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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview with Fawzi Hariri; Interview with Charles Rizk; Senators Feinstein, Apecter Discuss Need For U.N. Troops In Lebanon
Aired August 20, 2006 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 11 a.m. in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6p.m. in Jerusalem and Beirut, 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching around the world, thanks for joining us for "Late Edition."
We'll speak with the Lebanese justice minister, Charles Rizk, about all the latest developments in the Middle East in just a moment.
First, though, let's check in with CNN's Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta for a quick look at what's in the news right now.
BLITZER: Israeli leaders this morning reacted to the criticism of their commando raid into Lebanon and continued to insist on a strong international force on the border with Lebanon. Joining us now live from Jerusalem with more, our CNN international correspondent, Fionnuala Sweeney.
What's the latest from Israel, Fionnuala?
FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Israel taking a very tough line on condemnation from the U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, that Israel's military action taken in the Bekaa Valley overnight of the weekend was a violation of the cease-fire. Israel essentially saying that until a multi-national force is in place, it is the Hezbollah who are violating the cease-fire by organizing transfer of arms from Syria.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ISAAC HERZOG, ISRAELI CABINET MINISTER: Some of the major proponents of the resolution, such as France, has not yet delivered on a robust international force, as was promised to Israel, and, therefore, what we are focusing on is to make sure that the arrangements regarding the embargo on arms to the Hezbollah from Iran and Syria will be fully implemented. That's why I beg to differ with the honorable secretary general on his comment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SWEENEY: Isaac Herzog there speaking around the cabinet meeting, the weekly cabinet meeting that took place this Sunday after the Jewish weekend was over. Also at that meeting, Israel's defense minister, Amir Peretz, saying Israel should prepare for, quote, "round two," reflecting a feeling in this country that Israel's objectives in its war with Hezbollah were not achieved, specifically the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers that sparked this conflict and the fact that Hezbollah does not, at the moment, seem to be disarming.
And Amir Peretz also saying that it would only allow the Lebanese army to come within two kilometers of Israel's border with a UNIFIL force.
BLITZER: All right, Fionnuala. Thank you so much.
Fionnuala Sweeney reporting for us from Jerusalem.
And we're now six days into this cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon. Things clearly on shaky ground right now. Will both sides live up to the promises? Joining us live from Beirut is the Lebanese justice minister, Charles Rizk.
Minister Rizk, thanks very much for coming back to "Late Edition."
This Israeli commando strike near Baalbek in eastern Lebanon, it's described as an area where Hezbollah is very strong, very strong Hezbollah roots. Listen to what the foreign ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, said in Jerusalem in defending this Israeli raid.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK REGEV, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: If you import weapons for Hezbollah, if you transfer weapons for Hezbollah, that's a violation of the resolution, and we're entitled to respond.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: If the Israelis had evidence that Hezbollah was getting weapons through Syria, is that under the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 justified for them to take action?
CHARLES RIZK, LEBANESE JUSTICE MINISTER: Look, we fully back the statement and the decision by the secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, to very, very strongly criticize this threat by the Israelis. As you know, 1701, the U.N. Security Council resolution, provides for a sequence of actions, the first being the withdrawal of the Israeli forces and then the entry of the Lebanese as well as the international forces in the area, evacuated by the Israelis.
When the Israelis do what they have been doing the other day, one day, 36 hours ago, Israel in Baalbek, they violate, obviously, the cease-fire, and they interrupt, as a matter of fact, the withdrawal. Therefore, they provide the opportunity for two things: They give an alibi for Hezbollah to stop talking about disarming, first. Second, they encourage the European powers who pledged to send their forces to strengthen UNIFIL to refrain from doing this. This is a very, very, very counterproductive action that the Israelis have been doing. And on the other hand, the Israelis are not the overseers of Lebanon. Lebanon is still an independent country, and if there is an authority to oversee whether Lebanon receives arms or not, it's the Lebanese forces, one, and also the international community, and absolutely not Israel.
BLITZER: Let me read to you from Resolution 1701, which says this, among other things. It says, "No sales or supply of arms and related material to Lebanon except as authorized by its government." Is the Lebanese army ready to stop arms shipments to Hezbollah?
RIZK: Yes, Wolf, I know by heart 1701. If you read it well, you would see that it's, as I said, it's a sequence of actions. The first, it's (inaudible) paragraph two provides for the evacuation of the Israelis, as well as the entry of the Lebanese forces, as well as the international UNIFIL.
Then Article O.B. (ph) 8, if you read it well, it provides for other actions to be taken. And then -- like the one you are mentioning, and O.B. (ph) 10, which is also the third sequence of these actions, provides also for the two parties to agree on a cease- fire, permanent cease-fire.
And this cease-fire would be based on some points. One of these points is the evacuation of the Shebaa Farm. So you have to take it as a package. As a matter of fact...
BLITZER: But let me interrupt, Minister, and just press you on this point. Is the Lebanese army, at this point, ready to stop arms shipments? If there's evidence that new missiles or rockets or other weapons are coming into Hezbollah from Syria, is the Lebanese army ready to take action to stop that along the border with Syria?
RIZK: As much as we know, there is no such evidence lately, I mean, in the two days, to justify this action by the Israeli commandos. Now, as I'm trying to tell you...
BLITZER: If, in fact, they were -- but if you did get evidence -- if you did get evidence that new weapons shipments were coming into Hezbollah, would you take action?
RIZK: The Lebanese army has committed itself to take action in the limits of 1701, starting with the area between south of Litani and the blue line. Now, this has taken place only a few days ago. And the Lebanese army is expanding.
As you know, it cannot be -- it cannot come just overnight. This is a long process. It has to come progressively. We were progressing, and today we have two envoys from the United Nations secretary general who are discussing this in detail with the Lebanese government. And as much as you are concerned, we are perfectly determined to continue the implementation of 1701 as it provides for.
BLITZER: We see that this international force is having tough times getting its act together. Originally, the French were supposed to send thousands of troops. Now they're saying maybe 200.
BLITZER: They've sent less than 50 so far, mostly engineers coming in. What's going on? What's your understanding, as far as the composition of a U.N. force, which is supposed to have some 15,000 forces?
RIZK: Absolutely. It's a subject of preoccupation, as a matter of fact. First of all, UNIFIL already exists. We have about 2,000 UNIFIL forces are there.
They have to be buttressed by some additional to reach the figure of 15,000, hopefully. And, as you know, this takes time. And a commander, who is a French officer, stated that he is, as a matter of fact, contemplating this process to take place.
Now, when you have such actions as the Israeli raid the other day, this really gives a very bad sign to the European, or to outside forces, for this and makes them shy, as a matter of fact, to expose their soldiers to this and makes them all the more decided to discuss the rules of engagement.
And this is precisely, I mean, what we are discussing now. And in the middle of this process, this very, very unfortunate action by the Israeli commando took place, as if it was to sabotage all this process.
Now, we are progressing in this direction. We are absolutely determined to achieve what we have been committed to, provided on the other way also -- because it takes two to tango -- on the other side, also, the Israelis do the same.
BLITZER: The president of the United States, George W. Bush, spoke out on Friday. And clearly, he blames Hezbollah for all of Lebanon's problems right now. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The first reaction, of course, of Hezbollah and its supporters is declare victory. I guess I would have done the same thing if I were them.
But sometimes it takes people a while to come to the sober realization of what forces create stability and which don't. Hezbollah is a force of instability.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you agree with the president?
RIZK: No. I perfectly respect the opinion of the president of the United States, although I don't agree with what he said.
As a matter of fact, our view is that we should solve the problem of Hezbollah, the Hezbollah resistance and the Hezbollah weapons at its roots. And the root is the Israeli occupation. As you know, Hezbollah started only in the middle of the mid- '80s. The Israeli occupation started long before. So Hezbollah is not the cause of the Israeli entry into Lebanon. It's exactly the consequence.
So we are very eager, as the president is saying, to solve the problem of the Hezbollah. But because we are eager to solve the problem, we want to solve the roots of the problem and not only the consequences.
We consider Hezbollah, only, as the consequence of a deeper, older occupation, which as I mentioned before, 1701 provides for the evacuation of the tip, in the south of the Lebanese territory which is still under Israeli occupation, which is the Shebaa Farm.
It's provided for in, I think, paragraph 10 of 1701, which gives the secretary general a month to produce project, proposals to the security council to tackle this issue.
So when this is done, the totality of the Lebanese territory will be evacuated. And then we could say that the raison d'etre of Hezbollah's activity in the south and the Hezbollah weaponry will be over. Until then, it won't.
BLITZER: The United Nations certified that Israel withdrew totally from Lebanon, the Lebanese territory in 2000, six years ago. As you know, there has been this dispute over this tiny area called Shebaa Farms, which you referred to.
But the U.N., at least until recently, has always suggested that was Syrian territory, a position that the Israelis have taken as well. If, in fact, the Israelis eventually pull out of Shebaa Farms, will there be no excuse, no reason for Hezbollah to launch attacks against Israel?
RIZK: First of all, 1701 -- the importance of 1701, it provides that Shebaa Farm is Lebanese. And it asks the secretary general to propose a plan for this.
Now, if this is evacuated, and also if all the other provisions of 1701 are implemented by the Israelis, then, yes, Hezbollah won't have any more reason to continue this military activity. And they will reintegrate the Lebanese political society, the Lebanese political community and enter as a civilian and as a political party in the Lebanese political process.
BLITZER: Charles Rizk, the justice minister of Lebanon, we have to leave it there. Thanks very much for spending a few moments with us here on "Late Edition."
RIZK: Thank you.
BLITZER: And coming up at the top of next hour, we'll get a different perspective from the other side of the border. We'll speak live with the Israeli foreign minister spokesman, Mark Regev. We'll ask him whether Israel will continue to strike deep into Lebanon. Up next, though, 50 French soldiers arrive in Lebanon. Thousands were expected. What's going on? We'll discuss that and much more with two U.S. senators, Arlen Specter and Dianne Feinstein.
More bombs and more deaths than ever in Iraq. How can the spiraling sectarian violence be stopped? We'll ask the Iraq minister of industry, Fawzi Hariri.
"Late Edition" will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We'll work with nations to step up to the plate and do what they voted to do, the United Nations, and that is to provide robust international forces to help the Lebanese army retake the south.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush speaking out Friday about the need for U.N. forces on the border of Israel and Lebanon. But the fact is, few nations so far are signing up, and the cease-fire could be in deep trouble.
Joining us now to discuss this and much more, two guests: Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. He's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Specter is joining us from Jerusalem, where he's been meeting with top Israeli officials. Also joining us, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. She serves on the Judiciary Committee as well as the Intelligence Committee. She's joining us from her home state of California.
Senators, thanks to both of you for coming in.
Senator Specter, I know you've been meeting with top Israeli officials. Based on what you're hearing, is this cease-fire going to work?
SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: I think there's a realistic chance that it will work, Wolf. It depends upon whether the United Nations fulfills the commitment to put a robust force on the ground. They're looking for 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers to supplement the 15,000 in the Lebanese army. And the United States is squarely behind the arrangement.
And the progress has not been too good so far. There's been a little disappointment that the French have not put up a substantial force, which they had committed to, but it is early yet. And I talked to the prime minister today, and the defense minister, and they are both optimistic that there will be a U.N. force and that it will stabilize the situation.
BLITZER: Is it hard, Senator Specter, for the U.S. to be encouraging France and other countries to deploy thousands of troops to that border, clearly a dangerous area, when the U.S. itself is gun- shy, doesn't want to get involved?
SPECTER: Well, I think Israel has made it plain that their preference is that the United States not be involved, for many reasons. And the United States has been such a strong supporter of Israel, and justifiably so, for good reason at our national self- interest, that they're looking for other troops, and there has never been any suggestion that the United States would be a part of this U.N. force. So, there's no change in not having the U.S. participate.
BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, you've not been shy over the years in criticizing President Bush on foreign policy issues or other issues. What do you think he should be doing right now? Is he doing it just about right as far as the Israeli-Lebanese situation is concerned?
SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) CALIFORNIA: Well, I think Secretary Rice and her team did a good job in putting together this cease-fire and shepherding it through the security council. I think very important in all of this is a resolution to the Shebaa Farms issue. Shebaa Farms is just a rocky, very small area up in the north of Israel. And Syria has laid claim to it historically. But I heard on your show a minister from the Syrian government essentially say that Syria's position was that Shebaa Farms should go to Lebanon.
And I hope that that is the result of what the secretary-general comes up with in the next 30 days. I think deciding that really does take away one of the major organizing tools of Hezbollah, who has laid the claim that parts of Lebanon are occupied. And, of course, one of those parts is Shebaa Farms. So if that issue could be solved, I think it would go a long way.
BLITZER: Senator Specter, when you spoke with the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, today, did you discuss that issue of Shebaa Farms?
SPECTER: We did not discuss that. We focused mostly, Wolf, on the part that Iran and Syria have played in backing Hezbollah, and what is not really broadly recognized is that Hezbollah has had enormous support in advanced military equipment and advanced training.
And one of the things that I had made a floor statement in the Senate before we adjourned for the August recess was that we ought to be trying to bring Iran and Syria before the United Nations for violating the U.N. resolution which calls for the disarmament of Hezbollah. And the principal part of the discussion that I had with the Israeli prime minister today was Iran's participation, and that Israel has really been fighting Iran through the surrogate of the Hezbollah terrorists.
BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, I want to pick up on one thought, then I want to move on to warrantless wiretaps here in the United States.
The U.S. re-establishing a high-level dialogue with Syria, clearly a key player in this region. Is it a good idea for the president of the United States now to authorize high-level discussions with Bashar Al-Assad?
FEINSTEIN: Absolutely. I don't really support this business that we only talk with people that we agree with. I think you talk with people you disagree with. I think it is a mistake to isolate governments. You isolate governments and they become more recalcitrant, not less recalcitrant.
Therefore, I think it is very important -- I think it's very important to clear up the fact that Iran is shipping rockets and missiles from Tehran to Damascus. I believe we stopped one cargo plane full. The question arises, are there others coming through this way? And I think it's extraordinarily important to sit down, when you have a point of difference, and talk with the nation. And, for the life of me, I have never understood this reluctance to do so.
BLITZER: Well, talk about that stopping of that cargo shipment. Some of our viewers might not be familiar with what you're referring to.
FEINSTEIN: What I'm referring to is that there have been rumors for some time that rockets and munitions were coming out of Tehran in, well, actually, commercial planes, going into Damascus. And I believe one was actually stopped. It was a cargo plane. And if there's one, you can be sure there have been more than one.
And I think this alone is worth very serious discussions, rather than long-range threats, which I don't think are really effective. I strongly believe that diplomacy can work, strong diplomacy can work. And I think an example of that, although it was somewhat late, was Secretary Rice and her team putting together this cease-fire.
Now, what also needs to come out of this cease-fire, I think, is a much more general agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and get this solved. I think that that is the one thing that could really be seminal and positively effective in terms of the American relationship with the Muslim world.
BLITZER: I want you to respond, Senator Specter, and then we'll take a quick break, and we'll pick up on the other side of the break with the warrantless wiretapping issue. But go ahead, Senator Specter.
SPECTER: Well, before coming to Jerusalem, I was part of a Senate delegation in Beijing, China. And I raised the point with the Chinese officials that China is selling missiles to Iran, and Iran is transferring them to Hezbollah, and one of them hit an Israeli ship.
And in the arrangement between China and Iran, there's a commitment by Iran not to transfer the weapons.
SPECTER: And I put the question squarely to top Chinese officials: When Iran breaches that agreement, are you going to stop selling Iran missiles? And the Chinese wouldn't answer.
We know that the Russians have sent equipment to Syria with a non-transfer arrangement. And Syria has turned them over to Hezbollah. And the Russians have stopped selling that equipment to Syria, so that we're really facing, with the Israeli battling the Hezbollah, weapons from China, from Russia. It's quite a heavily stacked deck.
BLITZER: Senator Specter, Senator Feinstein, please stand by. We're going to continue this conversation.
Lots more to talk about, including the political battle unfolding here in the United States over the warrantless wiretapping program of the president.
But up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on the Jon-Benet Ramsay suspect, John Mark Karr. He's on his way to the United States right now.
And this quick programming note: Now, more than ever, you need to know your enemy. This Wednesday, the stories only CNN can tell you about the man who became the world's most-wanted terrorist. Don't miss "In the Footsteps of bin Laden," a CNN Presents special two-hour investigation. That debuts Wednesday night, August 23rd, 9 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're talking with two U.S. senators, Republican Senator Arlen Specter -- he's joining us today from Jerusalem -- and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. She's joining us from San Francisco.
Senator Specter, put on your hat now as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Let me read to you what U.S. District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor wrote about the president's warrantless wiretapping program in a ruling this past Thursday.
"It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights. There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all 'inherent powers' must derive from that Constitution."
Was she right when she said this warrantless wiretap program is illegal and unconstitutional?
SPECTER: Well, I think she's expressed her opinion. But I think, ultimately, Wolf, that question has to be answered by the Supreme Court of the United States. I've introduced legislation with the view to have that determined.
There is no doubt that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is being violated, because it requires the exclusive remedy to go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court to get a warrant.
The president has contended that he has inherent powers. And Judge Taylor has disagreed with the president, which is the role of a federal judge. And now, what I will be looking for is to find a way to get the appellate process working, to get it to the Supreme Court of the United States for a definitive decision.
Meanwhile, if I may elaborate just a bit, Senator Feinstein has introduced legislation that she can comment about, which would give additional strength to the court to enforce the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And I have co-sponsored that.
But ultimately, the Supreme Court of the United States is going to have to decide the issue that Judge Taylor has decided against the president, and that involves a weighing of the importance to security to have these wiretaps contrasted with the invasion of privacy. And it's in the national interest to get that decided.
BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, I'll let you hear what the president said, reacting to that federal judge's decision. Listen to what Mr. Bush said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live. This country of ours is at war. And we must give those who are -- whose responsibility it is to protect the United States the tools necessary to protect this country in a time of war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is the president right when he says that this program is legal? And he and his attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, have insisted that no new legislation is required as a result, because the program, as it exists right now, is legal.
FEINSTEIN: I think the answer is no. I also think it's potentially very dangerous for any president to have this wide swath of executive power, because it means that a president could order the wiretapping of the telephone calls of really tens of thousands of Americans. And the protection against unreasonable search and seizure would be effectively done away with.
There have been misuses of domestic surveillance in the past. That's what led to the FISA bill, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was passed in the 1970s. It was amended in the 1994, following the Aldrich Ames situation, to include physical searches and seizures. I think it's a very important piece of legislation.
It is one thing to go before the court and get a program approval of what is called meta data, which is the collection of official business records of telephone companies and e-mails, the number of origin, the point of receipt, the time of the call. It's another thing to allow the broad wiretapping of the conversations of American persons.
BLITZER: All right. FEINSTEIN: And I believe that should be done with individual warrants. And let me say one other thing. I have been briefed on this program, and it can fit within the boundaries of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. BLITZER: Senator Specter, Alberto Gonzales strongly defends the program, the legality of the program, and strongly insists that the legislation you've introduced, the legislation that Senator Feinstein has introduced, is simply not needed because the program is legal right now as it currently stands. Listen to what he said the other day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: This is an important program. We have leaders of the intelligence community who have testified to Congress that it's been effective in protecting America. And so, we're going to do everything that we can do in the courts to allow this program to continue, because it is effective, has been effective in protecting America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What chance does your legislation or Senator Feinstein's legislation or any legislation have of getting passed when the White House insists no legislation is necessary?
SPECTER: Well, I believe that Attorney General Gonzales is wrong when he says no additional legislation is necessary, because I think if we gave the court seven days instead of three days and increased the resources that a great many of the wiretaps now in effect would be subject to a warrant issued by a judge. When he comes to the issue of inherent presidential power, he may be right or he may be wrong. That involves a weighing of the risk to the nation.
And the president is correct that we're in a tough war against terrorism. And the terrorists could strike at any time. And the threat to the United States has to be weighed against the intrusion of privacy. Now, we've had the opinion of one federal judge, and I respect that.
But that's not the final word. This is a matter of sufficient importance that we need to structure an appellate process to get it to the Supreme Court of the United States, so we have a judicial determination -- which is the tradition of our country -- that what is going on by way of wiretapping electronic surveillance is constitutional.
BLITZER: Senator Specter, Senator Feinstein, thanks to both of you for joining us.
Senator Specter, have a safe trip back here to the United States.
SPECTER: Pleasure being with you. Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you very much. Thanks to both of you.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: And in just a few minutes, at the top of the hour, we'll speak live with a spokesman for the Israeli ministry about the very shaky cease-fire on the border between Israel and Lebanon right now.
But coming up next, we'll turn our attention to Iraq, where more bombings, more murders are happening than ever before. Is Iraq on the brink of civil war? We'll speak with the Iraqi industry minister, Fawzi Hariri, in Baghdad. That's coming up next.
BLITZER: This week's statistics about the situation in Iraq painted a very bleak picture. Since January, the number of IEDs, improvised explosive devices, roadside bombs has almost doubled. In July, there were over 2,600. Even though roughly half were found and defused, the human toll has been extremely high.
On an average day last month, 110 Iraqi civilians were killed in some fashion -- more than 3,400 all together. Again, twice the toll in January of this year. Are we looking, therefore, at a civil war already unfolding in Iraq?
I spoke to the Iraqi industry minister, Fawzi Hariri, about the situation on the ground in Iraq just a short while ago.
BLITZER: Minister Hariri, thanks very much for coming in.
Very difficult days for Iraq right now. As we know, the statistics are pretty awful. It looks to those of us watching the situation from the outside that the sectarian violence is going from bad to worse. Is that your assessment?
FAWZI HARIRI, IRAQI INDUSTRY MINISTER: No, it isn't. It always looks bad on television screens, and once we are having some real problems, Wolf, it isn't to the extent that is portrayed by certain television stations as being a sectarian divide or a sectarian problem.
Sectarian wars happened in Rwanda. That's not happening in Iraq. The vast majority of the people of Iraq are determined to end up in a national unity country and a government that is for the whole of Iraqis.
Of course, there are certain elements that are trying to destabilize this situation and are taking advantage of some of the gaps that exist within the security environment of Iraq, because of the wars and the other problems that we have faced over the past three years to try and destabilize, but they will not win.
BLITZER: Listen, though, to what two experts have said in recent days and weeks.
U.S. military General John Abizaid, the commander of the Central Command, told Congress on August 3rd, "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it in Baghdad, in particular, and that, if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war."
And a day earlier, the British outgoing ambassador to Iraq, William Patey, said, "The prospect of a low-intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy."
Those are two credible sources.
HARIRI: They are both credible. And I met Ambassador Patey before his departure, within 24 hours. And he was still extremely confident that the present Iraqi government and the present international support that exists for Iraq and the support of the people of Iraq to the new order in Iraq will overcome the present difficulties.
Clearly, there are certain sectarian attacks. And they are intermittent and are not coordinated. As I said, there is no civil war in Iraq in the sense that we saw in other parts of the world.
What we have is a struggle between two completely different ideologies, one that believes in the new dawn of Iraq, the new democracy, the new harmony amongst its people, and an ideology that is determined to stop the people of Iraq from achieving that goal.
And that is primarily supported by the former regime of Saddam Hussein and its elements and actively supported by some regional interferences in Iraq.
BLITZER: An Iraqi parliament member, Mahmoud Othman, said this past week. He said, "The American policy has failed both in terms of politics and security, but the big problem is that they will not confess or admit it. They are telling the American public that the situation in Iraq will be improved. They want to encourage positive public opinion in the U.S., but the Iraqi citizens are seeing something different. They know the real situation."
Is this parliament member, Mr. Othman, is he a credible source?
HARIRI: Mr. Mahmoud Othman is a credible spokesperson that always speaks his mind. And I have a great deal of respect to him.
However, it is a fact that the U.S., the U.S. administration and the people, have done a great deal to support the people of Iraq. And that is on record by the foreign minister, by the government official, by Mr. Maliki, in his last visit to Washington.
However, the support that existed has had gaps. And everybody admits that. And our job is to identify the gaps and fill them in when it comes to the security situation, when it comes to the build-up of our security forces, when it comes to supporting the Iraqi infrastructure, to develop an industrial capability that provides jobs and services to the people.
That is one of our biggest challenges that we are actively working on at this time.
BLITZER: All right, another challenge, according to the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, is Iranian meddling in internal affairs in Iraq. Listen to what he told me earlier this week, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Iran is playing a role in the sectarian violence that is taking place here. It is providing arms, training and money and other support to groups involved in sectarian violence, including militias that have death squads associated with them.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is he right?
HARIRI: I have no doubt that Ambassador Khalilzad has grounds to make such a statement. He may have intelligence or access to intelligence information that I don't have.
What is clear is that the Iranian government's position, from the onset of liberation of Iraq, has been the total support of the new regime or, in Iraq, has been the total support of the establishment of a new free Iraq.
If there are elements within the Iranian society that have relations with elements within Iraq that are up to no good, if that is the right phrase, then it's quite possible.
But the official Iranian position has always been to support Iraq and to provide everything that is necessary. As I said, I have no doubt that the ambassador has access to certain information that we do not. And therefore, I respect his opinion, but I don't know how far I could take it.
BLITZER: Minister Hariri, as you probably know, there was dismay here in Washington in many circles by your government's support of Hezbollah against Israel during this most recent war.
Does the Iraqi government stand with Hezbollah, a group that the U.S. regards as a terrorist organization, aligned with Iran?
HARIRI: Well, let me make this point very clear. The support of the government of the Iraq and the people of Iraq, directly, was toward the support of the people of Lebanon. And we felt that the unjustified attack and destruction of the infrastructure in Lebanon was not right.
And, therefore, the government's position was to support the government of Lebanon and the people of Lebanon. Of course, there are political parties within Iraq who support or have connections, fraternal inclinations (ph) with Hezbollah. Iraq is a free society. And that is what we're aiming to build. And therefore, people have a right to display their feelings. The official government of Iraq's policy was with Lebanon, with the people of Lebanon, and that's all.
BLITZER: Fawzi Hariri, thanks very much for joining us.
HARIRI: Thank you very much, Wolf.
BLITZER: And there's much more ahead on "Late Edition." The Lebanese army took up positions on the border, this week, with Israel. But with Hezbollah still armed and United Nations forces in doubt, will the cease-fire hold? We'll speak live with the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, in Jerusalem.
And as the leaders of Syria and Iran celebrate Hezbollah's survival, does this make them more powerful in the region? We'll speak with a panel of experts.
Stay with us. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back. In a moment, we'll go live to Jerusalem and ask the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman about his nation's take on the very fragile Middle East cease-fire.
First, let's turn to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield to get a quick check of what's in the news right now.
BLITZER: Yesterday, the Israeli commandos attacked Hezbollah fighters deep inside Lebanon. The reaction from the Lebanese government was a very angry reaction.
Brent Sadler's in Beirut. He's our bureau chief. He's got more on what's going on today.
BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, thanks. Yes, indeed, it was an angry reaction. The Lebanese defense minister warning that the Lebanese army would be halted in its deployment or at least pulled back, perhaps, as a result of that Israeli raid in the Bekaa Valley, a stronghold for Hezbollah.
Now, as a result of that, the defense minister here has said that the Israelis ought to be condemned for a violation of the cease-fire. We did hear Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the U.N., making a statement that did condemn Israel for that renewed military action in the Bekaa.
There's also been more moves by the military here, the defense minister, Elias Murr, warning if there's any violation from the Lebanese side by any groups -- Hezbollah, he says, he trusts not to fire rockets again in Israel, not to violate the cease-fire right now -- but if any other groups, militant armed groups that do have short- range rocket capability in Lebanon, if they were to open up against Israel, there would be the full weight of the law against them.
This is what the defense minister had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIAS MURR, LEBANON DEFENSE MINISTER: Of course, if there is a violation, they will be dealt harshly by the Lebanese army. Because when we feel that -- consider the resistance is committed not to fire any rocket, any rocket fired from the Lebanese territory by the resistance against Israel would give Israel a pretext to strike Lebanon.
Therefore, any violation will be in the best interest of Israel and, therefore, we will have to deal with it. And there will be no hesitation this issue. And whoever we stop, we will have them court- martialed as an agent collaborator for the enemy, not just a person who has used a weapon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SADLER: In the past, there have been firings of rockets outside of the control of Hezbollah against Israel. Earlier this day, two top Lebanese officials, the prime minister, Fouad Siniora and the speaker of the parliament here, Nabih Berri, toured the devastation in the southern suburbs of Beirut. This is where, on one day alone, Israel dropped more than 20 tons of explosives in an attempt to destroy Hezbollah's power base in the southern suburbs.
But at the same time, large areas of civilian neighborhoods were laid to waste. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said that Israel had committed what he said was a crime against humanity.
BLITZER: All right, Brent, thank you very much.
The cease-fire deal clearly could be in serious danger right now. Now, it doesn't appear as if Hezbollah will actually be disarmed. And it's a real question whether a robust United Nations force will appear in south Lebanon.
So what happens next? Will Israel continue to withdraw its troops? To answer these questions, we're joined by Mark Regev. He's Israel's foreign ministry spokesman. He's joining us live from Jerusalem.
Thanks very much for coming in.
MARK REGEV, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: My pleasure, Wolf.
BLITZER: The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, says Israel clearly violated United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 by this commando raid the other night in Lebanon north of the Litani River. What's your reaction? REGEV: Israel's military operation, our raid that night, was in response to a violation happening on the Lebanese side. The cease- fire is based on Security Council Resolution 1701, and that resolution is explicit that there has to be enforced a total arms embargo against Hezbollah. And we were seeing the transfer of illicit weapons. That's a clear violation, and we're entitled to act.
BLITZER: The prime minister of Lebanon, Fouad Siniora, says this. He said, "The landing carried out by the Israeli occupation forces today in Bekaa was a flagrant violation of the cessation of hostilities announced by the Security Council."
Why didn't the government of Israel go to the United Nations and complain about information that weapons were coming in? Why not raise it with the U.N. Security Council and make a formal complaint?
REGEV: I think in the real world, I think everyone understands that had we made an official complaint, by the time anyone from the U.N. was there on the ground to see what was happening, of course, the area would have been cleaned out and the weapons would be somewhere else, probably deep inside Lebanon under Hezbollah control.
And I would remind the prime minister of Lebanon that it's his obligation under U.N. Resolution 1701 to be there on the border with Syria to prevent to prevent this sort of illicit weapons transfer. It's also the responsibility of the international community to be there with forces to augment those of the Lebanese army.
So I would say Israel is acting because of the violation. And if that violation is prevented by the Lebanese government, by the international community, of course Israel wouldn't have to act.
BLITZER: There's been speculation, as you well know, that Israel had another motive in going after this target near Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley. For example, you were looking specifically for a leader of Hezbollah to capture or kill. Do you want to respond to that?
REGEV: Yes. I would say the following, Wolf. In the Middle East, there are no shortages of speculators. There's no shortage of people who've got conspiracy theories and so forth. Our operation was specifically designed to prevent arms transfer.
That site that we hit, that's a Hezbollah center there in the Bekaa. From that point, that's a command and control center which is orchestrating the arms smuggling. And we were trying, actually, to enforce the spirit of the U.N. resolution.
BLITZER: The other speculation that's prevalent is that perhaps you were looking for those two Israeli soldiers who were kidnapped across the border back on July 12th. Is there any truth to that?
REGEV: Also speculation, but the operation was designed, as I say, to stop arms transfers. We want our soldiers home. I make no bones about it. And the U.N. resolution was clear. Our two hostages being held in Lebanon for more than a month now must be released unconditionally and immediately. That's the demand of the U.N. Security Council.
BLITZER: If Israel knew where the leader of Hezbollah was, Hassan Nasrallah, would you kill him?
REGEV: Well, that's a tough one. I mean, Nasrallah's been involved in countless acts of terrorism against Israelis, against Jews. Hezbollah has struck ten years ago, as you'll recall, the largest act of anti-Semitic violence perpetrated by Hezbollah against the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, scores of people killed. Hezbollah is a terrorist movement with global reach. I think we would have the right to hit Nasrallah. Having said that, Israel will do nothing to upset the cease-fire. We want to see the cease-fire move forward. We want to see the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701. And we are very strict under our obligations. We'll keep our obligations under the cease-fire.
BLITZER: So can I take it from that answer that at least for the time being, efforts to kill Nasrallah have been put on hold?
REGEV: We want to see the cease-fire succeed.
BLITZER: I'll take that as a yes. The Lebanese government, just a little while ago, was also formally protesting what it says is another violation of its sovereignty by the Israeli military.
They put out a statement saying, "The Israeli enemy continues to violate Lebanese sovereignty and does not abide by the terms of Resolution 1701. Two Israeli jet fighters entered Lebanese airspace at 10:35 a.m. They starting by flying over the south and then flew over the north and over the Bekaa after that. They left from over Naqoura, toward the sea, at 11:55 local."
They were over Lebanese airspace, according to the statement, for more than an hour. Is this true?
REGEV: I can't confirm the operational details. But I can say the following. I urge anyone making the complaint to read Security Council Resolution 1701. Because 1701 says we cannot, in Israel, take offensive operations, but we are allowed to keep up a presence.
We're allowed to keep up an intelligence presence. We're allowed to stay in south Lebanon until our forces are relieved by the joint command of the Lebanese army and the international forces.
So as I say, nothing we're doing is in contradiction to the U.N. resolution on Lebanon. We want to see that resolution work.
BLITZER: A lot of people around the world, Mark Regev, have had some serious questions about Israel's strategy during this war, this 33-, 34-day war against Hezbollah.
And even strong supporters of Israel have asked why Israel found it so necessary to destroy so much of Lebanon's infrastructure in the process of going after Hezbollah targets.
Today, the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, toured some of those targets. He said, "There is no other way to describe this more than it is a criminal act. This is a crime against humanity committed by Israel here and in other areas of Lebanon."
You've seen the devastation. You've seen the damage. What's your response?
REGEV: I think a lot of the damage was, unfortunately, caused by a reality that Hezbollah worked trained and acted out of civilian areas. We had situations where missiles, missiles that were aimed at our people, were put in houses, were put in schools, were put in mosques. This idea that Hezbollah was fighting behind the Lebanese civilian population --which made our job very, very difficult.
And we made every effort possible to try to be as surgical as is humanly possible, in very difficult circumstances. And I know that there are more and more voices coming out of Lebanon who are blaming Hezbollah for the carnage, saying Hezbollah was really willing to fight to the very last Lebanese civilian, that Hezbollah sponsors in Iran and in Syria were willing to sacrifice the Lebanese civilian population to advance their own extremist goals.
BLITZER: But there is a conventional assessment in Lebanon itself that even those who have been critical of Hezbollah in the past, critical of Syria, have, sort of, been united, now, around their condemnation of Israel.
Take Saad Hariri, the son of Rafik Hariri, the slain former Lebanese prime minister. Saad Hariri told this to the Lebanese parliament this week. He said, "The history of Israel is a black history, a hateful one, of destruction, killing and devastation. This is Israel that wants to live off the blood of the Lebanese and Palestinians."
This is someone who's been very critical of the Syrian involvement in Lebanon. But now he's turning, in part, at least, against Israel. What's your reaction to this development?
REGEV: I think it's unfortunate, Wolf, that too often you see in the Arab world -- not just in Lebanon, in the wide Arab world -- politicians seek legitimacy by bashing my country, by bashing Israel. They think that's a way that they achieve legitimacy, that they can galvanize support.
But I would urge you to look at the interesting remarks coming out of Lebanese leadership. And they're raising serious questions about the Syrian role, about the Iranian role.
People are fed up with those two countries, Syria and Iran, using Lebanon as the springboard to attack Israel. And I've heard more and more Lebanese leaders, intellectuals, elected officials say that they're sick and tired of having their country being exploited, being used by external forces to attack Israel, and then Lebanon pays the price.
There's no reason, Wolf, for a conflict between Israel and Lebanon. Israel and Lebanon don't have a border dispute. Israel and Lebanon could really get on fine if it wasn't for those external actors, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.
BLITZER: One final issue I want to raise before you I let you go, Mark Regev, and that's the latest Israeli abductions of top leaders of the Palestinian Authority. The other day, the deputy prime minister was taken prisoner by Israel. Now there's word that the secretary general (ph) of the parliament has just been captured by Israel. The prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, saying, "The abduction aims to tear down the Palestinian political system and put obstacles before the government and the movement of harmony on the Palestinian internal scene."
What's the purpose of going after these Hamas political leaders, democratically elected by the people of Palestine?
REGEV: I'd say the following, Wolf. If Palestinian leadership acts like leadership should, like political leadership, as statesman, of course, they'll get the respect that they deserve.
But they can't act like terrorists. They can't be behind suicide bombings. They can't be behind rocket launches against Israeli cities. They can't be behind hostage-taking and expect that Israel treat them in a different way. If you act like a terrorist, you'll be treated accordingly.
BLITZER: Are you going to arrest the prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, too?
REGEV: I've got no plans to announce on that. But I would urge the Palestinians, I would urge the Palestinian leadership, not to accept Israel's demands, not to America's demands, but meet the benchmarks articulated by Kofi Annan.
Those three benchmarks: accept's Israel's right to exist, renounce terrorism and, of course, accept the peace process. If you do that, the door is open.
Unfortunately, it's not that you have a problem with Israel. It's not that you have a problem with the United States. The Palestinians have a problem with the entire international community.
Do you know, Wolf, today, the U.N. won't even speak to the Hamas leadership because they are so much outside international legitimacy.
BLITZER: Mark Regev is the spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry.
Thanks very much for coming in. I appreciate it very much.
And coming up next, will the conflict in the Middle East increase the likelihood of a terrorist attack here in the United States? We'll ask our panel of experts.
And we'll get a live update on Iran's plans for the Middle East from our correspondent in Tehran.
Stay with us. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: There's still time for you to weigh in on our Web question of the week: Will U.N. troops be able to keep the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah? You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. The results at the end of the hour.
But straight ahead, President Bush has talked often about change in the Middle East. But can the United States really control who wins and who loses? We'll get analysis from a panel of experts.
You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: The Middle East is at a pivotal moment in its history. The death and destruction we see shows how determined the extremists are to stop just and modern societies from emerging in the region.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush speaking earlier this week about the crisis in the Middle East.
If the region is changing, will it resemble the president's vision? Joining us now to discuss that and more are three experts: Rami Khouri writes for the Daily Star in Beirut; CNN's national security adviser John McLaughlin is a former deputy director of the CIA; and Danielle Pletka is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C. think-tank.
Thanks to all of you for joining us.
Rami, you're in the region. I'll start with you. Is this cease- fire, based on everything you know right now, likely to work?
RAMI KHOURI, LEBANON'S DAILY STAR NEWSPAPER: I think, in the short term, it is likely to work if the Israelis decide that they're going to comply with the United Nations resolution, which they don't have a very good track record of doing, going back over the last 20 years.
So it's really more dependent on the Israelis than it is on Lebanon, because in Lebanon the government and Hezbollah have made a historic agreement to accept the cease-fire, accept the U.N. resolution, accept the seven-point plan of Siniora, and let the army and the international troops into the south.
This is unprecedented, it's historic. We're looking for something of equal magnitude from the Israelis, not like the raid they did yesterday.
BLITZER: Do you really believe, Rami Khouri, that Hezbollah is going to cooperate in this venture -- in other words, allow itself effectively to be disarmed?
KHOURI: If you phrase it like that, the answer is no. If you phrase it in a more reasonable and equitable and politically balanced way, I think the answer is yes.
Hezbollah has taken some historic decisions in the last couple of weeks, working with Siniora and the Lebanese government, to accept the U.N. resolutions, let the troops of the Lebanese government and the international troops expand its force into the south, accept the seven-point plan of Siniora. They said they accept the cease-fire. The defense minister's announcement today is a sign that clearly there's an understanding between the government and Hezbollah.
They need to get the situation in the south calm, get the Israelis out of Lebanon, stop the Israeli threats. That's the perception in Lebanon. In return, there's no more attacks against Israel from Lebanon. And they deal with the Shebaa Farms and the prisoners, and these are relatively manageable issues, I think.
In the longer run, Hezbollah's status in Lebanon is an issue that the Lebanese will deal with. Everybody seems to accept that you have to deal with the issue of Hezbollah's arms, there's no question about that. But that cannot be the first issue. It has to be done once Lebanon is secure and free of Israeli threats.
BLITZER: Let me bring in Danielle Pletka for her assessment.
Will this cease-fire, based on everything you know, Danielle, work?
DANIELLE PLETKA, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: I don't think so. As Rami said, I think it has some reasonable prospects in the short term, but at the end of the day, Hezbollah sustains itself by its terrorist operations, not through its politics in Lebanon. It wants to have its cake and eat it too.
If Hezbollah was committed to this cease-fire, it would not be rearming via Iran and Syria at this very moment. It wouldn't have the need to. So the good intentions aren't there.
And the real seed of the problem is in the U.N. Security Council resolution, which fails to call for the clear and complete and total disarmament of Hezbollah.
BLITZER: Hezbollah has emerged as an effective political entity in Lebanon. In fact, there is widespread assessment right now that they're doing a much better job helping rehabilitate the country than the Lebanese government itself.
PLETKA: There's always been a vacuum in the south of Lebanon, and various groups have stepped in. Hassan Nasrallah is -- and I hate to say this -- he is a very capable politician. The fact that Hezbollah is unwilling to abandon its proxy war on behalf of Iran and Syria against Israel, against Jews and, frankly, against the United States is a big mistake for them. It is a historic mistake for them. BLITZER: From the U.S. perspective, John McLaughlin -- and you're a former deputy director of the CIA; at one point, you were the acting director of the CIA -- is Hezbollah, as some allege, a wholly owned subsidiary of Iran?
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, it pretty much is, Wolf. They get hundreds of millions of dollars from Iran every year. Any major action they take is taken in consultation with Iran. And when they've carried out terrorist operations overseas -- that is, outside of the region -- they've frequently been assisted by Iranian intelligence officers operating out of Iranian embassies.
So they've developed a certain degree of freedom, in the sense that they are also a social service organization in Lebanon, but they depend on Iran for weapons and money.
BLITZER: Rami, do you agree with that assessment?
KHOURI: No, I don't. I think what we're hearing, if I may say so, from my two colleague guests is an assessment that reminds me of the American assessment of the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the Iraq war: There's a lot of speculation, there's a lot of ideology, there's a lot of neo-con-driven aggressive politics. There's not a lot of facts on the ground.
If Hezbollah is complicit in any terrorist acts, they should certainly be held accountable, but so should the state of Israel for any crimes against humanity or infractions of international humanitarian law. We cannot apply morality and legality to one side in a two-sided war.
I think Hezbollah only has credibility and legitimacy as a Lebanese organization. And of course it gets support from Iran and Syria. And, as far as I know, the United States gives hundreds of millions of dollars to support to many people in the Arab world: nongovernmental organizations, political groups, women's groups, democracy groups, environmental groups, all kinds of nongovernmental societies.
So, Hezbollah is also an armed group, of course. And it's doing these because the Lebanese government was fundamentally incapacitated by the last 40 years of history, which heavily have been dominated by Israeli attacks, occupations, aggressions. So we have to look at both sides.
BLITZER: Let me let Danielle Pletka respond to that.
Go ahead, Danielle.
PLETKA: Well, I think it's counter-historical and counter- factual. The assessment that John and I, who don't agree on a whole variety of issues, have of this is exactly the same: Hezbollah has been responsible for terrorist attacks in Argentina, as Mark Regev mentioned earlier on your show. It's been responsible for the death of American citizens elsewhere. It operates in Europe; it operates around the world. This isn't just about Lebanon. And I would say that, as much as many others, the Lebanese government and the Lebanese people are victims of Hezbollah's willingness to hijack their democratic policy, their foreign ministry, their own military to start this conflict with Israel. Let's not forget, things were relatively peaceful before that.
BLITZER: Rami Khouri makes a very serious charge. And you were in the CIA at the time that the weapons-of-mass-destruction assessment was put forward, which turned out, as you know, John McLaughlin, to be inaccurate. He says now your assessment on Iranian involvement with Hezbollah is basically the same kind of inaccurate assessment. Do you want to respond to that?
MCLAUGHLIN: Sure. I mean, these are apples and oranges. As Danielle has pointed out, we may disagree on many things, but on this point, there's a lot of evidence.
Hezbollah was behind the attack, really one of the largest attacks on Israelis since the end of World War II in the tri- border region of South America. It was responsible for the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut some years ago that killed 240 Marines. One Hezbollah bomber was involved in the attack on Khobar Towers. The list goes on.
Hezbollah operatives have been picked up around the world in places like Singapore, France, other parts of Europe. I don't think there's any doubt that this is a terrorist organization, and its impetus for its creation in 1982 came in part from disputes in Lebanon, but also from the Iranian revolution.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a break, but I want Rami Khouri to respond to that.
Rami, the widespread assessment here in Washington -- and maybe you have a different assessment -- is that Hezbollah not only is a terrorist organization, but going back to '83 when Imad Mugniyah, one of the top Hezbollah leaders, was involved in ordering that truck bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks outside Beirut, and some of these other activities.
Is it your assessment that Hezbollah was not involved in any of these terrorist attacks?
KHOURI: Oh, no, I wouldn't say that. I'm saying I'm not sure. I'm not a criminal investigator, and I don't have the kind of intelligence that John and Danielle have in Washington there.
But what I'm saying is that you cannot apply the law and morality to one side in a conflict. If Hezbollah is accused of these things -- and these are very serious crimes. If they are accused and there's credible evidence, they should be dealt with through the system that the world has set up of adjudication through courts, through tribunals and other means.
You cannot only ask Hezbollah and Arab groups to obey the law and not ask the same thing of Israel. So of course, bring the evidence out, take them to court, use all available mechanisms. And these are crimes that were done 15, 20, 25 years ago in some cases. By all means, everybody must be held accountable, but not just one side.
We want to -- look what the Israelis have recently done in Lebanon and over the years. So the question is not who did what 15, 20 years ago. The question is, how can we solve this? How can we apply a single standard of law and morality and equal political rights?
The Israelis have a right to live in peace. So do the Lebanese, and so do the Palestinians.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. But we have a lot more to discuss, more questions about the future of the Middle East, with our panel. That's coming up.
Also coming up next, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including JonBenet Ramsey murder suspect John Mark Karr, he's now on his way to the United States.
Stay with us. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
We're discussing the shifting balance of power in the Middle East with three experts: Rami Khouri writes for the Daily Star in Beirut. CNN's national security adviser John McLaughlin is a former deputy director of the CIA. And Danielle Pletka is with the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C., think-tank.
Stand by for a moment. Our Aneesh Raman is in Tehran, joining us live via broadband with the latest from there.
Aneesh, what are you picking up on the streets in Tehran?
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the signs only continue that Iran sees itself as a growing force in the region. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, earlier this week said not only had Hezbollah won the war, but that the battle goes on. You see him there at a speech delivered to huge crowds in a province of Iran.
For its part, this weekend Iran's armed forces launched a massive military exercise, war games that are set to take place for the next five weeks in about half of the country's provinces.
RAMAN: Today, a number of surface-to-surface missiles were tested. They're dubbed "Thunder" in Farsi. A military commander says their range is about 155 miles, short-range missiles, but part of a new defensive doctrine.
They also said Iran is ready for any sudden attack. "Sudden attack" is a word we're hearing more and more among officials here. They're increasingly concerned of military air strikes that could take place, by the West, on Iran's nuclear facilities, which is why these war games, of course, are of seemingly deliberate timing.
Iran, as early as Tuesday, will announce its rejection, by all indications, of the deal that is on the table for it to suspend its nuclear program by the U.N. deadline that comes at the end of the month.
In a press conference today by Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, he all but said that suspension was off the table. Iran has said from the beginning this is a civilian, peaceful nuclear program, that it has the right to pursue it.
But now, it seems all but certain Iran will face sanctions from the U.N. On the streets, there's growing unease among Iranians. They have long supported this program as their nation's right.
But now there is quiet concern as to whether pursuing that right is worth the economic sanctions and, perhaps, military outcome that could come down the line, Wolf.
BLITZER: Aneesh Raman, thanks very much.
Aneesh is joining us live from Iran.
Rami Khouri, you just heard that report from Aneesh. There have been a lot of the more moderate Arab leaders concerned about Iranian Shiite influence in the Middle East.
KHOURI: Early on, we heard from the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians. How concerned are Sunni Muslims, in particular, about this apparently growing Shiite Iranian influence in the region?
There is a lot of concern among the leaderships and, I think, less so among the people. And what you're getting is not so much only a Sunni-Shiite divide or an Arab-Persian divide but a divide also among leaderships or regimes and public opinion in much of the Arab world. Because, at the grassroots level, what you're seeing in one country after another throughout this region, and not just the Arab world but also Turkey and Pakistan, you're seeing Muslim fundamentalist groups, Islamists groups, Hamas, Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood winning election after election.
Even when the elections are rigged as they are in places like Egypt, they're still winning the elections. So popular opinion is very much for an Islamist assertion of political identity, which includes defying and resisting Israel and the U.S., to some extent.
So this is widespread in popular opinion, but the regimes are concerned about what Iran is doing and how it is working with other groups, Shiite and other groups all around the region.
So what we have is a real new cold war in the Middle East for the identity of the Arab world. BLITZER: The president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Danielle, said this on Tuesday. He said, "Middle East nations are wide awake and they are also envisioning a new Middle East, one that is free of United States and British domination."
You raised a stir a few weeks back by criticizing President Bush and his foreign policy as not being robust enough right now, dealing with these various threats, presumably, from a growing Islamic fundamentalism around the world.
Explain to our viewers what your criticism of the Bush foreign policy was.
PLETKA: At the time, I was very concerned that we, the United States, in concert with our European allies, had made a very generous offer to the Iranians for dialogue in exchange for dialogue for other incentives, for trade, and basically, to sit down face to face for the first time since the revolution, in exchange for nothing more than an Iranian suspension of uranium enrichment.
In other words, they didn't have to do anything more than we'd been demanding for two years and the U.N. Security Council had been demanding. But suddenly, everybody kept offering them more and more and more.
Now, the Iranians are the ultimate bizarre market negotiators. They've done a really good job. They were offering us the same thing and we keep offering a higher price for it. That signals, to the Middle East weakness.
And I don't think that we shouldn't be confused about that. Hezbollah, Al Qaida, the likes of Iran and North Korea all sense that the United States is in retreat.
And because of that, they are challenging us in a whole variety of ways, the Iranians with these military exercises; Hezbollah, I think, with its attack on Israel in the past; North Korea with its missile threats, et cetera, et cetera. This is the signal we've sent. And they are feeling their oats, pushing the envelope and seeing how far they can push back on us. It's not a good idea to signal weakness.
BLITZER: It looks like the Iranians, as we just heard from Aneesh, John McLaughlin, are moving forward with their nuclear program and are going to resist these calls for suspension of their uranium enrichment.
MCLAUGHLIN: I think that's very likely, Wolf. They're feeling their oats and feeling strong here because they do associate themselves with the fact that a group they support, Hezbollah, was not defeated by Israel.
And that, in a way, challenges one of the fundamental strategic concepts that has brought stability to the Middle East, the assumption by everyone that Israel will always decisively win in any military contest. And that assumption has eroded. Also eroded here, somewhat, is the U.S. role as the honest broker in the Middle East, which is another element of stability that has contributed over the years.
So I think it's time to hit the reset button on a lot of our assumptions about the Middle East. It has never been more complex, and in my judgment, never more dangerous than it is at this moment.
BLITZER: Rami Khouri, I want to switch gears with you, momentarily. We're almost out of time, but to get your thoughts on the taking of these two American journalists, a hostage, if you will, kidnapping of these Fox News Channel journalists, Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, in Gaza.
They were there, reporting on the Palestinians, doing some excellent work. Steve Centanni -- I've known him for many years. He's an outstanding reporter. Olaf Wiig -- I don't know him, but by all accounts, a serious photo journalist in the best sense of the word.
What do you make of this? And as a journalist yourself, what advice do you have to try to get these two guys free?
KHOURI: Well, obviously, they should be free. There's absolutely no reason to take journalists or any civilians hostages who are not involved in a military combat in a war. Civilians doing anything should be free from any kind of attempts like this. And people have to work every possible diplomatic and personal button to get them free.
But I think we need to understand this doesn't happen in a vacuum. Palestine is one of four countries, with Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq, where the United States and Great Britain have led a forward strategy for freedom using military force, directly or indirectly.
And what we have is chaos, lawlessness, governments losing credibility, losing control, violent groups emerging. There's a massive spread of chaos that goes along with the American-dictated freedom strategy. And Palestine is part of that problem.
So we need to re-look at what the United States is trying to accomplish. And some of its goals are certainly legitimate. Whether it's Iran or the Middle East or Arabs and Israelis, they are legitimate goals. But they cannot be imposed either by military force or diplomatic threats. They have to be done through a negotiating process.
And hopefully, this Lebanon-Israel war will push us back to a comprehensive look for a regional peace agreement.
BLITZER: Well, let's hope that some positive things could come out of this situation. It would be nice if that were to happen.
Rami Khouri, thanks very much for joining us -- John McLaughlin, Danielle Pletka. We'll continue this conversation on "Late Edition."
And coming up next, in case you missed it, we're going to bring you the headlines from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States, where the guests delved into the tough times for the United States in Iraq and its effect on electoral politics.
And then I'll share my perspective on the turbulent weeks we've just witnessed in the Middle East.
Stay with us. We'll be right back.
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 NBC, Republican Senator John McCain spoke about the tough going U.S. troops are now facing in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): All along, we did not have enough troops on the ground to control the situation. Many, many people knew that. And we're paying a very heavy price for it. But I want to emphasize to you: We cannot lose this. It will cause chaos in Iraq and in the region.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On ABC, the topic also the politics of Iraq, specifically Senator Joe Lieberman's pro-war stance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA): And the fact is, Joe Lieberman is out of step with the people of Connecticut. I believe that he's just dead-wrong with respect to the war. And to adopt the rhetoric of Dick Cheney, who has been wrong about almost everything he has said about Iraq, shows you exactly why he got in trouble with the Democrats there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On CBS, Senator Lieberman defended his position on the war in Iraq and criticized his opponent Ned Lamont's campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT): I feel that I allowed my opponent to distort my position on Iraq.
BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": What do you mean by that?
LIEBERMAN: Well, what I mean is, he made me into a cheerleader for George Bush and everything that's happened. And the record shows that while I believe we did the right thing in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, I've been very critical over the years, particularly in 2003 and 2004, about the failure to send enough American troops to secure the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Finally, on Fox News Sunday, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel was worried about his own party's chances in the upcoming midterm elections.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE): Where is the fiscal responsibility of the party I joined in '68? Where is the international engagement of the party I joined? Fair, free trade, individual responsibility, not building a bigger government but building a smaller government.
I think we've lost our way. And I think the Republicans are going to be in some jeopardy for that and will be held accountable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. The highlights on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
Up next, for much of the past month, I've been watching the war between Israel and Hezbollah on the ground in the Middle East. Some of my final thoughts when we come back.
And don't forget, for our North American viewers, coming up at the top of the hour, Zain Verjee anchors "This Week at War." Stay with us.
BLITZER: Those are the results of our Web question. Remember, though, not a scientific poll.
This final thought. I'm back here in Washington, having spent three of the past four weeks in Israel, watching the war with Hezbollah and then the fragile cease-fire.
During that time, I clearly saw the mood in Israel swing from confidence that Israel's military and political leadership could crush Hezbollah to frustration and anger that the mission was not accomplished.
Listen to this exchange I had with Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, in her office in Tel Aviv this past week.
BLITZER: Even here in Israel, there's a sense that Israel may have made a mistake in the tactics and the strategy. We looked at some recent polls. The prime minister, Ehud Olmert, on July 12th, his approval rating was at 75 percent. It went down to 48 percent. The defense minister, Amir Peretz, his approval rating on July 12th, when those two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped, was at 65 percent. It's gone down to 37 percent.
There's a lot of concern here in Israel that these 34 days of this war were not handled as well as you could have handled them.
TZIPI LIVNI, FOREIGN MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Well, firstly, I believe that part of democracy is that every government can be criticized. And I have to live and to go to sleep every night with decisions that I made and I will make as a cabinet minister. And it's not easy, especially not in Israel, when it comes to human lives and to the lives of soldiers and civilians.
BLITZER: Are you comfortable with the decisions that you personally made?
LIVNI: Yes. But I want to add something. That at the end of the day, as I said before, time will tell. And only a month ago, nobody could have believed that the Lebanese army will be deployed to the south part. Nobody could have believed that Hezbollah will agree to this kind of understanding of deployment of the Lebanese army, plus international forces. Nobody, I think, would have believed that it's going to be an arm embargo on the borders.
So something is changing. It's not enough. It's only the beginning of the process. Let's meet again in a few months from now.
BLITZER: And I suspect I will meet with Minister Livni in a few months. She's an up-and-coming political star in Israel and presumably will be around. But the recriminations in Israel against the political leadership, especially against the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and the defense minister, Amir Peretz, appear to only be just beginning.
There will be formal commissions of inquiry in Israel, and the political opposition led by the former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is beginning to take off the gloves. In short, the political debate in Israel is heating up, even as the threats facing Israel intensify.
That's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, August 20th. Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
I'm also in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern, as well as another hour at 7 p.m. Eastern.
Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
For our North American viewers, "This Week at War" is just ahead, right after a check of what's in the news right now.
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