Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview With Hamid Karzai; Interview With Prince Turki Al- Faisal
Aired February 5, 2006 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11:00 a.m. in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7:00 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 exclusive interview with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.
We begin in Lebanon, where protests over a cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed have turned very violent. CNN's Beirut Bureau Chief Brent Sadler is following the story. He's joining us now live from Beirut.
Brent, what happened there today?
BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf. Well, Muslim rage in the Islamic world is having a domino effect out here. Another Arab capital hit today by very violent protests. This time here in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, thousands of angry Muslim demonstrators saying that they were out on the streets to defend the image of their prophet Mohammed, attacked a building that houses the Danish consulate.
Once again, it is a Danish diplomatic mission in the Middle East that has borne the brunt of this street outrage.
Now, the crowd was so big and out of control that Lebanese security forces including the police and the military failed to contain the attackers. They set fire to the building that housed other businesses as well as the Danish consulate and also ransacked the ground floor of the building.
Now, this demonstration, Wolf, took on an even uglier dimension because in a capital that was once divided by civil war between religions, Muslim and Christian militias fought for 15 years here, there were ferocious street battles as Muslim demonstrators went on the rampage attacking commercial properties, shops and cars in the Christian -- one of the main Christian parts of the Lebanese capital.
And that really did get religious and political leaders here trying to calm down this rage that continues to shake the Middle East.
BLITZER: This comes on the heels of the anger that was demonstrated yesterday in Damascus, Syria, a city you know very well, Brent. The U.S. government, the Bush administration, condemning the Syrian government for allowing the Danish embassy to be burned, the Norwegian embassy there to be burned.
Do these kinds of activities in a police state like Syria happen without coordination with the Syrian government?
SADLER: Well, we spoke to the Danish ambassador soon after the fires in Damascus had died down, and the ambassador said quite clearly that he'd been asking for security days before the attack on the embassy in the Syrian capital. That protection, that request for increased security didn't come.
Again today security forces in Beirut failed to contain this demonstration that had been well sign-posted ahead of today's trouble.
BLITZER: Brent Sadler, we'll get back to you.
Brent Sadler in Beirut for us.
Afghan government forces with the support of American planes are engaging Taliban insurgents in fierce battles this weekend across southern Afghanistan.
This comes just days after 60 nations met in London and agreed to pledge more than $10 billion in aid to Afghanistan.
Will it be enough, though, to keep Afghanistan from becoming once again a failed state? Just a little while ago I spoke with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, in Kabul.
BLITZER: President Karzai, welcome back to "Late Edition." Always good to have you on our program.
Let's start -- talk a little bit about the uproar in the Muslim world right now as a result of these cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. How angry are people in your country, Afghanistan?
PRES. HAMID KARZAI, AFGHANISTAN: Well, Wolf, we, as Muslims, all over the world are angry for those cartoons appearing in the European press. I was in Denmark about 10 days ago, and the prime minister of Denmark expressed his regret and also said that the newspaper had published an apology. Well, that's all right.
But for the newspaper to publish a cartoon insulting Prophet Mohammed, insulting the feeling of Muslims, is really, really bad. We feel angry about this. We -- we strongly believe that it should cease to appear again.
There's no point in trying to -- to insult the sentiments of cultures or religions: any culture, any religion. No newspaper in our country should do a thing like that to with regard to other religions. And no newspaper or T.V. in any other country should do it with regard to other religions.
Having said that, I as a Muslim feel very much offended, but I would ask my fellow Muslims around the world that the prophet Mohammed is much greater -- much greater a prophet to be insulted by these cartoons. And we, as Muslims, God likes forgiveness. God instructs us to forgive.
Therefore, we, as much as we condemn it strongly, must stay above this dispute and not bring ourselves to equating ourselves to those who have published the cartoons.
The cartoons must stop coming again and again, must stop appearing, but I hope the western governments, the United States, the rest of the western world, the European governments, will also take a strong measure, because this is a matter of sentiments for one billion Muslims and condemn it together with Muslims. That would be a good thing.
BLITZER: Mr. President, we've seen angry demonstrations in Damascus and Beirut, Gaza, elsewhere in the Arab and Muslim world, including some angry demonstrations today in Afghanistan itself. How worried are you that the anger will overflow into serious violence in Afghanistan against European, Danish and other targets?
KARZAI: Well, in Afghanistan there has been protests, there has been anger, but I'm sure the Afghan people, as pure Muslims, as good Muslims as they are, will understand that the work of the journalist, the work of a newspaper, the work of a publishing agency is not the work of nations, that the Danish prime minister apologized and showed his regret, and so did the Danish newspaper.
And that this French newspaper, "Francoise," editor was dismissed over this republishing of the cartoons.
And I hope any other newspaper that does this will dismiss the people responsible for it. That is what we should seek: a strong apology, an action against those people, and then we should be satisfied with that.
But we would also want very much that cartoons like this must never, never appear again. It's not good for anybody.
BLITZER: There are about 160 Danish troops in Kabul in part of the NATO troop contingent in Afghanistan. Another 200 are supposed to be coming. Will they be safe there?
Can you guarantee that Danish troops, Danish diplomats, Danish citizens will be safe in Afghanistan?
KARZAI: Yes, they will be safe. BLITZER: What about the embassy, the Danish embassy?
KARZAI: It's not the responsibility of Danish troops. It's not the responsibility of Danish troops. It's not the responsibility of Danish government. It's the free media.
The way it's behaved is unfortunate, but we must not hold the troops who are serving in Afghanistan responsible for this. We must understand that. And I will explain it to the Afghan people.
BLITZER: Let's move on and talk a little bit about what's happening in Afghanistan right now. I understand that the situation has dramatically improved over the past four or five years in Kabul, in the northern part of Afghanistan. But in the south it remains tenuous right now.
Let me read to you from a recent issue of "The Economist" in London: "But southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban emerged, is still at war. America has killed thousands of enemy fighters there without seeming to reduce their number a jot. Indeed, with an increase in suicide and roadside bombs, their capability has improved. More American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan last year than in the previous three."
And I'll just put some numbers up on the screen, Mr. President. In 2005, 129 coalition troops were killed in Afghanistan, compared to 58 in 2004, 57 in 2003. Is the situation deteriorating in southern Afghanistan?
KARZAI: The attacks have increased in southern Afghanistan, especially attacks against schools, against children going to school, against clergy, (inaudible), against teachers.
Attacks have, in the past year, been against civilians. There is a clear sign that the terrorism is weakening in the military sense, that they can no longer fight the troops or the coalition or the Afghan soldiers. They're attacking civilians. Now it's up to individuals, really, to characterize whether they've strengthened or whether they've weakened.
Just about a few days ago, there were -- there were -- there was an effort by some of these terrorists to cross into Afghanistan in Sinbulduk (ph). The villagers stopped them and attacked them, killed some of them and chased the rest back away from Afghanistan.
We have a very, very strong sense that the terrorists in Afghanistan, their backers in Afghanistan, have weakened considerably. Considerably. That's why they are attacking children and schools, bombing tents that are providing schools for our children.
Now, having said this, unfortunately, much of the trouble that we have in Afghanistan is the provinces bordering with Pakistan. That's why it's an extremely important matter for us to -- to have better coordination, better cooperation between the Afghan government and the government of Pakistan. And I'll be visiting our brothers in Pakistan in about 10 days time. And we will discuss this there with my brother, President Musharraf, in full detail, in hopes that all of us, the United States, the rest of the coalition, Afghanistan and Pakistan, will find a way to fight the terrorists better everywhere, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and elsewhere.
BLITZER: Are you suggesting, though, Mr. President, that right now you're not getting the kind of cooperation from the Pakistani security forces along the border with Afghanistan as you would like?
KARZAI: Well, we'd like to increase cooperation. We'd like to have a more in-depth cooperation. We'd like to go off to the sources of these terrorists, and we'd like to go to the places where they are trained. We'd like to find how they are trained, where they are trained.
We must stop them from crossing the Afghan border before they reach the border. The same should be done in Afghanistan. If there's anything in Afghanistan, there should be strong cooperation.
It is a struggle for all of us. If today an Afghan child is suffering because of terrorism, tomorrow a Pakistani child will be suffering there or already suffering. Therefore, it is a struggle for all of us, for the life of our people, that we have to do extremely dedicatedly together.
BLITZER: One new -- relatively new phenomenon we've seen in Afghanistan in recent months are these suicide bombings -- by our count, about 19 of them in the last few months, three in November, six in December, four in January -- over the last 12 months, 19 suicide bombings.
Is this becoming a deep concern to you?
KARZAI: It is a worry. It is a worry. These suicide attacks are mostly concentrated around -- around Kandahar and Helmand and Partika and Khowst and in Kabul. There are some incidents around the other parts of the country, as well, but the concentration is around the provinces bordering with our brothers Pakistan.
It is a source of worry because it hurts extremely innocent people. It hurts, it kills, it mains our children. So we are concerned. We'd like to stop this.
But, Wolf, we don't know, what part of these attacks are really suicide bombs. There may be people tricked into blowing themselves up. There are other situations that we are looking into. We have quite a bit of information.
Just about -- while I was on my way to London, we busted a big ring of terrorists in Kandahar who had tentacles all the way up to Herat and were trying to do things in Kabul as well.
We have, through that investigation, found 180 mines that they could have blown around our country and lots of other materials and lots of people, individuals that were involved in it.
So there is an ongoing struggle. We will face the situation for much longer to come around the world. That's why I will get back to my first point, that we have to fight terrorism in a more deeply strategic manner than we are doing today.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we'll have more of my interview with Afghanistan president, Hamid Karzai. I'll ask him about the hunt for the world's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden.
Then: What steps should the United States take next in Iraq? We'll talk with Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter.
And later: a special interview with Saudi Arabia's new ambassador, here in the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, about the war on terror, discontent in the Muslim world and much more.
"Late Edition" continues right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We return now to my exclusive interview with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, in Kabul.
BLITZER: On January 19, Osama bin Laden aired an audio tape on Al Jazeera in which he offered a truce to you. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
OSAMA BIN LADEN (through translator): We do not mind offering a longtime truce based on just conditions that we will stick to. We are a nation that God banned from lying and stabbing others in the back, hence both parties of the truce will enjoy stability and security to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by war.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you believe him?
KARZAI: No. Osama bin Laden was killing the Afghan people for years, training on (ph) the Afghan people for years, destroying our mosques, our orchards, our vineyards, for years.
He's been killing us and maiming us and destroying our country for years before he reached the United States.
So we will seek him first. We want him tried. We want him found, and I want to produce him before an Islamic court in Afghanistan to try him so that he can be punished for his crimes. There is no way that we can have a truce with him. There is no way that Afghanistan can have a truce with him. There is no way that I, as an Afghan individual, can have a truce with him. He has to respond to the crimes against our people.
BLITZER: The last time...
KARZAI: They insult our people. They insult our religion.
BLITZER: ... we spoke, Mr. President, you were sure -- you were sure that he was not in Afghanistan. You almost guaranteed it. Are you still that confident that Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, his No. 2, that they are not in Afghanistan?
KARZAI: I could tell you fairly surely that they're not in Afghanistan, sir. Where they -- where they are is something I -- I can't speculate about. But I know they're not in Afghanistan. They wouldn't be here. The people would not allow them.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the NATO takeover of the troops, the foreign troops in Afghanistan. I'll read to you from a "Washington Post" editorial from last Thursday: "The NATO troops won't have the same war fighting mandate or abilities as the departing U.S. units. How is this downgrading of the U.S. commitment and security in southern Afghanistan consistent with the imperative to remain on the offensive?"
How worried are you that the NATO takeover of the international military presence in Afghanistan will weaken your overall security, as compared to the U.S. control, military control on the ground, which has been the case over the past few years?
KARZAI: Well, we have had very lengthy discussions on this question, both with the United States and other members of the coalition and NATO. We have been given assurances that the reduction of some troops from the U.S. forces in Afghanistan will not mean at all, and I know it is not a reduction in the commitment to Afghanistan.
And in terms of weaponry, in terms of equipment, in terms of the ability to maneuver and engage, the strength will remain as it is today.
So the arrival of NATO will be in a coordinated manner. National caveats that we were afraid of are going to be resolved in a manner that will not be of concern to the operations that perhaps would be conducted in Afghanistan as the need arises.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time, Mr. President. You were in London at this donors conference to try to help Afghanistan. There were, what, about $10 billion in pledges?
Are you concerned, though, that it's one thing for a country to make a pledge and another thing to deliver the actual cash?
KARZAI: In the past four years, from Tokyo to Berlin, to London, whatever that was promised to us was mostly committed and spent in Afghanistan in various ways. We are happy the way the world raised money and then remained committed to that vision and turned it into reality.
We are sure as we move forward, and if we move forward, which I very much wish and hope we will, with the success of that within the past four years into the future, that the world community will remain engaged with us.
The conference in London was a strong recommitment to the future of Afghanistan and a very strong approval of the past four years of Afghanistan. We have come back very happy with that -- with that conference, with the way our achievements were recognized and lauded, and the way we were committed with for the future. We are grateful, and we are sure that most of Afghanistan, the international community will remain committed to the promises that were made.
We've also have made some promises, back in Afghanistan. We have to improve the administration. We have to cut intensely on corruption in the country. We have also to fight narcotics. We have to fight all other ills that's affecting our society and our (inaudible) that we have to reform.
And at the same time, the international community has resolved to stay with us to conduct these reforms and to help us. We have a job. The international community has a job.
BLITZER: One final question. You've been the target of assassination. How worried are you about your own personal safety?
KARZAI: Well, death and life, Wolf, are in the hands of God. When God decides that I will not be alive anymore, I won't be. I'm not worried about that. I will keep working, and when the time comes, I'll go.
BLITZER: Well, on that note, let's hope you have a very, very long and fruitful and healthy life. And good luck to you, Mr. President. Good luck to all the people of Afghanistan. Thanks for joining us once again on "Late Edition."
KARZAI: Thank you, Mr. Blitzer. Good to talk to you again.
BLITZER: And just ahead, the Democratic senator Barbara Boxer and the Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter. They're standing by live to talk about the U.S. mission in Iraq and lots more.
But up next, we'll have a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the so-called escape of the mastermind of the attack on the USS Cole.
Stay with "Late Edition."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our nation is committed to an historic long-term goal. We seek the end of tyranny in our world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush laying out his vision in his State of the Union address this past week here in Washington. But is it realistic in an increasingly dangerous world? Joining us now to discuss this and more are two influential members of the United States Congress, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Representative Duncan Hunter. He's chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Thanks to both of you for joining us.
Mr. Chairman, let me start with you and get your quick reaction to this escape of these al Qaida operatives, including the mastermind, as described by Yemeni officials themselves, of the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in the year 2000. Seventeen American sailors were killed, some 39 others wounded. I thought that U.S. relations with Yemen had dramatically improved since 9/11, but what's your sense?
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: Wolf, I think that this underscores what we've been doing over the last several years since 9/11. And very simply that's to develop and strengthen our intelligence capability, because it's only that capability which allows us to find out where these guys are going, what their contacts are, and to try to get another loop around these people who have escaped.
There's obviously lots of other terrorist leaders who are still loose in the world, and the one way we combat this particular threat, the big piece on this is intelligence. Being able to know where they're going, what they're doing, what their contacts are. That's been part of this build-up over the last four years. And this is what we've put in operation to handle just this type of situation.
BLITZER: Senator Boxer, you know, a lot of people are going to be suspicious about this escape. They're going to look at this and say, how is this possible that the mastermind and all of these other al Qaida operatives merely get out of a prison in Yemen? What's your sense?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I feel very uneasy about this development, Wolf, and I feel that it really does underscore the fact that we're in a global war against terrorism. And if we have so-called allies in the world that are saying they want to help us, and yet how do 23 people, you know, quote unquote, escape.
It raises some terribly difficult questions, and I hope that Secretary Rice will take this up with the appropriate officials as soon as possible. And of course, it makes our job harder. Now our intelligence has to work on something they didn't think they had to work on. So it's a bad development.
BLITZER: And I just want to tag this by noting that the secretary-general of Interpol, Ron Noble, issued a worldwide alert saying al Qaida terrorists have been deemed a serious threat to the entire world community by the U.N. Security Council, by Interpol, and by a wide range of countries. Their escape cannot be considered an internal problem for Yemen alone.
Chairman Hunter, let's talk a little bit about this outrage in the Muslim and Arab world now over this cartoon that was originally printed in a Danish newspaper showing the prophet Mohammed. What's your sense of the international outrage that has developed and the real threats out there right now not only in Damascus, Beirut, but elsewhere in the region to western interests?
HUNTER: Well, you know, I think the United States and the other western nations realize that to some degree they're dealing with a -- this is like dealing with a nutty neighbor who if you look at them the wrong way comes out of their house with their shotgun. There's certainly been open season on all religions, especially the Christian and the Jewish religion with respect to cartoons and lots of criticism and lots of punditry aimed at them.
On the other hand, that doesn't mean you go out on the streets and start rioting. And so this is the world we live in, Wolf. It's a world in which young people read about things like that, just like the phony reports about the Koran being flushed down the toilet in Guantanamo, and people literally dying in riots halfway around the world as a result of that reporting.
And you know, the one point. You just left this fact that these people have escaped from Yemen. Those people make a phone call back into the United States to try to set up an operation against America. One thing that George Bush's program, his intelligence program's been aimed at, is being able to know what they're doing and to have the ability to intercept communications when they talk to Americans.
BLITZER: We're going to get to that shortly, the whole issue of domestic surveillance. But let me let Senator Boxer weigh in on this cartoon uproar in the Muslim and Arab world.
BOXER: I will. And I wanted to mention to Duncan that since 1978 every president has had this tool to wiretap terrorists.
BLITZER: We're going to get into that.
BOXER: But I just wanted to clear the air on that. The bottom line here, if I had an opportunity to talk to the people in the streets, obviously I don't, but if I did, what I'd tell them is that freedom of speech can be very painful sometimes.
You know, a lot of these folks are not used to dealing with freedoms like this. And God knows, a lot of us have been depicted in cartoons. As Duncan said, other religions have been as well. It's very hurtful. It's very painful.
It's right to stand out there and say I disagree. It's right to demand an apology. It's right to boycott the newspaper that ran it. But it's not right to use violent means to combat freedom of speech which you may not agree with.
BLITZER: We heard an audiotape, a videotape of Ayman al Zawahiri, Congressman Hunter, in effect taunting the president of the United States after that failed U.S. mission to try to kill him along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Listen to this little excerpt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Bush, do you know where I am? I am among the Muslim masses enjoying their care with God's blessing and sharing with them their holy war against you until we defeat you, God willing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you think it's appropriate at this time, as some of the critics are suggesting, Congressman Hunter, to, in effect, let NATO take charge of this operation in Afghanistan?
Some say it's outsourcing the U.S. war on terrorism to the European allies. A British general is going to take over this summer from the U.S. commander in Afghanistan at a time when the war on terrorism still is very much alive and well.
HUNTER: Well, Wolf, actually, I look at it as an opportunity to bring in these recalcitrant allies into the war against terrorism. France and Germany, for example -- while Britain has stood tall with us in Iraq, France and Germany waved off of that one, avoided the expense, avoided the pain, let Uncle Sam carry the heavy load.
They have been operating, however, in Afghanistan. And you do have those countries and other countries that avoided the war in Iraq helping in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: But let me interrupt you, Congressman, because, as you know, NATO and all of its members -- they operate by consensus. All the members have to agree.
In effect, you're giving France and Germany and other critics of the Bush administration a chance to, in effect, have veto power involving this war on terrorism. Are you comfortable with that?
HUNTER: Well, not if that translates to the tactical level. But I would hope, Wolf, as in many operations which are NATO operations in name, or United Nations operations in name, that, when it gets down to getting that piece of information that there's a terrorist cell operating in a particular cave or a safe house that it's American leadership that says we go in and we hit them at 0300.
As long as we have the tactical direction and we have an aggressive operation in that part of the world, if they want to put a NATO face on it, that's fine if it doesn't translate into delay and ineffectual operations.
BLITZER: Let me ask Senator Boxer to weigh in. Go ahead.
BOXER: I welcome our NATO allies into this fight. This is a global war against terror. We know it happened in London. We know it happened in Madrid. Everyone has everything at stake here to make this work.
Now, some of our allies did not go into Iraq. There wasn't one Al Qaida cell in Iraq. Iraq wasn't about the war on terror, as President Bush and Duncan Hunter seem to want to make it. Not one cell was there. Now we have Al Qaida there, after our war.
BLITZER: All right, we're going to pick up that point. We'll take a quick break. We're going to continue our conversation with Senator Boxer, Congressman Hunter.
We're going to make the turn to Iraq. We'll talk about Iran and its nuclear ambitions. Is there a viable U.S. military option? We'll also get into the issue of domestic surveillance.
And we're only a few hours away from American football's biggest game, the Super Bowl. We'll go live to Detroit for a pre-game face- off between the mayors of Seattle and Pittsburgh. All that coming up, but first this.
BLITZER (voice-over): Tim Kaine. What's his story?
The Virginia governor made his national political debut this week when he delivered the Democratic response to President Bush's State of the Union address.
In a state where Republicans have long dominated, Kaine's victory last November is in part attributed to his willingness to talk about his religious faith's impact on his political views, which include opposition to the death penalty.
While attending Harvard Law school in the early 1980s, Kaine took a year off to work as a missionary in Honduras. He served as the mayor of Richmond as well as lieutenant governor before becoming the state's chief executive last month.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL WOLFOWITZ, FMR. DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: The oil revenues in that country could bring between $50 billion and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years. We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon. (END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: That was then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz testifying before Congress on March 27, 2003, predicting that Iraq would be able to largely fund its own development.
Welcome back to "Late Edition."
We're continuing our discussion with Democratic senator Barbara Boxer of California, Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, also from California.
And Mr. Chairman, as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, you're very involved in Iraq. You know what's going on. This week, the president's asking for another $70 billion to help fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the total now to well over $300 billion.
I guess Paul Wolfowitz was wrong by a margin of about $250 to $300 billion in that wildly optimistic assessment.
HUNTER: Well, first, Wolf, let me just go to Barbara's last statement to the effect that this isn't somehow a part of the war against terror. I brought to the first show I did with you that picture, that photograph of those Kurdish mothers strewn out across that hillside holding their babies, killed in mid-stride by poison gas, those thousands of people found in those mass graves.
Saddam Hussein was a terrorist, is a terrorist, and the idea that those incidents, which were every bit as provocative and dramatic as the Nazi death camps were very reflective of what that regime was.
BLITZER: All right. But let's talk about the funding because the president is asking Congress to approve a lot more money now.
HUNTER: I'll be happy to go to the funding, Wolf.
BLITZER: Did you ever, in your wildest imagination at the start of this war in March of 2003 think it would cost U.S. taxpayers more than $300 billion?
It's now running, in Iraq alone, about $1 billion a week.
HUNTER: Well, first, Wolf, what Paul Wolfowitz was talking about was the ability of Iraq to stand up and support its economy. He never said that Iraq, the government of Iraq, was going to pay for American military operations. At least that wasn't my take.
But you know, we're spending -- even with the money we're spending in Iraq and Afghanistan -- we're spending a little over four percent of America's Gross National Product.
Now, John Kennedy spent nine percent of America's Gross National Product on defense. Ronald Reagan spent six percent of everything we made in this country on defense.
We're spending, today, a little over four percent of what we spend on defense. The war against terror is going to cost money. On the other hand, if you don't have it...
BLITZER: I'm going to let Barbara Boxer weigh in. But, in other words, you're suggesting that you did anticipate this huge expenditure?
HUNTER: Well, Wolf, one thing you don't do is sit down and try to figure out to the bottom line what a war's going to cost. Nobody's ever done that.
But I do anticipate this, Wolf -- even when we leave Iraq, we are going to have other hot spots around the world. We're going to send in American troops.
It's going to be expensive. It's going to be dirty. It's going to be dusty. And it's going to be dangerous. But we have to do it.
BLITZER: All right, let's let her respond. Go ahead, senator.
BOXER: Well, where we are today, Wolf, is we have an open checkbook here, we have a bottomless pit.
While the president is cutting Medicare, education funding and all the rest and not doing what he needs to do on health care and the rest that people care about, there seems to be no end...
BLITZER: Will you vote for the $70 billion supplemental...
BOXER: I will never vote against anything that's going to help our troops. But what I am against...
BLITZER: You would never vote against anything that would hurt our troops.
BOXER: That will hurt our troops. When they say it's going to help our troops, and they show me how, I will vote for it.
But the bottom line here, and it's very, very important to note this, is there is no plan, there is no end in sight.
You're right, Wolfowitz said it would hardly cost anything, Rumsfeld said we'd be done in six months. There's no plan.
What the president should do -- two things right now. Seventy nine senators said this is the year, 2006, that Iraq has to take care of itself.
Seventy percent of the Iraqi people, according to a poll just completed in January, said please leave our country; we can do better without you here. We are ready to handle our problems. Violence will go down when you leave.
Right now it's open checkbook, bottomless pit, and it's hurting the American people.
BLITZER: And let me -- yes, go ahead. I want you to respond to that, Congressman. I'll also read to you from today's New York Times a very disturbing paragraph and get your response as well to this.
HUNTER: The New York Times is very disturbing, Wolf, in general.
BLITZER: Well, let me read to you from this story today on the front page: "Insurgents in Iraq reap 40 percent to 50 percent of all oil smuggling profits in the country. The insurgency had infiltrated senior management positions at the major northern refinery in Baiji and routinely terrorized truck drivers there. This allows the insurgents and their confederates to tap the pipeline, empty the trucks, and sell the oil or gas themselves."
If true, very disturbing.
HUNTER: First, Wolf, let me go to Barbara's statement. Seventy nine senators in their piece of the Defense Bill, and of course we put our piece together, and we come up with a statement of policy on Iraq. They said that this year, not that we should get out this year. They said this year should be a period of, quote, "significant transition."
I just got back from Iraq. It is a period of significant transition. I was with the 101st Airborne up north, the 2nd Marines out to the western part of that country and the 4th Division in the Baghdad area. We are turning over this military operation to the Iraqi forces as we stand them up and train them...
BLITZER: Are the insurgents getting a lot of that oil revenue?
HUNTER: Well, Wolf, no, I don't think they're getting that much. But for people to throw out a -- when there is so little intelligence coming through the -- into the media, information sources, for them to make these statements that they're getting 40 percent or 50 percent, I think is wildly off base.
But this is my point: we're in a period of steady work in Iraq. We're handing off the military mission. We stood up two new provinces where the Iraqi army is holding those places, those areas by themselves.
This is a time of steady work. We're handing the mission off. And then we leave.
But leaving Iraq should not be based on the judgment of a senator from California or a Congressman from California. It should be based on the judgment of the combat commanders in Iraq, the U.S. commanders who say, "My Iraqi brigade has been sufficiently trained, they can take over."
BLITZER: All right, we only have a few seconds left, Senator. Go ahead and respond.
BOXER: My response is this: if we are in Iraq to help the Iraqi people, and Duncan spoke about the suffering that they faced under Saddam, and we all agree with that, if we are there to help them why don't we listen to them?
They are saying they can do better if we leave. They are saying the violence will go down; they'll be able to reach a political solution.
The status quo and all you hear is this rosy scenario. We heard this year one, year two, year three. It goes on and on.
The American people are anxious about this. It's time to bring it to an end. And by the way, it's victory when we leave because we're saying to the Iraqis, "You are free now to run your own country."
BLITZER: Unfortunately, we have to leave it there. So many other subjects I wanted to get to. We didn't have the time, but we'll leave more for down the road.
Thanks, Senator Boxer, Congressman Hunter. Always good to have both of you on "Late Edition."
And don't forget to vote in our web question of the week. It asks this question: "Which team will win Super Bowl XL? The Seattle Seahawks or the Pittsburgh Steelers? Cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition.
Let's see if our "Late Edition" audience would win in Vegas. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Much more ahead on "Late Edition," including my discussion with Saudi Arabia's new ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, about the U.S., quote, "addiction to oil." What will U.S. attempts to break its dependence on long-time Middle Eastern allies and oil mean for the region?
Plus, an inside look at what's happening inside Afghanistan. U.S. Army Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, the head of the combined forces command in Afghanistan, talks about the terror threat that still exists.
"Late Edition" continues right at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
BUSH: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush wants to curb U.S. dependence on oil. How will that affect relations with one of the world's major suppliers? Plus, Muslims around the world protest cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. What's the state of U.S. relations with the Muslim world? Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's new ambassador in Washington, weighs in. Is the divide between the Muslim world and the West encouraging violence and terror in Afghanistan? We'll ask the head of the Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry.
And it's Super Bowl Sunday. As the teams get ready to face off on the football field, we'll have a face-off with the mayors of Pittsburgh and Seattle.
Welcome back. We'll get to my interview with Saudi Arabia's ambassador. But first a quick check of what's making news right now.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. Muslim outrage over a cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed spread to Lebanon today. CNN's Beirut bureau chief Brent Sadler has been following demonstrations there. He's joining us now with the latest. Brent?
SADLER: Thanks, Wolf. The situation much calmer now than it was earlier today, when for several hours, Lebanese security forces failed to contain a mob of thousands of Muslim protesters who attacked the interests of the Danish diplomatic mission here in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. They went for a building, set it afire, and ransacked the ground floor of the building, a multi-story building inside which there is the Danish consulate.
This a day after protesters in a similar but less violent riot attacked the Danish embassy in the capital of Syria, Damascus, the neighboring country here. Now, these protests today, again, were failed -- could not be contained by the authorities, even though there was some advance warning, laying blame by some officials here in the western diplomatic community that neither Syria nor Lebanon did as much as they could have done to prevent this very violent outbreak of violence in these two capitals.
Here in Beirut today, Wolf, it became even more serious because there was a new dimension. There were scuffles, violent scuffles on the streets of downtown Beirut between Muslims and Christians. That taking place in a capital where for 15 years the capital itself was divided between Christian and Muslim militias. Militia leaders and former militia leaders and religious leaders and politicians now trying very much to play this crisis down. Wolf?
BLITZER: Well, that raises a serious question, the sectarian tensions that certainly still continue in Lebanon today. How worried are people that this issue of the cartoon of the prophet Mohammed could spark a much broader source of tension within Lebanon itself?
SADLER: Well, people are very worried about it, indeed, Wolf. There has been a period of serious political instability here for a year since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. That instability exacerbated today on the Christian-Muslim level, not least because a Maronite Catholic church was targeted with stones by some of the protesters at the same time as they were overturning security vehicles. That got the Maronite Catholic church very angry, and Fuad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, had faced a barrage of criticism and condemnation when he visited some of those Christian areas earlier this very tense day, Wolf.
BLITZER: Brent Sadler in Beirut for us. Brent, thank you very much. In his State of the Union address, President Bush mentioned steps toward reform being taken right now in Saudi Arabia, but how far has Saudi Arabia really gone in pursuit of democratic reform. And how are the Saudis reacting to another key part of the president's State of the Union address, his determination to try to drastically cut back on imports of Middle Eastern oil.
Joining us now to discuss this and lots more is Prince Turki al- Faisal, the new Saudi ambassador to the United States. Most recently served as the Saudi ambassador in London. Before that, he was in charge of the Saudi intelligence services. Mr. Ambassador, Prince Turki, welcome to Washington. Thanks very much for joining us.
PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL, SAUDI ARABIA'S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Thank you, Wolf. It's a pleasure to be here.
BLITZER: I want to get to all of these issues. Let's go through a couple issues of the day right now. Your immediate reaction to this, quote, "escape" of these al Qaida operatives in Yemen, those including the mastermind of the killing of some 17 U.S. sailors aboard the U.S.S. Cole and 2,000 in the Yemen port of Aden. Tell us your immediate reaction to this. Do these things happen in Yemen, or is there somebody sort of opening the door and letting these prisoners go?
AL-FAISAL: Well, we must not make it simply a question of Yemen. First of all, let me say that I think that Yemeni forces will immediately go out and probably capture all these people again. If you remember, in Afghanistan, under U.S. direction, prison was escaped from by al Qaida leaders as well in Bagram, I think last year.
So, prisoners in prison will try to escape anywhere they are. I don't think it's peculiar to Yemen particularly, and as I told you, I think they will be recaptured because they have nowhere to go.
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk -- also another huge story, a tragedy over the past few days.
AL-FAISAL: Very much so.
BLITZER: This ship, this Egyptian ship that was bringing Egyptian workers, mostly, from Saudi Arabia, your country, back to Egypt. Fourteen hundred people on board. Maybe a thousand may have died in this, so I know you're following this. What is the latest information that you're getting?
AL-FAISAL: I wish I could tell you more than what you can read in the papers and hear on the radio. The investigation is ongoing. The rescue attempts are continuing. Some people have been rescued from the sea on both shores, Egyptian and Saudi, but the death toll is very high, and it is a very much a tragedy as you say.
And it reminds me of a tragedy that happened several years ago as well on a similar ship that was crossing the Red Sea between the kingdom and Egypt. And hopefully, the authorities will get to the root of this and prevent it in the future.
BLITZER: Was there any concern, any advance word when that ship left Saudi Arabia for Egypt that perhaps there was a problem?
AL-FAISAL: None whatsoever. Not as far as I know.
BLITZER: And your suspicion this was a mechanical problem, or it was bad weather, but there was no terrorism.
AL-FAISAL: I cannot foreclose any conclusions. I'd rather wait for the results of the investigation, but it happened that during that specific day when the accident took place that there was bad weather in the Red Sea, yes.
BLITZER: All right. We'll continue to monitor that story. Let's get to this issue of this cartoon of the prophet Mohammed that has sparked such anger and outrage in the Muslim and Arab world. First of all, in Saudi Arabia, I'm sure there's a lot of anger. Are we seeing in Saudi Arabia the kind of demonstrations and anger that we've seen in Damascus, in Beirut, in Gaza, elsewhere in the region including in Iraq right now?
AL-FAISAL: Let me just begin by saying that the cartoons are offensive. I don't know if you've seen them, Wolf, but they are absolutely horrible depictions of the prophet Mohammed, a man esteemed not just by Muslims but even by non-Muslims, and these things I think should be handled with care and with sensitivity.
From the beginning, I think there were on both sides, there were perhaps people enter into these issues without necessarily gauging or judging the effects of them. And on both sides, I think there must, there should be quiet and a return to talk rather than, as you said in your report, burning down or looting or stoning of buildings and so on.
BLITZER: Are things quiet in Saudi Arabia?
AL-FAISAL: The kingdom is not a country that is prone to violent public demonstrations. The people express their views more calmly and more discreetly, and they do call up people like officials and express their views about them. There was a group of people who went to the Danish embassy in Riyadh to protest the cartoons and the Danish embassy received them, I believe, if I'm not mistaken.
BLITZER: Is it safe for Danes and other Europeans, Westerners to be in Riyadh and Jeddah and other cities in Saudi Arabia right now?
AL-FAISAL: Absolutely, there is no danger of anybody being stoned or hauled off or lynched if that is what the fear is.
And as I told you, I mean the people in Saudi Arabia are not that way inclined, but the whole issue should be dealt with more discreetly and more quietly, I think.
BLITZER: Here's what a lot of Americans and westerners in general don't understand. They certainly understand that there could be anger as a result of this cartoon of the prophet Mohammed, but they don't understand why there isn't greater anger, for example, at the video that was seen on Al Jazeera of the American journalist, this young woman, Jill Carroll, who was seen weeping surrounded by masked gunmen.
Why doesn't a picture like that generate the kind of anger in the Arab and Muslim world that you might think should be -- it should generate because it's such an awful, awful situation?
AL-FAISAL: Well, I wish I could tell you. It would take some study to do that, but, again, that picture, as you say, did not generate anger in non-Muslims as well. We didn't see demonstrations taking place in the streets of Washington or Los Angeles or wherever this young lady came from, nor in other non-Muslim places and countries. It is something I simply cannot answer, Wolf.
BLITZER: Here's the other thing that a lot of Americans and Westerners in general also see a double standard. They see some the cartoons that have been published in Saudi newspapers, and we'll show of them right now. Very offensive to Westerners and to -- specifically to Jews, and I'm going to show some of them. I want you to take a look at them as well.
For example, this one shows a fat -- it looks like an Israeli with a Star of David. That's supposed to be blood and little children and that Israeli is supposedly drinking that blood. That's a pretty offensive cartoon.
Let me put up...
AL-FAISAL: Can I ask where that was shown?
BLITZER: That was shown in a newspaper called Al-Youm on December 4th, 2005. Are you familiar with that newspaper?
AL-FAISAL: Yes, I'm familiar with the newspaper, not familiar with the cartoon.
BLITZER: All right, let me show you another one. This one is a Nazi swastika over the Star of David. Given the history of the Holocaust, clearly very offensive.
Let me put another one up there. This shows Orthodox, Hasidic Jew, basically manipulating terrorists, tying the kafiyah together, and it shows that hook nose, a very, a very ugly portrayal of a Jew.
And I'll show you one final one, and then we can talk about this. You see this sign, "born to kill," over the Star of David.
These are all in Saudi publications, Al-Watan, Al-Youm, and they go on and on and on, and it's a source of great concern. You understand that. AL-FAISAL: Well, of course, and I think they are offensive. And if I were in charge of the newspapers, I would not let that happen.
You have to take into account, though, that the issue of Palestine and the unresolved issue of Palestine is a generator of most of this feeling that we have in the Arab world, particularly towards Israel. And this is something that you, Wolf, have dealt with before and quite evenhandedly and quite open-mindedly. And the need for resolution of that problem, I think, will go a long way to meeting the requirements of things like that not happening.
BLITZER: Last week on this program we had one of the co-founders of Hamas, Mahmoud al-Zahar, who was on "Late Edition," and he referred to the two stripes on the Israeli flags, the blue stripes on top and the bottom of the Star of David, saying these represent the Nile River to the Euphrates River, and this is what Israel really seeks: an Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates. And that's why he rejects this, quote, "two-state solution," Israel living alongside a new state of Palestine, because he says the Israelis don't accept a two-state solution.
AL-FAISAL: I can't answer for what Mr. Zahar said or any of these people who think like that. But I do know that there is on the table in the Middle East a road map. There is Abdullah peace plan. There are commitments by the Palestinian Authority to both these peace issues, and any government that succeeds in the Palestinian Authority must deal with those realities.
BLITZER: Saudi Arabia accepts a two-state solution.
AL-FAISAL: We practically invented it with our peace plan that King Abdullah presented in 2002 to the Arab League, and he got the commitment of all Arab countries to Israel and Palestine living side by side with Israel withdrawing from Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem, in return for full recognition and normalization of relations between the Arabs -- all the Arabs states and Israel, including the Palestinian Authority. BLITZER; Is it your sense that all that is done with now, that Hamas apparently is going to lead the Palestinian Authority, be the dominant political player among the Palestinians? Is there -- in other words, is this the end of the road?
AL-FAISAL: I don't think so. I've always been an optimist and despite the realities on the ground, I think the people of Palestine -- if you will look at all of the surveys that have been made in the last few years, have always expressed their view that there should be a two-state solution.
And I think Hamas, when and if they take the helm in the next government in Palestine, will have to deal with that issue. It is not something that they can run away from.
Nor I think -- nor do I think that the Palestinian people will let them run away from things like that, things like electricity, water, transport, movement of people from one place to another, all have to do with dealing with Israeli occupation authorities. So that occupation must be dealt with as a reality and once the occupation is lifted, then the Palestinian people can form their state and the Israelis can continue from there.
BLITZER: Is it your government's position that you will continue to help fund the Palestinian Authority even if Hamas controls it? Because as you know, the U.S. government, the European Union say they're not going to give money to Hamas or the Palestinian Authority if the -- unless Hamas really changes its attitude, renounces terrorism and accepts Israel's right to exist.
AL-FAISAL: Well, let's not put the horse before the cart. Situation now is that the U.S. and the European union and the rest of the world are still supporting the Palestinian Authority. There is a transitory government now in place that runs things until the next government takes over, and we still don't know what the composition of the next government is. We will deal with the situation as it arises.
BLITZER: How much money does the Saudi government provide the Palestinians on an annual basis?
AL-FAISAL: We provide through the Arab League, I think something like $200 million, and through international organizations perhaps slightly more than that, through the United Nations and other relief organizations.
BLITZER: All right. So let me read to you from The Los Angeles Times from January 15th, "Millions of dollars continue to flow from wealthy Saudis through Saudi-based Islamic charitable and relief organizations to Al Qaida and other suspected terrorist groups abroad, aided by what the U.S. officials call Riyadh's failure to set up a government commission to police such groups as promised."
This is a sensitive subject that you're very much involved with. And a top U.S. treasury official undersecretary for terrorism financial crimes said this last year, "The challenges posed by terrorist financing from within Saudi Arabia are among the most serious we have faced. Even today we believe that private Saudi donors may be a significant source of terrorist funding, including for the insurgency in Iraq."
What's going on, because Saudi Arabia promised it was going to cut that off?
AL-FAISAL: And Saudi Arabia has implemented the cutoff. No single penny leaves Saudi Arabia today through any group or organization for any charitable or other activity at all. All the bank accounts of all charities in Saudi Arabia have been stopped from exporting any money anywhere. Regardless of the nonformation of this commission that is still in work in progress. We have invited people from your treasury department to come, although we have a standing committee there, as you know, with your treasury people looking over these issues. And just a couple of weeks ago Stuart Levy from your treasury department...
BLITZER: He's the man we quoted. AL-FAISAL: His quote was last here...
AL-FAISAL: But he -- just two weeks ago he visited the kingdom, and he looked at all of these measures that we have taken, and when I saw him in Riyadh, he told me that he was happy with the visit, that he would still have to review what he looked at. And we are going to get together to see what conclusions he has reached.
BLITZER: How did you...
We are -- Wolf, we are committed to the fight against terrorism in its global scale. We are a victim of Al Qaida. We are not the sponsor or the creator of Al Qaida.
So, some of the rhetoric that is used, as in that L.A. article, I think, is offensive to us. Here is a victim who is accused of putting the knife to his throat. I think that is unfair and that if they looked at the facts that perhaps they would change their mind.
BLITZER: Here's what the president said the other day. And I'm not going to play the sound bite. You've heard it many times, but basically, the president, in his State of the Union address said the United States is addicted to oil and this must stop.
A lot of that oil comes from your kingdom.
AL-FAISAL: Not true. Most of the oil you receive comes from other places.
BLITZER: But a lot comes from Saudi Arabia.
AL-FAISAL: We export to the United States only 15 percent of the United States' imports. I would hardly call that a lot.
BLITZER: So, how did you react when you heard the president say the United States must end its addiction to oil?
AL-FAISAL: Well, he went further than that, actually, and said "Middle East oil." I was taken aback and I raised this point with government officials.
BLITZER; You were sitting in the chamber when he said that.
AL-FAISAL: I was, indeed, and the next day had a very good meeting at the White House with National Security Council Director Stephen Hadley. And we are talking through that issue, both governments.
BLITZER: Well, what does that mean -- we're talking through that issue? Because, as you know, you're developing your oil fields assuming there's going to be an appetite for that oil?
AL-FAISAL: And stemming from a joint communique that came out of King Abdullah's visit to Texas last year in which both he and the president agreed on a joint energy policy that includes the increase in Saudi oil output and working together to increase refining capacity to provide oil products and so on.
It is something that is of serious concern to us because oil is our major income earner.
BLITZER: So, what happens now? You and Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser met. Where do you go from here?
AL-FAISAL: We're talking about these issues and that's where we're going.
BLITZER: We have to leave it right there, unfortunately. Mr. Ambassador, this was a good discussion. Welcome to Washington. Once again, you have a huge job ahead of you and we hope you'll be a frequent guest on our program.
AL-FAISAL: Thank you. Well, you told me I was going to talk about reform which you didn't leave me time to do that -- next time.
BLITZER: Next time, then. We always want to leave our viewers with more -- they'll want more. We'll definitely have you back.
AL-FAISAL: Thanks very much, Wolf.
BLITZER: Kind of you to come into our studio.
AL-FAISAL: Not at all.
BLITZER: And coming up, where is Osama bin Laden? We'll talk with the head of the combined forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry about why it's so difficult to track down the world's most wanted man.
Then, super security at one of America's biggest events, the Super Bowl. We'll go live to Detroit for a pre-game chat with the mayors of Seattle and Pittsburgh.
Plus, 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: Four years after U.S. troops helped topple the Taliban, the conflict in Afghanistan is far from over.
Earlier this week, I spoke with U.S. Army Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, the head of the combined forces command in Afghanistan. I started by asking him why it's so difficult to find two top terrorists in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri.
LT. GEN. KARL EIKENBERRY, U.S. ARMY: Let me say that the campaign in Afghanistan right now -- I'd classify how we're doing -- we're winning, we have not won the war yet, though.
And, if I could give you context to answer your question here to get at that, when we got hit in our homeland on September the 11th, remember that that attack came from Afghanistan.
That's where the planning took place and that's where the oversight of this war on terror was taken place from, from Afghanistan. And so, the president ordered us into action and ordered our nation into action.
We had two missions. The first was to defeat the Al Qaida network and to topple them from Taliban -- to topple them from their control of Afghanistan.
The second was to create the conditions so that the Taliban and international terrorism could not come back in.
With regard to that first mission, Wolf, we've made great progress. Taliban has been collapsed from their control of Afghanistan and we're making great progress right now in the attack on the Al Qaida network.
The second mission that we had to create the conditions so that international terrorism could not come back into Afghanistan -- we've made great progress there, as well.
If you look at where we were four and a half years ago from a terrorist-controlled state with no national institutions, with no social services, with complete denial of human rights, where are we today?
BLITZER: Well, what about this -- what we had thought, right after 9/11 was a priority -- and the points you make are excellent point, of course, but finding the guys who were directly responsible for killing 3,000 people here in the United States including Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban -- as far as I know he's still at large as well -- how important is it to your mission to find these guys, to capture them or to kill them?
EIKENBERRY: You know, Wolf, I was in the Pentagon when 9/11 occurred and so I have a personal connection as does our entire nation and a commitment against this war on terror.
If I could say, with regard to the terrorist network that we're up against, it is not about one man. This is an international global network with social connections, with financial connections and it has command and control connections throughout the entire globe.
BLITZER: Is it a priority for you? Do you wake up every morning and tell your staff, tell your commanding officers, what's the latest, what's going on, is he in Afghanistan, is he in Pakistan, is he along the border, is he someplace else? Is this a major part of the mission?
EIKENBERRY: The destruction of the network is our primary mission, Wolf, and, again, it's important to look at this as not about a man; it's about an entire network.
If I could, just very briefly, when you talk about a network, think about an electrical power grid system that's out there. If you cut one line, momentarily, the lights might drop and the power surges in another direction.
You take a transformer out, the system might start to dip, but it comes back on. We're attacking a global network and we're making huge progress right now in taking out leadership nodes and continuing on the attack. Now, with regard to bin Laden, is bin Laden important?
Yes, bin Laden's important because we will not rest and we will not stop until we either bring bin Laden to justice or we find and kill and capture bin Laden. Because bin Laden must be brought to justice for closure of the American people and for the international community.
BLITZER: The U.S. has, what, close to 20,000 troops in Afghanistan right now?
EIKENBERRY: We do, yes.
BLITZER: And you're commanding them. But in the next several months, NATO is going to take over responsibility for this key strategic location. A British general will be the overall commander of this operation.
EIKENBERRY: Lt. Gen. David Richards, yes.
BLITZER: Yeah. Some critics are wondering if this is so important, Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, finding these al Qaida operatives, why are we, the United States, handing over this mission to the NATO allies?
EIKENBERRY: This is a transition that's going on right now, Wolf. It's not about a lessening commitment of the United States. Several points about NATO. First of all, NATO consist of 26 great nations, of which the United States is one. This NATO mission, as it evolves, the United States will remain the largest contributing nation to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: But we won't be in charge. This will be a consensus. NATO operates -- as you know, all the members of NATO have to agree on something before they do it.
EIKENBERRY: We're very confident of NATO's capabilities. Wolf, they've been in Afghanistan for 2 1/2 years. This is just an enlargement of their mission. Again, we'll be the biggest contributor. But with regard to the counterterrorist mission, the United States will maintain in Afghanistan the same capabilities for us to act wherever needed in any way in order to strike the al Qaida network. We will maintain that unilateral capability.
BLITZER: So, in addition to the NATO operation, there will be a separate U.S. operation if necessary to go ahead and fight and find and kill these terrorists? EIKENBERRY: That's correct. We are keeping that counterterrorist capability, which we have, which is a very robust capability and that remains in place.
BLITZER: So the criticism that the U.S. is outsourcing the war on terrorism to NATO, to the European allies, if you will, is an unfair criticism?
EIKENBERRY: Absolutely unfair. The war on terror must be an international effort. It is an international effort. NATO is present in Afghanistan, and it's a strong coalition, with NATO moving forward, that's going to be very important in our success in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: Here are some statistics. We don't have a lot of time left. In 2005, 1,500 Afghans were killed in insurgent attacks and suicide bombings. More than 80 American troops were killed. The bloodiest year for U.S. forces since the invasion, back right after 9/11. Are things getting better militarily on the ground or are they getting worse?
EIKENBERRY: Things are getting better in Afghanistan in every dimension. If you look at it from the al Qaida or the Taliban perspective, 4 1/2 years ago you ruled in Afghanistan. Now you've been pushed out of Afghanistan. What does Afghanistan have? It's got a constitution, a democratically elected president, a democratically elected parliament. It has 30,000 of its own army. It's got a police that's moving forward.
If you're the enemy looking in, then you're going to be forced to go to more desperate tactics, and that's exactly what we're seeing. The enemy is resulting increasingly to atrocities. The Afghan people are confident of their future. They've decided to move forward with this democratic process, turning out in great numbers for a presidential election, for a parliamentary election, and we're very confident that things are going in the right direction right now.
BLITZER: General Eikenberry, good of you to come here in The Situation Room. I know you want to say something to your troops.
EIKENBERRY: I'd say two things if I could, Wolf. First of all, that with regard to this campaign in Afghanistan, what I would say that the only thing that can stop us from success is our loss of will. The Taliban commander was captured once, Wolf, and said that the Americans in the west, we have watches, they have time. We're having great success there right now. We need more patience.
The second thing I'd tell to the American people is they should be very proud of us. I know they are, and rest assured that the troops they have forward in Afghanistan right now, every day are moving forward and carrying the flag forward, are doing great things. They should rest well at night that we've got the best military ever that's fielded and it's on the offensive in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: That's good to hear that. General, thanks very much. Be careful over there. All your troops, thanks very much for the work you do. Thanks very much for joining us. EIKENBERRY: Wolf, thank you.
BLITZER: And up next, the quick check of what's in the news right now, including spreading Muslim protests over a cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed. Then, it's Super Sunday here in the United States. We'll go live to Detroit, site of Super Bowl XL, and talk with the mayors of Seattle and Pittsburgh. Much more coming up on "Late Edition."
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition."
We're just a few hours away from kickoff in Super Bowl XL in Detroit. The Super Bowl has morphed into a huge event over the past four decades.
And joining us now from Detroit, the mayors of the two cities represented in this year's big game: Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle and Mayor Bill O'Connor of Pittsburgh.
Mayors, thanks very much for joining us.
Before we get to your predictions, what's going to happen, let's talk a little bit about security concerns in this post-9/11 era. Mayor Nichols, first to you, what does it look like in terms of the security preparations that you've seen on the ground since you've gotten there?
MAYOR GREG NICKELS, SEATTLE: Yes, Wolf, we both had a joint appearance earlier this morning about 7:00 Detroit time, and we went through metal detectors. We had to show our I.D. and our credentials. So they've got it locked down pretty tight, and all the streets around Ford Field also are very much controlled.
BLITZER: Mayor O'Connor, have you seen anything like this before?
MAYOR BOB O'CONNOR, PITTSBURGH: No, nothing like this. I was at the All-Star Game, and this is actually more security. I went to the NFL Experience and had a great time, and like I say, I feel very comfortable.
BLITZER: Is this in part, Mayor Nickels, because Detroit is on the border with Canada, and the Canadian authorities have to be involved in security preparations, as well?
NICKELS: We're not...
I don't believe they have been because there's plenty of police here. We're having a little bit of audio problem here...
BLITZER: Can you hear me now?
NICKELS: ... But I didn't see any Canadian security. BLITZER: Mayor Nickels, can you hear me?
NICKELS: I can. I can hear you briefly.
BLITZER: We'll try to fix that for both of you. Let me bring in Mayor O'Connor, can you hear me O.K. now?
O'CONNOR: Very few -- it's hard but go ahead.
BLITZER: You know what I'm going to do, I'm going to take a little commercial break. We'll fix your audio, we'll come back, and we'll continue this conversation. The mayors of the Super Bowl cities standing by. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Let's go back to Detroit. Super Bowl XL, about to get under way in a few hours. Joining us once again, the mayors of Seattle and Pittsburgh, the two teams.
Mayor Nickels of Seattle, why is this game so important to your community?
NICKELS: Well, Seattle has had our professional football team for 30 years now, and it's our first trip to the Super Bowl, so it's a new experience for us. We're enjoying the moment. It's a great opportunity for our community to come together in a way that we just haven't had a chance to in the past.
BLITZER: What about Pittsburgh, Mayor O'Connor?
O'CONNOR: It's been 26 years since we won a Super Bowl, and we like those Super Bowls. We want one for the thumb. But as Mayor Nickels said, it really brings the enthusiasm out, the pride in our city and our community, and we've gotten national exposure that we could have never paid for, so we're very, very excited as a community about our Steelers and about Pittsburgh.
BLITZER: Mayor Nickels, what's at stake really here for Seattle? Seattle -- a lot of people never thought Seattle was going to make it into the Super Bowl this year, so if you lose, it's still a win in terms of even making it to the Super Bowl.
NICKELS: Oh, it's true. We've got our memories, as does Pittsburgh. In 1917 the Seattle Metropolitans were the first U.S. hockey team to win the Stanley Cup. But they're sort of few and far between. It's a chance for community pride. It's a real chance for people to hug strangers one day out of the year and it's O.K. It's a great feeling in the city.
BLITZER: What about in Pittsburgh? A lot of people in Pittsburgh, Mr. Mayor, are going to be really, really depressed if you don't win. O'CONNOR: Well, we're not going to let that happen. But we have about 100,000 Pittsburghers here. Actually, I proclaimed Detroit the 89th neighborhood of Pittsburgh because actually we're only 4 1/2 hours away, and a lot of people came up just to have a good time even if they can't go to the game, they're going to watch it in bars and restaurants and parties.
BLITZER: We know there used to be a lot of steel mills in Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas. Are there still a lot of steel mills in Pittsburgh?
O'CONNOR: No, we're not too many left unfortunately. Manufacturing has kind of gone away. We have some manufacturing but we're really into high-tech. Medicine is very good. Our universities and hospitals are really where the employment is now...
O'CONNOR: ... We've really changed our city. It's much cleaner.
BLITZER: You like the name Steelers, though, is that right?
O'CONNOR: Oh, yes, we're still -- we want to keep those Steelers alive. We're still the steel city, we're a tough group of people, and we're very loyal, so I think this is a remarkable contribution to the Rooney family. When you think bit we've only had two coaches in 35 years, so we're very loyal people. We're loyal to the Steelers, and we hope to take home a victory after today.
BLITZER: All right, have you guys made a little wager on the side over this game? Mayor Nickels, let me start with you.
NICKELS: Yes, we've got a little bet on the line. I offered some Starbucks coffee, some salmon, which I hope this time next week will be happily swimming in Puget Sound and some great Washington wine along with some things from our restaurants.
BLITZER: In case you lose. What about Pittsburgh, what does Pittsburgh have to bet, Mr. Mayor?
O'CONNOR: We have about 25 restaurants that are all calling in. We have a "Taste of Pittsburgh," we're calling it. Similar to our tailgate parties, we were kind of the first city to start those, and we're known for our tailgate party so we'll let the mayor have a good celebration after our victory with a lot of tailgate good food in Pittsburgh.
BLITZER: Let me give you my Super Bowl prediction, and then I'll let you give us yours, and we'll see who's close or who's right, who's wrong.
My prediction: Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 17.
What do you think about that prediction? I know what the mayor of Pittsburgh thinks but let's get the mayor of Seattle.
NICKELS: Well, Wolf, I think we're going to win this thing. I got to watch the team play the Redskins when Shaun Alexander was hurt.
They dug deep and they won that game. Then he came back and they walloped the Carolina Panthers. I think the Steelers have a long afternoon in front of them -- 31-24.
BLITZER; 31-24? All right. You've heard it here. We have it on videotape right now.
What about you, Mayor O'Connor?
O'CONNOR: Wolf, we're -- a great minds think alike. I'm 28-17. And the Steelers are going to come out throwing, running, great defense. This is the Bus's home town, you know, if you don't realize it.
Mrs. Bettis is going to be cooking dinner for me tomorrow night after the victory.
BLITZER: OK, guys. Good luck to both of you. Congratulations to Seattle and to Pittsburgh. I have to tell you both, as someone originally from Buffalo, New York, I've been with you on four Super Bowls in a row. Unfortunately, we lost all four of those games. So, I know what one of you is going to be going through later today.
Thanks to both of you. Good luck to both teams.
O'CONNOR: Thanks a lot.
BLITZER: Up next, the results of our web question of the week: Which team will win Super Bowl XL, the Seattle Seahawks or the Pittsburgh Steelers? "Late Edition" will be right back. But first this.
BLITZER (voice over): Coretta Scott King: what's her story? Funeral arrangements are now under way in Atlanta for the civil rights icon who died last Tuesday of complications from a stroke and ovarian cancer.
The wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is being hailed as a leader in her own right, earning praise for her grace and intelligence throughout the civil rights movement and her tireless efforts to preserve her late husband's legacy.
During Tuesday's State of the Union address, President Bush called her a beloved, graceful, courageous woman who carried on a noble dream.
Her funeral is expected to draw thousands of mourners from around the world.
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, the deputy director of national intelligence, General Michael Hayden, defended the Bush administration's controversial domestic spy program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: This is focused on Al Qaida. The only justification we have is, to undertake this program, is to detect and prevent attacks against the United States. We don't have the time or the lawful authority to do anything except that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On NBC's "Meet the Press," the new House Majority Leader John Boehner discussed job ahead for him and the Republican party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MAJORITY LEADER: I think that we need to restore our -- the trust between the Congress and the American people. And, clearly, for Republicans, I think we need to get back on offense and deal with the big issues the American people sent us here to deal with.
And, to the extent that they see us dealing with the anxieties that they're feeling in their own lives, if they see us dealing with those issues over the course of this year, I think we'll be fine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And on ABC's "This Week," Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman speculated on Senator Hillary Clinton's chances if she becomes the Democrats' 2008 presidential nominee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEN MEHLMAN, RNC CHAIRMAN: There's a lot of talk about a new Hillary Clinton, but if you look at the record, it's a very left-wing record; it's a record where most Americans, I don't think, think reflects their values...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER; Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
Our "Late Edition" web question asks: Which team will win Super Bowl XL? Here's how you voted. It's close; 48 percent of you said the Seattle Seahawks; 52 percent said the Pittsburgh Steelers. Remember, though, this is not a scientific poll.
Let's take a close look on what's the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States.
Newsweek asks, "How dangerous is Iran?"
U.S. news and World Report looks at the spies wanted by the CIA.
And Time Magazine explores whether America is flunking science.
That's your "Late Edition" for Sunday, February 5. Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
I'm in the "Situation Room" Monday through Friday 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. 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