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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Joe Biden; Bush Warns of New Attacks in Afghanistan

Aired February 15, 2007 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, thanks for joining us.
Happening now, Senate Democrats say they're calling the Republicans' bluff. At stake -- a vote against a troop build-up in Iraq. We're tracking the partisan maneuvers and the brinkmanship. And I'll speak with Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Also this hour, President Bush warning of new attacks in Afghanistan and vowing not to give in to murderers.

Will U.S. troops pay a price?

We'll have the latest on what some are calling the forgotten war.

Plus, Pentagon chief Robert Gates preparing for a grilling about Iranian weapons in Iraq.

Will he be on the same page as the president amid questions about the Bush administration's credibility?

We're going to bring you his news conference.

That's coming up live.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A Senate deadlock over an Iraq resolution could get busted wide open very soon in an explosion of partisan fireworks. Democrats now promising to hold a rare Saturday vote. A new showdown over the president's plan for a troop build-up in Iraq.

Our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is following all of these latest maneuvers.

she's joining us from the Hill -- Dana, what is the latest?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, you could really feel the frustration on the pressure on senators all week as they looked at the House, watched them debating Iraq. But there was a stalemate in the Senate. And that is why, even though Democrats are still not allowing Republicans votes on their resolutions, which that helped cause the deadlock, Democrats are going to try one more time to get a Senate vote on Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BASH (voice-over): It started with Republican complaints that the Senate should not go home for a week-long recess without voting on the president's Iraq plan.

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: We object to recessing without the Senate having any agreement, any understanding, any debate, any votes on this most profound question. It does no honor to the Senate or to this country.

BASH: Maine's Olympia Snowe, one of several Republicans who oppose the president's decision to send more troops to Iraq, pushing for a vote now, even though she helped block it last week, part of a protest to force votes on other Republican resolutions.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: And she's coming late to the party. Last week, when senators had the opportunity to hold an important debate about Iraq, she and others chose to prevent that debate.

BASH: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called am emergency behind closed doors meeting of Democrats and decided this.

REID: Now, we know that time is of the essence. That's why the Senate will have another Iraq vote on Saturday.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Now we're calling their bluff. We're staying here. Now vote yes or no.

BASH: Instead of debating resolutions that helped tie the Senate in knots last week because they included divisive issues like funding for U.S. troops, the Senate will now follow the House's lead.

REID: And whether or not United States senators support this surge, that's it, very clear, direct.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: Now, the key question that has not been answered is how many Republicans will vote with Democrats this time. We talked to two Republicans, John Warner of Virginia, and Olympia Snowe, as you saw there, in Maine. They both voted with their party, even though they disagree with the president's plan. This time, they say they are likely to vote with Democrats.

But, Wolf, it is very unlikely, at this point, that Democrats will have the 60 votes they need to move this forward in the Senate.

BLITZER: What about all of those senators who are on the campaign trail right now?

A Saturday vote could be problematic. Most of them would presumably rather be in Iowa or Nevada or New Hampshire or some place else? BASH: That is exactly where five senators who are running for president were supposed to be, in many of those places on Saturday, you're right. Senator Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden.

Senator Clinton's office tells us she will be in the Senate if there is a vote. So does Senator Biden's. We haven't reached others, except Senator Obama's. And, Wolf, a campaign aide essentially says that he has not decided whether he is going to stay in Washington for that vote.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to watch this brinkmanship unfold together with you.

Thank you, Dana.

Hoping to sidestep charges that Democrats want to cut off troop funding, Democratic Congressman John Murtha is going online with a new strategy to end the war. The chairman of the powerful Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hopes to limit the president's ability to send more soldiers and Marines to Iraq. Murtha's plan links future deployments directly to troop readiness.

Let's bring in our Abbi Tatton.

She's watching the situation online -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Congressman Murtha's plan would limit the amount of troops available to the administration to those who had received a certain amount of training and those who had received a certain period of rest between tours.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: ... that limit them to deploy troops that are not trained, limit troops -- they can't deploy troops if they're not equipped. They can't extend troops who have been there over a year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: That's Murtha outlining the strategy on a video released today on a new Web site, MoveCongress.Org, a Web site organized by a coalition of anti-war groups.

The outcome of this plan, in Murtha's words, would be to stop the surge for all intents and purposes.

Well, this plan received immediate reaction from the Republican National Committee, who sent out this e-mail, saying that the plan would put the lives of troops in greater danger as resources slowly dry up -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

Meanwhile, the president is focusing today, as well, on America's other war front. That would be the war in Afghanistan. He's warning that the battle against the Taliban fighters there is likely to heat up in the coming months.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Taliban and al Qaeda are preparing to launch new attacks. Our strategy is not to be on the defensive, but to go on the offensive. This spring there's going to be a new offensive in Afghanistan and it's going to be a NATO offensive. And that's part of our strategy -- relentless in our pressure.

we will not give in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's turn to our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano -- Elaine, the president was forceful on this issue, trying to draw attention to this so-called forgotten war, the war in Afghanistan.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And President Bush making those comments today in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington. He began by touting the progress in Afghanistan, as he sees it, progress on the education, health care and women's rights fronts. At the same time, though, he acknowledged that the Taliban, a group that, of course, U.S. forces toppled in 2001, has re-emerged. He noted that last year, 2006 in particular, was the most violent in Afghanistan since U.S. forces were deployed there in 2001.

Today, he said he's asking Congress for more money -- $11.8 billion over the next couple of years -- for Afghanistan, and more U.S. troops, as well. Yet, at a time when he is facing continued questions about U.S. troop levels in Iraq and the future of U.S. troops in Iraq, the president today offered no timetable on U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I've ordered an increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan. We've extended the stay of 3,200 troops now in the country for four months and we'll deploy a replacement force that will sustain this increase for the foreseeable future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: And the president today, as well, pressed NATO allies to offer more support, to send additional troops to Afghanistan and also to allow their soldiers to fight in the most violent areas, particularly in the south. Mr. Bush saying that NATO was founded on the principle that an attack on one is an attack on all -- Wolf. BLITZER: The president mentioned those tribal areas, the lawless areas along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, comparing it to the Wild West, if you will.

Tell our viewers what he said about the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, whether he believes the Pakistani leader is doing enough to deal with this terror threat.

QUIJANO: Well, essentially, the president, as well as his spokesman, Tony Snow, said today that they believe President Musharraf understands the threat that extremists pose inside his country, inside Pakistan.

Why?

Because there have been several attempts on President Musharraf's life.

At the same time, clearly, this is a White House that would like to see President Musharraf do more. They are certainly concerned about cross border attacks from terrorists who are hiding in Pakistan. White House Spokesman Tony Snow saying earlier today that certainly the United States is not blind to the challenges in that region -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks for that, Elaine Quijano at the White House.

And more than five years after the U.S. went to war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, how do the American people view that conflict?

Our new polling suggests they don't necessarily see it the way they once did.

Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq may be linked, but not in the way the president wants them to be.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan after 9/11 had broad public support in the United States and across the world. President Bush sees implications for Iraq.

BUSH: In Afghanistan, we saw how terrorists and extremists can use those safe havens -- safe havens in a failed state -- to bring death and destruction to our people here at home.

SCHNEIDER: But as Iraq lost public support, so did Afghanistan. Approval of U.S. military action in Afghanistan fell from over 80 percent in September, 2002, when the Iraq War rollout began, to 56 percent in August, 2006. A month later, people were asked whether they favored the war rather than the military action in Afghanistan. The public was split. The word war may have increased the resonance with Iraq.

The latest poll, taken in January, shows Americans turning against the war in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, NATO has joined the fight.

BUSH: This spring, there's going to be a new offensive in Afghanistan and it's going to be a NATO offensive.

SCHNEIDER: But support from our European allies may be flagging, along with support from the American public.

REP. TOM LANTOS (D), CALIFORNIA: It is an outrage that this gigantic military alliance cannot provide the troops necessary to win this battle.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats complain the administration's priorities are backwards.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: We should be adding more American military forces and we should be requiring the NATO countries to fulfill their commitment to the forces that they had promised us.

In Iraq, the prescription is the opposite.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER: President Bush hopes the consensus in Afghanistan can be carried over to Iraq. And instead, the opposite is happening. Dissention over Iraq seems to be undermining the consensus in Afghanistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you.

Bill Schneider, Elaine Quijano, Abbi Tatton, Dana Bash -- they are all part of the best political team on television.

And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at cnn.com/ticker.

Jack Cafferty is part of that excellent team, as well.

He's joining us from New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I got snowed in yesterday.

How do you suppose -- this is a rhetorical question -- but how do you suppose the situation in Afghanistan would be different this coming spring, when Mr. Bush is talking about a spring offensive, if we had spent the last four years, $450 billion and put 130,000 of our soldiers in there instead of in Iraq?

It's something to ponder.

The United States, one of the worst places in the developed world to be a child, second only to Britain. This is according to a new study done by UNICEF. Researchers ranked the 21 developed countries in six different categories, including material well being, health, education, relationships with friends and family, behaviors and risks and the children's own sense of happiness.

And some of the findings are a little scary, or a little depressing, or both.

The highest ranking for the United States was in education. We placed 12th out of 21 developed countries. The U.S. was next to last when it comes to relationships and risk taking behavior. We also had the highest proportion of kids living in single family homes and we ranked 17th in the percentage of children living in relative poverty, and right near the bottom of the pile for children eating and talking frequently with their families.

So the question is this -- why does the United States rank, do you think, as one of the worst developed countries for children?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile.

That's a little disturbing, you know?

I have four daughters and four grandchildren and I was a little disheartened to read that study.

BLITZER: It's very disturbing. And we'll be anxious to hear what our viewers think, as well. I'm sure they're upset about it, just as you an I are, Jack.

Thanks very much.

And still to come, should Congress simply cut off the cash to stop President Bush from adding more troops into Iraq?

I'll ask the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Joe Biden. The Democratic presidential candidate standing by to join us live. That's coming up next.

Also, expect Robert Gates to get a grilling over Iranian weapons in Iraq. The defense secretary going before reporters and cameras at the bottom of the hour. We're going to bring you live coverage.

And the White House feels the heat over its nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea. Chris Hill, the American diplomat who helped negotiate the deal, standing by to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The war of words over Iraq is as intense as it ever has been and it's certainly made very, very clear this week here in Washington. An historic House debate, a presidential news conference, new Senate maneuvers all adding ammunition right now.

And joining us is a leading Democratic critic of the president's Iraq policy, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.

He's the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a Democratic candidate for president.

Senator Biden, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Happy to be with you.

BLITZER: The president, in effect, says you and your fellow Democrats, who oppose his new strategy, are being hypocritical because you all voted to confirm General David Petraeus as the new U.S. military commander in Iraq but now you're tying his hands.

Listen to what the president said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: This may become the first time in the history of the United States Congress that it has voted to send a new commander into battle and then voted to oppose his plan that is necessary to succeed in that battle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Senator, how do you square that?

BIDEN: I think that's ridiculous. It's a little bit like saying that because I opposed the war in Iraq that I should be against the military. I mean this is the president of the United States' plan. It's not Petraeus' plan. It's the president of the United States' plan.

I know General Petraeus. He's a fine guy and he's perfectly capable of leading our forces. The policy he's asked to lead on is a mistake.

BLITZER: But the president says General Petraeus put this plan together.

BIDEN: Well, let me say -- well, but who's plan is it?

It's the president's plan, Wolf.

Since when does a general set the plans?

And I know General Petraeus well. He was arguing for a lot of stuff earlier the president didn't listen to. So, you know, I think it's a silly argument. The president -- this is the president's plan. The president's escalating this war and we should be doing the opposite. He's refusing to talk to the international community about it. He's refusing to bring in the international community to make it the world's problem.

He is going about this entirely the wrong way and we're going to try to stop him.

BLITZER: Now, the issue of funding for the troops is a key issue and it could come up as early as next month. The president, while he's obviously concerned about any symbolic or non-binding resolution opposing his new strategy, he's really going after you and other Democrats, and some Republicans, about the possibility of using money, the power of the purse.

Listen to what he said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Our men and women in uniform are counting on their elected leaders to provide them with the support they need to accomplish their mission.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, what do you say to the president, who's worried that you're going to -- that you're going to tie their hands and endanger their very lives by cutting off funds?

BIDEN: We're not going to do that. But he's endangered their lives. He's sending 17,500 people into the middle of Baghdad, 6.2 million people, a lot of them without the right armor, without the right vests.

We ought to get real here. This is a president who sent our troops to war unprepared. He didn't send enough of them to war. Now he's sending them in the middle of a civil war. And as of yesterday, the "Washington Post" reporting that we're sending not uparmored Humvees in there. We're sending in some of these troops, particularly Guardsmen, without the actual body armor.

It's about time we start putting the focus -- this is the president's badly run war. He's putting people in harm's way, not prepared.

BLITZER: So are you ready to take the next step, as some of your Democratic colleagues are, and use that issue of emergency funding, the power of the purse, to try to stop this war?

BIDEN: No, that's not how you're going to stop this war. The way to stop this war is what I'm going to try to do next, along with many others -- I just came from a meeting of my colleagues -- and that is we're going to try to change the authorization for the use of force -- redefine what the president is allowed to use force for in Iran -- in Iraq, excuse me -- and make sure he can't go into Iran in a false war.

And so what we're going to try to do is say Mr. President, the purpose of forces in Iraq now is to train the Iraqis, protect the borders, not to be engaged in the middle of the civil war.

Mr. President, start to listen to the Iraqi Study Group. Start to listen to Biden-Gelb. Start to listen to all of those other plans out there that have one thing in common -- do not escalate, Mr. President. There's a need for a political solution, Mr. President. Get about the business of helping the Iraqis arrive at the political settlement. That's called a federal system. Begin to support it, Mr. President. Call in the world to support it. That's the way we'll end this civil war.

BLITZER: Yesterday, I interviewed, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, former Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, who was, as you know, severely wounded in Vietnam. And he appealed to Republicans and Democrats to go ahead and use the power of the purse.

And he said this. I want you to listen to his emotional appeal to you and other members of Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAX CLELAND (D), FORMER SENATOR: We will have a surge, all right, a surge in more planes bringing more casualties into Walter Reed and Bethesda at the dark -- in the dark of night. More arms and legs lost, and more bodies coming home with a draped flag over their coffin. That is not the direction we should be going in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, what do you say to Senator Cleland, who really wants you to stop this war by cutting off the funds?

BIDEN: I say he's absolutely right about stopping the war. The most direct and immediate way to be able to do that is to change the authorization that would give the president new limitations on what he can and cannot do. Because there's not a single solitary person out there, including Max Cleland, who says that we're not going to have to leave behind somewhere around 20,000 forces over the horizon to be able to respond to what may be an al Qaeda movement into areas that can't be controlled by the government.

And so this is complicated. But what is not complicated is the president is escalating this war when we should be deescalating this war. And the president loves this idea of trying to get it down to whether or not we're going to cut off funds for troops in the field.

We have never done that, cut off funds for the troops in the field.

We cut off funds in the Boland Amendment in 1975 after the vast majority of combat troops had already been removed and we, in fact, had made this crystal clear that this was the end. There's a lot between now and then, Wolf, as you well know. We must end this war by changing the president's authority to conduct it the way he's doing it.

BLITZER: Do you think Senator Clinton should do what you have done and acknowledge that your vote in favor of the resolution leading up to the war was a mistake?

BIDEN: That is purely up to Senator Clinton. I have great respect for her. I remember when we both made our statements on the floor of the United States Senate when this war was being voted on. We both squarely said the president was expected to do things he didn't do, and he did the opposite things he said he was going to do.

So I don't want to second-guess Senator Clinton at all. I just know what I think. I believe, in fact, we made a tragic mistake assuming that this president had the competence and competent people around him to abide by what he said he was going to do when we gave him the authority to rally the international community to put greater pressure on Saddam to abide by the U.N. resolution.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, thanks for coming in.

BIDEN: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: And remember, CNN is a partner with WMUR Television and the "New Hampshire Union Leader" for the very first presidential debates of the campaign season. They're set for this year, April 4th and April 5th, the first debates in the leadoff presidential primary state of New Hampshire.

Coming up, Hillary Clinton lands a major catch in the crucial early primary state of South Carolina.

And how did she grab the endorsement?

We'll explore the fascinating story behind the story.

Plus, Rudy Giuliani's transition -- as he makes the move from private citizen to presidential hopeful, some are questioning his lucrative speaking fees.

Stick around.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, we're standing by for a news conference by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the joint chiefs, General Peter Pace. They're expected to be asked some serious and tough questions about the credibility of U.S. intelligence, this after conflicting statements by U.S. military officials about Iran's role in harming Iraqi Shiites. We're going to be standing by for that news conference. Also this hour, a former Bush White House insider has some tough words for the president about mistakes in Iraq and a broken bond with the American people. J.C. Watts and Paul Begala will add their opinions to the mix. That's coming up in our Strategy Session.

And in our next hour, we're following the money trail of two leading presidential contenders.

Is Hillary Clinton, in effect, paying for a campaign endorsement?

And does Rudy Giuliani's profitable stint on the speaker create a potential conflict?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

As we stand by for that news conference over at the Pentagon, let's bring in our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- all right, Jamie, set the stage for why General Pace and the defense secretary, Bob Gates, why they've decided to now come forward, speak and answer reporters' questions.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, ostensibly this is a routine Pentagon briefing. In fact, the Pentagon is calling it a roundtable with reporters, part of Secretary Gates' break with the past and the format that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld used.

But this is the first time we're going to hear from both Secretary Gates and General Pace, who were both out of the country when this explosive charge was made that Iranian weapons were being sent to Iraq under the highest authority of the Iranian government.

Both have distanced themselves from that, so we'll see what they say about that.

In addition, we're expecting them to talk about the spring offensive in Afghanistan, the progress of the so-called surge in Iraq and perhaps even some reaction to the latest votes in Congress on those resolutions of disapproval -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I take it we're going to see them seated this time, as opposed to the former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who was standing at that podium, together with the chairman of the joint chiefs.

This is a whole new style on the part of the new defense chief.

MCINTYRE: Right. He's trying to make it what he called a more conversational, less confrontational format. Both the secretary and the joint chiefs will be seated behind a desk, almost anchorman style, although old anchorman style. As you see, you're standing up.

But they are trying to -- to make it a more intimate setting. But, you know, given the nature of the -- and the seriousness of some of the issues that we're discussing, it's hard to -- to get away from that -- some of that confrontation, because the reporters, they -- they do have a lot of tough questions to ask.

BLITZER: And just remind our viewers, because I think it will do a good job setting the stage for the Q&A.

It really started, the uproar, Sunday morning, when there was a briefing on -- on what we call background, anonymous officials briefing reporters in Baghdad about allegations that the highest levels of the Iranian government were supporting this -- this -- the -- the dispatch of sophisticated munitions to Shiite militia groups in Iraq, munitions that were killing almost 200 Americans and wounding hundreds of others.

MCINTYRE: Yes.

And, from what we can piece together, that intelligence briefer went a little bit farther than anyone anticipated back here in Washington. The briefing was supposed to be confined to evidence that the weapons in Iraq were coming from Iran.

But, when pressed by a reporter, this intelligence -- anonymous intelligence official said what a lot of people in the U.S. government believe, that the Quds Force, which is supplying these weapons, are actually acting on orders from the supreme leader in Iran.

But, in saying that, he made a very politically sensitive charge, that then forced the president of the United States yesterday to come out and say, no, we don't actually know that to be the case.

BLITZER: And -- and, presumably, the reporters here in the Pentagon briefing room are going to be asking some questions about that.

The president today made a point of trying to generate support for the war in Afghanistan, as well, announcing that additional U.S. troops would be deployed there for a longer tour of duty. What was the big headline out of that presidential address?

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, the -- the headline is more funds, more forces.

The U.S. is committing more troops, 3,200 additional troops -- that actually was announced earlier this week -- and $11 billion. But there is a growing recognition that, for there to be success in Afghanistan, it's going to take these reconstruction projects, that the people of Afghanistan have got to see an increase in their quality of life, and they have to do something about really counteracting the effectiveness the Taliban have had, both intimidating people, and also bribing people to fight for them, paying them an average of $200 a month.

BLITZER: All right.

Here is the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. They are sitting down. I assume Bob Gates will open this up.

Let's listen in. (JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Just a few comments very quickly about the travel that the chairman and I have had over the past week.

I spent Thursday and Friday at the NATO defense ministers informal meeting in Seville. It was largely a get-acquainted meeting for me, had a number of bilateral meetings. We, obviously, focused a lot on Afghanistan and discussions of meeting commitments, and the importance of NATO doing more -- then went to the Wehrkunde conference in Munich, where I met a number of additional people I hadn't met before, including Chancellor Merkel, Ukrainian President Yushchenko, and various others, heard some interesting speakers -- and, then, 30 hours to and from Pakistan for an hour-and-20-minute meeting with President Musharraf, largely focused on the Taliban and the spring offensive -- so, three -- three countries, and these meetings very useful, very productive for me.

Mr. Chairman?

GENERAL PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

I had a very good trip to the South Pacific, first to Australia, a very longstanding, solid ally. We have been together in every conflict since World War I. They are with us now in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it gave us a chance to have some dialogue about the way ahead in both of those countries -- and then over to Indonesia, a large democracy with whom we are reestablishing really good military- to-military ties, talked there mostly about peacekeeping and humanitarian disaster relief operations -- again, an opportunity for us to look to the future and find ways to partner together, military to military, to the benefit of both Indonesia and the United States.

With that, we will take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, General Pace, there has been a lot of back-and-forth about the extent of the Iranian involvement in weapons that have made their way into Iraq.

Can you tell us how high up in the government you think that this involvement goes -- and can you both, please, address the question -- and what it is you think the United States needs to do about this?

GATES: Well, we know that the Quds Force is involved. We know the Quds Force is a paramilitary arm of the IRGC. So, we assume that the leadership of the IRGC knows about this.

Whether or not more senior political leaders in Iran know about it, we don't know. And, frankly, for me, either way, it's a worry. Either they do know, and have approved it, or they don't know, and the IRGC may be acting on their own in -- in Iraq.

So, the honest answer is basically the same answer I gave you a couple weeks ago. We don't know how high it is. That, I think, is consistent with all the facts that we know.

QUESTION: General, you expressed...

PACE: Yes, I appreciate the opportunity, because a lot of folks have been reporting what they think I said. So, let me tell you what I did say.

I think it's very important to be extremely precise when we're talking about what we know are facts, and then what conclusions or assessments we make -- we make based on those facts.

So, the facts are what the secretary said. We know that there are explosives and weapons being used inside of Iraq that were manufactured in Iran. We know that, on two occasions, in aggressively attacking the IED network, that we have policed up Iranians. We know that those Iranians are Quds Force members. Those are facts. Another fact is that the Quds Force is a subordinate to the IRGC.

What I tried to say, when I said I didn't know about the Iranian government, I'm talking about the top two or three people in the government. I cannot -- we do not have proof that the senior leadership in Iran is directing these activities in Iraq.

But, as the secretary just pointed out, either way, either they are -- and that's not good -- or they don't know -- and that's not good. And I was trying to be very precise about what the facts are and what conclusions are.

QUESTION: General, if I could just follow up, if it's so important to be precise about such an important subject, why was this handled with a briefing, an anonymous briefing in Baghdad on a Sunday by low-level officials, who then ended up leveling a fairly serious charge, which you both now are backing away from, that this official assessed that the Quds Force was operating on direct orders from the highest level of the government?

That was a very explosive charge. You have tried to put it back in context. But -- but why is something that serious -- if it's that important to be precise, why was that handled in the way it was handled?

GATES: Go ahead.

PACE: First of all, you used the key word, which is "that official assessed." And that's what I tried to clarify when I was asked the question in Australia. The facts are the facts that I laid out. The assessment was based on those facts. The assessment by that individual was what -- what he -- what he said.

We worked, all of us, on the information that was going to be discussed in Baghdad, because it is an issue of security in Baghdad. And the right people to be talking about what's impacting the lives of our soldiers and Marines on -- on the battlefield are the commanders and the staff that is out there.

We worked on that briefing back here. And we worked very hard to ensure that the data that was going to be put out was, in fact, accurate. And the data that was put out was accurate.

I think what happened, though, was that those who -- you know, I wasn't -- I wasn't there, so I don't know. But either those who were speaking didn't make a clear enough break between fact and assessment, or those listening didn't hear the break between fact and assessment.

And that's all I was trying to do in my -- when I was talking in -- in Australia, was just to make sure that everybody understood that there are things you know for sure, and then things that you then use your experience in -- to assess.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: If we had indications that the top leaders in Iran knew about these activities in Iraq, would that change our response, which today has been limited to going after the networks inside Iraq?

GATES: No, I don't think so. I think our goal is to stop -- is to -- is to bring about an end to the use of these IEDs and these explosively formed projectiles that are killing our troops.

It was in the process of trying to disrupt those networks that we picked up the Quds Force officers. We will continue those efforts. Our goal is to stop these people from killing our troops, period.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... if we knew the top leadership were ordering this, that would amount to an act of war by the Iranians against the U.S.

(CROSSTALK)

GATES: Well, that's a hypothetical. That's a hypothetical, because we don't know that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, as a career intelligence professional, how do you feel the evidence against Iran was presented on Sunday? And do you feel the way in which it was presented has harmed the case you were trying to make?

GATES: Well, all I can say in the latter case is, I hope not. I felt -- I think that it was -- as the chairman described, it was very important to present the facts as we know them.

And -- and to the degree I had any involvement, it was to say I want factual statements. I don't want adjectives. I don't want adverbs. I want declarative sentences, and make it exactly clear what we know and what we don't know. And -- and I think, in the factual part of the briefing, that was achieved, in terms of the evidence of -- of the weapons that are being brought into -- into Iraq.

QUESTION: If credibility is an issue, why use anonymous officials? And if you're -- if you said you want factual statements that can stand scrutiny, why use anonymous officials, and then not allow a taped transcript to be made, so that everyone knows exactly what was said? GATES: I don't know what the circumstances were for the arrangements for the briefing in Baghdad and how that came about. But, as the chairman suggested, I think all of us here thought that, because the threat is in the theater, and that the theater is the one that has its MNF-I that has been involved in taking these people into custody and tracking these networks, that it was better for the briefing to be in Baghdad by MNF-I.

Why it was anonymous, why it wasn't allowed to be taped, I don't know.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, a question on tactics. There are reports that not only Iranian IEDs, but also sniper rifles that have been delivered from Austria, sold to the Iranian police in huge quantity, showed up in the hands of Iraqi insurgents. Are these reports correct?

GATES: I don't know.

PACE: I have heard those reports. I do not -- I do not know whether or not we have the factual data to claim that as a fact. We -- we can find out. I just don't know.

QUESTION: Aren't you worried that weapons that are, on a legitimate base, delivered to Iranian organizations from Europe end up in Iraq in the hands of insurgents?

PACE: I'm worried that any weapons end up in Iraq to be used against coalition forces, regardless of their home of origin.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary...

PACE: Yes.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, last week, the inspector general released a critical report on the prewar intelligence provided by this department, linking al Qaeda with Saddam Hussein. Given the increasing national skepticism over intelligence claims made by the administration, why should the American public now believe the links drawn between Iran and terror groups in Iraq?

GATES: Well, that was the reason. I mean, we're sensitive to that skepticism. And it's one of the reasons why we were so concerned that the -- that the briefing on these materiels be factual and -- and be able to be substantiated by evidence. So, it wasn't hypothesis. It wasn't assumption. It wasn't assessment. These are hard facts, based on the technologies and -- and the actual weapons themselves.

I think that that evidence speaks for itself. And I hope that the people will see that evidence in that respect.

We are not -- you know, for the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran. We are not planning a war with Iran. What we are trying to do is, inside Iraq, disrupt the networks that put these weapons in the hands of those who kill our troops. That's it.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the chief of staff of the Russian army today said that Russia was considering pulling out of the IMF treaty for two reasons, one because of the U.S. plans to put missile defense in Europe, and, second, because the treaty is outdated, repeating the concerns that Mr. Putin made to you, but suggesting they will actually go that one step further.

BLITZER: All right. We want to break away from this news conference, the defense secretary, Robert Gates, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, both making it clear they do not -- do not have the ability to say, at this point, that the highest levels of the Iranian government authorized the shipment to Shiite militias in Iraq of those sophisticated munitions, munitions they say that are killing American troops.

They say they want to be precise in what they can say for certain. And, for certain, they say, despite what a briefer reported to journalists in Baghdad Sunday morning, they can't say for sure that the highest levels of the Iranian government are directly involved.

And you just heard Robert Gates also say they're not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran, and they're not planning for a war with Iran. They are simply trying to make sure they protect U.S. soldiers and Marines, as best as possible, inside Iraq.

We will continue to monitor this news conference over at the Pentagon, and bring you more information as it emerges.

Also coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM: our "Strategy Session." One of the key strategists who helped President Bush win the White House now has some serious doubts on what the president's legacy will be.

Plus: Who has really got the most influence in Iraq, the U.S. or Iran? Our Michael Ware standing by in Baghdad -- that is coming up in our next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As President Bush's popularity remains low, questions are now being raised about his legacy.

Joining us in our "Strategy Session," two CNN political analysts. Paul Begala is a Democratic strategist. J.C. Watts is a former Republican congressman.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

You know Matthew Dowd. He was -- he's a very smart Republican, strategic thinker. He has a piece in "The Texas Monthly," just came out.

Let me read a -- a couple of sentences from it: "Once you have lost the support of the public on the war, which is where we are today, sending in a small contingent of troops is likely going to be seen as not helpful. He would be much better off with the public if he said: This is a mess. We made mistakes. And the only way to fix it is a wholesale change. And that could mean either a serious increase in troop strength or withdrawal."

So, when he raises questions, Matthew Dowd, about the president's legacy, that is something the White House should pay attention to.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely.

Matthew Dowd loves President Bush. And no one, not even Karl Rove, was more central to President Bush's success in winning that White House than Matthew Dowd.

BLITZER: Why do you say that?

BEGALA: Because Matthew actually put it all together.

Karl has a great strategic sense. Matthew is the one who actually made it work. And he's the guy who would translate all the polling data straight to the president. I know the president says he doesn't focus on polls. Matthew does.

And he's as close as anyone -- I have known Matthew a long, long time. No one has been closer or more central to Mr. Bush's success. So, this is, to me, newsworthy, not just because he is criticizing the president, but because I think it's the highest form of loyalty. You know, it's easy to go to the president and be one of his toadies and courtiers, and saying, oh, your -- you know, I kiss your ring, Mr. President.

He's -- this is a cry to the president to try to get him to recognize the strengths that he used to have, and to try to reconnect with the American people. So, I admire Matthew for doing it.

BLITZER: What do you think, J.C.?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I -- Wolf, I think it's an honest assessment on the part of Matthew Dowd, as to how he sees this presidency.

Unfortunately, the president of the United States doesn't have the luxury to sit where Matthew Dowd sits every day and try to make decisions about the war. While I think it was an honest assessment, I have no reason to question his motives in any way, I do think the president, yet, is trying to do the things necessary in order to make things better in Baghdad, so we can pull out.

And, you know, he can't -- the president doesn't have the luxury to write memos or -- or to give an assessment. He has got to be actively involved every day, making decisions, trying to get things right in Iraq.

BLITZER: Let me switch gears and talk about Al Gore.

You remember him, the former vice president...

BEGALA: I do.

BLITZER: ... of the United States.

We're getting this information now. He is joining forces with some big names in the entertainment industry, part of his efforts to fight global warming. Among other things he's going to do, he is going to have a 24-hour concert called Live Earth. It will held around the world on July 7, feature more than 100 artists, including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Snoop Dogg, Faith Hill, and a lot of others.

Do you sense he is still toying with the notion of running for president?

BEGALA: He might be, but so much the better.

If it causes him to get more attention for the issues that he cares about, principally, the environment and global warming, so much the better. He's a very savvy player in this game. And, so, maybe he is just holding out the notion that he might run to make sure that he gets more attention.

There's -- there's a subterranean battle here, though, that will be very interesting. I suspect that Vice President Gore and his crew will want to have one of those Live Earth concerts, which will be on 7/7/07, right here in Washington, D.C.

They're going to be all around the world, but I suspect they want one in Washington, and they probably want one on the Mall. Well, who controls the Mall? George W. Bush and the Bush administration. Will the Bush administration open up our National Mall to this international concert? It's going to be really interesting to see.

BLITZER: They usually have a concert on the Mall on July 4, which would be a few days early.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: They have them all the time, for all kinds of causes. But will they try to shut Al Gore and global warming out of the National Mall? I think they are going to try to do it, but I don't think they will get away with it.

BLITZER: What do you think, J.C.?

WATTS: Well, Newt Gingrich, Wolf, had a theory. I talked to him once, and he was saying that, in order to draw attention to your issues, you make noise all the time.

There is no better way to make noise than have a bunch of, you know, electric guitars and drums on the Mall.

(LAUGHTER)

WATTS: But I -- I think that's what he is trying to do. I think he's trying to draw attention to his issue, in spite of the fact that we don't know if it's right. This is a great way for him to try and draw attention to that.

And, as Donna Brazile said, don't rule Al Gore out as a possible candidate for the presidency.

BLITZER: He's -- he's a wild card, just as Newt Gingrich might be a wild card...

WATTS: That's right.

BLITZER: ... on the Republican side.

WATTS: That's right.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It could be a lot of fun and excitement for all of us.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I will get you a front-row seat to the concert, Wolf. You want to be there?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: It's going to be smoking hot.

(LAUGHTER)

WATTS: I want a backstage...

BLITZER: All pass for you, all right -- all-access pass for J.C.

Still to come: Did the United States give away the store to get a deal with North Korea and their nuclear weapons? And will the deal hold? We are going to be speaking with the U.S.' chief negotiator, Ambassador Chris Hill. That is coming up.

Also: "The Cafferty File." What -- why does the United States rank as one of the worst developed countries for children? That's Jack's question. He has your thoughts.

That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, Wolf, is: Why does the U.S. rank as one of the worst developed countries when it comes to children?

Sandy in Rochester, New Hampshire: "Here's the reality. Time is money, and no one has either these days. The children are the ones who are being punished for a government that cannot help a hardworking middle class. I'm a fifth-year teacher. I work two or three jobs to make ends meet. I rent. I have no major debts" -- pardon me -- "except for my college loans. I would love to have children, but fear the lack of time and lack of money to support them. Children need both, as well as a lot of love."

Flora writes from Las Vegas, where you will be tomorrow: "It has to do with the nature of capitalism. Neither children nor the elderly contribute to capitalist production and profits, nor are they a viable part of the reserve labor force required in a capitalist economy. In short, they are a cost, rather than a benefit or resource in this type of economy. As a result, both suffer terribly."

Bruce in Madera, California: "The study in question was slanted to make the U.S. look bad and the socialist nations in question look good. And when is the last time you heard of Sweden accomplishing anything?"

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Dave in Tampa, Florida: "With the decrease in middle- class households, children are more commonly living in poverty or in upper-class households that replace family time with material goods."

Ted in Rockaway, New Jersey: "Children don't have lobbyists showering millions on Washington to ensure their well-being. The poor little saps can't even vote."

And Jim in Carbondale, Illinois, writes: "Have you seen the adults?" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks. See you in a few moments.

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