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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Condoleezza Rice; Interview With Hamid Karzai

Aired June 13, 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, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5:00 p.m. in London, 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad. From wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll get to my exclusive interview with the president's national security advisor, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, in just a few minutes. We're also awaiting a dramatic parachute jump by the former president of the United States, George Bush, in Texas. We'll have coverage of that on his 80th birthday.

First let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Although the death of former President Ronald Reagan certainly dominated the headlines here in the United States this past week, there were potentially significant developments on two key issues facing the Bush administration.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution endorsing the June 30th transfer of power in Iraq, and President Bush seemingly shored up relations with European allies at the Group of Eight summit in Georgia.

Just a short while ago, I spoke with the U.S. national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, about what's ahead in Iraq, the U.S.- European alliance and much more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dr. Rice, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.

Let's get to an immediate story causing a lot of concern in the United States and around the world -- what's happening in Saudi Arabia. It looks like al Qaeda or some affiliated group is on the move once again.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, clearly, al Qaeda has been determined to try and carry out attacks in Saudi Arabia, going all the way back, Wolf, to the May 12th Riyadh bombing. There is no doubt that this is an area in which al Qaeda is trying to make a mark. And we've known this for some time. We're working very, very well with the Saudi government, with the Saudi security forces to try and to deal with this al Qaeda threat. But yes, it is a serious threat. The Saudi government is aware that it's a serious threat. We're working very well together, through both intelligence and law enforcement channels, to try and deal with it.

BLITZER: We now have this report of an American engineer working in Saudi Arabia, a 49-year-old man named Paul Johnson, being supposedly held hostage by this group. What can you tell us about that?

RICE: I don't know any more than what you've just said. We do know that this has been a report. We obviously are looking into it.

Again, we have excellent cooperation with the Saudis on matters like this. We have liaison services. We have all of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies working on this issue.

I can't tell you anything more about it, but we are very actively engaged with the Saudis in trying to deal with the problem, in obviously trying to locate the hostage.

BLITZER: Dr. Rice, as you well know, there are many Americans who work in Saudi Arabia who help out especially in the oil industry. Is it time for them to leave?

RICE: Well, the United States has, in fact, warned American citizens about the dangers in Saudi Arabia. There have been several warnings, and there was the State Department warning.

It is, like many places in the world right now, a place in which terrorists are trying to make their mark. We are doing everything that we can with the Saudis to try and protect those who are there, but it's obviously a dangerous place and people have to draw their own conclusions. But we're working very well with the Saudis on these issues.

BLITZER: You know, when you say you're working very well with the Saudis, there is -- there was a draft report that was going to be issued by the Council on Foreign Relations, still will be, but an early draft had these words in it. Let me read it to you.

"Saudi Arabia has not fully implemented its own laws and regulations, and many important questions remain. The Bush administration has done very little to push the implementation of the rules and regulations."

They've revised that, but I wonder if you'd respond to that earlier charge.

RICE: Well, I have not seen the revision. I do know that that was factually incorrect, because of course, particularly since May 12th, there's been active -- more active Saudi participation. There are a number of elements to cooperation on terrorism. Of course, law enforcement, intelligence cooperation, but also on the financing of terrorism. We have to remember that the Saudis, like many others in the world, didn't fully understand the extent to which these non- governmental organizations, many of them with very high-sounding names of charity, were really terrorist-financing fronts. And the Saudis have gone a long way in recent months, including designating Al- Hermein (ph), one of the organizations we have been most concerned about, to try and deal with this problem.

Fran Townsend, who's been deputy national security advisor for counterterrorism and is now assistant to the president for homeland security, has been several times to Saudi Arabia, leading a task force on terrorist financing.

This has been a very, very active front for the Bush administration. It's simply wrong to suggest that there has not been good cooperation with the Saudis. It is possible, of course, to do more, and we will do more, but this is an area in which we've made a lot of progress over the last several months and really over the last year or so.

BLITZER: Let's talk about these reports, accusations that Libya, that Colonel Gadhafi, perhaps even personally, had authorized a hit on the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Abdullah. How serious are these accusations?

RICE: Well, we take the accusations very seriously, because we have told the Libyans in no uncertain terms that the only path to better relations with the United States would be a path in which they live up to their obligations, live up to their obligations to stop financing terrorism, to deal with weapons of mass destruction.

Of course, there has been some progress. The Libyans have renounced terrorism, but now we have to follow up. And we have to make certain that they're living up to those commitments. So this is something that's being fully investigated, taken very seriously. We're working with the Saudis. We have sent messages to the Libyans, and we'll get to the bottom of it. But there is no doubt that the Libyans have to live up fully to their commitments.

BLITZER: As you know, the Libyans are flatly denying these allegations. Are you suggesting that they're lying?

RICE: No, I'm just saying that we're determined to get to the bottom of it. When you have an allegation like this, you have to take it seriously. And so we will take it seriously. But we believe that the key here is to make certain that Libya lives up to its commitments and to its obligations. And to the degree that it does, it will have a path toward good relations with the United States.

BLITZER: Let's move to Iraq, where there have been two assassinations now in two days of high-ranking Iraqi officials. This certainly does not bode well 17 days before the scheduled handover of sovereignty.

RICE: Wolf, we have said repeatedly, and I can remember saying myself on a number of occasions that we know that the period leading up to sovereignty, and indeed the period immediately after sovereignty, is likely to be one in which the terrorists and the Saddam loyalists enhance their efforts at violence, in which they try to shake the will of the new interim government, in which they try to shake the will of the coalition, in which they try to shake the will of the Iraqi people. They're not going to succeed. The political process continues.

These are very sad events when Iraqi patriots are gunned down by these traitors and by these terrorists. And indeed, there will continue to be violence, because these are people who have no future in a free Iraq. They know that they have no future. Our answer to this is that the transfer of sovereignty is a milestone for the Iraqi people on their way to freedom and liberty and to a better life.

These are people who are trying to stop it. But we have good partners now in this Iraqi government, who will be tough, we believe, on terrorism, tough on the insurgents who are trying to stop progress, and sooner or later this will be under control. But we have said repeatedly that especially in the lead-up to sovereignty, there will likely be more violence, not less.

BLITZER: When you say you have good partnership right now with the Iraqi -- are you referring to the Iraqi law enforcement, military, those who are trained in the security areas now, because there's been some suggestion that when the going gets rough, they simply go away? They don't engage against insurgents or terrorists or Saddam loyalists?

RICE: Well, by partnership of course I mean with the new prime minister and with his cabinet, and the new presidency, all of whom have made very strong statements about their intentions to bring security to the country and their need for partnership with a multi- national coalition to do that. A coalition that has now been of course sanctioned by the United Nations under the Security Council resolution that was passed last week. Last week was a very good week for the Iraqi people, because the international community came together, united behind a free and secure Iraq.

Yes, there have been problems with the initial efforts of training security forces. There was no Iraqi chain of command for these people, and we think it's extremely important now that there is an Iraqi chain of command. We will be actively engaged in training Iraqi security forces. The prime minister and his cabinet have ideas about how to enhance and accelerate the training of people who, in fact, have skills on the security side. And so we believe that this time we will be able to put in place security forces that will be effective.

Some people were quite effective in the past times. They fought for places like Diwaniyah and succeeded, recently, repelling the Sadr militia down south. But yes, there have been some problems. We believe those can be overcome by an Iraqi chain of command and by excellent training for them.

BLITZER: You point out that there was a unanimously approved United Nations Security Council resolution supporting the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis, but has that resulted in one tangible piece of evidence, Dr. Rice, that other countries are now prepared to help the U.S. and the coalition militarily in deploying troops in Iraq?

RICE: Well, let's remember, Wolf, it passed last week, and it is a strong message from the international community of support for the Iraqi people. We believe, and we've said several times, that it is unlikely that you're going to have massive new deployments of foreign forces. It is entirely possible that you will have some countries that are prepared to increase their capability -- their force contribution or to make a force contribution to specialized missions like support of the United Nations, or the -- or to others.

But the Iraqis themselves have said that, while they need the support of a multinational force, the real goal, the real focus should be on training Iraqis to take care of their own security needs. And what we're going to be doing is urging our international partners to participate in those efforts to help the Iraqis become more capable. This is not a matter, really, of just foreign forces. When you think of the kinds of challenges that we face on the security front, these are challenges that are ultimately going to be best met by locals, so the focus needs to be on the training of Iraqi security forces, but I would not rule out that, with the Security Council resolution in place, you will get some troop contributions, probably not large, to do some specialized missions.

BLITZER: Listen to what the president said, Dr. Rice, last -- in April, about perhaps finding some sort of NATO role in Iraq. I want you to listen to what he said at that news conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Secretary of State Powell, Secretary of State (sic) Rumsfeld, and a number of NATO defense and foreign ministers are exploring a formal role for NATO, such as turning the Polish-led division into a NATO operation, and giving NATO specific responsibilities for border control.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He meant, of course, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, but listen to what he said in the aftermath of the G-8 summit in Georgia, as far as a NATO role is concerned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I don't expect more troops from NATO to be offered up. That's an unrealistic expectation. Nobody is suggesting that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: How big of a setback is it that France and Germany and other NATO allies are saying no way for NATO to get directly involved in Iraq?

RICE: Well, first of all, I don't believe that France and Germany have said there is no way for NATO to be involved in Iraq. I think that they've said that they are concerned about a NATO role, and France and Germany are two of many NATO partners.

Of course, there are already 17 on the ground; NATO is of course providing support to the Polish sector at this very moment, and I think that there are other roles that NATO may be able to play.

But the fact is, there aren't very many combat forces available out of NATO. NATO has taken on a major role in Afghanistan. We are trying to make certain that the force generation for Afghanistan is complete so that NATO can fully fulfill that role, especially as we lead up to elections in Afghanistan. But we are in consultation with our NATO allies about what further role NATO may play, whether it's in training, whether it's in support for forces that are already on the ground.

I don't think, Wolf, anybody has ever thought that the French and the Germans were going to contribute troops to Iraq. That simply hasn't been on the table for the entire period of our engagement in Iraq. The French and the Germans are involved in Afghanistan. The Germans are taking on responsibility for a provincial reconstruction team. There is active NATO participation in, NATO member participation in, both these conflicts. And we'll see what further can be done.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Coming up, more of my interview with Dr. Rice. I'll ask her about the U.S. policy when it comes to the issue of torture.

Also, my one-on-one conversations with two presidents, Iraq's new interim president Sheik Ghazi al-Yawer, and the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: "LATE EDITION"'s Web question of the week: Will President Reagan's death affect the U.S. presidential election? Cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll tell you the results later in this program.

But just ahead, U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice reflecting on Ronald Reagan's impact on international affairs and the war on terror.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're still watching for former President George Bush and his planned parachute jump over College Station, Texas. He's just turned 80 years old. We're expecting pictures. You'll want to stick around for that.

But right now, we return to my exclusive interview with President Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say, Dr. Rice, there has been at least a discernible public improvement in the relationship between the U.S. and France and the U.S. and Germany in recent weeks, and it seemed to come true at the G-8 summit.

Gerhard Schroeder, the German chancellor, did come to Washington for the funeral of Ronald Reagan. But Jacques Chirac didn't, and some are suggesting that was a snub by the French. Did you see it like that?

RICE: Oh, absolutely not. As a matter of fact, the morning of their meeting, President Chirac told President Bush that he was unable to come to the funeral for Ronald Reagan, that he was sending Giscard D'Estaing, as well as the foreign minister of France, Mr. Barnier.

He explained that he regretted his inability to come. And then he related wonderful stories about his friendship with the Reagans, about their wonderful dinner at the Eiffel Tower with Mrs. Reagan and President Reagan.

No, the president understood fully, and France was properly represented. And President Chirac went out of his way to talk about his own sadness at President Reagan's death.

BLITZER: I spoke this week with the new president of Iraq, Ghazi al-Yawer, who did come to Washington also for the funeral of Ronald Reagan. I asked him whether he wanted the U.S. to hand over Saddam Hussein to the new Iraqi government after June 30th. Listen to what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GHAZI AL-YAWER, INTERIM PRESIDENT OF IRAQ: I think that could be happening after the June 30th. He should be transferred to Iraqi sovereignty, given that we can make sure we can protect him until we have the trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are you going to be handing over Saddam Hussein to the Iraqis?

RICE: Well, we will certainly talk with the Iraqis about Saddam Hussein. We know very much that they want to try him. I believe that the president also said that there were a number of other people who might go on trial first. We're trying to help the Iraqis to get the system ready for these high-profile trials, but there is no doubt that at an appropriate time, Saddam Hussein will be handed over to the Iraqis for trial.

As the president said, we want to make certain that security is very, very tight and can be provided. So we'll do this cooperatively with the Iraqis, but we understand that eventually he will be tried by Iraqis. BLITZER: Appropriate time, is that a month, a year? Can you be a little bit more specific?

RICE: I can't be very specific, Wolf. This is something we obviously need to work out with the Iraqis, because this is a matter of making certain that we can do the job, make certain that he is secure, as the president himself said to you.

BLITZER: How serious are these allegations that have been leveled against Ahmed Chalabi, that he may have handed over to Iran some of the most classified U.S. intelligence information out there?

RICE: Well, Wolf, the charges about whether an American citizen might have handed over secrets to Mr. Chalabi or to anybody is under investigation by the FBI, and I won't comment further on that.

Obviously, we would look into any allegations of this kind, and it's an intelligence matter, and as I understand it, the DCI has also reported this matter to the Intelligence Committees on the Hill, which are really the appropriate venue for them.

BLITZER: So the bottom line, as far as the U.S. government and its dealings with Ahmed Chalabi, what are they right now, if there are any left?

RICE: We were supportive at one time of Mr. Chalabi's organization, as well as a number of other organizations that were dedicated to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. This was out of the Iraq Liberation Act passed in 1998 by the Congress. And we currently do not have that relationship, and it's no secret that there have been some difficulties in the relationship with Mr. Chalabi.

But the important thing is that we are not picking and choosing sides for Mr. Chalabi. He will make his way in Iraq with the Iraqi people. That's really up to the Iraqi people, what role he'll play in Iraq.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit, in the moments we have left -- we don't have a lot of time left -- about torture. Did the president of the United States authorize what some might call torture against certain suspected terrorists being held by the United States?

RICE: Wolf, what the president authorized was that everything would be done within the international treaty obligations and within U.S. law. Those were determinations made by the Justice Department. That's the guidance that he gave, and that's the guidance that he expected people to follow.

BLITZER: Can we go through some of the specifics? What was permissible at Abu Ghraib or at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba? For example...

RICE: No...

BLITZER: ... sleep deprivation? RICE: I'm not going to get into specifics here, Wolf. We are in a situation in which we are in a different war, and in which the American president is determined to do what can be done to protect the American people.

But protecting the American people and getting intelligence information was to be done within the confines of American law and within the confines of our international treaty obligations. The president was clear on that. That's what was authorized.

BLITZER: And in terms of the investigation, where does it stand right now?

RICE: Well, the investigation is still ongoing. As a matter of fact, there are multiple investigations under way, of various charges of abuse.

I think one of the most important lessons out of this is that, in a democracy, there is no guarantee that people will not do bad things. But what can be guaranteed is that there will be transparency, that people will investigate the matter, and that people will be held accountable, who are guilty of whatever they might have done outside of the lines of their authorities.

And so those investigations are under way, and I'm certain that they will be coming to fruition. I just remind people that some people -- there have already been punishments meted out in connection with the Abu Ghraib situation.

BLITZER: One final question, and we only have a few seconds left, Dr. Rice. Ronald Reagan passed away this week. I know you were there for the state funeral. The president, of course, delivered one of the eulogies.

What do you believe the single most important achievement, legacy, from his eight years in the White House will turn out to be, from a historic perspective?

RICE: Well, perhaps I'm a little bit prejudiced to have this since I was a young Soviet specialist when Ronald Reagan made his famous speeches about the evil empire and about communism ending up on the ash heap of history. But, you know, I really think that that's his legacy, that he was someone who was willing to speak the truth, who said tyranny does not have to exist. We don't have to accept that the status quo with the Soviet Union and people behind the Iron Curtain, living in tyranny, is inevitable for the future.

In fact, instead, he believed in the inevitable triumph of the values of liberty and freedom and human dignity. And I think by simply saying that, and simply being insistent about it, and really putting it on the agenda in a very different way, he set off all kinds of events that eventually led to the collapse of communism, the collapse of the Soviet Union peacefully, but most importantly the collapse of tyranny that had held people hostage for 70-plus years.

I think that will be his enduring legacy, because it came out of a bedrock belief in the values of liberty and freedom.

BLITZER: What a week it's been here in the United States. Dr. Rice, thanks for spending a few moments with us on LATE EDITION.

RICE: Thank you very much, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And up next, we're going to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories, including the latest on an American citizen kidnapped in Saudi Arabia.

Then, is the June 30th transfer of power in Iraq signalling an exit strategy for U.S. forces? We'll talk with the two top members of the United States Senate Intelligence Committee.

Much more "LATE EDITION" straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: We're keeping an eye for former President Bush's planned parachute jump over in Texas. That's expected soon. He's also meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the old Soviet Union. They have some comments. We'll stand by for that as well.

Up next, though, investigating the chain of command and the damage done in the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal. We'll get special insight from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Pat Roberts, and the panel's vice chairman, Jay Rockefeller.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

The Bush administration is continuing to face some very hard questions about exactly who knew what regarding the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners. In this past week, the U.S. attorney general, John Ashcroft, was grilled about accusations that his Justice Department sought loopholes to allow for what some call torture at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Joining us now is the chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, and the committee's vice chairman, Jay Rockefeller.

Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We'll get to that in a moment, but big news coming out of Saudi Arabia, Senator Roberts, a kidnapping of an American civilian, an engineer, perhaps being held hostage right now.

Is the Saudi government, based on what you know, doing everything it should be doing to prevent what's happening there right now?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: Well, if they were doing everything they should be doing, they wouldn't have the problem. But that's the problem for all of us in the global war against terrorism. But they put in new controls, in regards to the fund-raising. They just announced those last week.

We had the attack on Khobar. I think the terrorists understand that if they attack the oil infrastructure, that really presents a problem for the United States. And they are kidnapping or killing Americans that they can, and also foreigners.

But I think they have stepped up that fight. And they realize that they are a target, and they realize that they have to take the appropriate action, and they also realize they have to have reform.

BLITZER: What else do they need to do that they are not doing?

ROBERTS: Well, it's a lot like the terrorism or the situation that we face in Iraq or anyplace else in the world, Wolf. I mean it's very difficult. They did kill, what 25, 23 of the al Qaeda at the last attack in regards to Khobar. And I think they are trying to do as much as they can. It's a very difficult situation.

BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, are you satisfied with what the Saudis are doing?

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I think they're the next target for al Qaeda. I think that's been inevitable. And I think what al Qaeda wants to do is to take the enormous gulf between the rulers and their people, the few rulers and the many people who are very unhappy, and attack the royal family, try to bring down the country, and then take hold of the fields.

And then, as opposed to pumping the oil, keeping the oil in the ground, thus further hurting Western economies, particularly our own economy here in the United States.

ROBERTS: One of the things they seemingly are trying to do is get Americans to leave Saudi Arabia, because that would have an impact on oil production, I assume.

ROCKEFELLER: And they have been working on some of those folks, not just Americans, who work with oil in Saudi Arabia.

I think it's a very dangerous situation for Saudi Arabia. I'm not sure they're equipped to handle it. I don't think psychologically over their 70-year history they've been equipped to handle this kind of attack. So I worry a lot about their future.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about the Senate Intelligence Committee report. You're standing by. We're all anxiously awaiting to receive this report, what happened, what didn't happen.

What's the status, Mr. Chairman? ROBERTS: Wolf, we hope to vote this week to approve the report. I think that there is almost unanimous support for the report. And both Jay and I have worked very hard with our staff to get that done.

That report now, the facts of the report, is in the CIA's hands. They are going through their redaction efforts or their declassification efforts.

Now, they were supposed to have that back to us in two weeks, then three, and it's now four. And I am now learning from staff that some reporters are actually saying that there is some information from the CIA saying there's going to be further delays.

We can take the appropriate action if we have to in regards to our committee in terms of voting to make sure that report becomes public. It's a good report. It's not a good-news report, but it should be made public.

BLITZER: It sounds like you're getting frustrated. And just for our viewers not familiar, this is the report on pre-Iraq war intelligence, how good was it, how bad was it, intelligence.

USA Today suggesting there was a lack of CIA informants in Saddam's regime, that the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmad Chalabi was the source of some very unreliable intelligence, and that there was a lack of CIA good-enough analysts to go ahead and understand fully what was happening on weapons of mass destruction and other issues.

Are those some of the bottom-line conclusions?

ROBERTS: I can't talk specifically about the specifics of the report. Let me just say it's not a flattering picture. The report by itself is not a good-news report.

But on the other side of it, it will allow us to set the predicate to move immediately to the reform issues. And both Jay and I have agreed immediately after this report is out that hopefully, in the month of July, we will get wise men and women who know what to do to fix the situation and to make changes where they are appropriate throughout the intelligence community.

Fifteen agencies are involved here. But this isn't only a U.S. problem. It was a global failure of all of the world intelligence agencies.

BLITZER: Everybody seemed to assume there were weapons of mass destruction.

ROBERTS: It was an assumption train, and the assumptions were wrong. But once we get past that, and once we get past this business of looking in the rearview mirror with 20-20 hindsight and certainly pointing that out, we need to move forward, with the help of the administration, to enact some reforms. And we'll do that.

BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, it sounds like the chairman is frustrated with the way the CIA is dealing with the declassification of this report. Are you?

ROCKEFELLER: Very much so. And I'm not sure whether it's because they don't want to be embarrassed. I'm not sure, quite frankly, that if you go through the hundreds of pages of that report that there's all that much which is that sensitive. I'm not sure that they would necessarily disagree with a lot of the facts that we have in there. But for some reason they're delaying it. They don't want it out.

And, as Pat Roberts said, we have our ways of getting it out. We can vote it out. We can vote out the conclusions. We can use a procedure not heretofore used recently in the Senate to force its release.

BLITZER: There was some speculation that George Tenet, the CIA director, resigned, when he did a couple of weeks ago, anticipating this Senate Intelligence Committee report coming out being as unflattering, as far as the CIA is concerned, as it's likely to be.

Do you accept that?

ROCKEFELLER: I don't know, first of all. That's the only honest answer, because I tend to take George at his word when he -- you know, seven years is longer than anybody except Allen Dulles. And that -- he was worn down. You could tell it physically.

And I don't think he was looking forward to this report, but I think he really has been looking forward to spending more time with his family. I'm not going to argue with him on that.

BLITZER: I'm going to take a quick break, but, Senator Roberts, just to nail this down, if the CIA doesn't release this report in the coming days, you're threatening that the committee is going to go ahead and vote to release it in any case?

ROBERTS: I'm not making a threat. We're trying to work with them. They're working with us, first to make sure it's factual; second, what is classified, what would endanger sources and methods and names, in terms of national security. But it's taking too long.

And then, when I get word back that there's some information to reporters, that's going to be another two weeks, I get upset, along with Jay.

It's been long enough. I mean, this has taken now a year. You know, this could have been done, in my view, in, you know, nine months' time, but every member wanted to take part, and every member has taken a part.

The American people have a right to know, and we will get this report out one way or the other.

BLITZER: All right. Now, stand by, Senators, because we're going to have to take a quick break.

When we come back, much more of our conversation with Senators Rockefeller and Roberts. They'll also be taking your phone calls.

And later, the new president of Iraq talks to me about plans to put Saddam Hussein on trial.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our discussion with the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts of Kansas, and the vice chairman, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

Senator Rockefeller, should President Bush nominate a new CIA director even though it's only a few months between now and the election?

ROCKEFELLER: I think the president should do that, Wolf. Pat Roberts and I may disagree on that, but I think it's a matter of nuance.

First of all, we don't know who the next president's going to be. I might have my preferences; Pat may have his. But if it is President Bush, then why would he take seven months from now till next January to have an acting director? Why wouldn't you pick somebody who is so compellingly good, who we need anyway, that both sides can agree on that person, and have that person complete an absolute charge?

And I'm not ruling John McLaughlin out from being one of those people.

But I think the idea of leaving something empty in an acting director is not good public policy.

BLITZER: John McLaughlin being the deputy CIA director. Now he will become, once Tenet leaves in mid-July, the acting director.

He did, the president, nominate former Senator John Danforth to become the next U.N. ambassador at this point, even though there's still only a few months left in this first term of the administration. Should he nominate a new CIA director?

ROBERTS: Well, I think former Senator Danforth is an excellent pick. I think he's, you know, got a lot of credentials for it.

BLITZER: That's for the U.N.

ROBERTS: Yes, that's for the U.N.

I think it's probably up to the president. I haven't really thought go this too much, but I think Jay makes a good argument in that regard. But you're going to have to have somebody that understands information, how to run a large bureaucracy.

I think a change would be good. I think there obviously are a lot of good people out there now being talked about. I'd take my time about it. George Tenet is still on duty until I think it's July 12th. We have an acting director; he's very capable. It'll be the president's call.

If we can find somebody that gets bipartisan support -- I remember when we've had previous nominee, they come before the Intelligence Committee and we have hearings. I would hope in the partisan atmosphere that always happens in a campaign to some degree -- although I think that has lessened with the Reagan funeral and all that, or I hope it has. Perhaps, but it's the president's call.

BLITZER: There was this, on Friday, a statement, a voice claiming to Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the number-two al Qaeda operative, in which he said supposedly, "The Americans will not give us democracy and freedom. Democracy and freedom should come within us."

Do you get any sense at all, Senator Rockefeller, that there's progress being made in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al- Zawahiri, other al Qaeda operatives?

ROCKEFELLER: No, I don't. And I also will say that I don't think that's the first imperative. It's the question that's most frequently asked. It's the question Americans want answered. We've been looking all over the place for him. We've put all kinds of special forces and troops on that, as have the Pakistanis, et cetera. But we have not found him. And al Qaeda is thriving in 100 countries, whether he is caught or whether he isn't.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that assessment?

ROBERTS: Well, I think Mr. Zawahiri is the head person, if you will, of what's happening in Iraq. And we just captured his number- two fellow, and we've got him under interrogation, and I think he will be helpful, so that is a success. So I might quarrel a little bit with Mr. Zawahiri. Obviously the figurehead is Osama. And that's been very difficult. He's somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan, we think, in a very, very difficult position.

But Jay makes a good point. It's a lot like that place you take your kids, and you would take a mallet and I think it was called Whack-a-Mole or something, and you'd hit the thing, about five would pop up. And that's about where we are, in terms of the terrorist throat around the globe.

But I think it would be very helpful, yes, if we would get Osama. It would be symbolic. And Mr. Zawahiri, if we get him, we make some real progress.

BLITZER: Do you understand -- and we don't have a lot of time left -- do you understand what the U.S. policy is on torture?

ROCKEFELLER: It appears to be bifurcated. One can't say that for certain because we don't have the Justice Department memos and all the military memos.

We know that a lot of the military lawyers are very unhappy with what's going on. We know there appears to be a different standard from what we were told, not only in Guantanamo but also for al Qaeda. We know that people have said that if it's outside of the United States, i.e., Afghanistan and Iraq, the same rules don't apply.

It's sort of shifting back and forth. It's like a mist, and it's not a very happy one.

BLITZER: Does the U.S. intelligence community get good information when it uses coercive tactics?

ROBERTS: It's how you define "coercive." I don't mean to be splitting hairs here, but this is a brand-new incarceration policy and interrogation policy with the fight against terrorism. It isn't like it used to be. And so, it's a difficult swamp to get through, certainly with a lot more difficulty to try to get the information that you need to save lives -- not only American lives, but, you know, lives wherever the terrorism threat is.

We've had three hearings on this. They've been closed. John Warner and Carl Levin have had three open hearings. As soon as we get the Fay report -- that's by General Fay -- we will know more.

We have requested the legal memoranda by the Justice Department; they have refused. There's been some leaks about that now, so it would seem to me it would be in their best interest and in the best interest of the country to give us that legal memoranda so we can have a much clearer picture.

But it's a very difficult thing to try to get a comprehensive policy, when you have so many different terrorist groups and many different circumstances.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we have to leave it there.

Senator Roberts, thanks very much for joining us.

Senator Rockefeller, thanks to you as well.

A complicated situation.

Still ahead, the search for Osama bin Laden. I'll speak with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, about whether the world's most wanted man is getting any closer to being caught.

And as Iraq prepares for sovereignty, my conversation with the United Nations special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, about that country's political and social future.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just ahead, we'll get a quick check of the hour's top stories, and the latest word on former President George Bush and his parachute jump to celebrate his 80th birthday.

Then, two countries, two presidents with political fates tied to the United States. I'll speak with the new president of Iraq, Sheik Ghazi al-Yawer, and the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai.

"LATE EDITION" continues right at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We'll get to my interview with Iraq's new interim president, Sheik Ghazi al-Yawer, in just a few minutes.

First, though, we'll also have some coverage of former President George Bush. He's 80 years old now, and today he's making another parachute jump over College Station, Texas. We'll show it to you once that happens.

First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: On a short list of the world's most difficult jobs, the new Iraqi president, of course, would be right near the top. In just 2 1/2 weeks, the U.S. and coalition forces will formally hand over the government, sovereignty to Sheik Ghazi al-Yawer.

I spoke to him earlier about the dangers ahead and his blunt talk to U.S. allies. We spoke just before the latest assassinations of Iraqi officials.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. President, if I may call you Mr. President, are you technically the president of Iraq now?

AL-YAWER: I am.

BLITZER: Congratulations.

AL-YAWER: I'm getting acquainted with this new title.

BLITZER: You like the way that sounds, Mr. President?

AL-YAWER: Well, it's nice. It's OK.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Iraq and the United States for a moment. Are you eye to eye with President Bush when it comes to the immediate future of Iraq?

AL-YAWER: I think we are. We have spoken much earlier, when I was the president of the Governing Council. He was very keen to learn what Iraqis think of having multinational forces in the summer, and I told him what I really believe, that all the Iraqis believe, that due to vacuum of power in Iraq we really need to have multinational forces, effective ones, we don't want to have 50 and 100 from each country, we don't want any from countries who abuse human rights.

It's very important to us to seek assistance from our friends in the international community, the United States, Great Britain, the European community and others to help us maintain security and order.

BLITZER: So when it comes to the issue of full sovereignty for Iraq that will take place on June 30th, is your definition of full sovereignty, as far as you can tell, exactly the same as President Bush's?

AL-YAWER: Yes, it is. Full sovereignty has nothing to do with inviting friends in the international community to help us preserve law and order. Full sovereignty does not mean we need to be reckless and suicidal. We have to be practical. We need to rebuild our security forces, infrastructures, in a very efficient way, so that we can -- and we long for that day, that we can take matters in our hands, so we shake the hands of our friends and thank them for their help to us.

BLITZER: How long do you think it will be necessary for the U.S. and the other members of the coalition to maintain troops in Iraq?

AL-YAWER: We don't have a time ceiling, really. These things all depend on the circumstances that we're going to face in the summer.

The first challenge of the new interim government is the security issues. Without security, we cannot move on the election issue nor development of the country or reconstruction. We have to start working on, with the assistance of our friends, on rebuilding our security forces.

It might take six months, it might take up to a year. We don't know really, we cannot put the ceiling. This is not a contract. This is the stability of a very important and highly potential country on the stakes.

BLITZER: Priority number one is security for the Iraqi people?

AL-YAWER: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Who will have the final say in providing that security? In other words, will the U.S.-led military in Iraq, after June 30th, July 1st, will they be able to do what they determine as essential, or will the Iraqi government -- and you're the president -- will you have the final word?

AL-YAWER: It depends on tactical day-to-day operations. There will be a liaison between the multinational forces and the Iraqi security and defense forces. But on major operations, which has political consequences, they've got to seek the approval of the Iraqi leadership or command.

BLITZER: You were quoted on April 9th as saying this. You said, "If they insist on using excessive force, then I will submit my resignation. How can a superpower like the United States put itself in a state of war with a small city like Fallujah? This is genocide."

AL-YAWER: Yes, sir. At that time I really believed so, and if time goes back and the same situation happens, I would say the same, because our main objective to segregate and separate the bad elements from the law-abiding normal citizens. When you besiege a city by an army, you're just making them integrate together, and there will be a code of warriors trying to fight for their lives, which is wrong.

We want to get these bad elements, we want to get rid of them. But fighting them in a normal combat, a military combat -- it doesn't work. These are insurgents. These are not armies or fighters. They are high-quality, trained insurgents and bad elements, Saddam remnants, loyalists and some fanatics.

BLITZER: Can you see the day where Iraqi military, law enforcement, police, will be in a position where they will go after these insurgents? These are Iraqis themselves, whether they're Saddam loyalists or whatever. Where Iraqis will, in effect, be killing other Iraqis?

AL-YAWER: Well, first of all, the Saddam loyalists -- yes, they are Iraqis. The others, some of them are foreign fighters and Iraqis.

Regardless, whoever tries to go above the law and kill innocent people and do random terrorism has to be fought and being incarcerated or eliminated so that people can live in stability and security.

BLITZER: Mr. President, another controversial comment you made to Al-Arabiya on May 29th, it caused some consternation here in the United States. I'll read it to you, and get your explanation, what exactly you meant.

"We blame the United States 100 percent for the security in Iraq. They occupied the country, disbanding the security agencies, and for 10 months left Iraq's borders open for anyone to come in without a visa or even a passport."

What did you mean by those comments?

AL-YAWER: Well, first of all, the first portion of that quote is not really what I said and does not reflect what I said. I didn't say we blame the Unites States 100 percent.

Yes, the Unites States dismantled the security forces. The borders of Iraq were left wide open for a while. But, again, we have to confess, our security forces which has been trained in the later days, I mean, in winter and last fall, when we had the first challenge in Fallujah and in the south, they just deserted. That means the procedure or the way that this recruitment have happened was wrong.

It's a collective mistake. In the beginning, it was a mistake of the coalition. Yes, definitely. But now, it's a collective mistake of everybody, where we're probably -- we have to learn from what have happened. We have to recruit our security forces, keeping in mind what have happened before so this will not happen again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Stay with us for more of our interview with the new Iraqi president, Ghazi al-Yawer, about the many challenges facing his country, including the trial of the former leader Saddam Hussein.

And later, the other war. Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, joins me. We'll discuss the deadly attacks continuing against U.S. forces in his country.

Stay with CNN. "LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture of this plane. It's carrying the former president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, 80 years old this weekend. He's celebrating that 80th birthday by jumping out of this plane, and we're hoping to see him as he begins to approach College Station, Texas. This is not the first time he's jumped out of a plane. We still have not seen him emerge.

Earlier today, he did what was called a tandem jump to get ready for this second jump of the day, the tandem jump together with a professional. Supposedly right now, because of the heavy winds, the gusts, he is doing it again.

Let's take a look at the picture, and show our viewers what we're seeing right now. I think we can make out -- there they are. There are all of those who are jumping out of this plane. They're skydiving. Pretty soon they'll be opening up their parachutes, and they'll be moving in.

We don't know which one is President Bush, but we do know he's among that group that dropped out of that plane. Actually, now I'm being told those were just streamers, I guess to get a chance to assess the weather conditions, the wind gusts, to make sure that everything is safe.

Let's take a quick break. We'll come back. We'll continue to watch what the former president of the United States is doing. We'll also have more of my interview with the new president of Iraq, Ghazi al-Yawer. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're continuing to await the jump the former president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, turning 80 years old this weekend. He's standing by to jump out of a plane. We'll have coverage of that once that happens. In the meantime, let's go back to my conversation with the new president of Iraq, Ghazi al-Yawer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution, as you know, this week unanimously.

AL-YAWER: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: But the Kurds were very upset that there was no direct reference in that resolution to the interim constitution, which the Governing Council had passed, and they were extremely agitated that perhaps the Sunnis and the Shiites might be taking steps to undermine the guarantees that they need in order to protect their status as a minority.

Do you understand why they were concerned?

AL-YAWER: Yes, sir. I do very well. This transitional administrative law is a piece of work that we worked on for three months, in very sophisticated discussions and dialogues between legal experts, politicians in the Iraqi society, especially in the Governing Council.

We burned the midnight candlelight for a long time, and we came with this -- what I consider a masterpiece, where we have the basic rights, which does not exist anywhere else in that hemisphere. We have many nice things in it: the separation of judiciary system, and women rights, and all these pluralistic systems -- and among them, federalism.

Personally -- and I'm an Arab, and I'm a Sunni -- I'm disappointed that the TAL, transition administrative law, has not been referred to in this, because this is our road map to democracy. Without TAL, we couldn't have the 30th of June. Without the TAL, we can't have the 31st of January, the deadline for having elections. Without the TAL, we don't have August 2005, as finalizing drafting the constitution.

So, this is our road map to democracy. It must be there. We used to criticize Saddam for signing up treaties and tearing them apart.

BLITZER: This raises the whole question, Mr. President...

AL YAWER: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: ... of stability in Iraq. Because there are so many who fear that there will be either a civil war or eventually Iraq will break up into a Kurdish, a Shiite or a Sunni separate countries, if you will. You're smiling when I say that.

AL-YAWER: Because I consider it, with all due respect to you, this is a joke. If you go to Iraq and live in Iraq, you would see how solid the Iraqi society is.

We went through the worst time any nation could have went through last year, but the population of Iraq stayed together. There were bombings here and there, assassinations, but simple Iraqis would say this is a conspiracy coming from outside.

Talking about three separate or three pieces of Iraq, this is a fairy tale. Iraq, since 7,000 years ago, Mosul used to connect Nineveh (ph) at that time...

BLITZER: So is it fair to say...

AL-YAWER: ... used to connect with Babylon.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say that whether you're a Sunni, a Shia, a Kurd or any other minority ethnic group in Iraq, you're an Iraqi first?

AL-YAWER: Definitely, definitely. I'm a living example. There was a unified solidarity of Shiite, Kurds and Sunni to bring me to this position. There was probably, I've learned about, there were some delays in announcing the presidency, and they all unified, rallied together.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Saddam Hussein.

Al-YAWER: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Is he in U.S. custody right now?

AL-YAWER: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: When does he transfer to Iraqi custody?

AL-YAWER: I think that would be happening after the June 30th. He should be transferred to Iraqi sovereignty, given that we can make sure we can protect him until we have the trial.

BLITZER: And when will that trial, based on what you know right now, begin?

AL-YAWER: Sometime in the summer. We have to start with the smaller elements in order to build testimonies and evidences to his trial. His trial will be the climax of the trials.

BLITZER: So in other words, you'll start with Tariq Aziz or with others who were associated with Saddam Hussein, and then eventually wind up with Saddam?

AL-YAWER: This is how judiciary systems work in the civilized world.

BLITZER: Have you personally seen Saddam Hussein since he was captured?

AL-YAWER: No, sir, I haven't. I was asked to go and visit and see him, and I declined.

BLITZER: What do you make of these accusations that have been hurled here in Washington against Ahmed Chalabi, that he supposedly, or one of his associates, handed over sensitive information, U.S. information, to Iran?

AL-YAWER: I really don't know the details of this. I've worked with Ahmed Chalabi in the Governing Council. He's only a colleague and acquaintance, and I carry a lot of respect for this guy.

He has a great sense of time management, which I really adore, because I come from corporate background, and I adore having good time management in order not to waste a lot of time.

BLITZER: Do you see him as an Iraqi patriot?

AL-YAWER: Definitely. He's one of the Iraqi patriots who helped liberating Iraq.

BLITZER: We only have a few seconds left. Tell me, Mr. President, about your plans. Will you be running for office in the election scheduled for January of next year?

AL-YAWER: Well, we'll wait and see, I mean, how things go. If the law allows me to do so, and if the grounds are working for the noble cause of rebuilding Iraq, I would be honored to serve my country.

BLITZER: That sounds like a yes to me.

AL-YAWER: A political yes.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: A politician indeed. The president of Iraq, thanks so much for joining us. Welcome once again to the United States.

AL-YAWER: Well, thank you very much, sir.

BLITZER: Good luck to you and all the people of Iraq.

AL-YAWER: Thank you. Thank you very much. All the best.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And from the situation in Iraq to what's happening over the skies of College Station, Texas. Right now we're standing by. The former president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, 80 years old this weekend, scheduled to jump out of a plane, something that he loves doing, has done on other occasions, but he promised himself he would do it once again on his 80th birthday weekend. He's about to do it.

Already some of his friends have jumped out of the plane, including the actor Chuck Norris, who is up there as well. A big crowd has gathered, a nice crowd has gathered to receive, to welcome back the president.

There's Chuck Norris himself, right there, the actor, who jumped out of this plane. We'll stand by for President Bush's jump.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is something you don't see every day. These are the skies over College Station, Texas. That's the home of Texas A&M University, also the home of the George Bush Presidential Library. The 41st president of the United States, the father of the current president, celebrating his 80th birthday this weekend, and he's about to jump out of a plane to celebrate the birthday and parachute from 13,000 feet down to earth.

It's not the first time he's done it. In fact, he did it earlier today in a tandem jump, and I suspect, we're being told, he might do another tandem jump, held on by a professional, this time as well, because it's a little gusty, a little bit windier than anticipated.

He did it on his 75th birthday. First time he did it was that, was when he was in World War II, serving in World War II.

We're going to show you his jump live once it happens, but we want to move on and show some other news as well. Fresh violence this week in Afghanistan -- a conflict often overshadowed by the war in Iraq. Gunmen in the north of Afghanistan killed 11 Chinese construction workers. U.S. forces have mounted a three-week campaign in the south of the country.

President Hamid Karzai has warned deadly violence will escalate as elections, now delayed until September, draw closer.

Earlier today, I spoke with President Karzai about what's going on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: President Karzai, welcome back to the United States. Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.

Let's first of all talk about the search for Osama bin Laden. What can you tell us? Is he in Afghanistan someplace?

HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: We don't know that -- I don't think he's in Afghanistan. He probably is somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

BLITZER: On the Pakistani side or the Afghan side?

KARZAI: We don't know. He may be one day on this side, one day on that side, one day (UNINTELLIGIBLE) somewhere. It's a large territory. He is a fugitive. He's hiding. And we are looking for him.

BLITZER: When you say "we are looking for him," U.S. forces, other forces in Afghanistan, together with...

KARZAI: Yes. This is the U.S. forces. This is the Afghan forces. This is also -- there's other institutions, structures that we have.

BLITZER: I interviewed Khurshid Kasuri about a week or two weeks ago, the foreign minister of Pakistan. He was very angry that occasionally, he said, U.S. forces move along across the border into Pakistan. What is your understanding of the rules of engagement if there's a hunt, a search under way?

KARZAI: Well, at times when the U.S. forces operate close to the Afghan border with Pakistan, it's really difficult to distinguish between this village or that village. So it may occur. But definitely it is not intentionally.

BLITZER: What about Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader? Where is he?

KARZAI: He's again, also, hiding somewhere. We don't know where. We're looking for him, too. And the fact that both these persons are hiding, shows for the -- the collapse of their organization. It shows for the collapse of their networking.

That's why they're hiding. They no longer can stay visible, because they know that they'll be taken.

BLITZER: Is it your suspicion they're together or separate?

KARZAI: I don't think they're together. I think they're separate and they're hiding in separate places. And under separate arrangements.

BLITZER: Earlier this year, there were suggestions that they're getting closer to finding Osama bin Laden. Is there any evidence of that that you've seen?

KARZAI: I have not seen any such evidence to suggest definitely that we are getting closer to arresting Osama bin Laden. But we have gotten close to arresting him a number of times. OK, so then he slipped (ph).

We will definitely catch him one day. No fugitive can run forever. Nowhere in the world. They will be caught one way or the other.

BLITZER: When you say you've got close a few times, can you give us a specific example?

KARZAI: I cannot go into that sort of detail here. I may not report correctly if I do that. But we do definitely know that a number of times we were close to capturing him, and it somehow didn't happen.

So that's why we have a lot of hope that we'll capture him, sooner or later.

BLITZER: When was the most recent time that you felt that you were so close?

KARZAI: Probably a few months away from today. In the past.

BLITZER: A few months ago?

KARZAI: Yes.

BLITZER: So you felt that you were close but not close enough?

KARZAI: Yes.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the elections that are scheduled for Afghanistan. Scheduled for September. They've already been delayed once. Is it for sure that these elections will, in fact, take place in September?

KARZAI: When we began the registration of voters, we had voting registration places for Afghans in a few provinces of the country. And in a few months, we registered about 800,000 to a million voters.

Last month we began a larger, more expanding program of registration for voters. And in the period since then, in a month's time, we have just -- almost two million more voters.

And when I was beginning towards the United States last Monday, we had registered 3.5 million voters. Yesterday when I spoke to Kabul, we had registered 3.7 million voters, and by the time it's Tuesday or Wednesday, we will definitely have at least four million people registered.

So the way the registration is going on, we will be technically, in terms of registration, ready to have elections in Afghanistan in September.

BLITZER: It's been estimated there are potentially 10 million eligible voters.

KARZAI: We may not have that number. We may not have 10 million eligible voters. We may have somewhere between 7 to 8 million eligible voters. And if we reach the 6 million mark, we will be very, very happy, in that we're a legitimate mark to go for election now.

The question here is different. We are definitely going to have elections, because the Afghan people want it. They are very keen. The reason we are in a hurry is because there's a daily pressure on us from the Afghan people to register them quickly and to prepare the ground for voting.

KARZAI: They see election as a better future for them. They see election as a more legitimate and more empowered government for them. So we should have it.

BLITZER: So you could say flatly on this program, seen around the world, the elections will, 100 percent, take place in September?

KARZAI: As far as I'm concerned, the president of Afghanistan, as far as the Afghan people are concerned, their desire, their intention is to have elections in September.

The technical preparations are taking place. Now there are -- we have partners, the United Nations, the Afghan Election Commission, the Afghan-U.N. Joint Election Commission. They're preparing the elections.

The intention in Afghanistan, the people, the government, is to have elections in September. And we are working for it.

BLITZER: And you are seeking, obviously, to be reelected?

KARZAI: Very much.

BLITZER: You have opposition, though.

KARZAI: I have opposition. We are now a democracy, and democracy is about opposition. Democracy is about talking. Democracy is about winning and losing.

But if we have elections, and if in that election I win, I'll be very happy. If I lose, I'll be happy again, because through that we will have taken Afghanistan through a transition to a higher state of legitimacy and democratic existence.

BLITZER: You've seen the criticism that has been leveled against you, that you're making deals with former Taliban members, with warlords, in order to secure your reelection. I wonder if you want to respond.

KARZAI: Yes. Good question.

With regard to the former Taliban, we want to bring back those Taliban that are not criminals. They're from Afghanistan. They should come back to their country and live a normal life. They should come back away from Pakistan. They should come and stay in Afghanistan. We want normalcy to return to Afghanistan.

But we will not allow those Taliban that have crime on their hands, that have committed crimes against the Afghan people, against the international community, against Americans, against everybody else. Those are out of the question, and they don't number more than 100 or so. There are less than that. The majority of the Taliban are just foot soldiers, just people. They should go back and stay in their homes.

With regard to the warlords, with regard to people having private militias, there is no negotiation at all with them. I'm talking with the members of the former Afghan resistance against the Soviets, against those leaders of the resistance who have said to me that they do not want to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because they don't see the country ready for a competitive, intense, election campaign. They want to go in unity toward a smooth transition to a higher state of democracy.

And isn't democracy about talking? Isn't democracy about sitting and making deals on elections and on how smoothly to have relations? But to suggest that these negotiations are about creating a joint government or a coalition government, definitely not.

BLITZER: All right.

KARZAI: Absolutely not. BLITZER: Let me read to you what Robert Novak, a syndicated columnist, wrote on May 31st.

KARZAI: Yes, I know what he wrote.

BLITZER: You're familiar with this. I'll get your response.

Writing in the Chicago Sun-Times: "The situation in Afghanistan, as laid out to me," he writes, "looks nothing like a country alleged to be progressing toward representative democracy under American tutelage. Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-sponsored Afghan president, is regarded by the U.S. troops as hopelessly corrupt and kept in power by U.S. force of arms."

Those are strong words.

KARZAI: Yes, very strong words.

Now, the Bonn process began in 2001 after the collapse of the Taliban. And in the Bonn process, Afghans got together to have an interim government. We've got an interim government. And the interim government was supposed to have a Loya Jirga, a Grand Council to elect the government. That happened. And the government was supposed to have another Loya Jirga for the constitution of the country needed to be in 18 months. That happened.

And Afghanistan got one of the most enlightened constitutions in the world, especially in that part of the world, where women have 25 percent of the seats in the parliament, where minority languages are given official recognition, where both sects of Islam have recognition, where the country has a democratic system, where the rights of the Afghan citizen, both men and women, are guaranteed. Now this constitution was made by the Afghan people, by the clergy, by the former resistance people, by women, by men.

BLITZER: But what about the allegation of corruption?

KARZAI: Now...

BLITZER: And let me give you a specific point...

KARZAI: I'm coming.

BLITZER: ... of concern: opium production, the poppy fields in Afghanistan. There seemed to have been an explosion, based on all the reports that we've seen over the past few years...

KARZAI: Yes.

BLITZER: ... since you've been in office.

KARZAI: Yes. I'm coming to that. I'm coming to that.

Now, we have all of that. So Afghanistan has really progressed from that stage to a much higher stage of people's participation and economy and progress and stability. We are a country that is emerging after 30 years of war, of terrorism, of economic destruction, of poverty, of drought, to a stage where Afghanistan had, last year, 30 percent growth -- the year before, 30 percent growth. Last year, 25 percent growth. This year, 20 percent growth, at least.

And the Asian Bank, Asian Development Bank, has predicted that Afghanistan, if it continues on the same path, will have at least 15 percent growth until 2008 and beyond that, for another five years, still looks good.

Now poppies is definitely a problem. We have made a mistake with regard to poppies two years ago. We paid the farmers, in return for destruction. This encouraged every other person to grow poppies, thinking that if they grow poppies, we will either pay them and destroy their poppies or, if we don't, they will have the poppies.

Last year, we resorted to eradication. This year, we have done eradication. But this is a complex problem. This is a problem that's not only affecting Afghanistan, but affecting the rest of the world.

In Afghanistan, though, we are much more in danger, because poppies pay for terrorism. Poppies pay for warlordism. Poppies prevent the construction of Afghan governmental institutions.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, Mr. President, but I want to ask you a final question. You're a courageous leader of Afghanistan, because there have been assassination attempts against you. I know that you're well-protected, but how worried are you about your own personal safety?

KARZAI: I'm not worried about my personal safety. I've been through this for the past 30 years, fighting the Soviets and then fighting the Taliban. I've been in the mountains, I've been saved many, many times.

And now I have a good security team, both of the Americans and the Afghans that are trained by the Americans. I'm in good, safe hands.

But the real keeper is God. He's looking after us.

BLITZER: Well, good luck to you.

KARZAI: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. Thanks very much.

KARZAI: Good to talk to you. Thank you. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And let's go from Afghanistan once again to the skies over College Station, Texas. These are the skies we're anticipating shortly the former president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, will jump from an airplane. He will parachute down to College Station, the home of Texas A&M University and the George Bush Presidential Library. There have been others who have already jumped, including some demonstrators, including the actor Chuck Norris.

We'll go back there live once we see President Bush celebrating his 80th birthday this weekend with a drop, with a jump, a parachute jump from a plane.

Up next, though, the countdown to handover in Iraq, and my special conversation with the man at the center of that storm, the U.N. special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi. Will the new government in Baghdad provide a fresh start, and will it provide for national security?

Stay with "LATE EDITION."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture of the skies over College Station, Texas. This is another demonstrator, not -- we're told -- not the former president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush. He will be jumping, though, soon, from a plane, celebrating his 80th birthday this week. He did the same thing celebrating his 75 birthday. We'll go back there live, once we see the former president of the United States parachute down.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

It's just 17 days before the end of the month and the handover of sovereignty in Iraq. The U.N. special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, has been working hard both at U.N. headquarters, as well as in Baghdad, to make this happen. He's warning, though, that the country's problems will take years, not days, to overcome.

I asked him who will be in charge of U.S. forces on the ground on July 1st.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY TO IRAQ: Of the Security Council, has gone a long way towards clarifying that the Americans are not going to be -- the Americans, the coalition, those who are going to be known now as the multinational force, are not going to be able to take action without prior consultation with the Iraqi government.

You know, it is spelled out in the resolution that Iraqi forces and police will be under Iraqi control, not under American control, and it is also specified that the Americans are -- or the multinational force is not going to be able to take action without prior consultation with the Iraqi government.

BLITZER: Prime Minister Allawi, the incoming prime minister of the new Iraqi interim government, has had over many years a very close relationship with the CIA. Is he seen by some Iraqis, or perhaps others in Iraq and in the Arab world, for example, as a puppet of the Americans?

BRAHIMI: It is up to him, you know, to show that he is going to be an Iraqi prime minister of Iraq, and that he is going to work for the people of Iraq, and that he is going to have that kind of relationship with the region.

BLITZER: How important is it that there eventually be real democracy in Iraq?

BRAHIMI: I think the Iraqi people are ready for a regime that is different from what they have known over the last three or four decades. I think that they are looking forward to a situation where free speech and popular participation in the government of the country is a reality. What kind of democracy they are going to have, I think they'll have to work it out themselves. There is a lot of discussion in Iraq and elsewhere on whether war and foreign occupation is the best way of establishing democracy. I suppose the short answer is that it is not.

So the Iraqis will have to work this out for themselves.

BLITZER: What do you say to those critics of you who say you're more concerned about stability than human rights and democratic values?

BRAHIMI: What -- the short answer is that this is nonsense. People who go to Afghanistan for three days and then come back here and lecture, and they say, you know, that I or anybody else is concerned about stability, you know, the thing is, you need to see the whole picture and see how best you can serve human rights and democracy, rather than just make speeches.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the Kurds in Iraq. As you know, this past week they were very upset that in the U.N. Security Council resolution there was no mention of the interim constitution, which gives them some basic rights to protect their minority status. How worried should the Kurds be?

BRAHIMI: I understand their worries. I think they have expressed that repeatedly. I think that they -- what they are concerned about is that they are saying, look, we've often been cheated in the past, we don't want to be cheated again, we want to be absolutely certain that we will be full citizen of the new Iraq.

BLITZER: Are you worried -- I guess the bottom line question, are you worried that Iraq could split up into a separate Kurdish zone, a separate Sunni zone, a separate Shia zone?

BRAHIMI: I made -- you know, I sounded a note of caution after my first visit there, saying that, you know, the Iraqis have to be careful. There is a lot of reasons to be hopeful, but there are also some dark clouds on the horizon. And that civil war is a possibility. A lot of Iraqis criticized me and said that there was absolutely no reason to fear. I hope they are 100 percent right and I was 100 percent wrong.

BLITZER: Two controversial statements you've made that have caused some, I guess, stir here in the United States. I want you to respond to both.

On June 2nd you were quoted as saying, "This Bremer is the dictator of Iraq. He has the money, he has the signature. Nothing happens without his agreement in this country."

Is that an accurate quote? And if it is, what was your point about suggesting he's the so-called dictator?

BRAHIMI: I'm terribly sorry that it was taken literally. I was responding to people who were practically telling me, "Why did you consult with Americans concerning the formation of this government?" And I was reminding them that the Americans were running Iraq, that the government of Iraq was in the hands 100 percent of the Americans and that Ambassador Paul Bremer had the executive, legislative, financial, and I think even judiciary powers and that, you know, he is literally-speaking a dictator.

I said that very much tongue-in-cheek. I'm very sorry that some of your colleagues have taken it literally. Mr. Paul Bremer, I think, has done his very best in very, very complicated and difficult situations. And we certainly work together reasonably well.

BLITZER: The other controversial comment that generated some controversy here was the comment you made on April 22nd to French radio in which you said, "The problems are connected. There is no doubt that the great poison in the region is this Israeli policy of domination and the suffering imposed on the Palestinians." I know you've explained that comment. But once again, if you don't mind, tell our viewers what you meant.

BRAHIMI: I think, you know, I stand by what I have said. I think that everybody is saying, even I think in this G-8 meeting, how important and how central the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is for the whole region. And that influence is even what happens in Iraq.

There is no doubt that the Palestinian people are having a very, very rough time. I think some of the images your own network has shown have, you know, consistently shown how much suffering is inflicted on the Palestinians.

I think there is no -- I don't conceal the fact that I have had for a very, very long time and still do, a lot of sympathy for the Palestinian plight and that I would like to see a solution that restores some rights and the dignity of the people of Palestine.

BLITZER: But are you suggesting it's all the Israeli's fault that the Palestinian terrorist attacks, for example -- they don't play a part in this problem?

BRAHIMI: I don't think I said that. But I say that occupation is really the main source of the problem. The day that occupation ends, I am absolutely certain that, you know, the Middle East will look something completely different and that relations between Israel and its neighbors including the people of Palestine will be significantly different.

BLITZER: One final question, Mr. Brahimi. What's next for you now that you've worked out this deal for the transfer? The new U.N. Security Council resolution has been unanimously passed. What's next for Lakhdar Brahimi?

BRAHIMI: I hope that at some stage, a few days off, and I am adviser to the secretary-general on peace and security issues. And I suppose I would continue to do that.

BLITZER: Well, good luck to you. Good luck to the effort. Thanks so much for joining us.

BRAHIMI: Thank you very much, indeed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And stay with CNN. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Once again, you're looking at live pictures of the skies over College Station, Texas. They're still waiting for the 41st president of the United States, George Herbert Walker Bush, celebrating his 80th birthday this weekend, to jump, to parachute from a plane. Hasn't happened yet. CNN will have live coverage once it does.

And that's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday June 13th. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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


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