, Alexander Downer, said today that U.S. and coalition forces were preparing for some sort of victory, a declaration that they were going to deliver within days. The president said, of course, as he has reiterated before, that it's up to General Tommy Franks, the one, of course, who is head of the military command on the ground inside of Iraq to make that determination before the president makes any type of announcement.

So it may still be somewhat premature to expect that fairly soon. And the president also talked about something very important, which is North Korea. That he said that Secretary Powell would be traveling -- not rather Secretary Powell but White House officials, that would be the State Department envoy Jim Kelly, who would be there in Beijing, as well as Chinese and North Korean officials to talk about really dismantling and abandoning any type of ambitions of a nuclear weapons program in North Korea, seeing some sign of hope in that region as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, we'll be checking back with you throughout the day. Thanks very much. She's covering the president's stay in Crawford, Texas at his ranch.

Let's go to Damascus right away. CNN's Sheila MacVicar is standing by. You heard the president, Sheila, suggest that there are some positive signs coming from the Damascus government. Any indication from your end what those might be?

SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of things. First off, there were two U.S. congressmen in town here this morning. They had a meeting with President Bashar Al-Assad, a meeting that was expected to last an hour. It went much longer than that, and both the Syrians and the Americans say that it was a very good meeting, a very positive meeting and that they felt that there were some real signs of openness, that it was clear that the Syrians were listening and that they were beginning to grapple with some of these very important issues, issues that everyone has been making clear, not just U.S. administration officials, but the Saudis, the British and others have been making clear that the Syrians will have to deal with.

In terms of the kinds of positive signs that Suzanne was just talking about, the issue of the closed border. The Syrians closed the border more than 10 days ago, admittedly after American pressure, but they did close that border. They made very clear that the border would only be open to Iraqi passport holders heading back into Iraq, and they also made clear several days ago that in the case of Iraqis who sought to come to Syria, it was going to be on a case-by-case basis.

Now, we've heard a lot from the U.S. administration over the course of the last 10 days or so, alleging that there are high ranking former members of Saddam Hussein's regime who have fought -- found safe haven here in Syria. It really turns out that there may be one and possibly two, but no more than that, who have either come through Syria or possibly are still in Syria. And one case is the case of Farouk Hijazi, who was Iraq's ambassador to Tunisia. He is wanted by the U.S. for his believed complicity in the attempted assassination of former President George Bush back in 1993. The U.S. actually turned to the Tunisians, a close American ally, and said, please give him over. The Tunisians refused. They know he came here. Where he is now is a big question -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sheila MacVicar in Damascus, with the latest. We'll be checking back with you, as well. The news from the president of the United States, some positive signs coming from the Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Assad. They're beginning to get the message, the president said.

Let's move to Baghdad now. That's where CNN's Nic Robertson is standing by on a day where there are further indications that stability may be getting a little bit closer to the Iraqi capital. What's the latest in Baghdad, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today, Easter Sunday, a day for the celebration for the Christians in Iraq. They make up some 3 percent of the community here. About 700,000 Christians in Iraq. Some of them went to churches for mass services today. Many of them expressing concerns about that lack of stability and security, but also expressing much longer-term concerns, concerns about the political direction that the country may be taking, concern that Shia Muslim community leaders, religious leaders are beginning to put out a political voice and that is a political voice of dominance, a voice that says perhaps they would like to have an Islamic theocracy in Iraq. They would like Iraq to be ruled by a Shia leader, and of course, the Christians, being such a small community here, are very concerned about that.

Under Saddam Hussein's regime, the country was run in a secular manner; the Christians felt relatively safe. They didn't have a particularly good political voice like any of the communities in Iraq. It was dominated by the Baath Party, but they did at least feel safe. Now they say they are concerned about the new political direction Iraq could be heading in.

And that was something Ahmed Chalabi, a returning political exile to Iraq, has voiced in an interview today, saying that he believes -- and he is a pro-U.S. -- pro-U.S. political leader returning to Iraq -- he says in his view no political -- no religious group should have the dominant political voice here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AHMED CHALABI, IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS: There is a role for the Islamic religious parties, including the Shia religious parties, because they have some constituency, but they are not going to be forcing any agenda or forcing a theocracy on the Iraqi people. They will be -- they are committed to being part of the electoral process and they are committed to be a part of the democratic process in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: The Shia Muslims here make up 60 percent of the community in Iraq. They have turned to their religious leaders to find support and guidance at this time, and this is a huge, hugely important anniversary in their religious calendar right now. Many of the Shia Muslims marching on a pilgrimage to their holy town of Karbala, just south of Baghdad. They will gather there, perhaps in the millions, on Wednesday.

What's significant about that pilgrimage this year is that under Saddam Hussein's rule they could not walk to Karbala, and they are walking from all over the country. Many of them walking barefoot, and when they gather there, they will hear from their religious leaders, but likely they will begin to hear the political voices coming from those leaders.

We're also likely to see, or it may be hidden from view, but there will likely be political tensions, religious tensions under a banner -- sort of hidden under a banner of unity when these -- when all the Shia Muslims gather in Karbala on Wednesday this week. There are tensions within that community, as different religious schools jockey for position. They are trying to maintain unity, because they believe that is their root to political power, and that is what many of their religious leaders aspire to at this time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Baghdad. We'll be checking back with you in the next hour as well, maybe earlier if there are significant developments on the streets of the Iraqi capital. Thanks very much.

We heard the president of the United States say just a few minutes ago that the liberation of Iraq will make the world more peaceful. He also said Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. That means the Iraqi people are better off today than they used to be only a month or so ago.

A swift military victory for coalition forces, but is the United States poised to win the peace in Iraq? We'll get insight on the major challenges that still lay ahead from the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the former Defense Secretary William Cohen, and the former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

LATE EDITION, "The New Iraq," will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have waged this war with determination and with clarity of purpose. And we will see it through till the job is done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush commenting on the progress of the war in Iraq during a White House Rose Garden ceremony earlier in the week.

Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION, "The New Iraq."

For the United States the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime may have been, relatively speaking at least, the easy part. Now the work begins to restore order and stability and try to establish a new democratic government in Iraq.

Joining us now with perspective on the diplomatic, military, security challenges facing a new Iraq and the United States are three distinguished guests: in Connecticut, the former secretary of state, Dr. Henry Kissinger; here in Washington, the former defense secretary, William Cohen; and also here in Washington, the former national security adviser, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Gentlemen, welcome to LATE EDITION.

And, Dr. Kissinger, let me begin with you. You are the elderstatesman of this group, after all. With Saddam Hussein still on the loose, if in fact he is alive, and still no evidence that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, can the U.S., can the Bush administration declare victory?

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I think the Bush administration can declare victory when it is in a position to move toward the establishment of civil order, and I think it has reached that point. It hasn't achieved civil order yet, but it is in a position to do so.

The weapons of mass destruction are a secondary issue from that point of view, and I expect that they will be found.

BLITZER: What about that, Dr. Brzezinski?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I think one has to differentiate between a military victory and a political victory. The political victory will come by stages within Iraq, within the region, more widely in our relations with the allies.

As far as the weapons of mass destruction are concerned, that is a problem because, obviously, if he had them in any significant fashion, he would have used them. They would have been deployed with his troops. So the most we can hope for is we'll find some arsenals that were hidden for some purpose but strangely not used in the course of the war.

BLITZER: Well, he didn't use them during the first Gulf War a dozen years ago because of the threats that were made by the then first Bush administration that the U.S. might even use nuclear weapons in response. Maybe he was deterred this time, as well.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes, but that would then show that deterrence did work.

BLITZER: So, in other words, you're skeptical that he did have significant quantities?

BRZEZINSKI: Yes, I am skeptical that he had significant amounts of weapons of mass destruction. I think he had some components, perhaps he had some weapons, like chemical weapons, which really aren't weapons of mass destruction, but he clearly didn't have them deployed with his troops.

BLITZER: What about that?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, we don't know whether Saddam himself was killed on that decapitation strike in the very first instance and whether there was a loss of command and control. There are a variety of reasons that could explain this.

But I think the important thing to remember is that security and stability is critical, as Dr. Kissinger was saying. But not of secondary importance is the finding of those weapons of mass destruction.

I am convinced that he has them. I saw evidence back in 1998 when we would see the inspectors being barred from gaining entry into a warehouse for three hours with trucks rule rolling up and then moving those trucks out.

I am absolutely convinced that there are weapons. We will find them. It may take some time, but it is of political importance that we do so. That was the central justification for going into Iraq in the first instance.

BLITZER: All right, we're just getting started. We have a lot more to talk about. We're going to take a quick break, though. Much more to discuss with Henry Kissinger, William Cohen and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

We're also looking for your phone calls. We'll check the latest developments when LATE EDITION, "The New Iraq," returns.

ANNOUNCER: Time now for our Picture of the Week, a face from the new Iraq. Twelve-year-old Ali Ismael Abbas lost his arms, as well as his family, in the bombings near Baghdad. The Iraqi boy, who was also badly burned, is being treated in Kuwait. Doctors say his condition is improving.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION, "The New Iraq." We're continuing our conversation with the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the former Defense Secretary William Cohen and the former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Dr. Kissinger, how long will U.S. troops, serious numbers of U.S. troops, have to remain in Iraq? KISSINGER: I think they'll have to remain at least a couple of years, because it will be necessary to establish a government and to help to protect that government against people who are trying to overthrow the system that is emerging.

BLITZER: When you say a couple of years, U.S. troops have been in Germany and Japan for decades, since the end of World War II. Why won't they be in Iraq for decades?

KISSINGER: Well, I don't think they can be in Iraq for decades because of the environment of the Islamic world. But I think it's likely that they will stay longer than two years. They've been staying in Bosnia for six years, and that was a simpler problem.

But we should try to get other countries to join us so that it does not appear like an American occupation but that other countries are sharing the responsibilities and not making it look as if it were the exercise of one individual country.

BLITZER: Dr. Brzezinski...

KISSINGER: ... one individual, non-Muslim country.

BLITZER: ... is it a good idea to let the U.N. just take charge of peace-keeping in Iraq and let the U.S. sort of withdraw? Or maybe even NATO, give NATO that responsibility?

BRZEZINSKI: I don't think we can move just from one arrangement to another. We may transition to it gradually by phases. But the key point, one that Henry just made, namely that the sooner that we internationalize the longer we will be able to stay, I think is a very valid one.

Unlike Europe, unlike Japan or unlike Bosnia and Kosovo, the population, at best, has very mixed attitudes toward United States. And the longer we stay along, the sooner we'll become the objects of hostility and even attacks.

BLITZER: Why shouldn't they be grateful to the United States for liberating them from Saddam Hussein?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, they may be grateful for liberation from Saddam, but they're not grateful for the bombing, for the casualties. They don't like the presence of Americans on their soil. Incidentally, the same is the problem in Saudi Arabia.

So the sooner we defuse our presence, camouflage it in some respects and then terminate it, the better.

BLITZER: Do you think that the U.S. should also let the U.N. inspectors, Dr. Hans Blix, come in, Secretary Cohen, and take charge of the search for weapons of mass destruction under the assumption that if the U.S. finds something, then it could be suspect in the eyes of some, could have been planted theoretically?

COHEN: I think the U.N. inspectors can have a role to play, but, frankly, it's been pointed out the discovery of these weapons are going to come about by virtue of Iraqi personnel who have been, quote, "liberated." They will lead either the U.S. forces in conjunction with some of the U.N. inspectors or alone to these sites.

I think they can play a role to give credibility to it. But it's going to be the U.S., for the foreseeable future, helping to stabilize and also to question the Iraqi scientists.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, do you have thoughts on that, who should be in charge of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, Hans Blix or General Tommy Franks?

KISSINGER: I think General Tommy Franks. It's an absurdity to let Hans Blix, who has failed over 10 years of the inspection systems, that has not succeeded over 10 years, now to become the final judge of whether weapons of mass destruction have been found.

These weapons will be found because former members of the regime will tell us where they are. And the former members of the regime, obviously, did not tell Blix and his team where they are, so it would be purely symbolic gesture to let these people in.

And it would really be a device by which the process which led to the frustration and stalemate on the Security Council prior to the war be repeated. So, I'm not very anxious -- I think it's a bad idea to let the U.N. inspectors back in.

BLITZER: All right. Dr. Brzezinski, can you respond to that?

But also respond to what the president said this week about lifting economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. since the invasion of Kuwait, lifting those economic sanctions as quickly as possible. Listen to what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Emergency supplies are now moving freely to Iraq from many countries. Now that Iraq is liberated, the United Nations should lift economic sanctions on that country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You think the president is right, they should immediately lift all economic sanctions against Iraq?

BRZEZINSKI: I have no problem with the lifting of economic sanctions. I do think, however, it is very important to try to create some international legitimization for the existing political status quo in Iraq, which is obviously quite abnormal.

We have a military occupation. We have, at best, an incipient Iraqi administration. And I think it is in our interest to create, as soon as possible, some vestiges of international legality and involve others in the process, which goes beyond the question of sanctions.

There will have to be a lot of money spent on the reconstruction. Obviously it is not in our interest that we pay for all of it. So we have to engage the international community.

BLITZER: Before we get off Iraq and move to Syria, I want to ask you, Secretary Cohen, this whole issue of Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress. He's now in Baghdad. He's establishing himself as a figure in a post-Saddam region.

He spoke out earlier today on ABC's This Week. I want you to listen to what he said about a U.S. military presence in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHALABI: A military presence of the United States in Iraq must be -- is a necessity until at least the first democratic election is held. And I think this process should take two years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Ahmad Chalabi is a favorite of many at the Pentagon, some at the White House, not at the State Department, not at the CIA.

You dealt with him when you were at the Pentagon, to a certain degree. Is he the guy?

COHEN: The question is not whether the State Department or the CIA or anyone else likes him. The question is whether the Iraqi people like him.

I think he is entitled to go back to Iraq, as he has, to establish himself. If he wishes to run for political office, he should do so. There should be no anointing on the part of the United States. This is a decision for the Iraqi people and not for us to make for them.

So, if he can establish his roots that were deep at one point, but he has been in this country and elsewhere for many, many years, then he should be able to run for election.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, the president, we just heard here on CNN Live just a few minutes ago, said the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Asad is beginning to get the message, he said. There are some positive signs coming from Damascus.

I guess a lot of people are beginning to take the president much more seriously in the aftermath of the speedy victory in Iraq. Do you think the Syrians will come clean now?

KISSINGER: Well, the president has done everything he said he would do in the war of terror. So, I think countries are well advised to take him seriously.

What we want from the Syrians is that they don't give shelter to Iraqi leaders that become refugees there, that they do something about the Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist groups in the Bekaa Valley, and that they participate in the peace process with Israel. And I think we can achieve all of these objectives. BLITZER: You think that Syria is ready to, in effect, bite the bullet and sever its relationship with groups the State Department, Dr. Brzezinski, calls terrorist groups, like Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, these groups, and end that kind of support for those kinds of terror organizations?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all, let's not forget that in the '90-'91 war, Syria was on our side. Syria has not been a close friend of Saddam Hussein nor of his regime in Iraq. I think the Syrians now perceive the new political realities in the Middle East.

They also, I think, expect that we will be seriously engaged in the peace process. I think they're counting on that. And therefore, their willingness to be forthcoming is related to a larger view of what's going to be happening in the Middle East.

And if we do the things we said we plan to do -- not only regarding Iraq, but regarding the region as a whole, and particularly the Arab-Palestinian issue or the Israeli-Arab issue more generally -- then I think the Syrians would be cooperative.

BLITZER: What do you think about that whole Syrian -- because there's been some who say Syria should be next on the U.S. military agenda, although most people think that is unlikely at any time in the near future.

COHEN: Well, I think the Syrians certainly have an interest in not providing safe haven to terrorist groups or individuals, and they would be wise to turn them over, should they arrive in Damascus.

But I think we should pause here and consolidate this victory, so to speak, and say that we have liberated the people of Iraq, but we've got a lot of work to do, and not line someone else up in the gun sights at this moment.

I think we can bring that about by persuasion. I think there is a interest on the part of Syria, and as Dr. Brzezinski has also indicated, to wrap that up in the context of what Dr. Kissinger was saying, is that President Bush has fulfilled everything he said he would do.

The next thing he must do is to get the Middle East peace process back on track. If that is the case, I think you will find Syria more than willing to at least discuss these issues, which have been so perplexing for so long.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, nobody knows more about the Israeli- Palestinian peace process than you do. You struggled with it for decades.

Abu Mazan Mahmoud Abbas, the new prime minister-designate of the Palestinian Authority, is he the man who could reach a deal, a peace deal with Ariel Sharon, the prime minister of Israel?

KISSINGER: Well, he's the one on whom we're counting and the regions to have some confidence in him. The problem will be how to get the process started and to get some momentum.

And we should be careful. I've looked at some of these proposals, and there are too many moving parts. I think the negotiating process has to be reduced to a few simple propositions. But I believe the opportunity for progress is better than it has been in years.

BLITZER: I'm going to give you the last word, Dr. Brzezinski. This road map that Dr. Kissinger is talking about, three years to final settlement, an independent Palestinian state, is that overly ambitious right now?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, actually my fear is that it's underambitious, because a lot of negative things can happen in that part of the world in the course of three years.

But if we become seriously engaged, backed by the international community, but particularly the United States is seriously engaged, I think we can move both the Israelis and the Palestinians in the direction of peace, and perhaps it'll accelerate.

BLITZER: And do you see the administration seriously engaged right now?

BRZEZINSKI: I think the administration probably is not seriously engaged right now, but I think, if it wishes to engage the rest of the international community in the Middle East, and particularly in the reconstruction efforts of Iraq, it'll have to consider their interests.

And the Europeans, after all, are very close to the Middle East, and they desperately need genuine progress toward peace, particularly between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

BLITZER: We're going to leave it right there. Dr. Brzezinski, as usual, thank you very much. Secretary Cohen, Secretary Kissinger, always good to have all three of you on our program. Thanks very much for joining us.

Just ahead, with the French president, Jacques Chirac, having led the fierce opposition to war against Iraq, what will it take for the United States and France to forge a post-war partnership? We'll talk with France's ambassador to the United States, Jean-David Levitte, when LATE EDITION, "The New Iraq," returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The White House on a beautiful sunny day here in the nation's capital.

Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION.

If the debate that preceded the war with Iraq created a major rift between the United States and France, differences over post-war plans are now raising additional concerns about the Franco-American relationship. Joining us now, France's ambassador to the United States, Jean- David Levitte.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to LATE EDITION.

We know that the president spoke with your president, Jacques Chirac, this week. Did they establish, re-establish some sort of relationship?

JEAN-DAVID LEVITTE, FRENCH AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: I think so. I think so. It was a good conversation, positive. We may differ, and we differed on the war, but now we have to think positive and to think about what we should do together in the future in Iraq, for the peace process in the Middle East and, of course, also for the world economy.

You know that France will host, the beginning of June, the G-8 Summit.

BLITZER: In Evian, and the president of the United States will attend that summit.

LEVITTE: Yes.

BLITZER: And will he have an opportunity to have some private meetings with President Chirac, as well?

LEVITTE: Certainly, yes.

BLITZER: OK, let's talk about France's position before. You've seen the pictures of Iraqis celebrating the end of Saddam Hussein's regime, the toppling of that statue of Saddam Hussein.

Second thoughts in your government on the position that you had going into the war -- are there second thoughts now?

LEVITTE: The end of a dictatorship is always good news for all democracies.

We were against this war because we thought it was not necessary to disarm Iraq. We could have done that peacefully. And we thought that it would set a bad precedent in terms of preemptive war.

But that's the past, and let's turn this bitter page and let's work together for the future.

BLITZER: So what is France ready to do now to help the United States, Britain, Australia, Poland, the other countries that were directly involved in the coalition of the willing, as it was called by the president, what is France ready to contribute to a post-Saddam Iraq?

LEVITTE: Well, first, we have to work in the Security Council in a positive way, and I don't expect too many difficulties.

President Bush has said that we must lift the sanctions. Nobody object to that, of course. But don't forget that these sanctions were imposed because there were the programs of arms of mass destruction, so we have to get a solution about that.

And there is also the humanitarian aid. We worked together a few days ago to renew the oil-for-food program. We have to think about the future of the humanitarian aid.

We have proposed, also, to have in France some of the wounded in Iraq, and we have already sent humanitarian aid to that country.

BLITZER: What about peacekeeping role? Is France prepared to send peacekeepers to help out in some sort of new regime to create stability there?

LEVITTE: This was not discussed, and we'll see if it is discussed. But what is important, I agree with you, Wolf, is to be together, to help the Iraqi people to bring to their devastated country democracy, and also to stabilize the whole Middle East.

BLITZER: What about the whole issue of the debt that the Iraqi government, the Iraqis, owe France? The president seems to think that this is an opportunity now to forgive that debt and to wipe it clean and move on. Is that something acceptable to France?

LEVITTE: It was discussed in the G-7 Ministerial Meeting, and there are procedures to take care of these problems -- the Paris Club on debt and so on. So I think that in the coming weeks and months we'll discuss that, and we are prepared to participate fully in this discussion.

BLITZER: Do you think that France is going to suffer now because contracts for rebuilding Iraq, for example the oil industry, are going to go to U.S. companies, and French firms are basically going to be shut out of it?

LEVITTE: I don't think so. I see Iraq reconstruction not as a cake to be shared, but as a burden. It is a burden. To rebuild Iraq will be very costly, probably in the tens of billions of dollars each year. And we are ready to participate, take our share of the burden, not of the cake.

BLITZER: So you're ready to compete for some of those contracts?

LEVITTE: Well, there will be a competition. This competition must be a fair one, but it will be costly, costly for everybody.

And I guess that the American taxpayer is not willing to take the whole burden on their shoulders, so let's spread the burden and let's work together to rebuild Iraq.

BLITZER: You've got an enormous challenge now to rebuild France's image, at least with big chunks of the American population, but I know you're confident you can do that.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

LEVITTE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Given the historic relationship between France and the United States...

LEVITTE: Of course.

BLITZER: ... I'm sure the relationship will eventually bounce back.

LEVITTE: Of course, Wolf. We've been friends and allies for more than 200 years. We were side by side with your soldiers in the early days of your independence. You saved us two times last century, and we will never forget that.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much.

LEVITTE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up in the next hour of LATE EDITION, as tensions remain between the United States and Syria, we'll talk with the United States congressman who's just met with Syria's president today.

Then, two leading senators assess whether the United States or the U.N. should take the lead in a post-war Iraq. We'll talk with military experts, as well, about the challenges facing U.S. troops still in Iraq.

That and much more. Our LATE EDITION, "The New Iraq," will return in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is a special LATE EDITION, "The New Iraq."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: There is no list. There is no war plan right now to go attack someone else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But allegations against Syria are escalating. We'll ask Congressman Darrell Issa what he learned in his meeting with the Syrian president, Bashar al-Asad.

Then...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We will finish what we have begun. We will press on until our mission is finished and victory is complete.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush promises a new Iraq. Will the U.S. get help from the U.N.? And will the administration find its smoking gun? We'll get perspective from two top senators: Republican Arlen Specter and Democrat Dick Durbin.

Major combat in Iraq is over, but the military's job isn't done. How many troops will it take to keep the peace? We'll get analysis from two experts: former NATO Supreme Commander, retired General Wesley Clark, and retired Army Brigadier General David Grange.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

We'll go to Baghdad; Crawford, Texas; and Jerusalem in just a few minutes. But first, let's go to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield with the headlines at this hour.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush addressed the war in Iraq, the standoff with Syria and his domestic agenda after meeting with former POWs in Fort Hood, Texas. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is joining us now live from Crawford, Texas, that's about 40 or 50 miles away. Suzanne, the president has made some news, first of all, when it comes to Syria?

MALVEAUX: Yes, he did, Wolf. As you mentioned before, he spent this Easter Sunday with those POWs, Officer Williams and Young in Ft. Hood, Texas. But also, really, the message from the president today very positive, despite the fact that Australia's foreign minister, Alexander Downer, said that they are preparing to make a sort of declaration of victory in the next couple of days in the war against Iraq. The president is saying that no, the war is not over. He says that that determination is going to be made by General Tommy Franks, the man on the ground inside of Iraq.

But he said also to make no mistake that Saddam Hussein's regime is no longer a threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. That's for certain. He was in power and now he is not, and therefore the Iraqi people's lives will be much better off. Other than that, I don't know, we'll just have to see.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: If he is alive, I would suggest he not pop his head up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And the president, Wolf, as you had mentioned, already indicating that the success in Iraq is also translating to successes possibly with Syria over the last week. The administration calling for Syria to turn over officials from Saddam Hussein's regime who they believe have fled across the border. They have already seen some positive signs, closing that border by Syrian officials, as well as tightening their visa restrictions. These, the president emphasizes, were actually positive first steps towards Syria cooperating.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: They're getting the message that they should not harbor Baath Party officials, high ranking Iraqi officials. A lot of other countries have also sent that message. As you know, Secretary Powell will be going to visit with the Syrians, and it seems like they're beginning to get the message. And when we think there's somebody there or know somebody's there, we, of course, will pass on the name and fully expect the Syrian government to hand the person over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, the president also mentioned the situation in North Korea, sounding positive about that as well, despite some language from Pyongyang just days ago indicating, perhaps even suggesting that it was moving closer to developing nuclear weapons. The president praising those leaders, China, as well as South Korea and Japan, saying they all believe it should be a nuclear-free region. He specifically talked about China's Jiang Zemin as being instrumental at bringing those talks to the table. Those talks still on schedule, planned for some time this week, with U.S. officials, those from North Korea, as well as the Chinese -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, with the latest. But before I let you go, Suzanne, quick question. The president obviously trying to translate his success in Iraq to domestic agenda that he has, especially the economy. He spoke a little bit about that as well?

MALVEAUX: And actually, Wolf, he seemed a bit frustrated with that, saying that he's taken aback by reports that suggest he can only do one thing at a time. Of course, he's referring to the fact that not only is his administration dealing with the war in Iraq and reconstruction, but the domestic agenda. He said that he was focusing on modernizing Medicare, as well as his jobs and growth plan. That is something we are going to see in the weeks to come, really kind of almost a campaign blitz like, if you will. He is going to be doing some traveling, as well as his White House aides really pushing for that tax cut plan. He is trying for $550 billion to get through Congress. Initially, it was much, much more -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much for that report. We'll be checking back with you, obviously, throughout the day.

Let's go to Baghdad now. That's where our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is standing by. Nic, the president also said, among other things, Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, and as a result, the Iraqi people are better off. Do people in Baghdad, can they quibble with that, are they disputing that?

ROBERTSON: They don't dispute that. What they do say, however, is that they want electricity, they want water, they want the shops to open again, they want security, they want stability. They certainly don't quibble with the fact that if they have these things, then their life without Saddam Hussein is much better. Those freedoms and liberties, we're beginning to see people exercise those freedoms.

Today, for example, we are seeing thousands of Shia Muslims begin an annual pilgrimage to their holy town of Karbala, just south of Baghdad.

Now, under Saddam Hussein's regime, they weren't allowed to make this pilgrimage. Now, thousands of them are marching. Millions are actually expected to congregate in Karbala on Wednesday this week. Many of the faithful marching -- marching barefoot. And this was absolutely forbidden under Saddam Hussein's regime.

So the freedoms they exercise, but the freedoms are also being exercised to give voice to religious leaders and for political expression. And we are beginning to hear, particularly from the Shia community, a message coming from their religious leaders, a political message, saying that they, the Shia community, want to run Iraq. They want a religions Iraq. They want an Islamic state.

Now, what we're hearing from some of the exiled politicians who are returning to Iraq, politicians who have yet to really build a ground base of support here, politicians who are trying to get their voices heard. We've heard from one of those senior returning exiles, Ahmed Chalabi, saying that he believes Iraq in the new government should be represented by all of the elements of the community here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHALABI: There are various strategies for doing this. One of them is from the bottom up. Another one is from the top down. I prefer the strategy from the bottom up. I believe that people in the provinces should choose representatives for a general meeting to be held for -- and this general meeting will be chosen so that the people representing the various provinces are chosen on the basis of population, so they will represent the population in a fair way, and that general meeting will elect the Iraqi interim authority.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: But how Iraqis get from that position now of free speech and no political leaders and no government is still up for a debate. There's talk, particularly from Chalabi and others, that there should be a draft of a constitution, a vote on the constitution. The constitution would enable elections. The elections would enable a new government. That process, they say, could take as long as two years.

But one politician, another returning exile, Mohammed Mohsen Zubaidi, who's now set himself up and proclaimed himself to be the governor of Baghdad, he says he believes that that constitution that will begin to define the new government, he says that should be drawn from Islamic law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOHAMMED MOHSEN AL-ZUBAIDI, DEPUTY TO AHMAD CHALABI (through translator): The next Iraq institution emanates from the Islamic Shariat, and no one can argue with this, since the majority of Iraqis are Muslims.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTSON: Now, perhaps the community in Iraq that feels that it has most to fear is the minority Christian community here. Now, they were at church today, celebrating Sunday mass, celebrating Easter services, as were many Christians around the world.

The concerns they have, like everybody in Iraq, security, stability, electricity, water. Their long term concerns, though, that their political voice, not that it was strong under Saddam Hussein, but their political voice will go unheard, that their standing in the community will fall, because they say at least under Saddam Hussein it was a secular country, we had stability and we had security and the knowledge that the Christian community would not be ostracized, would not be picked upon, and that is their concern at this time. We haven't seen yet any real politicians emerge from their community to champion their causes at this time, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic, update our viewers, I know they are very interested -- very briefly, on the situation involving looting, electricity and water.

ROBERTSON: No electricity. The power station, I noticed today, which is going to feed the fuel to the power station, the fire was burning atop of the Al-Doura (ph) power station south of Baghdad. That is going to be a good sign for the people in Baghdad. That means electricity could be soon. They still don't have that. Water is still in short supply, food is in short supply.

Security, yes, there are a number of police back out on the streets. But I drove down the road from the hotel, just one mile from the hotel, people on the side of the street diverting us away from a major traffic intersection, telling us to go under the underpass. They said, the reason, that there was a gun battle going on at this major traffic intersection, a gun battle between different groups of looters. So that gives you some sense of the chaos that still exists here. It's not about all the time, but it is still there, still dangerous, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nic Robertson, we'll be checking back with you throughout the day. Nic Robertson, our man in Baghdad. Thanks very much.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Christians and Jews are marking an Easter and Passover marred by violence amid questions about a new road map for peace in the region. CNN's Jerrold Kessel has more now from Jerusalem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The aftermath of the major Israeli military action in Raffah (ph), peak of a violent Palestinian-Israeli weekend. So far.

Among five Palestinians killed here, a 15-year-old boy. Scores were wounded, most of them non-combatants.

The army, which reported one soldier killed and three wounded, said there had been fierce resistance when tanks went in to crank down on Hamas militants. Three homes were blown up. Tunnels through which the radical groups smuggled weapons from Egypt uncovered. Raffah (ph) lies right on Gaza's border with Egypt.

A rocket fired by radical Palestinians from northern Gaza struck an apartment block in an Israeli town. Damage was slight. No casualties.

Earlier, Israeli settlers blew up a sizable bomb, and one of three would-be suicide bombings within 48 hours, which Israel says had been foiled at source.

And also, in the West Bank, a bloody incident on Saturday in the narrow alleys of Nablus' Casbah, involving Israeli troops, Palestinian gunmen and youths.

(on camera): The violence is a backdrop to a major political drama that's unfolding right now within the Palestinian leadership. There is a full-blown showdown between Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Abu Mazen. Abu Mazen stormed out of a meeting and is, according to well-placed Palestinian sources, even to be thinking of resigning.

(voice-over): A dramatic struggle not eclipsed by the violence. A power struggle rooted in Mr. Arafat's bid to retain a degree of power, especially over who should control the Palestinian security forces.

There are tactical differences, too. Yasser Arafat wanting Israel first to withdraw from Palestinian towns and show Palestinians it's taking new peace moves seriously. Abu Mazen, on the other hand, is understood to be ready to confront Palestinian militants right away, and in that way, to give negotiations a fighting chance of success.

This Palestinian argument is critical, because the United States and Britain have said they will proceed with the long awaited road map for a Palestinian-Israeli peace only after the new Palestinian government is in place.

Should that not happen by Wednesday's deadline and the violence go on unchecked, it would be a major blow for those who see progress to Palestinian-Israeli peace as a way of taking the heat out of Arab anger at the war in Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KESSEL: And whether, Wolf, this Palestinian question now is a question of brinkmanship or a real crisis, a real showdown could perhaps come clear over the next 48 hours. Palestinian politicking that may be very critical, not just to the future of the Palestinian Authority, but also to the nascent hopes of a beginning, at least beginning to move this conflict here from confrontation back to negotiation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jerrold, about an hour ago, we heard President Bush say that there's some positive signs coming from Damascus. They may be starting to get the message, the president said. How are the Israelis and the Palestinians reacting to this latest uproar over Syria and Syria's support allegedly for Iraqis associated with Saddam Hussein?

KESSEL: Well, the Israelis have been saying all along that they don't understand that the Syrians haven't understood the implications of the war in Iraq, and they had wanted the United States to make Syria understand the implications, and that meant not only that the Syrians are -- under President Assad should not give refuge to Iraqi fugitives from the regime of Saddam Hussein, but should make sure that it doesn't give any (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to those who are described as terrorist groups that get (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Damascus, and above all, don't give any continued support for the Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Whether that will go ahead or whether there will be some kind of accommodation between Syria and the United States now, Israeli believes and Israel hopes that Syria will become more realistic, and somehow even out of the Iraq war, there might be an opening to new kinds of peace overtures, not only between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but perhaps even down the line between Syria and Israel, if the implications of the war in Iraq are fully understood.

BLITZER: Jerrold Kessel, with the latest from Jerusalem, thanks very much, Jerrold, for that report.

Just ahead, his regime is over, but will the unknown fate of Saddam Hussein affect President Bush's post-war agenda? We'll hear from two key United States senators, Republican Arlen Specter and Democrat Dick Durbin, on our special LATE EDITION, "The New Iraq."

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Today, the world is safer. The terrorists have lost an ally. The Iraqi people are regaining control of their own destiny. These are good days for the history of freedom.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush making it clear he considers the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime a victory for democracy and the war against terrorism.

Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION.

We're joined now by two leading members of the United States Senate: in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Republican Senator Arlen Specter. He's a member of the Appropriations Committee. He's put a lot of work into this war, especially the post-war budget. And in Chicago, the Illinois Democratic senator, Dick Durbin. He serves on the Intelligence Committee, as well as others. Senators, always good to have both of you on the program.

Senator Durbin, let me ask you first: You voted against authorizing the president, giving him the green light to go to war, way back, I think it was in October. Looking back on that vote right now -- a lot of your fellow Democrats voted against the president as well -- was that a mistake, knowing what we know now?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: No, I have no second thoughts about that. I really believe that war has to be our last option.

I think the new foreign policy of this administration is one that has yet to be proven. If we are going to undertake a policy of preemption, to attack countries around the world whether they pose an imminent threat to us or not, it is a major departure from where we have been over the last half-century.

I am glad that we have seen Saddam Hussein removed. I am glad that the people of Iraq now have an opportunity for self-governance. But our responsibility will continue.

BLITZER: What about that -- let me let Senator Specter respond -- this whole notion of preemptive strikes to remove these kinds of dictators, like Saddam Hussein? The president did it this time. Is that a precedent that we should be watching for?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: With the experience of September 11th, I think we have to act when we know there is a danger. We knew that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in 1998, when Saddam kicked the United Nations out of Iraq, and I think it was appropriate to move ahead.

And I think that the decisive success that the United States has had is backing up what President Bush has done.

BLITZER: Senator Durbin, I want to you listen to what the foreign minister of Australia said earlier today, suggesting that victory is about to be declared. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: The formal proclamation will come in the next few days. There's just some tidying up going on in relation to the proclamation. Work is still being done on that, and there have been discussions between the Americans and us, and also with the British, about the exact wording of the proclamation. But it will happen in the next few days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that premature or right about course, Senator Durbin, to declare victory?

DURBIN: Well, it's certainly good news, and it reflects a fact that our military has done an outstanding job under the president's leadership. We knew they would prevail, we're glad that they did in a relatively short period of time, with the number of casualties that were reported, as sad as they are, not reaching the level that they did in the Persian Gulf War.

But make no mistake, Nic Robertson told us earlier, there's a lot more to be done in Iraq. There is no history of self-governance. There is no history of open economy. We have to try to help the Iraqi people come to grips with their future, and it's a responsibility that is going to be awesome. We just appropriated, two weeks ago, $80 billion as a downpayment toward that war and toward our effort in Iraq. Much more is going to follow.

BLITZER: Senator Specter, the retired U.S. Army general, Jay Garner, is now in charge of trying to put some sort of stability, some sort of a reconstruction to Iraq. Is he the man who can lead this interim authority between Saddam Hussein and a new, at some point down the road, democratic, stable regime in Iraq?

SPECTER: I think General Garner is the man. There is a great deal to be done.

I'm very much concerned about the issue of the United Nations removing sanctions. We have had the Russian foreign minister, in the last couple of days, say that only the U.N. inspectors can make a determination that Iraq no longer has weapons of mass destruction. And I think that's -- I think that's very disingenuous.

I believe that General Garner is in a position to move ahead. I think that what you have in reality here is a United-States-coalition- forces trusteeship. We have to make it very plain and follow through that, when we deal with Iraqi oil, we're dealing for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

But to have the Russians and the French now say that we cannot move ahead and cannot take control until the United Nations relieves the sanctions is just a little bit of sophisticated international blackmail.

BLITZER: But, Senator Specter, the United Nations Security Council imposed the sanctions. Aren't they the ones that have to remove the sanctions?

SPECTER: Well, I would like to see the U.N. have a significant role. And I would like to see the U.N.'s presence give assurance to the Arab world and to the rest of the world.

But if they're going to take a position for their own economic benefit, as you have Russia and France now doing, which they did before, in being dissenters against what the United States, Britain and the coalition forces wanted to do, they're really holding that over our head. I think it's little bit of sophisticated international blackmail.

The purpose of the sanctions are gone. Now that Saddam is gone, the weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has been demilitarized, the threat is gone, there's no reason why those sanctions should not be removed and the United States ought not to have a relatively free hand dealing in Iraq so long as it's a trusteeship for the benefit of the people of Iraq.

BLITZER: Senator Durbin, is Senator Specter right?

DURBIN: Well, I'm troubled by what appears to be an unseemly scramble for the spoils of war here. Let's keep in mind that a lot of Americans and members of our coalition have paid the ultimate sacrifice and have really shown themselves to be people of courage to bring us to this moment in time. And now to have this scramble over who is going to be first in line at the Iraqi oil, or the rebuilding of Iraq, whether it's going to include certain countries, whether it's going to include certain businesses that are friendly to this White House -- you know, the sooner we put that behind us the better.

I agree with Senator Specter, the future of Iraq should be in the hands of the people of Iraq. All of the world, with the United States leading, should come and stand behind the people of Iraq and demonstrate to the rest of the world that our goal in this struggle was not for territory or for treasure, but to give the people of Iraq a chance for freedom, a chance for self-governance and an economy that can work.

BLITZER: Senator Durbin, we heard from Senator Lugar earlier today. He's suggesting -- he's the chairman of Foreign Relations Committee, as you know -- that U.S. troops probably are going to have to stay in Iraq for about five years. That sounds like a long time.

Are you ready to support a U.S. military presence, a robust presence in Iraq for five years?

DURBIN: We have no choice. At this point in time, we have been responsible for the removal of a ruthless dictator, we have created a vacuum in Iraq, which has no history of self-governance in modern time and certainly has had an economy which has been directed by a corrupt regime, an economy now devastated by war. We have no choice but to stay to make certain that this is a stable and secure country for years to come.

And the United States is going to have a special responsibility in that. I hope others will join us. We can use their help, not only in the area of foreign assistance but to demonstrate that a coalition contains just not the war coalition but a larger coalition of the willing that may include, I hope it includes, Arab states, so that we can at least try to dissuade those who think that our motives have been selfish in what we have accomplished there.

BLITZER: We've got to take a quick break, but very briefly, Senator Specter, are you ready for a five-year military presence in Iraq?

SPECTER: I think it is too soon to make any determination or estimate as to how long we have to be there. I think the sooner we get the real estate under an Iraqi government, the sooner we turn the government back over to the Iraqis, the better off we are. So I'm not prepared to make any five-year commitments. I want to take it a step at a time, with the view to turning it back to the Iraqis at the earliest possible moment.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to ask Senators Specter and Durbin to stand by. We'll continue our conversation with them. We'll also be taking phone calls for them.

We'll check the latest developments when LATE EDITION returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION. We'll continue our conversation with Senators Arlen Specter and Dick Durbin in just a moment.

But joining us now on the phone from Doha, Qatar, is Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California. He's just met earlier in the day with the president of Syria, Bashar al-Asad.

Congressman Issa, thanks very much for calling us. And tell us briefly the gist of your conversation. Was President al-Asad ready to stop helping Iraqis who might have managed to get into Syria, for example?

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, the good news is, he said he was. We asked for and got two assurances. One is that he would not grant asylum to any Iraqi war criminal of any sort, and he went on to say, not just the deck of 55, but any. And secondly, that in fact he would expel any that he would find in the country.

BLITZER: Did he speak English with you? I'm just trying to get a sense of -- a flavor. I know he met with you and Congressman Rahall as well, Nick Rahall of West Virginia. Did he seem to represent a new generation of Syrian leaders, moving from the past of his father, Hafez al-Asad?

ISSA: Well, he's a somewhat timid man, and that's a bit of a challenge. He speaks softly. His English is excellent, but he's not always comfortable using it, so he slips in and out of it, depending upon how important he believes the answer is. In polite conversation, he speaks English. As soon as he feels he has to be understood correctly, he uses an interpreter.

You know, we had two hours and 20 minutes of dialogue, neither side talking for more than a minute or two at a time. So it was the kind of an interview where you got a lot of exchange, which is productive. The man does believe in dialogue. He is Western in that sense.

But he is surrounded -- make no bones about it, Wolf -- he's surrounded by a lot of old guard, many of whom don't get it.

BLITZER: Well, does he understand, as far as you could tell, what kind of trouble he potentially is in unless he changes some of his positions?

ISSA: I think he does. I think he's gone out of his way to try to be cooperative.

During our conversation, one of the things that he said -- and I think it was very noteworthy -- is, "Look, the British come here, and they ask about what we can do together. They tell us what their needs are, and we have a discussion. At the end of the day, we try to come to as much agreement as we can, and we get things done. The United States has tended to come to us with demands, and we have met those demands many times. But as soon as we don't meet the demands, suddenly we're not cooperating."

As you know, Syria was given appropriate credit for saving American lives. They were very good at participating in the war on terrorism and turning over al Qaeda and providing information.

They're not so forthcoming in the situation with regard to Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad. They view that as part of a comprehensive peace. We did not agree with them. Congressman Rahall echoed my statements that they need to close those offices in their country as part of an act to begin the process of the road map to peace.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to have to leave it right there.

Congressman Darrell Issa, nice of you to join us from Doha, Qatar. I know you've had an incredibly busy day, meeting for almost two and a half hours with President Bashar al-Asad in Damascus. We'll speak to you when you get back to Washington.

ISSA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Have a safe journey back.

And let's bring back Senators Arlen Specter and Dick Durbin to pick up on that specific question.

Senator Specter, you heard the president earlier today say that the Syrian president may be moving in the right direction. Let me be precise. He said, "There are some positive signs coming from Syria. They seem to be beginning to get the message."

Are you confident that this new young leader of the Syrian government, Senator Specter, is ready to clamp down, for example, on Hezbollah and other groups the State Department brands as terrorist organizations?

SPECTER: Wolf, it's been a learning curve for Bashar Asad. I've met with him three times. I've made many trips to Syria over the course of the past 15 years, almost every year. And I think that there is still very, very substantial influence by the old guard.

But I think the military success in Iraq has had a profound effect everywhere. Former President Rafsanjani of Iran is talking about a plebiscite in Iran to take up the issue of dealing with the United States. North Korea has changed. The Washington Post reports today that Hamas may voluntarily leave Damascus. That's what a Hamas leader said. I doubt very much that Hamas will do anything on a voluntary basis.

There has been a real bone of contention about Syria harboring terrorists. And President Bush has made it emphatic that anyone who harbors terrorists is guilty of terrorism themselves.

Whether, at this point, Syria will take the next step really remains to be seen. But it's the best climate, the best opportunity in modern times.

BLITZER: And let me pick up that point with Senator Durbin.

You're a member of the Intelligence Committee. The CIA recently issued a study suggesting -- and I'll put it up on the screen -- Syria has a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin and is trying to develop more toxic and persistent nerve agents.

Sounds very familiar to what they used to say about Iraq.

DURBIN: It's such a mixed bag when it comes to Syria. Right after September 11th, we were shocked and surprised, pleasantly surprised, that they came forward and volunteered their intelligence sources to help fight the war on terrorism. They were supportive of the United States, years ago, in the Persian Gulf War. They voted with us in the United Nations Security Council for the first important resolution.

So there's been some evidence that they're moving toward a more cooperative position with the United States. But as Senator Specter and others have said, you look at the history of Syria, it's history of harboring international terrorist organizations in Damascus, of sending its army to occupy southern Lebanon and harass Israel. It's really not the kind of conduct which we can countenance as part of a peaceful future for the Middle East.

This Bashar Asad has a moment in time, a moment in history, that he can seize. And if he seizes it correctly and moves his country forward in a peaceful and modern path, I think it will help to bring peace to the region.

BLITZER: And do you have confidence right now that President Bush can move Syria in the right direction, Senator Durbin?

DURBIN: Well, I think that we are, with our position in Iraq, certainly going to be mindful of our proximity to Syria. And I think Syria will be mindful of it as well.

What we do in Iraq, incidentally -- much like what happened when the fall of the Soviet Union occurred -- what we demonstrate in Iraq, in terms of self-governance and a progressive economy and improvement in quality of life, I think will be a standard across the Middle East that was going to cause change in many of these countries, as much as the military action might have.

BLITZER: Senator Durbin and Senator Specter, thanks to both of you for joining us on our special LATE EDITION.

SPECTER: Nice to be with you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Always good to have both of you on this program.

DURBIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, they were waging battles. Now they're trying to keep the peace. We'll talk with two generals about what U.S. troops are now facing in Iraq.

Our special LATE EDITION, "The New Iraq," will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION.

Joining us now for some insight on the military success, as well as the potential obstacles in trying to keep the peace, are two military experts: in Little Rock, Arkansas, the former NATO supreme allied commander, retired General Wesley Clark; and in Madison, Wisconsin, retired U.S. Army Brigadier General David Grange, both CNN military analysts.

Gentlemen -- Generals, I should say, welcome back to LATE EDITION. I guess you can be a general and gentleman at the same time.

First to you, General Clark, who is best equipped right now for peace-keeping duties in Iraq?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think that the armed forces are very well- equipped for this. I mean, most of the men who have been over there, and women, have had some experience in previous operations, in Haiti, in Bosnia, in Kosovo. You can't believe the turnover we've had, the through-put of this.

And this experience builds up inside the armed forces so the people do know how to do checkpoints and reassure people. And we've got some very good soldier diplomats in there on the ground.

BLITZER: And does that mean, General Clark, the United States doesn't need help from the U.N. or from NATO, for example, to help in peace-keeping?

CLARK: Well, I would think we would want help from both the U.N. and NATO, first, because we want to share the burdens of this. We'd like to have enough people in there to really do the job right the first time and get the information out, do the humanitarian assistance, help with the reconstruction, assure we've got civic order and stability out there. And all of Iraq is quite large, and so I would think we would welcome NATO forces in there.

And in addition, it would seem to me that the U.N. mantle over this would be an important assist in gaining legitimacy and enabling us to stay there and remain engaged without arousing so much hostility from some of the local residents.

BLITZER: We're now reporting, General Grange, our Barbara Starr over at the Pentagon, that the U.S. is, indeed, the military at the Pentagon, looking, at least in the short term, to keep a presence, at least four strategically located air bases in Iraq. You'll see them up on our screen right now.

It looks like those air bases could be significant in the short term, maybe even beyond that. What do you make of this development first reported in the New York Times, confirmed now by our Barbara Starr?

GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the bases are part of, I think, a longer military presence on the ground as well. It's going to take a while to transition to this reconstruction phase in Iraq, establishing a market economy, the rule of law, those type of things. And so, there's going to be military presence for a while to maintain the security required for those things.

But also, if something happened in the region, it provides the U.S. or British or other coalition forces a very short-legged reach to other objectives, if need be.

BLITZER: And does it mean, General Grange, that the U.S. could begin to now withdraw from other strategic bases in the region, specifically referring to Saudi Arabia?

GRANGE: Well, you know, Wolf, I think you're going to see in the future -- and many people have talked about this -- how far it'll go, it's hard to say right now -- but maybe a shift in where forward- deployed U.S. forces are located around the globe, where new locations are established, in areas that may be more significant to have our forces close to, to respond rapidly. I think you're going to see that within the next decade, some change throughout the world on that.

BLITZER: I want to pick up that specific point with General Clark, but we're going to take a quick break. Much more of our conversation with Generals Clark and Grange. They'll also be taking phone calls.

LATE EDITION, "The New Iraq," will return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A burial Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery for a member of the U.S. military who died in the war in Iraq. Despite a quick victory, 127 service members lost their lives during the conflict.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We're continuing our discussion with the former NATO supreme allied commander, General Wesley Clark, and the retired U.S. Army Brigadier General David Grange, both CNN military analysts.

Is it too early, General Clark, to start thinking about changing a U.S. military presence throughout the region, whether in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, obviously now Iraq, Turkey, as a result of what's happened?

CLARK: Well, Wolf, it's not too early to start thinking about it. I'm sure that people inside the Pentagon have been thinking about it throughout this process.

But I think it's too early to make any definitive commitments on it, because you're going to want a military presence there that can meet the security needs of the region and the United States, and that's a function of how, for example, how things go with Syria, what happens with Iran, do we move ahead with the Middle East peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, does Hamas voluntarily leave Damascus, does Hezbollah give up or are there increased tensions and difficulties?

And so, what you want is lots of options, and I think that's where we are right now. I do know that we're pulling down forces in Incirlik Air Base. Obviously there's no reason to be flying over northern Iraq. The northern and southern no-fly zones are history now. So maybe there'll be a requirement for less forces if things work right.

But that's all in the future. Right now it's about developing options, I believe.

BLITZER: What about, General Grange, the two big unanswered questions of this war, where is Saddam Hussein, assuming he's still I live, and where are the weapons of mass destruction? Is the U.S. military poised to deal with both of those issues right now?

GRANGE: Absolutely. There is forces designated with the top priority of finding weapons-of-mass-destruction sites, tracking down those that have dealt with WMD, as well as the top 55, whoever's left on that list.

Is it required that coalition forces kill or capture every one of those 55? Probably not. But I think, if nothing else but the perception, and then people worried about the future, is this really a change that will last forever, those personnel probably need to be run down.

BLITZER: General Grange and General Clark, I want both of you to respond to what the vice president, Dick Cheney, said only the other day.

And, General Clark, I want to remind our viewers that weeks before the war started I spoke to you, I asked you when would the war begin, you said mid-March. You were basically right on that. And I said, how long will it last? You said about two weeks. It lasted a little bit more than three weeks, so you were almost right on that.

But listen to what Dick Cheney had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the early days of the war, the plan was criticized by some retired military officers embedded in TV studios.

(LAUGHTER)

But with every day and every advance by our coalition forces, the wisdom of that plan becomes more apparent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think, first of all, General Clark, of what the vice president said?

CLARK: Well, I think it was a little bit of show business there and getting the audience on his side, Wolf. But the honest truth is that most of the generals and colonels who were on-air -- and I don't know every one of them personally -- but most of us have put our time in in the trenches.

We've been there, we've developed the force, we've worked with it. Our job was to bring commentary and help interpret the events for the American public. And by and large, I think we were extraordinarily positive and very respectful of the force, very respectful of the people who were there, the leaders.

We often said, you really can't -- you don't understand the plan, you haven't been briefed on the plan, you weren't there when it was made, it's very difficult to criticize it.

On the other hand, you do want to offer your interpretation and your judgment. And I think, by and large, it was extremely positive. So, to me, this is sort of, you know, a lot of pride in the plan looking for a way to express itself.

And just one more thing, Wolf, I don't think any of the so-called armchair generals embedded in TV studios wouldn't have volunteered and wanted to be back in uniform and over there working at whatever rank and whatever position to help that operation. And I can only speak for myself, but I sure would have.

BLITZER: I'll speak for General Grange, I think. Or let's let General Grange wrap it up.

You speak for yourself, General Grange. What do you say?

GRANGE: Well, I thought it was pretty humorous, and it was a terrific shot at the retired officers that have been involved in commentating, you know, as an analyst. But it didn't bother me whatsoever.

CLARK: I feel pretty good about our analysis, our input, our contributions, to explain things to American people as a retired veteran.

The "armchair general" comment is not too good, because that means someone that has not actually been there had done it. And most of the people on air actually have combat experience. So that's really -- "armchair" is not a good word for it. But, you know, there is a lot of criticism, but I feel OK with the people I know of, what we contributed to.

BLITZER: I think both of you, and General Shepperd, Don Shepperd, our other CNN military analyst, did an excellent job. And I'm proud to be associated with all of you. Thanks as much.

And, General Clark, you probably would have had your two-week mark right if Turkey would have cooperated, let the Fourth Infantry Division go in from the north. It probably would have been over in two weeks instead of three weeks.

But we're all just armchair generals, I guess, speculating about all of this right now.

(LAUGHTER)

Thanks to both of you for joining us. Appreciate it very much.

We have much more coming up, our third hour of our special LATE EDITION. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is LATE EDITION, "The New Iraq."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Our work is not done. The difficulties have not passed. But the regime of Saddam Hussein has passed into history.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The U.S. claims victory, but a new tape raises new questions. Is Saddam Hussein dead or alive? And where are Iraq's weapons of mass destruction?

We'll ask former U.S. acting ambassador to Iraq, Joseph Wilson, and former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Patrick Lang.

And our Bruce Morton defends the freedom to argue.

Then, fast-paced talk, Sunday style.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

PETER BEINART, NEW REPUBLIC: The minute there wasn't a realistic threat of war, we go right back to where we were between 1998 and 2002.

ROBERT GEORGE, NEW YORK POST: It's almost less as to whether Saddam Hussein gets voted off the island. It's really now which of the alliances gets humiliated. DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Did reassure many American citizens who are quite skeptical of this war? No, I don't think he did.

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: Our, quote, unquote, "allies" on the Security Council who wanted to know that Bush was serious and was going to stick to his guns, so to speak.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: LATE EDITION's Final Round, no punches pulled.

Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION, "The New Iraq." We'll go live to Baghdad, as well as get expert analysis on the search for Saddam Hussein and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, in just a few minutes. But first, here's CNN's Fredricka Whitfield with the hour's headlines.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get a live update now from Baghdad. CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is standing by there, following all the latest developments. Nic, what's the mood? What's happening in the Iraqi capital right now?

ROBERTSON: Well, some changes today, Wolf. The U.S. Army, members of the 3rd Infantry Division, working with Iraqi police, at least about 400 former Iraqi police back on the streets, working with the 3rd Infantry Division.

Now, what we have seen as different from recent days, they are beginning to make some arrests. Some 106 looters and other lawbreakers have been arrested. What's happening to them, they're being put in jail, but that jail term, 24 hours, 48 hours and then they are being released, because there is no court system here. People are not going in front of a judge, but they are getting locked up. The message is getting out that looting needs to stop and security and stability need to be restored to the city.

But the looting does still continue. And what we've seen today at the Atachi (ph) military barracks about 25 miles north of Baghdad, and many people may remember this large military barracks as the place where the Iraqis just before the war were destroying their Al Samoud 2 missiles. Well, CNN correspondent Rym Brahimi went there today. She saw many looters still going into this massive military complex, stealing ammunition, taking it away from that military barracks.

And what we have seen around Baghdad -- I was traveling outside of the city late yesterday afternoon -- just about 25 miles from the center of the city on the west side of Baghdad, a market, an impromptu market set up at the side of the road. What the people were selling there wasn't just the looted generators, looted sports shoes, track suits. They were selling guns, Kalashnikovs, Hechler (ph) and Colt automatic weapons. People literally standing at the side of the road, testing the weapons, trying them out. The market opening up here for everything that's looted, but it has to be a worry for those trying to bring stability and security that so many guns are still out there on the streets. And I witnessed that again today, pedestrians at the side of the road diverted us from a major intersection about a mile from this hotel telling us that there was a gun battle going on between rival looting groups.

So the situation -- the military, the police here working to restore stability, but it's very patchy, Wolf. There are outbreaks of gunfire, there are outbreaks of shooting incidents, and it's still far from completely stable -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic, the Central Command says the U.S. Marines are going to be leaving Baghdad, the U.S. Army will be in complete control of security. Has that already happened? We knew that there were a lot of Marines, for example, at the Palestine Hotel where you're based. Are they out of there or are they still there?

ROBERTSON: Out of here. They left about 36 hours ago first light, the morning before yesterday. Right after that, a smaller contingent of the 3rd Infantry moved in. What's happened is the Marines came here as a fighting force. They fought their way into the city. They were here in large numbers. They pulled out. Their duties are going to be more in the south of Iraq now. The 3rd Infantry Division came in from behind them.

But what the 3rd Infantry lacks is the numbers that the Marines had here. They literally do not have the same number of boots on the ground, if you will. Their role not like the Marines, a combat role. Their role very much shifting towards policing and bringing that stability and security, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nic Robertson in Baghdad, we'll be checking back with you, obviously, often, our man on the scene in the Iraqi capital.

President Bush, meanwhile addressed the issue of the war in Iraq, the standoff with Syria, domestic issues as well earlier today, following a meeting with former POWs Ron Young and David Williams in Fort Hood, Texas.

Let's go to Crawford, Texas, the president's ranch, that's where CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is standing by to fill us all in -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Good afternoon, Wolf. President Bush spending the holiday with his family at the Crawford ranch. Earlier today, he was in Fort Hood, Texas. That is where he chaired a church service with the soldiers there, the largest military base in the country. Also met privately with the POWs, Officers Williams and Young, a very touching and moving moment for all of them.

The president really giving nothing but positive messages today, not only talking about the success in Iraq, but saying that now it is paying off when it comes to Syria. Just within the past week, the Bush administration has been pushing Syria's President Assad to turn over some of the officials from Saddam Hussein's regime that the administration claims has crossed the border in the recent weeks or so, and they say that now the border has been closed, that the visa requirements are now -- have been tightened. All of these good, positive first steps.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: They're getting the message that they should not harbor Baath Party officials, high-ranking Iraqi officials. A lot of other countries have also sent that message. As you know, Secretary Powell will be going to visit with the Syrians, and it seems like they're beginning to get the message, and when we think there's somebody there or know somebody is there, we of course will pass on the name and fully expect the Syrian government to hand the person over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And President Bush also quite optimistic about the situation with North Korea, despite some statements just within the last 48 hours or so from Pyongyang suggesting that they were advancing their alleged nuclear weapons program. President Bush seeing that the situation he feels is going to go forward. He specifically talked about its neighbors, that China, as well as South Korea and Japan, all dedicated to making this a free nuclear zone. The president pointing out specifically China's Jiang Zemin, saying that he in particular was instrumental in getting these talks going. These talks that are still scheduled to take place between North Korea, the United States, as well as the Chinese.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: China's policy is for a nuclear weapons-free peninsula, and now that they're engaged in the process, it makes it more likely that's going to occur. You've got the United States adhering to that posture, you've got China adhering to that posture, South Korea believes that the peninsula ought to be nuclear weapons free, Japan strongly believes that, and I believe that all four of us working together have a good chance of convincing North Korea to abandon her ambitions to develop nuclear arsenals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: While the president didn't specifically say whether or not those talks would continue perhaps as early as this week, a senior State Department official saying that, yes, the State Department envoy, Jim Kelly, would be traveling to the region and that that would continue.

Also, should note, Wolf, that Australia's foreign minister, Alexander Downer, said that, in fact, they were actually declaring -- or working on a declaration saying that the war with Iraq was over and that this is something that would come out in the next couple of days. While the president backing off on that, saying that that declaration is up to General Tommy Franks, the commander on the ground, to say whether or not the mission is complete, but he also brought up the very good point, saying that Saddam Hussein's regime is no longer a threat to the United States or the Iraqis or the rest of the world -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, she's covering the president's stay in Crawford, Texas, at his ranch. Suzanne Malveaux, our White House correspondent, thanks very much.

Despite the coalition's military victory, two key questions remain unanswered: What happened to Saddam Hussein, and why haven't Iraq's weapons of mass destruction turned up yet?

Joining us now to talk about the implications of all of this and more are two special guests: Joe Wilson is a former U.S. acting ambassador in Iraq, and retired U.S. Army Colonel Pat Lang is the former Middle East analyst for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

Gentlemen, welcome back to LATE EDITION.

I want to get to all of those issues in a second, but first Syria.

The president, earlier today, Pat, said some positive signs coming from Syria. They're getting the message. Are you convinced that they are?

PAT LANG, FORMER MIDDLE EAST ANALYST, U.S. DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: No, I'm not convinced of that at all. In fact, you know, the Syrian government is very riven with internal factions -- some of them the hard factions, that have been called the old guard, who descended from Hafez Assad's government. Some of them other people trying to push Bashar to be more accommodating.

And he personally is not politically strong enough or even personally strong enough, I think, to make the kind of hard decisions that would enable him to give us what is more than chicken feed, I think, at this point.

BLITZER: We heard from Congressman Darrell Issa a little bit earlier on this program, a Republican congressman from California. Met for two hours, almost two and a half hours, earlier today with Bashar al-Asad. He thought that they were beginning to understand how serious President Bush is about this.

LANG: Well, certainly, with American forces sitting in Iraq, they've got to take the president seriously. And the president acted on the word that he said he was going to act on when he went to Baghdad.

I think, really, what you've got is, you've got all the balls are up in the air, and people in the region are trying to figure out where the new equilibrium point is, what the parameters of acceptable behavior are. And they haven't quite figured that out.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the major challenges facing the United States in Iraq in this post-war era of the major military operations clearly over.

Among the challenges -- and let's go through these one at a time -- recognizing or coming up with some new Iraqi government. Easier said than done.

LANG: Well, the easiest part is shown by the example of the Third Infantry Division's doing with the Iraqi police, is they're taking people who are normally policemen, putting them back on the streets, supervising them to restore order.

It will be possible to do that in the various ministries of the Iraqi government, with a couple of exceptions, and actually get a functioning thing that will provide social and political services.

The tough part is going to be to try to bring all these factions and ethnic and religious groups together to agree on some sort of political format for the future. That's going to be a very tough job.

BLITZER: What do you think?

LANG: Well, it's absolutely true that if you get the services up and running, at least you have provided security and food and water to the population.

The problem is, all of the villages of the south, where there are no significant American presences, you've got other political actors stepping into the breach. They are establishing their power base already. A lot of them happen to be Shi'a clerics.

And so reconciling their differences, when we don't have that much coverage, is going to be difficult. The hard work is just beginning on this.

BLITZER: Is Iraq potentially another Yugoslavia that's going to break up into a Shi'a separate country in the south, a Sunni country in the central part, and a Kurdish country in the north?

LANG: I think, you know, Iraqi nationalism grew as a function of the country's existence over the last 70 years or whatever. But it's still a very fragile kind of thing.

And if it isn't held together by some sort of force that lends cohesion to it, it could easily just come part in all these bits and pieces. Or you could have some group take charge, like a Shi'a- controlled government sympathetic to Tehran, which we might really find unacceptable.

BLITZER: They could be elected, presumably, since the Shi'a are the majority.

LANG: They could easily be elected, and then what are we going to do? Are we going to reject the democratically elected government?

BLITZER: Well, that's what happened in Algeria, right?

LANG: That's what happened in Algeria. But I think what's going to happen is here is you're going to see a grab for power to control the nation-state of Iraq as it stands now. That includes the oil fields in the north and the south, as well as Baghdad in the center.

BLITZER: What do you mean by that?

LANG: Well, I think, fundamentally, rather than splitting up, you're going to have one group fighting against another group for control of the entire state.

BLITZER: Because we're talking about billions and billions of dollars, huge oil resources there.

JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER U.S. ACTING AMBASSADOR IN IRAQ: But you have to ask yourself, if it actually comes to blows politically, internally, is the United States going to stand by and watch that? I think not.

And then we'd be in the position of having to enforce an American peace on Iraq, which would be, politically, a disaster, both in Iraq and across the Arab world.

BLITZER: Why is it so hard, at least in the past month, to find evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction?

LANG: Well, that's a very good question. I think it exists. I think chemical weapons still exist. I think there are biological precursors which are easier to hide, much easier to hide.

But the fact that we haven't found significant amounts of munitions suggests that perhaps they haven't been as far advanced as we thought they were when we were looking at this in the latter half of the '90s.

BLITZER: Is that your assessment?

WILSON: Well, you know, I'm not sure about this. I don't see how anybody could be at this point.

But I think one possibility we ought to prepare ourselves for is the thought that, in fact, that in this third-world country, record- keeping may not have been very good, and some of those unaccounted-for tons of munitions may have been destroyed and they just didn't have any records for it. Now, I know that's not a popular thought, but it is something we ought to think about.

BLITZER: So would the war have been fought for false purposes?

WILSON: I don't think any war that's fought to depose a fascist dictator is fought for false purposes. That would be a worthwhile purpose in itself.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to pick up that thought. Stand by. We've got a lot more to talk about.

We're going to take a quick break. We'll continue our discussion with Joe Wilson, Pat Lang. They'll be taking your phone calls, so call us.

LATE EDITION will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION, "The New Iraq." We're continuing our conversation with the former U.S. acting ambassador to Iraq, Joe Wilson, and the former intelligence analyst, retired U.S. Army Colonel Pat Lang.

Let's speak about the whole issue of Saddam Hussein. First of all, I've heard all the experts come up, he's alive, he's dead, he's hiding, he's here, he's there. What do you think?

LANG: Well, my opinion has cycled a couple times in the last couple of weeks, you know. After the last strike I thought that the intelligence was good enough they probably got him.

BLITZER: At that Mansur restaurant?

LANG: Yes, and there are little bits and pieces of him around in there. But I'll tell you, there are other things now that are worrisome about this film. You know, everybody wants to say it was made before the event. I don't know how you can know that.

And there was this silly note yesterday that was handed out, which is something that Goebbels or Sahaaf would have put out to convince the world that the government was still functioning in hiding and we are the true government of Iraq, that kind of stuff.

You know, that kind of thing kind of makes me think that there is some kind of structure underground still functioning. And I don't know how that could be if he were dead.

BLITZER: The video that Abu Dhabi Television released yesterday -- maybe we'll try to get that and we'll play it for our viewers once again -- it showed Saddam supposedly out and about after that second surgical strike designed to kill him.

Here it is up on our screen. You see a big crowd, you see Saddam waving and cheering. Does that appear to you to be the real Saddam Hussein?

WILSON: Well, he looks real enough to me. Of course, I'm not an analyst of these sorts of things anyway.

But I think it's important to understand that the remnants of the Baath Party have decided they're going to keep Saddam alive even if he's not alive, for the purposes of trying to regroup in the aftermath of this defeat.

They're not going to go away. The Baathis as a party may go away, but the Sunni are going to have a political organization that's going represent their interests. And right now Saddam as the head seems to be the way that they've decided they can keep attention and interest in their fate.

BLITZER: You were going to say?

LANG: Yes, this is all true. You know, the psychology of myth- building in the Arab world is very important. The idea that you can continue to say that he's kind of like the, almost like the hidden Imam, you know, he's the hidden Saddam in hiding here and that he will come again to smite the Westerners and the Americans. If you can build a legend like that you can hang a whole structure of resistance around this in propaganda, and make yourself feel good about the fact you weren't beaten so badly.

WILSON: I think that's why people are being very careful not to pronounce him dead. Because if you pronounce him dead here in Washington and he suddenly shows up in Tikrit in three or four months, it really enhances his...

BLITZER: They need actual DNA, they need the real thing. They can't just go with speculation and circumstantial evidence when it comes to this important of an issue.

LANG: Very dangerous thing to do.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk a little bit about this new Reuters story that's moving now from Baghdad, suggesting -- and CNN has now confirmed this -- the long-exiled Iraqi National Congress, the INC, is saying that on Sunday, that Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, one of the sons-in-law, Jamal Mustafa Sultan, has surrendered to them and would be handed over into U.S. custody within hours.

Sultan is the nine of clubs on the U.S. deck of cards, the 55 most wanted Iraqis.

What do you make of this?

LANG: Well, I find it interesting that they would be able to persuade this guy to be able to come back from his place of refuge in Syria.

BLITZER: Yes, INC says they convinced him to come back and surrender from Syria.

WILSON: It may, in fact, be the case that Bashar Asad has decided he's going to throw these guys out anyway and not give them refuge, and he doesn't want to go to the Riviera for some reason, he thinks he'll be more vulnerable there, so he accepted the INC's offer of protection or something to come back. That would be the way I would probably explain it.

LANG: I think so, yes. I'm not sure how important he really is to all of this. But I'll feel a lot better about the information when CENTCOM or the Pentagon confirms it, I must say.

BLITZER: The nine of clubs, he's the nine of clubs.

LANG: It's not an ace.

BLITZER: Yes, it's not the ace of clubs. The ace of spades is Saddam Hussein, but the nine of clubs is still pretty significant as far as the 55 most-wanted Iraqis.

It looks like they're making progress in this area of rounding up these 55.

LANG: Yes, I think they're going to systematically dig these guys up, to the extent that they're -- wherever they are, you know, to the extent they're still alive. American human intelligence will develop sources inside Baghdad and around in there and run these people down to ground, whoever's there, and pull them up by the roots. They'll do the same thing overseas, but it will be an extended process, it's not something that will happen overnight.

BLITZER: Yes, let's show the nine of clubs and put it up. When we get it, we'll put it up. Sultan, the nine of clubs. Here he is, right there, you can see the nine of clubs right next to the nine of hearts.

Jamal Mustafa Sultan, now in INC, Iraqi National Congress, custody. Should be handed over to U.S. military authorities within hours, we're told. He's the first close member of the family, the actual Saddam Hussein family, to be detained, according to the INC spokesman. I don't know if that's necessarily true. There have been some others.

LANG: There's two half brothers.

BLITZER: That's right, two half brothers who have been picked up and brought over to U.S. authorities.

What's your biggest concern -- we don't have a lot of time left -- your biggest concern right now?

WILSON: Well, my biggest concern is that the hard work of developing local political institutions that will actually function in Iraq is not going as quickly or as well as can be expected, or will not go as well as we would hope. And down the road, that makes our job that much more difficult.

LANG: My biggest concern, building on that, is it'll be proved to be impossible to bring all these disparate factions together into agreement with regard to a government that can be handed off power from Jay Garner's set-up. And when that happens, we'll have no choice but to stay, and that's not good.

BLITZER: Iranian meddling, is that a big concern, as far as you...

LANG: Oh, yes, it's a big concern, because down in the south all this Shi'a activity, there's a good bit of that that is directly connected to Tehran, and they do not mean us well.

BLITZER: Is that a serious concern for you?

WILSON: Absolutely. You have 10,000 Iraqi Arabs under arms, they can infiltrate them back any time to support these Shi'a attempts to control the political process in the south.

BLITZER: So the problems are still there, numerous problems. Both of you were very right in your assessment before the war. You said it would be over quickly but then there would be serious political and security problems that followed.

WILSON: This is going to go on.

LANG: And on.

BLITZER: U.S. troops are going to be there for a long time?

LANG: If it's a benign environment, they'll be there for a long time. If it's a hostile environment, then it will take a lot more political will and a lot more economic treasure to make it happen.

WILSON: If it's a really hostile environment, it'll probably -- our presence there will last until there's some major political event in the United States probably. That's the pattern of these things.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see -- we'll watch and see, and we'll learn from both of you. Thanks for joining us.

WILSON: Thank you.

LANG: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Bruce Morton now shares some thoughts on our freedom to disagree.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here we go again. Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader, criticized President Bush for bungled diplomacy leading to the war with Iraq.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: I'm saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war.

MORTON: House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican of course, said Daschle was mighty close to providing comfort to America's enemies. His number two, Tom DeLay, said Daschle should shut his mouth.

When Democrat John Kerry, a candidate for president, said he favored regime change at home -- well, how could he not, since he's running for Mr. Bush's job -- Hastert said, "What we need is for this nation to pull together, to support our troops and to support our commander in chief."

But the United States was founded on freedom -- freedom to argue, to debate what the country should do. Criticizing the commander in chief is not the same as criticizing the troops. If Thomas Jefferson and his friends had never criticized the commander in chief, we'd probably all be loyal subjects of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

Sure, Republicans would love it if criticism of Mr. Bush were banned until after the 2004 election, but that's not how it works.

During the long divisive Vietnam War, Congress argued bitterly over what to do. "This chamber," anti-war Senator George McGovern once shouted, "reeks of blood." Many of his colleagues disagreed, but the freedom to argue, to debate, was not in question.

Support the troops? A wise old Republican, George Akin of Vermont, said the thing to do was declare victory and leave. The Senate never voted for that. The troops might have if they'd had the chance.

Troops are our sons and daughters, and their lives are precious to us, precious enough so that, as good citizens, we should feel free to argue, to disagree over how and when those lives should be risked.

Polls show Americans support this war, but they have every right to speak out if they change their minds. In a democracy, silent obedience is not a virtue.

I'm Bruce Morton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Bruce.

Up next, our Final Round. Our panel has a lot to say about the war, its aftermath and some other big stories we're watching. LATE EDITION's Final Round, right after the hour's headlines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION's Final Round.

Joining me: Donna Brazile, the Democratic strategist; Peter Beinart of the New Republic; Jonah Goldberg of the National Review Online; and Robert George of the New York Post.

The fighting in Iraq may be over, but a big question remains: Where are Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction?

Today, the president addressed the fate of the former Iraqi leader.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. That's for certain. He was in power, and now he is not. And therefore, the Iraqi people's lives will be much better off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Peter, is this a victory if Saddam Hussein's fate is unclear?

BEINART: I don't think the key to victory is whether we find Saddam Hussein. I think the key to victory is whether we free the Iraqi people.

And I actually think the administration, by keeps on saying that we've already freed them, is really making a mistake. We haven't freed them. They are free from Saddam Hussein, but not having a dictator isn't the same as being free.

(CROSSTALK)

BEINART: Freedom is having a government that operates by the rule of law. Chaos in your cities isn't freedom. Khomeini-style clerics running your neighborhoods isn't freedom. Freedom is still the goal in Iraq. It hasn't been accomplished yet.

BLITZER: But I think, Donna, you'll agree that they're a lot better off today than they were a month ago.

BRAZILE: Yes, perhaps they are a lot better off today, with Saddam Hussein somewhere on the run. But I agree with Peter, the seeds of democracy must be planted in deeply in the Iraqi soil, and it's not there yet. The United States must restore order. With or without Saddam on the run, they need to, you know, continue to look for him.

BLITZER: You can't do that in a month, though, after nearly three decades of a tyrannical regime like Saddam Hussein.

BRAZILE: Well, you can begin to put the seeds in place and the infrastructure in place, but you have to have a plan. I think right now the administration is being caught without a plan.

BLITZER: Do you think Jay Garner, the retired U.S. Army general, has a plan?

GOLDBERG: Oh, I think he's got a plan, and I think -- I'm glad to hear Peter, who's one of the more gung-ho guys about democracy -- I'm gung ho about it too -- calling for patience. It's going to take a little while. You know, it took us a decade in Japan, it took us a decade in Germany. It'll take us more than a month in Iraq.

I do think that it doesn't matter -- I mean, it'd be nice to catch Saddam Hussein, but the Baath Party is gone. That's the big deal. You know, the gulag has been emptied, and they're on the road. They have hope now, which they didn't have before, and it's a huge victory.

GEORGE: I guess I'm going to be kind of a contrarian here. Clearly, obviously, it's a big military victory. In terms of the public relations, or of a political victory, though, in the context of George W. Bush, I think it's still a little bit out on that.

Because I think the United States has -- since 9/11, we've now been so focused in the sense of trying to win the war on terror, but the two big guys, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, we don't know what's happened to them.

And I think, just from the context from the American people, I think they want their scalp. I think they want to have at least some evidence that Saddam is dead. They want to find out what happens to the weapons of mass destruction. So I think, in that sense, in the context of U.S. politics, I think we need to find them.

BLITZER: Putting a little closure on this issue -- on both of these issues.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: And Mullah Omar.

GEORGE: And the diplomatic victory, obviously, will be several years down the road.

BLITZER: All right, let's move on.

While the military victory was indeed swift, the administration's post-war planning is now under scrutiny.

Earlier today, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Senator Richard Lugar, said the blueprint for dealing with Iraq after this war is by no means clear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: Well, the military strategy we've had and the tactics and the execution have been brilliant. But the problem was that, right from the beginning, the hearings that Joe Biden conducted when he was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee last year indicated that we needed to be doing similar preparation for literally the day or the hours after.

A gap has occurred. And that has brought some considerable suffering.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is he right, Robert?

GEORGE: I think so, and I think what's happening here is, we're starting to see a kind of a breach, if you will, between the administration and Congress where you're having middle-of-the-road Republicans like Richard Lugar that -- having problems with the fact that the administration has not been as forthcoming as they should have been with the Congress, in terms of what the post-war plans look like.

In fact, basically, I think the same day that the statue fell, Lugar and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had a hearing, and he really indicated his anger that the administration has not sent people there to testify, to inform the Congress of what they want to do.

Obviously, the administration -- the president is the commander in chief, but, in the context of post-war, the Congress has to be consulted.

BLITZER: Peter? BEINART: Yes, I think that's right. I think the real question we don't know is, how much were we hurt by that looting right after Saddam Hussein?

There are two big problems with it. First, it really seems, just anecdotally, from the newspaper reports, to have alienated a lot of middle-class Iraqis, more secular Iraqis, who we really need.

Second of all, it created such fear in the Shi'a areas that it seems to have hastened the emergence of these Shi'a clerics, who are now looking like a real power to be reckoned with.

I don't know whether that's a small problem that we will look back and say we've surmounted, or whether we'll look back and say, "You know what? Not preparing better for that looting" -- although it was hard to prepare for -- "was a really critical mistake."

BLITZER: A lot of people are concerned about the museums, the archaeological -- the treasures which were looted, which probably will never be found.

BRAZILE: Well, the natural assets, of course, but also the hospitals, the banks -- the basic infrastructure, the public service community. I mean, right now, we have to start from scratch. And while Senator Lugar is right, I hope that the administration has plans. They've been planning this war for over a decade. They should have had -- at least, the back burner now needs to come to the front burner. You need to get some order restored...

BLITZER: Couldn't that have been prevented, that kind of looting?

GOLDBERG: I find all of this a little dismaying. I mean, you know the war is over when it's safe for the senators and the pundits to come out and start second-guessing everything that happened.

There's so many dogs that didn't bark in this war. We secured the oil fields. We got very few casualties, despite all the naysayers. We didn't have a northern front. All of these things happened miraculously, from our perspective, but actually due to incredible planning and foresight.

What we didn't plan on was that we would be so effective that the war for Baghdad -- which my magazine, Peter's magazine, we all talked, all the newspapers talked about being this door-to-door (inaudible) battle -- turned out to be battering down an unlocked door.

And when that happened, it's totally understandable that American forces would be caught somewhat off guard, and that there would be a down side to such a huge victory.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Hold on.

GEORGE: Lugar was criticizing the administration's non- consultation before the looting began.

BRAZILE: Fair enough.

BLITZER: Everybody's fair enough. A lot of other things didn't happen that could have happened, but we'll talk about that on another occasion. We're going to take a quick break.

Just ahead, will President Bush's wartime leadership make a difference in the 2004 race for the White House? Our Final Round. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

We'll get back to our Final Round in a moment, but joining us now on the phone from Baghdad is Zaab Sethna. He's a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, the opposition group now back in Iraq.

You reported, just a little while ago, that you've managed to apprehend one of Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law, Jamal Mustafa Sultan, convincing him to come back to Iraq, give himself up to the INC from Syria. Give us the details, please.

ZAAB SETHNA, IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS: Well, that is correct. In fact, he's Saddam's only remaining son-in-law. He is somebody that we had been in touch with or we had been in touch with his circle, people around him, before the war. We maintained that contact when they fled to Syria, and we've convinced him that the best thing for him to do would be to return to Iraq and surrender himself. And he did that earlier this evening.

BLITZER: And what was the argument that you made to him to convince him to leave relative sanctuary in Syria, come back to Iraq where the INC would hand him over to U.S. military authorities?

SETHNA: Well, we basically made it clear to him that he had a better chance facing a fair process -- and we assured him that it would be a fair process -- rather than spending his life on the run.

BLITZER: Where, exactly, is he right now, the son-in-law?

SETHNA: I'm sorry, I lost you. Could you say again?

BLITZER: Where is Jamal Mustafa Sultan right now?

SETHNA: He's currently in Baghdad, and he is being handed into the custody of United States forces.

BLITZER: And do you know when, specifically, that will happen, the transfer?

SETHNA: That will happen in a very short time, some time this evening.

BLITZER: Some time within the next few hours, is that right? SETHNA: Yes, that is correct.

BLITZER: What, specifically, did he do, is he accused of having done? What does he know, in other words, as far as his record under Saddam Hussein is concerned?

SETHNA: Well, he's somebody who had served in the Special Security Organization, which is the organization which is headed by Saddam's son Qusay.

It's known to all Iraqis as the most vicious of Saddam's various repressive organizations. It's the one that's the main pillar of his power in terms of keeping control of his people. And it was also the organization, I should add, that was in charge of hiding the weapons of mass destruction arsenal.

BLITZER: So presumably, he knows a lot. Is the INC, the Iraqi National Congress, the opposition group that had been in exile for so many years, in touch with others among those 55 most-wanted Iraqis that you might be able to convince to give themselves up and be handed over to U.S. authorities?

SETHNA: Yes.

BLITZER: Can you tell us who?

SETHNA: No, I certainly cannot. We have a number of operations going on at the moment to either apprehend these individuals or convince them to surrender, as was the case today.

I won't go into personalities, but there are a number of very senior regime officials' names that will be known worldwide.

BLITZER: Zaab Sethna, spokesman for the INC, the Iraqi National Congress, joining us live from Baghdad with word, confirmation, that the INC has managed to convince the so-called nine of clubs, one of Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law, Jamal Mustafa Sultan, to come back from Syria, give himself up to the INC within the next few hours. Later this evening in Baghdad, he'll be handed over to U.S. military authorities.

We're going to continue our Final Round. We're going to take a quick break. Much more to talk about in "The New Iraq." Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our LATE EDITION Final Round.

The war in Iraq has President Bush basking in his high job approval ratings reaching, get this, 72 percent.

Donna, what will be the impact of the president's strong wartime record as far as reelection is concerned?

BRAZILE: Well, the president took a huge gamble in going to war without the backing of our international allies, but in order to reap political dividends at home he must get the economy back on track, reduce the deficit, as well as get the American people back to work. Without that, it's going to be tough.

BLITZER: He's clearly avoiding a lot of the mistakes his dad made after the first Gulf War.

GOLDBERG: Yes, but I have to say I think this sort of seems to be in the water in Washington these days, comparing Bush with his dad. The times are just simply different. There was no 9/11 in 1991. This president has the solid backing of his base in a way we haven't seen at least since Reagan.

And I do believe he has to move to the domestic agenda, but I don't think it's baked into the cake that the problems he's going to face are anything like the problems his dad faced.

BLITZER: Is he a lock for reelection?

BEINART: I think he's an overwhelming favorite. I think Jonah's exactly right. Remember, the first Gulf War took place in an era when foreign policy was fading as an issue, and that's why Clinton could win on the economy.

But foreign policy, national security remain the domestic issue. The economy was weak last fall. George W. Bush still won a big victory. I think he can win even if the economy is weak.

BLITZER: What do you think?

GEORGE: Yes, I mean, national security is George W. Bush's identity, and he has, in a sense, made it the identity and the context of the major issues for the entire nation.

I mean, you saw as soon as the president of the administration started talking about Syria, all of the Democrats had to basically say where they were on Syria. Bob Graham was a little bit more aggressive on it. Others, you know, said we have to focus on it.

So, he is setting the agenda, and the Democrats are responding to it.

BLITZER: Let's move on. Even as he savors the military victory, President Bush is having trouble with his domestic agenda. The Senate, including several Republicans, refused to endorse his $726 billion tax cut plan, cutting it down to some $350 billion.

The man in charge of the Senate's budget legislation, Republican Senator Charles Grassley, spoke about the controversy earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARGES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: I would like to be able to get 50 votes in the United States Senate for $726 billion, but the votes aren't there. I think the president realizes that the decision I made two weeks ago was the right decision because I provided two votes that were necessary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Robert, is the president losing control of his domestic agenda which had been so powerful?

GEORGE: Well, yes, yes, he is. But in a sense, the domestic agenda had always been secondary.

It's kind of interesting that a few weeks ago, words like "breach" and "irrelevant" were what the United States was saying about the U.N. Now it's what House Republicans are saying about Senate Republicans.

You still have a solid bloc of moderate Republicans who don't want to increase and don't want to increase Bush's tax cut because of what they see about the problems with the deficit. And they are, in a sense, driving the tax policy in the context of the Senate.

BLITZER: You get the final word. Can the Democrats capitalize on this breach?

BRAZILE: Absolutely, they can build a new coalition led by John Breaux and moderate Republicans. And remember, many of these moderate Republicans are on the ballot next year and they understand that their electorate are tired of these huge tax cuts that are unfair and unaffordable.

BLITZER: I lied. You didn't get the final word. You get the final word.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDBERG: Very good. Let's have a distinction here between the politics and the ideology here in the general climate. We are arguing right now about between a $726 billion tax cut and a $350 billion tax cut for the second round of historic tax cuts.

President Bush has set an agenda, he's set a mood in this city that is staggering in historical terms in terms of tax cuts. And whatever comes out at the end is going to be better than it would have been if there was a Democrat in the office.

BEINART: And it's going to be an absolute disaster for our efforts to rebuild Iraq, because just as we didn't have enough money to pay for homeland security, we're not going to have enough money to rebuild Iraq.

BLITZER: I guess he got the last word.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What's with the beard? GOLDBERG: Well, there've been so many shakeups around here, I figured the more I look like you, the safer my position.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: You've been rehearsing that line for a long time, right?

GEORGE: Jonah Goldberg reports on the 5:00 news.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: That's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, April 20.

Up next, a CNN special report: "Inside the Regime." It's a behind- the-scenes look at life in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

That's followed at 4:00 p.m. Eastern with "CNN LIVE SUNDAY," the latest developments in the war in Iraq, the new Iraq and the day's other major stories.

This note, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, please join Anderson Cooper for a live program on the headlines, a comprehensive look at all the day's developments.

Please be sure to join me, of course, next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. I'll be back Monday through Friday, noon and 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Thanks for watching.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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