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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview With Ahmed Chalabi; Interview With Thomas Kean, Lee Hamilton
Aired May 23, 2004 - 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, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5 p.m. in London, 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll get to my interview with Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi in just a few minutes. First, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.
BLITZER: For several years, Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi was a close ally of the United States, as well as a key adviser to the Pentagon in the months leading up to the war in Iraq.
But this week, Iraqi police raided Chalabi's home as part of an investigation into suspected fraud. Those Iraqi police were joined by U.S. personnel. Intelligence officials are also saying there is evidence Chalabi gave U.S. secrets to Iran.
Just a short while ago, I spoke with Ahmed Chalabi to get his side of the story.
BLITZER: Ahmed Chalabi, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
I'll begin with the question that many U.S. officials are now asking: Did you provide U.S. intelligence information to Iran?
AHMED CHALABI, IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS: No. That's a false charge. We never provided any classified information from the U.S. to Iran, and neither I nor anyone in the INC. And that is a charge being put out by George Tenet. I say, let him bring all his charges, all his documents. We also will bring all our charges and all our documents to the U.S. Congress, and let Congress have hearings and resolve this issue.
We believe that the Congress is the place to resolve this issue, and I think our record will be clear. That is time for Congress to have hearings like those of the late Senator Frank Church, that they had in 1976, now about the role of the CIA in Iraq in the past 14 years.
BLITZER: In the new issue of Time magazine that is just coming out, among other things they say that U.S. intelligence officials have told the FBI they have what they call "hard evidence" that you met with a senior officer of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security in Iraq. Did you meet with such a senior Iranian official?
CHALABI: I met with the minister of information, Sheikh Unassi (ph), in Tehran. That is the most senior official. And that's no secret. I met with him. Of course I met with him, in Tehran.
BLITZER: You also met with the president of Iran, President Mohammed Khatami, when you were there in December.
CHALABI: Indeed, and I met with Khamenei also, the leader of Iran.
BLITZER: Well, the specific point that Time magazine says is that your intelligence chief, Aras Karim Habib, met with the top Iranian intelligence officers and provided them with what they called "highly classified information" that potentially could endanger the way the U.S. gathers intelligence around the world.
CHALABI: Aras Karim is an Iraqi patriot. His job as intelligence chief is to meet with intelligence officers. He met with the station chief of the CIA in Baghdad also. He met with many intelligence people. That's his job. But for him to say -- to call him a traitor and that he passed information is egregious and false, and Aras will also come to provide testimony, sworn testimony to Congress. The charges are baseless and false.
BLITZER: It sounds to me that you're personally blaming George Tenet, the CIA director, for spreading these allegations. Is that correct?
CHALABI: Yes, I am. It is correct. He is responsible. George Tenet is responsible.
BLITZER: Why do you say George Tenet personally is responsible?
CHALABI: Because this goes back a long time, to 1994. We were right and he was wrong. Throughout, he's insisted that the way to remove Saddam was through a coup. We said no; a war of national liberation, assisted by the United States, is the way to move forward, and he tried many coups and we exposed the fact that he was wrong publicly, after he failed, and we sometimes warned the CIA in private about the possibility of failure. I spoke to Director John Deutch, and I warned him about the Saddam's penetration of the coup plot they had in 1996. The feud with Aras goes back a long way.
I would like also to point out to you that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Myers, said recently to Congress, in testimony to Congress that the INC program was very successful, and it helped save American lives. This program saved American lives, according to the highest military officer of the United States testifying before Congress. And I want to tell you that Aras Habib ran this program. There are many American officers in Baghdad, both military and civilian, who will testify to the integrity and the competence of Aras Habib, and his patriotism in fighting terrorism and Baathists in Baghdad.
BLITZER: Mr. Chalabi, General Myers did in fact say that, that the information provided by the INC, your organization, the Iraqi National Congress, did almost certainly save the lives of U.S. military personnel, but that was in response to a question from Congressman Cooper. But in response to another question from Congressman Tim Ryan, he was asked whether you, Ahmed Chalabi, turned out to be a con man, and that you duped the United States into going to war -- specifically General Myers responded by saying this, and I'll give you the exact quote -- he said, "I think that remains to be seen. Probably, but I just don't know." That doesn't sound like a resounding endorsement from General Myers.
CHALABI: I'm not looking for an endorsement for me from anyone at this time, but I want to say that the program is what is under discussion. I believe that this is the case. General Myers knows little about my activities, but he knows about the program. The program did save American lives.
BLITZER: The Newsweek magazine cover this week, and I'll put it up on the screen to show our viewers, "Our Con Man in Iraq," shows some broken glass. Your offices were raided by Iraqi law enforcement security personnel. There were Americans there as well. But listen to what Dan Senor, the chief coalition spokesman, said on Friday, and what Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, said the day before. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN SENOR, CPA SPOKESMAN: There were no officials from the FBI involved in the Iraqi police investigation. I just was hoping to clear that up today.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: And I certainly was not aware that there was going to be a raid on a home, if in fact there was. The -- my understanding is that the Iraqis are involved in this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Who do you believe organized that raid? Who's responsible for going into your home, into your headquarters and taking all those computers, those documents, and doing that search?
CHALABI: This raid was organized and ordered by Americans, and they used Iraqi police working under their direction. Mr. Rumsfeld, I believe him, he did not know that the raid took place. The issue of responsibility is squarely on the -- on the shoulders of the CPA.
Ambassador Bremer established this court by statute. The court is a special criminal court. It's not part of the Iraqi justice system. It is a court established under occupation, and this court is staffed by judges who -- the protection of the each judge costs $70,000 a month. You think that is equal to other Iraqi judges? The answer is no. This court only takes orders from Bremer. It only recently amended this, so that they can act on their own. But the issue of the court, it is directly under the responsibility of the CPA.
BLITZER: What kind of relationship do you have now with Ambassador Bremer?
CHALABI: I haven't spoken to him for over a month.
BLITZER: And because -- what has happened? What has deteriorated in that relationship? At one point, when he first got there, you were among those Iraqis closest to him.
CHALABI: My opposition to the Brahimi-Blackwell-Bremer plan has been noted, and it has generated a lot of support in Iraq and a lot of concern about the efficacy of this plan.
I believe that President Bush should take direct responsibility for his policy in Iraq and invite Iraqi political leaders to go to Camp David, to resolve the issue of the formation of a new government in Iraq to take sovereignty.
This government must be strong, and it must have authority. And more importantly, it must have political support from the Iraqi people through the Iraqi political leaders. Otherwise, we are moving into very dangerous waters of potential civil war and conflict.
BLITZER: But as you know, Mr. Chalabi, the president has now given the authority to Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. special envoy, to come up with some sort of formula to create this interim government after June 30th, leading toward full Iraqi elections next January. Is the president making a mistake, giving this authority to the U.N. special envoy?
CHALABI: President Bush is the most popular politician in Iraq. He liberated Iraq. The Iraqi people are grateful to him. They look to him for leadership in helping this process along, and helping the Iraqi people achieve sovereignty, and helping them establish elections.
We want to work very hard to have elections in Iraq, and we want to work very hard for us to expedite the friendly departure of U.S. troops from Iraq, with the gratitude of the Iraqi people. And we look forward to a strategic relationship between a democratic Iraq and the United States.
BLITZER: Coming up, I'll ask Ahmed Chalabi about the failure so far to find Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, which he of course said existed.
Then, two key U.S. senators weigh in on the Chalabi raid and the possible repercussions for the handover of power.
And later, the search for answers in the aftermath of the 9/11 investigation. We'll talk with the chairman and the vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission.
"LATE EDITION" will be right back.
BLITZER: "LATE EDITION"'s Web question of the week: Should the number of U.S. troops in Iraq increase, stay the same or decrease? Go to cnn.com/lateedition to cast your vote. We'll have results later in this program.
Up next, though, more of my conversation with Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi, now at the center of a huge political storm.
You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We return now to my interview with Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to what one congressman, Jim Cooper, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said on Friday, during that appearance by General Myers. Listen to this -- referring to the failure to find significant stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq since the war. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JIM COOPER (D), TENNESSEE: This seems to be a substantial development in the war. When one of the most highly paid and trusted advisers may have deliberately misled our nation for months and years, and some of our officials may have swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The U.S. taxpayers provided the Iraqi National Congress with about $30 million or $40 million in recent years, and until recently you were receiving $335,000 or $340,000 a month. That has just stopped.
Is Congressman Cooper right in his fear that you deliberately misled the U.S. about WMD in Iraq?
CHALABI: I would say to the congressman, I would recommend that he should read the GAO report about State Department funding of the INC that was just published last week, to find out how the money was spent and to find out the complete accountability that we had for that program.
As for providing false information about weapons of mass destruction, the answer is that we never provided false information, or indeed any kind of information. What we provided was defectors.
The United States intelligence agencies requested the INC in 2001, late 2001, to try to get information about weapons programs in Iraq. As you know, our primary focus was not weapons of mass destruction. Our primary focus and the funds that were spent was on exposing Saddam, on helping the Iraqi people resist Saddam, on helping them fight Saddam, on exposing and finding mass graves, victims of chemical weapons. This was our entire focus, mostly.
At the request of the United States government, they sought some information on -- they wanted to -- asked to introduce them to people. We did introduce them to three people whom we -- the identity of whom we verified, whom we believed knew about weapons of mass destruction. They talked to them. They interrogated them. One of them they took to the United States and had him for over a year before the war.
It is not our responsibility to verify this information. It is blame-shifting, again, by the CIA. The CIA is responsible, under U.S. law, for all information, secret information provided to the president, and that is clear. It appears in Woodward's book, Bob Woodward. Read the book. He says that everyone says that we did not -- the information we provided played no role in getting the U.S. to go to war. It was the evaluated and studied estimate of the CIA.
BLITZER: Mr. Chalabi, did you -- the allegation, though, is that you coached some of these defectors to come up with various scenarios, that information that U.S. officials wanted to hear but you knew was not right?
CHALABI: That is false. That never happened. I did not meet the defector ever who had gone -- whom they took to -- who had new information about the storage. I never met the defector who told them about the biological labs.
We never coached anybody to say anything at all. We only advised them to say their name, who they were and their other items of other identity, and that was left to the U.S. agencies to verify.
But it is outlandish that we, an exile organization, which was criticized and vilified by the CIA throughout the past decade, would provide information, and the United States officials would take it as credible and go to war on its basis. That is ridiculous.
If that is the case, again, I would say, hearings in Congress about the role of the CIA are very appropriate. We are prepared to participate and turn over all our information to Congress.
BLITZER: Mr. Chalabi, how many times have you met personally with President Bush?
CHALABI: I believe about four times.
BLITZER: I know you met with him when he was there with a group, at Thanksgiving, when he met with U.S. troops, and I believe you met with him on the day that he delivered the State of the Union address in January, when you were invited to sit behind first lady Laura Bush in the gallery. Is that correct?
CHALABI: Yes, that is correct.
BLITZER: You were invited into the Oval Office to meet with the president?
CHALABI: Yes, of course, I went to the Oval Office as part of the Iraqi Governing Council delegation, and we met with him. That was in the Oval Office.
BLITZER: Did you get a firm commitment from the president on that day in January about his intentions for Iraq after June 30th?
CHALABI: I said to the president, "Mr. President, please do not let the future of Iraq be determined by those who opposed the liberation of Iraq in the United Nations Security Council and elsewhere."
He said, "If there is anything you have to worry about, it is not that. We are not going to let that happen."
BLITZER: I ask the question because do you now believe the president has backed away from that commitment to you?
CHALABI: I believe that President Bush will do the right thing. We urge him to do the right thing for the Iraqi people, who look to him as the person who helped -- without him, there would have been no liberation of Iraq, and Saddam would still be in power. Saddam is out, and this goes to the credit of President Bush.
There is a de-Baathification program in Iraq, and that also goes to President Bush and Ambassador Bremer, who instituted the de- Baathification policy in Iraq. He will be remembered for that in Iraq.
But now the Iraqi people look to President Bush to establish -- to help them establish a provisional government in Iraq. There is no credibility in Iraq among the people that a government would be established by the U.N., by an Algerian diplomat working under the U.N. in Baghdad. It would be far more credible if President Bush participated personally in this process, through his senior advisers, by inviting the Iraqi political leadership to Camp David to iron out this thing so that we have a strong government by June 30th that will lead us to elections.
BLITZER: Mr. Chalabi, there is now some -- some U.S. officials suggesting that you're creating, trying to create some sort of Shiite, Iraqi Shiite organization -- you yourself are a Shiite -- and that you're even establishing some ties with the radical cleric Muqtada al- Sadr. Is that right?
CHALABI: The CPA is currently negotiating with Muqtada al-Sadr. That is not a charge. The issue here -- certainly I am a Shia. There are groups of Shia political parties that are outside the Governing Council. They have gotten together, and I have participated with them, and they have coordinated their effort.
This is a process that was initiated for the purpose of providing support for the provisional government and the provisional legislative council, to be established so that these people will feel that they are in. After all, everyone is talking about indigenous Iraqi parties. Why is this a concern? We are making a group of indigenous Iraqi parties organized together in the Shia political council, which is against sectarianism, for democracy in Iraq, for federalism in Iraq and for elections in Iraq.
CHALABI: This is a good thing.
BLITZER: Are you suggesting that there could be a role for Muqtada al-Sadr?
CHALABI: Muqtada al-Sadr is the son of the late (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Mohammed Sadr. There is a huge political following for the late Sade (ph) Mohammed al-Sadr in Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr has inherited some of it. There are many people in Iraq who look to him for leadership.
And it is important that all political parties committed to democracy in Iraq, committed to the rule of law in Iraq, should participate in the political process. It is better for the political process.
BLITZER: So he should not be arrested, or he should not be captured or killed if the U.S. coalition finds him?
CHALABI: No one -- no one -- no one is above the law in Iraq. No one is above Iraqi law. But implementing Iraqi law should not be a U.S. war objective. There are over 1,500 young men who foolishly participated in something and in shooting. They were killed by U.S. forces in the past month. That is not a good situation.
We do not want to make the Shia community in Iraq feel that they are victims of the American military forces here. They are already very disappointed about the apparent retraction from the de- Baathification policy. We tried to explain this, and we worked hard to explain this.
But the issue here is this: There is no interest, either for Iraq or for the United States, for United States forces to continue to kill Shia young men to pursue a war objective of arresting Muqtada al- Sadr.
BLITZER: Are you afraid, Mr. Chalabi, that you will be arrested?
CHALABI: I am not afraid. We survived Saddam; we hope to survive the occupation.
BLITZER: What is your immediate goal after June 30th? Do you want to be part of the interim government?
CHALABI: No, I don't. I don't want to be a candidate, and I don't want to be a part of this government. There is plenty for me to do in Iraq.
BLITZER: Will you run for election in January? CHALABI: I am not a candidate for any office.
BLITZER: Ahmad Chalabi, it's been a hectic few days for you. Thanks very much for joining us.
CHALABI: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Coming up, a check of what's making news at this hour, including an update on a deadly blast in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Then, disturbing new photographs of abused Iraqi prisoners. We'll talk with two key U.S. senators about the implications for Iraq's political future, as well as the image of the United States.
More "LATE EDITION" straight ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... that Americans are not the running kind. When this country makes a commitment, we see it through.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush telling graduates of Louisiana State University on Friday the United States will stay the course in Iraq.
Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
Joining us now here in Washington, two senators: Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. He serves on the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. She, too, is a member of the Intelligence Committee.
Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
Senator Hagel, I'll begin with you. Ahmed Chalabi, con man or Iraqi patriot?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Well, he's a very clever fellow. He's very smart. He understands power politics as well as anybody in this country.
But I think what we have here is a guy who has a record, like we all do, and that record has not turned out very well. Trouble has followed him everywhere he's been, and we have had a clear understanding of that record. There were a number of us who warned this administration about him. People in the State Department, others who dealt with him, King Abdullah of Jordan.
BLITZER: You personally had concerns about him?
HAGEL: I had big concerns about him.
BLITZER: You told the administration, be careful about this guy?
HAGEL: Yes, I did, as well as others.
This relationship began not in the Bush administration, but in the Clinton administration, with Mr. Chalabi. But the fact is, there were some in this administration, some in Congress who were quite taken with him and what he had to say.
And we are now where we are, in a very, very difficult, uncomfortable situation. I think listening to him blame Brahimi and blame Bremer and blame Bob Blackwell says it all. This guy does that. He makes a life out of that.
BLITZER: He blamed George Tenet, the CIA director.
HAGEL: And George Tenet.
But yet he's taken tens of millions of dollars, taxpayers' dollars that we can't account for most of it. That's why the State Department had to cut off some of that funding. And then it was transferred to DOD. The vice president's office, the secretary of defense's office were great supporters of him.
So now we find ourselves, I think, in a very predictable situation. When you deal with people like this, Wolf, you're going to always have this kind of an outcome and a result.
BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, I want you to weigh in as well. What do you think?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I think he's a charlatan. I think he's a manipulator. I don't believe he's a man that you can trust. I think we made a horrendous mistake in providing him with tens of millions of dollars and enabling him to build a corps of infiltrators, allegedly to give us intelligence, which in many cases was deeply flawed.
And, I mean, this is a man who was convicted of bank fraud in Jordan, of more than 10 counts, who left, went to Iraq, began this. I think he has tremendous personal motives for his own empowerment. And I think the fact that we fell victim to these manipulations is unfortunate.
BLITZER: The Newsweek cover -- and I'll put it up on the screen, and it shows a headline: "Our Con Man in Iraq." I want you to take a look at that; it should be up in a second.
But this -- here it is right here, "Our Con Man in Iraq."
It's not just whether he conned the U.S. The allegation now, Senator Feinstein, is very specific, that he or his aides may have passed intelligence, U.S. intelligence information on to Iran, information that could compromise what's called sources and methods, how the U.S. intelligence community works. That's an enormously serious allegation.
FEINSTEIN: Well, I've only heard this publicly. I think both Senator Hagel and I should ask that the Intelligence Committee really have a report from our intelligence agencies as to whether that is correct or not. I have no way of knowing at this time.
BLITZER: Have you been briefed on this...
FEINSTEIN: I have not.
BLITZER: Have you, Senator Hagel?
HAGEL: No. But I can tell you that, as Senator Feinstein has just noted, there is no way the Senate Intelligence Committee is not going to be in this. We are in it now. And we'll have to be in it. This is a very, very serious charge. What other charges may be out there that we're still not aware of is yet unknown.
BLITZER: Because the allegation is, the suggestion, that, if in fact he or one of his aides provided this intelligence information to Iran, not only could it compromise sources and methods, how the U.S. gathers intelligence, but the allegation, an even more serious allegation, that lives may be at stake because of this alleged transfer. That's about as serious as it gets.
HAGEL: Well, it is as serious as it gets. And what is again so ironic, he was on our payroll. He was on our payroll for years. He was, up until just recently, probably a week ago, the Defense Department was paying the INC $340,000 a month. Some of us on the committee asked about that, were concerned about that, not just recently, but over the last few years.
So, when you talk about...
BLITZER: What did they say to you when you asked?
HAGEL: Well, Senator Feinstein and I can't relate publicly what was said in closed hearings, but suffice it to say, this United States senator was not very accepting of the answers I got.
BLITZER: What does it say to you about the Bush administration, the way it's handled Iraq, this relationship, this sort of roller- coaster relationship with this one individual, Ahmed Chalabi?
FEINSTEIN: Well, there was a lot of misleading and there's no question but the United States was misled. We were misled on weapons of mass destruction. We were misled on the number of troops that could go in. We were misled on the occupation.
We don't have enough yet to secure the oil infrastructure, the electricity infrastructure. Ammunition dumps aren't secured.
And, you know, we fired every Sunni Baathist manager. Had no one to manage these huge plant facilities. Fired the police department, fired the military. And now have to turn around and move in the opposite direction and reverse the policy, begin to rehire. I think this has been a textbook case on what not to do. And it flaws the doctrine of unilateral preemption, despite the fact you had a smattering of other countries that put up some troops that went in. Basically this was a United States-led unilateral war in Iraq. And we see that we are really unprepared for the occupation.
I hope this next week that when President Bush goes out before America...
BLITZER: Monday night.
FEINSTEIN: ... Monday night, he lays out a very clear plan.
BLITZER: And we're going to get to that in a moment, but Senator Hagel, in the new issue of U.S. News and World Report, you're quoted as saying that the president may be more isolated than any president in recent memory and, therefore, susceptible to faulty advice. Is that an accurate quote?
HAGEL: It is an accurate quote.
BLITZER: What exactly are you saying?
HAGEL: What I'm saying is that, at a time that's as complicated and dangerous as any time in modern history, today, a president of the United States needs to hear other opinions. He must reach out. He must understand a bigger view, wider-lens view of the world.
To essentially hold himself hostage to two or three key advisers and never reach beyond that is very dangerous for a president. Any president gets isolated. That's not new. This one, I think, is particularly that way.
For example, it was acknowledged by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Dick Lugar, a couple weeks ago in a New York Times article that he rarely hears from the White House. They rarely reach out and have him come down...
BLITZER: Do they hear from you?
HAGEL: I hear occasionally but not very often. When I was...
BLITZER: When was the last time you met with the president?
HAGEL: Well, I haven't met with the president in probably two years.
BLITZER: Isn't that a little unusual, a key Republican senator like yourself?
HAGEL: Well, I don't know if I'm a good senator to use as an example, but I can tell you there are many senators a lot more important than I am, a lot more versed and well-grounded and more experienced than I am in foreign policy, that they haven't reached out to. BLITZER: Well, let's talk about the two chairmen of the committees that you're on, the Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, the Foreign Relations Committee, used to be on the Foreign Relations, but you're on the Armed Services...
HAGEL: No, I'm on the Foreign Relations Committee.
BLITZER: ... Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Lugar. Do you get a sense the president is talking to these senators?
HAGEL: No, I don't. As I said, by Senator Lugar's own admission in a New York Times story a couple weeks ago, he said that they had not reached out. I'm aware of that. I'm aware, also, that they don't reach out to Democrats, which I think is astounding.
And, again, at a time the president and his team need a lot of clear-headed advice, experienced advice, it seems to me for the good of the country and to develop some precision and quality in our policy that you would want other points of view. This administration does not do that.
Now, I know every administration is captive to a president's style, and this happens to be this president's style. I don't think it's healthy for the president, and I would hope that the president would reach out more.
And, by the way, not be flanked by all the senior advisers. Call in three or four senators or congressmen and talk with them on the phone but do it alone. Do it without having somebody standing over him.
BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, I want to take a break, but I assume you haven't been invited to the White House anytime in the recent past.
FEINSTEIN: No, I think that's a fair assumption.
You know, let me go a step further than Senator Hagel did. This is an administration, you have a very skilled secretary of state. You have vice president that has a strong background. You have a secretary of defense with that background.
I think the fatal error is that they believe they know all things, that they don't really need to reach out. Been there, done that, kind of thing.
And, in fact, the world is changing so fast, and other people have valid points of view, that, I think, increasingly, what they're risking is they're really losing the goodwill of many members of both political parties. And I think that's an extraordinarily dangerous point for an administration to reach.
BLITZER: And you're one of those Democrats that supported the president going in...
FEINSTEIN: That's right. That's right. BLITZER: ... to the war a year ago.
All right, well, let's take a quick break. We have a lot more to discuss. When we return, a lot more of our conversation with Senators Feinstein and Hagel, plus your phone calls for them.
And with less than 40 days until the handover of power, is Iraq ready? We'll talk about that with the country's ambassador to the United States.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're talking with Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.
You're a member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Feinstein. The suggestion out there is that the committee is about to issue a damning indictment of the CIA, specifically George Tenet, the faulty intelligence conclusions on the eve of the war, the slam-dunk reference to there being weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Give our viewers a sense of what's going on.
FEINSTEIN: Well, both Senator Hagel and I have read the report. It is a long report. It is a well-documented report. It will go through classification. The chairman has said he hopes to release it in June. Then I think everyone will see it.
You know, my impression is that we have an intelligence community that is large and unwieldy and not well-suited for the role that it should play in today's non-state-terrorism-inspired world. And that the person that is at the head of this is only a nominal head, has no real budgetary or statutory authority.
BLITZER: You mean George Tenet.
FEINSTEIN: That's right. As a matter of fact, the bulk of the agencies and the bulk of the money controlled by the secretary of defense. Therefore, the head of the CIA, as the head of the entire community, really doesn't work.
And so some of us have introduced legislation. This was the Joint Select Committee of the House and the Senate on 9/11. One of our recommendations was to create a position appointed by the president, a director of national intelligence, who would have statutory and budgetary authority over the entire community.
BLITZER: Is it time for Tenet to go?
FEINSTEIN: I'm not going to make a statement as to what I think at this stage. I think the report needs to get out. We have a very flawed intelligence structure.
BLITZER: All right. What about this, Senator Hagel?
HAGEL: I agree with everything Senator Feinstein has said. We are going to have to take these documents and the time that was invested in reviewing our intelligence community and then transform that, I think, into a very solid set of recommendations. How do we reform our intelligence community? It must be reformed. It is not accountable now.
And one of the points that Senator Feinstein points out I think is very important. There's, I think, a dangerous consolidation of power moving toward the Defense Department, where -- it hasn't anything to do with Don Rumsfeld. I mean, he's a very aggressive, tough, smart, effective secretary of defense, but I think there's way too much power that resides over there.
And when you're talking about your military capability under the same authority as your intelligence capability, yes, it has to connect and overlap, but I think we have to be very careful with this. And now is the time to really reform the Intelligence Committee, make it relevant to the challenges of the 21st century. It is not now.
BLITZER: General Myers testified before the House Armed Services Committee about Iraq on Friday. Offered generally a very upbeat assessment that the American public may not be getting all the information about all the great things that are happening in Iraq. We have a little clip of some of the snippets of what he had to say. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Yes, I think we're on the brink of success here.
There is, I think, great progress on all fronts.
I think the progress in other areas has been very, very good.
All the progress, all the cause for optimism is lost from public view.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BLITZER: I assume that kind of line will be one of the themes in the president's address, primetime address tomorrow night, Monday night, here in the United States.
Is the United States on the verge of success in Iraq?
FEINSTEIN: Candidly, I was really surprised by that, because earlier that week there was testimony before Defense Appropriations that didn't reflect that at all. As a matter of fact, he said, you know, "No one can defeat us militarily, but you can't win this war militarily." Now, that was his statement just a few days earlier, so it was really a turnaround. I found it very, very surprising.
You know, we can't secure ammunition dumps in Iraq. The oil pipeline is constantly being sabotaged. Revenues are down from oil. Electricity, water, all of the fundamental infrastructure still isn't up with stability and consistency. And you have Fallujah, you have Muqtada al-Sadr, you have constant insurgents and all of the tragic things that are happening.
How can this be on the brink of success?
BLITZER: What about that?
HAGEL: Well, there is no question that there have been some very good things that have been accomplished in Iraq, and good, substantive things.
But I think General Myers has to be a little careful here, that an expectation, a trail isn't developed that leads the American people to believe that, when he says that we're on the brink of success, first of all, how do you define success, it is not overstated. I think the general should defend the things that have been accomplished, and say it as he has.
But part of the problem that I think, Wolf, that we have here, after more than a year in Iraq, is a credibility and trust issue. And we all know that the coin of the realm is trust and credibility. And if the American people do not have confidence in the leadership and the policy of a country, no matter what it is, then it will not happen, and that's what we have to...
FEINSTEIN: Can I...
BLITZER: Unfortunately, we have to leave it right there, because we are all out of time. A good discussion.
Senator Feinstein, as usual, thanks very much.
Senator Hagel, thanks to you as well.
We'll continue this conversation.
Still ahead on "LATE EDITION," more on the future of Iraq, a special conversation with Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Rend al-Rahim. She'll join us live.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we'll go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.
Don't forget our Web question of the week: Should the number of U.S. troops in Iraq increase, stay the same or decrease? You can vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition.
And later, sorting out the puzzles of 9/11. We'll talk with the chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission.
"LATE EDITION" will continue right at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We'll talk with Iraq's ambassador to the United States about the June 30th handover of power.
First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.
BLITZER: In 38 days, the U.S.-led coalition scheduled to hand over power in Iraq. Tomorrow night in a televised speech to the American people President Bush will map out what the White House says is a clear strategy for that transfer.
Joining us now, Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Rend Al- Rahim.
Ambassador Al-Rahim, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.
I want to get to all of that, the June 30th handover. But what's your understanding, how the Iraqi Governing Council, which you represent here in the United States, is dealing with this amazing turnabout involving Ahmed Chalabi?
REND AL-RAHIM, IRAQ'S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Well, the Iraqi Governing Council has put out a statement that denounces the action against Dr. Chalabi and says that no such action should ever be taken against a Governing Council member.
BLITZER: Didn't the Iraqi Governing Council approve the raid on his home?
AL-RAHIM: Oh, absolutely not. There was no consultation with the Governing Council. The Governing Council had no prior knowledge of this whatsoever. And indeed the Governing Council has said that this was politically motivated.
BLITZER: The coalition authority, provisional authority, Ambassador Bremer, they say this was an Iraqi decision to go ahead and look for evidence -- go into that home and ransack it.
AL-RAHIM: Wolf, I think this is going to be very hard to swallow by the Iraqi people. We know that the CPA is the ultimate authority in Iraq. We are under occupation. It is highly unlikely, in fact incredible, that any Iraqi police force should go in and do that without the American or the coalition occupation forces knowing about it.
We also know that there were Americans who cordoned off the area, and at least one American civilian went into the house and the office building of the Iraqi National Congress. BLITZER: So what are you saying? Who were the Iraqis who were involved in this operation?
AL-RAHIM: Oh, undoubtedly they were Iraqi police officers. We're not denying that. That's very well-known by the Iraqi Governing Council and by...
BLITZER: Who ordered them to do this?
AL-RAHIM: That is what we don't know, who ordered them to do this, what the real motivation was, where the order came from, we don't know that. But it is something that the Iraqi Governing Council has denounced, and they are very upset about this.
It demonstrates an incredible lack of respect for the Governing Council, which are in fact the government of the country. And we do not want to see that kind of action and that wanton violence that occurred in the house and the office building occurring in any Iraqi household, but for it to happen in the household and the office of a member of the Governing Council is frankly unconscionable.
BLITZER: The Americans say there was an Iraqi judge that signed an order authorizing this.
AL-RAHIM: Maybe so. We do not know who requested the Iraqi judge to do so, and the important thing is to go back and find out who was the ultimate authority and what were the reasons behind it. If there are legal reasons, they should be dealt with in the law courts, and not in this peremptory, violent way.
BLITZER: Ahmed Chalabi on this program, just a little while ago, flatly said it was Ambassador Bremer, as the leader of the Coalition Provisional Authority, that organized, orchestrated, approved this raid on his home.
AL-RAHIM: I can't respond to that. I do not have the information.
I think we ought to be told, the Governing Council ought to be told, how this happened, why it happened, who ordered it. They have a right to know why one of their own has been mistreated in this manner.
BLITZER: The other allegation -- and Ahmed Chalabi responded -- he said that George Tenet personally, the CIA director, is orchestrating this whole smear campaign against him, suggesting that he or some of his Iraqi National Congress associates may have handed over intelligence information, for example, to Iran, an enormously serious charge.
AL-RAHIM: Again, I can't comment on this. This may end up being something that the U.S. Congress needs to look into. What we are talking about is the manner in which this has been done, regardless of the reasoning behind it, regardless of the causes behind it.
The manner was insulting, was defaming, and should not have been done in this way. This is a gentleman who is on the highest political authority in Iraq now, and he was indeed chosen as one of 25 people chosen by the CPA as a member of the Governing Council.
So, regardless of what the motivation was, it should have dealt with in a completely different way.
BLITZER: What does it say to you about the Bush administration's position right now that this has happened?
AL-RAHIM: Well, I think the Bush administration overall really needs to take stock of what has gone on in the past and their path in the future. And I'm very glad that the president is going to be making a major speech on Monday, and subsequently every week, leading up to the handover of sovereignty.
Some very serious thinking needs to be done about how the U.S. can, from here on, help Iraq, help Iraqis to regain sovereignty, and help Iraq to move to January 2005, which is the big date for Iraqi elections. We need to meet that date.
BLITZER: It's still unclear who will lead this Iraqi interim government starting on July 1st, and there's not much time left.
AL-RAHIM: There's not much time.
BLITZER: Is it appropriate that the special U.N. envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, effectively determines what happens next?
AL-RAHIM: This is not the right way to characterize it. Lakhdar Brahimi is not going to sit in a room and close his eyes and pick people randomly. He has been going through a long period of consultation with the Iraqi Governing Council, with other political forces, with civic leaders in Iraq, as well as with the Coalition Provisional Authority.
And the decisions that are going to be taken are going to be the fruit of these extensive, deep and wide-ranging consultations.
The important thing is for Brahimi to come up with a proposal that meets with the approval of the Iraqi people, that is seen as broadly representative. Obviously, we can't have elections, but it should be a body that is seen as legitimate, as representative of the Iraqi people.
BLITZER: And do you welcome this notion that the president will, shortly after his speech, introduce U.S. language, a draft resolution for a new U.N. Security Council Resolution that would broaden perhaps international involvement, international responsibility in what's happening in Iraq?
AL-RAHIM: The Iraqis welcome a U.N. resolution. There have been many resolutions. But I think we are going to be entering a new phase, and for that we do want a U.N. resolution that recognizes Iraqi sovereignty after June 30th, that recognizes the time schedule that we have for elections in January.
And just to let you know, that we have been consulting with the coalition and with the U.S. about the elements of such a resolution. The Iraqis must be involved in defining the elements of the resolution and in cooperating and drafting that resolution. We have been consulting. And we are going to continue to consult with the U.S. and with the coalition forces on this.
BLITZER: Are you almost there in coming up with this language?
AL-RAHIM: Not yet. Not yet. The framework and the broad elements of that resolution are being discussed now. The language is still some way away.
BLITZER: Rend Al-Rahim, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, thanks very much for joining us.
AL-RAHIM: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Coming up, we'll ask two senior members, the two senior members of the 9/11 Commission, about what they learned about the mistakes made and mistakes corrected in their investigation.
And later, a special conversation with Pakistan's foreign minister about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and Pakistan's role in the war on terror.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDOLPH GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: And the blame should clearly be directed at one source, and one source alone: the terrorists who killed our loved ones.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, testifying before the 9/11 Commission in New York this past week.
Were commissioners too quick to criticize officials who had to make fast, life-and-death decisions on that terrible day, or did they let prominent figures like the former mayor avoid tough questioning?
Joining us now, the 9/11 Commission chairman, the former New Jersey governor, Thomas Kean, and the panel's vice chairman, the former congressman and House International Relations Committee chairman, Lee Hamilton.
Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us.
And I'll ask you, Governor Kean, were you too easy on these witnesses, especially Rudy Giuliani, as some of the victims' family members later suggested?
THOMAS KEAN, 9/11 COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: Well, you know, we got, I guess, accused of being too tough on some and too easy on others. It's a tough road to follow. The emotions in New York are still very, very raw, even almost three years later. But we tried to get the information we needed for our report, and when we had a question that we didn't know the answer to, we asked it. And I think we came out of the hearings with that information, and we'll have a better report because of it.
BLITZER: Congressman Hamilton, listen to this one very, very poignant, moving part of Giuliani's testimony. I want to play it for you, so our viewers can get a sense of the mood that was unfolding that day. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: When I looked up, at that point, I realized that I saw a man -- it wasn't debris -- that I saw a man hurling himself out of the 102nd, 103rd, 104th floor. And I stopped, probably for two seconds, but it seems like a minute or two, and I was in shock. I mean, I said to the police commissioner that we're in uncharted territory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I guess, when you hear that kind of eyewitness testimony from the former mayor, it's hard to start ripping him apart with tough questions about radio communications between the police and the fire department.
LEE HAMILTON, 9/11 COMMISSION VICE CHAIRMAN: Well, it is. The mayor gave us very moving testimony of what he did that day. He was having breakfast. He was notified a plane, a small plane hit the first tower. He jumps in his car, heads down there, and then he walked us through the entire day.
I'm a Midwesterner, I'm not a New Yorker, but I must say you cannot help but be impressed that New York is still struggling with this, and the people who were in it are still struggling with it. It was such a traumatic event. They all know someone who was killed, someone who was injured, families disrupted. And the trauma of 9/11 will go on for many years, and it was very apparent.
BLITZER: Governor Kean, remind our viewers the mission that your 9/11 Commission has and why it was necessary to have these two days of testimony in New York City this past week. What was the point?
KEAN: Well, we've got two missions, really. The very first mission is to tell the story of 9/11. There have been a few conspiracy theories and doubts, exactly what happened and when. There are questions on the time line of what happened.
So our first story is to start two years back and tell the whole story, how 9/11 developed, how the hijackers got into the country, what they did, how they plotted, and how they carried out the plot, and certainly the events of that day and the aftermath.
That's our first task, but that's only the first one. The second task, and perhaps even the more important task, is to take all those lessons that we've learned, all those facts we've learned from going over the events, and try and make recommendations.
And those recommendations, if we do a good job, are going to be designed to make the American people safer, so that hopefully we can prevent another incident like this, or even, if one occurs, we can help people.
BLITZER: Is it still your goal that this final report will be released at the end of July?
KEAN: Yes, it is. We hope to get it done -- that's the last date. If we can get it done before that, we will. When we prepare the report, it does have to go to the White House, and the White House has to decide what is -- they can't change any of what we say, but they can say if something we're saying is classified and therefore shouldn't be released to the American people, they can say that sentence or that paragraph should come out.
So we have to submit the whole report to the White House for review, and when they're finished, it will come out, probably around the middle of July, I would suspect.
BLITZER: Is there anything else that you need, Governor Kean, from the White House, from the Bush administration, the executive branch of the U.S. government to help you write your final report that you have not yet been able to have access to?
KEAN: We've got access to almost everything. We've got -- you know, we've been able to talk to...
BLITZER: When you say "almost everything," as a journalist, as a reporter, I have to ask you, what do you still want that they're not letting you see?
KEAN: Well, it's not -- they're letting us see everything. What I'm saying is we still, for instance, have asked that one of the presidential daily briefings from the Clinton administration be declassified so the whole public can see it in our report. We think that's important.
We're still getting some stuff in from the detainees where we've been able to ask questions. Those questions are then relayed to those people, we get the answers back. There can be some follow-up.
So there's that kind of thing still going on. But it's -- we've got, I'd say, I don't know if the vice chairman agrees, but I think we've got 98, 99 percent really of the stuff we need now, and we're starting to write the report.
BLITZER: Well, 98, 99 percent is not 100 percent, Lee Hamilton. What do you need the administration to give you that they're still not giving you?
HAMILTON: I don't think any documents have been withheld. I think we've made some very recent requests for some additional documents that we have found necessary because of some of the testimony and because of some of the previous documents. We have it all, I believe.
The governor's right when he mentions we have some differences yet. The biggest problem on the question of documents is access. We would like to be able to take these documents, take them over to our secure commission offices and work with them there. The White House has a lot of reluctance about that. So there are problems about conditions put on access.
BLITZER: Explain, Lee Hamilton, why it's so important to see a PDB, a presidential daily brief, from the Clinton administration. And why would the Bush administration be reluctant to let you see that?
HAMILTON: Well, the Bush administration is reluctant because they're protecting the doctrine of executive privilege, the right of the president to be very careful with regard...
BLITZER: But they showed you the very famous August 2001 PDB that the president himself got that day a month before 9/11.
HAMILTON: Well, it took a little doing to get that one released. Tom and I had been talking with them to get that released for weeks and weeks before they did it.
Now the one that you referred to, the Clinton PDB, presidential daily brief, we think is important. We don't think any national security secrets are going to be let.
These presidential daily briefings are very important. They don't tell you the sum and substance of what flows to the president. Presidents get their information from a lot of sources. But they are important. And they have a kind of a mystique. I was 30-some -- 34 years in the Congress, I never saw one. I only saw a PDB when I became a member of this commission. So they're very tightly restricted.
BLITZER: Even when you were on the House Intelligence Committee?
HAMILTON: I venture to say members of Congress don't see them at all. I never saw one, even when I was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
BLITZER: So is it just a matter, Governor Kean, that they're not going to show you this Clinton -- or they don't want to show you this Clinton presidential daily brief because of the principle or because it really could compromise national security?
KEAN: Just to make it plain, Wolf, we have seen it. We have seen every PDB from the Clinton administration and the Bush administration that covers the particular subject we're investigating.
What we're asking with this particular PDB, we think everybody ought to see it. We think it's important enough, as was the Bush PDB, that it ought to be in the report in full, people should understand what Clinton knew, the same way that they understand now from this PDB what Bush knew.
And that's what we're asking for. We have already seen it. And yes, we've already seen the other PDBs.
BLITZER: That's a good clarification. All right, gentlemen, stand by. We're going to continue our conversation.
We're also going to have a quick check of what's making news at this hour, including what came out of this weekend's Arab summit in Tunisia.
More "LATE EDITION" straight ahead.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with Tom Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission. He's joining us from Madison, New Jersey. And the vice chairman, Lee Hamilton. He's here in Washington, D.C.
Governor Kean, I want to play another excerpt from Rudy Giuliani's testimony this past week before your panel in New York. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: I heard him say, "The tower is down, the tower has come down." And my first thought was that one of the radio towers from the top of the World Trade Center had come down. I did not conceive of the entire tower coming down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The notion of going after the World Trade Center, this was not a new notion. They tried it in '93. They tried it, obviously, again in 2001; this time they succeeded.
In what you know right now, which is a great deal, how concerned should the U.S. have been in the months and years leading up to 9/11 that a hijacking would be attempted and they would try to bring down the World Trade Center?
KEAN: Well, I think hindsight is wonderful. If you can go back and say knowing what we know today, yes, there were clues along the way. You can find some things that people said or things that people did. Certainly, the people getting into the country and taking flying lessons, all that.
But no, it would have been very, very hard, if not impossible, given the information people had then, to say people would have gotten in a plane and used it as a bomb and flown into the World Trade Center.
But these people are entrepreneurial. They never do the same thing twice. And we've just got to get people in the United States government who are thinking the same way, and we've got to get one step ahead of them, not one step behind them.
BLITZER: Well, let me let Lee Hamilton pick that thought up. They never do things the same way twice. They're always looking for some new entrepreneurial way to do things. What are your concerns right now?
HAMILTON: Oh, I think my biggest concern is nuclear weapons. The Trade Center was a horrible, horrible catastrophe. But if they were able to get nuclear weapons and to deliver those weapons, that catastrophe would far exceed anything we have seen before.
So the primary efforts and defensive efforts of the United States must be directed against weapons of mass destruction and particularly nuclear weapons.
What Tom said a moment ago is terribly important. We have to use our imaginations a little more in dealing with people. We get stuck in a rut, and we think that the -- we're fighting the last war, what they did last time they'll do again. And I think that's a mistake. You've really got to let some of your top people, let their minds play and let them use their imagination, because that's what we think al Qaeda is doing.
BLITZER: Governor Kean, you have no doubt that if al Qaeda or other terrorists who hate the United States could get their hands on WMD, weapons of mass destruction, whether biological, chemical or even nuclear, do you have any doubt that they would try to commit another horrendous act and kill as many Americans as possible?
KEAN: Every single witness we've talked to, every single thing we've read indicates that these people, by whatever means possible, want to kill as many Americans as possible. And they don't care if they're civilians, they don't care if they're women, they don't care if they're children.
And if they were able to get nuclear weapons in and try something, they would do it. Certainly, they're trying to get biological and chemical weapons into this country.
These are evil people, and we are at war with them. And the one thing I think we've got to always remember is, just because it's two years or so since 9/11, those people are here, and they're going to try again, and we can never, ever let our guard down.
BLITZER: The FBI issued a bulletin this past week, Congressman, suggesting that suicide bombers could attack the United States, here in the United States, along the lines of what goes on in Israel or Europe or other places, that people should be on the lookout for individuals in the summer months wearing bulky jackets, smelling of chemicals, tightly clenched fists, stolen police uniform disguises, pregnant women disguises. This is sort of soft targets, but it's a serious concern, I assume.
HAMILTON: It is a serious concern. I don't think we want to scare people to death. We don't want to put them into a panic. We want them to go about living their lives. But on the other hand, they've got to do it with an element of caution that probably they did not need to have prior to 9/11. So these warnings, I know that some people make light of them, but it seems to me that anything you can do to raise the awareness of the American people when they travel, when they move about their communities, they have an obligation to keep their eyes open, to see if anything unusual is happening.
BLITZER: I just want to leave one final -- you the final thought. A lot of high-profile events happening this summer, Governor Kean. The conventions, the party conventions in Boston and in New York. The summer Olympic games in Athens.
Would you expect these high-profile events to be potential targets?
KEAN: I think the high-profile events are always targets. But again, remembering what we said about al Qaeda, in the past they haven't hit where you expected them to hit or with the methodology we expected them to use.
So yes, we've got to watch those conventions, we've got to watch the Olympics, we've got to watch everything else happening. But we've also got to be aware there are other potential targets out there, and we've got to be aware of those as well.
BLITZER: All right. It's a jittery situation, clearly.
Governor Kean, thanks very much for joining us.
Congressman Hamilton, thanks to you as well.
Good luck to both of you. We'll look forward to your report at the end of July or middle of July.
Coming up next, the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. I'll speak with Pakistan's foreign minister about tracking down the world's most wanted man and tensions in U.S.-Pakistani relations.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
Since the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan has been a key U.S. ally in the war on terror, but there are signs of a strain in that relationship.
This week, I spoke with Pakistan's foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, about Iraq, the war on terror, and his country's deep concerns over reports U.S. troops have been crossing into Pakistan from Afghanistan to search for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda fighters.
Twice this week, American troops have crossed the border without Pakistan's permission.
KHURSHID KASURI, PAKISTAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER: This is totally unacceptable, and I'll tell you why it's unacceptable, not only because we are a proud, sovereign nation, and we don't like people messing around our territory, it also shows to the people of Pakistan, we continue to tell them that there's a lot of trust between Pakistan and the United States, that we share information, but the opponents, those who do not wish us to cooperate with the United States, get another opportunity to say, "See? They don't trust you."
I mean, I don't see what purpose it serves. If you have 10 or 15 people coming into a border village, what will they achieve? Nothing.
We've got half-a-million-plus army, battle-hardened, disciplined troops. You've just barely got 13,000. If 20 of your soldiers come there, what will they achieve?
I'll tell you what the real fear is, and I'm rarely -- I don't want that to happen. Everybody in the tribal area is armed. Supposing there are American casualties on our territory, it will be a very big incident. We don't want that to happen.
All you have to do is tell our people. We, after all, have a trilateral commission, between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States to share intelligence along the border regions.
And I was very upset when I was told this morning. The level of cooperation between the United States and Pakistan is very great, there's total sharing of information. The local commanders make it difficult for top leaders like President Bush and President Musharraf.
BLITZER: But if there's actionable intelligence that perhaps Osama bin Laden or one of his top lieutenants, Ayman al-Zawahiri, may be moving, sometimes they have to move quickly in order to make sure they get that done. What would be so bad if the U.S. were to move forces...
KASURI: No, it would be bad. It's a question of principle. You allow somebody to enter one day, it's best to let your friends know where the limits are. It is bad. And all they had to do was to tell Pakistani army. They've got hotlines.
And they trust each other. Either you say that they don't trust. Well, then the relationship changes. We felt it was a relationship of trust. All they do is pick up the phone, tell the local commander that this is happening, we are going to coordinate on our side, you do it on yours.
BLITZER: Have you raised your concerns with the Bush administration?
KASURI: Well, of course I have no doubt, because what I was told when I was coming here, that the local military commander or a spokesman of the ISPR, Inter-Services Public Relations, has protested, and I hope that the Americans will regret the incident.
BLITZER: What would be the impact on the U.S.-Pakistani relationship if these reports are true, that U.S. forces have moved across the border into Pakistan? KASURI: Well, as I said, "moved" is a very dramatic word. I'm sure they're not going to move. The reports are that they ventured into our territory, and then, when we asked them, they will say, "Oh, we made a mistake."
But if you make mistakes too often, you create an impression that you're doing it deliberately, and that impression should not be created, because we're not suspended in the air, the government of Pakistan. We're elected. We're responsible to our people. And our people don't like it when our territory is being messed around. We are a proud, sovereign nation, and we don't want people to take it for granted they can move into our territory.
BLITZER: But you say this has happened before, and you've complained to the United States before?
KASURI: We have, yes, and we have complained, and the United States has always regretted it. I'm sure they'll regret it this time.
But why don't they cooperate better, through this border commission, and if they feel that something is really important in the area, the area will have to rely on Pakistan, because they don't have the resources on the ground, they have to rely on Pakistan.
So I think this has been done by some local commander. It's happened in the past that some local commander -- and I'll be very forthright with you. You know, the level of cooperation at the top is very great, but it's human nature to find scapegoats.
If things are not going well, you blame somebody or the other.
Now, General Abizaid knows, your head of CIA knows, the president knows, the secretary of state knows the level of cooperation. But the local commander, whoever he may be, a colonel or a brigadier general, I don't know who it is, he probably feels that if people are saying, oh, you're not doing well enough, so he says, oh, the Pakistani cooperation is not good enough, and I'm going to do something or the other.
That's not good. We have a strategic relationship. We should keep it that way. And pin pricks of this nature must be stopped.
BLITZER: You say the U.S. might regret it. Specifically, what would happen if they continue this?
KASURI: No, no. When I say regret it, it's regrettable for both of us. It will impact on our relationship, undoubtedly, because then our public opinion will say, "Here you are saying that you have relationship of trust, but they don't trust you." But then obviously you can understand the consequences. If the level of trust disappears between the two governments, it's very bad.
Let's keep the relationship of trust, which has been built with great effort. And earlier on during the questioning I was telling you how courageously the president of Pakistan, President Musharraf, is providing leadership. Don't undermine him by pin pricks of this nature.
BLITZER: Pakistan is now a major non-NATO ally of the United States. It's a dramatic change in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship since 9/11. Before there were serious strains, as you well remember.
How vulnerable is President Musharraf because of this alliance he's forged with the United States?
KASURI: First of all, let me put things in context. You said the relationship was very different prior to 9/11. Of course it was, but in a very short period. Otherwise, there was a time when we were the most allied ally and we were the most sanctioned ally.
Yes, as far as the events prior to 9/11, we don't have the time to go into it. I can give a good defense for what Pakistan did prior to 9/11, but there's no time for that.
BLITZER: That's history.
KASURI: That's history, right. We have a very strong point and a very defensible point of view. And even the United States, at one point, supported when the Taliban came because it was thought they'd bring peace. But that's history, as you rightly said. So...
BLITZER: How much opposition in Pakistan is there to President Musharraf? He's been the target of assassination attempts several times, as you well know.
KASURI: Yes, he's been the target at least thrice, but two attempts were made within one minute of each other. And it shows the dedication of the security services, that when the first suicide bomber wanted to attack the caravan, foot soldiers and constables, police constables got in the way, and the person missed the target.
One -- or 30 seconds later, when another car tried -- or another van tried to ram into him, police and military jeeps came in the way.
BLITZER: And you believe this is al Qaeda that was going after him?
KASURI: Oh, we have no doubt. I mean, who else would it be? There can be no shadow of doubt. Absolutely.
BLITZER: al Qaeda still has a foothold, a major foothold in Pakistan?
KASURI: But you have to define al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is a certain state of mind. It started with Osama Bin Laden. I can't tell you whether it still has a centralized command. As we're now finding out in Iraq, some people feel Zarqawi is calling the shots. Others feel in this area Ayman Al-Zawahiri is calling the shots.
So I can't call a subcontracting of the operations, but probably have the same point of view and they divide into cells.
BLITZER: But he is determined to pursue this policy of alliance with the United States, despite the opposition from within Pakistan?
KASURI: You see, on the war on terror we have common interests. Our main problem is one of poverty.
We have to fight poverty. How do you fight poverty? You cannot fight poverty unless you have stability.
There are areas where we don't agree with each other, I'll be very frank. We did not support you on the U.N. resolutions in Iraq. As friends, we advised you privately also that we know the area, it will be difficult. But...
BLITZER: So the United States...
KASURI: ... there are large areas of convergence, but where there are disagreements, as friends we try and tell the United States.
BLITZER: How badly has the American image been hurt as a result of what's happened in Iraq, most specifically the prisoner abuse photos from the Abu Ghraib facility?
KASURI: I think it's been hurt badly, I'll be very honest with you, particularly in the Muslim world. But among educated people, there is also the American system in operation, which is being witnessed when, for example, the secretary of defense was, you know -- appeared before committees of the Senate and the House.
There is, of course, admiration for the way the system functions. But of course, everything depends on what punishment these people are awarded. If, for example, they get away relatively lightly, a wrong signal will be sent.
BLITZER: Well, do you believe these soldiers, these low-ranking soldiers themselves did this kind of abuse, or were they ordered to do so by higher-ups?
KASURI: I have my views, but as foreign minister of Pakistan, I will not give those.
BLITZER: And the reason being?
KASURI: The reason being that, very simply, that, you know, whatever I have to say I will say in private to the government.
And I would say that such things should be punished, and it should be made clear that the U.S. government -- and I know the U.S. public generally, that they're very friendly, decent people. They are as -- they find them abhorrent. I met a large number of Americans.
BLITZER: What would it take for Pakistan to help the United States and the coalition in Iraq and deploy troops, peacekeeping forces or other kinds of military personnel to Iraq?
KASURI: Well, a U.N. resolution, a very strong U.N. resolution.
BLITZER: If there were a U.N. Security Council resolution, would you do it?
KASURI: Absolutely, if the U.N. had a central role. And the most important thing, I'll be very truthful with you, because, you know, we've had good relationships, and we've never run away from our international responsibility.
Out of the 14 peacekeeping operations going on, Pakistanis are involved in eight. One of the most successful -- some of the most successful operations have involved Pakistani soldiers, including Sierra Leone, where initially it looked like the U.N. would fail. So we have a track record. We can help, but our public opinion has to support it.
Now, for that to happen, it should look like after a transfer of sovereignty in Iraq, the people of Iraq want it. And the lawyers use a latin maxim, res ipsa locutor. The thing speaks for itself. We will see the situation as it develops, how credible the administration is, and if it can excite that credibility, then I think the secretary of the United Nations should ask particularly Muslim countries to come out and help.
We had suggested that, incidentally, President Musharraf had suggested before American troops moved into Iraq, that the U.N. should ask a large number of Muslim countries to send in troops, because they will be less suspicious there, and they would not look like occupation forces.
So bottom line remains the same, that our public opinion must accept it. Will our public opinion accept it? That depends on what role the U.N. has and how credible the administration on the ground is, and it's impossible for me to predict now. We'll see the situation as it develops after the 30th.
BLITZER: But do you think between now and the 30th (UNINTELLIGIBLE) countries like Pakistan to join the coalition?
KASURI: Well, actually, I very strongly hope in the interest of the United States, of world peace, of the Iraqis, and of the relationship generally between Muslims and the United States.
You see, an impression that was created prior to American -- and I say this as a friend of the United States -- that an impression was created, U.S. said, "No, they weren't after the oil there," they said they didn't wish to have military bases.
These ideas have become so entrenched in the Arab and the Islamic world that efforts have to be made to make the masses believe that U.S. has no long-term interests in either Iraqi oil or in bases.
Now, if that message can be conveyed, why will the people not wish to help their Iraqi brethren? Muslim countries would like to help.
But frankly, I'd be less than truthful if I said to you that, unless those conditions were met -- because, in the case of Pakistan, we already have major operations going on on our borders. I hope our relationship with India continues on the right track. And the Operation Enduring Freedom, Pakistan's involved, the United States and Pakistan are allied in the war on terror. We're exchanging information, intelligence. We have intelligence agreements with 30 or 40 countries, where we exchange information regularly.
So, in view of that, we've already got a lot on our plate. Something has to be done on the ground for our people to accept -- and our people will accept, if it looks like that they will be helping the people of Iraq.
BLITZER: On that note, thanks, Foreign Minister, for joining us.
KASURI: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure being on your show.
BLITZER: Thank you.
BLITZER: And up next, the results of our Web question of the day, on the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Our "LATE EDITION" Web question of the week asked this question: Should the number of U.S. troops in Iraq increase, stay the same or decrease?
Here's how you voted. Thirty-one percent of you said increase. Five percent of you said stay the same. Sixty-four percent said decrease. Remember, this is not a scientific poll.
Let's take a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States.
Newsweek magazine calls Ahmed Chalabi "our con man in Iraq."
Time looks at D-Day and why it matters 60 years later.
And U.S. News and World Report focuses in on makeover nation: Why America's obsession with plastic surgery is going dangerously out of control.
And that's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, May 23rd. Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at noon eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
I'm here Monday through Friday, noon and 5:00 p.m. eastern.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
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