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Interview With Condoleezza Rice; Interview With Qubad Talabany

Aired March 26, 2006 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11 a.m. in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4 p.m. in London and 7 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 my interview with Secretary Rice in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

BLITZER: With a backdrop of insurgency and sectarian violence that shows no signs of dying down, and anxiety about Iraq very high here in the United States, President Bush is calling for patience and confidence about Iraq's future, and the U.S. mission there. Just a short while ago here in Washington, I spoke with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and lots more.


BLITZER: Madam Secretary, welcome back to Late Edition.


BLITZER: Let's talk about Afghanistan for a moment. Abdul Rahman, this Muslim man, he converted years ago to Christianity. He's now potentially facing the death sentence in Afghanistan because of that. Is that why the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan, so this kind of situation could develop?

RICE: Well, we've been very clear with the Afghan government that it has to understand the vital importance of religious freedom to democracy. We have religious freedom as a cornerstone in the United States of our democracy, and it is a cornerstone anyplace, religious conscience. In fact, the Afghans themselves in their own constitution have enshrined, through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a right to individual conscience and freedom, religious freedom.

And so, we're working with the Afghan government. We've made clear that we expect to see a favorable resolution of this. I've talked myself to President Karzai, and I think the Afghan government is working on this problem.

BLITZER: Even as we speak right now, there are reports he might be released. He might be declared insane, not capable of withstanding a trial. What's the latest information you have from the government of Afghanistan? RICE: Well, I've seen reports, Wolf, but I'm really working from largely press reports, too, that they may dismiss the case for reasons having to do with the judicial nature of the case. We have to understand -- and we do want a favorable resolution of this. Mr. Rahman should not face these charges. There should be a resolution of this case. But this is also a young democracy, and we have to recognize that, unlike the Taliban, it actually has a constitution to which one can appeal about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We as Americans know that in democracy, as it evolves, there are difficult issues about state and church, or in this case, state and mosque. But there are difficult issues about the rights of the individual.

And so we expect that, given our own history, that we would know that Afghans are going to have to go through this evolution. But we're going to stand firm for the principle that religious freedom and freedom of religious conscience need to be upheld, and we are hoping for a favorable resolution in this case very soon.

BLITZER: You've referred now to the Afghan constitution. Let me read what Article Three of the Afghan constitution says: "In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam." That would be Sharia, the Islamic law. That raises the question whether or not Sharia trumps the, all the other provisions of that constitution.

RICE: Well, the constitution also says that people should have certain individual rights, including freedom of conscience on issues of this kind. There are undoubtedly, as Afghan democracy evolves, there are going to be cases, there are going to be debates. They are going to have to go through a period of coming to terms with one of the most difficult and emotional issues that any society deals with. And that's the relationship between religion and politics.

We've been through the debate. We go through it still today. Other countries went through it in a much more violent way, democratic countries, earlier in their histories. But we need to stay focused on how much progress Afghanistan has made in four years that you don't have a Taliban, where it isn't even permitted to talk about these issues.

BLITZER: It's probably no coincidence that the same provision that's in the Afghan constitution is in the Iraqi constitution, probably because Zalmay Khalilzad helped draft the Afghan constitution, and he also worked with the Iraqis on the Iraqi constitution, which Article Two states, "No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established."

Here's the question: Could you envisage the same kind of situation developing in Iraq, whereby a Muslim man converts to Christianity and faces the death sentence in Iraq because of Sharia law?

RICE: Well, first of all, this clause or a clause like this is not unique to the Iraq and Afghan constitutions. And so I wouldn't say that just because Zal Khalilzad was involved in both. All of these countries are trying to come to terms with the laws of Islam and the laws of modern democracy, if you will, having to do with individual liberty and individual conscience.

It's happening, and it's going to happen, across the Middle East. We should be fortunate and be pleased that these debates are taking place, and that they're taking place in a constitutional context.

Iraq is a very different place. Iraq, in fact, has practicing Christian populations, and has had those practicing Christian populations for a long time. It's a much different mix of people and traditions.

But I want to go back to what the United States will continue to stand for, and that is that religious freedom is the bedrock of democracy. We will, as we do around the world, continue to press that case with our allies like Afghanistan and like Iraq. We need to understand that...

BLITZER: Let me -- excuse me for interrupting.

RICE: Yes.

BLITZER: In Saudi Arabia, you can't be a Christian, either.

RICE: We are going to continue to press what we believe needs to be a principle that is universal, that people have the right to religious conscience.

But again, Wolf, these are evolutionary democracies. They're democracies in transition. Let me just remind everyone that, in my lifetime, we were still trying to get to the place where the vote was assured, even though it was enshrined in the Constitution, that the vote was really assured for American blacks in the South. And so we should be humbled about what it takes to evolve to a completely functioning democracy.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Iraq, specifically the formation of a government of national unity. Is that happening?

RICE: The Iraqis are working on a government of national unity. They're doing it, to be totally -- more slowly than we would hope. And we've pressed that they need to expedite because of the potential for a political vacuum.

But if you look at what they're doing, they are not, as I've sometimes read, dividing the spoils of who's going to get what job. They are very involved in trying to deal with some of the most sensitive and existential issues for the new Iraq as they begin to put together a program by which the national government, the government of national unity, would actually govern.

They're putting together the rules of how they will govern, how they'll relate to each other and to different institutions. And they are going to be selecting people for particular slots. But this is the first time that Shia, Sunnis and Kurds have really had a chance to sit down and talk to each other about these very difficult issues. BLITZER: Do you want someone other than Ibrahim al-Jaafari to be the prime minister?

RICE: This is something that the Iraqis have got to determine. They have got to determine whether or not it is possible to achieve a government of national unity with that particular candidate.

The Shia do not have enough votes to govern on their own. And so they have to bring into coalition others from -- who won in the electoral process. That is what they're doing, and I think they're doing a remarkable job.

Were it not for the overhang of violence, it would not be in the least bit surprising that it is taking them some time to do it. The only reason that people are pressing them to get it done more quickly is that there is a violent insurgency that might try to take advantage of the period of time in which there isn't a government.

BLITZER: Here's what Republican Senator Chuck Hagel said a week ago today, Republican senator from Nebraska: "Are we better off today than we were three years ago? Is the Middle East more stable than it was three years ago? Absolutely not. It's more unstable."

RICE: Well, the question is not just is it unstable but is it moving in a better direction than it was when it was supposedly stable?

We thought it was stable for 60 years. And those authoritarian governments on which we counted for stability ended up producing an ideology of hatred or allowing an ideology of hatred so great to form and form terrorist groups that people flew planes into our buildings on September 11.

BLITZER: Are you referring to Saudi Arabia?

RICE: I'm talking about the entire Middle East. If you look at Al Qaida, you will find names from many of the governments in...

BLITZER: Well, 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.

RICE: Well, you'll also find that there are names from many other countries in the region.

So the authoritarianism that we associated with stability was, indeed, a false stability. Sixty years of that policy produced not just September 11 but the Cole and the bombings of our embassies, going all the way, really, frankly, back to the bombings of the '80s, the terrorist attacks of the '80s. So when people say, is it more stable today, I think the question is not "stable." The question is, are we moving in a direction in which Kuwaiti women now have the right to vote, in which Syrian forces are out of Lebanon and they are going to be able to work democratically, in which Yasser Arafat's corrupt regime is, indeed, gone? And yes, that's produced a difficult circumstance with Hamas, but Palestinians have had the chance, the right to speak their minds about who will govern them.

The point, Wolf, is that we had a false stability. It is not as if we disturbed a placid and functioning Middle East...

BLITZER: I just want to press you on this point.

RICE: ... in which our security interests were not at risk.

BLITZER: Did Saddam Hussein and his regime have anything to do with 9/11?

RICE: Saddam Hussein, and we have said this many times, as far as we know, did not order September 11, may not have even known of September 11. But that's a very narrow definition of what caused September 11.

If you think that what caused September 11 was that the people who flew airplanes in caused September 11, then no, Iraq has no relationship.

But if you think that this was a broader problem of an ideology of hatred, of terrorism becoming an acceptable means in places where there was a freedom deficit and where there was no possibility for legitimate political discourse, then you realize that you have to have a different kind of Middle East.

And a different kind of Middle East with Saddam Hussein at the middle of it is unthinkable.

BLITZER: Our recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll asks this question: "Was the situation in Iraq worth going to war over?"

Only 37 percent of the American public said yes. That's way down from the 60s, 70s, 80 percent three years ago.

RICE: I understand that the American people see on their screens violence. I understand that the American people are concerned, as are we, by the loss of life of Americans, coalition and Iraqis.

But I would not count on a poll to try and determine how the future of the Middle East is going to turn out when there is an Iraq with a national unity government and an Iraq that can form a different core for a different kind of Middle East. You can't measure that in a poll.

I think it's fair to say, Wolf, that if you look at any big historical change in the world, it has been turbulent and it's been difficult. And there have been times when it looked as if it was not going well or as planned.

But you have to step back and ask what was the alternative? Was the alternative really to leave a Middle East with authoritarian, repressive governments, with a Saddam Hussein who threatened his neighbors and threatened our interests or did you have to act? And this president believed it was time to act.

BLITZER: I'll have more of my interview with the secretary of state. I'll ask her about life after the Bush administration. Is a run for political office in her future plans?

Then, assessing the battle blueprint for U.S. and Iraqi forces: We'll get insight from two former top U.S. military commanders.

And is this the year to set a deadline for the start of the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq? We'll hear from two key members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican Pat Roberts and Democrat Jack Reed.

"Late Edition" continues after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I spoke with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just a short while ago. Here's part two of that interview.

BLITZER: Is there evidence that the Iranian government is supporting the largely Sunni-led insurgency in Iraq?

RICE: We are concerned about reports and activities that we see of Iranians, particularly in the South, with militias.

And one of the subjects that we would, of course, talk with the Iranians about if Zal Khalilzad meets with his counterpart would be, about this kind of security problem. Zal has had these authorities for a long time.

BLITZER: To talk to Iranians?

RICE: On these very specific issues concerning Iraq. He had the authorities in Afghanistan to talk with the Iranians about security issues in Afghanistan.

And Ron Newman, by the way, our new ambassador to Afghanistan, continues to have those authorities. So that is the, kind of, nature of the issue that would be addressed.

BLITZER: Has either one of those ambassadors met with Iranians?

RICE: Well, there has -- Ron Newman has met with his counterpart. Zal's met with his counterpart.

BLITZER: When did these -- when did that happen?

RICE: It was several months ago, but we will see when it is desirable to do so again.

BLITZER: Because I think you're making some news. There have been direct contacts ...

RICE: There were... BLITZER: ... between United States officials and Iranian officials...

RICE: No, let's not say officials. I want to be very clear. No, I want to be very clear.

BLITZER: Is the Iranian ambassador in Afghanistan an official?

RICE: You're using an "s," a plural.

BLITZER: All right.

RICE: The ambassador in Afghanistan has the authority to meet with the ambassador from Iran in Afghanistan. And I believe he has done that on one occasion. The ambassador in Iraq, Zal Khalilzad, has the authority, and has had for some time, to meet with his counterpart in Iraq. When we are that close to...

BLITZER: He has met?

RICE: They have not...

BLITZER: Khalilzad?

RICE: They have not had that meeting. When it is that -- when we are that close to the Iranian border and when we have concerns, we have found it useful to have these narrow and limited discussions about Iraq or about Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, they also take place under the auspices of the U.N., which was the case when Ron Newman met with his counterpart.

BLITZER: Is there evidence that the government of Iran is supporting or harboring al Qaida operatives in Iran? RICE: Well, again, we've had concerns, and we've made them known to the Iranians through various channels, that there are, in fact, or may be Afghan -- or may be al Qaida in Iran. And we've made clear to them that we would expect to have those people handed over. We don't know the extent of it, but yes, there are reasons for concern on that score.

BLITZER: What about the Russian role right now in getting a U.N. Security Council resolution that would threaten Iran and its nuclear program? Right now, there seems to be a disconnect between the U.S. position on the one hand and the Russian position on the other.

RICE: The United States and Russia -- and the Europeans, by the way -- and let me remind everyone that it's the United States and the Europeans who are doing this together. So it's not correct to say the United States and the Russians.

The United States and Europe are with Russia in agreement that Iran needs to do what was required of it in the IAEA -- the International Atomic Energy Agency's -- resolution of February 4. That resolution said that Iran needed to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities and return to negotiations, and cooperate fully with the IAEA. We have complete agreement on that. In fact, the Russians voted for that resolution. Now, the question is, what tactics do we use, now that we're in the Security Council, to get the Iranians to come to terms with what they must do. On that, we have had some differences, and Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and I spoke on Friday. We agreed that our people would get together this weekend, and continue those efforts to bridge that difference.

But we shouldn't delay. We do need a presidential statement that makes clear to the Iranians what is clear to everyone. Everyone is in agreement on what they need to do, but we do have some tactical disagreements about language.

BLITZER: Did Russians have a mole inside the U.S. military Central Command on the eve of the war three years ago providing information about U.S. military troop movements in Iraq directly to Saddam Hussein's government?

RICE: Well, I have obviously seen the reports as well, and I -- we're going to take a good, hard look at the documentation. We certainly will raise it with the Russian government, and any implication that the -- that there were those from a foreign government who may have been passing information to the Iraqis prior to the invasion would be, of course, very worrying. And we will talk to the Russians. I would think the Russians would want to take that very seriously as well.

BLITZER: But you haven't raised that with the Russians yet?

RICE: We're going to take a good, hard look at the documentation and understand a little bit better what's there, and then we'll raise it. BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but a few other issues I just want to go through very quickly. The Israeli elections happening this coming Tuesday. Ehud Olmert, the acting prime minister, widely expected to be elected the next prime minister of Israel, says that he's going to seek U.S. approval for future Israeli unilateral steps, withdrawal steps, disengagement steps from the West Bank, removing some of the settlements in the isolated parts of the West Bank. Is that something that the U.S. would support?

RICE: Well, first of all, the Israelis will have their elections, and that's a matter for the Israelis. Once that is done, we will of course engage with the Israeli government in discussions about how we move forward. I would note that the unilateral withdrawal, disengagement from Gaza ended up turning over to the Palestinians territories for the first time in the 30-some years of this conflict, and that was a good thing.

We will see what the Israeli government has in mind, but I think it's premature to make any judgment about what that might be.

BLITZER: The president meets this week with the leaders of Canada and Mexico. Immigration, illegal immigration in the United States, a big issue. The House passed legislation which would make it a felony for an illegal immigrant in the United States simply to be here. Is that something the Bush administration supports? RICE: The president has very clearly stated the principles on which we would work to try and get a more humane and effective immigration law, and those principles include that we really must, of course, defend our border, and we've put a lot of money into border security. The State Department has enhanced its request for border security. We are obviously determined that U.S. laws should be enforced.

It's also the case that we have a population here that needs to be treated humanely. No matter how they came here, I think Americans want to think that people would be treated humanely, and the president has talked about a temporary worker program that would allow people to -- who have work that Americans will not do, to find a way to be legally in the country.

But the president is always going to stand against amnesty, and the reason that he stands against amnesty is because our laws do need to be respected, our borders do need to be respected.

And one of the points that I made, Wolf, to the Mexican government when they were here -- I'd met with my counterpart, Foreign Minister Derbez, and Mike Chertoff met with his counterpart -- is that we need the Mexican government and expect the Mexican government also to recognize the importance of defense of the borders and of American laws, and we were assured by our counterparts that Mexico understands its responsibilities, our shared responsibility for safety and security at the border, and also for humane treatment of people, whoever they are.

BLITZER: We are all out of time, but I have to ask you about the NFL, your passion. This is what you told Ebony magazine, July 26th, 2005. "If that job comes open, I'm gone."

RICE: Oh, well...

BLITZER: That job has come open.

RICE: A little too soon, I'm afraid. As I was saying earlier, you know, I'm going to have to let this ship pass, if they'd have me. But the fact is, I'm secretary of state. I love being secretary of state, and there's always a next time on other jobs.

BLITZER: Well, speaking of other jobs, the first lady told our Larry King Friday she would love you to run for president of the United States in 2008. Listen to this little clip from Laura Bush.


LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: She'd make an excellent president, but I don't think we can talk her into running.


BLITZER: Can she talk you into running?

RICE: The second part of that's right. BLITZER: Why not?

RICE: Well, Wolf, I know what I want to do with my life, and I know what my strengths are. And I have enormous respect for people who run for office, but I love being secretary of state. I think I'm fortunate to be here at a time that is consequential, and hopefully we will make some progress on some of these very important issues while I'm here. But I know what I want to do, and I'm going to be back at Stanford, and who knows, maybe there will be other great jobs, like the NFL job.

BLITZER: You're still a very young woman.

RICE: Still young, but I know what I -- well, thanks, I appreciate that.


BLITZER: Thank you very much for joining us, Madam Secretary, and good luck to you.

RICE: Thank you.


BLITZER: Ahead, Iraqi troops. How prepared are they to protect their country? We're going to get assessments from the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, General George Joulwan and retired U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor. He's the co-author of an important new book, "Cobra II." But up next, we'll have a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest in the case against Abdul Rahman, the Afghan man on trial for converting from Islam to Christianity. Stay with "Late Edition."



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I didn't believe we could succeed, I wouldn't be there. I wouldn't put those kids there. It's -- I meet with too many families who's lost a loved one to not be able to look them in the eye and say we're doing the right thing. And we are doing the right thing.


BLITZER; President Bush, this week, defending his Iraq war policy. Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

The rise of sectarian violence, in addition to the insurgency, posing an even more dangerous mix for U.S. and Iraqi troops right now.

And joining us now with some special insight, two guests, the former NATO supreme allied commander, retired General George Joulwan and the retired U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor. He's also the co-author, with Michael Gordon, of a new and important book, "Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq."

Gentlemen, welcome back to "Late Edition." Thanks to both of you for joining us. Listen to what Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey, who's training Iraqi forces in Iraq right now, said on Friday. Listen to this.


LT. GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, U.S. COMMANDER, IRAQI FORCES: We're really equipping them at a very aggressive rate in order to put them in position to restore civil security by the end of the year.


BLITZER: I don't know if you know General Dempsey, but that seems to be pretty ambitious, by the end of this year, to have civil security under the control of Iraqi forces.

JOULWAN: Well, first of all, I do know Marty Dempsey. He used to work for me. He's a very good officer. I think what we're going to see here is that this training of Iraqis, both their police and military, is progressing. Is it progressing at the pace needed? I'm not sure.

I'm not sure that by the end of the year you'll have sufficient forces in order to provide the secure environment that's going to be required.

BLITZER: Is that an overly ambitious agenda he has for himself, General Dempsey?

GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR (RET.), CO-AUTHOR, "COBRA II": Well, you try to set the goal pretty high and strive for it. You know, you have to consider what's the alternative. If the Iraqi military forces don't step up to the requirement, then we're in terrible trouble.

BLITZER: The alternative is the U.S. has to do it.

TRAINOR: Well, if the U.S. has to do it, then that's just going to exacerbate the situation.

This is an Iraqi problem that has to be solved by the Iraqis, both politically in terms of the security and by the Iraqi politicians in coming together with some sort of a national unity government.

But in terms of training the security forces, we've got to push that as hard as we possibly can. We've learned a lot of lessons. We've wasted a lot of time. But I think we're on the correct track now. Time-wise I can't put a level on that.

BLITZER: What I hear, General Trainor say, General Joulwan, is that there's really only a political solution to this. Militarily, there's not necessarily a solution. GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN, FORMER NATO ALLIED SUPREME COMMANDER: Exactly. And I think it's the political solution that we need to concentrate on now. And part of that political is training of military and police forces.

That is, to me, the requirement that needs to take place -- and providing a secure environment for all of those other agencies that make democracy work.

Without that secure environment, it makes it very, very difficult for these aid agencies and international agencies to operate. And right now, it's very difficult to get that secure environment in Iraq.

BLITZER: General Trainor, listen to what General George Casey, who is the overall U.S. coalition commander in Iraq, told me here on "Late Edition" last Sunday. Listen to this.


GEN. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. COMMANDER IN IRAQ: With an assumption that the political process continues on the track that it's on and we continue to have the success that we're having with the development of the Iraqi security forces, I would expect that process of gradual coalition reductions to continue through 2006 and 2007.


BLITZER: Is that overly ambitious, too, a continued reduction in the face of the insurgency, the sectarian violence -- some say, already, civil war -- for the U.S. to start significantly withdrawing forces?

TRAINOR: Well, that certainly the hope because nobody likes their country to be occupied by foreigners.

The big danger with the military forces and the police is that they'll break apart in, kind of, a sectarian mode. And if that happens -- and there's pressure from the fringes of both the Sunni side and the Shia side to do that sort of thing -- then that is the danger of an evolving civil war, that then they would clash.

But if you can hold the center and the security forces, both the military and the police, give their allegiance to some form of central government, then the dangers of civil war, I think, are diminished and the ability for us to withdraw into the background and lower our force levels, I think is very realistic.

BLITZER: Because you raised this issue, which some say is already a serious issue. Let me bring Gen. Joulwan in. These militias that are not necessarily part of the regular Iraqi national army. The Shiite militias, the Kurdish militias, that they are very powerful, and their loyalty is to their own ethnic group as opposed to a bigger loyalty to Iraq.

JOULWAN: Exactly. And that should have been one of our first missions after the fall of Baghdad was to disarm and demobilize these militias. We didn't do it. And now they pose, I think, one of the greater risks that we have in Iraq.

But if you back to Beirut in 1983, where we had these confessional brigades. What happened in those brigades, that they split on religious boundaries, and that's what really caused a great problem. You can learn from what occurred there in what we're trying to do now in Iraq.

BLITZER: Well, are you suggesting, because you know the subject well, that Iraq could fall into the kind of sectarian civil war that we saw in Lebanon?

JOULWAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: If that happens, then all bets are off?

TRAINOR: Oh, I agree. That is the danger. I think what they're trying very hard to do is to get these militias to meld into a central military force and not split into confessional lines, because if they do, and then you are going to face civil war.

One of the encouraging things, after the Golden Dome massacres in Samarra, was that the politicians and the clerics, most importantly, the clerics, cautioned forbearance and patience. And that, I think, is a good sign that what happened there...

BLITZER: General, do you see any signs at all that anyone is trying to disband these militias?

TRAINOR: I'm not privy to the sort of intelligence which would give an indication of that, but I think everybody is aware that, you know, you can't ignore the in militias. What you have to do is try to, if I can use the term, to co-opt them.

JOULWAN: I think one of the challenges, Wolf, is that what we need to do is take a little broader, five- to ten-year look. I know we all want to talk to an '06 or an '08. But I think you need to have a five- or ten-year plan with clear milestones for the Iraqis here.

And you need to be up front and direct with them of what needs to be accomplished, because if you don't have some sort of milestones or some sort of objectives, then the idea is they think we're going to be there for a long time.

BLITZER: Well, the first milestone is to get a government of national unity in place, which they, so far, since December, have been unable to do.

JOULWAN: But I think that we need to get the timetable here, capture the timetable, and start moving on that timetable, in my opinion.

BLITZER: All right, Generals, I'm going to have both of you stand by because we have much more to discuss. We'll take a quick break. More with our guests, generals Joulwan and Trainor, about the overall U.S. military mission in Iraq. And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his future, all that coming up. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're talking about the challenges facing U.S. and Iraqi troops in Iraq with the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, retired General George Joulwan, and retired U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor, the co- author of "Cobra II," a hot new bestseller on the war in Iraq.

Here's what I don't understand, and maybe you guys can explain it to me. General Joulwan, I'll start with you. In terms of Iraqi forces, the more they get up to par, the more the U.S. can think about withdrawing.

A few months ago, they had what they said three Iraqi battalions at this level one, which is ready to operate without any U.S. support. That has now gone down to zero Iraqi battalions at level one.

They've got 53 at level two and 45 at level three which clearly need U.S. support. It seems to be moving in the wrong direction, at least as far as combat battalions ready to operate on their own.

JOULWAN: That also says there's some honesty in the reporting. I think you have to be brutally honest here. When you're going to put the Iraqi units alone in the field, I think it's going to take time. That's why I talk about a five or ten-year plan. You just can't say we've stood a unit up and then therefore it's ready to fight.

It's a different culture, it's a different discipline than we're used to. It's going to take time. And I think you have to integrate them in with U.S. and coalition forces first, and then slowly, slowly wean them away from that.

BLITZER: So you were not surprised when the president sort of inadvertently acknowledged in his news conference this week that U.S. forces are going to be in Iraq for some time to come, and future presidents, in his words, would have to make a decision when to withdraw.

TRAINOR: Oh, I don't think there's any question of that. We may reduce the combat forces considerably as the Iraqis come up on the step. But in terms of support, intelligence, logistics, strategic lift and that sort of thing, we're going to be there a very, very long time.

But in terms of their ability, I don't think we should do much on the business of the metrics, you know, whether you raise the bridge or lower the river. The fact is, your metrics and your standards are going to constantly change because it's a dynamic situation. And the rules and the yardstick that you apply today may not apply in the same way tomorrow because new characteristics come in. So it's a flexible sort of situation. But we're making progress.

BLITZER: Rumsfeld caused some stir last week when he wrote in The Washington Post these words: "If we retreat now, there's every reason to believe Saddamists and terrorist also fill the vacuum, and the free world might not have the will to face them again. Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis."

He was criticized for making that analogy. Do you understand what he was trying to say?

JOULWAN: I don't think I -- I understand fully what he was trying to say, but I think it's very important here that what has to happen is integration in this society of all the different ethnic groups, and I think that we made a mistake in not integrating the Iraqi army early into this, into the government, and into the armed forces, in my opinion. And I think the Sunnis and the Shias and the Kurds really need to come together now, and we ought to be trying to build internal unity, not disunity.

BLITZER: Major General Paul Eaton, retired, wrote in The New York Times, he said: "In sum, he has shown himself incompetent," referring to Rumsfeld, "strategically, operationally and tactically and is far more than anyone else responsible for what has happened to our important mission in Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld must step down."

In your book, "Cobra II," you write this, together with Michael Gordon, your co-author: "In their own way, Rumsfeld and the U.S. administrator, Paul Bremer, each contributed to the security problem. Rumsfeld limited the number of American troops in Iraq, and Bremer limited the number of Iraqi forces that were immediately available. The two decisions combined to produce a much larger security vacuum."

Question. Based on all of the research you did with Michael Gordon in writing this book, how much responsibility does Rumsfeld have for the mistakes that were made?

TRAINOR: Well, I don't know that you could put a figure on something like that. What we did was relate the information that came through when we did our research, which was exhaustive.

TRAINOR: And there were a lot of poor assumptions made. There were a lot of poor judgments made. And there was very little flexibility in correcting them when they did happen.

So in that sense, the consequences have to be borne by the people that made those decisions.

BLITZER: Do you know retired Major General Eaton?

TRAINOR: No, I don't.

BLITZER: Do you know him?


BLITZER: Because he was on this program about a month ago. He feels passionately that Rumsfeld should resign, given the blunders that were made.

And I'll ask both of you to just comment on that. General?

JOULWAN: Well, I think there has to be accountability here. You not only have political control of the military, you have political responsibility for the military. And that includes accountability by both military and civilian leaders.

And I think accountability is very important here. And I'm not going to get into whether a secretary of defense should resign or not. But accepting accountability for what occurs is important in our chain of command.

BLITZER: General Trainor?

TRAINOR: Well, the record is out there. But it's really up to the president to select his cabinet members. And he has selected Rumsfeld as his secretary of defense and stands by him.

And I think that's really, in a sense, the end of the decision- making process. He has made the decision.

BLITZER: Here's another quote from the book, "Cobra II." "The American war plan was never adjusted on high. General Tommy Franks, who was the overall commander, never acknowledged the enemy he faced nor did he comprehend the nature of the war he was directing.

He denigrated the Fedayeen as little more than a speed bump on the way to Baghdad and never appreciated their resilience and determination."

I read carefully your book. So many of the problems the U.S. military is currently facing in Iraq were clear, were evident, were foreseen, but people decided not to pay attention to them.

TRAINOR: There was a grand canyon between the field commanders and the central command and the administration, particularly the secretary of defense.

BLITZER: It seems as if there was wishful thinking more than there was, you know, listening to the commanders on the ground. But General, you've been in that situation.

JOULWAN: One of the key feedbacks was from Scott Wallace, the 5th Corps commander of my old corps. And he was one that made the run-up to Baghdad and said we ran into more and different opposition than we'd planned for. He got criticized.

BLITZER: He almost got fired. You write about that in the book.

JOULWAN: And that is the sort of feedback you want from your field commanders.

And so, I think, if we would have adjusted that -- in a war fight, the assumptions you make going into the fight -- if you get into that and the assumptions are wrong -- we weren't treated with rose petals and flowers.

There were no weapons of mass destruction. If those assumptions are wrong, you have to quickly adjust. And stabilization -- after taking Baghdad, stabilization is a very important part of the mission. BLITZER: We've got to leave it there. General Joulwan, thanks very much for joining us.

General Trainor, congratulations to you on this excellent book, must reading for anyone interested in this war in Iraq. Thanks to you and Michael Gordon.

TRAINOR: Thank you, Wolf.

JOULWAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: And don't forget our Web question, "How big of a threat is Iran to the United States?" An immediate threat, a long-term threat or not a threat? Cast your vote. Go to

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe we'll succeed. If I didn't think we'd succeed, I would pull our troops out.


BLITZER: On the brink of civil war? Can the Iraqi government control the violent insurgency? We'll ask two key members of the Senate armed services committee, Republican Pat Roberts and Democrat Jack Reed. Plus, perspective from the representative of the Iraqi Kurdish region, Qubad Talabany.


SHEIKHA LUBNA AL QASIMI, UAE ECONOMICS MINISTER: We need each other. And therefore, you can't jeopardize a relationship over decades because of an incident.


BLITZER: Mending fences after the Dubai Ports World debacle. Is it business as usual or has the U.S. snubbed a key ally? We'll ask the United Arab Emirates economy minister, Sheikha Lubna al Qasimi.

Welcome back. We'll speak with Senators Pat Roberts and Jack Reed in a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now.


BLITZER: With sectarian violence spreading across Iraq, one of the country's most powerful Shia politicians is now speaking out about the possibility of civil war. Abdul Aziz al Hakim sat down exclusively with our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson, who's joining us now live from Baghdad. Nic, what did he say?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we talked about a range of issues. I asked him about Iran's involvement in Iraq. He said that's not happening. He said he's encouraging the United States to talk to Iran about the issue of Iraq. He says that he believes Iran can play a much stronger security and economic role in Iraq at the moment.

He told me that the attack on a holy shrine north of Baghdad a month ago in Samarra was what he described as Iraq's 9/11. He talked about sectarian genocide in the country. He believes that at the moment there are thousands of people now on the move.


ROBERTSON: Sectarian shift in Baghdad, people moving from neighborhoods, do you see these divisions here beginning to establish themselves in the communities?

ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM, IRAQI SHIA LEADER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): This is true and clear in some regions. There are thousands of Shiite families and some Sunni families as well moving from one region to another. This is also part of the agenda of the next government, to return those displaced families to their region and to protect them.

We should stand and face some actions because these are presenting the goals of al Zarqawi and other religious extremist groups, and their aim is to take the community to sectarian strife and to lead them to a civil war.


ROBERTSON: And he told me as well that if there is another big sectarian single big attack, that he thinks it will be very difficult for the community's leaders to hold people back. I asked him, why wasn't a new government formed yet? He said they hadn't even got beyond discussing procedural issues before they get to talk about who's going to get which job, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots more of that interview coming up here on CNN. Nic, good work. Thanks very much.

Joining us now to assess where things stand in Iraq and more, two guests, Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas. He's the chairman of the Senate select intelligence committee, also serves on the armed services committee. And Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He, too, is a member of the Senate armed services committee.

Senators, welcome to "Late Edition." And your name is Pat Roberts, not Pat Robertson as I mistakenly pointed out, but I guess that's a common mistake.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: Well, I pray for you every day, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Senator Roberts, for that. I want to get to Iraq and all of these latest developments in a moment. But I want both of you to weigh in first of all on what's happening in Afghanistan, specifically this Muslim man, Abdul Rahman, who converted to Christianity and now faces potentially the death sentence because of that conversion.

Are you as outraged as a lot of Americans are? The U.S. sent troops into Afghanistan, liberated that country from the Taliban, and to see this kind of situation develop?

ROBERTS: I'm not surprised by it, but I think it's a crossroads for their judicial system. And I think Secretary Rice, you know, put it very well. We'll have to see the course of it. But it is a true test in regards to how far we have come in regards to some kind of pluralistic society, not only to achieve stability but democracy. So it would be a terrible, terrible signal if that would take place.

BLITZER: It is sort of outrageous, don't you think, Senator?

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: It's shocking and unacceptable. We cannot allow a situation where we've spent our precious resources, including our soldiers and marines, to help a country liberate themselves from tyranny and then see this type of practice go on. It shocks the conscience of the world. I would hope that the Afghani leadership would recognize how serious it is and take steps to stop this process immediately.

BLITZER: I can't imagine, because I know President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. He's a moderate, reasonable man, Western-oriented. Even if he's under pressure from Muslim clerics in Afghanistan, I can't imagine that he would allow this to go forward, the actual execution.

ROBERTS: Well, I would hope not. And I agree with jack, it is shocking, but let's, you know, remember that achieving democracy in a place where it has not been and perhaps is not wanted in many sections of the country,, is very difficult.

It's not like AstroTurf that you lay over stony soil and then you hope to see something come out of that. These are first steps. This is a big test of their judicial system. Let's hope they make the right decision. If they don't, I think there's going to be a great many problems.

BLITZER: All right. We'll leave it there, and we'll move on to talk a little bit about Iraq right now. You saw this report, Senator Reed -- you're a graduate of West Point -- that the Russians supposedly had a mole at the U.S. military Central Command in Doha, Qatar, on the eve of the war, providing sensitive troop deployment, military operations information to the government of Saddam Hussein. You saw that Pentagon report this week.

REED: I did.

BLITZER: Have you had a chance to look into that?

REED: Well, we haven't had a chance since we've been on recess, but that's an issue I think we will confront when we return this week. It is, again, of great concern that any of our operational security would be penetrated by any country, and it's also, I think, of great concern that the Russians would be acting this way in a situation where, obviously, the world community should have been, if not supportive of us directly, at least not trying to interfere with our operations.

BLITZER: Are you outraged by that report? I don't know if you've had a chance to investigate.

ROBERTS: Outrage seems to be the call of the day, the watch word of the day. I'm not surprised by this. You know, we're going to have a briefing on the intelligence committee, so we'll get to the bottom of it. The Russians have already answered and said, absolutely not, this was not directed by, you know, President Putin or by Moscow.

The supposition is that this was a local individual working with Iraq at that particular time. I think the bottom line is that the advice that they gave him he ignored. Saddam Hussein just didn't get it in regards to the invasion whether we would be successful or not. He's an egomaniac. If this is the case, which is a very serious matter, I think it's more one turned on the economics of it as opposed to the military situation.

We had the oil for food situation, and then Russia depending on the oil from Iraq, so I'm not too terribly surprised. I would be surprised if that connection went all the way to Moscow, and that was some direct planning by Putin.

BLITZER: But the bottom line is not necessarily whether Saddam Hussein listened to this information, because he apparently didn't listen to anybody except whatever he wanted to believe.

ROBERTS: Exactly.

BLITZER: The bottom line is, was there a mole, a spy inside the U.S. military Central Command headquarters providing this information to the Russian ambassador in Baghdad, who was then giving it to Saddam Hussein or his military or political leaders. If there was a spy inside, that would be a serious issue.

ROBERTS: It would be a very serious issue. It is a serious issue. We will have a briefing on the intelligence committee. I know that Jack and I serve on the armed services committee. I know that Chairman Warner and Senator Levin will be looking into that. I am not surprised, however, by Russian spying. I don't want to cause a major flap here, but that's what they do.

REED: Well, we have to assume that intelligence services around the world are trying to penetrate our military headquarters, our (inaudible).

ROBERTS: Exactly.

REED: We have to assume that.

BLITZER: We have to assume that. But if they do, that's a different level.

REED: But the question then is, one, how did it happen, and more importantly, we have to prevent it from happening in the future. But this notion that we'd be shocked that someone was actually trying to learn our battle plan, no. I think people around the globe, countries around the globe are trying to learn those plans.

REED: But it's our responsibility to prevent that. And that's the real issue, I think, is going forward, can we ensure that we've eliminated any possible compromise of military information?

BLITZER: Does it affect the overall U.S./Russian relationship, though, the relationship that President Bush has with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president?

ROBERTS: Oh, I think it does. I think we've been on sort of a downhill path for some time. He is moving more and more toward a totalitarian kind of government -- I mean, the situation in regard to the Ukraine and also Belarus and other countries.

I think there's some concern there. That doesn't mean everything has completely evaporated in terms of our close contacts with that government, but I think we have to be very wary.

BLITZER: Do you agree?

REED: Absolutely. I think we have to be skeptical of many of the Russian proposals and their policies. They operate on their own self-interests. And many times that does not reconcile or coincide with our self-interests.

BLITZER: Were you surprised, Senator Roberts, to hear the president say this week that U.S. troops, the deployment in Iraq, that future presidents were going to have to determine how long they would stay?

Did that come as a surprise to you, that, looking into 2009, there would be U.S. troops in Iraq?

ROBERTS: I think they asked him, would there be a deadline and would there be a troop withdrawal schedule and he said that would be for the next president to decide.

I'm not sure he said it was going to be lasting that long. I know the hope is that we can withdraw our troops as soon as we can, stand up the Iraqi security forces.

I think the generals were right. They also sent a very clear message to the Iraqi government, going through some very difficult times. We do have the resolve. And you can depend on the United States.

And with all of the rhetoric that we hear in the United States, we talk about the problem in Iraq toward a national unity government. I worry more about the national unity of the United States and the resolve in regard to this war, perhaps more so than what's happening in Iraq.

BLITZER: What do you think?

REED: Well, I think, whatever the president was trying to say, it came out in a very surprising fashion.

He seemed to suggest that he was abdicating his responsibility to do all he can to get our forces out before 2009. And I think that's the impression that was left with many people around the United States.

I agree, you know, we have to show resolve. But the president has to be able to demonstrate to the American public that he has a plan to reduce our forces rapidly and not wait on another administration.

It's almost as if he said, I got them in, but somebody else will have to get them out. That, I think, shocked a lot of Americans.

BLITZER: But he says that he's depending on his military commanders for that kind of troop deadline or withdrawal or redeployment.

REED: Well, he is the president. And I think he has to set the grand strategy and also listen to his military commanders.

My sense is that the military commanders in the field recognize that they have reached the limit of just what military power alone can do. Now it's a political, economic transformation that has to take place.

And, frankly, I don't think we're applying enough of that nonmilitary power, in terms of diplomacy, economic assistance, political mentoring, that we need.

And so the president seems to be stuck in a situation where the only option is a military one. And that has a limited utility.

BLITZER: All right, Senators, hold on because we're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to discuss.

We're going to continue our conversation with Senators Roberts and Reed. We'll get their take on the president's plans going into the next -- this election year and beyond. The American public's confidence in the U.S. mission in Iraq -- how weak is it?

Then, fears that Iraq may be on the brink of civil war. We'll hear from the country's Kurdish representative to the U.S., Qubad Talabany.

And later: after the Dubai ports deal collapsed, is it back to business as usual between the United States and the United Arab Emirates? We'll hear from the UAE's economic minister, Sheikha Lubna al-Qasimi.

"Late Edition" continues after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're talking with the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts of Kansas and Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a key member of the Armed Services Committee.

Senator Reed, listen to what the president said earlier in the week on Donald Rumsfeld, whether he should resign. And listen to Rumsfeld's response to a similar question a couple days later. Listen to this.


BUSH: No, I don't believe he should resign. I think he's done a fine job of not only conducting two battles, Afghanistan and Iraq, but also transforming our military.



DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Those kinds of calls have been going on for five-plus years. And the president has asked me not to get involved in politics. And that's politics.


BLITZER: Should Donald Rumsfeld resign?

REED: Yes, he should. I've said that for several months now, when asked.

I think, first, it's becoming increasingly clear that his influence on the planning for the operations, particularly the occupation of Iraq, inhibited our ability to really stabilize the country.

And (inaudible) in position today is that we have significant challenges there.

And more importantly, my view, I think he's created a very acrimonious atmosphere within the military, in some respects, devaluing the opinion of military officers.

I remember when General Shinseki stood up and was asked about the size of the forces and he said upwards of 200,000 and he was disparaged.

I don't think that's the kind of atmosphere you need. I think a secretary of defense has to be able to get unbridled advice from military leaders. And again, I was listening to General Joulwan and General Trainor about General Wallace's comments about the difficulty of fighting the Fedayeen. And he was essentially threatened with dismissal. That's not the kind of atmosphere -- my sense is, you know, a good captain goes down with the ship, but a good president gets a new captain. I think this is the president's call. I think he has to step up and make a change.

BLITZER: Senator Roberts?

ROBERTS: I'm not sure changing the secretary of defense in the middle of a war against terrorism, right up against a U.S. election and the time that the Iraqis are now trying to form a unity government is a good idea.

I can look back on many other battles that we have fought in, you know, in previous wars where we've had tough times -- can name some pretty glorious names in the past, Eisenhower, Patton and so on and so forth -- there were a lot of calls for people to resign at that particular time.

I think secretary of defense has been there five years; it's been very tough. We've had Iraq. We've had transformation. We've had a very difficult war -- both in Afghanistan and Iraq. To change at this particular time, I think, could be more harmful.

BLITZER: If it were not an election year, would you want him out?

ROBERTS: No, I didn't say that. It's like Jack said. It's the president's call. And he has his detractors. And I would agree in terms of listening to the troops.

But all of this talk about, especially General Shinseki and a lot of people in the Congress who said, well, all we needed was more troops. Or if we could have just signed up the Iraqi army.

A, there wasn't any Iraqi army to be found. They were gone. I mean, they weren't in the barracks saying, here, I'm going to sign up.

B, it isn't the number of troops. It's the number of troops who are trained to do the specific job that they have to do. If anything, at the first part of this war, we ran into some real problems that we had anticipated on the Intelligence Committee, where we didn't have the right kind of troops and they were not trained to do that job.

BLITZER: Let's talk about domestic surveillance without warrants. Listen to what the vice president said this week.


RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Instead of acknowledging the urgent need to track enemy communications in a time of war, some Democrats in Congress have decided that the president is the enemy and that the terrorist surveillance program is grounds for censuring the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: That would be Russ Feingold, who's calling for a censure resolution. I'm not sure Democrats are necessarily saying the president is the enemy along those lines. But go ahead. You're a good Democrat. What do you say?

REED: Well, first, our obligation is to protect the American people. And no one is objecting to trying to interfere with the communications of al Qaida or anyone else. The real issue is, it should be done according to the law. FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has been on the books. I think it can be made to work.

And if it can't be made to work, then I think it's incumbent upon the president to come to Congress and say, we need changes. His obligation is to protect America and to defend the Constitution, support the Constitution. I don't think there was a diametrically opposed. I think they can be harmonized, and that, I think, is at the crux of this debate about wiretapping.

BLITZER: Do you support a censure resolution?

REED: I think we have do look at, determine what has happened. We're still trying to struggle to determine what this NSA program -- the boundaries, who it's intercepted, how many people it's intercepted? I think before we leap, we have to take a very hard look. And I know there's some stirrings in both the intelligence committee -- and we're here with the chairman -- and also on other committees. Senator Specter also is trying to look at what actually happened. I think we owe it to the people to determine what went on before we decide what we will do.

BLITZER: As the chairman of the intelligence committee, you've been severely been criticized, as you know, by other Democratic members of your own committee, Democrats in general, for refusing to hold those kinds of hearings that they want, the kind of hearings that Senator Specter, for example, had in the judiciary committee. What do you say to the critics who say you're not going far enough to investigate this whole surveillance without warrants?

ROBERTS: Basically, let's start off, this is the highest classified program we have. And I am literally amazed, I think it's remarkable, where some of the major media, i.e, The New York Times, decides to release this story, which is wrong on its face. A lot of wrong information and a cascade of misinformation that this is domestic spying, and we're spying on Aunt Harriet, so on and so forth.

We have a capability. It is a unique capability. It is very difficult to fit this capability into the FISA court system. It almost can't be done. And then we have a new threat or a different kind of threat in regards to terrorism. It is within the constitutional authority of the president of the United States to protect us from possible terrorist attacks.

Now, we do have al Qaida in the country. We do have sleeper cells. We do have plots. The reason I know is because I've been briefed on the program. But my -- you know, my real dilemma is, I can't tell you what the operational details are. That was limited to the four members of the leadership and the four members of the intelligence committee.

Now, I have fought very hard to have the full committee briefed on the intelligence side. We have increased it from two from five to seven. Staff's in the room. Staff has been briefed. They've been briefed. They've gone out to the NSA. I've gone out to the NSA. I think the program is lawful. I think it's essential.

And the biggest thing is that it works. And if we don't get this off the headlines and quit talking about it, we will lose the capability and America will be less safe. And this isn't a Bush issue. This is an issue for the next commander in chief to have the authority, and the one after that, to have the authority to protect the country. I know people worry about our civil liberties. I'm an old newspaper guy. I worry about them. But you don't have any civil liberties if you're dead.

BLITZER: I'm going to -- we're almost out of time, but I'll let you respond, Senator.

REED: Well, I think the issue here is, I think it's incumbent upon the president to try to fit it within the context of the constitution. I mean, that's his sworn obligation. And there was no attempt to do that. There's been limited briefings, but most of my colleagues, again, they can't talk a lot about it, suggest that those briefings weren't expansive.

And the idea that the president decides what's lawful, individual senators decide what's lawful, I think, goes against the grain. I think we can do both. We must strive to do both. I don't think they've tried to reconcile this program, this new technology with the laws and the constitution. BLITZER: Very briefly.

ROBERTS: They were briefed. They raised questions. They supported the program. New York Times story came out. I think we have to give them again -- I said this on a previous program, some memory pills what they said in private in support of the program, which is absolutely essential for our national security and what they said public after The New York Times came out, two different things. That's not right.

REED: I think I recall a letter from Senator Rockefeller at least raising some questions about the propriety.

BLITZER: That he never made public until the time.

ROBERTS: Until the time...

BLITZER: A letter he wrote to Vice President Cheney.

ROBERTS: And one week before he declared his full support.

REED: Well, again, I think there was some concerns raised. And the problem, of course, and this is the problem with the administration overall. Everything seems to be done in secret, even things that don't appear to have the same kind of ramifications...

ROBERTS: Jack, this is the highest classified program we've got.

REED: I'm talking about other programs that aren't as classified. It's this culture of secrecy. And that I think is hurting the president.

BLITZER: We're going to continue this discussion...

ROBERTS: Well, nothing is secret anymore.

BLITZER: Well, there's plenty of secrets out there, but...

ROBERTS: Nothing is protected that somebody doesn't leak, there's some special-interest group doesn't go to the major media. It's absolutely remarkable that we have nothing classified.

BLITZER: Senators...

REED: Well, I think you're being a little bit -- overstating the point. There are some classified information. In fact, this administration classifies materials, keeps it from the Congress, that we should have. Senator Levin and others have been asking for material with respect to many different programs, and we've been told point-blank...

ROBERTS: Senator Levin has that material on the intelligence committee.

REED: Well, I'm talking about issues with respect to armed services, memoranda with respect to policies towards detention of al Qaida elements and other elements in Iraq.

ROBERTS: I'm very familiar with those. We got briefed on it in the intel committee, where it should be, not on the front pages.

REED: It shouldn't be on the front page. But we should have access within classified systems of information. And that access has been constrained mightily by this administration.

BLITZER: Good discussion. Senators, thanks to both of you for joining us. Senator Roberts, Senator Reed.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Wolf.


BLITZER: Coming up, Iraq at a critical crossroads. What will it take to bring the country's political factions together? My conversation with Iraq's Kurdish representative to the U.S., Qubad Talabany. That's coming up. Up next, though, a quick check of what's in the news right now. Stay with "Late Edition."


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

He is the country's Kurdish representative to the United States -- Iraq's Kurdish representative to the United States is Qubad Talabany.

His father is Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani. He's joining us here on "Late Edition."

Qubad, thanks very much for joining us.

I want to talk about a lot of issues. But Reuters is moving a very disturbing story right now from Iraq, from Erbil.

A Kurdish writer was sentenced to one and a half years on prison on Sunday for defaming the Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani.

We've heard a lot about an Afghan Muslim who converted to Christianity and has now been sentenced to death. But is it true that, in your part of Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, someone is being sentenced to jail for defaming the Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani?

QUBAD TALABANY, IRAQI KURDISTAN'S REPRESENTATIVE TO THE UNITED STATES: The event happened. Mr. Kamal Sayid Qadir was initially sentenced to 30 years, but after an appeals court today, that sentence was reduced to one and a half years. And we're being told that after the legalities are over and done with, that the president of the Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani will issue a pardon and have Mr. Sayid Qadir released from detention.

BLITZER: So he won't serve any time in jail?

TALABANY: He won't serve any time.

BLITZER: He's in jail right now?

TALABANY: He's in jail right now. He served a few months while his appeals process was going through. But, really, what happened was that it went through a legal process. It went through certain laws that -- maybe it's time to revise certain laws within the Kurdistan region.

BLITZER: Because to Western audiences, this sounds outrageous that, in an emerging democracy, someone goes to jail for criticizing a politician.

TALABANY: Right. Well, we are an emerging democracy. And we still need to revise some of our laws. We need to improve on our institutions. And this is an area that I think we will certainly need to focus more on, the issues of civil liberties and freedom of speech.

But the whole process has been a legal process. It's been a judicial process. And the president of the Kurdistan region will likely issue a pardon.

BLITZER: So you're free to announce that now that he's going to be released from jail? TALABANY: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, let's move on and talk about the government in Iraq. Your father's the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari -- is he someone that should be the next prime minister? He's the acting prime minister right now. Do the Kurdish factions in the parliament support Ibrahim Al-Jaafari?

TALABANY: The Kurdistan regional national assembly does not support Mr. Jaafari's nomination. And we don't want to personalize the issue. Dr. Jaafari is a smart man; he's a brave Iraqi patriot who's been in the opposition for many, many years.

But we're feeling that, given the state that the country is in right now, given the polarization of Iraqi society, the country requires a leader that can bring about national unity and can truly lead a national unity government.

BLITZER: Who's that?

TALABANY: We're not quite sure yet, but this is the discussions that are ongoing.

BLITZER: Who's someone that would be acceptable to the Kurdish factions?

TALABANY: It's -- you know, it's not about personalities here. We need to sit down, look at the various lists of candidates. We need to find out what their policies are.

We need to find out their track history and their records. And this is something that is required, a consultative process with all of the different communities because, ultimately, we need to find a candidate that has consensus among the different communities. It's not just what we say.

BLITZER: Do you want to give us some names?

TALABANY: I would rather not give names. I think this is a process that's going on behind closed doors. And putting people's names out in the forefront could jeopardize their chances.

BLITZER: Listen to what the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on March 17. Listen to this.


ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: An important point from our point of view is that the prime minister should be someone who can unify Iraq, the various ethnic and sectarian groups, because the problem is the polarization.


BLITZER: He seems to be suggesting that Ibrahim al-Jaafari is not the right guy either. But at this point, it doesn't look like there's going to be a national unity government any time soon.

TALABANY: Progress has been made, Wolf. There's been intense discussions going on over the last few weeks. We've made some good progress on the kinds of processes that we need to set in place where decisions can be made with all of the different communities being part of those decisions.

An important step was approved recently in the formation of this national security council in Iraq where different community leaders, as well as the presidency council and the prime minister and the deputy prime ministers, will decide on issues of national security together.

So we are making progress. The discussions are heated. But we're confident that soon we'll have a national unity government.

BLITZER: Let me read to you from a New York Times piece on Thursday: "Kurdistan may be part of Iraq in the legal sense, but most Kurds view the Arabs, whether Sunni or Shiite, as foreign oppressors. The fact that the Arabs are now fighting among themselves evokes little sympathy... the prospect of a civil war makes many Kurds yearn all the more fiercely for separate national status. Some even say such a war might help them make their case."

Do you want to respond to that?

TALABANY: It's no surprise that the people of Kurdistan yearn for independence. And it's no surprise, given the history of the Kurds of Iraq that they feel somewhat suspicious and scared about the developments that are going on in Iraq.

We have to be, in my opinion, prepared for every eventuality in Iraq. The Kurdish leadership has committed itself to ensuring that Iraq remains a viable federal state.

But at the same time, if the situation worsens and the state fails, which, heaven forbid, we hope that it doesn't fail, but if it does fail, then the Kurdistan region has to be able to adapt to every eventuality.

BLITZER: Qubad Talabany, you've got a tough mission ahead of you. Thanks very much for joining us.

TALABANY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up, I visited Dubai at the height of the ports controversy, but with the deal now dead in the water, where do things stand between the United States and the United Arab Emirates? We'll hear from the UAE's economic adviser, Sheikha Lubna al-Qasimi.

But first this.


BLITZER (voice over): Tammy Duckworth: What's her story? The Iraq war veteran narrowly won her primary bid to run for the U.S. House of Representatives this week.

Duckworth, a Democrat, is vying for retiring House member Henry Hyde's seat in an historically Republican district near Chicago. Duckworth lost both her legs in combat when the Blackhawk helicopter she was piloting was hit by a grenade fired by insurgents.

Duckworth has been critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq, advocating for better care of wounded veterans.

She's one of nine Iraq war vets running for Congress this year.



BLITZER: Welcome back. The initial smoke may be clearing from the Dubai Ports deal collapse, but did the controversy cause some irreparable damage to U.S. interests in the Middle East, as well as relations with a key U.S. ally in the war on terror?

I spoke with the United Arab Emirates economic minister, Sheikha Lubna al-Qasimi, during her visit to Washington this week.


BLITZER: Sheikha, thanks very much for joining us. We met in Dubai. Good to have you here in Washington. Honestly with our viewers, how much damage, if any, do you believe has resulted from the collapse of the Dubai Ports deal in terms of the overall U.S. relationship with the United Arab Emirates?

AL-QASIMI: Well, first of all, I want to confirm to the audience that it's absolutely a very solid relationship. UAE has always been a great ally to the U.S. on different levels, and assure everybody that for us this was a business case that got politicized, but it doesn't have an impact on the relationship between the two governments.

BLITZER: So there's been no negative impact.

AL-QASIMI: Not at all.

BLITZER: What about the free trade area agreements that have been postponed?

AL-QASIMI: Yeah. Well, it's important to understand what postponement means. Because I think sometimes people think this has an implication, a consequence from the DPW case, but it's not. Usually between two rounds there are dialogue, video conferencing or meetings between the different teams.

What happened this time that a lot of us did not finish on time for the round. So on my visit here, I actually met with Ambassador Portman and John Donnelly (ph), and we pretty much set the new dates that are upcoming, and we discussed any issues between the two sides on the free trade agreement. BLITZER: The president of the National U.S. Arab Chamber of Commerce said this earlier in the month: Capital is a coward. If foreign investors see that they can play by the rules, win fair and square and then have to go to Congress to deal with domestic political considerations, most international investors will take their money elsewhere."

Will Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, which has a lot of money, take their investments and potential jobs here in the United States outside of the United States and stop investing, basically, in the United States where a lot of jobs are at stake?

AL-QASIMI: No. Because let's first pretty much explain the trade position of the UAE. UAE's the third largest trade partner of the U.S. in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia and Israel. And this has evolved and developed over the years, so it's not something new. Many of the contracts that actually have taken place, Boeing is a great example of that, $20 billion worth of...

BLITZER: You're buying Boeing 777s.


BLITZER: A huge contract.


BLITZER: Let me press on you this point because there's some suspicious now the next phase, you're not going to buy any more Boeings, you're going to Airbus because you're angry at the United States.

AL-QASIMI: No. I think every contract is actually being evaluated on merits of its own. I want to remind everyone that post- September 11, the largest purchase of Boeing was actually done by Emirate Airlines, the United Arab Emirates. So, that to me is a good example that for us business is business, and it will continue to be that way.

BLITZER: The issue for Americans, of course, is a lot of aerospace jobs in Washington State and elsewhere are at stake, assuming that the United Arab Emirates and Dubai are going to go ahead and buy a lot more U.S.-made planes.

AL-QASIMI: Well, I think it's very important to understand that foreign investments, a lot of foreign companies who establish businesses here, in many ways continue and contribute in the economy within a country. For every billion dollars you actually generate 10,000 employments here in the U.S., and this actually comes across many contracts, not just Boeing.

BLITZER: Will the U.S./UAE military strategic relationship be damaged at all? As you know, the U.S. Navy uses the ports in Dubai more than any other ports outside the United States. There are U.S. air bases that are in the United Arab Emirates. Is there going to be any impact on this military to military relationship? AL-QASIMI: No. Not at all. I think it's very important to understand, on both sides, we need each other. Therefore, you can't jeopardize a relationship over decades because of an incident. The environment in the Middle East is a challenging one and a trying one, and there is need on both sides, on the U.S. and UAE, to continue this relationship on the military aspect.

BLITZER: Let's...

AL-QASIMI: There are 600 calls per year on the U.S. Navy of the Emirates. And this is the most frequent foreign port of call outside the USA.

BLITZER: You just saw the aircraft carrier the Ronald Reagan in Dubai.

AL-QASIMI: Yes, Ronald Reagan.

BLITZER: Here's what the 9-11 Commission report said, and I want to clarify where you stand today on this matter: "The United Arab Emirates, the financial center for the Gulf area, also had a reputation for being wide open with few regulations on the control of money and a woefully inadequate anti-money laundering program. The vast majority of the money funding the September 11 attacks flowed through the UAE."

That's what the 9-11 Commission report said.

AL-QASIMI: Yeah. I'm hopeful also they mentioned that money laundering had gone through 96 countries, because we are...

BLITZER: But they said the vast majority went through your country.

AL-QASIMI: This is because of the structure of hawala (ph), the personal transfers. And as we stand today, UAE stands as a good benchmark, actually, in the acts against money laundering, with a lot of work and development between the constituencies, the organization within the U.S. and the UAE.

BLITZER: Are you funneling charitable contributions to Hamas, Hezbollah, groups the State Department deems to be terrorist organizations?

AL-QASIMI: First, let's clarify one thing. There is no cash handover in any form or shape within the Emirates going anywhere else. Usually in support of people. For example, the Palestinians, and this is in tune of the policy of the U.S. government itself. We have projects, usually we develop hospitals, roads, accommodations for people, but any money that goes through for any particular reason, actually, for example, in Palestine, gets scrutinized through the Israeli authorities because that's part of the system.

BLITZER: Because the argument is, just as Saddam Hussein gave $25,000 to families of so-called Palestinian martyrs, suicide bombers, the argument is the UAE may be doing the same thing, in effect giving money to families of what they call martyrs.

AL-QASIMI: UAE actually frowns and stands against suicide bombers and doesn't give a single dollar to, or a penny to any of these families because it's against the policy -- not only the policy, but the philosophy of the UAE itself. So there's no money that goes through. We work through NGOs like the Red Crescent.

And in this process, we only work through projects. There's no money at all. And iff there's any money of some form or shape, it actually goes through the process of Israeli clarification and approval before it gets to the -- you know, there's a joint effort between the Palestinian entities and the Israelis for any of this process.

BLITZER: Sheikha Lubna al-Qasimi, welcome to Washington. Good to have you here in "The Situation Room."

AL-QASIMI: Thank you.


BLITZER: And up next, the results of our Web question of the week, "How big of a threat is Iran to the United States?"

Plus, in case you missed it, we'll have the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

Also ahead, for our north American viewers, CNN reporters are "On the Story," including our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, looking at how Iraqis are struggling to get on with their lives despite the insurgency and the sectarian violence.

All that coming up on "On the Story" at the top of the hour. Don't miss it. 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 ABC's "This Week," Republican Senator Arlen Specter and Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo debated immigration reform.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA) CHMN., JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: If we do not have some realistic proposal to give them an opportunity to work lawfully and ultimately to obtain citizenship, then they're going to be fugitives.



REP. TOM TANCREDO (R) COLORADO: When you reward millions and millions of people, which Senator Specter's bill does do, for coming across the border the wrong way, doing it illegally, then you -- it's a slap in the face to every single person who has done it the right way. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On "Fox News Sunday," the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, offered a tough assessment of the political situation for Iraq.


SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI) ARMED SERVICES CMTE.: I asked the president to make it clear to the Iraqis that our continued presence in Iraq is dependent upon the Iraqis working out a broad-based political agreement.

Otherwise, they're going to continue to get the message, which this administration has given too often, that we're there as long as they need us.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Would you set a specific deadline?

LEVIN: I would not. I would put the word "prompt" in there.


BLITZER: On CBS's "Face the Nation," Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy said the U.S.-led invasion of Iraqi derailed the war on terror.


SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D) MASSACHUSETTS: I don't believe the world is safer today as a result of our going into Iraq. I think Iraq is a rallying cry for Al Qaida.

I think we should have given the focus and attention onto Afghanistan. And I think that that's where we should have given our focus.


BLITZER: On NBC's "Meet the Press," the noted political analyst Charlie Cook challenged the notion that Democrats should be offering alternative proposals to President Bush and the Republicans.


CHARLIE COOK, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Minority parties don't have to be responsible. That's the one good thing going for them.

And when they try to be responsible, they're just going to dig themselves into a hole. I mean, your job is to throw rocks. Once you start offering alternatives, then suddenly you're playing defense as well. (END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

Our "Late Edition" Web question asked this: "How big of a threat is Iran to the United States?"

Take a look at this. Here's how you voted. Fourteen percent said an immediate threat; 34 percent said a long-term threat; 52 percent said not a threat. Remember, though, this is not, repeat not, a scientific poll.

Let's check what's on the cover of this week's major newsmagazines in the United States.

Time Magazine warns, "Be Worried, Very Worried" about global warming.

U.S. News & World Report explores the world's first cancer vaccines.

And Newsweek magazine looks at putting the "we" in "Web."

That's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, March 26. Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'm in "The Situation Room" here on CNN, Monday through Friday, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern; back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until tomorrow, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. For our North American viewers, "On the Story" is next.


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