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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Hamid Karzai; Interview With Barham Salih

Aired May 22, 2005 - 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, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad, 8:30 p.m. in Kabul, Afghanistan. Wherever you're watching from around the world thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll get to my interview with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai in just a few minutes. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

Thanks very much, Fredricka.

More details now on the first lady's visit to the Middle East. She was met, as we just reported, by a small but vocal group of both Israeli and Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem. It got tense.

Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is the only TV reporter traveling with the First Lady. She's joining us now live from Jerusalem with details. Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it really was a frightening and chaotic scene with the First Lady. First, the Dome of the Rock, a very important holy site for Muslims, she was approaching, as is custom, wearing a black scarf, taking off her shoes. It was right beside the First Lady.

People started to crowd around; one of them shouting, "How dare you come in here? Why do you hassle our Muslims? You don't belong here."

I grabbed the sleeve of a secret service agent who pulled me into the mosque beside the First Lady.

Inside, there was a group of women who were praying -- clearly agitated, irritated by our presence.

She got a quick tour inside but much of the action took place after she left the mosque. That is when the crowd began to gather. It began to grow and surround the First Lady.

Secret service got very, very close to her, and then Israeli security linked arm-in-arm to try to establish a second barrier as she started to leave the mosque, a very tense -- a little boy, I saw, ran up to the First Lady, and Israeli security drew his gun on that little boy. The little boy went running away. They continued down to the motorcade and was whisked away.

Then before that, before that even happened, an incident at the Western Wall, a very important holy site for Israeli Jews, they had created a barricade for her, a very narrow path to get to the wall where she had offered some prayers.

Again, the crowds just began to gather, press in on the First Lady. Then we saw about 40 protesters or so, young women who were shouting at her, saying "Free Pollard now. Free Pollard now," with pictures of Pollard referring to Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli spy who's now in U.S. custody creating quite a bit of controversy these days.

I saw one of them reach over the barricade, almost touch the first lady when she was presenting her with one of those photos. Again, she was hustled away to her motorcade.

Some protesters even getting on the vehicle, in the front of the vehicle. They had to be cleared away.

But, Wolf, later in Jericho, she spoke. She said, of course, she didn't refer to these specific incidents, but she spoke saying in general that it was a time for Israelis and Palestinians to unite. She knew with every step forward there would be a couple steps back, but, Wolf, I don't think they expected it to be this difficult.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen, Suzanne, anything like this before in all your travels with Mrs. Bush?

MALVEAUX: No, nothing close to it, Wolf. It was really quite a scare. It was frightening. It was chaotic.

You could see the concern with the Secret Service, who were with her. Clearly this was not a violent crowd, but it was a very angry crowd, and it was a crowd that was increasingly becoming closer and closer in on her circle there.

It was clear that there was a lot of concern about trying to get her out of there as quickly as possible. I saw the first lady's expression. She remained very calm. She tried to remain emotionless.

Some of those pictures, you actually see she continues to smile through much of this, but you can see there was a great deal of worry. And even those tense moments where you saw the Israeli security draw their guns, you knew it was a very serious situation. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Suzanne Malveaux on the scene for us. Thanks very much, Suzanne. Fortunately, it worked out fine in the end, but there was a scary moment.

President Bush meanwhile, is meeting with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai here in Washington tomorrow at the White House. Lots of issues on the agenda, including Afghanistan's opium production, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the overall war on terror, and much more. I spoke with President Karzai just a short while ago, just before he delivered the commencement address at Boston University.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Let's get immediately to the news of the day. The front page story in the New York Times, quoting a May 13 U.S. embassy memo from Kabul back to the State Department, among other things saying this: "Although President Karzai has been well aware of the difficulty in trying to implement an effective ground eradication program, he has been unwilling to assert strong leadership, even in his own province of Kandahar," the reference being to supposedly your refusal to take leadership in destroying the poppies in Afghanistan. Your reaction, please.

PRES. HAMID KARZAI, AFGHANISTAN: Well, this article is supposed to be based on a memo from the U.S. embassy to the State Department. The U.S. embassy in Kabul knows very well, and so does the U.S. government, the role of the Afghan government in the eradication of poppies.

Right after the inauguration of the president, my inauguration, I had a big meeting with the Afghan people, in which I told the Afghan people of the problems that we had in Afghanistan with regard to poppies, and the effect it was causing to our country in terms of crime and support to terrorism, and the disreputation of Afghanistan.

The consequence of that was that in major provinces where poppy is grown, there was drastic reduction, which has been confirmed by the international community. And in many other parts of the country, where the Afghan government took the lead, poppies were destroyed considerably, in major parts of the country.

Now, this particular operation in Kandahar or in other parts of the country, which have not been so successful, was supposed to be done by an agency, a department that was funded by the international community, by the United States, by Britain. The failure is theirs, not ours.

BLITZER: Well, let me remind you...

KARZAI: Without...

BLITZER: ... Mr. President, excuse me for interrupting, but let me remind you what you told our viewers the last time you were on "LATE EDITION" in December. I want you to listen carefully to what you said then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARZAI: We don't like as a nation to be growing poppies in our country. I promise you, and I'd like the American people and the rest of the world to know this, that we will fight poppies.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: The suggestion in the New York Times article based on that cable that was dated May 13th, the suggestion being that because of your upcoming parliamentary elections, you are afraid to really get down and destroy those poppy fields and do it effectively, because of the anger, the income that that could curtail for those farmers.

KARZAI: Mr. Blitzer, I don't want to get into the U.S. State Department and New York Times things. In my last interview with you, I promised the world, the United States, that Afghanistan will reduce poppies. That is what we have done. We are going to have probably all over the country at least 30 percent poppies reduced, already have been reduced.

So we have done our job. The Afghan people have done our job.

Now the international community must come and provide alternative livelihood to the Afghan people, which they have not done so far.

Let us stop this blame game. Instead of blaming Afghanistan, the international community must now come and fulfill its own objective to the Afghan people. And they must not spend money on projects that they cannot deliver properly in Afghanistan, and then creation of forces that are not effective.

Where the Afghan government worked, it was effective. Where the Afghan people refrained, it was effective. Where international money and creation of forces for destruction of poppies was concerned, it was ineffective and delayed and half-hearted. We have done our job. Now the international community must do its job, period.

BLITZER: Let's talk about another New York Times story that has been developed over the past few days: the allegation that U.S. soldiers routinely tortured detainees in Afghanistan over the past few years, since the liberation of your country from the Taliban and Al Qaida.

Among other things, the Times story writes this. "The Bagram file includes ample testimony that harsh treatment by some interrogators was routine and the guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity. Prisoners considered important or troublesome were also handcuffed and chained to the ceilings and doors of their cells sometimes for long periods: an action Army prosecutors recently classified as criminal assault."

Now, you've condemned this. Have you condemned this directly to the U.S. government?

KARZAI: We have before. I will do it again.

This is simply, simply not acceptable. We are angry about this. We want justice. We want the people responsible for this sort of brutal behavior punished and tried and made public.

At the same time, I must say, that while we condemn this, we tell Afghans, we tell the rest of the world, that the behavior of one or two soldiers or interrogators must not reflect on the United States or on the U.S. people. There are bad people everywhere. There are bad officers. There are bad people on duty everywhere.

We right now have in Afghanistan an Italian lady who was helping the Afghan people, who was helping Afghan widows, kidnapped by an Afghan man. Now, the behavior of that Afghan man does not reflect on Afghanistan or on the Afghan people. On the contrary, the Afghans are angry at that man.

The same is with America. The same is with the American people. They're great people. The behavior of those two people must not reflect on the American people. And, of course, punishment for them is something that we all seek.

BLITZER: Mr. President, what new steps should the Afghan government take to curtail the independent operations of the U.S. military in your country?

KARZAI: Well, we are in a partnership with America, in a partnership that is very, very successful, and a partnership that began almost four years ago that drove terrorism away, that drove lots of bad guys away, that brought liberation to Afghanistan, that brought freedom to Afghanistan, that brought the rights of the Afghan people back to the Afghan people. That's been going on successfully for a long time.

Now we are in a different phase of the struggle. The Afghan people have gone to elections. They have a constitution. They have elected a government.

They are expecting much more ownership by the Afghan government and Afghanistan. The Afghan people now feel that they own that country, Afghanistan; we are the owners of that country. Therefore, operations that involve going to people's homes, that involves knocking on people's doors must stop, must not be done without the permission of the Afghan government.

BLITZER: How much damage to the U.S. image was done by that "Newsweek" story, that has since been fully retracted, alleging that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay flushed a Koran down the toilet?

KARZAI: It was a very unfortunate story. First of all, a very serious matter: a matter of people's beliefs and feelings. It is reported in a column, in a gossip column. That's very -- well, I don't know what to say about that. That's just not good.

We were angry about that. It's a rumor. Let's be wise. Let's be assistive. Let's check if it's true or not true, and then react, and react reasonably.

What happened in Afghanistan a week ago was really not something done by the Afghan people. It was actually the violence -- the trouble was directed at the strategic partnership that Afghanistan is talking with the United States.

It was directed at the peace process that we have of inviting back the thousands of the Taliban to come back to their country. It was actually against the elections in Afghanistan. So we know what was going on there.

BLITZER: Do you know for sure, as your foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, suggests, that Osama bin Laden, he says, absolutely positively, is not in Afghanistan? Do you know that for sure?

KARZAI: We know that for sure he's not in Afghanistan, yes. If he were there, we would catch him.

BLITZER: There are certain parts of Afghanistan that are remote -- along the border with Pakistan, for example. Do you fully control all those areas?

KARZAI: There are remote parts of the country everywhere in that part of the world, but we can tell with certainty he's not around Afghanistan. If he is, we'll catch him if he ever comes in there.

BLITZER: Do you have any doubt? Do you have any knowledge where he is? Where do you believe he is?

KARZAI: Well, that we don't know. We know as much that he could not possibly be in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Lieutenant General David Barno, the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, quoted as saying this last month. He said: "Terrorists here in Afghanistan want to reassert themselves, and I expect that they will be looking here in the next six to nine months or so to stage some type of high-profile attack to score media publicity." Are you bracing for that?

KARZAI: The terrorists and their backers will try to make the elections for parliament difficult. This is the last part of the Bonn process. With the successful parliamentary elections, Afghanistan will have the completed the Bonn process, and that will be the last blow as well to terrorism in Afghanistan.

So they're trying very desperately to show that they're still there. They're fearing elections. But as the presidential elections proved, the parliamentary elections will also prove that they are defeated, that they are on their way out.

BLITZER: You have enormous challenges ahead of you, Mr. President. Thanks very much for spending a few moments with us here on "LATE EDITION." Welcome back to the United States.

KARZAI: Happy to be here. Good to talk to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just ahead, the U.S. Senate showdown over President Bush's judicial nominees. The stakes are enormous.

Is it too late, though, for a compromise? We'll ask two independent-minded U.S. senators who are deeply involved in trying to broker a last-minute deal. We'll get an update from them on what's going on.

Then, deciding Saddam Hussein's fate -- a top Iraqi cabinet minister weighing in on the future of the former dictator.

And later, are the winds of political change blowing across the Middle East. Former U.S. Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Perle, and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley Clark debate here on "LATE EDITION."

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our web question of the week asks this, "How do you feel about newspapers publishing photos of Saddam in prison?" Go to our website. We'll have the results at the end of this program.

But straight ahead, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Ben Nelson standing by to talk about a last-minute Senate deal they're trying to hammer out over President Bush's judicial nominees. We'll get an update.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The last two elections, the American people made clear that they want judges who faithfully interpret the law, not legislate from the bench.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush defending his judicial nominees; some of whom Senate Democrats are charging simply are too extreme for the federal bench.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

A showdown over the Senate's debate rules on nominees could come as early as this Tuesday -- a group of moderate senators, independent- minded senators hoping to strike a deal before then to avert a major showdown.

Two of the key players in that compromise effort joining us now. In Greenville, South Carolina, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham; and in Omaha, Nebraska, Democratic Senator Ben Nelson.

Senators, welcome to "LATE EDITION." Thanks to both of you for joining us.

And let me -- before we get to the substance of the debate, Senator graham, I'll start with you, why is this whole issue so important? Because a lot of viewers in the United States and around the world, they hear parliamentary talk about a filibuster, an up-and- down vote; they don't necessarily appreciate what's at stake in the next few days here in Washington. Why is this so important?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, the fallout of a rules change could be very dramatic for the Senate in terms of other agenda items.

The lead-in to this program very clearly tells us the world has got a lot of problems. We've got a lot of domestic problems.

So if there's a rules-change vote, I think the fallout in terms of how the Senate operates for the next year and a half would be very dramatic.

And we're at war. We need to come together the best we can. So that's really what's at stake for the Senate.

BLITZER: But it's not just for the Senate, Senator Graham, but what's at stake is the judicial branch of the U.S. government, the courts of appeal, the circuit courts...

GRAHAM: Sure.

BLITZER: ... as well as the Supreme Court potentially.

GRAHAM: Well, the Senate will work its way through this mess.

But if you institutionalize filibusters; if every nominee in the future is going to be treated like these past nominees, you're going to drive good men and women away from wanting to serve.

The real threat to institutionalizing reprisal filibusters -- where you take the politics of the moment and you put it on judicial nominees and the cultural wars of the day kind of land at the feet of individual judicial nominees -- is that you're going to destroy the judiciary over time because people won't are not going to put themselves and their family through reprisal politics.

And if we don't come together and stop this now, Republicans will pay back Democrats, and the big loser will be good men and women who want to be on the bench because they're not going to do this in perpetuity. They are going to withdraw.

BLITZER: Senator Nelson, from your vantage point, what's at stake in this debate?

SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: Well, I think what's at stake is the rights of the minority to make sure that you don't have a runaway majority. And that's the filibuster rule.

But what's really at stake is, we need to get an energy policy. We need to get appropriations bills through. There are so many things that need to be done that it would be awful if as a result of detonating the nuclear option, the fallout would cause the Senate not to be able to fulfill its duties. I think that's one of the things that's at stake here.

BLITZER: The nuclear option being the decision to change the rules of the Senate and avoid a filibuster, a filibuster meaning 60 votes would be required to get a nominee through, as opposed to a majority of 51 votes in the 100-member U.S. Senate. Senator Nelson, take us behind the scenes. There are this so- called Group of 12: six moderate, independent, traditional-minded Democrats; six other Republicans that you've been trying to forge some sort of compromise. Where does it stand?

NELSON: Well, I don't know if we're going to be able to get it done or not, but I certainly hope so.

We've all put a lot of effort into this, and it's so critical that we find a solution that will keep us from going to the detonation of that nuclear option, and at the same time, get up-or-down votes for as many of the judges as we can, recognizing that up-or-down votes really are, in my opinion, where we ought to be. But not everybody agrees with that.

There are exceptional circumstances from time to time. We would preserve those exceptional circumstances for each senator to make up his or her own mind on how you're going to vote on each of the individual judges.

BLITZER: The definition, Senator Graham, of exceptional circumstances is open to interpretation. What's exceptional for some senators is not necessarily exceptional for another. How do you work around that sticking point?

GRAHAM: Well, we have to deal with the present. As Senator Nelson indicated, I think there's enough people in the Senate on both sides that would like to kind of back off the ledge here and give these nominees a fair shot.

To be honest with you, of the eight, I think at least one would be rejected in a bipartisan way. I think most of them would be approved...

BLITZER: Who is that, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: Well, just stay tuned for another show.

But there is some bipartisan support against rejecting at least one of the nominees.

But I think generally speaking, the constitution -- I'm different in this regard as far as this group. For two years now I've been saying that the filibuster is an unconstitutional way to give advice and consent. The advice and consent clause has for 200 years been vote your conscience, tell the president how you feel by voting. And it's a majority vote requirement, and the Senate rules always have to give way to the Constitution.

I'm a yes vote for changing the rules if we have to be, but I'm willing to back off and not vote yes and vote against the nuclear option if we can get a compromise that will allow these eight nominees to be fairly treated and deal with the future in a more traditional way.

I can't tell you what the future holds. I can't tell you what exceptional circumstances may be for some Democrats.

But I can tell you this, if we go forward with this kind of political dynamic into the future, where it's political payback through judges, we're going to destroy the judiciary, and that's why I'm willing to reach a compromise.

BLITZER: Is it reachable, though, Senator Graham? Is it doable within the next 48 hours?

GRAHAM: We're all grown men and women. And we're behaving like we're in the third grade. Yes, it is very doable if people of good faith will come together.

The reason I'm involved in this -- Senator McCain and Senator Nelson have been talking among themselves -- I'm a yes vote. There are a couple yes votes that are trying to find a middle ground. I think we can get there if we'll put the best interests of the judiciary and the nation ahead of the political moment.

I do believe we can get there, and I have enjoyed working with Senator Nelson and the other senators. It would be good for the country and judiciary if we could get there.

BLITZER: Senator Nelson, let me press you on this. What is needed in these negotiations you have in the so-called group of 12, these moderate independent-minded senators? Where is the sticking point right now?

And I'll explain briefly to our viewers why the number 12 is so significant. Six Democrats, six Republicans, because there are 55 Republicans in the Senate, 44 Democrats, one independent who almost always votes with the Democrats, so six would break that, would be enough on either side to go for the majority.

NELSON: That's exactly right. That's the math. Where we stand at the moment, and sticking points will always be, as you might imagine, language. When you have 12 senators in whom you have at least 14 opinions, so we've worked our way through that.

One of the things that I've noticed and has been really gratifying is the mutual trust that's been developed among these 12 of the -- 11 of my colleagues and myself -- and the same thing would be true for Lindsey, I'm sure. We've found that we can work together.

I would hope if we're able to put together this compromise, avoid the nuclear option and be able to work together, it'll certainly spill over into a lot of other areas where we will find that we can come together there, as well.

BLITZER: What are the prospects, Senator Nelson, of a compromise emerging? Is it 50-50 right now, 80-20? Where does it stand?

NELSON: Well, I'm not sure. I hope that it's 100 percent. Frankly, I hope that in Washington, that our leadership is interested more in getting together than in picking another fight. One of the main reasons that we're coming together is to find a solution, not to just save the fight for another day. That's what this is all about. But it's very hard to handicap it at this point in time, but we'll certainly know tomorrow evening as we come back together.

BLITZER: All right. Senators, I'm going to have you both stand by, because I want to continue this conversation, continue the discussion of judicial nominees. Also, we're going to talk about President Bush's threat in the last few days to veto legislation that would expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

But up next, we'll have a quick check of what's in the news right now, including today's tense encounter during first lady Laura Bush's visit to Jerusalem. Stay with "LATE EDITION."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: The issue is not cloture votes, per se. It's the partisan leadership-led use of cloture vote to kill, to defeat, to assassinate these nominees.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Tough words from the Senate Republican leader, the majority leader Bill Frist. Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with two key U.S. senators: Republican Lindsey Graham, Democrat Ben Nelson.

Senator Graham, there was a picture, a cartoon in The Washington Post. I'll put it up on the screen. It shows the U.S. Senate potentially a ship wreck. "A wreck of the U.S. Senate" is the caption underneath. The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll had these numbers: approval rating for the U.S. Congress only at 33 percent approval, 51 percent disapproval.

Your party, the Republican Party, has a clear majority in both the Senate and the House. How worried are you that this debate unfolding over judicial nominees is going to undermine the Republican Party, the Republican leadership which controls the Senate?

GRAHAM: Well, I think if you're the party in power and people have a dim view of what's going on, it affects you. But it affects our Democratic friends. It affects us all. Incumbents in general are seen not in a favorable light. The American people don't understand why all this is happening.

The filibuster has been going on now for about a year and a half. It started with Bork 20 years ago. And this process of escalation needs to stop. If there's a Democratic president, I know what's coming their way.

So the best thing we could do in a bipartisan fashion is to find a compromise to give these eight nominees better treatment and deal with the future in a more traditional way.

We'll pay a heavy political price as an institution, as individuals. But that pales in comparison to what's coming the judiciary's way. If this becomes an institutional process, you're going to drive good men and women away from wanting to be judges. And that is a huge loss to the country, bigger than our political careers.

BLITZER: Will there be a deal, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: We're running out of time. We've got to do it tomorrow or Tuesday morning or we're going to be out of time.

Senator Frist has let this go for a year and a half. He can't let it go anymore. I hope we can get a compromise where both parties can walk away from the ledge and we start all over again. I'm hopeful but we're running out of time.

BLITZER: Senator Nelson, let's switch gears for a second to the issue of stem cell research and federal funding for embryonic stem cell research: legislation moving through the Congress now that would increase that funding. The president's speaking out earlier in the week saying he'll veto that legislation. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I made it very clear to Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money to promote science which destroys life in order to save life is -- I'm against that. And therefore if the bill does that, I will veto it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Where do you stand on this issue, Senator Nelson?

NELSON: Well, I'm pro-life. And I, at this point in time, don't think we ought to put more federal money into that kind of research, very honestly.

BLITZER: So you're with the president on this. What about you, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: I will vote to sustain the veto of the practices that are being proposed in the embryonic stem cell research. I think that science is being oversold. I think we're going down a path that is very dangerous in terms of the human race. And I would sustain a veto.

BLITZER: Senator Nelson, what about the confirmation of John Bolton, the president's nominee to become the next U.N. ambassador. Will you vote for his confirmation or against it?

NELSON: Well, I'm leaning toward voting for his confirmation.

Now, quite honestly I'm very concerned, as I think most people should be, about his ability to be a diplomat. I think he served in his other positions with a great deal of controversy. But he wouldn't be my choice but he is the president's choice. And at this point, I'm leaning toward him.

BLITZER: What about you, Senator Graham?

NELSON: I certainly do want to get more information. BLITZER: Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: I would vote with enthusiasm because I think the U.N. needs someone like John Bolton to be better.

BLITZER: We'll leave it right there, Senator Graham, Senator Nelson. Difficult hours ahead. Both of you will be deeply involved in this process. Good luck to all of you in your efforts.

NELSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck to the U.S. Senate.

Just ahead, Iraq's deadly insurgency. We'll talk with Iraqi cabinet minister, Barham Saleh, about efforts to counter the violence. He's here in Washington. More "LATE EDITION" straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

In Iraq insurgents have stepped up attacks since the establishment of the new government in Baghdad.

Joining us here in Washington to talk about this as well as other important developments in the country, Iraq's Minister of Planning and Development Barham Salih.

Minister, welcome to Washington.

BARHAM SALIH, IRAQ'S MINISTER OF PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: The photos of Saddam Hussein that we've now seen; they've saturated the news media over the past few day, when you saw those pictures, what went through your mind?

SALIH: I must say I was distressed and disappointed because this controversy takes away diverse attention from the real issues, namely the crimes against humanity and all crimes that Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants have committed against the people of Iraq.

And we are now engaged in a process to bring him to trial, and we want to do things properly and in accordance with the law.

BLITZER: We'll get to that trial in a second, but let's talk a little about who is responsible, and based on your inquiries, your conversations with U.S. military and political leaders, who did this?

SALIH: Well, we don't know yet, and it's being investigated. But I hope those who have been responsible should be -- I mean reprimanded for that action because, again, Saddam Hussein is accused of serious war crimes, but nevertheless we need to treat him in firm manner and in accordance with the law.

BLITZER: I interviewed one of Saddam Hussein's lawyers on Friday, Giovanni di Stefano, from London. Listen to what he said, his complaint about the way your government is treating Saddam Hussein.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIOVANNI DI STEFANO, SADDAM HUSSEIN'S ATTORNEY: If the war was so legal, why not charge this man? Where are the charges? Nineteen months, not a single charge, not one count -- why not charge him with murder, rape, genocide, war crimes? Let's have something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He says he wants formal charges, an indictment -- that you're holding him without formally charging him with anything.

SALIH: That is absolutely untrue and when you say that he's his lawyer, apparently he has not studied the brief.

Saddam Hussein was brought to a court and was informed of the charges against him, and it includes genocide, ethnic cleansing, executions, torture, quite a litany of charges.

BLITZER: Well, he says that that was just an arraignment. That was just a procedural issue, that the formal charges -- he insists from a legal standpoint, from his criminal defense representation -- haven't happened yet.

SALIH: I'm sure you can have creative lawyers who can argue the technicalities of these issues, but one of the things that I know about very well -- we are insistent upon following the process of justice in a very diligent manner.

BLITZER: When will the trial begin?

SALIH: The judiciary in Iraq is independent. This is something very new for this part of the world.

And, indeed, the government does not have a direct role in this, but last time I spoke to the chief justice for the special tribunal trying Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants, he was talking that the process will undergo in about a few months from now, maybe a couple months or so.

BLITZER: So the actual trial -- will the trial begin with Saddam Hussein first or other ...

SALIH: Others actually. There are Ali Hasan Majid, "Chemical" Ali...

BLITZER: Chemical Ali...

SALIH: Chemical Ali will be, probably brought in before the court before Balzan Atacride (ph); Saddam's half brother will also because the charges against him are ready. And the process is ongoing, actually. In the case of Saddam it has been more difficult because the litany of charges against him are quite a lot and requires a lot of investigation and bringing in the set of witnesses and various other issues that are involved in that, in such a trial.

BLITZER: Let me read to you from a editorial in Friday's New York Times, which you probably saw. "Iraqi forces aren't militarily strong enough to prevail over the insurgency and will not be for a long time. If Baghdad continues to shun a serious political strategy to draw Sunni support away from the insurgents, large numbers of American troops will be stuck fighting a prolonged and bloody counter- insurgency war in much of northern and western Iraq."

What are you doing to try to get the Sunni, the Iraqi Sunnis away from this insurgency?

SALIH: Iraqi forces are getting stronger and stronger and more and more responsible for combating the insurgency.

Today we have more Iraqis and in the police and in the army, the numbers are larger than those of the coalition forces combined. So this is important to remember.

As far as the political strategy, I cannot agree more because at the end of the day we need an inclusive political process with the Sunnis taking part in this process so that we deny the terrorists and the insurgents any opportunity to play political mayhem.

The government has taken a long time to form. And one of the reasons, because we were trying to reach out to the Sunni community and bring them in. One of the challenges will be to have them in the constitutional process.

BLITZER: Because only two of the 55 members of that draft committee are Sunnis. Only two out of 55.

SALIH: That has to be rectified, and at the moment -- I was talking to Baghdad, actually, yesterday.

Efforts are under way to expand the composition of the constitutional committee and to make sure that we will have credible Sunni communities.

At the end of the day, Iraq needs a balanced, representative process that will include the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shias. Without that, there can be no stability.

BLITZER: Are you getting any closer to finding terrorist number one in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi?

SALIH: We got very close to him a couple of months ago -- very, very close to him...

BLITZER: Close but not close enough? SALIH: Not close enough, indeed, but I think it's important to know that many of his key lieutenants have been arrested, and we have acquired some very important information about the ways of his network. There were reports that were not confirmed as yet at least that in the recent operations in Al Qaim he could have been wounded, and he could have suffered serious injuries.

BLITZER: Do you think those reports are accurate?

SALIH: I cannot say yet, but I mean, at least there were the reports, but I can tell you Zarqawi and his lieutenants are people that we are after, and we're getting closer to him.

BLITZER: Are you making progress in stopping the infiltration of foreign fighters, from the Syrian border, for example?

SALIH: We certainly are trying on our side of the border, but...

BLITZER: Is the Syrian government with you on this, or against you on this?

SALIH: I think the Syrian government needs to do better, and is enough in a way -- we have had enough of this situation. A lot of these foreign fighters are coming through Syria, infiltrating through our borders, and killing our people.

Syria needs to do better.

BLITZER: One final question: Another top Iraqi official was assassinated today, gunned down as he and his bodyguard, his driver were going to work. How worried are you? You're about to go back to Iraq right now, and get right into the thick of things. You're a top cabinet minister. You must be scared when you walk around the streets of Baghdad, or go elsewhere.

SALIH: This is a mission about changing Iraq toward a democracy, and we have to accept that it's not going to be easy. We are battling remnants of the former regime and global terrorists. We have no option but to battle these terrorists and win. We cannot afford to lose, and yes, security is a major concern for all of us, including the population.

But we're going to win, and we have to take it a day at a time, make sure that the precautions are taken, and never let the terrorists dictate the agenda, and we will not.

BLITZER: Barham Salih, good luck to you, good luck to all the Iraqi people.

SALIH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Have a safe journey back to Iraq.

SALIH: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us. To our viewers, please don't forget our Web question of the week: How do you feel about newspapers publishing photos of Saddam Hussein in prison, appropriate or not appropriate? Cast your vote. Go to cnn.com\lateedition, and we'll have the results later on the program.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As part of CNN's anniversary series, "Then and Now," Paula Zahn takes a closer look back at Shannon Faulkner and where she is today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: She took on the tradition-bound, all- male bastion of the Citadel and won. The military academy in South Carolina accepted Shannon Faulkner in 1993 after she omitted all gender references from her application. The school reneged after finding out Faulkner was female, setting off a legal bitter battle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHANNON FAULKNER: I will fight it the whole way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Faulkner finally earned a right to join the corps of cadets in August 1995.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FAULKNER: I have never ever thought of backing out of this. There's never been a doubt in my mind that I would be at the Citadel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: The 19-year-old had much to prove, and it proved to be too much. Six days later, she was done. The first woman cadet at the Citadel became the first woman to quit. Faulkner finished her degree at tiny Anderson College in western South Carolina, and is now a high school English teacher in suburban Greenville.

Although her career at the Citadel was short she opened the door for other women. Currently, 120 women are enrolled as cadets at the Citadel, and 73 have graduated since 1999.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll get to my interview with the Kuwaiti foreign minister Mohammed Al-Sabah in just a moment. First though, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now.

(NEWSBREAK) BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fredricka.

BLITZER: More now on the first lady's visit to the Middle East and her tense encounter with a small but vocal group of Jewish and Muslim protesters in Jerusalem. Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is traveling with the first lady. She is joining us now live from Jerusalem with details.

Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, it really was a chaotic and frightening scene with the first lady. This was at the Dome of the Rock, one of the Muslims' holiest sites. She was approaching the mosque, as is custom, wearing a head scarf and also, of course, taking off her shoes at the entrance. There was a crowd that quickly gathered to get close to the first lady.

There were shouts. Some saying, yelling, "How dare you come in here? Why do you hassle our Muslims? You don't belong in here. She was rushed inside. I grabbed the sleeve of a Secret Service agent who pulled me inside the mosque with her. I was right beside her.

There were a group of women who were praying inside, some of them visibly agitated at her presence. She received a very quick tour through the mosque. That was rather quiet.

The chaos occurred outside when she was leaving. That is when protesters gathered, got closer and closer to the first lady. Her Secret Service got very, very close in to try to protect her. Israeli guards, security, locked arm in arm to try to keep the people at bay.

I saw a little boy run up to the first lady, one of those Israeli security pulled his gun on the little boy. The little boy went running away.

Again, they went down and trying, as best as possible, to keep the crowds of protesters as well as photographers who had gathered. They quickly got her to her motorcade.

Now, Wolf, all of this was really the second event of this morning, this afternoon. Earlier, it was at the western wall. That, of course, a very important holy site for Israeli Jews. That is where a barricade was set up, a very narrow pathway for her to walk to the wall to say a quick prayer there.

Again, the crowds just really moving in very, very quickly. A group of about 40 protesters, young women, perhaps in their 20s or so, holding signs and screaming, "Free Pollard now! Free Pollard now!" referring to Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli spy who is in U.S. custody and has created quite a controversy, as you know.

She turned around, again tried to exit. You had a crush of people. Even some people getting on the front end, the front hood of her motorcade when they tried to leave, eventually dispersing the crowd. Later in the day, Wolf, she was at Jericho. She met with a group of Palestinian women. She did not speak directly to this, the incidents. But she did say, in broad general terms, that of course there was a lot of emotion, and that, with one step forward, perhaps a couple of steps backwards, but she believes that ultimately peace will come in this area.

But clearly, Wolf, a very difficult situation, and obviously what unfolded today perhaps much more difficult than they even imagined.

Wolf?

BLITZER: You were right in the thick of things over there, Suzanne, standing alongside the first lady as she was going through these hecklers, these protesters. I take it you personally got pretty scared yourself.

How frightened were you?

MALVEAUX: Well, there was certainly a lot of concern. I was frightened by what was happening around me. The Secret Service looked quite concerned.

It was not a violent crowd, but it was a very angry crowd. And you could tell that the Secret Service agents wanted to keep them as far away as possible from the first lady.

The first lady, very interesting, I watched her much of the time, through this whole ordeal she remained composed, she remained calm, she had somewhat of a smile on her face at certain times. I also heard her say, when she was at the Western Wall, "It is time to leave. I'm ready to leave," at that point.

But clearly, there was a lot of tension, and you could really feel it. You could see it, you could feel it, you could hear it in people's voices, and you could really get -- it was palpable when you saw the Secret Service move in and rush her as quickly as possible, and at the way the Israeli security reacted as well, guns drawn even at children. You knew that it was a very serious situation.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, reporting for us from Jerusalem. She's going to be covering the balance of the first lady's visit to the region. Appreciate it very much, Suzanne.

As Iraq focuses in on stabilizing its new democratic government, the country and its next-door neighbor Kuwait are still very much dealing with the scars left over by Saddam Hussein.

During his visit to Washington this week, I spoke with Kuwait's foreign minister, Muhammad Al-Sabah, about the former Iraqi dictator and much more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Foreign Minister, welcome to Washington. Thanks very much for joining us.

MUHAMMAD AL-SABAH, KUWAIT'S FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you.

BLITZER: What went through your mind when you saw these pictures of Saddam Hussein in his underwear on that British tabloid newspaper?

AL-SABAH: Well, I was a little bit disappointed that the press has picking up on issue of not really major relevance. Yesterday, Wolf, we buried five of our people, who we discovered in Iraqi mass graveyards in Iraq.

BLITZER: Five Kuwaitis?

AL-SABAH: Five Kuwaitis. That's the biggest story, really, the sort of horrors that Saddam inflicted on his people and our people.

BLITZER: He invaded your country...

AL-SABAH: That's right.

BLITZER: ... your small country in August 1990, occupied it for months, until the war started in January 1991.

What do you hope happens to him?

AL-SABAH: To get a fair trial, and to record it in history that those who committed atrocities against their own people and against their neighborhood will pay a price for that.

BLITZER: Do you hope he gets the ultimate price, which is the death sentence?

AL-SABAH: I cannot imagine -- I think that he's going to go to hell. What happen to him at this Earth is really of a minor consequences, but I certainly believe in my heart of hearts that he's going to go to hell.

BLITZER: You hate his guts, don't you?

AL-SABAH: He is a villain. I cannot -- it's not a matter of hate. He destroyed his country. He destroyed his neighborhood. He destroyed the reputation of Arabs and Muslims. He gave a bad impression about us.

BLITZER: Do you have any doubts about the just cause, the justice of this war that the U.S. and its allies launched more than two years ago?

AL-SABAH: For the first time in Iraq's history, now we have a free, elected Iraqi government. For the first time in Iraq's history, that they have freely determined their future by going to the polls and casting their votes. This is a monumental moment. It's going to be recorded in history, and the whole region will appreciate the American and the British and the allied position during this war.

BLITZER: So, despite the enormous casualties, the deaths, the costs, the political ramifications, you feel that Kuwait is more secure now than it was while Saddam Hussein was in power?

AL-SABAH: Absolutely. And I think that the -- Saddam had turned Iraq into a major, a massive graveyard, as we see in the continuous uncovering of these mass graveyards that we see in Iraq.

So, to get rid of him, and to give Iraq back their freedom is something that is worth doing.

BLITZER: Even though no weapons of mass destruction were found?

AL-SABAH: He is himself a weapon of mass destruction.

BLITZER: Not any more, he's not.

AL-SABAH: Well, he's behind now jail, but his thoughts, his ideas, his theology, his ideology is the thing that we should fight, always fight.

BLITZER: There have been some terrorist incidents in Kuwait in recent months. How concerned are you that the insurgency inside Iraq could spill over into Kuwait?

AL-SABAH: It's very isolated instances. And these acts were carried out by a few individuals. They have no, absolutely no support within the population. And I don't see that -- of course, we are concerned that the violence in Iraq will spill over in neighboring countries.

For that reason, we are meeting on a regular basis the neighboring countries with Iraq. We just met in Istanbul, Turkey, to help Iraqis to restore stability and security in Iraq.

BLITZER: Do you think the other neighboring countries, like Syria, for example, and Saudi Arabia are doing everything they can to prevent foreign fighters from going into Iraq?

AL-SABAH: I think it's not in anybody's interest to see this violence, the instability continue in Iraq.

BLITZER: Is Syria part of the problem or part of the solution for the insurgency?

AL-SABAH: Syria is going through a tough period. They have President Bashar Assad has, he announced a major reform program. And we believe when he said he was going to secure the borders, his borders with Iraq.

BLITZER: Iraq now is ruled by a new government elected January 30th, taken office. It's a government led by Shiites, Iraqi Shiites, and Iraqi Kurds, very small number of Iraqi Sunnis. I believe this is the only Arab government that is led by Shiites and Kurds, not led by Sunnis. How do you feel about that?

AL-SABAH: Well, we don't look at things in terms of the sectarian makeup of a government. What matters to us is what sort of ideas, what sort of philosophy, what sort of program they have for their country. And so far they have said the right things. They are talking about a free democratic Iraq, unified Iraq. And this is really what matters.

BLITZER: So when you saw that picture of the foreign minister of Iran coming to Baghdad, meeting with the new prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari of Iraq, was that of any concern to you that Iraq and Iran now seem to be moving closer together?

AL-SABAH: Do you think that I would be happy to see a war resume between Iraq and Iran? Of course, any reconciliation between the neighborhood would be good for Kuwait.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about Kuwait specifically. Kuwait played a key role in allowing the U.S. and coalition forces to move into Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

I was there a few weeks ago. Kuwait's still playing a key role as a forward base for the U.S. and its coalition partners. Is there anything on the horizon that will change that -- in other words, your military cooperation with the United States?

AL-SABAH: Not at all. I'm here to continue this strategic dialogue between the United States and Kuwait. We are very strong allies. We are a major non-NATO ally. And I had a very good discussion with the American, with members of the special American Congress as well.

BLITZER: One of the irritants in the U.S.-Kuwaiti relationship involves, I think, about 12 Kuwaiti citizens whose are detainees at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Are there 12?

AL-SABAH: That's right.

BLITZER: You want them released and sent back to Kuwait?

AL-SABAH: No. We want justice. We want them to have their day in court, just as we would like to see Saddam have his day in court. We would like to see our Kuwaitis have their day in court.

BLITZER: What specifically have you asked the Bush administration to do?

AL-SABAH: That we will try them.

BLITZER: Send them back to Kuwait.

AL-SABAH: Put them on trial to the extent, the fullest extent of the law. And if they prove to be guilty, they have to serve a jail sentence.

BLITZER: You don't trust the U.S. justice system to deal with them?

AL-SABAH: No. Absolutely we trust it. For that reason we are asking the Americans to put them on trial, be it here in the United States or Kuwait. BLITZER: But not simply just hold them without charges in Guantanamo Bay?

AL-SABAH: Exactly. That's not really the American justice that we know.

BLITZER: There was a dramatic development in Kuwait in recent days -- namely, allowing women, Kuwaiti women for the first time the right to vote and to run for office. Give us your perspective on what has happened. It's not going to take place until 2007, but it's still as significant development.

AL-SABAH: Well, there had been numerous bills that had been introduced by our parliament throughout the years, for the past 30 years. But our parliamentarians have learned the tricks of parliamentary tactics from your Congress very well. They tend to bury these bills in committees.

His Highness, back in 1999, the emir of Kuwait, forced the issue to be to the floor, and he forced a vote. We were defeated by just two votes back in 1999. Six years later, we were able to convince everybody that this is about time to get universal suffrage in Kuwait.

And thank God. And it is a momentous moment. His highness, the emir, is extremely pleased that this happened during this year.

BLITZER: And so there's no going backwards. It will happen in 2007 -- women will have full, equal rights to vote, to run for office in Kuwait?

AL-SABAH: It is the law of the land now. There is a universal suffrage. All Kuwaitis now are participants in shaping the future of the country.

BLITZER: Do you think it will happen in Saudi Arabia as well?

AL-SABAH: I think the Saudis mentioned something about allowing women to participate in the next municipality election, and this is a major step forward as well.

BLITZER: Foreign Minister, welcome to Washington. Thank you for joining us.

AL-SABAH: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Coming up, tracking Osama bin Laden. Is his capture the key to winning the war on terror? We'll get assessments from Former Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Perle and Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark.

Later, the U.N.'s special envoy for Lebanon, Terje Roed-Larsen on Syria's troop withdrawal from Lebanon and the prospects for democracy around the Middle East.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: They're inspired by the fact that they see democracy emerging in Iraq. That's what causes them to want to kill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush offering his assessment of what's driving the insurgency in Iraq.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Let's get two perspectives now on where things stand in Iraq, the war on terror and more. Joining us here in Washington is Richard Perle. He served as Assistant Defense Secretary during the Reagan administration; and in Little Rock, Arkansas, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, former Democratic presidential candidate, retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark.

Gentlemen, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Let's start off with you, General Clark. The photos that we have seen of Saddam Hussein in prison, what is your take on what happened?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET)., FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Oh, goodness. I suspect that somebody took those photos as a show of sort of personal privilege. And one way or another, they got passed around and somebody figured they'd make money off of them.

BLITZER: From the military perspective, General Clark, how big a deal is seeing the ex-dictator in his underwear seen around the world?

CLARK: From the military perspective, if it was done by a soldier, it's a breakdown of discipline to have taken those pictures. But more importantly, what we're trying to do is succeed in Iraq. So we don't need these kinds of photographs out there.

BLITZER: The argument, though, General Clark, could be made that this will help, because it will demoralize the insurgency when they see their leader walking around in his underpants.

CLARK: I don't think this is demoralizing. I think it feeds the sort of anger against the United States, which is exactly what we don't need.

BLITZER: Richard Perle, what's your assessment?

RICHARD PERLE, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, the photograph I want to see of Saddam Hussein is Saddam Hussein on trial. And it's unfortunate that it's taken so long to get to the point. We're not even there yet, where he will be tried for very serious crimes.

BLITZER: And we just heard from Bahram Salah saying that others will be tried first, other criminals, alleged criminals before they even get to Saddam Hussein. But you think this is a big problem?

PERLE: I think it's a problem. And the sooner the trials take place, and there is a definitive conclusion, as I'm sure there will be, the sooner this insurgency will have to face the fact that its leader, as I'm sure he will, will be found guilty of crimes against humanity.

BLITZER: Your former nemesis, Slobodan Milosevic, General Clark -- he's been on trial for years. And that doesn't seem to have any end in site at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Are you upset that it's taking this long to get Saddam Hussein before a jury?

CLARK: Yes. Saddam Hussein should be brought before a jury very promptly, and we should make sure that it meets all the standards of evidence and procedure so that there's no question about this. This is the way the world deals with criminals: by courts of law.

BLITZER: There's a huge story in England especially, a British memo was published in the Sunday times, Richard, suggesting that before the war, the head of British intelligence came to Washington, went back, wrote a memo suggesting that the intelligence wasn't there for Iraq's WMD, for getting rid of Saddam Hussein. There were other much greater threats elsewhere in the region, around the world.

But he told the British government, the Bush administration was going to come up with the evidence, cut the intelligence, if you will. It seemed clear -- I'll read the memo -- "that Bush had made up his mind to take military action even if the timing was not yet decided, that the case was thin, Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."

Do you accept this notion that the intelligence was manipulated to fit the policy whims of the Bush administration?

PERLE: No, I certainly do not. And it's worth remembering that the intelligence that was presented with respect to what Saddam was believed to have in the way of weapons of mass destruction was the same intelligence that had been presented to the previous administration. There was nothing new about it. It was not produced under pressure. It was woefully inadequate but it was an honest attempt by the intelligence community to say what it thought it knew.

BLITZER: Do you believe it was an honest attempt for the intelligence community to come up with an assessment, or there was political manipulation, General Clark, of the intelligence community?

CLARK: Well, the British memo doesn't say there was any manipulation. I think what Richard said is exactly right. It's the same intelligence that I had when I was running the campaign from Turkey against northern Iraq.

But, Wolf, the point is this. This administration made up its mind it wanted to go to war in Iraq. And it was going to use the intelligence to do so. And that's precisely what the British memo confirms. Most people in Washington knew it. Most of the Senate knew it. I talked to a number of senators who knew it. And they were unable to change the policy.

BLITZER: Richard, do you want to respond to that?

PERLE: Well, I think the president considered that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the United States. And I believe he did, whether he had the stockpiles our intelligence thought he had or not.

BLITZER: Had you known then, before the war, that he had no weapons of mass destruction -- no chemical weapons, no stockpiles of biological weapons -- that he had conventional weapons in his arsenal, would you have advocated going to war when the U.S. went to war?

PERLE: Well, I certainly would have advocated removing Saddam Hussein, yes, because he had the potential to reconstruct chemical and biological weapons, and that is the principal conclusion of an extensive report that was done by...

BLITZER: But the argument is that the U.S. should have waited and brought in line the United Nations Security Council, France, Germany, other allies, in effect do what the first President Bush did when he launched the liberation of Kuwait.

PERLE: It was a completely different situation.

The first President Bush had the advantage of mobilizing a coalition after the invasion across national borders of an independent member state of the United Nations.

And that is the only time the United Nations has ever been able to act in situations like this.

BLITZER: Well, the question, I guess -- and I'll bring General Clark in in a second -- what was the rush?

PERLE: Well, the rush was, once we started the process of permitting ourselves to take action, if Saddam did not satisfy us on the intelligence issues, it's not so easy. You can't turn it on and off.

And he didn't satisfy us. Even the U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said he was not cooperating to the degree that we expected and desired.

BLITZER: Let me let General Clark respond. Go ahead, General Clark.

CLARK: Well, with all due respect, Wolf, I think that's a selective reinterpretation of what actually happened.

The administration determined after 9/11 that going to war against the Taliban wasn't sufficient; that they wanted to go after Iraq. They used the evidence to justify going after Iraq. They were concerned that if they went to the U.N., somehow it might be deferred and postponed. So they went to the U.N. anyway at the urging of the Brits and Colin Powell, and they managed to just stay on the original time line, which had always called for an attack sometime in the spring of 2003. That's what they did.

They pushed it; they pushed the intelligence; they didn't do the preparation that was needed.

It was a strategic blunder. And here's why it was a strategic blunder -- there are other threats of weapons of mass destruction proliferation: Iran, North Korea.

The administration has done nothing until this last meeting, substantially, to deal with the North Koreans. The North Koreans have moved past the red line that was established by the Clinton administration. They've produced nuclear weapons. They are a proliferant threat...

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK: ... just finish. Because most of us who know the region would have said that Iran was a far greater threat than Iraq.

And yet, here we are in Iraq with the United States army fully committed. We are not meeting our recruiting objectives. We know we have a real problem with the armed forces now, at least the ground forces.

And so that military option has been used in Iraq.

BLITZER: All right.

Richard, go ahead.

PERLE: The fact is if Saddam Hussein had documented the destruction of his weapons of mass destruction, the war would not have taken place.

President Bush went to the United Nations. Saddam was offered repeated last chances to explain what had happened to the things that the U.N. itself said he had possessed at one time, and he refused to do so.

We came to the conclusion that he refused to do so because he was hiding those weapons.

But it was entirely within his hands to stop the war -- that would not have taken place if he'd cooperated fully with the United Nations.

BLITZER: All right, I'm going to have both of you stand by because there's a lot more to talk about, including much more Iraq, Iran, North Korea, other issues.

We'll take a quick break, though, first. More to talk about with Richard Perle and Wesley Clark, including this question, "Should women in the U.S. military be barred from combat duty?" Also ahead, a check of what's in the news right now, including the latest gesture, a major shipment from South Korea to North Korea. We'll tell you what's going on.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our discussion with former Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Perle, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, former presidential candidate, retired General Wesley Clark.

General Clark, is there a military option to deal with North Korea and its nuclear threat?

CLARK: Of course, there's a military option, Wolf, and I'm sure that our commanders and staff officers are looking at that option, and keeping it alive at all times. There's always a military option, and it's not off the table.

BLITZER: But it would be, presumably, even if the North Koreans didn't respond with a nuclear counterattack -- they may have five or six nuclear bombs already, but, even in the form of a conventional attack on South Korea and perhaps Japan, others in the region, the price could be horrendous.

CLARK: Absolutely.

It's a tough option, because North Koreans do have a strong armed forces, they've got chemical weapons and, we believe, biological weapons, they've got long-range delivery systems, in the form of missiles that could strike outside the Korean Peninsula, into Japan. It's a tough option.

BLITZER: They have a million-man army, Richard Perle, as you well know. You've been along the DMZ, not far, what, 40 miles from Seoul, the capital of South Korea?

PERLE: Less.

BLITZER: Less!

How much of a military option, realistically, do you believe the U.S. has?

PERLE: Well, Wolf, I think that, if it came to the use of force, it would be for a very limited purpose, and that is to destroy North Korea's ability to manufacture and sell nuclear weapons, possibly to terrorists.

So the targets in this case, I believe, would be a few very specific targets that could be attacked from the air with great precision.

The concern, of course, is that the response by the North Koreans would be to launch artillery attacks on Seoul, and unhappily Seoul is within range of North Korean artillery.

But I don't accept that the North Korean military capability is truly formidable. They could do some damage to Seoul, to be sure, but those million men are hopelessly ill-equipped, and would be no match for modern technology-based armies.

BLITZER: I want you to weigh in, General Clark, on this debate now unfolding, especially in the House Armed Services Committee...

(CROSSTALK)

CLARK: Wolf, can I just say...

BLITZER: Go ahead.

CLARK: I just -- look, Richard, we've got to treat the enemy's capabilities, as we know them, with some degree of respect. So, first, on a North Korean option, I don't think you can necessarily limit it to just a couple of targets.

And secondly, I do think that there are a lot of people up there. You've got to have a plan for handling them. And, as we see in Iraq, even though the insurgents there may not be very well organized, they do pose a threat. They can't stand up against us, but remember, it's not us on the ground in South Korea, it's mostly the South Koreans.

So, it's a tough military option.

With respect to our women in combat, Wolf, I think that we've got the rules right. I think we've got great men and women in uniform, and we ought to support them.

BLITZER: On the women in combat, all right, so you wouldn't change any of the rules right now.

CLARK: No.

BLITZER: Let me give you a chance to respond to both of those points, Richard.

PERLE: Well, I agree on the women in combat issue.

BLITZER: You like the way it is right now?

PERLE: I think it's fine the way it is now.

BLITZER: All right.

Now, what about the North Koreans?

PERLE: Well, I certainly don't mean to make light of North Korea's ability to do real damage, and I agree with General Clark that it would not be an easy situation. It's not an attractive option.

The question is: What is the alternative? And, if it comes to that, and the alternative is the North Koreans placing nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, we will have to measure that threat to our security, and it would be very serious, and would justify very serious action.

BLITZER: Let's hope that moment never comes, because the price could be horrendous.

General Clark, you probably want to make a quick point. But, if you can do it in 10 seconds, I'll let you.

CLARK: We should have dealt with North Korea first, Iran second, and Iraq third, because that was the order of the significance of the proliferation threat. The administration went after it backwards, unfortunately.

BLITZER: You did it in 10 seconds.

Thanks, General Clark, very much for joining us.

Richard Perle, always good to have you on the program as well.

Just ahead, is a new era of democracy about to unfold in Lebanon? A special conversation with the U.N. special envoy for Lebanon, Terje Roed-Larsen, when "LATE EDITION" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Beautiful day here in the U.S. capital. Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

In his push to spread democracy around the world, President Bush often cites Lebanon as one example where Democratic changes are taking hold. I spoke with the United Nations Special Envoy for Lebanon, Terje Roed-Larsen, about what he's seeing in that country and the overall region.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. Roed-Larsen, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome to "LATE EDITION."

TERJE ROED-LARSEN, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY FOR LEBANON: Thank you very much. It's my pleasure.

BLITZER: Do you know who killed the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri?

ROED-LARSEN: No, I wish I did but I don't. There is now an investigation committee going out shortly in order to do a proper criminal investigation of the brutal murder of former Prime Minister Hariri.

BLITZER: Will we ever know, do you believe, with 100 percent certainty who was behind this assassination?

ROED-LARSEN: Of course, that's impossible to answer. But I do hope that we will find the truth of who was behind and who conducted that outrageous crime.

BLITZER: You're involved. You know what's happening in the investigation. Do you see any movement? Are you getting close?

ROED-LARSEN: I am actually not involved in the investigation. This is purely an issue for the investigators, judges, policemen, experts of a variety of kinds. And they will now start their procedures, which we expect will last for several months. And I don't want to speculate any results they hopefully will come to.

BLITZER: We're still a few months from the completion of their investigation?

ROED-LARSEN: Unfortunately yes. I mean this will be a thorough investigation. And I think it's months ahead.

BLITZER: The Syrians have now pulled out their military from Lebanon. But the U.S. and others suggest they still have intelligence agents operating behind the scenes in Lebanon. Is that true?

ROED-LARSEN: The U.N. has had a military verification team on the ground for several weeks. They return to U.N. headquarters in New York this week and they will present the report to the secretary general this week. And I don't want to go into the results of what I found before they've presented their report. Broadly speaking, we do believe that the Syrians are out of Lebanon.

BLITZER: Including their intelligence agents? Because Robert Zoellick, the deputy secretary of state, spoke in Jordan on Friday. And he says, "Pulling out military forces is not enough. You have to pull out your intelligence agents," he told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Jordan. The U.S. believes they haven't done that.

ROED-LARSEN: I can not -- it would be inappropriate for me, before the team has presented its final analysis, to go into any details about this. I would just repeat that we do believe that, broadly speaking, Syria is out of Lebanon.

BLITZER: Is Iran meddling in Lebanese affairs through Hezbollah?

ROED-LARSEN: This is an issue which we have not looked into, yet based on Security Council Resolution 1559, which is four provisions. One is elections in Lebanon. The second one is the pullout of the military. The third is the pullout of the intelligence. And the fourth is the disbanding and disarming of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, and Hezbollah is one of them.

This is an issue which will be on the agenda for the secretary general's next report to the Security Council, which is due in October. I would be pleased to come back when that report is delivered to the Security Council in order to comment on that particular question.

BLITZER: Because U.S. officials are accusing Iran of, in their words, funneling millions of dollars per month to Hezbollah guerrillas? ROED-LARSEN: This, as I said, is an issue -- I mean broadly speaking -- of the existence of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias in Lebanon. And we will address that in a process leading up to the next report to the Security Council, which is due in October. And all relevant issues to this resolution will be addressed in that particular report.

BLITZER: U.N. Security Council resolution 1559 calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militia. Is it your opinion, your assessment that Hezbollah will disband its militia, its armed militia?

ROED-LARSEN: Of course, you have to ask Hezbollah that particular question. I cannot answer the question. My job is to work with all relevant parties in order to see that this particular provision, the disbanding and disarming of all militias in Lebanon, takes place. So we will work hard in order to reach that particular goal.

But I cannot answer for the militias, for what they will do. But I can tell you what I will do on behalf of the secretary general.

BLITZER: The U.S. government says Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. Is that your opinion?

ROED-LARSEN: My work is based on this particular Security Council resolution. And it is clear that the Security Council do consider Hezbollah as a militia in Lebanon, particularly in southern Lebanon, and that issue will be addressed with, as I said, all relevant parties.

BLITZER: Listen to what President Bush said on the upcoming Lebanese elections in recent days. Listen to what he says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: In Lebanon, the citizens of that nation rose up to demand their independence and will vote in elections that are set to start at the end of this month. Those elections must go forward with no outside influence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are you confident that those elections will go forward without outside influence?

ROED-LARSEN: Again, we are. In the full international community, there is a complete consensus about this. We are working for free and fair elections in Lebanon to take place as scheduled on the 29th of May.

We have been working with representatives of the government of Lebanon and other key players in the region, and beyond, including the U.S., on this particular issue.

And there is a broad consensus that elections should take place as scheduled, that they should be free and credible, and that there should be international observers. And I think we've reached agreement with the government of Lebanon that steps will be taken in order to secure the time lines and the criterion of free and credible elections, yes.

BLITZER: All right. On that note, let's hope it works out. Mr. Roed-Larsen, thanks very much for joining us.

ROED-LARSEN: It's been a pleasure being with you. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Up next, the results of our web question of the week: How do you feel about newspapers publishing photos of Saddam Hussein in prison? Appropriate or inappropriate? You can still vote. We'll have the results coming up.

Plus, "LATE EDITION's" Sunday morning talk show round-up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows in the United States.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean dismissed the notion that Republicans have the upper hand on moral values.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: It is galling to Democrats -- 48 percent of us who did not support the president -- it is galling to be lectured to about moral values by folks who have their own problems. Hypocrisy is a value that I think has been embraced by the Republican party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On ABC's "This Week," very different views on the ethics of stem cell research, embryonic stem cell research to be specific, from Dana Reeve, the widow of the actor Christopher Reeve and Ann Graham Lotz, the daughter of the evangelist Billy Graham.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA REEVE, CHRISTOPHER REEVE'S WIDOW: These are incredible things. The stem cell discovery is going to be the most prominent discovery, I think, in our lifetime, for sure, for sure.

ANN GRAHAM LOTZ, BILLY GRAHAM'S DAUGHTER: I would not want any one of my family members to benefit from the willful destruction of another human life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On CBS's "Face the Nation," the majority and minority Whips in the U.S. Senate weighed in on whether a compromise can be reached to avoid doing away with filibusters on judicial nominations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: I hope that we can find a good one. But we cannot sacrifice 214 years of Senate tradition; we can't change the rules in the middle of the game. We shouldn't be tinkering with the checks and balances our founding fathers put in this constitution.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY WHIP: I think this is a good opportunity for the Senate to restrain itself and to get back to a tradition and a pattern and a norm that prevailed in the Senate until the last Congress. There is substantial Democratic sentiment for doing just that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And on "Fox News Sunday," a grim assessment from Republican Senator John McCain of the atmosphere these days on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The American people's priorities are not those being displayed by the Congress today, particularly in the United States Senate. The level of rhetoric has reached a point that's really not helpful to the institution nor to the individuals who are part of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Some highlights from the Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States here on "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

Our "LATE EDITION" Web Question of the Week asked this question: How do you feel about newspapers publishing photos of Saddam Hussein in prison? Take a look and see how you voted: 17 percent of you said it was appropriate; 83 percent said it was inappropriate.

Remember, though, this is not, repeat not, a scientific poll.

And that's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, May 22nd. Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'll be here Monday through Friday, twice a day at noon and 5 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for watching.

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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