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Interview With Hoshyar Zebari; Interview With Shaukat Aziz; Interview With Richard Myers

Aired January 14, 2007 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11 a.m. in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4 p.m. in London and 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for us for "Late Edition."
We'll get to my interview with the Iraqi foreign minister in Baghdad in just a minute. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now from CNN's Fredricka Whitfield.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.

For much of the past week, President Bush, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, made one thing very clear. Their new Iraq strategy depends on the willingness of the Iraqi military to fight and on the full backing of the Iraqi government.

So will the Iraqis do their part?

For the answer to that and much more, I spoke just a short while with the Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, in Baghdad.


BLITZER: Foreign Minister, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

I want to get your reaction -- your government's reaction to President Bush's major address on Iraq this past week.

There is some confusion whether or not the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is strongly in support or lukewarm or tepid in its support, the spokesman for the prime minister saying on Thursday: "What is suitable for our conditions in Iraq is what we decide, not what others decide for us."

Do you support this plan by the president to bring more than 20,000 additional U.S. forces to the Baghdad area?

HOSHYAR ZEBARI, IRAQ'S FOREIGN MINISTER: Wolf, yes, indeed. The Iraqi government supports President Bush's new strategy. And we think it is consistent with our strategy also to provide better security for Baghdad and to move on the political and economic issues that are facing our government.

And the additional troops are needed indeed, because Baghdad has become the battleground for all the terrorists and insurgents. And it's a lot to deal, 6 million people. So I'm sure these additional troops will make a difference.

BLITZER: Her is what the president said, and it was seen as an implied threat or warning to Iraq. Listen to this.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Prime Minister Maliki has pledge that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated. I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended.


BLITZER: What did you -- what do make of that statement by the president?

ZEBARI: Well, we fully understand where the president is coming. But, again, Wolf, this is not a matter of bargaining or some political deal. I think here we have a common goal and common objective.

And I really strongly disagree with all of those commentators, skeptics and advisers who say, this is the last chance. I think the stakes are too high for all of us. And this is a very important, very critical move.

But, also, we have to be realistic. With this single move, the violence might not end completely. It has to be supported by others. But this new strategy is firmer, is different from previous ones.

It will involve the Iraqi government also to rise up to its challenges, not to shy away from its responsibility, and to do its part in this new strategy, which is -- we are prepared and ready to do that.

BLITZER: There is a lot of skepticism here in Washington that the Iraqis -- that your government is actually ready to make these difficult decisions.

The New York Times, writing the other day this: "The Iraqis never delivered four of the six Iraqi army battalions that they had committed to the earlier effort. Some of the Iraqi police units proved to be so infiltrated by Shiite militias that they had to be pulled off duty for retraining."

Are you saying to the American people, right now, to the United States Congress, that your government, your military and police force, will show up for this fight, will go into Sadr City and fight all of the militias, including the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr?

ZEBARI: Well, I mean, this would be an Iraqi-led security campaign supported by the coalition, and with a strong political will by the government to be even-handed in dealing with all the sources of violence and terrorism and Baghdad streets and neighborhoods, irrespective of their sectarian affiliation.

And this would be carried out in phases. And as far as the Iraqi troops level, yes, the government has a solid plan, in fact, to commit the needed troops and to hold those areas, to move and also to provide basic services to their local population.

BLITZER: Are you ready to let the U.S. military have the free rein to go and deal with all of the various militias and the death squads, including the Mahdi Army in Sadr City?

In other words, will you put restraints on the U.S. military and what they can do?

ZEBARI: The goal here, Wolf, is no militia, no unlawful armed group so the networks would be spared by this campaign. This would be a combined campaign by Iraqi forces and multinational forces.

And in fact, the conditions on the ground, the level of threat will determine how these different groups and militias and neighborhoods would be tackled in strictly military and security consideration.

BLITZER: What is your assessment of Muqtada al-Sadr, this radical young Shiite cleric?

Is he part of the problem or part of the solution?

ZEBARI: Well, we tried very hard to make him part of the solution and to include him in the government and the parliament.

They have their own views, of course. But they have a representation at the Iraqi house of representatives. They have five ministers in the government now. They have suspended their participation. Yesterday they announced that they are considering coming back and rejoining the government.

But the policy here is, Wolf, really no militias, no armed groups or networks would be excluded as long as they pose a threat to Iraqi civilians.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what the president also said in his speech the other night with a specific warning to both of your neighbors, Iran and Syria.

Listen to this.


BUSH: We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Do you support that part of the president's strategy?

ZEBARI: Well, definitely. Any interventions -- or any harmful interventions to kill Iraqis or to provide support for insurgency or for the insurgents should be stopped by the Iraqi government and by the coalition forces.

And we understand that. We support that. But on the other hand, Wolf, you have to remember, our destiny, as Iraqis, we have to live in this part of the world. And we have to live with Iran, we have to live with Syria and Turkey and other countries. So in fact, on the other hand, the Iraqi government is committed to cultivate good neighborly relations with these two countries and to engage them constructively in security cooperation.

Today, President Talabani is visiting Syria for that purpose. With the Iranians, we have engaged them repeatedly. But what matters really is some tangible evidence of their sincere cooperation with the Iraqi government to stop the flow of insurgents, of terrorists, to tighten border control, and to dry the sources, the finance of recruitment for these terrorists and these killers who are killing our people on a daily basis.

BLITZER: As you know, the U.S. military this week detained five Iranians in Irbil, in the Kurdish part of northern Iraq. A statement from the U.S. military saying: "Preliminary information revealed the five remaining detainees are connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard -- Quds Force, and organization known for providing funds, weapons, improvised explosive device technology, and training to extremist groups attempting to destabilize the government of Iraq and attack coalition forces."

Now you've complained about this U.S. detention of these Iranians. Why?

ZEBARI: Well, this is the second incident that involves Iranian diplomats or Iranian officials. I have to clarify to you and to your audience that in fact these five Iranians have been for many years in a liaison office. It's not a consulate or a diplomatic mission. We are in the process of regularizing, normalizing that office into some consulate entity.

These have been detained by a predawn raid by U.S. Special Forces. And they are still in the detention of the U.S. forces. We have communicated with the U.S. Embassy and the command of the multinational forces seeking their release if they are found not guilty.

But these people, although members of the Revolutionary Guards, Wolf, the Revolutionary Guards in fact is part of the Iranian political system. And they are very effective and very influential in running their policies -- or foreign policy. That is the reality of Iranian politics.

BLITZER: So you want the United States to release them immediately? ZEBARI: Well, we've asked for their release. In fact, now they are being investigated. The Iraqi government is not a party to that. They are being interrogated by the U.S. forces. But we have established all the information that this office has been there for many years with the approval of the Kurdish regional authorities, with the knowledge of the Iraqi government.

And this office have been doing certain consular service for the local people, offering travel permits -- or travel permits for medications or business. But recently, in fact, we asked the embassy to transform this entity into a consulate so there would be a formal recognition of their status.

BLITZER: We have to leave it right there. Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign minister of Iraq, always good to have you on "Late Edition."

ZEBARI: Thank you, Wolf. Good to talk to you too.


BLITZER: And just ahead, will Democrats cut funding to stop more troops from heading to Iraq? We'll ask the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin. He's standing by live.

And what does this new strategy mean to those on the front lines? For that, we'll ask the former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers.

Then, are Republicans on Capitol Hill moving from rubber stamp to rebellion over Iraq? I'll speak with an outspoken skeptic, Oregon Senator Gordon Smith. "Late Edition" will be right back.



SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: For America to supply more troops while the Iraqi leaders simply supply more promises is not a recipe for success in Iraq.


BLITZER: Senator Carl Levin speaking out on the president's new plan on Thursday. Welcome back to "Late Edition." If President Bush's new strategy in Iraq is not a recipe for success, what should the Democrats do about it?

Joining us now to answer that question, the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Michigan Senator Carl Levin. He's joining us from Detroit. Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman, for coming in.

LEVIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You heard the foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, of Iraq say they're not going to stand in the way of U.S. troops doing what the U.S. needs to do, won't hinder that operation, and also insisting that the Iraqi government welcomes the introduction of more U.S. troops into Iraq. You believe him?

LEVIN: Well, their promises before have not been kept. They made, for instance, a commitment back in October that the militias would be ended, would be stopped by the end of this year. They've not kept that promise. They made a promise earlier than that they would take over security in all the provinces in Iraq. They've not kept that promise.

They made commitments they would pass new laws by the end of last year, sharing power, sharing oil resources. They have not kept that promise. Promise after promise has not been kept, so I have no confidence in them, given their track record, that they will do what they promise to do, including delivering troops who will take on Sadr's army.

That's the key issue. And by the way, he did not give a clear answer to that question. He did say they welcome more American troops. Of course they welcome more American troops. They want us to provide security.

They want us to do what they are unwilling to do, which is to solve their political problems which are at the heart of this issue. Without a political solution, this violence is going to continue, and we're going to get in deeper and deeper. We've got to force the political solution and not make another open-ended commitment, which the president did last week.

It's an open-ended commitment. And the vice president this morning said that those troops which are going to be surged into Baghdad will be there for the foreseeable future. That's an open- ended commitment, instead of pressure being put on the Iraqi politicians to reach political reconciliation, which will end the violence.

Instead, we are now looking at not only a military solution, but one which is commitment on our part, promises on their part. Troops on our part, but just open-ended, hollow rhetoric on their part.

BLITZER: It sounds like you've lost complete confidence in Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq. But he was the duly elected leader, the prime minister of Iraq. What should the United States do, given the fact that he is in power, his government's in power, and that's the government of Iraq?

LEVIN: Well, the first thing we ought to do, I believe, is, on a bipartisan basis, adopt a resolution. Hopefully there are 51 senators and 51 percent, hopefully, in the House of Representatives who will say that we do not support additional troops going into Iraq.

That would be a strong message to the president, to put pressure on the Iraqis to reach a political solution.

But also, if we can pass that resolution, simply saying that we do not agree that more troops are the answer, that a more military emphasis is the answer, if we can do that, I believe this will be a very strong message to the Iraqis that they've got to resolve their political differences.

BLITZER: You think you have the votes?

Because we're going to be speaking, later on "Late Edition," with the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, the minority leader. And he's threatening to filibuster any such resolution, meaning that it wouldn't even be able to come up for a vote if they go ahead with their filibuster and you don't have 60 votes to break that filibuster.

LEVIN: Well, I think that that statement of the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, which was made a few days ago, threatening a filibuster, shows a couple things.

Number one, we may have a majority, at least, including a number of Republicans, who will disagree with the president's approach as not being one that is a recipe for success but, rather, is a continuation of a current policy, but more so, militarily.

But it also shows one other thing, it seems to me, that the administration would be very much worried about a majority vote.

If 51 senators, including a bunch of Republicans, voted to disagree with this new -- so-called new, because it's really just the old approach bolstered a little bit by more troops -- but if a majority of the United States Senate and House said that we disagree with the continuation of this policy, obviously the president would be worried by such a majority vote, or else the Republican leader in the Senate would not be threatening a filibuster, which would require 60 votes.

BLITZER: Here's what the president said would happen if you and your fellow Democrats had your way in Iraq.

Listen to what he told the nation the other night.


BUSH: We concluded that, to step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government, tear the country apart, and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale.


BLITZER: That's a pretty horrendous scenario that he's painting. What's your reaction?

LEVIN: The direction that his policy is taking us is exactly that, mass killings, on a horrendous level. We have chaos in Iraq.

This is what is resulting from his policy not working. And in order to succeed in Iraq, the Iraqis have got to resolve their political differences. We've got to change course. Because the current course is what is leading to precisely what the president described. And so what we believe, many Democrats, at least 40 of us, probably now 45 or more, and hopefully a few Republicans, is that we should tell the Iraqis that we're going to begin to reduce our troops in four to six months, to force them to recognize that it is their responsibility; it is their country; and that they must resolved the differences between them, which are political differences, which are the cause of this violence.

And by the way, the prime minister of Iraq has said that the reason this violence is taking place is the failure of the politicians to reach a political settlement.

That's the prime minister of Iraq's own statement. So there's not a military solution here, Wolf. There's a political solution, and only the Iraqis can achieve it. It will take pressure on them.

And if the Congress votes not to add these additional troops, even though it is not binding, it would nonetheless be a huge signal to the Iraqi leaders that the support is slipping for them in America; they'd better getting their act together, politically.

BLITZER: There are some Democrats, includes Russ Feingold, a Democratic senator from Wisconsin, who wants to go a lot further than a non-binding, sent to the Senate, symbolic resolution. He wants to use the power of the purse to stop this war, from the U.S. perspective.

Listen to what he said.


SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, D-WIS.: Now Congress must use its main power, the power of the purse, to put an end to our involvement in this disastrous war. And I am not only talking, here, only about the surge or escalation. It is time to use the power of the purse to bring our troops out of Iraq?


BLITZER: Do you support him on that?

LEVIN: No, I don't support using the power of the purse because I think that sends the wrong message to our troops. We're continue to support our troops, although we disagree with the policy.

But if we can get 51 senators on a resolution which says that the president's direction, which is a military direction is wrong; it hasn't worked; it's more of the same, and that we've got to put pressure on the Iraqis to solve their differences politically, by telling them this is not an open-ended commitment -- not just saying that rhetorically, as the president has done, but meaning that, by not sending more troops and telling them that we're going to begin, four to six months out, to reduce our presence in Iraq, not end it. Because there's obviously limited purposes which still need to be performed. But I think that will actually work. And I think the president is so afraid that we might just get a non-binding resolution saying that we disagree with his policy, that he has the Republican leader in the Senate threatening a filibuster which would prevent us from even expressing the majority view.

That's how powerful a statement would be coming from the Congress that we disagree with the course that the president outlined last week.

BLITZER: I don't know if you saw the editorial in last Thursday's Wall Street Journal, but one of the lines in there went directly after you, saying you're not going to live up to these threats.

They wrote this. They said, "We'll bet Mr. Levin never has the political nerve to follow through on anything but T.V. sound bite criticism."

A strong allegation charge against you. What do you say? Are you going to deliver, or is it just talk?

LEVIN: Well, we're going to try to get a vote of 51 senators.

By the way, we had the Levin-Reed resolution, where 40 of us said that the president should tell the Iraqis that we're going to begin to reduce or presence in four to six months. We actually had that vote, which. of course, the Wall Street Journal conveniently ignored.

But they want -- well, first of all, the Wall Street Journal editorial board does not have anything particularly independent to say, ever. You can predict them in advance, as to exactly what they're going to say.

So the fact that the Wall Street Journal editorial attacks people who disagree with this president's policy in Iraq is not news, and it's not something which is a surprise at all.

BLITZER: I want you to respond to Joe Lieberman, the now- independent senator from Connecticut. He said this. He's a strong supporter of the president's new escalation, or surge, in the war.

Listen to this.


SEN. JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN, I-CONN.: I think those who don't support it have an obligation to offer a plan that also moves toward the goal of maximizing our chances of success in Iraq. And so far I haven't heard that.


BLITZER: All right. We only have a few seconds left, but what is your response to Senator Lieberman? LEVIN: Well, he was actually quoting my opening statement, where I said we need to succeed in Iraq. And we do. But the president's course is not a road to success because it doesn't force the Iraqis to reach the political settlements that only they can reach.

But we have voted on an alternative. The Levin-Reed alternative, which is supported by the Democratic leaders in both the Senate and the House, says that we should tell the Iraqis, folks, it's your country; it is for you to resolve your political differences which are at the core of this violence. That's what your prime minister, even, acknowledges.

We have voted on that plan. We got only 40 votes last June. We would do a lot better, I believe, now. But more importantly is that we should try to find a 51-vote majority that involves Republicans. Because a lot of Republicans disagree with this president. And I think, now, they're going to vote what they really believe and not just be afraid of doing so.

BLITZER: Carl Levin is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

LEVIN: Great being with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up in just a few moments, the retired U.S. Air Force General Richard Myers. He was the nation's highest-ranking military officer when the first battle plan for Iraq was put into motion. We're going to ask him what he thinks of this new plan.

Also coming up, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including a major winter storm rolling through America's Midwest. "Late Edition" will be right back.




BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Joining us now is retired U.S. Air Force General Richard Myers. He was the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff until his retirement in 2005. General, welcome back to "Late Edition."


BLITZER: Is this new plan that the president put forward going to work?

MYERS: Well, I think that remains to be seen, but the thing I like about the plan is it has the three elements that you need to defeat any insurgency. It's got a security element, it's got a political element and it's got an economic element.

The president outlined that on Wednesday night. That was gratifying to see that announcement, and I think it's really important to understand that the other two elements, political and economic, play as important a role, perhaps in Iraq a more important role than the security dimension.

BLITZER: I'm going to get to the political and the economic elements in a moment. But on the military side, is 21,500 troops enough if you add up all those troops, enough to get the job done to beat back this insurgency and stop the sectarian violence in Baghdad and the Anbar Province?

MYERS: That's the number that the senior military leadership both inside Iraq, General Casey, now General Odierno, and the senior military leadership in this town, the joint chiefs of staff, General Pete Pace, that's the number they believe, and General Abizaid, as well, Centcom commander, is the right number at this time to help quell that violence, particularly in Baghdad, along with the Iraqis that are going to help. The Iraqis are going to put...

BLITZER: Because General Casey was quoted in early January in The New York Times as saying, "The longer we in the U.S. forces continue to bear the main burden of Iraq's security, it lengthens the time that the government of Iraq has to take the hard decisions about reconciliation and dealing with the militias. And the other thing is that they can continue to blame us for all of Iraq's problems, with are at base their problems."

He seems to be a reluctant supporter, if at all, to this increase, this boost in U.S. troops.

MYERS: Well, I can't speak for General Casey. I know he was frustrated ever since February of last year, the bombing in Samarra of the Golden Mosque, and how the violence escalated and then never seemed to diminish at all. And I think people expected it to at some point diminish. It never did. It just continued.

BLITZER: It got worse and worse and worse.

MYERS: Worse and worse and worse. It reached a level where it's just kind of sustained at a very tragic level. I think the thing about these -- the troops going in there is that it's for a specific task, and this is an Iraqi plan. That's what I think is missed here. And this time, the last two Baghdad plans were U.S. plans.

BLITZER: But you know there's a lot of skepticism that this government of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, who's so beholden politically on Muqtada al-Sadr, this radical Shiite cleric, that this government is, a) going to use its military might to go into Sadr City and beat back the 60,000-Mehdi Army militia. Some people say they are more powerful than the Iraqi army themselves.

MYERS: Well, I think this all remains to play out. But the elements are there. The Iraqis have devised a security plan. They're committing a lot of Iraqi armed forces and police to the issue. They say they're going to extend R.O.E., so they can go after anybody that breaks the law, so the rule of law will apply. So the conditions, anyway, the initial conditions, seem to me as a military person set for success. Now...

BLITZER: The track record, as Senator Levin just said, not very good. He's lost total confidence in them.

MYERS: Well, their track record has not been sterling. And so like I say, we're going to have to see it play out. But I don't think you can just dismiss it out of hand. We've got people making political commitments publicly that they're going to do such and such, and we have to see if they can carry through.

BLITZER: I'm going to put up some numbers up on the screen because you're familiar with these. In December 2005, just a little bit more than a year ago, there were 165,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. It went down in December, last month, to 132,000, which is about the number right now. If you add the additional 21,500, you're going to get up to about 153,000, but even after this boost, it's still less than what it was just a little bit more than a year ago.

MYERS: Right, but that was an increase. If you went back before that, you'd find it back down around 130,000. I think we boosted it up four, or 140,000. We boosted it up to 160, whatever the numbers said, for elections and so forth.

So we've done that over time. We've been able to increase or decrease as the conditions on the ground indicated. The security issue is primary a Baghdad issue within 30 miles of Baghdad. And that's why I think you see the numbers you do.

BLITZER: I want to go -- you were there right at the beginning of this war, so you're very familiar with the game plan, the war plan as it unfolded. I want you to clarify what General Eric Shinseki, who is now retired, who was the Army chief of staff, he told the U.S. Congress this in February 2003. Listen to what he said.


U.S. ARMY GENERAL ERIC SHINSEKI: Something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required.


BLITZER: He says you needed, really, several hundred thousand troops to go in and to deal with the situation in Iraq. And the U.S. military Central Command for about a decade after the first Gulf War agreed you'd need about a half a million troops to do an operation like this. You went in with about 150,000 troops or so. What happened?

MYERS: Wolf, the film clip you just showed of General Shinseki was only part of a longer dialogue, with, it turns out to be Senator Levin on it, I believe, where he asked General Shinseki, what is your estimate?

And General Shinseki, to his credit, said, you know, I don't know. That's up to the commander. I don't know. I don't know. Finally was pressed into a corner and made the comments he made of several hundred, or a couple hundred thousand.

That was under the lights of the Senate Armed Services Committee. As we developed that plan and went forward -- and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were integral in working with General Franks, the secretary of defense and the president in developing that plan -- those numbers never reappeared. General Shinseki went with a combatant commander.

BLITZER: Because General Zinni and other commanders of the Central Command have said repeatedly that for a decade, they thought if you're going into Iraq you need a half a million troops.

MYERS: Right. And I think what folks failed to understand is that the battle in Iraq is not mass on mass. This is not a mass on mass war. This is an insurgency with lots of nuances, with lots of different players, with great complexity. And General Abizaid, the Central Command commander, has already said there's a fine line between being seen as a liberator and being seen as an occupier and making yourself more of a target.

BLITZER: Because here's what I never could understand, having covered the first Gulf War. Colin Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dick Cheney was the defense secretary. He had the Powell doctrine, overwhelming military might, and U.S. deployed into the region, as you well remember, half a million-plus troops to liberate a small country like Kuwait, which was done relatively quickly with minimal U.S. casualties. If you deployed a half a million to liberate Kuwait, why did you deploy only 150,000 to liberate Iraq?

MYERS: Two quick reasons. One is speed, to minimize civilian casualties and military casualties. We wanted to get to Baghdad fast. We had in train up to almost 500,000 troops. So at any point in that, if the situation had turned very, very bad, we could have stopped, waited for the rest of the train.

If you remember, we had the 4th I.D. on 30-some ships in the Mediterranean waiting to go either north or south. So, it was a similar plan. The other thing that people have to recognize is that in Kuwait, Iraq set the conditions for that battle. We set the conditions here. It was our choice, the United States...

BLITZER: Was it a mistake to go in with a relatively lean military machine?

MYERS: Oh, I don't think so. I think it was the exactly the right thing to do. We minimized, in terms of modern warfare, you know, we got -- Baghdad fell in less than 30 days. Minimum casualties on the U.S. military side, certainly minimum civilian casualties, given the violence of that warfare of toppling a regime. So I think it was, I mean, it was, I think General Franks had a brilliant plan. We all concurred in it on the Joint Chiefs. We thought it was a good plan.

BLITZER: What about the post-removal of Saddam Hussein, if you will? Was it a brilliant plan that followed immediately after that?

MYERS: I think we had a pretty good plan, I think our execution was not very good across government.

BLITZER: What was your major mistake.

MYERS: Across government. I think the understanding that the Iraqis weren't going to -- the major mistake was understanding the Iraqis weren't going to just jump in and take charge. They'd been beaten down by three decades of Saddam Hussein, and where aggressiveness and innovativeness and raising your hand, saying I'll take on that responsibility would get you killed or get your family members killed.

So there was a real reluctance for people to step forward. And so that first year or so, or year and a half was sort of halting steps on both sides. And then the insurgency picked up. But I would say today, today is not a result of right after -- the aftermath of the major combat. Today is a result of al Qaida pressing sectarian violence, bombing that Mosque in Samarra, and trying to foment violence, and they were successful.

So you're fighting several adversaries. That's why I say mass is not necessarily what you need to bring to the table. It's important in some cases, but it's not necessarily what you need to bring to the table.

BLITZER: General, we've got to leave it there, unfortunately. But thanks for coming in.

MYERS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: General Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

And coming up, last month Republican Senator Gordon smith called U.S. policy -- and I'm quoting now -- "absurd, possibly even criminal." So what does he think of President Bush's new strategy? Stay tuned.

And for our North American viewers, coming up at 1 p.m. Eastern, an entire hour of the best reporting and analysis on the world's conflicts, "This Week at War" with John Roberts. That follows "Late Edition." We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Oregon Senator Gordon Smith is one of the Republicans on Capitol Hill who has openly broken with the White House when it comes to Iraq. I spoke with the senator earlier.


BLITZER: And joining us now, Senator Gordon Smith, Republican of Oregon. Thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: It's a pleasure, Wolf. Thank you for having me. BLITZER: Let's talk about the president's major speech last night, his address to the nation. I take it you oppose his proposal to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq?

SMITH: Yes, I do oppose it, Wolf. And as I oppose it, I hope that history shows that I am wrong and that the president is right. But what my belief is, is simply that this surge is too late and too little, and that it perpetuates the status quo.

I think the Congress needs to use its influence to refocus the American war on terror. And as it relates to Iraq, that interest is to make sure that whatever emerges Iraq is not al Qaida and is not Iran that is bent on spreading jihadism to its neighbors and to us.

BLITZER: Let me press you a little bit on how far you're willing to go to make that opposition known. You may have heard Senator Russ Feingold today say yes, use the power of the purse not only to try to oppose the increase in the number of troops there, but to simply try to get all the troops out of Iraq as quickly as possible.

Are you willing to go as far as he is?

SMITH: No, I'm not willing to go that far, because I do think we have paid quite a price to topple a tyrant. Our military is set up wonderfully for taking out terrorists and toppling tyrants. The American interest is to make sure that what replaces Saddam Hussein is not an al Qaida organization, is not Ahmadinejad's desires to exterminate its neighbors. We have an enduring interest in that. We found that out on 9/11.

But ultimately, there are things we have to do and things that are nice to do. Building democracy, nation building, is nice to do, but that is not the core of the American interest. And I believe that patrolling the streets of Baghdad and propping up this government, if they're unwilling to fight, is a nice to do but not a have to do.

We simply have to fight the war on terror more intelligently.

BLITZER: Are you with Senator Ted Kennedy, who says you should use the power of the purse to avoid the troop increase, but not touch the troops who are already there?

SMITH: I have this misgiving. The commander in chief -- we've got one of them at a time -- has ordered our troops into harm's way. I worry that it is dangerous, and maybe deadly to our kids, if we start taking the bullets away when they're ordered to remain in the fox hole.

I would rather work on the authorization to narrow it in a way that reflects America's greater enduring interests, long-term interests in the war on terror. And I'm not sure I've seen anyone's proposal yet that does quite that.

BLITZER: Your leader in the Senate, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, today, was very critical of the Democrats, saying they don't really have any ideas. I want you to listen to this little clip of what he said.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: What is their plan?

I think I know, and I think you know. I wish they'd just say it. What they want to do, apparently, is to leave.


BLITZER: And he's also suggesting that there may be a filibuster to even prevent a sense of the Senate resolution opposing the president's new initiative. What do you make of this?

SMITH: Well, you know, the leader makes a good point. John McCain has made it before him. And that is, what is the Democrat plan B?

I'm not sure I've heard one, other than to leave and to create a huge vacuum in which jihadists of various stripes would fill that vacuum to our great long-term injury.

If these jihadists can get control of the machinery of a state like Iraq, with the resources of Iraq, those will then be turned on us.

That's where I think we need to refocus the argument. The plan B -- if President Bush's plan A doesn't work, maybe it's his plan B. Plan C would then be how do we look to America's largest interests in a war from which we can't retreat, and that is the larger war on terror, as it relates to jihadists who would export chaos and terror and mass murder.

BLITZER: It sounds to me like you don't have a whole lot of confidence in the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, that this time, when all is said and done, he's going to step up to the plate and do what he needs to do.

SMITH: I hope, Wolf, I'm wrong. But as I read history -- and I read a lot of it -- Sunnis and Shias have been butchering each other for four times longer than America has been a nation.

I don't know that we have the troops, and certainly not the Army, as we're currently configured, and certainly not the patience, the lives, the limbs and the Treasury to try to make this right.

And that's why I am skeptical of nation-building in Iraq. They can build their nation. We can't. But what we need to make sure what emerges is the kind of nation that is responsible.

That's, in a general sense, our central issue. It is not nation- building. It is, in fact, the war against jihadists who would export terror to our shores.

BLITZER: Senator Smith, thanks very much for coming in.

SMITH: Thank you.

BLITZER: And in just a few moments, with so many Republicans like Senator Smith speaking out against President Bush's Iraq policy, can the GOP leadership maintain control?

We'll ask the man in the hot seat, the top Republican in the United States Senate, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell. He's standing by, live.

And the 2008 race for the White House will begin right here on CNN. We're teaming up with WMUR-Television and the New Hampshire Union Leader to host the first two presidential debates in the first primary state. Mark it down on your calendars, April 4 and 5. We'll be right back.


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


BUSH: Deadly acts of violence will continue. We must expect more Iraqi and American casualties.


BLITZER: President Bush decides to send more troops to Iraq and finds it's a hard sell on Capitol Hill, even to his own party.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, R-NEB.: The most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam.



(UNKNOWN): I bought into his dream and I, at this stage of the game, I don't think it's going to happen.


BLITZER: Can the Republican leadership control this growing revolt? We'll ask Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in the Senate.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Iraq is more of a mess than at any time previously. That is the measure of failure.


BLITZER: Democrats are voicing their opposition to the Iraq policy, but what can they really do about it? We'll ask Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.



DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE JOHN D. NEGROPONTE: They are cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders's secure hideout in Pakistan.


BLITZER: Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte charges that al Qaida has a safe haven in Pakistan, a close U.S. ally in the war on terror. Is this true? An exclusive Sunday interview with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

And we'll talk to cycling legend Lance Armstrong about his latest challenge, an uphill battle to save lives.

Welcome back. I'll speak with the Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, in just a moment. First, though, here's CNN's Fredricka Whitfield with a quick check of what's in the news right now. Fred?


BLITZER: And later this hour, Fred, we'll be speaking with the prime minister of Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz.

High political drama here in Washington right now. A new Democratic majority takes over Congress, a new presidential plan for the war, and a new split inside the president's own party over whether more troops will make the difference.

Watching this upheaval and joining us now live from his home state of Kentucky is the new Republican leader in the United States Senate, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell. Senator, welcome back to "Late Edition."

MCCONNELL: Glad to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You spent part of this weekend at Camp David with the president and other Republican leaders in the Senate and the House. What was his bottom-line message to you?

MCCONNELL: Well, I think he'd like a chance for this to succeed. Look, our Democratic friends don't have an alternative other than to leave. I think Senator McCain had it right when he said a while back, unlike Vietnam, if we leave Iraq, they'll follow us here.

And so we need to try to have a success here, a win. What is the definition of a win, Wolf? It is a stable government and an ally in the war on terror. And you can't have stability, and this new democracy can't begin to function properly unless there's some measure of security in the capital city.

So that's what this increase in troops is about, to try to get security in Baghdad. Once that's occurred, then I think we can begin to draw down our troop commitments.

BLITZER: It's not just Democrats, though, who are hammering away at the president's new strategy. It's several Republicans, as well, including Senator Chuck Hagel, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Listen to what he said this week after the president's speech.


HAGEL: I think this speech given last night by this president represents the most dangerous foreign-policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out.


BLITZER: Those are pretty harsh words.

MCCONNELL: Yeah, my good friend Chuck Hagel has been very consistent on this, even though he supported the Iraq resolution back in 2002. He's been skeptical all along the way, very critical all along the way. He simply has differed with the president on this policy. Reasonable people can differ, and Chuck has consistently differed with the administration on the Iraq policy.

BLITZER: It's not just Chuck Hagel, who you accurately point out has disagreed with the president on Iraq. Normally very loyal foot soldiers, Republican supporters of the president are now increasingly coming out as well, including Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Listen to what he said after the president's speech.


SEN. NORM COLEMAN, R-MINN.: I oppose the proposal for a troop surge. I oppose the proposal for a troop surge in Baghdad, where violence can only be defined as sectarian.


BLITZER: And you could name several others, Sam Brownback of Kansas among others. You have a sort of a mini revolt happening among Republicans in the Senate right now.

MCCONNELL: Well, look, the Iraq war is the biggest issue in the country. We know it's not going well. The president knows it's not going well. That's why he's been making changes over the last two months to try to improve the situation there.

What we do know has been extremely successful and the principal reason for going on offense after 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq was to protect us here at home. That part on the war on terror has been a 100 percent success. We have not been attacked again for five years.

The more difficult part has been leaving behind a stable government in Iraq, and reasonable people can differ. I mean, Joe Lieberman, one of the most prominent Democrats, running mate of Al Gore in 2000, happens to agree with President Bush. So, I think there are bipartisan differences on the best way forward. I think we ought to give the president a chance to succeed so we can have a victory there, victory again being defined as a stable government.

BLITZER: Other than Joe Lieberman, who is now formally an independent, although he caucuses with the Democrats, can you name any other Democratic senator who supports the president's strategy right now?

MCCONNELL: There are not many. And I think that there's no question this has, the opposition to the buildup in Baghdad has some bipartisan opposition. It's going to be a great debate. It's the most important issue in the country. This is the reason the United States Senate exists, for great debates.

BLITZER: There are some recent poll numbers we got after the speech. According to our CNN opinion research corporation poll, on the question of, "Do you favor or oppose the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq?" Only 32 percent favor, 66 percent oppose.

How is the president handling the situation in Iraq? Twenty-nine percent approve of the job he's doing. Sixty-nine percent disapprove. And as far as a resolution to block funds for sending more troops to Iraq using the Senate's power together with the House, 60 percent say they should vote for such a resolution. Thirty-eight percent say they should not vote for such a resolution. Numbers pretty gloomy from the president's perspective.

MCCONNELL: Yeah, they are gloomy. But I think what the American people would really like to see is success. They'd like to see progress.

And the president has looked at the situation, analyzed the situation, talked to his advisers, consulted with Congress -- we've had numerous meetings -- and concluded the best chance to succeed is to have a secure capital. To quiet Baghdad down, to give this fledgling democracy a chance to function.

We all know what would happen if we precipitously left. The Washington Post, which had been very critical of the war recently, had it right today when they said the Democrats basically have no alternative. No alternative at all. We need to give this policy a chance to succeed.

BLITZER: Are you going to filibuster a resolution sent to the Senate, symbolic nonbinding resolution that would oppose this troop increase?

MCCONNELL: Well, look, Wolf, you used to cover the Senate. You know that every measure, virtually ever measure with any degree of controversy about it in the United States Senate requires 60 votes. That's the ordinary procedure, not the unusual.

Look, we're going to see if we can't work out alternative resolutions, give everybody a chance to have their fair say. But a matter this controversial, of course it will require 60 votes. That's the way it always is in the United States Senate.

BLITZER: Because in all the years I've been covering Washington -- maybe you've got some historic examples -- I don't remember using a filibuster on a nonbinding symbolic resolution.

MCCONNELL: It's been used frequently. Look, virtually ever matter of any degree of controversy in the Senate for the last 25 years, certainly the whole time I've been there, beyond me, beyond my time in there, has required a supermajority of 60. This is ordinary, not unusual at all.

BLITZER: Senator John McCain, a fellow Republican, a strong supporter of the president, says he wouldn't vote for such a filibuster.

MCCONNELL: Well, any measure that comes up in the Senate is going to require 60 votes. We will see what the wording actually ends up being. And whether the Democrats really want to do the only thing that can really have an impact, which is to cut off funds for the war.

And they'll have that opportunity on the supplemental appropriation that will be coming up in February. That'll be the real thing, the money for the troops. And Senator Feingold, to his credit, thinks that's what they ought to do. We'll see how many people want to follow that course.

BLITZER: Here's what Senator Biden, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on Thursday when Condoleezza Rice was testifying. Listen to this.


SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., D-DEL.: If memory serves me, we've tried that kind of escalation twice before in Baghdad.

And it's failed twice in Baghdad. And I fear it will fail a third time.


BLITZER: Why do you believe it will succeed this time, Senator?

MCCONNELL: I think we ought to give it a chance. The president believes it will succeed. He believes he's going to have the cooperation of the Iraqis that he needs.

And we'll find out. We'll find out very shortly. There needs to be progress in this initiative in the very near future.

BLITZER: I interviewed Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, in the last hour. He says he's basically lost all confidence in this Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki, that they are not necessarily going to do what they should do, namely step up and deal with the Shiite death squads, the Shiite militias of Muqtada al-Sadr.

Do you have confidence that these Iraqis are going to do what they need to do?

MCCONNELL: I have confidence that we're going to find out very shortly. The president told them what needs to be done. They said they will do it. We will find out very shortly whether they can produce.

BLITZER: Senator McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, thanks very much for coming in.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

BLITZER: And straight ahead, from the other side of the aisle, we'll talk to Democratic Senator John Kerry.

How do Democrats plan to oppose the president and support the troops?

And later, the war on terror: are the Pakistanis helping or hurting? My interview with Pakistan's prime minister Shaukat Aziz.

Then, champion Lance Armstrong takes on a new challenge: more money for the war on cancer. That's coming up as well. Stay with us. We'll be right back.



BUSH: Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rest with me.


BLITZER: President Bush, on Wednesday, admitting failures and mistakes in the war in Iraq, while also asking for bipartisan support for a new strategy.

Welcome back to "Late Edition." Joining us now, the president's opponent in the 2004 presidential race, Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

KERRY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Here's what you said on June 29, 2005. That's a while ago. "We don't have enough troops in Iraq. There aren't enough people on the ground."

Now the president says he wants to send more. He wants to do what you recommended then. You're not happy with that?

KERRY: No, I'm not at all. Listen, everybody, I think, has agreed that, in the beginning, we needed more troops. But the situation has changed so dramatically over the course of the last year, you now have sectarian violence. And troops are not going to make a difference in that.

BLITZER: So what do you do?

KERRY: This is the great mistake that this administration is making. Frankly, it's a complete absurdity to be pursuing the notion that somehow troops are going to resolve the security issue.

I heard Senator McConnell -- you hear the vice president and the president saying you can't resolve the differences until you have security. Well, you can't have security until you have a fundamental resolution of why there are those differences, why they're killing each other.

Add numbers of troops, you act as a magnet to jihadists; you raise the stakes; you in fact put more targets at the disposal of the terrorists and the jihadists.

And most importantly, you play into the hands of the people who are playing us off for political advantage in the country.

What they need to know is, we're going to leave, at some point, appropriately. Now, the Iraq Study Group suggested that was about a year. That's what I've suggested. And I believe -- when I hear Senator McConnell and others say we don't have a plan, that's just not true. We do have a plan.

BLITZER: What's the plan?

KERRY: The plan is to set a date by which they have to assume responsibility, with the sole exception that you would have troops to complete the training, chase Al Qaida, and protect American facilities or resources.

BLITZER: We heard Senator Levin say the U.S. should start withdrawing combat forces in four to six months. Is that your plan?

KERRY: See, I don't happen to agree -- that's not particularly my plan. But I think I understand why he's saying that. I think we could find a unanimity, hopefully, on the Democratic side, that we ought to set some firm transfer of authority.

BLITZER: Well, what kind of deadline would you like?

KERRY: I said one year. That's what I said last year.

BLITZER: One year from when?


BLITZER: One year from now...


BLITZER: ... you'd like what?

KERRY: One year from now, troops -- look, the Iraq Study Group said, at the end of this year. I believe, at the end of this year or one year from today, when we pass it, you could require the Iraqis to assume the major responsibilities.

Now, if you're telling me that we can't transfer that within one year, I think most Americans would believe that that is the outside limit of what we ought to give them at this point.

The point is, Wolf, unless you leverage a certitude, the necessity for them to assume responsibility, they won't assume it. And they will use American troops as a cover for their continuing power struggle between each other.

BLITZER: The president says the stakes are simply enormous right now. I want to play this little clip from what he said the other day.


BUSH: People would look back at this moment in history and say, what happened to them in America?

How come they couldn't see the threats to a future generation?


BLITZER: He says that there would be an enormous complicating factor for the United States if the U.S. did what you want it to do.

KERRY: Well, no. Because what the president keeps doing is what Mitch McConnell just did, which is set up a straw man, completely mislead Americans.

I heard Senator McConnell say "precipitously," "if they withdraw precipitously."

There isn't an American who believes that withdrawing a year from now and still having troops there to complete the training and chase Al Qaida is precipitous. That's not precipitous.

What the president is doing is continuing to scare Americans. Yes, there are high stakes. But let me ask you this, Wolf. If the stakes are as high as they say they are, then what does it mean to say that the commitment is not open-ended?

Either it's open-ended and we're going to stay there because the stakes are so high and we can't afford to lose or we're going to leverage them into a different form of behavior.

If you leverage them into a different form of behavior, that means you have to be clear about what they have to do and when. I say, set the date.

But more importantly, you must have an international conference to resolve these fundamental differences and get the surrounding neighbor Sunni countries involved in a resolution.

You also need to have an envoy there on a day-to-day basis who is negotiating this process. You can't have a...

BLITZER: The president rejected the recommendation of the Iraq Study Group to enter into a dialogue with Syria and Iran.

KERRY: Well, I think the president rejected the entire study group. If you really look at what he did, he took two former Republican secretaries of state, a former Republican chief of staff, an attorney general, a former Republican member of the Senate leadership, and he basically kicked them to the curb.

BLITZER: You want to have a dialogue with Iran and Syria?

KERRY: Absolutely. You cannot resolve the issues of the Middle East; you can't begin to deal with the future unless you are willing to have some kind of a dialogue.

Now, it doesn't mean you agree with them. It doesn't mean you sit there, and because they say something, you have to believe it, but you have to find out what you can put to the test. You have to work the process in order to somehow find a resolution.

Let me just say one other thing, Wolf. The administration, again, if this is not open-ended, what are they going to do? Are they going to leave? And if they are not going to leave, then they are stuck in an open-ended effort. If they are going to leave, and it's not open-ended, as he said, then they're willing to assume the very downside that they say is so unacceptable. They can't have it both ways.

BLITZER: Senator John McCain, a strong supporter of a troop increase in Iraq right now, says you, the Democrats, have a responsibility to explain the consequences of a withdrawal. Listen to what he says.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Do they not fear Iranian, Saudi, Turkish involvement in Iraq? A wider regional war, a haven for terrorists, a humanitarian catastrophe? Do they truly believe that we can walk away from Iraq?


BLITZER: What do you say to Senator McCain?

KERRY: I say to Senator McCain, stop distorting what we're saying. I say to Senator McCain, talk to what we really said, which is, we all agree there are high stakes, but we are not talking about walking away.

Don't use those words. Those are the words of fear and distortion. What we're talking about is how you are successful. The Iranians today are delighted with our being bogged down in Iraq. The Iranians today are stronger than they were six months ago, Senator McCain. And the way you're going to respond to the Iranians is not by putting more troops in and raising the stakes and allowing them to kill more and inflame the Arab street, attract more jihadists. Our own intelligence agency is saying today the presence of American forces is in fact creating more terrorists.

We're fighting to get this right. We're fighting to be successful. And the way you're going to be successful is to get the Iraqis to stand up for Iraq. As long as they believe the American security blanket is there to cover them, they don't have to assume that responsibility.

BLITZER: If you feel so strongly, why not use the power of the purse, as Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is suggesting, as opposed to going ahead with a nonbinding symbolic resolution? Why not use that full power...

KERRY: Our hope is that...

BLITZER: ... that you as the majority have to stop this war?

KERRY: Well, you can't pull the rug out from under the troops that are there, obviously. And I'm not saying end this tomorrow morning. I believe you have to have a transitional process where you do complete the training, where you do raise the ability of the Iraqis to deliver.

One year after having trained 300,000 troops over the last three years ought to be enough time to do that. It ought to be enough time to do the diplomacy necessary to be able to get other countries to do some of the lifting here and be involved in the long-term stakes.

If the stakes are as serious as they say they are, Wolf, then where are the other countries? Why aren't they also involved? What's happening is, this administration is turning attention away from Afghanistan, even possibly taking some troops from Afghanistan, which is absurd, in order to complete the task of what they want to do in Iraq.

Look, what's critical here is both of our top generals in the last few months have said more troops is not going to resolve Iraq. In fact, it contributes to the problem in Iraq. That's why I think Senator Hagel, Senator Norm Coleman, Republicans are reacting as viscerally as they are here.

This administration is going it alone. Turning its back on the best advice that's been given it. We'd be happy, we want to work in a bipartisan way to get this right. But the way to get it right is not to increase the ability of Iran to make mischief. It's to be able to shift responsibility to the Iraqis.

I believe you have to set a date by which they know they have to assume that responsibility. And then you begin to draw down. We can always leave troops in Kuwait, in parts of the desert. Others will.

There are plenty of ways to stop Iran. This is strengthening Iran. What they're doing is strengthening terrorism, increasing the threat to America. It's a bad policy.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there. A quick political question. When are you going to announce whether or not you want to be president?

KERRY: You'll hear about it.


KERRY: I know you'll know. Oh, yeah, it's got to be relatively soon, but...

BLITZER: This month?

KERRY: I can't tell you precisely, Wolf. But it will be soon.

BLITZER: You want to give us a hint which way you're leaning?

KERRY: No. (LAUGHTER) Not today, no.

BLITZER: Well, we'll be waiting and hearing. Thanks very much, Senator, for coming in.

KERRY: Thank you.

BLITZER: The rumblings of campaign 2008, by the way, are getting louder, and CNN will give you the first and finest coverage every step of the way. I'll be moderating the first in the nation presidential primary debates, two of them back-to-back in New Hampshire April 4th and 5th.

Still ahead right now on "Late Edition," the U.S. intelligence chief says al Qaida leaders are hiding out in Pakistan. We will get reaction from the Pakistani prime minister, Shaukat Aziz.

But up next, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including an ice storm that's pounding America's Midwest. Stay with "Late Edition."


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. New warnings from the United States this week that Al Qaida is back in business inside Pakistan.

I talked to the Pakistani prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, from Islamabad earlier today.


BLITZER: Prime Minister, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

I want to get right to the news of the week, as far as Pakistan is concerned: a very serious charge, delivered by the outgoing U.S. director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He suggested that Al Qaida is being protected in Pakistan. Listen to this.


NEGROPONTE: They are cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders' secure hideout in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.


BLITZER: Is that true, that Al Qaida has secure hideouts in your country, in Pakistan?

SHAUKAT AZIZ, PAKISTANI PRIME MINISTER: I think we totally reject this charge, and our Foreign Office has said so already. Pakistan is a country in the world which has done more for fighting terrorism than anybody else. This is because of conviction by our government and our people that terrorism is no solution to any problem.

We are committed to fighting terrorism because it's in our national interest, and we want to be a part of the coalition in the whole world which is fighting this scourge.

We will continue to do so. And any aspiration or any doubts about Pakistan's commitment to fighting terrorism, we totally reject, because the world knows how much we have done. We live in a neighborhood where there is a lot of activity which is prejudicial to our own security. There is huge narcotics or drug production. There are safe havens for terrorists. There are all sorts of actions going on. And Pakistan, then, has clearly suffered as a result.

But we have taken measures to fight terrorism, to oppose, then confront people who are destabilizing this region. And we will continue to do so, because this is our national policy and we are committed to it.

BLITZER: So when the national security director, Negroponte, says that there are secure hideouts in Pakistan, a lot of experts suggest that, in this Waziristan area, some of the tribal border areas in Pakistan, not far from Afghanistan, that you have effectively allowed not only Al Qaida, but the Taliban, to have what he calls secure hideouts.

You're saying, right now, you reject that?

AZIZ: Well, Wolf, on the issue of the tribal areas and the people going back and forth from Afghanistan, let me say that Pakistan has over 3 million Afghans still living in refugee camps along our borders, and in Pakistan. We want these refugee camps to go back.

The border is porous. People do go back and forth. And we have increased patrolling. We are now talking of protecting the border further by fencing, mining and other techniques. So we don't want people to come and use Pakistan as a safe haven. You also know that, in Pakistan, we've had several such people arrested and turned over to the relevant countries. We'll continue to do so.

And people also have easement rights, meaning they live in one country, work in another, and go back and forth. This is a part of the traditions. But we are tightening up on this.

And in this process, people do come and go back, but the policy of the government is not to encourage, not to give safe havens to anybody, and to confront them and take them on if we do find that people are coming back.

So once we secure the border even further, the probability of any such elements coming to Pakistan and finding a safe haven would be much reduced.

Let me also say that we have encouraged our -- the government in Afghanistan and the allied forces there to take action on the other side too. Why do people come in here?

Why do they take a safe haven here?

Action should be taken on both sides of the border. Pakistan certainly is committed, but we are -- there is no institutional support at all from our government to provide safe haven to anybody. If some people do creep in, they are dealt with according to the law. And as we tighten the border even further, the probability of this happening will reduce even further.

BLITZER: Here's what Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, said last month. "The problem is not Taliban. We don't see it that way. The problem is with Pakistan. The state of Pakistan was supporting the Taliban, so we presume if there's still any Taliban, that they are being supported by a state element. Pakistan hopes to make slaves out of us, but we will not surrender."

He said that on December 12. That's a strong accusation by your neighbor against you.

AZIZ: Right. Yes. After the statement, I visited Kabul and met him at length. Let me say that there is one country which wants a strong, stable and peaceful Afghanistan, it is Pakistan.

It is in our national interest to have a peaceful Afghanistan, because we have a 1,400-mile border with this country. We want Afghanistan to be stable. We want Afghanistan to develop. We are not an aid-giving country, but for Afghanistan, we have so far extended a quarter of a billion dollars, and I just announced when I was in Kabul another $50 million of assistance.

We want Afghanistan to develop, the people there to have a better life, and to control narcotics and drug production. The nexus between drug production and terrorism is very dangerous. We had extensive discussions on how this should be done. We also have appealed to the world community to give more money and have a Marshall type plan for Afghanistan, so people have a sense of a better future, people don't feel despondent, people don't feel deprived. And the faster the Afghan army trains and expands and patrols its borders and its territory, we will have peace there.

But let me say emphatically that Pakistan is committed to a strong, stable Afghanistan, because it's in their interests and our interests. We want to have good relations. We want to have close relations and a peaceful Afghanistan.

BLITZER: A lot of Afghans and many U.S. experts believe that Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, his deputy, are hiding out in your country, in Pakistan, right now.

AZIZ: Well, Wolf, this is something which has been said for a long time. The truth is that if any of these or other individuals are in our territory, we will go after them, and we have no information. In fact, if the world knew where these people are, they would collectively come and go after them wherever they are.

The fact is, nobody knows where they are. Nobody knows what they are doing at this stage. Certainly, if Pakistan has any knowledge, directly or indirectly, that they are in our territory -- which we don't think is the case -- we would go after them.

But why would they come to Pakistan?

They are probably in areas where there is no writ of any government, which are no man's lands, or which are in control of elements which are not supportive of to our effort.

In Pakistan, we have, as you know, over the years, arrested a lot of Al Qaida people, and the last place they would come to is Pakistan to seek refuge.

BLITZER: One of the areas, though, that many suggest there could be Taliban, Al Qaida refuge is in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

The Los Angeles Times writing this on December 21st: "Quetta serves as a place of rest and refuge for Taliban fighters between battles, a funneling point for cash and armament, a fertile recruiting ground and a sometime meeting point for the group's fugitive leaders, say aid workers, local officials, diplomats and others."

That from The Los Angeles Times.

Are there Taliban, Al Qaida elements that have refuge, a safe haven in Quetta?

AZIZ: Well, first of all, Wolf, let me say that Taliban and Al Qaida are very different. Al Qaida, the demographics of al Qaida people are not what Taliban represent.

In case of Taliban, these are Afghans. We have 3 million refugees in Pakistan from Afghanistan, around 600,000 in and around Quetta and that vicinity. So that's why we are trying to protect the border and movement across the border. Giving them passes.

We have just opened a new border station, so that people indeed pass. This was open. People could literally walk across. And you know how difficult it is to control flow across borders.

Now we are getting the whole system on the borders organized. We are removing the refugees. These camps will close. So there will be no reason for people to come back.

It is entirely possible that as normal Afghans who cross the border every day, thousands of them a day in that vicinity in the Quetta area, Taliban elements may come through. But once we put in all these checks and the camps are removed, the safe havens are removed, there will be no reason for them to come back, and we naturally -- that is what we are trying to do.

And we have appealed to the Afghan government and the world to support this effort. And I hope that as we close the camps and remove the refugees and tighten the borders and restrict movement, there'll be no probability of these people coming to Pakistan.

But today, we do have 3 million people. And you know, they all look alike, so if somebody is having a different political view, or is a member of the Taliban, that is possible. That's why we want these camps to go and the refugees to leave.

BLITZER: Shaukat Aziz is the prime minister of Pakistan. Mr. Prime Minister, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

AZIZ: Thank you, Wolf. A pleasure.


BLITZER: And from the war on terror to the war on cancer. My interview with Lance Armstrong about more money for cancer research. That's coming up next.

And we'll also have all your political news right here on CNN, your election headquarters. I'll be moderating the first presidential debates in early April, two of them back-to-back in New Hampshire, April 4th and April 5th. Mark your calendars right now.

"Late Edition" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." He has star power, champion performance and a compelling story of survival over a killer disease. Now, Lance Armstrong is racing to a new finish line: more cancer research dollars.

He was in Austin, Texas, when I spoke with him earlier in the week.


BLITZER: Joining us is Lance Armstrong. Thanks for coming in. Thanks for what you're doing.

LANCE ARMSTRONG, SEVEN-TIME TOUR DE FRANCE CHAMPION: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: You wrote a piece on this week. It's got an incredible number of hits. Among other things you said is this: "What are we going to do to effectively fight cancer? Millions of Americans with cancer are asking. I'm not known for my patience when it comes to cancer. I hope you aren't, either."

What's going on? Tell us what your new initiative is all about.

ARMSTRONG: Well, it's, you know, it's really a 10-year initiative for me. I mean, I was diagnosed more than 10 years ago. And, you know, looking back to that day, if you just said to me at the time, you know, what's cancer going to look like 10 years from now? I probably wouldn't have guessed that it looks the way it does today.

You know, having said that, we've had success stories. I mean, I'm obviously sitting here, came back to win seven tours. You know, there's 10 million cancer survivors in this country.

But the fact of the matter is that we lose 600,000 American lives every year to cancer, and so, you know, that is a huge number. And if that happened on one single day in an act of terrorism, this country would go absolutely crazy.

So, you know, obviously it doesn't happen in one day, but it is -- you know, that breaks down to 1,500 Americans every day. So a 9/11 every two days.


BLITZER: So what do you want the government to do to try to deal with this problem?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah, and I just want to be clear. I don't want to get in and start criticizing the government and the administration. I do think that -- ultimately, I think the onus falls on the American people. I mean, we the citizens, have to sit down or stand up and say, listen, this is what matters to us. Is it terrorism, is it education, is it our health care, is it cancer, is it research, is it funding, what is it?

And ultimately, we're the ones who have to stand up and say this is what we care about, this is what we're voting for, and we'd like a change. And, you know, to me it's an old issue and it -- and again, it's our responsibility to stand up and say, you know what? We care about it, we want to make a difference and ultimately we want to end the fight against cancer.

BLITZER: What do you say to those who argue, you know what? There's a limited pot out there, there is a certain amount of money, X amount of money. If you devote more to cancer automatically, that means less is going to go to heart disease or diabetes or some of the other major killers in the United States? ARMSTRONG: Yeah, I'm very realistic and know that this is a competitive issue. Not only are we competing against a defense budget that's strapped, but we also compete, as you said, against heart disease, diabetes, AIDS, all the other issues that fall under the umbrella of the NIH. But, you know, I think that we have to look at the ones who are the deadliest to this country.

And even, Wolf, I mean, just taking it a step farther, look, we've done a lot of work in cancer. And let's just say we lose 600,000 lives a year. Two hundred thousand of those we could cure today just applying what we know and what we've already paid for. What we've already researched and what we've already discovered. So let's save a full third of these American lives, and then let's go with a last two thirds with an increase in leadership and funding and research.

BLITZER: I want to quote to you what Hamilton Jordan, he was the White House chief of staff under former President Jimmy Carter, What he said in "Sports Illustrated," get your reaction. Almost -- and he's a cancer survivor, Hamilton Jordan himself.

"Almost half the people alive today will have cancer in their lifetimes. That's a damn epidemic. And what are we doing about it? If you went back and added all the budgets for the National Cancer Institute over the past three decades, we spent as much money on cancer as we spend in Iraq on nine months."

Two billion dollars a week we're spending in Iraq right now. Is that an apt comparison?

ARMSTRONG: Well, I think Hamilton's probably pretty close to accurate when it comes to the sheer numbers. I mean, I was watching a program the other night, and you realize that the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are more than a million dollars every five minutes.

And listen, I'm not here to say that's right or that's wrong. This is basically like a household. And you've got the mom and the dad and the income that comes in, and then after that you've got to buy food, you've got to pay the energy bills, you've got to pay for your gasoline.

And at the end of the day you have what you have left, and maybe you get to take a vacation.

So our little country club -- or this great country is just that. We have a budget to manage, and under that, we have to pick and choose how we spend the money. But again, it's up to us, the people, to say, you know what, cancer just shouldn't be this way. It's such an exciting time scientifically. Let's go out and do the easy things right now.

Let's continue to seek the best leadership. Fund the most promising you scientists out there, the guys that are starting to turn away from basic science right now, and give these guys money. And give them attention.

BLITZER: Fair enough. Lance Armstrong, thanks for your good work. Appreciate you coming in.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you.


BLITZER: And this programming note for our North American viewers. Lance Armstrong join's CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta for a special report on cancer prevention, "Saving Your Life."

BLITZER: It airs tonight, 8 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. You should watch it.

Coming up in just a moment, our special "In Case You Missed It" feature, "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show round-up. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Take a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States. Newsweek features how daily bloodshed, deepening hatreds and the American occupation may turn Iraq's children into the next jihadists.

Time's cover story is "China: Dawn of a New Dynasty."

And U.S. News and World Report has a special cover on "The Botox Explosion." We'll watch that together with you.

Up next, in case you missed it, "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show round-up.

And if you missed any of our program today, you can download a video podcast of the entire two hours. Just go to and click on the link for "Late Edition."

Coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week at War." John Roberts talks to correspondents and analysts in Washington, Baghdad and along the Somalia border.


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

On ABC, Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha affirmed that House Democrats would attempt to use military funding to stop the president's Iraq initiative.


MURTHA: We're going to convince the Republicans as well as Democrats in the Congress that we have to vote very stringent guidelines. We don't like to micro-manage the Defense Department, but we have to, in this case, because they are not paying attention to the public. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On Fox, Vice President Dick Cheney defended the new initiative in Iraq, even in the face of widespread opposition.


VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: You cannot simply stick your finger up in the wind and say, gee, public opinion is against; we better quit. That is part and parcel of the underlying strategy that our adversaries believe afflicts the United States.

They are convinced that the current debate in the Congress, that the election campaign last fall, all of that is evidence that they're right when they say the United States doesn't have the stomach for the fight in this long war against terror.


BLITZER: On CBS, Senator Barack Obama responded to the vice president's comments.


OBAMA: The vice president has pursued this wrong-headed course throughout the process. And you can see the results that we have right now. It is important for us, at this point, as Americans, not as Democrats and Republicans, to focus on how do we deal with what is a bad situation. I think everybody agrees it is a bad situation.


BLITZER: On NBC, the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley was asked if the U.S. was preparing for a military conflict with Iran.


NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR STEPHEN J. HADLEY: No. The president has said very clearly that the issues we have with Iran should be solved diplomatically in terms of the nuclear issue.

He did say that Iranians are active in Iraq, supporting people who are putting American troops and Iraqis at risk. He said very clearly, we are going to deal with that. We're going to disrupt those operations.


BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday mourning talk shows, here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

And that is your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, January 14. Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. We're in "The Situation Room Monday through Friday 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern; another hour at 7:00. Until then, thanks for watching.


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