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Interview With Senators Lugar, Nelson; Interview With Zalmay Khalilzad

Aired August 14, 2005 - 12:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7:00 p.m. in Gaza and 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll get to our interview with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, in just a few minutes, but first a quick check of what's in the news right now.


BLITZER: We'll be speaking with Shimon Peres here on "LATE EDITION," but we begin in Iraq and a major crossroad for that country, leaders there trying to work out some key differences in order to meet tomorrow's deadline for a new constitution.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is joining us now live from Baghdad. He's following all the latest developments.


ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with hours to go to that deadline, the pressure is weighing heavily here in the capital. Right now, meetings taking place at virtually every level of Iraq's political leadership as they try to hammer out compromise on what have emerged as the two main stumbling blocks in this process.

First is the issue of federalism. How powerful will the autonomous regional governments be in the north, where the Kurds have a majority of the population, and in the south, where the Shia have the same? Those two areas also, by the way, the area where the majority of Iraq's oil is. The Sunnis have been very weary of any decentralized government and what that would mean for their population.

Also is the role of Islam -- will it be a source or the source in Iraqi law? Women's groups have been advocating for the past few weeks, making sure that their rights are not inhibited. But what we expect, Wolf, is a draft of some sort to go to the national assembly tomorrow. Virtually everyone is saying that, because if they don't, this government is dissolved or it has to pass a new law to extend the deadline.

The national assembly will then have a few days to digest this document. We don't know with what specificity it will deal with any or all of the outstanding issues. And a vote could come, Wolf, by as early as the end of next week, perhaps even mid-week after. After that, that will be the draft document that will go to the Iraqi people by October 15th.

BLITZER: All right. We shall see. Thanks very much. Aneesh Raman in Baghdad.

Just a little while ago, I spoke with the United States ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, about Iraq's new constitution, concerns about security and more.


BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, welcome to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us. Let's get to the burning question at hand right now. Will the Iraqis have a draft constitution in place by the deadline tomorrow?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, I've just come from a meeting with the Iraqi leaders, Wolf, and they tell me they are optimistic that they will meet the deadline. They've made a lot of progress, dealing obviously with very difficult issues, but they still have a couple of issues that they will have to work out. And they're hopeful and optimistic that they will.

It's very important to get a constitution that's broadly accepted by the Iraqis. One of the problems in Iraq is, Wolf, that there isn't an agreement about the future of various communities, particularly the Sunni Arabs. It is in their area that the insurgency is active, and this constitution can be a national compact bringing Sunnis in, isolating extremists and Baathists, hard-liners, and setting the stage over time for defeating them, and that's what I'm hoping for. And that's the key element of this strategy that the president has approved and I am trying to implement here.

BLITZER: A key question of concern to many, including many people in Iraq, is the nature of the new Iraq. Did the U.S. remove Saddam Hussein and go to war in order to create another Islamic state in Iraq, or will it be a secular, democratic state that respects human rights and women's rights?

KHALILZAD: Well, absolutely. You know, we have a lot at stake here. A lot of American blood and American treasure has been spent here. Our goal is to have a successful Iraq, an Iraq in which the human rights of all Iraqis, without discrimination with regard to gender or color, religion, is practiced.

I have made that abundantly clear to my Iraqi interlocutors. I want to assure the American people and people around the world, because what is at stake in Iraq is not only important for us, for Iraqis, but also, since Iraq is an important country, part of a vital region of the world, it is important to the world that the Iraqi constitution will respect the rights of all Iraqis, men and women.

And the United States, working with Iraqis, will work very hard to make sure that the human rights of Iraqis are respected in their constitution.

BLITZER: Because the argument, the debate -- one of the key issues, as you well know, is the role of Islam in the nature of this constitution. What will be the role of Islam? Will it be the source for the Iraqi constitution, or a source, and what's the difference?

KHALILZAD: Well, that's one of the most important issues that the Iraqis, who are grappling with the various drafts of the constitution, are dealing with and are coming to terms with.

The difference between "the" and "a" source, or a principal source, is that there are other sources that also have to be respected and taken into account. That's the principles of democracy, principles of human rights, and we do not want to see a hierarchy of sources. And I believe that ultimately, the answer will be "a", not "the", and that these other sources will also have to be recognized as important sources of laws in this new Iraq.

BLITZER: I want to show you a picture -- at least I'll describe to you a picture, I don't know if you can see it -- but you're very familiar with the meeting that the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, recently had with Muqtada al-Sadr. We're showing our viewers this picture. They're sitting on a floor.

Muqtada al-Sadr, only a little bit more than a year ago, was one of the most wanted men in Iraq. Listen to what the former U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, said just a little bit more than a year ago.


LT. GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: The mission of U.S. forces is to kill or capture Muqtada al-Sadr.


BLITZER: Now, the American public sees a meeting going on between the prime minister with Muqtada al-Sadr, who clearly has American blood on his hands. They see meetings he's having with the Iranian leadership. And they're wondering, is this why the United States went to war, in order to create this kind of situation?

KHALILZAD: Of course, the prime minister has also come to the United States, has met with many other world leaders as well. We understand with regard to Iran that Iran is a neighbor of Iraq, and we have no particular problem in terms of good relations between neighbors.

But we do oppose weapons and people seeking to undermine stability in Iraq coming across the border from Iran. A key requirement, besides the national compact that I talked about before, for success in Iraq is that weapons and people coming across the border to undermine Iraq must be stopped. And we're working with the Iraqis, including the prime minister, to make this message clear to the Iranians. And he did raise those concerns of Iraqis and ours when he visited Iran. With regard to Muqtada al-Sadr, he's one of the leaders of Iraq. He has members of parliament. There are ministers in the government associated with him. But there is a warrant against him that's still outstanding, and it's up to the Iraqi security institutions in terms of the execution of that warrant.

BLITZER: But what do you say that this radical Shiite cleric, who had been involved in fighting U.S. troops and other coalition forces in Iraq, is now so warmly received by the new prime minister of Iraq?

KHALILZAD: Well, if the people who were fighting the new order are now willing to embrace them, without saying anything with regard to the warrant -- and that's a legal issue within the Iraqi system -- I think that was a positive development.

Of course, we want those who are opposed to the system in the Sunni area to also change their ways, join the new political system, that if they have disagreements of a different -- or a different point of view, they can express them through a political process, not by military means.

That is a main purpose of the exercise that we're involved in here, setting up a democratic system, rules and procedures for resolving disputes. But as I said before, with regard to Mr. Sadr's actions that led to the warrant, that is an issue in the Iraqi legal system.

BLITZER: The defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, on Tuesday said, "It is true that weapons clearly, unambiguously from Iran have been found in Iraq." Are those weapons that came from Iran to Iraq the result of the Iranian government cooperating with insurgents, Sunni insurgents and some Shiite insurgents, in Iraq? Is there an alliance that has been formed?

KHALILZAD: I cannot comment on that with the specificity that your question implies. It is very important, however, to keep in mind that Iran is following a two-track policy here, one of engagement with the government and, at the same time, there are efforts to increase the Iranian influence in parts of Iraq, as well as in some institutions.

We have discussed this specific issue of weapons and people with the Iraqi government. We have made our views known to the Iranian government and, of course, to the Syrians as well. And we expect Iraq's neighbors to live up to their responsibilities.

Iraq will succeed. Their neighbors can delay the process, make it harder, make it take longer. It behooves them to work with this new Iraq, because the Iraqis will remember, once they succeed, who helped them and who was an impediment to their efforts at success.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, Mr. Ambassador, but how scared are you in Iraq right now, compared to some of your previous assignments, including as the United States ambassador to Afghanistan? KHALILZAD: Well, the security environment in Iraq is more difficult in general than in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has gone through more phases. It already has a constitution. It had a presidential election. It's about to have parliamentary elections. There is a national compact in Afghanistan already. In Iraq, there is no consensus yet about the future. The constitution can help with that. We need to build the national institutions so that they can look after their own security. We are at early phases for building such an institution. It will take time.

And also, we need to make sure that the neighbors who are involved in undermining the success that the Iraqis are having, the potential for this country becoming successful that they are seeking to delay or undermine, that those are changed.

It is a difficult situation, but it's a situation that we can overcome. We have no option but to succeed here. We can succeed, but it will take time and it will take effort. But it is a worthwhile project, because Iraq is an important country in a vital region of the world. What happens here will have implications not only for this region, but for the United States and for the world.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, you have a tough assignment. Good luck to you. Be careful over there, and we'll see you back here on CNN many times.

KHALILZAD: Thank you very much, Wolf.


BLITZER: And coming up, Iraqis facing a critical constitutional deadline, but could the country be headed toward an Islamic government like its neighbor Iran? We'll hear from two key members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Then preparing to leave Gaza. Will Israel's historic pullout be peaceful? We'll get insight from the Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa.

And later, in case you missed it, our highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the united states. "LATE EDITION" continues right after this.


BLITZER: The Web question of the week asks this: "Will the new constitution bring more stability to Iraq?" You can cast your vote. Go to We'll have the results later in the program.

But straight ahead, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, and the Democratic key member of that committee, Bill Nelson. They're standing by to talk about what's next for the United States in Iraq.

You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.: When that mission of defeating the terrorists in Iraq is complete, our troops will come home to a proud and grateful nation.


BLITZER: President Bush resisted calls for the United States to lay out a specific timetable for the departure of American forces from Iraq. Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now are two key members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In Indianapolis, the committee's Republican chairman, Richard Lugar. And in Orlando, Democrat Bill Nelson. He also serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senators, welcome to "LATE EDITION."

Senator Lugar, I'll begin with you. Do you fear that we potentially are on the verge of seeing an Islamic state emerge in Iraq?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: Well, the hearings before our Foreign Relations Committee have always indicated that the Islamic religion was going to play a part in that constitution, and the question always is how large a part, how much it would inform issues such as the rights of women, for example, as well as general civil liberties.

And I think that is an issue that is still with the constitutional group as they sort of come toward the finish line, hopefully tomorrow. Now, my understanding is that Iraqis understand that predicament acutely.

My guess is that we are likely to see a constitution that certainly recognizes the Islamic religion and sees that as a potential source for law, but the real proof of the pudding will be the interpretation by Iraqis long after that constitution is ratified, which I hope it will be, and the officers of the country have been elected -- in other words, the institution building that will occur in Iraq based upon what Iraqis really want to have in their country.

BLITZER: What we're seeing a lot, at least based on the press reports we're getting -- a lot of newspapers, television reporters -- Senator Nelson, is some disturbing signs on this issue of Islam and the new constitution in practical terms, for example.

Barbers, if they shave men, they are killed by some of these radicals, some of these Islamic fundamentalists, and women who walk around without a veil in certain parts of the country are beaten. Those are very disturbing signs.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Indeed, they are, Wolf, and I just hope that they can get past those issues, because, as you know, that country is all split up between Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds, and that's a big enough challenge right there, to get those three groups all working together, not to have to take on all these other things that you've mentioned.

BLITZER: Because one of the key issues, Senator Nelson -- and I want Senator Lugar to weigh in on this as well -- is that the Kurds in the north want their own autonomous region, which they already effectively have, but now the Shia in the south -- they want their own autonomous region as well, and the Sunnis who basically live in the central part of Iraq -- they're adamantly opposed to what they see as the disintegration of this national state called Iraq.

NELSON: Well, you may as well split it up into three separate countries which, of course, is not what we want. It clearly is not want Turkey wants, because then they'd be concerned with all the Kurds in Turkey wanting to form a Kurdish state. And so we'd be in a heck of a mess at that point.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Lugar?

LUGAR: Well, it appears that the Iraqis understand their predicament, and although a certain amount of autonomy is being given to the Kurds, the weight of the Sunni participation, which, after all, came about in part through United States intervention -- and I would mention that the ambassador with whom you have just visited is an integral part, as I understand, of the talks going on now, counseling that a Shiite federalism, at least as some had proposed it, simply will not work if the country is to be one Iraq.

The Sunnis really would find that unforgivable, given the fact that the oil would be in the two areas, Shiite and Kurds, without revenue really in the center. And I think the constitution is likely to understand that and provide for something much less than the federalism that some would have sought.

BLITZER: How worried are you, Senator Lugar, about this relationship that's developing between the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Iran?

LUGAR: Well, I'm not particularly concerned about it. I would presume that it's probably useful that these two countries have as strong diplomatic relationships as possible, even given the current Iranian government, the hard-line government that is not being very helpful in the several power negotiations conducted on nuclear issues there now.

But at the end of the day, the fact is that Iraq will have to get along with its neighbors and it is, in fact, trying to forge, even at this fledgling state, some diplomatic relationships.

BLITZER: You heard, Senator Nelson, the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, speak about that meeting that the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, had with Muqtada al Sadr, who only a little bit more than a year ago was one of the most wanted men inside Iraq, and now he's getting a warm reception from the prime minister, even though there's a warrant that the Iraqi government presumably supposedly still has searching for him. What's going on?

NELSON: Well, it's troubling, but as you try to form a unified government, you've got to reach out and bring former hostile parts of your country together. I think the proof's in the pudding on down the line and see whether he starts to behave himself.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that, Senator Lugar? Are you concerned about that?

LUGAR: I would agree with Senator Nelson that this is a part of the coming together that the constitutional provisions provide for and, even more importantly, elections are going to provide for later on.

There are all kinds of disparate elements in Iraq. This is no news. And Americans who suddenly are discovering that there are huge divisions that might lead to civil war if people are not very thoughtful and careful are right. That's always been the case.

But the fact is that Iraqis in this constitutional process have been more inclusive. They've begun to incorporate all sorts of people who have not treated Iraqis very well, quite apart from United States soldiers.

BLITZER: Senator Lugar, I want you to listen to what the president said this week on the very important issue of a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Listen to this.


BUSH: No decision has been made yet on increasing troops or decreasing troops. I know there's a lot of speculation and rumors about that.


BLITZER: At the same time, there's a banner front page story in The Washington Post today suggesting that U.S. officials, Bush administration officials, are dramatically lowering expectations about what can be achieved in Iraq.

Among other things, it quotes U.S. officials as saying the United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self- supporting oil industry, or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges.

Was the U.S. assessment of what could be achieved in Iraq from the beginning of this war in March of 2003 wholly unrealistic?

LUGAR: Well, The Post story served sort of as a keynote address for discussions on the subject today, in the absence of the Congress being present and ready to debate the issues. I would just say that many persons had very large expectations, and those who opposed the war in Iraq to begin with had very low expectations, and some were in between. We have come, I think, now to this Iraq constitutional assembly in which, at least optimistically, there does appear to be a possibility for a stable democracy that is not going to have a country at civil war undermining each other continually but may have an Islamic background, which will be very disappointing to some Americans who don't understand Iraq and all the testimony Iraqis have been giving.

And furthermore, it's not at all clear exactly even to this point how the country is going to pay for itself. There are economic factors quite apart from political and security factors that have to be weighed. But at the end of the day, the country has the possibility of being a stable country, a friend of the United States, at least a beacon of hope still for those in the area who are not enjoying even a minimum of civil rights.

BLITZER: Senator Nelson, almost 1,900 American troops are now dead as a result of this war. Thousands of others are injured. More than $200 billion in U.S. taxpayer money has been spent. Were the expectations wholly unrealistic?

NELSON: Yes, because we were not prepared for the occupation. I have the privilege of sitting on Senator Lugar's committee, and we had hearing after hearing before the war started -- show us your plan, show us your plan, administration. They didn't have a plan. And if they had one, they didn't show it to us, and we're seeing the results.

And, yes, I think they're trying to lower expectations, because I think we're going to be there longer in order to provide the security.

But what I think we should require of the administration now, in our check and balance of the constitutional system, is to make sure the administration comes forth with specific goals and benchmarks and timetables as to what can be expected in the way of progress, of allowing the Iraqi army to be able to provide their own security.

And that's the only way, in this senator's judgment, that we are going to be able to stabilize Iraq politically and economically.

BLITZER: Do you believe, Senator Nelson, the U.S. has enough troops in Iraq right now to get the job done?

NELSON: On the basis of past performance, we probably need more. But, Wolf, we're coming to the day of reckoning that, do we have enough troops overall without having to ask too much of those troops to keep returning to Iraq, of relying too much on the National Guard and on the reserves that didn't bargain for this. And that day of reckoning, I think, is starting to show up in the dropping re- enlistment rates.

BLITZER: What do you think, Senator Lugar? Does the United States have adequate military forces in Iraq?

LUGAR: We do not have adequate forces to provide the kind of security after our forces work with Iraqis to get rid of insurgents in particular cities and provinces. When the withdrawal occurs, sometimes the insurgents return, and this comes from the fact that we cannot leave forces behind. They are at a premium to find other places.

What I think has been apparent for a long time has been a running argument, as Senator Nelson points out, from the very beginning with regard to occupation and preparedness, in which those at least in charge felt that we wanted to get by with a minimum of force. And we have attempted to do that.

Now, having said that, at this stage I agree with Bill Nelson that it's very unlikely that we are going to send more troops to Iraq. We are going to have to train the Iraqis faster and harder. And the metrics of how well we're doing really are of the essence in giving this new government some opportunity to operate and give real civil government to Iraqis that deserve it.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break, Senator Lugar. But a quick question to you before we do. I heard on some of the earlier Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States, Senator John McCain, Republican, Arizona, say he doesn't have confidence in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. And I heard Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on your Foreign Relations Committee, saying, once again, he'd like to see Rumsfeld fired.

Do you have confidence in Donald Rumsfeld?

LUGAR: Yes, I do, and I believe that the president of the United States ought to be having those discussions and decisions. I don't rebut the thought that senators may offer editorial opinions, but I don't think that's helpful at this particular moment.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take a quick break.

But we have much more to talk about, lots more to talk about, especially involving Iraq. But first we'll take a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on today's plane crash near Athens, Greece.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar of Indiana, and Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. He's a member of that committee as well.

Senator Nelson, let me pick up on that thought that we ended with Senator Lugar on. Do you have confidence in the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld?

NELSON: Wolf, I'm not in a position to say that he ought to be fired.

Clearly we were not given correct information when we made our decision about going into Iraq, not only the weapons of mass destruction but the unmanned aerial vehicles that I was told had biological weapons to drop on East Coast cities of the U.S.

Clearly there's been an overstatement of the ability of the United States to control the insurgency. And now you get these mixed messages that the president is trying to clear up.

Now, whether or not the president, who is the one who is accountable, wants to lay the blame on a secretary of defense, that's his choice. And that would be my response to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, let me bring back Senator Lugar.

And I want you to listen to a piece of an interview I did earlier this week with the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton. When I asked him, looking back on this war in Iraq with 20/20 hindsight whether the war was a mistake. Listen to what he said.


WILLIAM CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never thought it'd have much to do with the war on terror except that we were looking to see if there were still biological and chemical agents there.

I thought we should have done that. I thought the U.N. inspections were well-advised, but it was clearly not going to have anything to do with Al Qaida.


BLITZER: He stopped just short of saying it was a mistake. He didn't want to say it that bluntly, but I certainly got that impression.

What are your thoughts, Senator Lugar, looking back with hindsight, was it a mistake to give up on the U.N. weapons inspections teams there and go to war?

LUGAR: Well, it was not a question of giving up on the inspection teams. It was obvious they were having great difficulty, as they had really for some time before that. I think the basic issue was, could the war on terror be advanced in taking down Saddam Hussein, trying to provide a stable state, hopefully moving toward democracy in Iraq? And on balance, most of us in the Senate have felt that that was a good idea.

Now, having...

BLITZER: But let me interrupt for a second, Senator Lugar.

With all due respect, the notion of a democracy in Iraq was not necessarily the major reason for going to war; it was to remove weapons of mass destruction.

LUGAR: Well, that will be the eternal debate, and some contend with some strength that their vote was on the basis of the weapons of mass destruction. And others will say, no, it was democracy, and the rebuttal is democracy came along as an afterthought.

But it wasn't an afterthought. The thought was clearly that a stable state, something other than a war-like Iraq that preyed upon its neighbors had already gone to war against Iran and Kuwait, used chemical weapons, all the rest of it, was a menace.

And to have an incubator there potentially for not just Al Qaida but terrorists of all sorts was not certainly not in our interests.

BLITZER: Let me let Senator Nelson weigh in.

Was the war a mistake?

NELSON: It was certainly not a war against terrorism, but it sure is now, because Iraq has become a magnet for terrorists.

We've got a border that's leaking like a sieve between Iraq and Syria, and all of these Jihadists are coming over there and killing our men and women. And now they're even training the terrorists inside of Iraq.

So I look at it as two distinct periods of time, and we've got to deal with the one we're facing right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's go back to Senator Lugar and talk about Cindy Sheehan. She's the mother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq, Casey Sheehan, and she's been protesting outside the president's ranch.

On Friday she said -- I interviewed her. She told me this. Listen to what she said.


CINDY SHEEHAN, MOTHER OF SOLDIER KILLED IN IRAQ: I don't want any more children to die. I'm a broken-hearted mom. Georgette is a broken-hearted mom. Why would I want one more mother to go through what I'm going through just because Casey is dead?


BLITZER: She's been appealing for another meeting with the president.

The president on Thursday addressed that subject. Listen to what he said.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I've thought long and hard about her position. I've heard her position from others, which is get out of Iraq now. And it would be a mistake for the security of this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Last week on "LATE EDITION" Senator George Allen, Republican of Virginia, Senator Lugar, thought it would be a good idea for the president to meet with this mother. What do you think?

LUGAR: Well, perhaps it would be, and clearly the president would hear then what you have just related on this program in the interview with her and every American, including the president in his statement, grieves for every American life that is lost.

As president of the United States, our president finally has to take a look at the security of our country, the overall problems that we face in this world. And they are probably going to lead, unfortunately, to lives being lost and injuries, and we try to minimize that, but those are the risks involved in American security.

BLITZER: Senator Nelson, do you think the president should meet with Cindy Sheehan?

NELSON: Yes. Obviously the president can't meet with every family member, but Cindy has become a symbol of all the grieving mothers in this country, and the president has a responsibility under that circumstance to meet with her, as it would be if she were in my state of Florida. It would be a senator's responsibility to meet, and so, yes, I think the president should meet with her.

BLITZER: Frank Rich, the columnist in the New York Times, Senator Lugar, wrote a piece this morning making comparisons to what's happening in Iraq now to Vietnam.

Among other things, he wrote this. He writes, "A president can't stay the course when his own citizens, let alone his allies, won't stay with him. The approval rate for Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq plunged to 34 percent in last weekend's Newsweek poll -- a match for the 32 percent that approved LBJ's handing of Vietnam in early March 1968."

Is Iraq, Senator Lugar, potentially emerging as another Vietnam for the United States?

LUGAR: No, because it appears to me that the plans to work with the Iraqis on their constitution, approval of the constitution, officials elected, security that Iraqis provide for their country, that is a reasonable course of action and a reasonable timetable.

Now, that is a very different set of circumstances in any way than Vietnam.

I saw Mr. Rich's column this morning. It was clearly the anguish felt by many persons who did not want to participate in the war to begin with, have agonized over every bit of it ever since, and I understand that.

But at the same time it appears to me some stability of leadership on the part of our president, our armed forces being demonstrated and that's in our best interest.

BLITZER: We have to wrap it up, but I have to ask you one political question, Senator Nelson, before I let you go.

Katherine Harris, the congresswoman from Florida, announced this week she's going to be seeking your seat in the U.S. Senate.

What say you?

NELSON: Well, this is a democracy.

We are -- the people are going to judge me on performance, and thank the good lord and the people I've had this opportunity of serving and serving on committees like Senator Lugar's to talk about these kind of subjects, to put Florida first and so many of the things that we have to decide.

And so I'm looking forward to an engaging campaign, and that's still a year and a quarter away, Wolf. So a lot can happen. That's a political lifetime.

BLITZER: What does that mean a lot could happen? You're definitely going to seek re-election though, right?

NELSON: Oh, absolutely. And it's been a great privilege, and I'm looking forward to it.

BLITZER: Senator Nelson, thank you very much for joining us.

Senator Lugar, thanks to you, as well. I appreciate it very much.

And to our viewers, please don't forget our "LATE EDITION" Web question of the week, "Will the new constitution bring more stability to Iraq?" You can vast your vote. Go to We'll have the results later in the program.

But up next, in case you missed it, "LATE EDITION's" Sunday morning talk show roundup. Stay with us.


BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

On "Fox News Sunday," Republican Senator John McCain weighed in on President Bush and Cindy Sheehan, the mother who lost her son in Iraq and who is now protesting outside the presidential ranch in Texas.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I've been with the president of the United States when he has met with the families of those brave young women who have sacrificed. I have seen his compassion. I have seen his love. I have seen his concern, so any charge of insensitivity or uncaring on the part of this president is absolutely false. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On NBC's "Meet the Press," the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden, blasted the Bush administration's handling of Iraq.


SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Imagine if Secretary Rumsfeld was a CEO of a corporation. These guys talk about how they came from business backgrounds. He'd be fired by now. The idea that we are at this moment with this headline saying, "U.S. Struggles to Get Soldiers Updated Armor," is absolutely irresponsible.


BLITZER: On ABC's "This Week," seven-time Tour de France champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong talked about the impact of anchor Peter Jennings' death from lung cancer.


LANCE ARMSTRONG, PROFESSIONAL CYCLIST: Wherever Peter is, he should know that he's a hero. If it creates awareness, somebody stops smoking, there is a 17-year-old kid that is going to go out with his buddy and one hands him a cigarette and he goes, "No way, man," that makes him a hero for telling his story and sharing his story.


BLITZER: And on CBS's "Face the Nation," the Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean offered his prescription for making Democrats winners again.


FORMER GOVERNOR HOWARD DEAN (D-VT), CHAIRMAN, DNC: One of the things we haven't done in a long time is run comfortably as a Democrat in Alabama and stay on the same platform you can in California. We need to be able to do that. And that takes a lot of hard, nitty- gritty work, which we're doing. I think if we had a three-word message right now it would be: We can do better" -- four-word message.


BLITZER: Highlights from the Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States, here on "LATE EDITION," which is the last word in Sunday talk. Coming up, disengaging from Gaza. Will it move Israelis and Palestinians towards peace, or could it spark more violence, including Israeli Versus Israeli, and Palestinian versus Palestinian?

"LATE EDITION" continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: There's much more ahead on "LATE EDITION," including expert analysis on Iraq's next steps toward democracy. Can a new constitution take some steam out of the insurgency? Should the United States reassess its role? We'll get insight from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Defense Secretary William Cohen.

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


BLITZER: This is "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.


BUSH: Iraqis are taking control of their country. They're building a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.


BLITZER: With the deadline for a new constitution only one day away, is Iraq ready to stand on its own? And is it time for a U.S. exit strategy?

We'll ask former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Israel prepares for a historic wall from Gaza. What will it mean for Middle East peace? Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser Al-Kidwa and Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres weigh in.

Welcome back. We'll speak with Henry Kissinger and William Cohen in just a few minutes.

First, though, let's get a check of what's making news right now.


BLITZER: In the coming hours, Israel scheduled to begin its withdrawal from Gaza. But some Jewish settlers are vowing to put up a fierce fight.

CNN's Guy Raz is joining us from one Jewish settlement. He has some details.


GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a calm before the storm here in the Gaza settlement.

In about four hours' time from now, the Israeli army will seal the road leading into the main Gaza settlement blocks for one final time. Shortly after, about 50,000 Israeli soldiers will begin the process of fanning out throughout all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza. They'll go door to door, house to house notifying the remaining residents they have 48 hours to pack up and leave. Now those who are not out of their homes by the 16th of August at midnight stand to lose up to one-third of their government compensation package, and they will be forcibly removed.

Meanwhile, many of the residents here did, in fact, take the opportunity to pack up and clear out. Many of the homes here in the settlement are no longer inhabited by the residents.

Among those who have remained, though, thousands gathered in the settlement synagogue today to mark the end of a three-week Jewish mourning period commemorating the destruction of two ancient temples. And many of the people we spoke to here today are drawing parallels between those events and the impending demise of the Gaza settlements.

Now, Wolf, what we expect to see over the coming two days is a majority of the remaining residents will voluntarily leave.

There are thousands who have managed to infiltrate the settlements, about 5,000 according to the Israeli army. And the army does expect some passive resistance, but it does say it is well- prepared.

For each individual who chooses to remain in the settlement, the army will be sending in four soldiers to clear that person out.


BLITZER: All right, Guy Raz reporting for us. Some 60,000 Israeli troops standing by to get this withdrawal done.

Let's get some perspective on what's at stake in the Middle East. For that we're joined by two guests: in Connecticut, the former secretary of state of the United States, Henry Kissinger; and in Indianapolis, the former defense secretary, William Cohen. He's now the CEO of the Cohen Group.

Gentlemen, good to have you back on "LATE EDITION."

Dr. Kissinger, you studied the Middle East and worked in that part of the world for so many years.

How worried are you right now about the possibility of violence emerging in the coming days, violence not only between Israelis and Palestinians but among Israelis themselves and among Palestinians themselves?

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: There is a possibility of violence, especially between Israelis in the next few days. I think Prime Minister Sharon has made a heroic decision to start a process, which might -- which could lead eventually to a peace settlement. But it is extremely painful for the people who have lived in these settlements for decades, who are being asked to withdraw for the prospect of a negotiation and not for anything that is being done in return.

As for the Arab side, I think it is also very likely that some of their terrorist activities will continue. And they have to understand that if they do not reciprocate by reducing their terrorism, and if they do not prevent Gaza from becoming a place for terrorist activities, that if any future peace process will become almost impossible.

BLITZER: Can, Secretary Cohen, the Palestinian Authority -- led by the president, Mahmoud Abbas -- can they control the Hamas Islamic Jihad, which have deep roots in Gaza and those organizations committed not to a two-state solution, Israel living alongside Palestine, but a one-state solution, no Israel?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: I don't think they can do it on their own.

Mahmoud Abbas, while he is looked upon with great favor by the United States and others, has not demonstrated the kind of strength in order to control Hamas or Hezbollah. Those two organizations are such -- are determined to bring as much destruction as they can upon the Israelis.

And so it's unlikely he can do it by himself. That's why he needs international support. That's why he needs the help of the Egyptians, the Jordanians, and others, the Saudis, all of those in the region should understand this is really a unique opportunity now that Ariel Sharon has called for a unilateral pullout as the first step.

Whether there'll be succeeding steps depends very much on whether or not the majority of the Palestinians see this as an opportunity for a better future.

They cannot have a better future as long as there is violence. They can't have investment and infrastructure as long as there is violence.

And so Mahmoud Abbas needs a lot of help, and we should be prepared, along with the international community, to do as much as possible to persuade the Palestinians. This is an opportunity for you to have a better future, and you can't do it if you're unable to gain control over the Hamas and Hezbollah.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war we've seen major milestones: the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty; the Israeli-Jordanian agreement; that handshake on the White House lawn between the late Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In the scheme of history, in the scheme of things, how big a deal right now is this withdrawal from Gaza?

KISSINGER: For one thing, it is the first totally unilateral move that Israel has undertaken in order to show its good will for a settlement.

It is also symbolically extremely important because when one reaches the issue of the West Bank negotiations, the problem of the Israeli settlement or -- exists on the West Bank will arise because wherever the line is drawn, some current Israeli settlement will be on the other side of it. And there the withdrawal will be even more difficult.

But Prime Minister Sharon could not have undertaken this step unless he saw it as a test case for the bigger negotiation that has to follow, and, therefore, it is not -- it is a major challenge also to the Arab side that they reciprocate in a way that makes a continuation of the peace process possible. And if that is the case, it could be a historic number of days.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on, Secretary Cohen, and talk about Iraq a little bit.

Our latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll asked the public how things are going for the U.S. In Iraq: 43 percent thought it was going well; 56 percent thought it was going badly.

What do you think?

COHEN: I think that we should stop focusing on the polls as much as we do and try to build a national consensus on what we do from this point forward.

I believe it would be in President Bush's interest to try and develop that coalition starting on Capitol Hill where you would have elected leaders who can join hands and say, what is our strategy from this point forward? What are the exit conceptions, so to speak?

And so I think he can do that. You can have a Chuck Hagel, John McCain, Dick Lugar, whom you just had on the program, along with Joe Biden and other Democrats who would be willing to try to build that support. Because I think they all recognize any kind of premature removal of our forces from Iraq is going to spell great consequences, and I think disastrous consequences for the region.

So I think it's incumbent on the president to go to the Hill to build that kind of support and then have those members also go out into the country to persuade their constituents, our nation, that it's in our interest to -- not when we leave, but how we leave.

How do we leave Iraq? What state of affairs will they be in? And how are we perceived as leaving? And if we're perceived as leaving on a weak basis, that we're being forced out and driven out, that can serve to radicalize many more nations throughout the world that have radical elements in their societies.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, you wrote a lengthy piece in The Washington Post this past week on Friday, making at least some comparisons to your experience, the U.S. experience in extricating itself from Vietnam and what's happening right now. Let me ask you the question I asked the senators earlier. Do you fear Iraq right now is becoming another Vietnam for the United States?

KISSINGER: One first has to ask oneself, what was Vietnam? And for me, the tragedy of Vietnam was the divisions that occurred in the United States that made it, in the end, impossible to achieve an outcome that was compatible with the sacrifices that had been made. We have to understand that not what the exit strategy should be but what the objective should be.

If a radical government emerges in Baghdad or if any part of Iraq becomes what Afghanistan used to be, a training ground for terrorists, then this will be a catastrophe for the Islamic world and for Europe, much as they may -- reluctant as they may be to admit it, and eventually for us. In every part of the world in which there are significant Muslim minorities, with radical elements. So this is what has to be prevented.

When there is a -- when we are making progress toward this goal, of course we should then remove those troops that are not necessary to achieve this goal. But we cannot begin with an exit without having first defined what the objective is.

BLITZER: So do you see a -- we're going to take a break, Dr. Kissinger, but very quickly, do you see a parallel to what's happening on the home front now here in the United States as far as Iraq is concerned and happened on the home front during the Vietnam war?

KISSINGER: I have a very uneasy feeling that some of the same tendencies are re-emerging, and we had achieved a military outcome which was difficult but tolerable. But we then could no longer achieve the support to sustain that outcome.

Now, one can argue who made the basic mistakes. Certainly the administration then in office made its share of mistakes. And so I'm not revisiting the Vietnam war, but I would warn the public against thinking that there are not serious people in the government trying to do the best for the United States.

And the catastrophe that would occur if all of Islam were radicalized and if the world would learn that the United States had failed in the attempt to stem radical Islam, this would be a catastrophe for the whole world, not just for us, but we could not avoid being affected by it.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take ...

KISSINGER: This is a fundamental issue. But I agree with Bill Cohen's idea we should try to form a consensus and not do it simply by occasional press announcements.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, gentlemen. We're going to take a quick break. More to talk about with Henry Kissinger and William Cohen on Iraq and other subjects.

Then, countdown to Israel's Gaza pullout. We'll talk to the Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa and the Israeli Vice Premiere Shimon Peres about what peace means for the region. "LATE EDITION" continues after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're talking about the world's hot spots with our guests, the former Defense Secretary William Cohen, the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Secretary Cohen, I'll start with you. General Peter Pace, a man you know, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on July 21 only a small number of Iraqi security forces are taking on the insurgents and terrorists by themselves. Around the same time, only a few days later, we heard from General George Casey, the U.S. military commander in Iraq. And he said this.


GENERAL GEORGE CASEY, COMMANDING GENERAL, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: I do believe we'll still be able to take some fairly substantial reductions after these elections in the spring and summer next year.


BLITZER: Is there some sort of disconnect there between the Iraqis not able to do the job and the U.S. already talking about substantial troop reductions?

COHEN: Well, I think the entire statement by General Casey was much broader than that. He laid down a number of different conditions. Namely, that if the constitution was passed, if there's a new election, if the Iraqi soldiers are trained in numbers sufficient to be able to carry out their missions without substantial help from the United States.

So there are a lot of qualifying factors involved in his statement. And I think that the president expressed some disagreement with General Casey as a matter of fact, contributing to the -- some of the discussion now taking place in terms of what is exactly the mission and the message.

But I think the president was upset, not so much in the substance of what General Casey said but the fact he said it. And this gets back to the point that Secretary Kissinger was mentioning before. The discussion of exits and timetables at a time when we're still in the middle of a battle is certainly going to be counterproductive.

We should not do that because it can have an impact upon the morale of our forces, but also encourage and embolden those who are fighting our forces. And so I think we have to be careful in how we express what our goals are, when they are going to take place. And even expressing the fact we anticipate that they will be in this position next year is simply an expression of one's guess at that point, an expectation but not a fact.

BLITZER: All right.

COHEN: So I think that has to be clarified.

BLITZER: Secretary Kissinger, let's move on and talk a little bit about Iran right now, which is, according to the U.S., trying to develop a nuclear weapon. The president was asked about what U.S. options would be in an interview with Israel Television on Thursday.

In his response, listen to what he said:


BUSH: All options are on the table. The use of force is the last option for any president, and, we've used force in the recent past to secure our country.


BLITZER: He said all options are on the table, and when pressed by the Israeli reporter, "Does that include the military option?" he said all options are on the table.

What kind of message does that send?

KISSINGER: The message that has to be sent is the enormous danger of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The experience we have had previously is in a two-power world of nuclear weapons.

If many countries have nuclear weapons, and they all have to do this in relation to each other, and if on top of this there is the danger of the spread of nuclear materials to terrorist countries, we could be living in a world that is so precarious that we have to ask ourselves, what do we do if what happened in London had been done with nuclear material instead of conventional material or what happened in New York? So that is the fundamental question.

Now, if we conclude that a world of proliferated nuclear weapons is unacceptable, then, of course we will have to consider the military option and so should others. This is the fundamental issue.

It is not the United States versus Iran. It is the future of a world and the future of bringing up children in a world in which dozens of irresponsible individuals and countries can control the fate of hundreds - of tens of thousands of people. This is the first debate we should have. What are the consequences of a proliferated world? Once we have gotten a clear view of this, then we can have a precise debate on what precise weapons should be used.

But it would be irresponsible in advance of that debate to say that one can never resort to force as an absolutely last resort, which is what the president said.

BLITZER: Secretary Cohen, let's switch gears for a moment.

There was a story that came out, Congressman Curt Weldon, Republican of Pennsylvania, suggesting that a year before 9/11 there was a secret special operations unit at the Pentagon when you were defense secretary that learned all about Mohammed Atta and three of the other hijackers but were told by Pentagon lawyers, you can't tell the FBI about them because that would violate their rights -- Mohammed Atta and the others -- since they were here in the United States legally.

Listen to what Congressman Weldon said:


REP. CURT WELDON (R-PA): Lawyers within the administration told the special forces folks three times, you cannot share this information with the FBI. They even put stickies over top of the face of Mohammed Atta, saying they're here legally. They have green cards. You can't give anything to the FBI.


BLITZER: Do you know anything about this? You were the defense secretary.

COHEN: I'm not aware of any such identification of Mohammed Atta.

I would say that if they did have this special report that we have to consider that it was before 9/11. And before 9/11 we had a lot of restrictions imposed by law upon the Pentagon, the executive branch, in terms of sharing information on people who were in this country. So that changed after 9/11.

But prior to that time, we -- I'll give you one example. Back in 1997, 1998 the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted to propose that we create a special command for the United States to deal with this emerging scourge of terrorism. And right away it was shot down saying this violates (inaudible) you're now going to get the military involved in domestic law enforcement.

And so there were a number of restrictions that may very well have been a comment or recommendation coming out of a lawyer to someone in the Pentagon. I was not aware of it, but it's altogether possible.

BLITZER: Did you know about this unit called Able Danger, these special operations forces that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Hugh Shelton, had created?

COHEN: I'm not -- I don't have a recollection specifically of that.

I certainly know that there were a number of special forces that were set up to gather information. I don't recall receiving that particular report, though.

BLITZER: But you do recall that there were prohibitions on the U.S. military informing the FBI of potential threats out there? Because that sounds pretty outrageous to the average person out there.

COHEN: I'm not sure there was a prohibition against that. All I'm saying -- there were a number of prohibitions in terms of what information the CIA could share with the FBI and the FBI with the CIA, what the Pentagon could do, what our military could do in terms of enforcing or using military forces to protect the country domestically.

All that has been changed now by 9/11, but prior to that there were a number of restrictions. This may have been one of them. I'm not familiar with it.

BLITZER: All right, we'll have to leave it there. Secretary Cohen and Secretary Kissinger, always good to have both of you on "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, we'll get a quick check on what's in the news right now, including the latest on Iran's nuclear plans.

Then, all eyes on Gaza as Israel prepares to begin its historic pullout. We'll get perspective from the Palestinian foreign minister, Nasser al-Kidwa, and the Israeli vice premier, Shimon Peres.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Joining us now to talk about Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, what it means for the Palestinians.

Joining us, the Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al- Kidwa. Mr. Minister, welcome to "LATE EDITION." From your perspective, the Palestinian perspective, is everything on track now for this Israeli pullout from Gaza?

NASSER AL-KIDWA, PALESTINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, we certainly hope so. What's happening is important, and it's positive. And I hope that it will end in the right way. It's important that settlers are leaving, that settlements are coming to an end, at least in this part of the occupied Palestinian territory.

We hope that after the withdrawal we have good degree of freedom of movement for persons and goods. We need accessibility, a linkage between Gaza and the West Bank and linkage between Gaza and the outside world. If all these things happen in the right way, I think we will have proceeded to a different level with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

BLITZER: Can the Palestinian Authority be assured of taking charge of security in Gaza following the Israeli pullout?

AL-KIDWA: Well, I think the security apparatus is doing its best. Also, we have a good degree of dialogue among all Palestinian factions. We are reasonably assured that things will go the right way.

However, we also believe that the security apparatus needs some support. It needs arms. It needs ammunition. And we hope that the Israeli side will be ready to cooperate with us in this field as well. BLITZER: Because as you know, groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, which are committed to the destruction of Israel, are vowing to continue what they call their arms struggle, no matter what.

AL-KIDWA: Well, we have a different kind of understanding of what they are saying. They are not saying that they will continue on struggle in Gaza. Gaza is clearly, will be free from the Israeli presence, at least direct Israeli presence, and we believe that all Palestinian factions have to take this into consideration.

It's something that they must do. And as I said, we have good dialogue with them, but also, we believe that the security apparatus is at a good degree of readiness.

BLITZER: Here's what one Hamas senior leader was quoted by Reuters as saying: "Wherever there is occupation, there is resistance. Gaza will not be first and last. Hamas affirms its commitment to resistance as a strategic choice until the occupation withdraws from our land and our holy sites."

As far as Hamas is concerned, not simply withdrawal to the pre- '67 lines but a removal of the state of Israel. How is the Palestinian Authority going to deal with that?

AL-KIDWA: Well, we first don't agree with that. We believe in a two-state solution based on the 1949 armistice line. We believe in coexistence between the two states and two peoples. And I believe that the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people believe in that as well.

But now, it is for the two sides to prove to both peoples that we can achieve peace, that we can do some progress through negotiations and through good relationship and not through confrontation and military attacks. It's clear, as I said earlier, that the direct Israeli presence will come to an end in Gaza, and as such, all military activities have to come to an end once and for all.

BLITZER: What will the Palestinian Authority do to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, other Palestinians who launch missile attacks or fire rockets inside Israel from Gaza?

AL-KIDWA: Well, we tried our best to stop this kind of attacks through dialogue, but we also made it clear that if need be, we will have to try to put an end to such attacks by force. Hopefully that we are not going to have to do such things and, hopefully, all Palestinian factions will remain committed to our agreement with regard to the ceasefire, mutual ceasefire between the two sides.

And now that the Israelis are leaving, we think that the Palestinian people will have very harsh verdict on anyone who is trying to rock the boat and anyone who might have such unwarranted, totally unwarranted actions against the Israelis.

BLITZER: What role, if any, do you see Egypt playing in the post-Israeli occupation of Gaza? AL-KIDWA: Well, I think the Egyptians have been playing a very useful role. They helped with regard to the inter-Palestinian dialogue and also helped in the Palestinian-Israeli dialogue. They reached some understandings with the Israelis.

We understand that there will be about 750 Egyptian soldiers deployed along the border so that they can help fighting, smuggling, and other illegal activities. We also think that Egypt could have an additional positive role to play with regard to training of our security apparatus, and maybe also help in other ways as well. So yes, Egypt can and is playing a useful role and, of course, we appreciate that.

BLITZER: Are you getting the support from other moderate Arab states, whether Egypt or Jordan or Saudi Arabia, Morocco, some of the other Arab states that you want, the kind of support you really want?

AL-KIDWA: Absolutely. We are satisfied with the support we are getting from Arab countries, generally, and that includes, of course, material support, political support. We hope that the oil-rich Arab countries have taken note of the G-8 with regard to assistance to the Palestinian people in the coming three years. We do appreciate everything our Arab brothers are doing.

At the same time, let me also say that Arabs generally look at what's happening with some hope, similar to our hope. So we believe that if the Israeli side continues in the right direction, if we move after Gaza to the implementation of the road map in a fast way, again, we hope and we do trust that this will mean a different situation for the region.

BLITZER: Some Israelis, many Israelis and some U.S. officials are concerned that weapons could be smuggled into Gaza for terrorism through the rebuilding of the Port of Gaza.

Can you assure the Israelis that no weapons will be coming in to Hamas, some of the other groups, as a result of the rebuilding of that port?

AL-KIDWA: Of course, when the security apparatus has its full capacity, of course, it will be able to prevent any such things.

What is important, nevertheless, is to assure the Palestinian people that they are not going to be imprisoned within Gaza; that they will have access to the outside world; that they are going to have a sea port, an airport, a free international crossing point between Gaza and Egypt.

This actually is the kind of thing that is going to produce a different situation, different atmosphere, paving the road for further steps, including, as I said earlier, the implementation of the road map and moving to a resettlement to the West Bank as well and not only Gaza.

BLITZER: Let's hope for the best. Nasser al-Kidwa is the foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Foreign Minister, thank you very much for joining us on "LATE EDITION."

And up next, the Israeli perspective. We'll speak with the vice premiere, Shimon Peres. He's standing by. We'll be back.



BUSH: The disengagement is, I think, a part of making Israel more secure and peaceful.


BLITZER: President Bush expressing his support for Israel's disengagement from Gaza.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now live from Tel Aviv, the Israeli vice premier, the former prime minister, Shimon Peres.

Mr. Peres, welcome to "LATE EDITION."

Based on everything you know, is everything in place now for a smooth, potentially smooth Israeli withdrawal from Gaza?

SHIMON PERES, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Well, (inaudible), I don't know if it will be smooth. We have some problems.

But by and large, I think we should do it on time from the beginning to the end, and there won't be any civil war. If there will be skirmishes, we shall handle with care and overcome them.

BLITZER: Because there's been lots of concern, lots of fear that some of the Israeli settlers might resist and may even resist with their supporters violently.

Based on what you know, the notion of Jew versus Jew, fighting Jew, as part of this withdrawal, is that likely?

Unfortunately, I think we're having some audio -- can you hear me OK?

I think we're having some audio problems with Shimon Peres.

Let's take a quick break. We'll reconnect with him. We'll be back.


BLITZER: We've re-established communications with Shimon Peres, the vice premier of Israel.

Mr. Peres, how worried are you that Israeli Jews with be fighting Israeli Jews to resist this withdrawal Gaza, scheduled to begin tomorrow?

PERES: Well, I don't think this picture, as you have described it.

We are a Democratic country. We're Jews; we're a little bit of Arabs, too. I mean a minority.

But it's not Jews against Jews; it's fulfilling a formal and legal decision of the government to withdraw from Gaza.

If instead of a democratic decision, power will take its place, play a role. We'll stop being Democratic.

BLITZER: The former prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was the finance minister of Israel, he resigned a week ago, last Sunday. He resigned to protest the withdrawal from Gaza.

And at the time he said this, listen to what he said.

He said, "In opening up Gaza for the inflow of terror, I think we are going to strengthen Gaza. It will become an Islamic terrorist base, which will endanger not only Israel but many others in the world. I think this is wrong."

What do you say to Benjamin Netanyahu?

PERES: Well, there are two points.

First of all, he voted for it. I don't know why he changed his mind.

And if there will remain 8,000 settlers, other dangers will disappear. I mean, it sounds to me very strange. Eight thousand Jewish settlers among a million and a half Palestinian people. What can they do in order to stop these fantastic dangers that Mr. Netanyahu has described? I think it's sheer exaggeration.

BLITZER: Can the Palestinian Authority, based on what you know, control the situation in Gaza, Hamas, Islamic Jihad after the Israeli pullout?

PERES: I think they have to try. Otherwise, they won't be able to build a state. They won't be able to build an army. Maybe they committed the mistake by trying to reach an agreement with Hamas while Hamas is still holding rifles. You cannot have a coalition where one part is disarmed and another part is armed.

But still, it's for their own sake, it's for the destiny of the Palestinians for their statehood, that they have to decide. We did, too, in 1948 when Israel was established.

BLITZER: Do you have confidence in Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, and his government?

PERES: I have respect for him. I trust his intentions. I believe he's adopted the right policy. Now, what they have to show is his capacity to implement his own policies.

BLITZER: Some Israelis are concerned that this withdrawal from Gaza, unilateral Israeli pullback from Gaza, disengagement as it's called, will signal to Palestinians Israeli weakness that Israel will give up in the face of what they call their armed struggle. What do you say about that?

PERES: We are not in the show business. We don't have to make impressions. We shouldn't pay too much attention about what people will say. They will say one thing today. They may have a second thought and say another thing tomorrow.

We have to make decisions, historic one. And I think it's a mistake to remain in Gaza morally, politically and militarily. It is our decision. And I'm sure that history will justify our choice.

BLITZER: You heard the foreign minister, the Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa, say he hopes that Gaza has access to the West Bank, access to an airport, access to a seaport, that it's not simply isolated. Will Israel allow that?

PERES: Yes. If they will stop terror, it will be a free flow of goods, a free movement of people. If they won't stop terror, we shall try to provide maximum freedom of movement, but with inspection. We cannot open the road for smugglers, for arms, for terrorists.

And I wish we would have with the Palestinians the same relations which exist today between us and Jordan. Also a free passage, but the Jordanians are taking very seriously the issue of security. If the Palestinians will do likewise, I don't see problems.

BLITZER: Is it inevitable that now that Israel is pulling out of Gaza, eventually it will withdraw from most of the West Bank, the heavily populated Palestinian areas of the West Bank?

PERES: Yes. I think that's our choice. And that's our preference. (inaudible) A major policy in Israel agreed there was no solution but a two-state solution. We agreed to see a Palestinian state living in peace, in freedom as our neighbor, and wish them really well from the depths of our heart. Provided there will be two states, which means there will be a Palestinian state in fact, not just in being.

And, then again, we said that in order to enable the establishment of a Palestinian state, we shall have to withdraw from other territories. But again and again, for a person like myself, the moral choice is the most important one. We were not born to govern another people against their will, and we want them to be free so we shall be free in our own beliefs and principles.

BLITZER: How much additional assistance from the United States are you seeking to help pay for this withdrawal from Gaza and those four small Jewish settlements in the West Bank?

PERES: Well, you know, the withdrawal will cost us something like $2 to $3 billion. We shall carry most of the cost. We're actually to maintain two or three different military efforts against terror, against an attack for keeping the territories in a tranquil situation.

And then again, I mean, we have to not only withdraw but to build Israel anew, our situation in (inaudible) the north, our situation in (inaudible) in the south. It is very demanding. And we have to invest not just in withdrawing from territories but building a new state. On that we ask the United States to help us in a measured way.

BLITZER: Do you want to give us a bottom line number, how much money you're seeking?

PERES: We mentioned the figure of something like $500 million in four years' time. But I don't know. It's up to the president. It's up to the Congress. No decision was taken. And, really, I mean, the effort which Israel is now making is a tremendous one, economically, not just morally, and not just financially.

BLITZER: Shimon Peres, thanks so much for joining us. Good luck to you, all the Israelis. Good luck to the Palestinians as well. CNN will have extensive coverage throughout this week and the coming weeks of this historic moment between Israelis and Palestinians.

Our "LATE EDITION" Web question asked this: Will the new constitution bring more stability to Iraq?" Here's how you voted. Seven percent said yes. Ninety-three percent said no. Remember, though, this is not a scientific poll.

And that's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, August 14. Please be sure to join us next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. I'm also in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday 3 to 6 p.m. Eastern. That's our new program. Until then, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.


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