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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Paul Bremer; Interview With Mohamed ElBaradei

Aired November 2, 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 and here in Miami, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5:00 p.m. in London, and 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for LATE EDITION.
We'll get to our exclusive interview with the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, in just a few minutes, but first let's get a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: And let's return now to the bloodiest incident for U.S. troops since major combat was declared over in Iraq. Fifteen American soldiers killed, 21 others injured, when a U.S. Army helicopter was believed to have been shot down.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is joining us now live from Baghdad with late- breaking developments -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it certainly was the most costly day for the coalition here in Iraq since the war ended in April.

Now, there are 15 soldiers killed, 21 wounded, when their Chinook helicopter was hit, apparently, according to my eyewitnesses we spoke to out there, by some sort of surface-to-air missile outside the town of Fallujah.

Now, the soldiers apparently were being flown to Baghdad, to the Baghdad airport, where they were going to catch flights for rest and recreation leave outside of Iraq.

Now, this is the third time that U.S. helicopters have been downed in Iraq since the end of the war. The last one just last week on Saturday, when a Blackhawk helicopter was hit outside of Tikrit. No deaths in that incident.

Also in Fallujah Sunday, an apparent roadside bomb hit an American convoy there. Fallujah residents, in scenes we've seen repeatedly out there, flocked to the scene of the attack to celebrate the attack, chanting anti-coalition slogans. No indication at this point how many people were injured in that incident.

While here in Baghdad, another U.S. convoy was attacked, one soldier killed. This brings to 16 the number of Americans killed today in Iraq, the highest daily death toll since the end of the war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Ben Wedeman in Baghdad.

Ben, we'll be back to you checking in on late-breaking developments throughout this hour and the next.

Let's move on now and get to our special guest. Today's attack occurred amid threats of a day of resistance. A surge in ambushes began Monday with four suicide bombings. In addition to U.S. soldiers, Iraqi civilians have died in the violence, as well. Still, the Bush administration is vowing to stay the course.

Joining us now live from Baghdad, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer.

Ambassador Bremer, welcome back to LATE EDITION. You certainly have your hands full today.

What details can you give us on the downing -- we assume it's the downing by a surface-to-air missile of this Chinook helicopter.

PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVIL ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: Wolf, let me first express my condolences and those of all the members of the coalition for the families of the people killed and injured in this -- yet another element of the war on terrorism here.

I don't have many details on the situation out there yet. In the fog of war, you usually have to wait for the reports. But one thing is very clear, the enemies of freedom in this country will stop at nothing.

And now this week, which started with killing lots of Iraqis, has ended with killing Americans, and we've mingled our blood together in this war on terrorism.

And as you just said, we're not going to be deterred. We're going to win this war, and we're going to win it right here in Iraq.

BLITZER: Have you concluded definitively, Ambassador Bremer, that this was a shoot-down, as opposed to some sort of accidental crash?

BREMER: No, we'll have to wait for the military to make its final report on that, Wolf. All the indications suggest that it was a hostile action, but I really think we should wait until the military has finished its after-action report.

BLITZER: Who is behind these kinds of attacks at aircraft, whether helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft? Who has that kind of capability, assuming it's a surface-to-air missile?

BREMER: One of the things we have to remember is that Saddam was lavish in buying weapons, and he had, literally, thousands of these shoulder-launched Strela missiles, Russian surface-to-air missiles, in his inventory. We have recovered hundreds of them ourselves already, both by finding them in caches and by having people turn them in to us for rewards, but there are still thousands of them left.

Certainly, the Fedayeen killers, the people left over from Saddam's regime, who tend to be active in the area around Fallujah, are one suspect. Another possibility is international terrorists, of which we, unfortunately, also have quite a lot here.

BLITZER: So, presumably, these aircraft are still very vulnerable, as evidenced by what happened today?

BREMER: That's correct.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, there have been many delegations of visitors, members of Congress, members of the Bush administration, other international leaders, who have almost routinely been flying into Baghdad International Airport. There are no commercial flights, as far as I know of.

Is it improving, though, at all, or is it getting worse?

BREMER: Oh, I think the overall security in this country is a lot better than it was when I got here in May. And I think that's what we sort of have to focus on here.

We certainly still have enemies of democracy and freedom, both Iraqis and international terrorists at large, in this country, and we have to defeat them. But most of this country is at peace, the area south of Baghdad, all the way to the Kuwait border.

The area in the north, where we continue to have a problem, and where we had the problem today, is in the area from Baghdad west roughly to Ramadi and north to Tikrit. It's an area of Saddam's traditional stronghold, and it's where 90 percent of the attacks against coalition forces have taken place since May.

BLITZER: This is an area that's widely called the Sunni triangle. I'll rephrase the question: Is the situation in the Sunni triangle, this area you just described, getting worse or getting better?

BREMER: Well, I would say it's a mixed bag. It's getting better, in the sense that we are finding more and more Iraqis -- both in those cities and in the area north of there, Tikrit, Kirkuk, even Mosul -- being willing to help work with us, either as members of the Iraqi security forces or coming in and giving us information.

It's getting worse, in the sense that, as today, we've seen that the enemies of freedom there are using more sophisticated techniques to attack our forces. This is, of course, a new one, the shooting down, if that's what it was, of a helicopter. We've seen a much more sophisticated use of improvised explosive devices against coalition forces. These are basically stand-off weapons.

And that has been a trend that General Sanchez talked about yesterday that's been going on for about 60 days.

BLITZER: Ambassador Bremer, these soldiers who were aboard the Chinook helicopter, they were leaving, they were scheduled to leave, at least many of them, for some R&R, rest and relaxation.

Were they leaving Iraq to go to Kuwait, or were they coming back here to the United States for a couple of weeks under this new rotation plan?

BREMER: I don't have the details on that. I'm sure the military will put that out when they have finished their notification of next of kin and have done all of the examination of the accident. I just don't know.

BLITZER: I'll put up on the screen the latest casualty numbers, as far as U.S. killed in action, both in hostile and nonhostile incidents.

Before May 1st, when the president declared an end of major combat operations, 139 were killed; 239 killed since May 1st. Now 378, including these latest incidents today.

The suspicion, at least reported in the New York Times earlier this week, Ambassador Bremer, that Saddam Hussein himself is behind some of the planning, some of the operations against the U.S. and coalition forces, is that accurate?

BREMER: No, I don't think we know, frankly, the answer to that. I've seen that speculation, and, of course, in our examination of intelligence, we look for that. We do not see evidence of that yet.

What we do see, and I think here, both General Abizaid, General Sanchez have talked of this in the last week or so, what we are seeing is evidence of at least a local or regional coordination. Of course, the suicide attacks last week in Baghdad are the most obvious example.

But we, at this point, have no evidence that Saddam himself is behind this. It can't be excluded, but I would say there's no evidence of it yet.

BLITZER: Why is it so hard to find him?

BREMER: You know, you have to remember a couple of things here, Wolf. First, this country is the size of California. It's not a small place. Secondly, Saddam had 35 years to prepare places to hide. And thirdly, he was in hiding, himself, for many years in the '60s, after the Baathists were first thrown out of power in 1963.

He has a lot of experience running to ground. He had a lot of years to prepare. And he's got a very big country to hide in.

BLITZER: There's a lot of criticism right now in Washington, in the United States, that while the military operation, the military campaign, was excellent, was well-thought-through, the post-war situation was not as well-thought-through -- in fact, that there was a serious miscalculation.

Looking back -- and obviously, all of us are a lot smarter with hindsight -- was it a mistake to disband the 400,000-man Iraqi military, many of which, many of those troops today could have been very useful presumably in helping you secure the situation?

BREMER: That's right, and that's what they're doing. No, it was not a mistake. Basically there was no army to disband. They laid down their arms and went home. And as my colleague Walt Slocombe has pointed out, they not only went home, but they stripped the barracks clean, looted the barracks, took away even the pipes and the toilets. There was no army here.

We have welcomed members of the army back. Sixty percent of the recruits in the new Iraqi army are members of the former army. All of the officers and NCOs in the new Iraqi army are from the former army. Most of the people coming back to join the civil defense force, which we are establishing, are from the old army.

There are plenty of places in the Iraqi security forces for the army, and we are welcoming them, and they're coming in and they're working with us.

BLITZER: How many troops, Iraqi troops, in this new Iraqi army or security force, whatever specific phrase you want to use to call them, are there right now? How many have been redeployed to help you? And how many do you project having over the next year?

BREMER: Well, the total number of Iraqis involved in one way or the other in their security, we think will reach about 220,000 by September, which is a very substantial number.

The big elements of that are the police force. We're training a professional police force, which, in the end, is what is very important. They're all Iraqis, of course. We are going to have 27 battalions of the new Iraqi army available by next September. That will be about 40,000. There will be another 35,000 to 40,000 involved in the civil defense force by September, and so forth. We also have border police that are standing up.

We think it's very important for the Iraqis to be much more actively engaged in their security, and that's why you're going to see an acceleration of this in the months ahead.

BLITZER: The 130,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq, where do you see that number a year from now?

BREMER: I don't get into the numbers game, Wolf, because I'm not a military expert. And that is a decision that rests in the military chain of command, not with me.

And my view is that what's important is not the numbers but the fact that we must keep an effective combat capability. And that combat capability needs to be defined by the security situation at the time.

Part of that security situation will be alleviated by having Iraqis share the burden of defending their country with us on the war on terrorism. And part of it will depend on getting better intelligence about the people who are attacking us. BLITZER: There is a lot of speculation, as you will know, that foreign fighters, foreign terrorists are coming into Iraq somehow, either through Syria or Iran, perhaps elsewhere.

What can you tell us about this threat, the foreign fighters, and how are they getting into Iraq?

BREMER: Well, it's not speculation. We know it's a fact. Not only does our intelligence show us, but we've caught and killed a number of them.

They are coming in mostly through Syria, and they are people coming from -- or at least they travel on passports from the Yemen, Sudan, some from Saudi Arabia, some from Syria. One of the suicide bombers who did not blow himself up last week was a Yemeni carrying a Syrian passport, for example.

So we know they're coming. There isn't any speculation about it.

We also know that members of Ansar al-Islam have reinfiltrated into Iraq from Iran, which we consider another problem. And we have certainly got, because we've, again, captured and killed them, members of al Qaeda, who may be coming mostly from Syria, we suspect.

BLITZER: Why is it so hard to seal off that border, let's say, from Syria?

BREMER: You know, Wolf, before I came over here, I worked on the President's Homeland Security Advisory Council, and we used to discuss quite a lot about sealing the American border with Mexico, which, as it happens, is about as long as the borders Iraq has with five different countries, and we know how much trouble we've had sealing the border with Mexico.

The topography in Iraq is even more difficult than it is between the United States and Mexico. You can't just seal a border, any more than we've tried to seal our border with Mexico.

What we need in the case of the Syrian border is much better cooperation from the Syrian government in stopping these people on their side.

BLITZER: Are you suggesting that the government of President Bashar al-Assad is not cooperating with you in trying to prevent terrorists from infiltrating into Iraq from Syria?

BREMER: I am suggesting they could do a much better job of helping us seal that border and keeping terrorists out of Iraq, yes.

BLITZER: What about the government of Iran?

BREMER: It's the same message.

BLITZER: Are they not cooperating as you believe they should?

BREMER: Well, the case with Iran is somewhat more difficult to judge, since we don't have regular contact with them, although the State Department announced a plan to have some discussions with then. I'm sure this will be on the agenda.

BLITZER: The Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, was bitterly outspoken this week in speaking about the overall situation in Iraq, noting that, what, there are some 35 attacks a day against U.S. and coalition forces. Ambassador Bremer, listen specifically to what Tom Daschle said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: If this is progress, I don't know how much more progress we can take.

I would also say that there is a growing credibility gap between what is said and what is being done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Tough criticism.

In the most recent CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, asked if four U.S. deaths per week, and it's going up since then, is acceptable or not acceptable. Forty-five percent said acceptable, but 53 percent said not acceptable.

What do you plan on doing differently, if anything, to try to get your message across that things are, in fact, moving in the right direction?

BREMER: You know, every single one of those deaths -- I would say zero deaths is the acceptable total, but we have to be realistic. We're in a war here, and we will take casualties as long as we're here.

But with all respect to Senator Daschle, there has been enormous progress here over the last six months, and Iraqis will tell you that. They have got an economy moving now. Power, electrical power is back at pre-war levels. Drinking water is above pre-war levels in most of the country. The hospitals are all open, the schools are open, the universities are open, the stores are open, the cars are on the streets. This country is basically, except for the area we talked about earlier, peaceful and very active economically. That is progress.

BLITZER: We only have a few seconds left, Ambassador Bremer. A lot of speculation about you personally, what your next mission would be.

First of all, what are your plans? How much longer do you man on spending in Iraq?

BREMER: Well, I will stay here until the president concludes that I've done my job.

BLITZER: And what is your guess, six months, a year, three months?

BREMER: I long ago learned not to speculate about that, Wolf. I'm working as hard as I can to get to the goal the president sees for Iraq, which is a free and democratic Iraq with a sovereign, elected government, and that's what we're going to do here. We will get there.

BLITZER: Any suggestion how long that will take to get there?

BREMER: Well, I would like to make it as soon as possible, but as a realistic matter, they're going to have to write a constitution, and that's going to take them some months. So I hope sometime in 2004 we'll see some significant progress.

BLITZER: You think that constitution could be written by early to mid-2004?

BREMER: If the Governing Council here, which has been encouraged by the Security Council to move quickly to convene a constitutional convention, if they'll do that quickly in the next month or so, yes, I think we can get it written in the course of -- by, say, middle to late 2004.

BLITZER: One final question, Ambassador Bremer. Newsweek magazine reporting in the new issue just out today, suggesting that you'd be atop the list as a possible secretary of state in a second term of a Bush administration if Secretary Powell decides that that's not what he wants to do. Would you like to be secretary of state?

BREMER: I really am planning for quite a long rest and to see quite a bit of my family when I finish this job, Wolf.

BLITZER: You sound already like you could be a very diplomatic secretary of state.

(LAUGHTER)

Ambassador Paul Bremer, thanks for joining us. No stranger to our viewers here on CNN. Good luck to you and good luck to all the men and women you're working with over in Iraq. Appreciate your time.

BREMER: Thank you.

BLITZER: And just ahead, Saddam Hussein still on the loose. Is he behind the escalating attacks in Iraq? We'll talk with the two top members of the United States Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Pat Roberts and Democrat Jay Rockefeller.

Then, two years after the fall of the Taliban, fears that Afghanistan may be returning to the brink of chaos. We'll go inside that country. CNN's Christiane Amanpour, she'll join us live.

And California burning. Tens of thousands of residents displaced. We'll speak with Michael Brown, the director of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, about the wildfires and the recovery efforts. Our LATE EDITION will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... that this country will stay the course. We'll do our job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush responding to this week's suicide bombings in Iraq.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

While the president says the attacks are a sign of desperation from coalition enemies, some members of the U.S. Congress are critical of his administration's handling of the post-war situation in Iraq.

Joining us now, the two top members of the United States Senate Intelligence Committee. In Kansas City, the Kansas senator, Pat Roberts, the committee's Republican chairman. And in Washington, the panel's vice chairman, the Democrat, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

Senators, welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Senator Roberts, let me begin with you, get your assessment. This is a tragic loss, the death of these 15 U.S. soldiers, 21 injured aboard this U.S. Army Chinook. What does it say to you about the current situation in Iraq?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: I'm amazed that the security remains a tremendous and a growing problem, especially in the area that Ambassador Bremer was just talking about. I wonder why a Chinook helicopter would be flying over that area, as opposed to taking evasive action.

But having said that, let me just say that our thoughts and prayers are to the families. If we have, in fact, lost 16, it is a terrible loss. One loss is a terrible loss, so our thoughts and prayers are with the families.

But we do not have the security situation under control yet, and to do that, we need better intelligence. Both Senator Rockefeller and I are very concerned about that. So is Senator Warner and Senator Levin on the Armed Services Committee. We are going to have a briefing at the first of this next week, when we get back, on how we can obtain better intelligence to certainly prevent this kind of thing.

BLITZER: It does raise questions why this Chinook helicopter was flying over a dangerous area, Senator Rockefeller. What does this incident say to you? SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: That it should not have been flying, and I don't know what the alternatives were, because I don't know what the situation, in terms of aircraft, was on the ground.

I would agree very much with what Senator Roberts said, but I'd add one more factor. I think security is really important, but I also think, you know, we're in the counterterrorism phase now, but we also need to be in the counterinsurgency phase. That's sort of a classic Green Beret operation, where people are brought in who speak the language, who work with health or work with getting out into the community.

In a sense, like, to make it sort of simple, the way the British did in Basra when they took off their helmets. Just the simple act of taking off their helmets and then interacting with the community, it gives a different kind of effort toward winning the hearts and souls of people so they will give us better intelligence. Then we don't have to get all of it, you know, through our own assets.

But I think we've really simply ignored the whole counterinsurgency aspect...

BLITZER: But, Senator Rockefeller, you know there's a tiny, tiny number of U.S. troops who speak Arabic right now. This is a huge problem for the U.S. intelligence community.

ROCKEFELLER: It is, and that's also why I've said for some time now that I think we were really not prepared for the post-war period.

Chalabi and others were telling certain people in the administration that we're going to be welcomed with open arms, and I think there were people that believed that, frankly. Because otherwise, logically, why wouldn't the administration have made the kinds of preparations in language, in counterinsurgency, rather than just the security aspect of it, which is still tremendously strong?

Does that mean we may need more soldiers there? It may very well be. But we have to do what is necessary to be successful there.

BLITZER: Do you have answers to those questions, Senator Roberts, in terms of the miscalculation, the lack of planning for this post-war environment in Iraq?

ROBERTS: Well, I think events of the day change. We were ready for a real wave of humanitarian assistance, and that simply did not occur.

I would say this, that for some time, the Intelligence Committee has been working to try to get increased funds so that we could get the proper linguist capability in different areas of the world. And we have invested a great deal of that in an intelligence bill, not only last year but this year.

But it's tough. Right now, we're trying to contract out people who understand Arabic, to go through all the documents in regard to Dr. Kay's work.

There just weren't that many people available to do that kind of a job. But that dates back for -- on something we've been working on for the last two years. Obviously, we don't have enough, and we need more.

BLITZER: What's the latest assessment, Senator Roberts, who is behind these most recent attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq? Are they foreign terrorists who have managed to get into Iraq? Are they Fedayeen, loyalists to Saddam Hussein? Is Saddam Hussein calling the shots?

ROBERTS: All of the above. I think you've got the Fedayeen; you've got the people who were let loose out of jails, about 100,000; you have the foreign jihadists who are coming in, as Ambassador Bremer did point out; you have the Baathist Party people.

I think Saddam Hussein is playing a role. If nothing else, the palpable fear on the part of the Iraqis of Saddam Hussein and the fear that he might come back -- I don't think that's going to be the case. I doubt very seriously whether it's Saddam actually calling the shots.

You have that chief of staff whose name now does happen to escape me, he's called the "King of Clubs" in the deck of 55. I think if we get him -- he's the red-haired fellow with a moustache -- if we get the chief of staff, I think he's probably the one that is showing more command and control, leading to more sophisticated attacks that aren't just simply bombs and explosives.

BLITZER: I think you're referring to Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri.

ROBERTS: Right.

BLITZER: But, Senator Rockefeller, what can you tell us about the role of Saddam Hussein in this situation right now?

ROCKEFELLER: What I can tell you, Wolf, is that we ought to get him, we ought to bring him down. I mean, there's been a long time now since the war was -- the formal war was completed. People used to ask all the time, what about Saddam, what about Osama? I think now that's becoming an enormously important question in Iraq.

It doesn't -- whether he's in charge of command and control -- and I agree with Pat Roberts, he may or may not be. But, not knowing, I would -- you know, I have to lean on the more gloomy side, and that is that he does have something to do with that, or he gives substance to Ibrahim, as he does his work.

We have to find Saddam Hussein. We have to bring him down. I mean, we have 130,000 troops there. They're trained in counterterrorism, many of them, and we have not done that. And I think now increasingly there's going to be pressure on the part of the American people to find out why we can't put our hands on that man, who is, after all, in a relatively small area.

BLITZER: All right. Senators, I'm going to take a quick break, but we have a lot more to discuss. I want both of you please to stand by.

We're going to continue our conversation with our two senators, the chairman and the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

We'd also like you to weigh in on our Web question of the week. We'll put it up on the screen right now. The question is this: Who is responsible for the terror attacks in Iraq? You can vote. Just go to our Web address, cnn.com/lateedition. We'll get the answers for you later in this program.

Our LATE EDITION will continue right after a quick check of the hour's headlines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We're continuing our conversation now with the two top members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Chairman Pat Roberts, Democratic Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller.

Senators, we have a caller from North Carolina who has a question.

Go ahead with your question, please.

CALLER: Yes, sir. I had a question for both senators. How much longer do they think it will take to find the person responsible for killing our troops?

And the second part is, when would be a good time to evacuate our troops?

BLITZER: All right. Senator Roberts, you want to try that?

ROBERTS: Well, basically I think it's pretty hard to identify one individual with a surface-to-air missile. As has been pointed out by the ambassador, Ambassador Bremer, in your previous interview, there are thousands of them still in Iraq, some of them Russian and some of them French. And so it could be almost any individual or, say, any group.

We will certainly try to investigate it, and we will certainly try to work with Iraqis to point out where this came from and the nature of the attack, and then we will move accordingly.

In regards to evacuation, I think it's a little premature. We either fight them there or fight them here. That's a bold statement that has been said by both General Adeed (ph) and others who have testified before the Armed Services Committee.

So I think evacuation, right now, is not in our best interest until we stand up the Iraqi police force and Iraqi army. That is being done. I think, as they are stood up and we gain security, and I certainly hope we can do that with better intelligence, then we can start about a staged withdrawal or staged evacuation. But at this point, I don't think that's possible. BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, you and your chairman, Senator Roberts, wanted the Bush administration to hand over, by noon on Friday, all sorts of documents related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction before the actual war. Where does that stand, that deadline? Have you gotten the documents you want from the administration?

ROCKEFELLER: Wolf, we've gotten most of the documents from the Central Intelligence Agency, and we've gotten about two-thirds of the documents from the State Department. But the National Security Council is being very resistant, as is the Department of Defense.

Senator Roberts and I both disagree with that. We've both indicated to each other that we're going to make personal phone calls to the principals, probably by mid or end of this week, if they're not forthcoming.

We have to have those documents. We're going to get those documents, one way or another.

BLITZER: When you say one way or another, Senator Roberts, let me let you pick it up, if they continue to refuse, what can you do about it?

ROBERTS: Well, that's yesterday's story. Jay, I haven't had a chance to call you over the weekend. I was here in Kansas over the Saturday and Sunday. I've been informed by our staff that late Friday, in a spirit of cooperation, that the White House has agreed to supply us with the documents and the interviews that we want. And so that's good news.

And the same is true of the Defense Department, at least in terms of their message to our staff. And I apologize. It is certainly good news that there is a spirit of cooperation with the White House.

The challenging news is, however, that we have to fold this new information into all of the work that we have done. I have told the staff, as has Jay, we want to complete an accurate picture. We'd like to expedite it, of course.

I am not too sure, with the amount of information that's now going to come in and that will be forthcoming, that we can have a draft document or, say, an interim report prior to Congress leaving. But the most important thing to do is to get an accurate and complete picture.

But, again, the good news is, late on Friday, the White House did inform our staff they will go through a spirit of cooperation. I have talked with very top White -- or almost the top, you know, White House official, and he has promised that.

BLITZER: So let me just press you on that point, Senator Roberts. Are you telling us, and Senator Rockefeller in the process, that everything your committee wants from the White House, the National Security Council, from the Pentagon, the CIA, the State Department, every piece of document that -- every document you want will be made available?

ROBERTS: Well, every document we want will be made available. Whether or not it is available as of, you know, Monday or Tuesday, is another thing.

The thing that I am very pleased about is the spirit of cooperation after an initial questioning period of executive privilege and what could be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and what was classified, what wasn't at certain levels.

But, you know, Jay is right. We will get this information, and it will be a very complete inquiry.

BLITZER: What does that sound like to you, Senator Rockefeller?

ROCKEFELLER: Well, I want to see the documentation before I'm, you know, before I'm satisfied. I want to know that we really have it in hand.

Secondly, I think what it points to, Wolf, is that there is now kind of a seamless integration between the collection analysis and analysis of intelligence and the use of intelligence.

It's very interesting that, on the Senate Committee on Intelligence, we are specifically charged with doing rigorous oversight of the collection and analysis of intelligence, but also the use of intelligence, and that includes all of the U.S. government. That includes policymaking, defense and national security.

So we have an obligation to know, for example, how intelligence was used in the formulation of the president's October 22nd speech in Cincinnati, in which he did not use the Niger yellow-cake aspect, and then how come, in the State of the Union, that he did use it? Was there interaction between the executive branch and the intelligence agencies, which caused the one to be true and the other to be not true?

And we have -- that's the kind of information that we have to get. Was there any collusion, was there shaping of intelligence, was there giving us only the worst-case scenario? Or, in fact, was there the collection of intelligence through illicit third channels that were not known to our intelligence people at all?

BLITZER: And those answers obviously not available yet, but perhaps in the coming days and weeks, they will be at least clarified to a certain degree.

Unfortunately, Senators, we have to leave it right there, but always good to speak with you. Senator Roberts, Senator Rockefeller, thanks very much for joining us.

ROCKEFELLER: Thank you, Wolf.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

BLITZER: And up next, potential blowback, as it's called, in Afghanistan. Is that country becoming a haven for terrorists again? We'll get answers from our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. She'll join me live.

And later, New Hampshire and Iowa, the first states to vote in the 2004 presidential race here in the United States. Which of the Democratic candidates will emerge victorious, and can any of them beat President Bush? We'll get insight from the Iowa governor, Tom Vilsack, and the New Hampshire Governor, Craig Benson.

LATE EDITION will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

After Afghanistan was liberated from Taliban rule two years ago, the international community vowed not to allow that country to become once again a breeding ground for terrorists. But some suggest that may be happening right now.

CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, recently returned from Afghanistan. Her extremely powerful report on what she found there airs tonight here on CNN.

Christiane is joining us now live from London.

What's the bottom line, Christiane?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Bottom line, Wolf, is that American soldiers are dying in Afghanistan as well. Certainly not in the numbers it is happening in Iraq, but the pace has picked up over the summer, because, as Taliban insurgency has sped up since August, and they have been confronting U.S. forces who have also fought back and killed scores of them, they've been killing administration officials, in terms of the Afghan central government administration of President Karzai, they've been killing aid officials. And according to a U.N. report just this week, they have also reclaimed some territory in the south and east of Afghanistan and have exerted influence over local government there.

Now, this, because there has not been the kind of security that President Karzai begged for for the last two years, in terms of international peace-keepers around the country, and, to an extent, there has not been the kind of reconstruction that was promised.

There is positive news coming out of Afghanistan, but people there, for instance, the U.S. forces who are in charge of the war on terror in Afghanistan, are quite worried that, unless this insurgency is put down, it could ruin quite a lot of the good work that has been done over the last couple of years.

We have a little snippet from the documentary to show you about one of the problems in one remote corner of Afghanistan, in terms of the reconstruction failures there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) AMANPOUR: This is Barakshan Province (ph), in the most remote northeastern corner of Afghanistan. Its majestic mountains, the river rushing past small mud-built villages and farmers plowing their plots conjure up visions of a simple rural life.

Only things are not so simple here. Opium poppies are growing in these fields, and that's a serious threat to stability. Last year drugs were Afghanistan's biggest export. And the head of the U.N. drug enforcement agency has come to see how they can put a stop to this massive problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The revenue generated in the year 2002 was estimated by the United Nations at about $1.2 billion. This is an enormous magnitude.

AMANPOUR: Most of the world's opium and heroin comes from Afghanistan.

The simple fact, as we heard from these village elders, is that farmers get paid 100 times more for producing drugs than crops like corn and wheat.

But the biggest profits go to organized crime bosses and warlords, who buy weapons for their private armies, which challenge the authority of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. And now, reports that the Taliban are financing their insurgency with drug profits.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: So you'll see in the rest of the report tonight that there is progress being made in Afghanistan. There is small businesses booming. There are girls who have gone back to school, as well as boys. There is a constitution that's just been drafted and waiting to be ratified by a loya jirgah.

But all of that stands to be snuffed out, they say there, if this security situation is not brought under control rapidly, and if the reconstruction is not sped up markedly and very soon.

Today, for the first time, there was a top-level U.N. delegation from the Security Council countries that went to visit Afghanistan and to give support to President Karzai. But some say time may be running out, because, of course, there are elections scheduled for next summer, and if Karzai can't deliver, he, the U.S.-backed moderate president of Afghanistan, may fail.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Christiane, briefly, Osama bin Laden, he's still on the loose, where does he fit into this situation in Afghanistan?

AMANPOUR: Wolf, fits into it very integrally, and fits into the entire war on terror. Of course, Afghanistan, not Iraq, is where the September 11th attacks were planned.

And of course, Afghanistan was the first battleground in the war on terror. U.S. and its allies got rid of the Taliban and brought a lot of good will to Afghanistan, certainly in those early months.

And that's the problem, that the Taliban, al Qaeda elements, the tapes that keep coming out from Osama bin Laden are beginning to feed on the discontent in some parts of Afghanistan. And that's the threat.

And certainly many military people that we talk to, including senior commanders were fully aware of the need to really get out there in force, in bigger numbers, with more reconstruction money and much more international security around the country to snuff that out and give Afghanistan the chance that it does have and was promised.

BLITZER: CNN's Christiane Amanpour reporting for us from London.

Christiane, thanks very much.

And this important reminder to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You can see Christiane's excellent report. Her documentary airs tonight on CNN Presents. "Blowback: Afghanistan on the Brink" airs at 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Eastern. This is a very important documentary. We hope you'll watch.

LATE EDITION will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Still ahead on LATE EDITION, concerns about Iran: Is that country trying to bolster its military strength with nuclear weapons? We'll talk with the head of the world's nuclear watchdog agency, as well as with Iran's ambassador to the United Nations.

And Southern Californians picking up from the pieces of the ash that was devastating the area as a result of wildfires. We'll get an assessment of recovery efforts from the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the United States, Michael Brown.

LATE EDITION will continue at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

We'll talk about developments in those devastating California wildfires and go back to Iraq for a live report in just a few minutes. But first, let's go to Washington for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: We're going to go back to Iraq right away, a live update on today's helicopter incident that killed 15 U.S. soldiers, left 21 others wounded.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Baghdad following this story. He's joining us now live -- Ben. WEDEMAN: Yes, Wolf, well, many of those soldiers who were killed and wounded in that incident were apparently flying to Baghdad International Airport to catch flights that were going to take them out of the country on rest and recreation leave.

Now, this is the third time an American helicopter has been hit in Iraq, since the end of the war, in late October. In fact, just Saturday before yesterday, a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter was hit by ground fire outside Tikrit.

Now, the coalition is increasingly worried about the dangers posed by surface-to-air missiles, hundreds of which are apparently in circulation. And it's also offered a $500 reward to anyone who will turn one of those missiles in.

Also, as we heard from Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, just a little while ago, the coalition is increasingly worried about the sophisticated methods that are being used by those behind attacks on the coalition.

Now, also in Fallujah, on Sunday, an American convoy was apparently hit by a roadside bomb. Fallujah residents, as we've seen them do in the past, flocked to the site of the attack to celebrate this incident, chanting anti-coalition slogans.

Now, in this incident, two American contractors were killed and one was wounded. They were apparently in the area working to defuse unexploded ordnance.

Now in Baghdad itself, another American soldier was killed when a roadside bomb went off next to his convoy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You may have heard Senators Rockefeller and Roberts on this program raise questions about why this Chinook U.S. Army helicopter was flying over this dangerous area, around Fallujah, to begin with.

You've traveled all around Iraq in recent weeks and months. Do you often see U.S. helicopters flying over these areas?

WEDEMAN: Well, Wolf, it's the best way to get from Point A to Point B in this country.

And frankly, there's not really a lot of ways to go around here that's particularly safe. On the roads, there's the danger of ambushes, of IEDs, these improvised explosive devices. And in the sky, apparently, now, there's the danger of surface-to-air missiles, although we don't have final confirmation that that was the cause of the attack.

But really, when you're trying to move a large amount of people around the country, sometimes the air is the best way to do it quickly. So, yes, we see helicopters, for instance, over Baghdad all the time, every day. But it's, as I said, the only way to really patrol the city, keep an eye on what's going on, and move people from Point A to Point B. It's something that really can't be avoided, but obviously, it's becoming rather dangerous -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Indeed, it is.

CNN's Ben Wedeman for us in Baghdad.

Thanks, Ben, very much.

From the Bush administration here in the United States, a measured response today. Let's go to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. She's covering the president in Crawford, Texas.

Suzanne, what is the reaction so far to this Chinook downing?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, after a very public day, President Bush in Kentucky and Mississippi doing some campaigning yesterday, President Bush was notified privately this morning, early this morning, from his staff about these attacks. We're told that he is being updated throughout the day.

But really, it was Secretary Rumsfeld, who already had previously scheduled television interviews, who was charged with taking center stage, going before the cameras, explaining what went wrong.

His message was very simple. He said Iraq is a dangerous place, we're in a war, these things happen, but the U.S. does have a strategy to accelerate the training of Iraqi soldiers, to improve intelligence and also to turn over power back to the Iraqi people as quickly as possible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think foreign forces in any country are unnatural. And I would think no country would prefer to have foreign forces in their country for long periods. We don't intend to. The president said we'll stay as long as we're needed and not one day longer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, the president yesterday outlined the U.S. strategy in his weekly radio address, as well as some campaign stops, saying that the U.S. will stay as long as it takes, but he really framed this as a battle, not against the United States and Saddam Hussein, but one that was universal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BREMER: The enemies of freedom in this country will stop at nothing. And now, this week, which started with killing lots of Iraqis, has ended with killing Americans, and we've mingled our blood together in this war on terrorism.

And as you just said, we're not going to be deterred. We're going to win this war, and we're going to win it right here in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: And that was U.S. Civil Administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer, again, giving the White House position here, that this is a universal battle. President Bush making the argument that success inside of Iraq means that Americans will be more safe and more secure at home -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much for that report.

Those soldiers killed in Iraq today were on their way for some rest and relaxation here in the United States. CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Dallas, Texas. He's reporting on what's going on. We'll try to check in with him later to see how other U.S. troops arriving in the United States are reacting to what has happened in Iraq. Ed Lavandera will be coming up later here on LATE EDITION.

But in the meantime, let's turn to the California wildfires in the United States. Although, firefighters are making steady progress, 20 people have been killed, some 800,000 acres have been destroyed, and as many as 100,000 residents have been forced from their homes. The federal government is assisting the hard-hit counties of San Diego, Los Angeles and San Bernardino.

Joining us now from San Diego now is the head of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, the homeland security undersecretary, Michael Brown.

Mr. Brown, thanks very much for joining us.

Give us the latest assessment right now, as far as the wildfires in Southern California are concerned. What's the current situation?

MICHAEL BROWN, DIRECTOR, FEMA: Wolf, I've told President Bush that the firefighters on the front line are doing an incredible job. Along with the help from Mother Nature, they're making good, steady progress. Some of the fires are almost fully contained. Others are getting better. We were over Lake Arrowhead yesterday. There's a little bit of snow. So we're making good, steady progress.

BLITZER: What does that mean? How much longer before these fires are out?

BROWN: Well, the best speculation is maybe by the end of the week. If we continue have too have nice, cool weather, a little bit of moisture, the firefighters continue to do the admirable job they're doing, I think maybe by the middle to the end of the week, we should have them all fully contained.

BLITZER: Do the firefighters have everything they need right now in terms of equipment, manpower to get the job done?

BROWN: They do. I'm very proud to say the federal government has met every single request that the state has made of us for resources and manpower. And right now, all the firefighters have everything they need to fight these, and they're doing a great job.

BLITZER: Do you have a preliminary price tag on how much this is going to cost the U.S. government to deal with this crisis in Southern California?

BROWN: We don't yet, Wolf. What we are focusing on right now, of course, obviously, is getting the fires put out. We're starting to register victims, and we really won't make an assessment of what the cost of this will be until we get those two things taken care of. And then we'll start looking at the damage and how much it's going to cost us to take care of the victims.

BLITZER: The tens of thousands of people who fled their homes are going to be returning to their homes, and hopefully, those homes will be OK.

But what about the environment, breathing in that area? We understand this smoke has caused, potentially, some hazardous conditions.

BROWN: I will tell you, Wolf, that when I first arrived here last week, I could barely see any part of San Diego. Over the last few days, here, San Bernardino County, Riverside County, Mother Nature has really helped us with these Pacific winds. The air is in very good shape now, and so I think we're in really good shape, in terms of the environmental problems.

We still have to deal with the potential of mudslides if and when the rains come, because many of these mountainsides have just been totally stripped bare.

BLITZER: We assume therefore -- correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Brown -- that the worst is now over. Is that right?

BROWN: I think the worst is now over. And what we have to do is focus solely on taking care of the victims, making certain we get them back up on their feet and back to their normal lives as quickly as possible, and then prepare for the aftermath of these fires, which of course may be the mudslides and the erosion that may occur.

BLITZER: Well, when you say mudslides and erosion, how serious of a danger potentially is that?

BROWN: I think it's fairly dangerous. Congressman Lewis and I flew over part of his district yesterday, looking in the Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear area, and I can tell you that some of those hillsides have been completely denuded of all grasses and vegetation. So we've got to come in as quickly as possible, as the president has said, and do what we can to avert another disaster.

BLITZER: Already people are looking back and suggesting at least some of this disaster could have been averted. There was a letter that was written to you and the federal government, the Bush administration, way back on April 16th by California's governor Gray Davis.

Among other things, he said this: "The dead trees have created an extraordinarily high risk from catastrophic fire. The situation now threatens over 75,000 permanent residents in mountain communities, but a major fire could quickly move down from the mountains into densely populated urban areas."

He was asking for help in dealing with the excess trees, the fire potential, the kindling wood, as some are calling it.

Barbara Boxer, the Democratic senator from California, spoke out about this earlier in the week. Listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: We named three of the four counties that are up in smoke, and we begged him to declare a disaster. We begged him. We saw this coming a mile away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is she right, Mr. Brown, that they saw this coming, but you, the Bush administration, neglected California's warnings?

BROWN: We saw it coming also, and that's why the federal government provided well over $43 million to help fight the bark beetle infestation. So that money was already flowing into California, to help them fight that infestation. And we'll continue to help them do that, also.

BLITZER: The issue being these controlled burnings that they apparently wanted, that some were reluctant to go forward with. Environmentalists have been very critical of these controlled burnings.

What exactly is FEMA's position now in dealing with these controlled burnings to do away with some of these excess trees in these areas that potentially cause some of the problems for fires?

BROWN: Well, we will continue to work with our partners in the federal government -- the Department of Interior, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- to see what can be done.

And of course we'll continue to support the president's Healthy Forest Initiative, that would have gone in and helped speed up some of those processes too.

So we'll continue to do all of those things, all across the country, to help eradicate part of this problem.

BLITZER: One final question, Mr. Brown, before I let you go: The story in the New York Times today suggesting that FEMA, in recent years, going back to the Clinton administration, but now in the Bush administration, is emerging as a potential political goody-bag, a way for the federal government to hand out political favors to key states and areas that have suffered.

I assume you read that story today, and I was anxious for your reaction.

BROWN: Well, I must tell you, I'm really offended by that, because our primary focus is on disaster victims, on helping mitigate disasters before they occur, and doing everything that we can to help anyone.

I will tell you this, Wolf. Every state elected official, every national elected official, they focus on victims. And when a disaster occurs, we don't care whether someone's a Republican or a Democrat, we focus on helping people. And that's our primary focus, and it always will be.

BLITZER: Michael Brown, the director of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck to you and all the men and women who work with you, trying to deal with this huge catastrophe in Southern California. Thank God the worst is now over with.

BROWN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Up next, concerns about a nuclear Iran. We'll talk with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei.

Then, Iran's response. We'll talk with that country's United Nations ambassador, Javad Zarif, about accusations Iran is still attempting to build nuclear weapons.

Then, presidential candidates can't ignore the early political contests in New Hampshire and Iowa, or can they? We'll talk with the New Hampshire Republican governor, Craig Benson, and Iowa's Democratic governor, Tom Vilsack, about their states' potentially pivotal roles in the race for the White House.

LATE EDITION will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Turning now to the threat of nuclear weapons, was Saddam Hussein's regime in the process of trying to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program? Will North Korea step back from its nuclear program? And how far along is Iran in its program?

Joining us from New York, the director of the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

Dr. ElBaradei, welcome back to LATE EDITION.

I want to go through all three of these areas. First, Iraq. Looking back on what you know now, in the aftermath of the war, what you knew then, was Iraq, in recent years, since '98 at least, was there any evidence Iraq had actually reconstituted its nuclear weapons program?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR, IAEA: So far, I don't believe so, Wolf. And I think all what we have seen so far support our tentative conclusion before the war, that we haven't seen any evidence that Iraq was trying to reconstitute its nuclear weapon program. However, I think it would be prudent for us to go back to Iraq as soon as we can and, frankly, finish the job. It would also be good if the report of the Survey Group were to be shared with us insofar as the nuclear aspect of it.

We need to bring that file to closure. We need to assure the international community that Iraq is completely clean from any effort to reconstitute a nuclear weapon program.

BLITZER: So, in other words, what you would like is for the U.S. and the coalition forces in Iraq to let the International Atomic Energy Agency, your inspectors, as well as the other U.N. weapons inspectors, go back in there right now to work together to resolve some of these unanswered questions?

ELBARADEI: I'm not sure how will the modalities of our work, Wolf. What I know, that we still have a mandate by the Security Council. We have the experience. We have 10 years of experience working in Iraq, and we have the credibility. And I think it would be in the interest of everybody if we go back sooner than later, both us and the U.N. inspectors for chemical and biological weapons.

BLITZER: Well, what does the Bush administration tell you when you make this proposal to them?

ELBARADEI: Well, I think they have said that they still would review with the Security Council our mandate. We're still waiting on the wings. I haven't really gotten a clear answer.

But I think it is in the interest of the U.S., it's in the interest of everybody that we go back and finish the job.

BLITZER: Exactly a year before the war, the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, was on this program, was on LATE EDITION. Listen to what he said. Listen to what he said then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time, and we think that's cause for concern for us and for everybody in the region.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And then, on February 5th of this year, just before the war, the secretary of state, Colin Powell, was at the U.N. Security Council. You were there that day as well, and he said this. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have no indication that Saddam Hussein has ever abandoned his nuclear weapons program. On the contrary, we have more than a decade of proof that he remains determined to acquire nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Were both the vice president and the secretary of state of the United States wrong?

ELBARADEI: Well, I'm not -- Wolf, I'm not questioning their intentions. I'm sure they were concerned, as we were.

However, these statements were not supported by the facts as we have seen them, and I don't think we have today any evidence to support the statement that Iraq was trying to develop its -- or reconstitute its nuclear weapons.

We still are open -- we are not closing the file. If there are additional evidence, we'd like to look at them and make a final decision on that issue.

I think we cannot continue with an open question you know, forever, whether Iraq had or had not attempted to develop its nuclear weapon program. So that's why I have said, Wolf, it would be good, prudent for us to go back.

BLITZER: David Kay, who's now in charge of the U.S. effort to look for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, released his preliminary report early in October. Among other things, he said this.

He said, "Despite evidence of Saddam's continued ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, to date, we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material."

Do you feel vindicated by that preliminary conclusion?

ELBARADEI: Well, I feel relieved. I'm not sure, you know, I would say vindicated. I feel relieved that Iraq does not have nuclear weapon capability, that they did not start to resuscitate their weapon program.

But I'd like to share -- that the administration shared that report with us. We have not seen that report. I'd like to see it, because it might shed additional light, which would help us in our future activities in Iraq.

So, thank God that we -- that our conclusion before the war has been validated so far.

BLITZER: I want to briefly move on to two other areas, North Korea and Iran. First, North Korea. Where does the North Korean nuclear weapons program stand right now? You would like to get IAEA inspectors back into North Korea. It doesn't look like that's about to happen.

ELBARADEI: Well, we're waiting in the wings, so to speak, Wolf. I think we need to go back. The sooner, again, we go back, the better. North Korea have the nuclear weapons capability, if not nuclear weapon already. We don't know, because we've been out for a year now. It's bad precedent that you walk out of the nonproliferation regime and start applying a policy of nuclear brinkmanship. So how we handle the North Korean situation will be a very important precedent.

And I think the best way to handle it is for North Korea to accept comprehensive verification, dismantlement of its nuclear weapon program, if they have a nuclear weapon program. But in return, get the security assurance that they badly need, and in return, also, the international community would look at the humanitarian and energy needs, which are, again, badly needed in a country that is suffering from famine at this stage.

BLITZER: The other area that you've been spending a lot of your time involves Iran. There was a deadline at the end of the October for Iran to comply with a nuclear nonproliferation treaty, which it (ph) has signed and ratified. Are the Iranians cooperating with you now?

ELBARADEI: I think we are -- for the last few weeks, Wolf, we are making good and steady progress on three fronts: on mapping out the past nuclear activities, Iran finally agreed to come with a full disclosure, and we have received, in the last 10 days, what I was assured a complete and accurate declaration. We are in the process of verifying that declaration.

We have seen additional failures, breaches of their commitment in the past, as they have themselves have stated. So I'm going to report that next month to our board of governors.

We are also making progress on regulating the future. And Iran has indicated that they are going to send me next week a letter signaling the readiness to conclude an additional protocol. That's a new legal document that give me an additional authority, in terms of information and access. So that's positive.

The third front that we are also talking to Iran and trying to implement an agreement they've reached with the three European -- the German, the French and the British -- on suspending all enrichment and reprocessing activities, a sensitive aspect of their fuel cycle (ph) which is as a confidence-building measure.

So I think these are three important steps. We are moving forward, but we still have a lot of work to do, Wolf. And I would like to, again, be able to come to grips with that program sooner than later, but I can assure you, we are implementing a full-court press right now.

BLITZER: Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, always good to speak to you. Thanks very much for joining us on LATE EDITION. We'll continue this conversation down the road.

ELBARADEI: Thank you very much for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And coming up, we'll talk with Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif

First, though, we'll go to CNN's Andrea Koppel in Washington for a quick check of the hour's top stories. That's coming up, including an update on today's deadly helicopter incident in Iraq.

Don't forget, by the way, our Web question of the wee: Who's responsible for the terror attacks in Iraq? You can cast your vote at cnn.com/lateedition.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

So is Iran building a nuclear bomb? Joining us now from New York, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to LATE EDITION.

I'll ask you the question, is your country building a nuclear bomb?

JAVAD ZARIF, IRAN'S AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Not at all. Iran has declared very openly that nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in our defense doctrine.

We make that statement not simply out of our good will, but out of a very serious strategic calculation that nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, in fact, will not augment Iran's power. They will decrease our influence and increase our vulnerability.

And that is why we've made a conscious decision that weapons of mass destruction will not have a place in our defense doctrine. And that is the policy that we have pursued and we continue to pursue today.

BLITZER: As you know, a lot of suspicions, though, that your country is developing a nuclear weapon. A nuclear reactor, for example, that you're building with the help of the Russian government raising a lot of concern, because Iran does have an enormous amount of oil reserves. Why do you need nuclear energy when you have so much oil?

ZARIF: Well, according to the NPT, countries that join and observe the requirements of the nonproliferation -- that is, they forswear pursuing nuclear weapons -- have a right to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. That is an area that is extremely important to us.

Iran, in 10 years, will be a net importer of oil. And we can use our oil and gas, put them to better use.

I understand that we have sort of a mutual situation of suspicion about the intentions. Iran is suspicious about the intentions of the United States that is questioning today our right to develop -- or our need to develop nuclear energy when 20 years ago, just before the revolution, in a State Department document, welcomed Iran's decision to diversify and to use nuclear power and, in fact, stated, as it is now available on National Security archives, that the U.S. companies will have a share in that.

If that is a problem, we are still ready to deal with that concern, whether U.S. companies can have a share in our nuclear program.

And now today comes out and says that Iran does not need nuclear energy because of its oil and gas reserves.

In the space of the past 25 years, we have almost doubled our population. Our oil and gas reserves have not increased. We still have the same amount of reserves. And the State Department has changed its story. And that is why we are suspicious about their intentions.

And I understand that there is suspicion on the side of the United States and some countries in the West with our intentions.

And that is why, last week, we agreed with the European Union, with three countries, important companies of the European Union, how to set the record straight, how to clarify the past and start a process of confidence-building and cooperation for the future.

And I hope that with cooperation on the side of the United States and serious work on the side of Europeans, we can move forward in this exercise.

BLITZER: You just heard Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, say yes, Iran is moving in the right direction, but you're still not there, you're not fully complying with its demands yet, as far as inspections are concerned and other elements.

Are you ready to do what the IAEA wants you to do?

ZARIF: Well, basically, that is not what I heard Dr. ElBaradei saying. What has happened is, Iran was supposed to provide a full and consistent picture of its activities in the past, and we have done that, and Dr. ElBaradei stated that in your program.

It is now for the IAEA to verify that, and we are extending full cooperation. Whether it takes the IAEA one day or two days or two weeks to verify that, it's up to the IAEA. But we have provided a full picture, and we are cooperating.

On the two other fronts, we have agreed to suspend our uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities, and we will send a notification to the IAEA that we are ready to sign the additional protocol and start implementing it.

These are what we agreed with the Europeans that we will be doing. And in fact, that would open the way for a dialogue between Iran and the three countries, and probably more, in order to find avenues of confidence-building and cooperation for the future.

BLITZER: Very briefly, before I let you go, Mr. Ambassador, you heard perhaps on this program Paul Bremer, the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, saying that Syria and Iran, that your government is not doing enough to prevent terrorists from infiltrating into Iraq from Iran, that you are perhaps even harboring still some al Qaeda terrorists in Iran.

I want you to respond to that, please.

ZARIF: Well, I believe Mr. Bremer needs to look elsewhere. Iran has no interest in destabilizing Iraq. If there is one country that wants to see stability and democracy in Iraq, it's Iran.

We have a long border with Iraq. I don't contend that nobody crosses that border without our knowledge or our agreement, but Iran does not allow people to infiltrate into Iraqi territory to undermine the Iraqi government.

We want to see the current Governing Council in Iraq to gain full control of Iraq, to be able to work toward stability and prosperity for the Iraqi people. That is in our national interest. And that is why we have supported the Governing Council.

We want the United States to transfer sovereignty as soon as possible to the Governing Council, allow the Iraqis to believe that they own the process. The problem today is that the Iraqis do not believe that they own the process.

There is a good set-up. The Governing Council is there. There is a group of ministers who are operating and who have been working with the countries in the region. It's only for the United States to allow these more freedom of operation, allow them to act as responsible authority for Iraq and allow the Iraqi people to feel that they control their own destiny.

I believe that is the problem, and if Mr. Bremer comes to understand the problem, rather than trying to find scapegoats to address or sort of deflect the problem from the reality, then I think we will be on the right track.

BLITZER: Javad Zarif, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations. We have to leave it right there. Thanks very much for joining us.

ZARIF: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, is the Bush-Cheney ticket safe in 2004? We'll get assessments from the governors of two key presidential states early on in the contest, Iowa and New Hampshire.

And there's still time for you to weigh in on our Web question of the week: Who's responsible for the terror attacks in Iraq? Cast your vote right now. Go to our Web site at cnn.com/lateedition.

We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

For decades, Iowa and New Hampshire have held a special place in American presidential politics. Voters in those states are the first in the nation to choose their preference for president, and the results of those contests very often can make or break candidates.

Joining us now to talk about the 2004 outlook, two special guests, the New Hampshire Republican governor, Craig Benson, and the Iowa Democratic governor, Tom Vilsack.

Governors, welcome to LATE EDITION.

Governor Vilsack, I'll begin with you and Iowa. Two key candidates, Lieberman and Clark, saying, you know what, Iowa not necessarily all that important. What does that say to you?

GOV. TOM VILSACK (D), IOWA: Well, I'll tell you, there are four candidates who are working very hard in Iowa, which suggests to me that the Iowa caucuses are still very important to the process.

We do our politics retail, and these four candidates -- Kerry, Gephardt, Dean and Edwards -- are crisscrossing our state, talking about the issues that matter to Iowans. So we are very much an integral part of this process.

BLITZER: The latest Iowa polls that we've been seeing, the Iowa Democratic caucus polls, show that Dean and Gephardt, Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, and Richard Gephardt, the congressman from neighboring Missouri, both at -- actually, this is the wrong, this is the Boston Globe New Hampshire poll, but we're talking about an Iowa poll. There it is. 26 percent for Dean and Gephardt.

Does it look like it's a two-man race right now?

VILSACK: Well, I'll tell you, polls don't mean as much in a caucus state as you might think, Wolf. It's all about organization and being able to deliver individuals to a caucus that may take several hours. It's much different than a primary.

So I think this is still very much a four-person race. It's getting more hotly contested every day, and I think the campaign really, frankly, has just begun in Iowa.

BLITZER: In New Hampshire, Governor Benson -- I'll put those poll numbers up, that Boston Globe-WBZ poll that shows that Howard Dean, from neighboring Vermont, is at 37 percent. You see it right there. John Kerry from neighboring Massachusetts at 24 percent.

Is it fair to say that it's a two-man contest in New Hampshire?

GOV. CRAIG BENSON (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: I'm having a little trouble hearing, Wolf. I'm hearing the director speak in my ear. I'm hearing you in bits and pieces. But I think your question is regarding...

BLITZER: All right, we'll try to fix that up.

BENSON: ... polls here in the state of New Hampshire. And with the New Hampshire primary, things change very dramatically over a very short period of time.

And while we may have some polls right now that indicate certain people in the lead and others not, all I can say is, it's such a dynamic process that in the next couple of months we're going to see things totally different than they may read right now.

BLITZER: Let me read to you an excerpt, Governor Benson, from the New York Times editorial, and I hope you're hearing me OK now. The excerpt reading as follows: "The current primary calendar starts by genuflecting to Iowa and New Hampshire, which have become mere stages for the political and news industries."

I don't know if Governor Benson is hearing me. If he's not, let me let Governor Vilsack respond.

A lot of people outside of Iowa and New Hampshire are saying, too much attention being focused on these two states, and that the real contests are down the road.

Governor Vilsack, what do you say?

VILSACK: Well, the process has to start some place, and better in Iowa and New Hampshire, where people take it very seriously and have been very engaged and very involved and can provide an opportunity for these candidates to politick retail.

Would we prefer to have a system and a process where we would have regional primaries, where folks would jet in to a state, do a short press conference, and jet out? Or would we rather have folks come to coffee shops and living rooms and talk about issues that are important?

You know, Wolf, there are a lot of things on the minds of Iowans and New Hampshire -- folks from New Hampshire that are very much on the minds of Americans: the war in Iraq, the economy, education, health care.

All of these issues are being very aggressively discussed and debated in our state right now.

BLITZER: I think we're having some real problems with Governor Benson. We're going to try to fix that. But let me continue the conversation with you, Governor Vilsack.

Iowa caucus scheduled for Monday, January 19th. That's followed the following week, January 27th, with the New Hampshire primary. But the week after that, it's called Super Tuesday, February 3rd, primaries in Delaware, South Carolina, Missouri, Arizona and Oklahoma; caucuses in New Mexico and North Dakota.

You're a good Democrat. Who do you see as best positioned right now to take on President Bush?

VILSACK: Well, to be honest with you, Wolf, I think any one of the major candidates in our party is poised to take on President Bush.

I think some of the concerns that I just expressed -- the war in Iraq and the direction of the war and the lack of focus, the economy, the concern about unemployment -- while we had good economic news this week, it doesn't translate into new jobs for ordinary folks -- concerns about health care and the rising costs of health care that are eating away at pay increases -- these are all very, very important issues that I think any of the Democratic candidates can speak to.

Our process is really pretty much like the NCAA basketball tournament, in my view. We basically have the Midwest regional. New Hampshire has the Northeast regional. You go down to Carolina, the Southeast regional, and then the rest of the caucuses and primaries that you noted in the Southwest.

And by the end of that process, we're going to have two or three folks that are going to be prepared to go at each other. And one will emerge as the victor, and then I think Democrats will unite behind that person.

BLITZER: In Iowa, the most recent poll that we saw has the president and any Democrat roughly evenly split. We'll put the numbers up: 46 percent for President Bush; 47 percent for a Democratic candidate, if the election were in Iowa right now, according to this one poll.

And by the way, very similar to a Washington Post-ABC News poll that's out today. I'll put those numbers up on the screen as well. Choice for president if election is held today: Bush at 48; a Democrat at 47; don't know, 5 percent.

This country, Iowa and the rest of the country, Governor Vilsack, seems to be as split, as divided today as it was exactly three years ago in that very, very close contest.

VILSACK: That's precisely right, Wolf. President Bush lost Iowa by 4,000 votes. The poll would suggest that the race would be equally close this year.

There's no question there's a divide, and I think Americans are actually thirsty for a vision of this country that puts us in the right direction, that sort of responds to what's best in America, the concerns in Iraq and the death toll and the bad news continually coming out of that country. The issue with the economy, the fact that we still have a very unacceptably high rate of unemployment, concerns about health care.

All of this makes for an opportunity for great debate, and I think it's going to be a very, very close election.

BLITZER: All right. Governor Benson in New Hampshire, I believe we've reestablished contact with you. We apologize to you and to our viewers for the technical problems. Let me give you the last word, though.

Right now, in New Hampshire, how is President Bush looking against this field of Democrats?

BENSON: I think President Bush is going to do very well in New Hampshire. We have a very strong economy here in the state, very supportive of the efforts in Iraq. And there's a number of other activities the president's done and has stood for, what -- he's said what he means, and he's done what he's said. And in New Hampshire that goes a long way.

BLITZER: Governor Benson, I want to apologize to you for those technical problems. We'll have you back here on CNN sooner rather than later. Thanks very much for joining us.

BENSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Governor Vilsak, thanks very much for joining us, as well.

VILSACK: You bet.

BLITZER: Just want to make sure our viewers remember, this Tuesday night, an important Democratic presidential debate. Our Anderson Cooper will moderate "America Rocks the Vote." Young people will be able to ask the nine Democratic presidential candidates their questions. That begins Tuesday night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Time now for LATE EDITION's picture of the week. Arnold Schwarzenegger goes to Washington. Governor-elect Schwarzenegger met with some of the most powerful people in the Washington: the vice president, Dick Cheney, and his uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy.

BLITZER: I think they really do like each other, Ted Kennedy and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Our Web question of the week is this: Who's responsible for the terror attacks in Iraq? Look at the results of you voting. Twenty- four percent of you said Saddam Hussein, 22 percent said foreign fighters, 10 percent of you said al Qaeda, 44 percent of you think other -- others are responsible. Remember, this is not a scientific poll.

Let's take a look at what's on the cover now of this week's major news magazines in the United States.

U.S. News and World Report features, "Triple cross, one accused Chinese spy who seduced two top FBI agents."

Newsweek looks at God and health and why science is starting to believe religion is good medicine.

And look at this. On the cover of Time magazine here in the United States, the actor, Russell Crowe, in command.

And that's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, November 2nd.

Coming up next here on CNN, "People in the News." That's followed at 3:00 p.m. Eastern by "In the Money," 4:00 p.m. Eastern, "CNN Live Sunday."

Be sure to join us next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. Thanks very much to our viewers around the world.

And I'll be here Monday through Friday, twice a day, at both noon and 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Miami.

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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