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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Prince Bandar Bin Sultan; Interview With Karen Hughes

Aired April 25, 2004 - 12:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7 p.m. in Riaydh and 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
Just ahead, we'll talk to the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. First, though, let's get a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Let's begin with deadly attacks in Iraq. More of them and the tense standoff between coalition forces and insurgents in Fallujah.

CNN's Jim Clancy is standing by live in Baghdad with the latest -- Jim.

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's not only the soldiers, it's civilians in Iraq today that are paying a high price as both casualty tolls seem to be soaring. Let's take a look now on the ground here in Baghdad.

The northeastern part of the city around a place called Martyr's Monument, it was the scene of a roadside bombing today that devastated a Humvee, a U.S. military patrol was passing by. There then was an incident where, as they were trying to evacuate their wounded, a number of school schoolchildren gathered around the vehicle. They were trying to get things out of it. Others opened fire on them from rooftops, according to a coalition spokesman here in Baghdad. One Iraqi child was killed. Eight others were wounded, although police say from their hospital beds, they blamed it on the U.S. troops.

Meantime, a high-level visitor, well, not just one but two of them, let me tell you about the first one. Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, a staunch supporter of the war, made a surprise visit to Baghdad this day. It is, after all, Anzac Day, a day when Australia honors its war dead as well as nose who served in the military. There are words of thanks from the prime minister, as he talked with the 850 Australian troops here, many of them serving as air-traffic controllers there at Baghdad International Airport. The opposition back at home, though, wants to bring those troops back to Australia by Christmas.

In another incident, we should be looking along the front lines in Fallujah where U.S. Marines staged some search operations today, went on some patrols. They also engaged in some firefights. They say that the cease-fire hasn't looked much like a cease-fire to them.

At the same time, on the negotiating level, the coalition still making earnest efforts trying to get the situation there calmed down. They want the fighters to hand in their arms. They are not doing it. In response, they're trying to get joint police patrols established and under way. That could come on Tuesday. But, Wolf, today is Sunday, and Tuesday is still a long way off.

Back to you.

BLITZER: Jim Clancy reporting from Baghdad.

Jim, thanks very much.

President Bush and his national security team are keeping a very close watch on developments in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq, as well. Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is joining us from the White House with more -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Bush is at Camp David hunkered down with his national security team, his top military advisers. He has been speaking with them through video conference calls throughout the weekend.

We are told, of course, priority number one, Iraq, what to do about Fallujah, where, earlier today, military and coalition forces say that they are going to hold off on actually going inside of Fallujah at this time, that there has been some progress with negotiations over the last 24 hours.

Look to Tuesday as the next important benchmark. It is Tuesday, insurgents have until then to turn over their weapons. Also, on that day is when coalition forces, as well as Iraqi police, will begin their joint patrols of Fallujah.

Now, they are saying that they're exercising what they call combat patience. They trying to take the military tract, but at the same time, they say the military option is just that, an option.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: Our patience is not infinite. And if we see foot-dragging, if we see a slowdown, if we see a lack of adherence to some of the terms that have been set out, we certainly have more than sufficient military capability.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, to correct myself, what they are trying to do is their emphasizing the political tract, not the military tract, but as you had just heard General Kimmitt say, they are certainly willing to use military power, if necessary.

It is a difficult decision for the Bush administration. They realize it has huge political implications and could certainly complicate the matter in turning over power back to the Iraqi people -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House, thanks very much.

New focus on Saudi Arabia this week. A terrorist bombing, a shoot-out with militants there, and a new report that Saudi Arabia may have known about the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq even before some top members of the president's own Cabinet.

The man at the center of the story, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, is joining us now live.

Prince Bandar, thanks very much, and welcome to "LATE EDITION."

PRINCE BANDAR BIN SULTAN, SAUDI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Let's get to, first of all, what happened in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia this week. There was a horrible terrorist attack there. Who was responsible?

BIN SULTAN: We believe that it is a group, a cell that belongs to al Qaeda and bin Laden.

BLITZER: How do you know that?

BIN SULTAN: Because, like anything in security, success, nobody knows about it. We were after this cell for quite few days, a few weeks, actually, and few days before the bombing, we dismantled five trucks that were loaded with explosives, and some people were caught.

And that led then to where we -- the bombing and then after it, two days later, in Jeddah, we found five of the list of 26. Four of them were killed, one is detained.

BLITZER: Is Saudi Arabia -- do you believe that Osama bin Laden personally is still coordinating these attacks against your kingdom?

BIN SULTAN: I believe it's preplanned, yes. And he definitely is taking credit for it. He doesn't hide it. So, yes, he's an evil man, and people, his elk, are evil, too.

But they're not going to succeed, number one. Number two, they have been exposed to the Saudi people, that those people are after killing innocent people, regardless of faith, religion, ethnic background, et cetera. And anger and sorrow is very high now, and the people are bonding together against this evil work.

BLITZER: Many of these al Qaeda operatives, as you well know, are themselves Saudis. Osama bin Laden is a Saudi. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis.

Looking back at what's happening in Riyadh now and what's happened over the past year, do you regret that your government didn't clamp down on al Qaeda, the teachings of those who support al Qaeda, much more forcefully in advance? BIN SULTAN: We always are smarter after the fact. And when I was watching 9/11 commission discussing the pre-9/11 and post-9/11 activities and assessments, it was like a replay of our situation.

Definitely before 9/11, we didn't think that they had that kind of capability, that extent. However, at the time before 9/11, the people who we used to call terrorists -- remember, the West, America and Europe used to call dissidents -- well, you discovered that those dissidents are not really -- they're evil people.

And the fact that there are 15 people out of 19 people that were used in that tragic, horrible, evil work of 9/11, shows that part of the plan of the masterminding behind this is to hit America but also to target Saudi-American relationship. And they almost succeeded, because bin Laden and his gangs, they have a pool of people they could use. The fact that selected 15 of his misguided people to do this out of 19 shows you that they are the target.

And the bombing in Riyadh the day before yesterday is another proof that you are a target, we are a target, by the same people.

BLITZER: Is Saudi Arabia better off now security-wise after the war in Iraq started more than a year ago or worse off right now?

BIN SULTAN: I believe we are better off since we began to fight those terrorists, because they are more exposed. The people are united, and the Crown Prince has declared war on them. But not only on them, but on the people who also sympathize with them or justify their actions.

And it was amazing to watch the last two days, particularly on Friday, how all the senior religious people were attacking those people in a way we have never seen before.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the war in Iraq. Saudi Arabia has a 500-mile border with Iraq. There's no doubt that the U.S.-led coalition is on the verge of taking some dramatic steps right now, in Fallujah, for example.

Do you want the U.S. to go into Fallujah and crack down on the insurgents?

BIN SULTAN: I think the decision is an American decision, not ours. But I would say that, if the situation in Fallujah could be negotiated, and storming it, fight could be avoided, that would be the best for everybody.

BLITZER: It doesn't look like that's going to happen. It looks like there's going to be a fight.

BIN SULTAN: Let's pray for the right outcome.

BLITZER: Do you support the decision by Paul Bremer, the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, the coalition administrator, to go ahead and ease up his de-Baathification program, and allow now former high- ranking members of the Baath Party, including some generals and colonels, to resume their old positions?

BIN SULTAN: I believe that there were a lot of Iraqis who were Baathist only in name, because that's the only way they could survive and stay in power. I believe that the real bad clique and the criminals who were around Saddam Hussein, obviously the Iraqi people will never accept them.

But out of 20 million people, if you can exclude all the Baathists, you're not going to have any (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there, any democracy (ph).

BLITZER: So this is a good idea?

BIN SULTAN: I think it's a good idea if they are vetting them well.

BLITZER: Vetting them well.

BIN SULTAN: Vetting them well, and if the Iraqi leadership find it OK. After all, it's an Iraqi decision.

BLITZER: Publicly, Saudi Arabia opposed the U.S. and the coalition going to war against Saddam Hussein, but privately, behind the scenes, we all now know that Saudi Arabia made it possible for the U.S. to go to war, with air bases and logistical support, all sorts of special operations forces moving into Iraq from Saudi Arabia.

How do you explain this apparent contradiction between the public stance going into the war and what we now know was the real cooperation that your government gave the U.S.?

BIN SULTAN: Well, I think the underlying premise is that Saudi- American relationships are long, strong and consistent, and is based on solid basis, which is mutual interest, mutual respect. And I think, in that context, I am amazed that people are amazed that Saudi Arabia and America could be supporting each other when it serves their mutual interests.

BLITZER: But are you prepared now to confirm publicly that the U.S.-Saudi cooperation going into the war was as robust as it was?

BIN SULTAN: I think our relationship is robust overall, and...

BLITZER: Did you let special operations, U.S. special operations forces operate from Saudi soil to move into Iraq?

BIN SULTAN: Wolf, I was in the military 20 years ago. I am a diplomat now. You...

BLITZER: But you know the situation.

BIN SULTAN: And if I know, I don't think I'm going to tell you.

BLITZER: The air bases in Saudi Arabia, the Prince Sultan Air Base, I visited there before the war, one of the biggest, most impressive in the world. Other bases, Tabuth (ph). You allowed U.S. war planes to fly missions from those bases against Iraqi forces.

BIN SULTAN: Those air bases are first-class, as you said, and you've been there. And at the time, until after the war, actually, American forces were there, and they were doing and supporting the Southern Watch, as you remember. And that continued all through.

What more was done, or less, was judged based on the need and the circumstances. But I don't think your viewers, particularly in the United States of America, should be surprised to know that Saudi- American relationship is much more solid than people try to make it.

BLITZER: All right. I'll take all that as a confirmation of what I said.

Stand by, Prince Sultan. We're going to take a quick -- Prince Bandar, excuse me -- we're going to take a quick break. We've got a lot more to talk about, including Bob Woodward's book and what he says in there about you.

Also, two United States senators, Richard Lugar and John Rockefeller, they're standing by to offer their views on what's happening in Iraq right now.

And one of the president's closest advisers, Karen Hughes, she'll join us live, as well.

"LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk, will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I have more questions for Prince Bandar about the Middle East, Iraq, terrorism, oil, much more.

And our Web question of the week is this: Do you approve of the Pentagon's ban on releasing photos of the coffins of slain U.S. military personnel? You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results later in the program.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." I'm speaking with the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

Mr. Ambassador, there's been a lot of uproar since Bob Woodward's book came out. And I interviewed Bob Woodward on Friday. And he suggested that your denial that you got the word from the president on the decision to go to war before the secretary of state, Colin Powell, may not really have been a denial. Listen to what he said to me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB WOODWARD, THE WASHINGTON POST: I interviewed the president, and we spent a long time going over that meeting and the meeting with Colin Powell. And the president is the one who said, like to Colin Powell, time to get your war uniform on.

That's not a maybe, that's war is coming. It could not have been clearer. For some reason, Bandar wants to fuzz this up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And he also says, Woodward, that you called him around midnight Thursday night and you said, "wink, wink," suggesting you really weren't denying. You knew the president had made up his mind.

BIN SULTAN: Wolf, let's start with the second question. Yes, I did call Bob Woodward after his bedtime, and I had an objective: To wake him up, because he kept me awake for three, four days now, people asking about his book.

And as far as "wink, wink," I think when you wake up somebody at midnight they might hear things or see things. But I can tell you...

BLITZER: Are you saying you didn't say "wink, wink" to him?

BIN SULTAN: What I'm trying to tell you is that everything in the story about my meeting with the vice president that Bob Woodward put in his book is accurate. Bob Woodward portrayed that meeting accurately.

What he did not hear, because he was not there and I was there, or maybe he didn't know, is when I walked into the vice president's office, I was told, "The president has not made a final decision. Now we'll give you the briefing." And I don't see any contradiction between these.

As far as what the president said to the secretary of state, I'm not privy to that, and I wasn't there. And I'll take Bob Woodward's word for it, since he talked to both of them.

BLITZER: But you emerged from that meeting in January, two months before the war started, convinced the president had made up his mind.

BIN SULTAN: I emerged from that meeting in January thinking that if Saddam Hussein had any brains, he will accept whatever he is offered diplomatically, because I had no doubt if Saddam Hussein turned the offer down, there would be war, yes.

BLITZER: The other controversial point involving you and the Bush administration, supposedly underscoring this unique relationship that you have with the Bush family, Woodward writes in his book, the book called "Plan of Attack," he writes: "According the Prince Bandar, the Saudis hoped to fine-tune oil prices over 10 months to prime the economy for 2004. What was key, Bandar knew, were the economic conditions before a presidential election, not at the moment of the election."

The suggestion that you were trying to help the president get re- elected by lowering the price of oil, increasing Saudi output on the eve of election. BIN SULTAN: When it comes to oil prices, Wolf, the Saudis always, as far as the media is concerned, damned if I do, damned if I don't. If the price is high, we are blamed for it.

And some politicians, in fact, said, if President Bush has close relations with the Saudis, "Why doesn't he talk to them to bring the prices down?" Now that we're working on that, they say, "You see, they're talking together."

BLITZER: But is this a political gift designed to help the president get...

BIN SULTAN: No, it isn't.

BLITZER: ... re-elected?

BIN SULTAN: No, it isn't. Absolutely not. This is a manifestation of an oil (ph) health (ph) policy. Saudi oil policy is that we want the prices to stay between $22 to $28. Anything above that we think is no good for the consumer, no good for the -- and is not much good for us, because any time the oil prices affect the world economy that's recovering now, it will affect our economy as well.

BLITZER: Listen to what John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, said in Houston on Thursday. Listen to this.

BIN SULTAN: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we have a right to ask OPEC why they're waiting. What are they waiting for? If they're our friend, you write that's for sure, but if they're our friend, if they want to help us, this is the time. They could up that production tomorrow, and we deserve to have them answer us why they won't do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. What's the answer?

BIN SULTAN: Oh, it's very simple. The problem with American gas prices, high gas prices, has nothing to do with crude oil. If tomorrow Saudi Arabia sends 1 million barrels to the United States of America, this will not affect the gas prices, because it is a matter of refinery.

Wolf, the United States has not built a refinery in 15 years. There are so many regulations that differs from one state to another. Your import from refined product from gas from Europe is down 20 percent. American refining need is 1 million barrel less than your capability.

So there is no shortcut to it by increasing the production of oil.

BLITZER: Do you want...

BIN SULTAN: However, if I may say...

BLITZER: Yes.

BIN SULTAN: We have now, as our oil minister declared a few days in Dallas, Texas, we declared we are willing to help by investing in refineries in this country. But there is no shortcut.

And I would like Senator Kerry to answer the question. If we cut the oil production, 1 million barrels a few weeks ago, how come the oil prices went down $1.50? There is something wrong in the market, and there are a lot of traders, a lot of speculators.

BLITZER: Do you want President Bush to be re-elected?

BIN SULTAN: I want every president of the United States of America to be re-elected when they are in office.

BLITZER: So, you do. You would -- if you could vote, you would vote for Bush over Kerry?

BIN SULTAN: No, no. One, I don't vote. But two, you ask me, do you want the president of the United States, I say this, any president of the United States, and I worked with five of them.

BLITZER: Why do you want every president to be re-elected?

BIN SULTAN: Why wouldn't I?

BLITZER: I'm just asking.

BIN SULTAN: Me, too. I find it logical. If you work with somebody for four years...

BLITZER: Because the question has been raised about the special relationship that you have with the Bush family, the president and the president's father.

BIN SULTAN: I am proud to say I have special relation, in the personal sense, with every president I worked with. I knew President Reagan very well and his family. I've been to the family quarters. I knew President Clinton very well. I went to watch movies with him in the White House. I knew President Carter very well and his family. I knew, of course, Bush Sr.

I don't see what's the point there. Nobody wrote a book, "Al Saud and Al Clinton," "Al Saud and Al Carter." So this is part of the game that's played inside Washington inside the Beltway.

However, Wolf, you guys are going through your tribal warfare, and it doesn't make sense for me to make even logical comments until after November.

BLITZER: We don't have a lot of time left. So let me get on to some other issues. The president's relationship with another leader, Ariel Sharon, the prime minister of Israel. Listen to what the president said this week.

BIN SULTAN: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ariel Sharon came to America, and he stood up with me and he said, "We are pulling out of Gaza and parts of the West Bank." My judgment, the whole world should have said, "Thank you, Ariel."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you want to say thank you to Ariel Sharon?

BIN SULTAN: When the withdrawal takes place from Gaza, I will be very pleased. And President Mubarak yesterday gave a speech, and he said any time Israel withdraws from an occupied Arab territory, that's good news.

BLITZER: So this is an important step that the Israelis are making?

BIN SULTAN: It is an important step any time Israel withdraws or dismantles settlements, yes. But it is not -- as long as it is not isolated step in the -- not in context.

And as far as the Prime Minister Sharon meeting with President Bush, if you read the statement of President Bush, you will find what we in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) find essential is all there. He affirmed the two- state concept. He affirmed 242, 338 U.N. Resolutions. He affirmed the final status issues will be negotiated between the parties, and in that -- in that setting, in that set, I don't see what's wrong with these statements.

BLITZER: He said one thing and I'll press you on this. In supporting a two-state solution, Israel alongside a new state of Palestine, he said Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state. Does Saudi Arabia believe that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state?

BIN SULTAN: Yes, if there's a Palestinian state and an Israeli Jewish state, that's fine. That is not the question, though. The question is -- Israel exists today as a state, what we are dealing with is making -- creating the Palestinian state where the Palestinians will have their own home.

And in that context, I believe that, really, on the basics, that counts Saudi Arabia, we didn't see a major change between the four points I mentioned to you. The road map, 242, 338, the final status issues to be discussed and negotiated between the parties, and that all was in the president's speech.

Well, now the Israelis are very clever. I bet you there are things in the president's speech that Prime Minister Sharon didn't like, but they only accentuated the positive that suited them.

BLITZER: Well, they like the fact that he was saying that the right of return for the Palestinians no longer applies.

BIN SULTAN: I understand, as his views, which is fine. But we, the Arabs, I think, should take what we like from his speech and then emphasize it.

BLITZER: One final question: Sharon now says that his commitment to President Bush not to kill Yasser Arafat is no longer applicable. He said in an interview on Israel television the other day. The Bush administration says it should be applicable. They don't want him to harm Ariel Sharon. What would happen if...

BIN SULTAN: Harm Arafat.

BLITZER: I mean, harm Yasser Arafat. What would happen if they did?

BIN SULTAN: I think it would be disaster and it would be a very negative -- it will have a negative impact on the whole peace process. But the good news is I just hear before I came to the studio that Prime Minister Sharon have said this is, anyway, not in the card at the moment, and therefore he is backing down. I think it is smart to just put this issue to bed and not talk about it anymore.

BLITZER: Prince Bandar, we have to leave it right there. Thanks very much for joining us.

BIN SULTAN: Thank you, and I enjoyed being with you. Alas, you are a Redskin fan, and that bothers me as a Dallas Cowboy fan.

BLITZER: We do have something in common. We both went to the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

BIN SULTAN: Absolutely. And I don't know how they got -- allowed you and I to join there.

BLITZER: We both graduated from there.

(LAUGHTER)

BIN SULTAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming. I appreciate it.

Up next, U.S. Senators Richard Lugar and Jay Rockefeller about whether Iraq is ready for the handover just 66 days away.

And Howard Dean on how his one-time rival, John Kerry, is doing on the campaign trail.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

L. PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVILIAN ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: If you do not defend your country, it will not be saved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, placing some of the burden back on the Iraqis. For now, of course, it's primarily a United States fight.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now on the Iraq story and more, two U.S. senators. Richard Lugar is a Republican. He's chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Jay Rockefeller is a Democrat. He's the vice chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee, also a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senators, welcome to "LATE EDITION."

And I'll begin with you, Senator Lugar. Fallujah right now, the president has been meeting at Camp David with his national security advisers, teleconference, video conference, with his military commanders.

Should the U.S. forces, in your opinion, go in to Fallujah, if the insurgents don't give up and lay down all their weapons?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: Yes, the United States has to be successful in getting the insurgents out of Fallujah. Now, the strategy of how that's to be done and the tactics are clearly up to the commander. But it must be decisive, and it must be complete.

BLITZER: The special U.S. envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, Senator Rockefeller, was on ABC earlier today. Listen to the warning he delivered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, SPECIAL U.N. ENVOY TO IRAQ: When you surround city, you bomb the city, when people cannot go to hospital, if you have enemies there, this is exactly what they want you to do, to alienate more people so that more people support them, rather than you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He is saying, "Don't do it." What do you say?

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: And if I were him, I'd be saying, "Don't do it," too. Because it's going to make his life in trying to pick out future leaders, whoever they are, a lot more difficult.

But I would agree with Senator Lugar. I don't think, ultimately, that we have a choice but to go in, if they don't lay down their heavy arms. Because if you don't crack that nut and you don't control that, particularly that city, it becomes a symbol for all of Islam.

BLITZER: Senator Lugar, there is another standoff. U.S. troops surrounding Najaf, which is a holy city, as you well know, to Iraqi Shiite, to other Shiite as well.

Similar question: Should the U.S. go into Najaf?

LUGAR: It's a huge place, 750,000 people. And the people that are part of the al-Sadr situation are heavily embedded and not easily found. But at the end of the day, they have to be routed out. That threat has to be met.

And, once again, the tactics of doing it, to minimize casualties, are tremendously important. But, at the same time, the result is very important, too. It simply cannot stand.

BLITZER: Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, he's holed up supposedly in Najaf. He's warning of suicide bombings, all-out war if the U.S. moves in. What do you say, Senator Rockefeller?

ROCKEFELLER: Well, I don't think that Sadr gets a lot of points for holing up inside a mosque and putting women and children and people praying at risk.

But beside that, I think it's the same with Fallujah. This was all predicted -- that is, the destabilization, the anger among different groups -- in pre-war intelligence. But we didn't pay enough intelligence to that, so now we're stuck with the situation.

Being stuck with that situation, we cannot come out losers. So we have to control before we turn over to the Iraqis the government. Therefore, we have to control Najaf also.

BLITZER: The ambassador, the chief administrator, Paul Bremer, this week announced that the U.S. and the coalition were changing the policy on the Baath Party membership.

Listen to precisely to what Ambassador Bremer said in a speech to the Iraqi people on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BREMER: Many Iraqis have complained to me the de-Baathification policy has been applied unevenly and unjustly. I've looked into these complaints, and they are legitimate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So now some top Baath Party members, including some generals and colonels and other leaders, after a screening process, will be allowed to get their old jobs back.

Is that a good idea?

LUGAR: Yes. Essentially, Mr. Bremer is saying it was a mistake to have totally abandoned the entirety of the army, to begin with. At the same time, clearly there were people associated with Saddam who ought to be gotten rid of. A careful vetting might have done that.

At this point, we're going to be doing that vetting, simply because, by knocking out all the Iraqi security forces, we have had a situation in which we, the United States, and our allies were not prepared to offer police work or security either for quite some time.

Now we're recouping. We're understanding, we're moving toward Iraqi sovereignty of some sort. That is going to require these people, and it is a good time to begin to reorganize.

BLITZER: What do you say, Senator Rockefeller?

ROCKEFELLER: I would agree with what Senator Lugar says, as to that we've got to allow Sunnis, who are the particularly teachers and other technocrats, to be able to come into...

BLITZER: But these aren't just teachers that they're talking about.

ROCKEFELLER: I know. Actually...

BLITZER: These are talking about big-time military generals.

ROCKEFELLER: And there are some of them who are tremendously important to us, and who were forced into supporting Saddam Hussein.

But I've got to say that, you know, the whole idea of firing the entire Iraqi army, which the administration of Bremer did at the very beginning, and then putting, of all people, Chalabi...

BLITZER: Ahmed Chalabi.

ROCKEFELLER: Yes. A Shia, and a mightily unpopular one in the country, and mightily unpopular on the Governing Council, in charge of that operation was really foolish. Now, they're backing away from that, and that is wise.

BLITZER: Was it a mistake to let Ahmed Chalabi have this high- profile role? He was a favorite, as you well know, over at the Pentagon. The vice president liked him, the vice president's office. But there was always concern at the State Department, at the CIA, over Ahmed Chalabi.

LUGAR: Well, there's currently been a conflict within our own government. In retrospect, probably not a good idea.

Now, of course, we come to the point in which Ambassador Brahimi, in trying to name the people, the 29 people for the new government, is pointedly pointing toward the fact that Chalabi will not be one of them. I heard Chalabi in an interview this morning indicating that he doesn't like Brahimi, believes he's a Sunni, essentially doesn't have the confidence of the Iraqi people.

So this is still another issue, but as we begin to get into the selection of people, those who are there now, including Chalabi, the 24 people on the Governing Council, and he in a very prominent role, may say we don't want to quit, we are still in this thing, we passed a law of continuity that pulls us into it.

BLITZER: It could be a dicey situation.

All right, Senators, stand by. We're going to take a quick break.

We have much more coming up, more with these two senators.

Also, later we'll speak with Karen Hughes -- she's a top adviser to President Bush -- about the road to reelection.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with two top U.S. senators, Richard Lugar and Jay Rockefeller.

Senator Lugar, the New York Times has an editorial today in which it says that Rumsfeld has not put together a good plan in Iraq. It says: "It is past time for the president to let go of Mr. Rumsfeld's flawed theories of war and authorize a real long-term increase in the force in Iraq."

Senator McCain, among others, saying the U.S. simply doesn't have enough troops in Iraq, has been saying that for a long time. The defense secretary, Don Rumsfeld, saying he's simply listening to his commanders, General Abizaid, and responding to their needs.

LUGAR: It is apparent more forces are needed in Iraq. The question then comes, can they come from somewhere else? Pleas to various allies, NATO and so forth. A few might, but even then, not in as timely a fashion as going to be required, in terms of current security. So it really is up to us.

It's a question of whether we can find the troops that are going to meet those objectives, get them to Iraq and meet the security situation, because, otherwise, this transition on June 30 simply is not going to work. It will happen, but I mean, the security situation will be such that the people can't govern.

BLITZER: So let me be precise. Unless the U.S. and its coalition partners dramatically beef up the military presence in Iraq, the June 30th transition will fail?

LUGAR: Well, it will fail only in the sense that the Iraqis expect to have a degree of sovereignty at that point. But they're going to be in the same predicament Iraqis were in 1920 with the British. There was a referendum on the situation. The British thought they had it solved, and then suddenly, from various points in the country, came attacks.

Ultimately, British were eviscerated and hung up, as Americans have been. They sent in troops. They did aerial bombardment. They suffered 2,000 British casualties to bring about security in the country. This is after a so-called transition to some other type of governmental form, and the British were then there for a long, long while.

All I'm saying is the security thing is absolutely critical for the moment. Security implies more troops with the right strategy to rout out the insurgents.

BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, does the U.S. have enough troops in Iraq?

ROCKEFELLER: No, we don't. And the president is not leveling with us about it. And I think that's a fundamental matter in all of this. And I even think it raises the point: Is some of this being orchestrated with the election in mind?

Look, he, above all, needs to know, does know, that we need more troops. I've been over to Iraq a number of times, as has Senator Lugar.

You can read in the eyes of the generals that they want more troops. They're not going to say so unless they're permitted to.

We need more troops, and we also need to pay for those troops. And the president won't talk about that. We know now definitively that there will not be any supplemental appropriation, the request for additional funds, until January 2005, after the election. The money is needed now.

It's going to cost $1.1 billion just to, you know, to keep the 30,000 troops there for another couple of months. And then there's the whole question of all the new troops coming in, as Spanish and Nicaraguan troops get out. There's no plan to pay.

John McCain didn't just say we need more troops. He said we need more troops, and there's no plan. And he's right.

BLITZER: It's costing about a billion dollars a week for the Pentagon to maintain the troop levels in Iraq right now, with $4.5 billion a month. Is that right?

LUGAR: That's what Secretary Wolfowitz testified this week.

BLITZER: Why won't the administration, if the troops -- if they're running out with money, why won't they ask for some more money?

LUGAR: Essentially, they contend that the unknowable is still unknowable, that we just don't know what the situation will be, and therefore, when it's required, then we will come forward.

But you're correct, that apparently as it's a billion dollars a week at the current level. As Jay has said it, we have more troops, it will be more.

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead. You were going to make a point. ROCKEFELLER: Unknowable? I mean, pre-war intelligence from a whole variety of sources inside the government, outside the government, predicted all of this chaos. They predicted we would not be viewed as liberators. We would be viewed as oppressors. There would be all kinds of fractional fighting and disturbances. There would be chaos. The president is now using the word, sort of a mild form of civil war or something to that effect. Some have been using that for a long time. I mean, you can't pretend that we didn't know this was going to happen.

So now, Wolfowitz comes before the Armed Services Committee and says, "Well, I'll shuffle around in the Pentagon budget to find some other money." Well, from who? From somebody's Humvee protection or body armor?

BLITZER: We're out of time, but I'll ask you a quick question. There's been a lot of suggestions, as you well know as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, that the White House is dissing, if you will, is snubbing your committee, not making available the high-level witnesses that you want -- the secretary of defense, the secretary of state -- to come before the panel and explain what the policy is.

Do you feel that they're doing that?

LUGAR: Well, I would put it the other way around. We've had three days of opportunity for the White House, for the administration, to testify. And Marc Grossman did a great job on behalf...

BLITZER: He's the number-three official at the State Department.

LUGAR: Yes. But he gave a lot of information, much more so than I've heard on the governance issue from any other source.

Now we're going to have some more hearings. There'll be more opportunities. They are important to the administration, important for the American people to understand, really, the administration position.

Our committee, Senator Biden and I, are supportive of the president. We're supportive of the war effort. We want him to succeed. But it cannot succeed without good plans. And we're trying to force some planning and some modus (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as to how this might work.

BLITZER: Senator Lugar, as usual, thanks very much.

Senator Rockefeller, thanks to you, as well.

We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Just ahead, we'll get some inside information on the White House strategy on Iraq and the election from the Bush adviser Karen Hughes. We'll get to all of that. First, though, let's go to CNN's Kelli Arena here in Washington for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush talked to his military and national security advisers this weekend about the situation in Fallujah and other hot spots in Iraq.

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is joining us now with an update -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Very important meetings, Wolf. President Bush at Camp David is really hunkering down with his top military officials, as well as his national security team, meeting with them and rather discussing with them on those videoconference calls.

And the conclusions here is that they are essentially going to wait off, they're going to hold off on Fallujah. This is coming from coalition and military officials who say that there has been some progress that has been made over the last 24 hours in those negotiations.

But really, the next critical benchmark here is going to be this coming Tuesday. That is when insurgents have up until that point to turn over their weapons to the coalition troops. Also, the coalition, as well as Iraqi police forces, will be patrolling together the city of Fallujah in the hopes of taking back control.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIMMITT: Last night one of the most important positive movements was the agreement on the return of joint patrols back into the city on the 27th. That is a significant step. If, in fact, that bears fruit, that means that we have coalition control back inside the city of Fallujah.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Wolf, that is certainly what they are hoping for. They are pushing for the political track. As you can imagine, if things do not go well, this will only complicate matters in turning power back to the Iraqi people by that June 30th deadline -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

Thanks, Suzanne, very much.

And within shouting distance of the White House, hundreds of thousands of people are on the march today in favor of abortion rights for women. CNN's Elaine Quijano is following that story. She's joining us live -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Wolf.

D.C. Metropolitan Police estimate the crowd size at about 200,000 to 300,000 people. Abortion rights activists are calling this event the March for Women's Lives. And they say that their agenda does not just include abortion rights but also women's health and reproductive rights in general, to include things like sex education and women's access to birth control.

Now, the groups that have been participating include some 1,400 groups nationwide who have mobilized their demonstrators to come here to Washington for this event. Some familiar names like Planned Parenthood and Naral Pro-Choice America, but also some lesser-known organizations like the Black Women's Health Imperative and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

But all of these activists here share a very common clear message, anti-President Bush, they say. Under the present administration, the reproductive rights, they say, have been under attack. And specifically, they point to legislation the president recently signed into law banning certain late-term abortions.

They say they are also concerned about the future of the United States Supreme Court, with the anticipated retirement of several justices. The activists say they fear a conservative shift in the court could lead to the reversal of its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

The demonstrators are urging those here to vote, so they can have an impact at the ballot box come November.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: If all we do is march today, that will not change the direction that this country is headed under the leadership of this administration.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: Now, a number of counterdemonstrators, anti-abortion protesters are also scheduled to turn out. They plan to line the march route, rather, on Pennsylvania Avenue.

This march has been under way for about an hour or so, and at last word they had made their way along the Ellipse, just south of the White House. They plan to finish up their rally here in a couple of hours -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine Quijano reporting from a very noisy Washington Mall, where demonstrations are under way.

Thanks, Elaine, very much.

President Bush is surrounded by several strong women, his wife Laura, his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and joining us now from Los Angeles, the author of a new book, a best-seller, "Ten Minutes From Normal," the president's long-time friend and adviser, Karen Hughes. Karen, thanks very much for joining us.

I want to get to the book, want to get to Iraq, other issues in just a moment, but what do you make of this demonstration on the Washington Mall today? Does the president have a problem with American women, when it comes to abortion rights?

KAREN HUGHES, PRESIDENT BUSH'S ADVISER: Well, Wolf, actually, I think the president gets far too little credit for what he has done for American women. Look at the fact that he has more senior women in his administration than any administration in the history of our country. And I was very proud of that fact. I went to senior staff meetings at the White House where eight of the 18 people present were women. I was one of the three people who helped run his presidential campaign. The other two were men. He paid us all equally. He treated us all equally. So I think this president has a very strong record for women.

I really believe, Wolf, the biggest issue for women this year is the safety and security of our families. And clearly, President Bush is leading the way to making the world safer and more peaceful. And that's the utmost important issue I think for women all across the country this year.

BLITZER: There is a clear difference when it comes to abortion rights between the president and his Democratic challenger, John Kerry. In your opinion, Karen, how big of an issue will this abortion rights issue be in this campaign?

HUGHES: Well, Wolf, it's always an issue. And I frankly think it's changing somewhat. I think after September 11th the American people are valuing life more and realizing that we need policies to value the dignity and worth of every life.

And President Bush has worked to say, let's be reasonable, let's work to value life, let's try to reduce the number of abortions, let's increase adoptions.

And I think those are the kind of policies that the American people can support, particularly at a time when we're facing an enemy, and really the fundamental difference between us and the terror network we fight is that we value every life. It's the founding conviction of our country, that we're endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, the right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Unfortunately our enemies in the terror network, as we're seeing repeatedly in the headlines these days, don't value any life, not even the innocent and not even their own.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about Iraq. And I'll put up some numbers up, very disturbing numbers up on the screen, Karen. The number of Americans killed in Iraq since the war started more than a year ago. As of today, 719 have died, 521 of them in what's called hostile action, 198 in non-hostile action. 580 have been killed since May 1st, when the president said the end of major operations, combat operations, had occurred. And this month alone, April, which is not even over, 111 Americans have died in Iraq.

How worried are you that the situation in Iraq seems to be getting out of control, Karen?

HUGHES: Well, Wolf, it's clearly a difficult time in Iraq right now. And let me speak to the loss of life. We mourn every life. I'm the daughter of a career Army officer who fought in three wars -- World War II, Korea and Vietnam. And I have vivid memories in my own childhood of sending him off to war. And so I know what the families of those men and women in uniform are going through and the tremendous sacrifice that they're making.

But I think, at times when it seems especially hard, we need to remember what is at stake and the reason we went into Iraq in the first place, and those reasons have not changed. Saddam Hussein was a threat to the peace and stability of the world. He was a terrible tyrant, one of the worst in the history of the world, and he was fomenting terror by paying families of suicide bombers.

You know, I've always wondered about those who questioned his ties to terror, because he basically put a bounty on the head of young, innocent -- young women and men who would go and blow themselves up to try to foment terror and instability in a very important region of the world, in the Middle East, a very, very volatile place, as you well know.

And so I think the reasons we went in were absolutely right. It is hard, and it's hard right now, and as you know, you reported earlier, the National Security Council is meeting this weekend to try to -- we've been very patient. We're trying to reduce the insurgency in a very peaceful way.

But at some point, we have to remember the objective, and the objective is that those who are trying to foment terror, who are killing American soldiers or who are killing innocent Iraqis, will be brought to justice.

BLITZER: But there's no doubt -- I think there's no doubt that the single most important reason that the president told the American people why he was ordering this war was the weapons of mass destruction, the chemical and biological stockpiles in Iraq, which, as you well know, and which everyone in the world knows by now, have not yet been found. And, on that point, there's a lot of concern.

HUGHES: And, Wolf, let me -- I'm glad you brought that up, because I wanted to address that. Chief Weapons Inspector David Kay came back from Iraq, and he reached two very important conclusions. And I'm worried that the American people have only heard one of them.

He said that he thought we were wrong about the weapons. Now, there are some who will still argue with that who believe they'll be found, and after all, we know that he had them in the past. He used them on his own people. But David Kay concluded that we were wrong about the weapons.

But more importantly, even as importantly, in my opinion, he also concluded that we were absolutely right about the war, because, Wolf, he said, the situation in Iraq was even more dangerous, even more unstable, than we thought when we went in there, and that there was evidence of ongoing weapons activities and programs that could have, in fact, been accessed by terrorists and used to create the nightmare scenario, which is that we have -- we know we have people who hate America, and al Qaeda hates America.

And it's not because we went into Iraq. It's because they hate the things we stand for. They hate freedom; they hate liberty; they hate tolerance; they hate religious freedom; they hate those who respect the rights of individuals.

And so we know al Qaeda hates us and wants to go after us. And we have -- it's our obligation to do everything in our power to prevent the nightmare scenario that those terrorists who want to attack us would be able to do so with any kind of weapons or information they might be able to gain from Iraq.

BLITZER: On the whole issue of WMD, weapons of mass destruction, in Bob Woodward's new book, "Plan of Attack," he has this section. Let me put it up on the screen and read it to our viewers:

"Bush turned to Tenet" -- that would be George Tenet, the CIA director -- "'I've been told all this intelligence about having WMD, and this is the best we've got?' From the end of one of the couches in the Oval Office, Tenet rose up, threw his arms in the air. 'It's a slam-dunk case,' he" -- George Tenet -- "said."

Obviously, not such a slam-dunk case, since it's been more than a year and the WMD have not yet been found. A lot of people are asking, Karen Hughes, why does the president keep George Tenet on the payroll, given the fact that he said it was a slam-dunk case and it wasn't?

HUGHES: Well, Wolf, first of all, you have to remember that intelligence, by its nature, is trying to figure out something that people don't want you to know. It means that you're trying to figure out something that someone's trying to hide.

And we know that Saddam Hussein was engaged in a pattern of deception. The U.N. inspections themselves proved he was trying to deceive and hide and obfuscate at every turn.

The president has to rely on his intelligence agency. After all, they're working every day, the men and women of our intelligence services, to try to prevent further attacks against our country. And they have foiled many such attacks against our country.

And so they're doing a good job, working hard every day, and I personally hate to see them second-guessed, as they've been before the 9/11 commission. Because I was in the White House and, based on everything I know, I don't believe that anyone before the horror of that day could have put together the pieces in a way that would have prevented the horror of that day.

But let me address the George Tenet statement to the president, because I think it really debunks a myth that the 10 Democrats who ran for president, and Senator Kennedy -- Senator Kerry, excuse me -- his Massachusetts twin Senator Kennedy does this too, but Senator Kerry continues to mislead the American people about this fact.

He continues to act as if somehow the president or the administration distorted the threat. That is absolutely untrue. And he should apologize and stop doing it, because it is very clear from what Bob Woodward has reported that President Bush and the administration relayed the facts to the American people exactly as they knew them and exactly as they were told them.

BLITZER: All right. So clearly, though, George Tenet, at least based on everything we know right now, got it wrong when he told the president it's a slam-dunk case. Is that the bottom line?

HUGHES: But, Wolf, he was speaking from 15 years of accumulated American intelligence. And again, you remember, we heard throughout the Democratic primary that suddenly we had pushed the CIA to exaggerate the threat. No, not true. For 15 years, this was the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of the CIA. The CIA director told President Bush it was a slam-dunk case.

And by the way, it wasn't only the CIA. It was the British intelligence service, the Israeli intelligence service. Really, every credible leader and intelligence service in the world.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to ask Karen Hughes to stand by. We want to talk about her new book. We also want to talk about what's ahead for the president, policy and politics in this election year.

Stay with "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with the president's long-time confidante and adviser, Karen Hughes.

Karen, there was somewhat of a controversy in Washington this week, these pictures that we saw of these coffins, bringing home American troops from Iraq.

Is it a wise policy to continue this policy that started during the first Bush administration, back in '91, continued through the Clinton administration, of not letting these coffins be photographed?

HUGHES: Wolf, I think we have to respect the privacy and wishes of families, and I think so, yes.

And it's interesting that you bring up that -- the fact that the policy has existed for some period of time, because I didn't realize that. I kept hearing all the news stories about the policy, and the implication was somehow that the Bush administration had put this in place, and of course the critics say it's put in place to try to minimize the costs. It's, you know, actually this policy, as you mentioned, has been in place for several administrations, both Republican and Democrat. And yes, I think it's a good policy.

BLITZER: Take a look at our latest CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll numbers on the presidential horse race. Likely voters' choice for president: The president gets 50 percent, Senator Kerry at 44 percent, Ralph Nader at 4 percent.

That must encourage you, to take a look at those numbers, especially the Nader number there, which presumably a lot of those people might be more inclined to vote for Kerry than the president.

HUGHES: Well, I think it's very encouraging, Wolf, especially given the extraordinary six months of negative news and attacks by the 10 Democrats who were running for president and the millions of dollars that they spent, basically not outlining any positive agenda for the future of the country, but basically aiming their fire at President Bush.

And so I think it's very encouraging news. I think it shows that people are responding to President Bush's leadership. After all, he's accomplished a great deal for our country, and he knows there's much more to do.

And Senator Kerry, I think, in the meantime has been flipflopping, and changing positions on a number of issues. I mean, the most recent this week was that he couldn't even decide whether he owned an SUV or not. He said, you know, he didn't own one, but oh, his family did. And so, where I come from, it's kind of hard to separate what you own from what your family owns, and I think that's true in most of America.

BLITZER: All right. Let's go through some of the things that you've written in your new book, "Ten Minutes from Normal" -- as I said, it's number two on the New York Times best-sellers list. If you keep working hard, Karen, you might make number one, although you've got a lot of stiff competition.

HUGHES: There's a lot of competition out there. That's right.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about one quote that I found intriguing. There are a lot of quotes intriguing, but this one I thought was important. "I worry that the obsessive interest in a candidate's past prevents too many good people from running for public office."

And I raise that issue because of all of the look-back, right now, of John Kerry's past, going back to the Vietnam War and his behavior after he returned from Vietnam.

Are we taking too much -- going back too far into Senator Kerry's past?

HUGHES: Well, let me divide that into two parts, because, first of all, I do worry about that. I remember, during our own campaign, there was all kinds of gossip and innuendoes and rumors, and many of them were reported, and they were put on the Internet, and then the mainstream media thinks they have to pick them up. And I think that's very troubling to people. It's almost as if you have to disprove a negative, rather than -- a candidate has to disprove a negative, rather than someone has to come forward and make a charge against the candidate. And I worry that does prevent good people from entering the democratic process.

And, after all, our democracy is only as good as the people who agree to step up and run for office. And I think they deserve a little more respect from all of us, because it's very hard to run for office these days. It's a very negative environment. It's a very hostile environment. And the critics are quite critical. They bandy about words like "liars" and "crooked," and, as Senator Kerry has already said about President Bush, which again I think is just beyond the pale. It's not the kind of thing that should take place in our national discourse.

Now, let me turn to the issue of Senator Kerry and Vietnam, because I found it interesting this week that his campaign said that they were going to position his presidential campaign in the context of his service in Vietnam, and I find that very interesting, that a candidate for the future, running to be the next president of the United States, would look back to a 35-year-old war to try to position his candidacy.

And, you know, Senator Kerry served for four months in Vietnam, and served very honorably, as everything I can tell. My father was also in Vietnam for more than a year. He was in three wars, as I mentioned. I think what troubles a lot of people, my father and veterans and people like me, I remember watching Senator Kerry, back when he was against the war, when he came home, and I was very troubled by the kind of allegations that he hurled against his fellow veterans, saying that they were guilty of all kinds of atrocities.

He now appears to be backing off that statement somewhat. But as someone whose father was over there fighting, I don't appreciate that. I resent that. I know my father was not guilty of any atrocities. And I really find that that's an irresponsible kind of charge to make.

And I also was very troubled by the fact that he participated in the ceremony where veterans threw their medals away, and he only pretended to throw his. Now, I can understand if out of conscience you take a principled stand and you would decide that you you were so opposed to this that you would actually throw your medals. But to pretend to do so, I think that's very revealing.

BLITZER: Karen Hughes, unfortunately, we have to leave it right there.

I will point out that last Sunday on "Meet the Press" Senator Kerry did express regret, saying that, looking back now, he wishes he wouldn't have used that word, "atrocities," as he used when he did come home from Vietnam. He was a younger man. He was clearly passionate at the moment...

HUGHES: But I wish I knew...

BLITZER: ... in his opposition to the war.

HUGHES: I agree with that. He did say that. I saw him say that. And I wish we knew a little bit more about that. I mean, did he think he did commit them or not? And who else did? And what was he really saying? Was he totally exaggerating? Was he making it up?

I think that the press ought to follow some line of inquiry about that.

BLITZER: Well, he will also say, and his supporters will point out, that he's more than happy to compare his military record to President Bush's military record. I don't know if you want to go down that road.

HUGHES: Well, I will, because President Bush served very honorably for six years in the Air National Guard. I took a trip to Afghanistan earlier this year, and I was flown home by some outstanding officers who were serving in the Air National Guard.

And so I think duty -- service in the National Guard is honorable. We should honor that sacrifice. We have a lot of members of our National Guard overseas right now fighting and dying to protect this country.

BLITZER: Now our viewers know why Karen Hughes is such a trusted adviser and friend of the president of the United States. She's got a new book out called "Ten Minutes from Normal."

Congratulations on this best-seller. Karen Hughes, please come back and join us.

HUGHES: I will, Wolf. The book's kind of fun. It's not all political. It's really the story of what it's like to be a normal person who finds herself with her boss suddenly running for president. And it's about, you know, kind of the struggle that we all face to balance career and family and how to set our priorities in life. So I think it's -- I think it's an interesting read.

BLITZER: I think our viewers will enjoy it. Thanks very much, Karen Hughes, for joining us.

HUGHES: Thank you.

BLITZER: And coming up next, a quick check of what's making news at this hour, including an update on that deadly train explosion in North Korea. We'll ask Howard Dean about what it's like to run against John Kerry. And on the international scene, we'll talk with Qatar's foreign minister about Iraq, the region, and Al-Jazeera, which is based in Doha, Qatar.

You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Will abortion rights for women make a difference on Election Day? Joining us now from the March for Women's Lives here in Washington, the former Democratic presidential candidate, the former Vermont governor, Howard Dean.

Governor Dean, thanks very much for joining us.

You're there. What's the mood up on the Mall right now when it comes to the president of the United States and his opposition to abortion rights for women?

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's not just the opposition to abortion rights. It's kind of the general attack on women in general. This is a president who has not been supportive of child care, not been supportive of educational opportunities, not been supportive of increasing the minimum wage, not been supportive of giving women equal opportunity, which they don't entitle -- which they are not getting now in the workplace. They make about 75 cents for every dollar a male makes.

So this is a group of people who are pretty unhappy with the president and pretty worried about what might happen if he were to be reelected.

BLITZER: Some people are raising questions why Senator Kerry didn't show up today at this march in Washington. Should he have come?

DEAN: Well, as you know, he was here Friday with the leadership of all these organizations. And I know from experience when you run a presidential campaign, you can't be everywhere at once.

So you know, Senator Kerry did the right thing by coming here Friday. And I'm not sure where he's campaigned today, but I don't think he's hurt himself any.

BLITZER: Do you think he should be making this a big issue, the difference between himself and the president, when it comes to abortion rights?

DEAN: It's not -- as I said before, Wolf, it's not just abortion rights. And I think we do -- Democrats do enjoy about a 10 percent lead over the president among women because he's been so awful on basic economic rights for women.

The president's very unsympathetic toward working women, single moms, people who are struggling on minimum wage, people -- trying to take away overtime. Those kinds of things don't endear him to the majority of women voters in this country. And I think Senator Kerry's right to make that a big issue.

BLITZER: Let me remind you and throw back some words that you said in the -- quoted in the Los Angeles Times way back in January when you were still running for president, and see if you straightened this out with Senator Kerry since then. At the time, you said, "Senator Kerry, just last spring, couldn't give a straight answer on where he was on parental notification. So I think Senator Kerry has a bit of explaining to do on his position on abortion rights."

Have you clarified that with him since then?

DEAN: You know, I think when you run for president against each other in a Democratic primary, we highlight our differences. I'd like to think about the things we have in common. Senator Kerry believes in the right to choose. So do I.

Senator Kerry's a very strong advocate for clean air. The president is not. I am.

Senator Kerry believes in working with other countries in a proactive foreign policy defending the United States, the president doesn't. I do.

So the similarities between me and Senator Kerry make it easy for me to support him, easy for me to endorse him. He'd be a far better president than President Bush.

BLITZER: But on the issue of parental notification, has he clarified his stance on that?

DEAN: I actually -- we have not talked about that since he has essentially won the nomination. Parental notification is important to me as a doctor, because I think women ought to have the right to make decisions -- their own personal health decisions.

But I do think that the broad -- on the broad brush issues, that John Kerry and I are very much in agreement: the environment, wages, education, health care, foreign relations. I fully support Kerry, and I'm happy to do it.

BLITZER: In our latest CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, the president slightly ahead, 50 to 44, over John Kerry, if you add the 4 percent that Ralph Nader is getting.

But on this question: "Would either of these two candidates, Bush or Kerry, do a good job in handling terrorism?" Bush got 64 percent yes; Kerry only gets 43 percent yes.

How do you explain that apparently 20-point significant difference between the president and Kerry in terms of handling terrorism?

DEAN: Well, I think that is mainly due to because people don't know John Kerry yet. President Bush has spent $50 million trying to tell everybody what a bad person John Kerry is. It's going to have some effect, even though it hasn't much.

I think the president is very weak on terrorism. We're in a lot more trouble now than we were before we went into Iraq. We still don't have Osama bin Laden under lock and key. We're losing Americans and Europeans and all kinds of people every single day.

So I think over time, Senator Kerry has shown that he's a very strong closer. And I ruefully can attest to that.

And I think John Kerry will beat George Bush, and I think he's going to do it because the American people feel, in the long run, they're going to be safer with John Kerry as president than they have been with George Bush as president.

BLITZER: John Kerry is being sharply attacked by the Bush-Cheney campaign in a new ad that comes up, talks about this issue that you just raised. Let me play it for you, and then we'll get your response. This is the Bush-Cheney campaign ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: John Kerry says, a lot of people don't really know who I am. Well, actually, a lot of people do.

ANNOUNCER: Kerry's hometown paper says, in his continuing effort to be all things to all voters, John Kerry is engaging in a level of doublespeak that makes most voters wince.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You've campaigned against him. Now you're campaigning for him. What do you say in response to that ad?

DEAN: Nothing. I think negative ads by the Bush-Cheney people is what they do. They don't know how to say anything positive, and they don't have a positive agenda for the country. We've lost 2.5 million jobs. He's running half-trillion-dollar deficits. We've lost almost 700 American -- brave American soldiers in Iraq.

I'd rather have John Kerry any day, and I don't care what kind of negative ads the president plays. The president's a negative president. I'd like a positive president.

BLITZER: What's the biggest difference, from your vantage point, between the president and the Democratic candidate when it comes to dealing with the situation in Iraq right now?

DEAN: I think John Kerry will do what the president should have done in the first place, which is, first, tell the truth to the American people about how we got there, secondly bring the United Nations in.

This ought not to be an American occupation. All we're going to do is have a target on the back of every American over there. This needs to be a U.N. reconstruction. We need to replace some of our troops with the United Nations troops, turn this over to the U.N.

I thought it was a mistake to get in there in the first place, but now that we're there we've got to make the best of it. We can't just pull out, as President Bush is intimating he may do on June 30th, because that's going to leave al Qaeda in charge. We can't afford that for the security of the United States.

BLITZER: But let me get you to response to this. You're saying -- you're suggesting the president didn't tell the American people the truth. We just heard Karen Hughes...

DEAN: Absolutely not.

BLITZER: We just heard Karen Hughes point out, and Bob Woodward writes about it in his book, that George Tenet, the CIA director, told him on the issue of WMD, weapons of mass destruction, it was a slam dunk.

Shouldn't the president rely on his intelligence community leadership for that kind of information?

DEAN: Well, we don't know if the president didn't tell us the truth because he willfully misled us or because he just has a lousy administration that can't shoot straight.

But for one reason or the other, the Iraqis didn't have weapons of mass destruction; they weren't about to get nuclear weapons, as Vice President Cheney said; there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, as the president led us to believe.

We went to Iraq without being told the truth about why we're there. I don't know if the president deliberately lied to the American people. I've never said that he has, because I can't prove it. But I do know that he was not truthful. Whether it's his people's fault or his fault, the American people will make that judgment on Election Day.

BLITZER: Last week on this program, I interviewed Ralph Nader and he said flatly he's staying in this race until the election, November 2nd, no matter what. And he also said this, listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RALPH NADER, INDEPENDENT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, let's compete for the votes. Nobody's entitled for votes. We all have to earn them. We've got to have more diversity, more voices, more choices.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was specifically responding to you, who -- clearly, you and many Democrats would like him to be out of the race. He's getting 4 percent in our national poll, and a lot of those voters presumably would be Democratic voters if he were not in this race.

How worried are you about Ralph Nader?

DEAN: Well, I think he could make a difference. But if we stick to our guns and stand up for what we believe in with a strong progressive agenda for America, Ralph Nader won't make that difference. Look, the truth is, a vote for Ralph Nader is essentially the same as a vote for George Bush for most voters who are going to vote for Ralph Nader.

I think there's a big difference between John Kerry and George Bush. I choose John Kerry because my choice is only two people. Ralph Nader knows that he's not going to be the president of the United States.

The question is, do you want four more years of George Bush or not? I don't think we can afford it with half-trillion-dollar deficits. These guys haven't balanced the budget in 34 years. We can't trust them with our taxpayer dollars.

BLITZER: A lot of our viewers have written me in the last few days since we've told them you were going to be on this program, wanting to know what are you up to nowadays. What are you doing, Governor Dean? What's primary on your agenda?

DEAN: We have a group called DemocracyforAmerica.com. It's aimed at getting grassroots people to run for office. We're going to try to support them.

You know, you can't not vote and then complain about the way the country's going. And voting's the bare minimum. We want people to run for office.

You know, we can blame George Bush for a lot of things that are going wrong, but part of the blame is for the Democratic Party for not standing up to him, and part of the blame is for ordinary Americans for not getting involved when it really mattered.

Everybody knows now what the stakes are. We've seen big deficits. We've seen involvement overseas. We've seen deterioration of the environment. We've lost two and a half million jobs. Nobody has an excuse to stand on the sidelines.

Democracyforamerica.com's going to get people to run for office. We've got 600 of them already. Support them and give America back to ordinary Americans, and take it back from all those corporations that are funding the president's campaign.

BLITZER: Howard Dean is joining us from the Washington Mall, the big demonstration here in the nation's capital today.

Governor Dean, thanks very much as usual for joining us on "LATE EDITION."

DEAN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just ahead, we'll speak with Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabir Al-Thani, the foreign minister of Qatar. We'll ask him about the war on terrorism, what's going on in Iraq, and the role of Al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Deadly violence in Iraq has some members of the coalition withdrawing troops and has President Bush's critics at home asking how much more the war will cost in lives and treasure.

One ally in the region with a close-up view of what's happening is Qatar, used during the war by the United States as an important military center. Joining us now live from New York is Qatar's foreign minister and first deputy prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabir Al-Thani.

Mr. Foreign Minister, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.

And let me get to a specific question, because Qatar does play such an important role as a regional headquarters for the U.S. military's Central Command. Do you feel safer today in the region now that Saddam Hussein is gone?

SHEIKH HAMAD BIN JASIM BIN JABIR AL-THANI, FOREIGN MINISTER, QATAR: Of course. We are all pleased that Saddam Hussein is gone. No doubt about this.

BLITZER: You met with Saddam Hussein before the war. You went and you appealed to him to cooperate with the United Nations and to accept the U.S. and coalition demands. When you look back on that meeting and see him now in prison about to stand trial, what goes through your mind?

AL-THANI: It goes through my mind that he'd been misleaded by the people around him, by some messages given by other countries, and I think also that if he listened to our advice which I say to him, I think we will be without war and he will be not in power, but he will save Iraq and save the people of Iraq.

BLITZER: What do you hope happens to him in this tribunal?

AL-THANI: Well, it have to be a trial -- a fair trial. He have to receive a fair trial. I think this is all about.

BLITZER: Is there any reconsideration that you're giving, your government is giving, to allowing the U.S. military Central Command to have its regional headquarters in Doha?

AL-THANI: Well, you know, this is our policy, that we've been very clear with our friends in the United States that we would like to have a close cooperation, and this cooperation be built during the years between us.

And we find that things are going in the right direction, and this is why we have the Central Command and we have the Al Udeid Air Base which is serving both sides, you know, serve the Qatari military and it serve the American military. And I think this is a kind of cooperation which it is not directed to somebody, but it is directed to a relation between two friends. BLITZER: The Al Udeid Air Base and the As Sayliyah camp, the military facility used by the U.S.

I ask these questions, Foreign Minister, because I wonder if you're concerned that Qatar and the people of Qatar could become a target of al Qaeda or anti-American terrorism, which of course is the case in Saudi Arabia, which is your neighbor.

AL-THANI: Well, everything is possible. But let me put it this way. At least we never lie to our people. Our people know our cooperation with the United States from day one. And if you go back, everything been announced in the right time in Qatar, and before we take any step with United States, our people know about it.

I think this is the problem which we face in the region, that we don't tell our people the truth, and later they face the truth, and they lose confidence in their leaders.

And I think this is the big problem which make the terrorism more and give bin Laden reasons to tell that these people, they lie to us. They told us we have no involvement in the war (ph), and they are involved in the war (ph).

So, it's better to tell our people from the beginning. Yes, not everybody agreed about this approach or about this policy in Qatar, but the majority supporting this, because we are explaining to them why we are doing this. And I am fully confident that we have the support of not all the Qataris, but the majority of Qataris for this.

BLITZER: What I hear you saying, Foreign Minister, is pretty blunt talk, pretty blunt criticism of Saudi Arabia for supposedly lying to its own people about its cooperation with the U.S. going into the war. Is that what I'm hearing?

AL-THANI: No, I don't want to mention names. I didn't mean anybody. You can say what you want to say, but don't put me in this trap. I don't want to blame anybody. Every country have their own policy, and they can do whatever they do with their people.

But I'm talking about why we are -- we feel more relaxed, because we have the support of the majority of the people of Qatar because we telling the truth.

But I'm not mentioning any other country, with respect to Saudi Arabia and anybody else.

BLITZER: I understand. Let's talk a little bit about Al- Jazeera, which is a major thorn in the side of the U.S. government. The Bush administration, the coalition, they don't like what Al- Jazeera is reporting. Al-Jazeera's not only based in Doha, Qatar, but it's subsidized by the Qatari government as well.

Listen to what Brigadier General Kimmitt said earlier this week, specifically referring not only to Al-Jazeera, but some other Arabic television channels as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIMMITT: The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and that is lies.

So you want a solution? Change the channel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are you planning on changing at all Al-Jazeera and allowing it -- or perhaps not allowing it to broadcast as it has been broadcasting?

AL-THANI: Well, let me put it this way. First of all, I'm not a spokesman about Al-Jazeera. I am not responsible about Al-Jazeera, and -- but let me put to you -- put it this way.

Al-Jazeera is taking the view of the region. It's an Arabic channel. It's not an American or English or French channel. So of course it will show you the atmosphere what happening in the Arab world.

I don't agree with all the program, which it's coming, and I know that there is sometimes things being exaggerated in Al-Jazeera. Yes, I agree about this, and I think that they have to correct themselves in Al-Jazeera by time, not by changing the policy, but by trying to be a neutral and not use the news to aggravate any kind of situation or to try to act as a party. They should not be a party with anyone. They should say the truth, and they should be what we called a neutral channel.

But you have to put in your mind, your channels here in America, or in Europe, they always say your view, your point of view, as American. So, you have to accept that this channel will say the Arabic view, and it's good to your people and everybody to see the view of the others.

That mean, I'm not defending...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Mr. Foreign Minister, how much pressure are you under from the Bush administration to change or shut down Al-Jazeera?

AL-THANI: Well, you know, you are supporting in the Middle East a free press and a democracy. So I did not hear from anybody to shut Al-Jazeera.

Yes, there is some disappointment in your administration here. And, for me, I am not involved in this directly, and I don't want to be involved. They can talk with Al-Jazeera directly. But we are talking with the United States, and we are considering their claims, and we are referring it to Al-Jazeera to take the necessary step and to be neutral, not use the news to aggravate the situation in Iraq or elsewhere. BLITZER: Unfortunately, Foreign Minister, we have to leave it right there, but thanks so much for taking some time with us here on "LATE EDITION." Welcome to the United States. We appreciate it very much.

AL-THANI: Pleasure.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll tell you the results of our Web poll question of the week: Do you approve of the Pentagon's ban on releasing photos of the coffins of slain U.S. military personnel?

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's how you voted on our Web question of the week. Take a look at this, remembering, of course, this is not a scientific poll.

Let's turn to now some of the major covers of the weekly news magazines here in the United States.

U.S. News and World Report has youthful pictures of the presidential candidates, with the headline "1971: The Way They Were, A Defining Year in the Lives of John Kerry and George W. Bush."

Newsweek has Teresa on the cover, asking, "Is John Kerry's Heiress Wife a Loose Cannon or Crazy like a Fox?"

And Time leads the magazine with a low-carb diet, "A world beyond bread."

All right. That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, April 25th. Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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