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Letter From Iran; President Bush's Summit With Iraqi Prime Minister Delayed; Who Is Nouri al-Maliki?; Iraq Study Group Makes Recommendations

Aired November 29, 2006 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone, from Amman.
They're putting a diplomatic spin on it here, but the fact remains, today, the prime minister of Iraq stood up the president of the United States.


ANNOUNCER: Snubbed at the summit -- why President Bush is left cooling his heels with the crisis in Iraq heating up.

A letter from Tehran -- Iran's president says he wants friendship with the United States, but does he also want a piece of Iraq?

Spreading fallout -- planes and people. Who else was exposed to the nuclear poison that silenced a Russian spy? Will the radioactive trail lead straight back to Moscow?

And they come here to pray to their holy mother. Would you believe Muslims pray here, too? A true miracle at the house of the Virgin Mary.


ANNOUNCER: Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360.

Reporting tonight from Amman, Jordan, here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: And we want to welcome our viewers back home in the United States and to everyone watching around the world on CNN International. Thanks very much for watching tonight -- a lot going on here in Amman.

You can call it the dinner that never was, high-stakes diplomacy on hold, at least until breakfast -- a crucial summit off to an embarrassing start. We will be looking at a lot tonight, most of it having to do with how to turn things around in Iraq, if that's even possible anymore, for either President Bush or Iraq's prime minister. We will also be dealing with a very big wild card, our nemesis Iran.

My colleague John Roberts will be handling that angle from New York -- John.


Many people believe that Iran is already taking advantage of the chaos in Iraq and the power vacuum in Baghdad. It may also be trying to build a sphere of influence, extending from Afghanistan all the way to the Mediterranean. And, today, Iran's president sent a message to the American people. We will tell you about that coming up -- Anderson.

COOPER: John, President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are sitting down this morning, both of them crippled politically back home, each of them facing a menu of tough choices. Mr. Bush is under pressure to bring the troops home, but may find it necessary to send more in.

Prime Minister al-Maliki has a weakening base of support, unreliable security forces, to say the least, and a capital that is out of control, and powerful factions that were pushing him not to come here at all. Then came the leak of a tough memo prepared by Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, then the snub. Now comes the spin.

Here's CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president was already on the way to Amman, Jordan, on Air Force One, when he got a call from the U.S. ambassador to Iraq that he was being stood up by the Iraqi prime minister.

The White House explained that it was a joint decision between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Jordanian host, King Abdullah. They had their issues to discuss apart from Mr. Bush; it was not a snub.

But it was clear the president was not consulted, and left the impression of a brush-off. The White House is trying to downplay the no-show, insisting it wasn't, pointing out, Mr. Bush and Maliki's face-to-face talks are still planned for tomorrow.

This summit comes at a critical time for both leaders engaged in high-stakes diplomacy. Maliki is under tremendous political pressure at home to show his strength as a leader, independent of the Bush administration.

But, late Tuesday, a secret and very blunt memo was leaked, expressing White House doubts about whether Maliki was capable of quelling the violence in his country. Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said Maliki had good intentions, but that "Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."

White House officials tried to downplay the memo, saying, Mr. Bush is still confident in Maliki's leadership. But the damage was already done. And, to make matters worse, second, backers of the radical Shiite Muqtada al-Sadr made good on their promise, withdrawing their support from Maliki's government, in protest of his planned meetings with Mr. Bush.

Because al-Sadr controls 30 seats in parliament and six government ministries, the move suddenly puts Maliki's government in jeopardy. And, in fact, Mr. Bush's host, Jordan's King Abdullah, warned, he believes the Middle East might be on the cusp of not one, but three simultaneous civil wars, in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian authorities.

And, if that's true, and President Bush's claim that U.S. security depends on peace here, Americans may face new dangers.


COOPER: And we're joined now by CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.

What is going on? Why did al-Maliki do this?

MALVEAUX: You know, what you're seeing is, mostly, it's for domestic consumption here, because obviously...

COOPER: Domestic consumption in Iraq.

MALVEAUX: In Iraq. I mean, he has to look tough here. He doesn't have control in his own country.

And the even Hadley memo mentions this, is that, every once in a while, he will flex his muscle. He will act out against the Bush administration. So, this was important for Maliki to do tonight. It was also important for benchmarks and barricades as well.

There was even a rumor, a report overnight, that there wasn't -- he was going to go home altogether. Jordanian sources say, no, that's not happening. He's going to have these breakfast meetings that are going to occur in a couple hours.

COOPER: How optimistic -- I mean, does -- is anything really expected to come out of this? Is it known what -- what al-Maliki is going to ask for, what the president is going to ask for?

MALVEAUX: You know, what's going to come out of this is a sense of whether or not these two leaders still trust each other. I mean, that's -- that's what President Bush is looking for.

He says he's confident in his leadership. That's what he wants to find out. There are a lot of problems. There are a lot of problems with the capabilities. And they say: Look, we want to help you out. What do you need? And do you have a will to carry this out?

COOPER: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much.


COOPER: We will talk more to Suzanne tomorrow. Of course, for a president wanting to show that he's moving forward on Iraq, that he is -- that there is some sort of forward momentum, today's snub could not have come at a worse time.

Another major headline today is former Secretary of State Colin Powell saying that what is happening in Iraq is, in fact, a civil war.

CNN's Hala Gorani was in the room when this happened. This occurred in Dubai, about 12 or 14 hours ago.

What -- what happened?

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was with -- within the context of a business forum, really, where the secretary -- the former secretary of state was giving a speech to business leaders in the United Arab Emirates.

And, there, when I asked him in a Q&A session, after his presentation, whether or not he thought that Iraq was in a state of civil war, he said he did, and he believed that those terms should be used in order to describe the reality on the ground.

And he also said that, if he were still head of the State Department, that he might advise the administration to use those precise words, in order, once again, to match the words with the reality.

COOPER: You also asked him what he would do if he was running the State Department, or what the U.S. should be doing right now in Iraq. What did he say?

GORANI: Well, he didn't recommend increasing troop levels.

COOPER: He did not?

GORANI: He did not, no.

He said, it's a twofold solution, really. You have to look at it, on the one hand, as a military solution. And that would involve the United States, because U.S. troops are the main source of security there, but, eventually, a withdrawal, eventually, really, way down the line, once the security situation improves, but mainly an internal Iraqi political solution that would involve Iraqis themselves, and not a solution that would be applied from the outside.

COOPER: Hmm. Interesting.

CNN's Hala Gorani -- thanks, Hala. Appreciate it.

We have got, right now, a hobbled president back home, a weak and potentially difficult prime minister, trouble on the ground, sniping back home, and really no good choices for anyone. As a writer for put it today, it is starting to look like a speed chess version of Vietnam.

The question is, what does the president do now? Some perspective from David Gergen, a former presidential adviser -- he's in Boston tonight -- and, in San Francisco, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for being with us.

David, how big a blow for President Bush is this snub?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: It was a huge embarrassment. It's the last thing you want in a very -- you know, the very careful minuets of international diplomacy. Everything is planned out in advance. Everybody agrees what time you're going to shake hands, what the final statement is going to be.

And to have this happen at a time when confidence in the president's handling of the war is plummeting, and events on the ground are -- are spiraling down into crisis, too, it -- I think this is a very bad blow for the president.

I do think it's -- it's exactly what -- if you're sitting in the White House, this is a thing you say, "Oh, my God, I can't believe we're doing this," because it gives a sense -- all the things you have been reporting tonight gives the sense that the wheels are coming off the wagon, and they don't have either a plan to get out of the ditch or to -- to go forward.

I just think it's -- I think we're in a -- I think the president, and, indeed, the United States, is getting to be in a fairly desperate situation at the moment.

COOPER: And -- and -- and, David, certainly, for this president, I mean, this summit was as much about perception as what they might actually get out of it. And this certainly does not help perception at all.

GERGEN: Not at all.

And it -- you know -- and I'm sure that, when word came up to the plane that he's pulled out of this meeting, and -- they just felt terribly embarrassed. The -- you know, the -- the leak of the Hadley memo, you know, I think probably had -- did play a role in this. It -- it put Maliki in a terrible position.

And -- and he's -- and he's -- Maliki is caught in a crossfire. Here, the United States' senior national security adviser is saying, the guy is -- is -- is either -- you know, we don't know, but he's either ignorant, he's a liar, or he's ineffectual. Those are great categories to put in -- in a man you're just getting ready to meet with.

And, then, the other half of this is, is the Sadr group is boycotting his government. He may collapse, as -- you know, his government may collapse at any moment.

I think this is just a very bad place. Somebody -- some adult supervision is needed here to put a stop to this hemorrhaging, and see if you can't bring this together, and try to find a way out that does not -- is not a catastrophe.

COOPER: Jeff Greenfield, in a piece you wrote on today, you say that the president is -- is carrying and traveling with a -- a heavy burden.

The fact that he had to come here for this meeting, what does it tell you?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, my reference was not just to the fact that -- that, as David describes, this is a situation where the -- the leader of the free world, the most powerful person on the face of the Earth, is made to appear not the master of his own fate.

But, when you contrast the situation today with the assumptions that underlay the original decision to go to war in Iraq, and what was supposed to happen, it reminds me of the old saying that, when you're up to your butt in alligators, it's hard to remember you set out to drain the swamp.

I mean, let's remember what we have learned from internal White House memos and from what was being said from the get-go by the president and his supporters. A stable Iraq was going to lead to regime change in Iran. That was going to dry up funding for Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad and Hamas. That was going to mean that the Palestinians were going to see that only a comprehensive, final, real solution to the Middle East would happen. There would be democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which might make the Saudis less eager of some of their citizens to fund extremist Muslims around the world -- all of these things, this reverse-domino theory.

And now we have the situation where -- where the president and his people seem to be saying, well, maybe we should talk to Iran, one of the three original members of the axis of evil.

We should also remember that one of the points of Iraq -- and this is very clear from memos that have come out since the war -- was to show any -- any potential adversary: We are not the weak horse. We're the strong house -- horse. Do not mess with the United States.

And the president seems to me now to be in a position where, as David said, there's a trap here. There's no obvious way, not only out, but there's no obvious way to come out of this looking as if the United States is the master of its own fate, much less the master of the region.

GERGEN: Yes, let me echo one thing here, Anderson, if I might.

I don't know...

COOPER: Yes, David...



GERGEN: Go ahead.

COOPER: Go on.

GERGEN: I don't know how the president can emerge from a meeting...

COOPER: No, no, I was just going to -- I was just going to say, I mean, Jeff raises a very good point, which is, is the U.S. really even in control at this point, or really have much influence over events on the ground in Iraq?

GERGEN: I -- that -- that is very fundamental to this, and whether -- and that was raised by the Hadley memo as well, whether Maliki has control over events on the ground.

It seems to me almost impossible now for the president to come out of a meeting with Mr. Maliki in the next few hours and say with a straight face, we're now planning to do these three things to help this government, when the government itself seems to be in a shambles, and the man who heads the government has just snubbed him. I just don't know how you persuade the American people, or anyone else, that this is a reliable partner for the United States in the coming months.

I don't know how Jeff feels about it, but it just seems -- I think this whole series of events have put into very grave question whether this administration can now work with the Maliki government in a way that persuades others that this is a safe, reasonable and thoughtful way to proceed.

COOPER: We're going to have to leave it there. David -- David Gergen, appreciate it, Jeff Greenfield, as well.

We -- we learned that two more U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq over the last two days. Here's the "Raw Data" on the U.S. death toll.

Since the war began, 2,834 military personnel have died. Another 21,921 service members have been wounded. According to one report, up to 54,226 -- 54,226 Iraqi civilians may have been killed -- widely divergent numbers there.

A lot more to come tonight, including a closer look at the man across the table from President Bush -- exactly is -- who is Nouri al- Maliki, and can he be trusted? Can he deliver?

Then, a man we may soon be doing business with, like it not, the president of Iran, and his message, a new one to the American people -- what is he up to? We will take a look at that.

And something Muslims and Christians can agree on: the Virgin Mary.

From Amman, this is 360.


COOPER: Well, President Bush came here to Amman to show his support, in part, for Nouri al-Maliki, and, judging by that leaked White House memo today, signal his disappointment in the prime minister, not a comfortable line to walk, certainly. But, to borrow from Donald Rumsfeld, do you go to war with the partner you have, not the one you might want?

So, what kind of partner exactly does the president now have?

Well, John Roberts has been looking into that -- John.

ROBERTS: Anderson, the glass is a little bit fogged when it comes to seeing just what sort of a partner, a leader Nouri al-Maliki is. President Bush wants to believe that al-Maliki's intentions are in the right place.

But, in the tangled web of Iraqi politics, it's difficult to be sure.


ROBERTS (voice-over): His rise to power was hailed as a turning point for the embattled country.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The formation of a unity government in Iraq is a new day for the millions of Iraqis who want to live in freedom.

ROBERTS: A conservative Shiite hard-liner, Nouri al-Maliki escaped a death sentence from Saddam Hussein, living in exile in Iran and Syria for more than two decades.

When he returned home in 2003, he quickly rose to power, with the promise of bridging Iraq's sectarian divide.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The government responsibility is to protect all Iraqis, regardless of their ethnic or religious background.

ROBERTS: After six months in office, that is just one of many broken promises.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": The joke in Baghdad today is that Prime Minister al-Maliki is sort of the mayor of the Green Zone.

ROBERTS: The prime minister's 24-point plan for reconciliation, announced in June, now reads like a laundry list of failures.


ROBERTS: Among his ideas: improve public services, strengthen the Iraqi armed forces, and ensure neutrality of Iraqi forces.

Almost all have been colossal failures -- perhaps one of the biggest, his inability to weaken the Sunni insurgency and the Shiite militias, some of which are among his biggest supporters.

CHANDRASEKARAN: You're never going to have de-militiafication until you -- you deal with the -- the Sunni threat, and you're never going to address the -- the -- the Sunni threat until the Sunnis start feel to like they're not under threat from the militias. You're in this vicious that it's hard to break.

ROBERTS: In a sign that the Bush administration may be losing patience, a secret memo written by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley was leaked on Tuesday.

MICHAEL GORDON, CHIEF MILITARY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES":But what it says is, he says all the right things. He sort of walks -- he talks the talk, but he doesn't necessarily walk the walk, so to speak.

ROBERTS: White House officials insist, President Bush still has confidence in al-Maliki.

In trying to appease so many competing groups, the prime minister has accomplished little. But some analysts are also quick to point out that he is trying.

BARTON: But I don't know that George Washington would have saved Iraq, under the conditions they have been facing over the last six months. So, rather than looking for a shiny knight on a white horse, we should really push this person to advance the few policies that might give him a chance.

ROBERTS: There has been little agreement on what those policies might be. But, for his part, Nouri al-Maliki has insisted that, with more weapons and more control over Iraqi troops, he can quell the violence in six months. Some worry that may be just another overly optimistic promise.


ROBERTS: On the eve of his meeting with President Bush, there are questions as to whether al-Maliki has the sway to do anything anymore.

Rumors abound in Baghdad that ambitious politicians are already lining up to replace him. And here's a bad sign. The other day, when al-Maliki went to al-Sadr City to meet with people after a series of car bombs there, Shiites, his own religious sect, threw stones at his motorcade.

It's hard to get anything done when your own people don't respect you -- Anderson.

COOPER: And now, of course, today, we learned that followers of Sadr have withdrawn their support from this government, 30 seats in parliament. They run six government ministries.

John, it's going to be certainly an interesting day, to say the least, tomorrow. Thanks, John. We will talk to you briefly again in -- in a short amount of time.

Iraq is also holding talks with Iran, of course. The U.S. refuses to meet with Tehran, but, today, Iran's president wrote a letter directly to the American people. We will have all that ahead -- right when we come back, live from Amman, Jordan.

Stay tuned.


ROBERTS: The talks in Amman between President Bush and Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, are part of a diplomatic full-court press unfolding on several fronts.

For the past three days, the presidents of Iraq and Iran have been holding talks in Tehran. Shiite Muslims make up a majority of both countries' populations. And Iraq has been reaching out to its former enemy for help.

Also today, a truly bizarre piece of diplomacy -- the White House is calling it nothing more than a P.R. stunt -- a five-page letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the American people. In it, he -- no surprise -- bashed the Bush administration, and sent a warning to the new Democratic Congress.

Earlier, I spoke to CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, about the letter.


ROBERTS: Christiane, it appears that President Ahmadinejad is trying to capitalize on what he believes is a loss of power and influence by President Bush in the recent American elections.

Let's take a look at some what he writes in this "noble" letter to Americans. He says: "The global position of the United States is, in all probability, weakened, because the administration has continued to resort to force to conceal the truth and mislead the American people about its policies and practices. Undoubtedly, the American people are not satisfied with this behavior. And they showed their discontent in the recent elections."

It sounds like Ahmadinejad has learned the tried-and-trued American political strategy, that, when your opponent is down, you keep your foot on his neck.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly, that is the case, because the Iranians have thought for a long time, throughout the debacle in -- in Iraq, as it's turned out, that, actually, American military power and American power is weakened.

They -- they do think that that's the case, because of what's happened in Iraq, because of what's happened in Afghanistan. They also believe that American moral authority has been weakened -- and he refers to it in this letter -- because of Abu Ghraib, because of Guantanamo Bay. And, now, they see these election results. And he's speaking directly to the people, over the head of the American administration.

Having said that, he's not saying a whole lot new. He does stress commonalities between American people and Iranian people. He talks about how both are religious and devout countries and citizens, America, Christian, and, Iran, Muslim.

ROBERTS: Mmm-hmm.

AMANPOUR: He talks about both wanting justice and freedom and democracy at home and around the world.

But he really does focus on Iraq and on what he calls the rights of the Palestinians to have their state.

ROBERTS: Well -- well, if he's -- if he's trying to curry favor with the American people, it could be, on Iraq, that he runs into a little bit of trouble.

Here's what he writes on Iraq -- quote -- "Since the commitment of the -- commencement of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, maimed or displaced. Terrorism in Iraq as grown exponentially. With the presence of the U.S. military in Iraq, nothing has been done to rebuild the ruins, to restore the infrastructure, or alleviate poverty."

True that so many Iraqis have suffered during this war, but isn't it also true, Christiane, that, Iran, through its support of some of these Shiite militias, at least indirectly, has been responsible for some of this violence?

AMANPOUR: Well, certainly, that's what the Bush administration believes. And they have been trying to somehow get Iran to cooperate on the whole issue inside Iraq.

Iran would say -- and has said many, many times -- that it just uses its good offices to try to wield its influence with the Shiites in a way that it not worse, even, than it is now.

ROBERTS: He -- he also takes aim and saves some of his harshest language for the Bush administration's support for Israel. He -- he would seem to be capitalizing -- or at least trying to, Christiane, here capitalize -- on -- on -- on some of the unease over what happened during the summer between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

AMANPOUR: Well, absolutely.

And, also, he knows that, by saying that, this is what people in the Islamic, in the developing world, also believe. They believe that point of view. And he has quite a following. He's something of a folk hero in the developing world. And maybe he thinks...

ROBERTS: Mmm-hmm.

AMANPOUR: ... that, because of the dissatisfaction with the Bush administration, as demonstrated by the American voters, that perhaps he can capitalize on that dissatisfaction. And, of course, for Iran and for many in the Muslim world, the issue of the Palestinian state and Palestinian rights is paramount.

And he doesn't just say what you just read. He also tries to appeal to the humanity of it all. He says, just like American mothers, and Iranian mothers, Palestinian mothers also suffer when they see their children killed.

So, that is a -- is a constant in -- in the Iranian rhetoric about the rights of the Palestinian people.

ROBERTS: Well, we will see if anyone is listening.

Christiane Amanpour, as always, thanks. Good to see you again.


ROBERTS: Now let's go back to Anderson in Amman, Jordan, for more on Iran's role in the Middle East -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, John, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of course, is -- is clearly trying to play a bigger role, not just with his letter to Americans, but also by talking with Iraq's president this week.

The question is, just how concerned should the U.S. be about Iran's growing involvement?

For more on that, I'm joined by Reza Aslan of USC's Center on Diplomacy, and author "No god But God,"

What do you make of this letter? What is he trying to do?

REZA ASLAN, AUTHOR, "NO GOD BUT GOD: THE ORIGINS, EVOLUTION, AND FUTURE OF ISLAM": I think this is just another example of Ahmadinejad's style as a politician.

You know, he's always framed himself as a populist. And it's worked somewhat with the Iranian population. And now I think he's trying to -- to -- to sort of do the same thing with the American population. But it really is a -- a way for him to kind of consolidate a little bit of -- of power in Iran itself.

COOPER: And -- and that's an important point to make, because, in the West, it's perceived that this guy is running Iran. In fact, there are a lot of people pulling his strings. He's not the real power.

ASLAN: Well, it's strange to think that the democratic elected -- democratically elected president of a country would have absolutely no say whatsoever in a single foreign policy decision, but that is definitely the case with the president of -- of Iran. (CROSSTALK)

COOPER: So, when he -- when he talks about nuclear policy, he doesn't have anything to do with it?

ASLAN: He has absolutely no say at all. In fact, his opinion is absolutely meaningless, when it comes to the actual negotiations for the nuclear policy.

But he's latched on to the nuclear issue as a means of challenging some of the traditional power sources in Iran, particularly the clerical establishment.

We have an idea in the United States that somehow Ahmadinejad is Khameini or the other clerical establishments now. He's not. He's actually done more than any other president to really challenge that authority and bring some more power and prestige and influence to the office of president.

COOPER: What is he trying to do -- what is Iran trying to do in Iraq? I mean, what do they ultimately want?

ASLAN: Ultimately what Iran wants is to make sure that they're not surrounded by American troops. They want to make sure that their interests, that their economic policies, that their political interests and all of those things are in some way or another safeguarded in whatever future Iraq holds.

We -- again, we do think of Iran as a destabilizing force in Iraq, and they have done plenty to destabilize that country. But if they truly wanted to, they could wreak absolute havoc upon that country. And so in many ways, they've done far more to stabilize Iraq than to destabilize it.

And they understand now that they're holding all the cards, they're the new power in the region and they're waiting for the administration to essentially come to them with, you know, on bended knee.

COOPER: Reza, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

As the diplomatic flurry of Iraq continues, so does Pope Benedict's historic visit to Turkey. Today, his attention shifted to the country's tiny Christian community. Coming up, a full review of his day. And the reaction that he's getting.

Plus, we'll take you to one of his stops, a small cottage in an ancient city where some believe the Virgin Mary once lived. The Catholics aren't the only ones who consider that as a possibility. We'll tell you why when 360 continues live from Amman, Jordan.


COOPER: And we have some breaking news to report. "The New York Times" has just put on their web site a report that the Iraq Study Group has reached a consensus decision on their recommendations for what should happen in Iraq.

I'm joined by John Roberts in New York, who has been following the story, as well. The reading of it thus far that I've been able to understand, John, is that they're calling for not an absolute timetable for withdrawal of combat troops but an indication that that is the policy recommending the pullback of U.S. combat troops from Iraq at some point. They're not setting an exact timetable.

ROBERTS: According to "The New York Times," Anderson, the ISG in its report next Wednesday is going to call for the withdrawal or the redeployment of some 15 combat brigades, comprising between 3,000 and 5,000 people per brigade, depending on what the configuration of it is.

And while there was no timetable that the ISG is going to talk about, they will recommend, according to "The New York Times," that President Bush make it clear to Iraq's leadership that this withdrawal is going to begin as soon as possible.

Again, not clear if they're going to call for the troops to actually be taken out of the country or just redeployed either to their bases or to bases on the periphery, so that they can come back in with a rapid reaction force, should it be needed.

But this is something that was widely expected from this group. James Baker has been talking about the idea of a pullback of troops. Of course, the bipartisan nature of this group coming to a consensus would seem to have to give a nod to Democrats' long-held idea, as well, Anderson, that there needs to be some sort of pullback or redeployment of troops, as well.

COOPER: The report is also indicating that they recommend relatively soon that this pullback begins on some level. We're also joined now on the phone by retired Brigadier General David Grange.

General Grange, I don't know if you've had a chance to see the report or at least hear John talking about it. What do you make of it?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, you know, it's -- you know, they say there's no timeline. And so it can be a year from now before they move one soldier.

I do like the idea, though, that it may not be pulling them out of the country, but redeploying in certain areas, let's say along the Iranian border, for example, or the Syrian border or Anbar Province. Where they get the G.I.'s off the street.

I do think it's time to get the G.I.'s off the street and only go on into the urban areas where you're doing combined operations alongside Iraqis.

COOPER: How would that work, though? I mean, one of the things that John Murtha had been talking about is the redeployment, you know, to a neighboring country, maybe Kuwait at some point he had mentioned as a possibility. And then sending in troops, maybe Special Forces troops, as needed to respond to terrorist incidents.

Does that militarily make sense? Does that seem feasible to you?

GRANGE: Well, see, there's only one country you can do that, you know, go to. That's Kuwait. I mean, you may get some into Jordan but not large numbers.

I think you need more than Special Forces. I think you need a rapid reaction force. You're talking about, you know, a battalion task force, brigade combat team. That means anywhere from a 500-man force to, you know, 3,000 to 5,000 brigade combat team if it's a big, tough area. So a Special Forces teams are key, but I think it has to be more than that.

COOPER: General Grange, stay with us.

John Roberts, politically let's talk about the implications of this. This panel is a bipartisan panel. It's a panel that the president initially didn't really support, but then once it seemed inevitable, he made sure that James Baker headed this panel. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, is also on the panel.

Politically, it seems they have at least, according to "The New York Times", been able to reach some kind of a consensus.

ROBERTS: How many times has the president and the White House resisted the formation of these blue ribbon panels only to be forced to when the popular demand dictated that they do.

As I said earlier, Anderson, it is a bipartisan panel. That's probably why the nod to decide to give a troop withdrawal. Here's the thing that the White House is really worried about: the fact that James Baker, his father's -- President Bush's father's secretary of state, former national security advisor, the man who helped shepherd through Bush's win in the year 2000, carries so much weight that anything that the Iraq Study Group releases is going to be seen as though it's handed down by Moses from the Mount on the stone tablets.

So the White House is very concerned that they are going to have to go along with anything that the Iraq Study Group says, even if they find that they are things that the White House has said repeatedly that they do not want to go along with.

One other idea that has been talked about, as well, Anderson, is just moving some of these troops from Anbar province into Baghdad to help back fill. And that's got the support of some military leaders who I've talked to, who say, you know, what you do is use economy of force. You get them out of areas where they're not as effective, get them into a place like Baghdad, try to secure Baghdad, try to get that area stable.

And then once you stabilize Baghdad, which people say is really the center of gravity of this whole thing, then spread out like an oil stain across the country to go back into Anbar and see if you can get control of it then. COOPER: But General Grange, as you know, there hasn't been much luck in doing that, even in sort of locking Baghdad down, pouring U.S. troops in there, having roadblocks. At one point they were even talking about sort of building a moat around Baghdad. Why hasn't any of that worked?

GRANGE: Well, first of all, to do that strategy in Baghdad, you have to do it in an overwhelming manner, which is going to take thousands of American and Iraqi troops and police to do that.

I mean, you have enclaves of very powerful militias and criminal groups now. It would be like going into Chicago and locking down the entire city, rooting out anyone that you would -- you can confirm is an adversary and then you -- but once you leave, then they come out of the woodwork and blend into the population.

So you're talking about time, massive numbers of people, marshal law, and really a ruthless cloning operation in order to root out these groups. You would have to dismantle militias, which are heavily armed.

So the Baghdad set is very tough, and if you're going to put Americans in there, you'd better do it all the way and not piecemeal it, or you're just going to lose a lot of G.I.'s for nothing.

COOPER: We're also joined by Reza Aslan here, in Amman, from USC Center of Public Diplomacy. What do you make of this report, according to "The New York Times"?

ASLAN: Well, I think it's an indication that victory in any kind of conventional sense is no longer an option. I mean, right now, all we can really think about is what's the least bad option available to us.

Really, we have to come to a decision sooner or later that our military strategy, which has been an offensive strategy in Iraq to root out terrorists, to root out the insurgents, hasn't really done what it's meant to do. And perhaps it's time for a defensive strategy, one that's designed far more to keep Iraqis alive in some sense.

And in that way, I mean, you know, having some troop withdrawals and securing Baghdad and perhaps even withdrawing to a neighboring country, that might be the best way to create the kind of stability that can only come about through political wrangling and not a military option.

COOPER: General Grange, Reza raises a good point. My quick reading of this ICG report, or the "Times" report about it, this doesn't seem like a strategy for winning, as this administration once talked about winning in Iraq or, you know, creating a table government. It seems much more about just getting American troops out in the most favorable way possible. Is that -- is that fair?

GRANGE: I think -- I think you're right. I think it -- what's the favorable outcome that you can salvage? You know, I agree with the statement on the -- you see, the thing with the militias, which is the hardest issue right now in Iraq, I believe, is that you either decide to live with them and their power that they have and have like a Hezbollah, Lebanon situation.

You co-opt them to be a part oaf the Iraqi security forces, like a national guard. Very similar to what happened in Afghanistan with the warlords. But it would be -- it's much tougher now because we've waited so darn long.

Or you dismantle them, which means they fight. So that decision has to be made, regardless of what strategy is taken -- is approved with what to do with the American troops. That has to be decided.

COOPER: Reza, if U.S. troops pull out, whether it's weeks, months, a year from now, or redeploy even, what's your guesstimate of what happens on the ground? I mean, then the gloves are off?

ASLAN: Well, that could very quickly be what takes place. I think there -- there are a lot of people in the Shia government, and including of course, the militias, who think they know exactly how to deal with the insurgency, and that is just to massacre everyone.

There's a very good chance that that might be exactly what occurs. And then, of course, if that occurs, you can see the countries like Saudi Arabia, perhaps even Jordan, putting their weight and their influence into the Sunnis in order to offset Iranian influence.

And the worst case scenario is that regional war that everyone has been worrying about. I don't think that's necessarily going to be the case. However, if we don't figure out a way to stabilize the central government in Iraq, to make sure that the political process has an opportunity to actually exert itself in some ways, then really that's what we're talking about.

COOPER: We're going to continue this discussion in a moment. We're going to take a short break.

If you're just joining us, this breaking news: "The New York Times" now is just reporting in the last few moments that the Iraq Study Group has reached a consensus on what they are going to recommend to the Bush White House. We'll talk about that straight ahead.

Stay tuned.


COOPER: And breaking news that we have been covering for these last 10 minutes or so. The Iraq Study Group, we know, has reached a consensus on what they are going to recommend the Bush administration do moving forward in Iraq.

"The New York Times" just in the last few moments has begun reporting that one of the main recommendations of the Iraq Study Group is that the U.S. begin withdrawing the 15 combat brigades from Iraq, but they are not recommending setting of an exact timetable.

We're joined on the phone by former presidential advisor David Gergen.

David, what do you make of this?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR: Well, as "The New York Times" itself reports, Anderson, it appears to be a classic Washington compromise. "The Times" says it's a report that says the troops ought to be withdrawn but doesn't set a timetable and leaves it implicit.

And some commission members are saying that it ought to be during the year, next year, the withdrawals ought to start next year.

Also, the heaviest part of the report appears to be that there be aggressive diplomatic efforts by the United States, including with Iran and Syria.

I think it's important to note that the president himself, in the last couple of days, while he has been in your neighborhood out there in eastern Europe, and in the Jordan area, has been saying he's not -- he does not intend to enter into talks with Iran and Syria and does not intend to start drawing down troops until the mission is completed.

So the president is going to be in disagreement with this, as will many Democrats who would like to see timetables. That's why such a compromise, and we'll have to wait and see whether the president is willing to accept it and whether the Democrats are willing to accept it on Capitol Hill.

COOPER: The president also has a little wiggle room on conversations with Iran, though. He has said that he won't directly talk with them. He has been saying he would encourage Iraq to do that.

So there seems to be at least some options on the table. Politically, though, what is your read on how this report is going to be received, this ICG report?

GERGEN: I think it's going to be received by a lot of people as too middle of the road, not a clear way out on the military side. The diplomatic part of this will be very well received by I think the main screen. Many Democrats will praise it, and a number of Republicans will.

But the military part is sufficiently fuzzy. It says we ought to start drawing down. (AUDIO GAP) push how hard (AUDIO GAP).

COOPER: We've lost our signal and are trying to reestablish it.


ROBERTS: This idea that -- this is something that was expected, not... GERGEN: I think that's right. It was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) (AUDIO/VIDEO GAP) how do you do this, and they had to weave through this political minefield (AUDIO GAP). They could not put a timetable in because they knew the president had already declared publicly and repeatedly that he would not accept a timetable. He wanted a performance based replacement of the American troops with Iraqi troops.

On the other hand, they knew that they needed some kind of rough deadline in order to get the Iraqi government and Prime Minister Maliki to take seriously the thought that the United States commitment would not be open ended.

ROBERTS: I just want to remind people we're having a few technical problems. We've lost Anderson Cooper in Amman, Jordan. We hope to get him back.

David Sanger, this idea, too, of withdrawing 15 brigades, the ISG, at least in the leak that they gave to you, did not suggest whether they would be withdrawing completely from Iraq or whether they would be redeployed either to bases in Iraq or bases on the periphery, correct?

DAVID SANGER, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": That's right. My understanding is that the report is not specific on that. And it gives a fair bit of flexibility to the military commanders to figure out both timing and positioning.

Of course, when you consider the slow time frame over which this would happen, a year or maybe more, it's very hard to predict, you know, what the military situation will look like in a month, much less than a year.

ROBERTS: And David Gergen, very quickly, is it very difficult for the Bush administration to resist the recommendations of this group?

GERGEN: John, I think it is difficult to resist, but I think there's also a way they can just sort of finesse it. They can blunt the impact by saying, well, of course we believe in this and we do believe we ought to be talking to Iraq, I mean, to Iran and Syria. We'll have the Iraqi government doing it.

Of course we believe in withdrawal. There's no timetable here. And we'll do it when the mission is completed. From David Sanger's point of view, I wonder if it's not easy, given this level of generality, for the administration to sort of just finesse it and say, well, of course, and make it sort of like disappear.

ROBERTS: Gentlemen, stay with us, because we've reestablished contact with Anderson. We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back with more of 360 after this. Stay with us.


COOPER: And we're joined again now by David Sanger on the phone. David is with the "New York Times". We also have David Gergen on the phone and John Roberts sitting by in New York.

David Sanger, how much of this report do you now know about? I mean, you've just reported about the -- not having -- setting an exact timetable for an eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops. How much more is there that maybe you don't know?

SANGER: Yes. I wish I knew the answer to that question, but you know, was it Donald Rumsfeld who said, known unknown, unknown unknown. There's a very full diplomatic section of this that sounds like it has a very subtle and fairly full diplomatic agenda. I don't think we know all of the details of that.

And we know the outlines but I think not the details of the military plan.

I have the sense, from the people I have spoken to, that the diplomatic plan is more specific than the military plan is, and I think that's probably what we'll discover when we see the -- when we see the report a week from now.

COOPER: And David, just very briefly for viewers just joining us, the bottom line, David Sanger, a withdrawal, an eventual withdrawal but no set timetable?

SANGER: No set timetable and I think a gradual and phased withdrawal where you pull back the 15 combat brigades. You don't necessarily pull them back to the United States. You may pull them back for force protection within Iraq, to bases in Iraq or just over the horizon. But the idea is to get them out of the direct line of fire.

COOPER: David Sanger from "The New York Times", David Grange as well and David Gergen. A lot of Davids tonight. Thank you very much.

John Roberts, as well, from New York. Thanks very much for sitting in for the cover. Appreciate it.

The summit takes place here, but the hard decisions will ultimately have to be made, of course, in Baghdad and Washington.

Coming up, the way out, the challenge of finding one as David Gergen said earlier, that isn't a total catastrophe. Iraq, the end game. It's a special hour, next on 360.



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