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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Mowaffak al-Rubaie; Interview With Sam Brownback; Interview With Seymour Hersh

Aired February 25, 2007 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
Iran defies the United Nations again and refused to cut off its nuclear program. As diplomacy sputters, is the U.S. edging closer to war with Iran? We'll talk to Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Seymour Hersh about his report in The New Yorker on Pentagon preparations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We're fighting a new war to defend our liberty and our people and our way of life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Who is going to call the shots, the commander in chief, or Congress? Senior members of the House of Representatives talk about Iraq, as well as Iran, Afghanistan and U.S. politics. Two Californians join us: Democrat Jane Harman of the Homeland Security Committee; and Republican Duncan Hunter of the Armed Services Committee, a presidential candidate.

Is Iraq tipping closer to chaos? Can its leaders and security forces hold the country together? I'll talk to Iraqi national security adviser Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie in Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The U.K. military presence will continue into 2008, for as long as we're wanted and have a job to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Will the British pull-out destroy the coalition and derail the Bush strategy? Two former secretaries of state, Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger, share their views.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: I have the utmost respect for Senator Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: I sure don't want Democrats or the supporters of Democrats to be engaging in the politics of personal destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Democrats already on the attack and still a year to go before the voters get their say. We'll talk to our political panel, Mike Allen of Politico.com, and CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK, R-KAN.: Ours is a great nation, and I make one pledge to you: To use our greatness for goodness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And I'll ask Senator Sam Brownback about his presidential race; his platform of faith, family and freedom; and why he opposes more troops for Iraq.

"Late Edition's" lineup begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: It's 11:00 a.m. in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4:00 p.m. in London, 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."

We'll get to my interview with Iraq's national security adviser in Baghdad in just a moment.

First let's go to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield for a quick check of what's in the news right now.

Hi, Fred.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.

In Iraq, the deadly battle for Baghdad grinds on, and at the heart of the debate over the war, both here in Washington as well as in Iraq, is whether Iraqi forces can actually stem the violence and chart a new course. Just a little while ago, I spoke to a man at the center of the storm, Iraq's national security adviser Dr. Mowaffak al- Rubaie from Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dr. al-Rubaie, thanks very much for joining us. We are seeing a lot more violence this weekend in Baghdad, the Al Anbar province, another suicide bombing today, at least 22, maybe as many as 40 people dead.

What does this say about the state of the latest U.S.-Iraqi military offensive that is designed to deal with the security problem?

MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: See, we should not look at this Baghdad security plan in terms of days or even weeks. We are talking about here months. And we have already seen some good signs of the success of this plan.

We have got a reduction in the violence. And we've got a huge, considerable reduction in the execution-style killings and the charged IEDs. And we have got the confidence of our people in the Iraqi security forces; it is sky high. Our Iraqi people are physically leading the security forces to show them the hideouts and the whereabouts of the terrorists.

But we should look into this plan in terms of months. We should not -- very optimistic, but cautiously optimistic we should judge it. Probably we will see a tangible success or measurable success by Easter time.

BLITZER: All right. How worried are you, though, Dr. al-Rubaie, that the American public, members of Congress, are increasingly losing their confidence in what is going on and that popular support here in the United States for this military operation is declining?

AL-RUBAIE: See, what happened in Iraq was a paradigm shift from the old order to a new order, completely different set of orders in Iraq now. And this paradigm shift, this huge departure from the old order to a new set of rules of democracy, federalism, rule of law, human rights, this is new for this part of the world and it needs from us a strategic patience.

We cannot fit this strategic patience in the election cycle of Washington, D.C. It is very difficult to fit it.

BLITZER: All right.

AL-RUBAIE: So we are in the middle of fighting global terror here.

BLITZER: What about Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American radical Shiite cleric? First of all, do you know where he is? Because some U.S. officials have suggested he is now in Iran. Is that your information?

AL-RUBAIE: I'm not going to try to speculate his whereabouts, whether he is visiting Iran and will come back or he is in Iraq and he is keeping from the public eye. I don't think this is of any significance, to be quite honest with you.

What I believe is that his trend and his party and his groups and his followers are joining the government of Iraq, have joined already the Council of Representatives. They have cleared their militia from the streets. They have gone and some of them crossed the borders. Others have gone to the southern provinces and from Baghdad. So they have lost their grip on some of the neighborhoods in Baghdad. And that is what it matters for us. And we will not leave...

BLITZER: Is the Mehdi of Muqtada al-Sadr now lying low, waiting to pounce again? Or have they really changed their attitude?

AL-RUBAIE: We hope the latter. We hope they have changed their tactics, their policy, their strategy, and joining a peaceful transition of Iraq. And that is what we hope.

But even if they are lying low, we were more than prepared for this in a later stage to take one at a time. And we are continuing at the present moment of time, trying to dismantle the network in Baghdad.

And every now and then -- well, every day -- we have literally operations in Sadr City, in Shola, in some of these neighborhoods which they used to be strongholds for the Sadrites.

BLITZER: What happened with the son of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Ammar al-Hakim? He was briefly arrested by U.S. forces as he was returning to Iraq the other day from Iran.

His father, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, I saw him when he was here in Washington a few weeks ago, he met with president, the vice president of the United States, arguably the most powerful Shiite politician in Iraq right now.

What is the explanation you got from the U.S. and is it acceptable to you?

AL-RUBAIE: Well, it is very unfortunate, what happened on the borders of taking the son of Mr. Hakim, who is the leader of the United Iraqi Alliance. And, immediately, as soon as we knew about this, we talked to General Petraeus and Ambassador Khalilzad.

And they both expressed their apology. And they are quite sorry for what happened. And they intervened and he was released immediately. He was not formally arrested. He was released and he was treated with respect, according to the coalition story.

But we are still investigating from the Iraqi side, and also from the coalition, I think, that is investigating to find out what exactly happened and why did it happen, and how can we stop this happening in the future.

BLITZER: I want you, Dr. al-Rubaie, to listen to what Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the commanding general of multinational forces in Iraq, one of the top U.S. generals, said about Iranian support for efforts to kill American troops and Iraqis through what is called this Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LT. GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCES IN IRAQ: The bottom line is that we believe that the Quds Force has been involved in training and possibly providing funding and potentially weapons to some groups within Iraq. So we watch that extremely carefully.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Can you confirm that, that the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is directly involved in fomenting terrorism against the Americans in Iraq?

AL-RUBAIE: See, Wolf, we do not have any solid evidence that Iran is supporting al Qaida in Iraq...

BLITZER: What about Shiite militias? What about...

AL-RUBAIE: ... and we don't have any sort of evidence that...

BLITZER: ... Shiite militias?

AL-RUBAIE: Well, there are some evidence -- there were some evidence that they were supporting some group -- some militia group, a Shia group in Iraq. And there is no doubt in my mind, and there are so many evidence for this, that they recently -- in the last few weeks, they have changed their position. And they stopped a lot of their tactics and a lot of intervention or interference in the Iraqi internal affairs.

BLITZER: So let me just be clear on this point, Dr. al-Rubaie, you believe that in recent weeks, the Iranians have stopped interfering, militarily providing improvised explosive devices or any other training, funds or equipment for various Shiite militia groups, various forces within Iraq?

AL-RUBAIE: That's absolutely right. Recently the Iranians have changed their position, and we have some evidence that they have stopped supplying arms or creating any of these charge -- shaped (ph) mines in the streets of Baghdad.

And they have also advised some of their allies in the Iraqi political arena to change their position and supporting the government to give the Baghdad security plan a good chance of success. I honestly believe that they do not mind if the United States and the American Army and the Iraqi security forces succeed and prevail in Baghdad and defeat terrorism in Iraq.

BLITZER: One final question, Dr. al-Rubaie, before I let you go back to work. The leader of al Qaida in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, there is some confusion whether or not he was in fact injured in a recent clash with Iraqi security forces and managed to escape. One of his top deputies, according to your ministry of interior, was killed.

What can you tell us about this leader of al Qaida in Iraq?

AL-RUBAIE: Abu Ayyub al-Masri is still at large. But I can tell you one thing, that we are close to him. We are following him very, very closely. He was not injured. One of his senior aides has been killed, and another one is injured. But he escaped that attack, and we are very, very close to him.

BLITZER: We will leave it there, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

AL-RUBAIE: Thank you very much for having me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just ahead on "Late Edition," I'll ask former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger whether they think additional U.S. troops are the answer in Iraq. I'll also ask them whether diplomacy can persuade Iranian leaders to halt their nuclear development.

And later, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh has an explosive new article in The New Yorker magazine on the Bush administration's shifting strategy on Iran and the Middle East. I'll speak with him live from Cairo in his first television interview. Stay with "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." A deadly, highly complex game playing out right now in Iraq. An intense diplomatic standoff between Washington and Iran. What are the options for the United States?

With us now, two diplomatic veterans who have advised American presidents. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is joining us from Connecticut, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright joins us here in Washington. To both of you, thanks very much for coming in. And let me get your reaction, Madam Secretary, to what we just heard from Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser of Iraq, saying, you know what? This surge, the increase in U.S. troops, it can't have an effect over the next few days or weeks. This is a matter for months to play out. Are you ready to go along and let this play out for months?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I have been opposed to the surge because I think it's part of an incoherent policy, but it seems to be going forward. I hope in that case that it succeeds. But what we need is a surge in diplomacy. And I think that also came out of the interview.

BLITZER: He's ready for a surge in diplomacy. One of the things he would like to see, all the Iraqi government leaders want to see, is more involvement with Iran. But the Bush administration, Madam Secretary, seems to be resisting that, given Iran's nuclear program.

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it's unfortunate, because the Iraq Study Group and others, and I think Dr. Kissinger will say this, is that there's some value in continuing and having diplomatic relations and dialogue. Dialogue and diplomatic discussions are not appeasement. The administration has to get over that.

I was interested, however, this morning in listening to Secretary Rice that I think her position has softened somewhat from the rather difficult meeting that she had with the Foreign Relations Committee.

BLITZER: Let me bring in Dr. Kissinger. Dr. Kissinger, what do you think? A dialogue with Iran right now, even as it continues its nuclear program?

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We should never reject dialogue in principle. And we should be prepared to undertake a dialogue. I had the impression from the secretary of state this morning and also from previous things she had said, that she's prepared to engage in negotiations even at the foreign minister's level with Iran, that the obstacle is that we insist that they abandon the enrichment or suspend the enrichment program. I believe that that is a soluble problem, because it's conceivable that a meeting take place during which the Iranians announce that they're suspending the enrichment program...

BLITZER: But Dr. Kissinger, the...

KISSINGER: ... as a contribution...

BLITZER: ... the president of Iran and other top...

KISSINGER: ... they don't have to say it...

BLITZER: ... the president of Iran and other top Iranian leaders, Dr. Kissinger, are saying that train has left the station. They're not going to back down on their program to enrich uranium, and it doesn't make any difference what the U.S. or the Europeans or the United Nations says.

KISSINGER: No, they have said that they will not abandon the program. They have never flatly said that they will not suspend it to help the process of negotiations, and they've also said that they are willing to accept restrictions that the world community has in general, accepts.

I have no doubt that this is a very difficult regime, challenging us fundamentally, and I think the administration is fundamentally right in seeking to put an end to their nuclear weapons program. And a way has to be found to do that, because that is a bipartisan national concern.

Now, the tactical question, whether they should suspend the enrichment prior to the negotiation or very early in the negotiation -- by very early I mean in the first week or so -- that is something I think on which maneuvering room could exist, but the principle is correct.

BLITZER: Let me bring back Madeleine Albright. We also heard from Dr. al-Rubaie, the national security adviser, he has information that the Iranians have stopped shipping in weapons or money or funding or assistance to various Shiite militia groups in Iraq, including the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Do you believe him?

ALBRIGHT: I have no way of knowing. I do know that the Iranians obviously have been very involved in Iraq, so what's the surprise about that? I think that I was very concerned about some of the briefings that the administration gave in terms of the depth of the involvement.

There clearly are some shifting signals coming out of Iran, and I think they are worth following up on. There are problems within Iran. While President Ahmadinejad did make the statements that you're talking about, others that have positions of responsibility in Iran are making somewhat more conciliatory statements.

So I think there are a variety of trends taking place. And I would hope the administration could take advantage of those. And diplomacy, as Henry said, can in fact figure out a, as we used to say, modality for having some movement take forward. You don't have to have discussions with Ahmadinejad.

BLITZER: Modality a fancy word for format.

ALBRIGHT: Right.

BLITZER: All right. Let's bring back Dr. Kissinger. Last Sunday on this program, Dr. Kissinger, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, said what the president's policy in Iraq has been, he says it's been the worst foreign policy mistake in American history, including Vietnam. And Senator Joe Biden, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, on Friday agreed with him. Listen to what Senator Biden said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., D-DEL.: Oh, I think it is a worse blunder than Vietnam in the sense that, in the sense that the consequences for us not getting it right in Iraq are going to stick with us for a generation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You agree with Biden and Reid, Dr. Kissinger?

KISSINGER: Of course, I believe what the country with respect to Vietnam needs a non-partisan objective analysis, because the picture that's being created about Vietnam overlooks what was started in the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations for very good motives and for very good reasons, which then failed partly because of our domestic issues.

But with respect to Iraq, I supported the decision to go into Iraq. I did so for geostrategic reasons and because I thought it was necessary in the war against terror.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Was that a mistake, Dr. Kissinger?

KISSINGER: I believe it was a mistake to attempt to redo Iraqi society through the vehicle of military occupation. I believe that the regime change, which had been urged, incidentally, by the Congress under the Clinton administration and signed by President Clinton, the resolution, I think that was an appropriate objective.

We probably didn't use enough forces, and we almost certainly set out some objectives which were beyond our capability. But that is not relevant today, because today the question is what are the implications of a collapse of the American position in Iraq, and will it reduce the risk to America? I believe it will greatly magnify the risk to America.

BLITZER: Let me ask Madam Secretary. Do you agree with Harry Reid and Joe Biden that this is the worst foreign policy mistake in American history?

ALBRIGHT: I wrote in my book, which came out in May, that I thought this would go down as the greatest disaster in American foreign policy, worse than Vietnam, not in the number of deaths of either Americans or Vietnamese, but in terms of its consequences in a region that is already very complicated. So yes, I do think, and unfortunately, the prediction that I made in my book in the spring has come true.

BLITZER: We're going to continue this conversation, but we're going to take a quick break. Stand by. Much more with Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger coming up here on "Late Edition."

Also coming up, we'll have more on the dangers and the opportunities ahead on the world stage, but up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on the increasingly deadly violence today in Iraq. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAIR: It is the capital of Iraq, its strategic importance is fundamental. There has been an orgy of terrorism unleashed upon it in order to crush any possibility of it functioning. It doesn't much matter if elsewhere in Iraq, not least in Basra, change is happening. If Baghdad cannot be secured, the future of the country is in peril.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Tony Blair, the British prime minister, explaining why he's pulling out some of his troops from southern Iraq.

Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington.

We're continuing our conversation with former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright. Madam Secretary, here's the question that jumped out at me. If it's so important to secure Baghdad, as Tony Blair says, why is pulling those troops out of the southern Iraq and re-deploying them elsewhere, as opposed to just moving them north to Iraq, helping the U.S. secure the situation in the Baghdad area and the Al Anbar province?

ALBRIGHT: I had the same question, frankly, and I found it passing strange that the administration tried to explain the pullout from Basra as a positive. It's part of the up is down, black is white policy of explanation.

I do think one aspect of the British pullout that is useful is they are sending some of their troops to Afghanistan, which is, of course, a situation that was never dealt with properly, either.

BLITZER: How do you explain it, Dr. Kissinger, the fact that the British are pulling out, but not redeploying to the north?

KISSINGER: The whole situation in Iraq is extremely complicated. And the various participants in it are under different pressures. Tony Blair, who has behaved heroically in his support of the United States and in the intellectual contribution he has made, has been under enormous pressure at home. Secondly, Basra, from which he withdrew, is a different situation from Baghdad because it's a largely Shiite population. There's not the sectarian violence in Basra that there is in Baghdad.

And why the troops were not sent north, it's one of those technical questions I cannot answer from here, but I'd like to make this fundamental point. We're in a, of course, very difficult situation. The question is whether we take every issue that arises as a sort vindication of our difficulties, or whether we should try to achieve a bipartisan consensus based on the realization that a collapse in Iraq would not end the war.

It would spread the war all over the region under more difficult circumstances, and in that sense, it will affect not this administration, but also the successive administration. And so these tactical debates worry me a great deal.

BLITZER: As I'm sure they worry a lot of people. But let me quote to Madam Secretary what she said on Friday at the Carter Center down in Georgia. You said this, and I want you to explain what you meant: "We have lost the element of goodness in American power, and we have lost our moral authority. The job of the next president will be to restore the goodness of American power." What did you mean by that?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I have believed that this is an exceptional nation and that we have responsibilities because we are so rich and powerful, and that there are ways that we need to continue to be engaged in the world and to help those in various regional conflicts, and also in terms of the issues of poverty and all the other problems that are out there in the world. I believe in the goodness of American power, and it isn't just American military power. But the loss of our moral morality, Wolf, as a result of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, just to give the slogans for it, is pathetic because it has undermined what we can do in the world, and that's what troubled me very, very much and continues to.

And I hope that this president, but certainly the next president, has the capability of really putting us back into that important role of being a leader that has moral authority.

BLITZER: Let me let Dr. Kissinger react to that. Go ahead, Mr. Secretary.

KISSINGER: Madeleine and I came as immigrants to the United States, and we have experienced the goodness of America. I know most of the leaders of this administration and have had the occasion to meet the president.

There is no question that he is dedicated to the deepest values of America. Mistakes have been made as they will be made in any war, especially one as unfamiliar to the American experience as this one is.

But we ought to begin with the presupposition that we're all dedicated to the same objectives and that we're all committed to the values of America, even if mistakes were made. But they should not be interpreted as a failure of American fundamental values which remain the hope of the world.

BLITZER: Madam Secretary, do you agree?

ALBRIGHT: I do, because I do think it's a special country. And what I've said...

BLITZER: You're not questioning the motives of the president, are you?

ALBRIGHT: I'm not going to do that. I question how the policy has been carried out and I've questioned the explanations. I want to believe my president, whoever the president is.

But I do think this is an exceptional country, but exceptions cannot be made for us. International law is something that's very important. This is a country that's based on the rule of law, so when exceptions are made for us, I'm very, very troubled.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there. Madam Secretary, Dr. Kissinger, to both of you, thanks very much for coming in.

And coming up on "Late Edition," the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh on his new and explosive report in The New Yorker magazine on Bush administration preparations for war with Iran.

But up next, why conservative Republican Senator Sam Brownback broke with the White House over the troop escalation and why he wants to be president of the United States. And for our North American viewers, don't forget to tune in at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. John Roberts has the only comprehensive look at what happened in Iraq, "This Week At War." That's right after "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK, R-KAN.: The United States seems to care more about a peaceful Iraq than the Iraqis do. If that is the case, it is difficult to understand why more U.S. troops would make a difference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Republican Senator Sam Brownback speaking last month against President Bush's call for more troops in Iraq. Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Joining us now from his home state of Kansas is Senator Sam Brownback. He announced he's running for the Republican presidential nomination. Senator, welcome back to "Late Edition."

BROWNBACK: Thank you, Wolf. Pleasure to join you.

BLITZER: Thank you. You still think this is a mistake, this policy of sending in more troops to Iraq?

BROWNBACK: Well, I don't think this is the way to go. I think we have to get to a political solution and that we cannot impose a military solution. I also think we've got to come to a bipartisan agreement here of what we can support there for us to actually be able to move forward.

The worst thing, the worst thing to happen would be for us to precipitously pull out. But if we don't start coming together here, Republican and Democrat, and pushing a political solution there, then I don't think we're on the right track to move this to some sort of conclusion. We can start getting fewer of our troops killed in Iraq.

BLITZER: Here's what the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, said on this program last Sunday. I want you to listen, and then we'll talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Hey, you guys have been supporting General David Petraeus. The Senate confirmation vote was 81 to nothing. Why not give him the reinforcements he says are necessary to get the job done?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, you voted to confirm General David Petraeus. What do you say about that?

BROWNBACK: Well, I met with General Petraeus here several times. He was commander here at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, his most recent assignment. And we talked a lot about this, talked about it last fall. He talked then about a political solution, that we need a political solution.

And that's what I continue to press that we've got to have. Wolf, I really think we need to push in Iraq for a three-state, one- country solution. A Kurdish region, a Sunni region and a Shia region, with Baghdad as the federal city. It's provided in their constitution. It is the sort of political arrangement that we can start to get this thing moving forward instead of constantly falling back. That's what we really need to press him on now is that form of solution.

BLITZER: That's similar to what Senator Joe Biden has recommended, what some are saying is already, in effect, happening right now, a partition, an autonomous Kurdish area in the north, an autonomous Shia area in the south, a Sunni area in the central part, to the west, if you will, and some sort of new arrangement for Baghdad. But the administration says that's a bad idea.

BROWNBACK: Well, it's certainly not a perfect idea. I recognize that altogether, but what other option do we have? I mean, we are not going to be able to over time impose a military solution in Iraq. That's not going to work.

We're not going to be able to put in the level of troops over the time frame necessary to impose a military solution. And we're seeing this taking place in other places. You're seeing it happen today in Sudan, where in three or four years you're going to see the south probably vote to secede.

You saw it take place in the former Yugoslavia, where, when you took the military apparatus off the top of it, the people didn't get along, and they had to go into separate areas. I think you're going to see a very similar situation in Iraq, and that we need to press for that now, before we lose all will as a country to continue to see this process on through.

BLITZER: One area of concern, though, the administration keeps worrying about Turkey. If the Kurds have their own effective state in the north, the Turks may not like that -- Turkey being a NATO ally, a close ally of the United States -- given the large minority Kurdish population in Turkey itself. How do you allay that concern?

BROWNBACK: I was there in Irbil about six weeks ago, and I met with Mr. Barzani, the head of the Kurdish group. And the Kurds would like to have a separate country, but they recognize the realities there with Turkey, and they're not pressing for a separate country.

Again, Wolf, what I'm talking about is one Iraq, but it has three separate spheres or states where you have a dominant Kurdish, Sunni and Shia group. That should be something we ought to be able to work out with the Turks.

BLITZER: I don't know if you heard the interview I did at the top of the hour with Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi national security adviser. He says they have new information... BROWNBACK: I didn't.

BLITZER: ... saying the Iranians are not, are no longer aiding the militias, the Shiite militias and going after American forces, Iraqi forces inside Iraq. That has all stopped. That was news to me, but I wonder if you've heard anything to back that up.

BROWNBACK: I have heard nothing to back that up. I am very skeptical of that taking place. The Iranians for the past several years have been the lead sponsors of terrorism around the world. It is hard for me to envision that they wouldn't be doing that in Iraq, given a Shiite population that's in a majority status, and their desires, the Iranian desires to really have the region not be stable so that they can have a greater influence.

I find that very hard to believe. And Iran is a group, is a country, and their leadership now is one that we've got to take a great deal of focus on.

BLITZER: Should the U.S. be talking directly to Iran right now?

BROWNBACK: I think in the sense that we talked to them before we went into Afghanistan, but not with diplomatic arrangements, I think that could be useful, as recognized in the Iraq Study Group report and proposal.

I think it will be rejected by the Iranians, and I think more of what we have to do is confront them. Confront them economically, confront them multilaterally with the Europeans, confront some of their weaknesses -- they import 40 percent of their refined fuel products. There are some vulnerabilities that are there -- and put more pressure on them the way they have been putting a great deal of pressure and difficulty on us in that region of the world.

BLITZER: Tell us why you think you're going to win the Republican presidential nomination.

BROWNBACK: I've been in this kind of race before, where my poll numbers are lower than some of the other candidates', but my positions are consistent with where the base of the party is. I'm an economic conservative. I'm for pro-growth and an alternative flat tax and personal Social Security accounts, restraining federal spending.

I'm pro-life. I believe life begins at conception, should be protected, and that that's a broad definition that should help us do things like reducing prison recidivism. And I support marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and the ability to worship in the public square. Not a theocracy, but the ability to say things like one nation under God in the flag salute.

Those basic positions are where the base of the Republican Party, and I believe the base of the country is. And as we move through this campaign cycle, those will become more and more apparent. And I think I'm going to gain more and more steam as we move along. My poll numbers are moving up. It's a long race in a big country, and I think we're going to do very well. BLITZER: Here's part of what The New York Times had today in a major article on the front page on what it called the "Christian Right Labors to Find an '08 Candidate." And it suggested there were doubts, serious doubts among many of the top Republican hopefuls.

One quote about you: "Foes of illegal immigration objected to Brownback's support for a temporary guest worker program, and some faulted him for touching only briefly on the threat of Islamic terrorists."

Do you support, first of all, the president's plan for a temporary worker program and a pathway towards citizenship for some of the millions of illegal immigrants right now in the United States?

BROWNBACK: Well, I was just on the border this past week in Arizona, and working with Border Patrol, talking with them about this issue. I think first and foremost, we have to secure our borders and get more interior enforcement, particularly at the workplace. That's number one.

But I do think over time we're going to need to increase the number of legal immigrants we allow in the United States and make the system simpler, if it's some sort of guest worker program or other to try to reduce this tide and this draw into this country. We've got to enforce the borders, but I do think, over time, you're going to need to see us raise the number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States.

BLITZER: And some of those who are here right now should have an opportunity to eventually become citizens?

BROWNBACK: Well, I don't know if I would go that far. We're drafting a Republican proposal now in the Senate that I'm hopeful to be a part of. We have to, I believe, draw the people out of the shadows into a legal system.

It may be, Wolf, that could be a guest worker-type program that people could get drawn into as we increase more enforcement at the workplace and make it more difficult for people here illegally to be employed in this country.

BLITZER: Senator Brownback, a major issue where you differentiate yourself from, let's say a Rudy Giuliani or some of the other candidates, is the issue of abortion. A supporter, a campaign worker for Mitt Romney said this the other day.

He said, "Just like Sam Brownback, Mitt was once pro-choice but changed his views upon being elected to office. When Brownback was elected to office, that is when he also had a conversion and voted with the pro-life movement." Is that right?

BROWNBACK: That is not right. I am pro-life. I have been pro- life. I ran as a pro-life candidate in 1994. It's really kind of a silly debate, and if anybody's has been pushing or leading on the pro- life issue in this country in the U.S. Senate the past several years, I'm right up at the top of the pack in doing this. So that's just an inaccurate statement.

BLITZER: Are we going to see you, Senator Brownback, in New Hampshire when we televise the first Republican presidential debate?

BROWNBACK: I think so. We're looking at that on the schedule, and I don't have that in front of me and I didn't look at it just before coming on here, but I'm looking forward to participating in the debates, and I would anticipate doing it at that one.

BLITZER: Senator Brownback, thanks very much for joining us here on "Late Edition."

BROWNBACK: Thank you, Wolf. Good to join you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And still to come, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh on his explosive new article in The New Yorker magazine about the Bush administration and Iran.

And in the next hour, I'll also be speaking with two senior members of the House of Representatives about the debate over the war in Iraq: Democrat Jane Harman, Republican Duncan Hunter, both of California.

And the countdown is on in California to the Academy Awards. That is where CNN will be live from the red carpet. And you won't want to miss our special, "Hollywood's Gold Rush" that airs tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

"Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's take a closer look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines here in the United States. Time magazine has "Sunnis Versus Shiites: Why They Hate Each Other."

Newsweek is "Failing Our Wounded Veterans: Facing Poor Care and Red Tape." That's the cover of Newsweek.

And "The Eyes Have It" for the U.S. News & World Report. They explain all the latest on laser surgery and more.

Much more ahead on "Late Edition" coming up, including an in- depth conversation with Seymour Hersh about his explosive new article in The New Yorker magazine. We'll get his thoughts on the debate inside the Bush administration over whether diplomacy or military force is the answer against Iran.

We'll also talk about the clash over Iran and Iraq between President Bush and lawmakers with two key U.S. members of Congress: Jane Harman and Duncan Hunter.

Much more "Late Edition" coming up right after a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The United States is on a diplomatic path, and we believe in this diplomatic path.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But is a war with Iran more likely? Pulitzer Prize- winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh talks about his latest New Yorker magazine report on the U.S. military's plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: The American people will not support a policy of retreat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF.: They sent our military in with their hands tied behind their back because you haven't done the diplomatic or the political initiatives necessary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Will the White House or Congress prevail on a strategy for Iraq? Two top members of Congress, Democrat Jane Harmon and Republican Duncan Hunter, weigh in on that and more.

And nearly a year before the first official contest, the 2008 race for the White House takes a nasty turn. Insight on the campaign slugfest from Politico.com's Mike Allen and CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: We'll get to my interview with investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in just a moment.

First, let's go to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta for a quick check of what's in the news right now -- Fred.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thank very much, Fred.

Iran once again this week told the world to take a hike and to stop interfering with its nuclear program. And next door, Iraq is caught in a deadly whirlwind of Shia versus Sunni violence. I spoke to Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh just a short time ago. He is in Cairo. He has a story coming out in the new issue of The New Yorker magazine about how the Pentagon is right now in the midst of intensive planning for a bombing campaign against Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from Cairo, Sy Hersh. The article entitled, "The Redirection."

Sy, let me read one line from it. You wrote, "The Iran planning group has been handed a new assignment, to identify targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq. Previously, the focus had been on the destruction of Iran's nuclear facilities and possible regime change."

Based on all your reporting, how far along are U.S. military plans for a war with Iran?

SEYMOUR HERSH, NEW YORKER MAGAZINE: Well, of course, they're very far along. They have been studying this forever. They're constantly redesigning, retooling, but right now, as I wrote, look, it's pretty obvious what's going on.

In the last month or so, the president has been talking more and more about cross-border attacks and more and more about Iranian interference in threatening American lives. So it's not surprising they would fine-tune the targeting to after suspected training sites, et cetera, across the border and inside Iran. That's just normal, I think.

BLITZER: And you write that already, some special operations forces, some U.S. intelligence forces have crossed the line and have gone into Iran. Is that right?

HERSH: Oh, yes, that's been happening for months. There's been a lot of very aggressive cross-border activity. It's more than just casual. There has been a lot of jumping over the border, chasing bad guys, or people we think are bad guys. That's been going on quite a bit.

BLITZER: Here is what another line you write about division within the Bush administration over these plans. You say this: "The former senior intelligence official said that the current contingency plans allow for an attack order this spring.

"He added, however, that senior officers on the Joint Chiefs were counting on the White House as not being foolish enough to do this in the face of Iraq and the problems it would give the Republicans in 2008."

Talk a little bit about the divisions you see happening within the administration.

HERSH: Well, I don't think there's any question but much of the senior military leadership do not think it's the wise thing to do. Of course, if the president orders it, it will happen. But they are very skeptical.

For example, I was told -- I hinted at it in the article -- that we could have a carrier in trouble in the Straits of Hormuz. There's very little room to maneuver, and a carrier, when it's recovering planes that are, you know, landing after attacking and trying to recover the planes, their motions, their movements are predictable. They have to have the wind in a certain direction. They could be vulnerable to attack.

Iran has hundreds of PT boats they can load up and make them more or less suicide boats. So the Navy is extremely worried about that possibility. We could have some serious damage to our fleet. And also, what's Iran going to do in response?

I will tell you also that there's a lot of evidence -- I didn't get into this that much into the piece -- that the Iranians are digging more holes, moving their leadership into underground bunkers in other places besides Tehran in case of a bombing. They are anticipating the worst.

BLITZER: The Pentagon on Friday released a statement, even before your article was released, saying this: "The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran. To suggest anything to the contrary is simply wrong, misleading and mischievous.

"The United States has been very clear with respect to its concerns regarding specific Iranian government activities. The president has repeatedly stated publicly that this country is going to work with allies in the region to address those concerns through diplomatic efforts."

And this is what the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, said on February 15th. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT M. GATES: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, what do you say?

HERSH: Well, I guess Mr. Cheney, the vice president, didn't get that message, because the other day, in Australia, he once again publicly renewed the fact that all options are on the table and pretty much made another strong threat against the Iranians.

It's very possible, Wolf, that some of this is simply games being played by the administration that is simply designed to increase the political pressure on Iran, to jack it up. And a lot of this may be agitprop, propaganda.

But inside the military, they are planning very seriously, at the president's request, to attack Iran. And as I wrote in the article, one of the assignments they'd been given, contingency assignments -- there is no operational order, no order to hit anything -- but one of the contingency assignments would enable the president to at 2:00 in the afternoon say, "I want to hit," and within 24 hours, targets would be struck -- a 24-hour package.

BLITZER: You also talk about Israeli intelligence and the information they're collecting and providing to the United States. You speak about this: "Intelligence which came from Israeli agents operating in Iran includes a claim that Iran has developed a three- stage, solid-fueled intercontinental missile capable of delivering several small warheads, each with limited accuracy, inside Europe. The validity of this human intelligence is still being debated."

What's more likely, in your estimate, given the reporting you've done in the region, here in Washington, an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities or a U.S. strike against Iranian nuclear facilities?

HERSH: Look, of course, nobody knows what the answer to that question is with no assurances, but I can tell you, from what I know -- and I do have some access obviously, information -- there is no thought in this administration to letting Israel do it.

If Israel feels it has to do it, we will do it because that is the last thing they want. Israel, of course, is capable of firing some cruise missiles from the Indian Ocean, but we are certainly just as capable of doing that and much more.

So I think if it goes, and one doesn't know, it is going to -- you know, I have been writing the same story for a year, sort of like I would call up my friends and say, it is Chicken Little, you know, the sky is falling, in the last year. And now, obviously, it seems to be much more serious. It is much more intent.

My own instinct is, Wolf, that this president is not going to leave office without doing something about Iran. And he could always negotiate, it's always on the table. And he keeps on refusing to negotiate. He keeps on saying he will not. And he keeps on talking tough.

And maybe we just have to really listen to what he is saying. And I don't know what can stop him because he is president.

BLITZER: Near the end of your article, you have this explosive point in there about John Negroponte, who is now going to be the deputy secretary of state, as opposed to the head of U.S. intelligence. You write this: "I was subsequently told by the two government consultants and the former senior intelligence officials that the echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte's decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept the position of deputy secretary of state."

Explain what you were hearing, because that's obviously a very explosive charge.

HERSH: Yes, it's probably the single most explosive, if you will, or depressing or distressing sort of thing I discovered in the last few months, which is simply this: This administration has made a policy change, a decision that they're going to put all the pressure they can on the Shiites.

That is the Shiite regime in Iran, and they're also doing everything they can to stop Hezbollah, which is Shiite, the Hezbollah organization from getting any control or any more of a political foothold in Lebanon.

So essentially, I quote -- I saw Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, and he described it this way, as fitna, the Arab word for civil war. As far as he is concerned, we are interested in recreating what's happening in Iraq in Lebanon, that is, Sunni versus Shia.

And in looking into that story -- and I saw him in December -- I found this. That we have been pumping money, a great deal of money, without Congressional authority, without any Congressional oversight -- Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia is putting up some of this money -- for covert operations in many areas of the Middle East where we think that the -- we want to stop the Shiite spread or the Shiite influence.

They call it the "Shiite Crescent." And a lot of this money, and I can't tell you with absolute assurance how, exactly when and how, but this money has gotten into the hands, among other places, in Lebanon, into the hands of three, at least three jihadist groups.

There's three Sunni jihadist groups whose main claim to fame inside Lebanon right now is that they are very tough. These are people connected to al Qaida who want to take on Hezbollah. So this government, at the minimum, we may not directly be funneling money to them, but we certainly know that these groups exist.

My government, which arrests al Qaida every place it can find them and sends -- some of them are in Guantanamo and other places, is sitting back while the Lebanese government we support, the government of Prime Minister Siniora, is providing arms and sustenance to three jihadist groups whose sole function seems to me and to the people that talk to me in our government, to be there in case there is a real shoot-'em-up with Hezbollah and we really get into some sort of serious major conflict between the Sunni government and Hezbollah, which is largely Shia, who are basically -- as you know, there is a coalition headed by Hezbollah that is challenging the government right now, demonstrations, sit-ins. There has been some violence.

So America, my country, without telling Congress, using funds not appropriated, I don't know where, but my sources believe much of the money obviously came from Iraq, where there's all kinds of piles of loose money, pools of cash that could be used for covert operations.

All of this should be investigated by Congress, by the way, and I trust it will be. In my talking to the membership, members there, they are very upset that they know nothing about this. And they have great many suspicions.

We are simply in a situation where this president is really taking his notion of executive privilege to the absolute limit here, running covert operations, using money that was not authorized by Congress, supporting groups indirectly that are involved with the same people that did 9/11, and we should be arresting these people rather than looking the other way...

BLITZER: And your bottom line, Sy...

HERSH: ... and could lead to a real mess...

BLITZER: Your bottom line is that Negroponte was aware of this, obviously, and he wanted to distance himself from it? That's why he decided to give up that position and take the number two job at the State Department?

HERSH: That's one of the reasons, I was told. Negroponte also was not in tune with Cheney. There was a lot of complaints about him because he was seen as much too of a stickler, too ethical for some of the operations the Pentagon wants to run.

As you know, this Pentagon has been running covert operations. I think Mr. Gates's job and one of the things he wants to do is get some control over it. But under Rumsfeld, we were running operations all over the world with who knows what money and who knows what authority, because most of those operations are not briefed to the intelligence committees.

And the Pentagon has basically been open about it in saying, hey, this is military stuff that has nothing to do with CIA operations. We have nothing to do with them. We are running military operations. And the president has the authority to do this.

But Negroponte was unhappy about -- in general about some of the things. He also, I don't think, liked -- he may not have been terrific at his job, that's another factor. But certainly John Negroponte went through this issue, Iran-Contra, in the '80s, when we had the first big debate over the use of unlawfully obtained money to buy arms.

Well, you know, the whole arms-for-hostages business was to generate cash to fight the war, the Contra war against the Sandinistas, that mess that we had. Negroponte was ambassador to Honduras there, very sensitive to the issue that took place 20 years ago. He did not want a repeat of it.

And I frankly, it's something that I think to be asking him in a Congressional session or whatever. But I have that -- you know, I understand this is very serious stuff. And my magazine understands this is very serious stuff.

And we have really taken a lot of time with this story and couched it as carefully as we could and with all of the caveats. This is serious business.

BLITZER: The article is entitled, "The Redirection: Is the Administration's New Policy Benefiting Our Enemies in the War on Terrorism?" That is the subtitle, the author, Seymour Hersh. Sy, thanks very much for joining us from Cairo. HERSH: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That interview we did just a little while ago. Coming up on "Late Edition," we're going to get instant reaction to these explosive charges from two influential members of Congress.

Also, will Congress give President Bush a green light on his policy for Iran and Iraq? Jane Harman and Duncan Hunter, they're standing by live to talk about all this and more.

And the first votes are nearly a year away, but the Democratic presidential race already running hot. Our political panel, Mike Allen, Bill Schneider, they're standing by live as well. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GATES: We have no intention of attacking Iran. The president's said that. The secretary of state's said it. I've said it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Repeated denials from the defense secretary, among others, that the U.S. intends to attack Iran. Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Helping us sort through all of these issues and more, two senior members of the House of Representatives, both with long experiences sorting out what administrations say, what they do. Joining us from Los Angeles is Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman of California. She's a member of the Homeland Security Committee. And joining us from Phoenix is Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter. He's the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. He's also a Republican presidential candidate.

To both of you, thanks very much for coming in. A lot warmer out where you are than it is here in Washington, where it's snowing pretty seriously, at least for this part of the country.

Let me get your reaction quickly, Duncan Hunter, to what we just heard from Sy Hersh, writing in The New Yorker magazine, saying here on "Late Edition" that the Bush administration, despite the denials, is at an advanced stage in preparing war plans to go to war against Iran.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, first, Wolf, when you listen to Sy Hersh, you have to listen to the whole thing, because I heard him say, he said the administration has been studying this forever. Well, of course, every administration has been studying Iran forever, especially with respect to their development of the centrifuge systems, which at some point, if built upon, may produce enough material to build a nuclear system. So, we have contingency plans around the world. We had contingency plans with the Soviet Union, and we had specific targets. That didn't mean that we were planning to strike the Soviet Union.

So Sy has used some general background which has always existed -- that is that we have intelligence focused on Iran -- and he interprets that, he translate that, into an intent to attack Iran in the near future. That's not the case.

But, nonetheless, the IAEA, the international arms control observers and inspectors, have come back from Iran and stated that Iran is moving forward with its centrifuge systems. They are moving down the path that will allow them to develop a nuclear device, and I think certainly, at some point, that military option is always on the table. At some point, it may have to be exercised.

BLITZER: What about that, Congresswoman Harman? You're just back from the Middle East.

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Right, well, first of all, I think if we are ever to initiate military action in Iran, Congress needs to approve it. I support legislation that would make that crystal clear.

But I am just back from a trip. I heard a lot of things about Iran, first of all, that it is an existential threat to Israel, which we have known for a long time. Second, that its centrifuge technology may not be as far advanced as some claim. But, third, what I heard both in Israel and Turkey is that economic sanctions are working against Iran.

That hasn't come up yet in the segments you've had today, Wolf. Undersecretary of State Nick Burns will be in Europe next week to try to persuade European capitals to disinvest in Iran. Congress is increasing the authority under the Iran Sanctions Act to impose sanctions against subsidiaries who do business with firms that are doing business in Iran.

And I think we have a real shot here of changing the policy in Iran in a way that would be very constructive and much more effective than this notion of initiating military action where we don't have a day after scenario that makes any sense whatsoever.

BLITZER: Congressman Hunter, have you seen any evidence that the Iranians have stopped supplying military equipment or funding or training to various Shiite militia groups in Iraq as the Iraqi national security advisor, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said here on "Late Edition" in the last hour, that the Iranians all of a sudden have decided they want to see the U.S. succeed in Iraq?

HUNTER: You know, I saw that statement and I think that's a premature statement. The supply and the evidence of supply, especially of deadly systems from Iran, goes up and down and, certainly, they have been supplying capability to elements inside Iraq. And I think at this point for them to say they've stopped, there's no conclusive evidence that they've stopped. It ebbs and flows, Wolf, and at this point you can't say they stopped.

But one point on what Jane said. She said that she thinks there's evidence that sanctions may be working. You know, we watched the North Koreans labor under very difficult economic conditions to the point where their people were starving to death and literally eating bark off of trees, but that didn't keep the central government of North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.

So I agree with Jane that we should do everything we can with respect to sanctions, although I think that China and Russia will always try to blunt any effective sanctions. But at some point, if the central government of Iran wants to continue down this path to develop nuclear systems, then they will do that.

And this last report from the inspectors is that they have added centrifuges and that they still intend to build the 3000 plus centrifuges that will develop enough material to build at least several nuclear devices.

HARMAN: Yes, Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead Jane Harman.

HARMAN: I am now the chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee, and intelligence, as you know, is something I have watched closely for many years. And I will tell you that the intelligence on Iran is quite inconclusive.

First of all, on these exclusive projectiles, I think it was great that people pushed back last week when those reports came out. There is no direct link to the top levels of the Iranian government. We have known about those projectiles for years. Why they were rolled out right now is a mystery to me.

But, also, there's a big front page report in the Los Angeles Times today. I am in L.A. so I read it, and it's all about some other intelligence having to do with Iran's capability, which some feel might be disinformation.

And I will tell you that I was one of the people who pushed back about a year ago to our intelligence community when I received some briefings, which I can't describe because they were classified, but I felt that, again, that might be disinformation as much as information.

And let's not make the mistake in Iran that we made in Iraq, which is to believe this tautology that the failure to prove something does not exist is proof that it does exist. We have to be very, very careful and we need to be sure that our decisions, if they're based on intelligence, are based on accurate and actionable intelligence.

BLITZER: Let me just let Congressman Hunter respond to that.

HUNTER: And, Jane, at the same time, let's say at the same time we shouldn't then accept carte blanche a statement that all activity has seized because that also is not proved.

HARMAN: I agree with that, Duncan. I agree. I do agree with you.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by, we're going to take a quick break. A lot more to talk about with Congresswoman Jane Harman, Congressman Duncan Hunter. Please stay with us. We're going to talk about what's going on with the U.S. troop build-up in Iraq and what's happening with the British forces, some of whom are about to leave.

But also, coming up next, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news, including the latest on today's very deadly day in Baghdad. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE: When it comes to the execution of policy in the field, that has to be a clean relationship between the commander in chief and the commanders in the field. The commander in chief has to be able to rely on the best military advice, the best advice of people like General Petraeus as to what he needs, when he needs it and how he needs to use it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, speaking on ABC earlier today. Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. We're continuing our conversation with Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman and Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter. What about that, Congresswoman Harman, give the secretary of state and the commander in chief a chance to let this new U.S. policy, the troop buildup in Iraq, give it a chance to work.

HARMAN: Duncan and I have had long conversations over the years of the president's commander in chief authorities. He does have them. Congress, however, has the authority to declare war and the power of the purse.

And I think, finally, Congress is stepping up as we should and reviewing carefully the supplemental proposal for Iraq, insisting that future supplemental requests or requests for war funds in Iraq be on budget. At least that's a proposal of the blue dogs, which I support, et cetera.

And with respect to this comment, I would say that the surge won't work. I voted for the non-binding resolution that disapproved the surge. There was a bipartisan majority for that. And I will be working with our leadership and the Senate leadership on additional plans that are binding to change the direction in Iraq so that we get to a strategy that will work. No one wants to abandon the Iraqi people or our interests there, but this strategy is a flawed strategy, and it will fail.

BLITZER: Some Republicans, including some influential Republicans, Congressman Hunter, agree with Jane Harman on this issue. Senator John Warner, the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, now the ranking member, said this on Thursday: "What I'm worried about is that the American public will be quite perplexed by the president adding forces while our principal ally is subtracting forces. That is the burden we are being left with here," referring to the British decision to start pulling out troops from Iraq. Go ahead and make your case.

HUNTER: Well, I don't agree with John on this one or with Jane. I think that that vote last week was -- will be interpreted by our enemies as the first signal of retreat in this war against terror, and I've looked carefully at this strategy, the nine-sector strategy in Baghdad, the two or three Iraqi battalions up front, the American battalion in a back-up role.

And the so-called surge really just takes us up to about 157,000 troops, which is less than we had, wolf, a year ago in December. Now, you know, we have, we're following the basic plan that we followed for 60 years in extending freedom around the world.

Number one, you stand up a free government. We've done that. It's a clumsy government, an inept government, but it was elected by its people.

Number two, we stand up a military that's capable of protecting that free government. Right now, you have 129 Iraqi battalions that Americans have trained and equipped. The American interest is to rotate every one of those Iraqi battalions through a combat operation for three or four months, make them saddle up, come to Baghdad and come to the Anbar Province and come to the Sunni Triangle and stand up the Iraqi military through military operations. I think that that will work.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Harman, I want you to respond, but also in the context of what the vice president, Dick Cheney, said in blasting the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and Congressman John Murtha.

He said this to ABC: "If we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha are suggesting, all it will do is validate the al Qaida strategy. That al Qaida strategy is to break the will of the American people. In fact, knowing that they can't win in a stand-up fight, try to persuade us to throw in the towel and come home." Go ahead.

HUNTER: Well, Wolf, surely...

BLITZER: No, let's let Jane Harman respond.

HARMAN: Al Qaida is in Iraq after our military action there because of the mistakes we made in our postwar strategy. Al Qaida was not there before. What we should be doing is focusing on al Qaida. That is why -- and I think Duncan and I agree on this -- we should surge our military force through NATO in Afghanistan. And we also should be very critical of some of the decisions that President Musharraf has made with tribal leadership in Pakistan, which has enabled al Qaida to regroup and become stronger there.

In addition to that, with respect to Iraq, I still think we should stay focused on al Qaida activities. But this military surge to try to hold Baghdad is not working. You just had reports of increased, sadly, deaths of Iraqis today, and there's no signs that the 129 Iraqi battalions, whom we have supposedly trained, are showing any military capability or that the Maliki government is stepping up to do things that are necessary, such as revoking the policy of debaathification.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman Hunter, I'm going to let you respond, but listen to Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, in her response to the vice president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: The vice president's statements are beneath the dignity of the debate that we are engaged in. They're a disservice for men and women in uniform, whom we all support. And you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to call the president and tell him I disapprove of what the vice president said. That has no place in our debate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, you want to respond?

HUNTER: I think we've got to move beyond the back and forth, the give and take of last week's debate. And what we have to do is follow the American interest. Clearly, it's in the American interest to have a government in Iraq that will not be, number one, a state sponsor of terrorism, that will be a friend and not an enemy of the United States and will have a modicum of freedom.

We stand up the Iraqi forces and we move them, we make the ministry of defense give us a schedule whereby all of the Iraqi forces that we've trained and equipped, and some of those battalions have fought very well. The problem is, we've got lots of battalions in places where there's no attacks going on. We need to saddle them up, get them into the fight, rotate them into combat operations.

And that's how you leave Iraq the right way. You rotate in Iraqi battalions, rotate out American battalions. They can redeploy to other strategic locations as determined by military leaders.

With respect to Iran, our number one role here, our number one goal is, we must stand firm. We must protect Israel. And right now, this is a military challenge that we have. One, to protect against the developing missile capability of Iran. Number two, to watch very closely this emergence of an incipient nuclear capability.

And this could well, Wolf, at some point, require American military forces in Iran. We should never take that card off the table.

BLITZER: Well, we'll leave it there the way we started it, the discussion about potential U.S. war with Iran. Jane Harman, Duncan Hunter, thanks to both of you for joining us.

HUNTER: Great to be with you.

HARMAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Duncan Hunter is running for president. We'll see him in New Hampshire at that first Republican presidential debate. Appreciate both of you coming in.

And coming up next, will an Academy Award this evening catapult one retired American politician back into a presidential run. Bill Schneider is in Hollywood, and he's on the red carpet right now. He's standing by live. He'll join politico.com's Mike Allen. We'll have a political wrap-up.

And remember, CNN will be live from the red carpet at the Academy Awards. Don't miss "Hollywood's Gold Rush." That airs tonight, live, 7 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington, a winter day here in Washington. The White House is in the finish line of this earlier than ever, longer than ever presidential campaign. It's snowing here in Washington. The shot that you just saw earlier, very sunny, nice day out in Los Angeles, in Hollywood.

Helping us now dissect all the political campaign news from the red carpet over at the Academy Awards -- there he is -- our man, senior political analyst Bill Schneider. He is going Hollywood on us.

Thank you, Bill. With us here in Washington, the chief political correspondent from Politico.com, Mike Allen.

MIKE ALLEN, POLITICO.COM: I forgot my shades.

BLITZER: Yes, well, you'll need a shovel here in Washington. You need shades in L.A.

Bill Schneider, Al Gore expected, widely expected to win at least one, maybe two Academy Awards for his documentary on global warming tonight in Hollywood. Give thus latest buzz from the red carpet where you are.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: The red carpet buzz, Wolf, my man, is Al Gore is very likely to win. He's likely to win best documentary feature. He could also win best song.

The question is, when he comes up to the podium with the producers, what's he going to say? Is he going to say something political? Some people are thinking, even hoping, he will say, "Hey, I'm in," because there's a lot of people here who wish he would run, especially this week after the Tinseltown tussle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and David Geffen.

BLITZER: Any chance, Mike, that the former vice president will announce he's running for president? A hundred million people or so could be watching tonight, the Academy Awards. Do you think there is a possibility he might do that?

ALLEN: Wolf, no chance that he'll announce tonight, but he has not closed the door to it in general. As you know, Wolf, hasn't the guy who has been running the best campaign this year been the person who is not running?

Al Gore, not only has he done a fantastic job promoting his book, his movie, this cause, but look at all the things that he's been right about. He was right about Iraq. Even the president is talking about climate change. That's a pretty good start, and you're right. Democrats are saying, do we really want this?

BLITZER: Here's what Time magazine wrote this week in the new issue, Bill. Let me read it to you. "Former Vice President Al Gore has privately told friends that his familiarity with the Clintons' hardball campaign style is one of the reasons he would be leery of making a run against Hillary."

Bill Schneider, what do you think about that? Is he afraid that the campaign style of a Hillary Clinton might take him on?

SCHNEIDER: I don't really think so. Look, he now has the standing, he got more votes than George Bush in 2000, he has the issue which is global warming, he has the credibility. It would look like a civil war within the Clinton camp. Clinton's vice president, Clinton's wife running, but I think Gore is kind of beyond that right now and I think it would be very tough. He'd be a very tough candidate to run against.

It would be something to see them squabble, however, over the resources from the people who have given money to the Clintons.

BLITZER: What do you think, Mike?

ALLEN: Well, I certainly think he's not afraid of Senator Clinton. He knows their playbook, right, but I think that quote points to one of the downsides of this squabble for her.

I think that her didn't camp accomplished what they intended to do, which was, A, put Senator Obama on warning, muddy him up a little bit, knock him off his pedestal, make it harder for him to do the holier than now thing; and warn people that A, you don't get free shots at the senator; B, if you talk about the personal life we'll respond with overwhelming force.

But it reminded people what they don't like about the Clintons, Wolf. I'm reminded of an expression that one of my friend's mother says. She says, "People don't change, they just get more like themselves." And that may not be good for Senator Clinton.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about that interview that David Geffen, the Hollywood mogul, gave to Maureen Dowd in the New York Times that caused a huge uproar here this week.

Among other things, Maureen Dowd wrote this, quoting David Geffen: "'I don't think anybody believes that in the last six years all of a sudden Bill Clinton has become a different person,' Mr. Geffen Says, adding that if Republicans are digging up dirt, they'll wait until Hillary is the nominee to use it. 'I think they believe she's the easiest to defeat.'" That's a quote from David Geffen. Strong words from David Geffen and the fallout had been significant, Bill. Talk a little bit about that.

SCHNEIDER: The fallout has been to put the electability issue -- Senator Clinton's electability -- right there on the table. People are now talking about it, not whispers, but it's out there. He put it out in the New York Times interview.

Of course, there's also an issue about Senator Obama's electability. Does he have the record? Does he have the experience? You have a woman, you have an African-American. But more than that, you have Hillary Clinton who looks like she has too much political baggage -- that's what Geffen was saying -- and then the question raised about Obama is, does he have enough political baggage?

BLITZER: Her team, Mike Allen, came out swinging as soon as this Maureen Dowd column was published in the New York Times. But her response, I think, was this foreshadowed with this comment from Hillary Clinton back at the end of January.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I also believe that when you are attacked, you have to deck your opponent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. That's her strategy. Howard Wolfson, one of her media strategists, didn't waste any time in saying Barack Obama has to distance himself from David Geffen, has to repudiate him, and return the more than million dollars that they raised at that Beverly Hills fundraiser.

ALLEN: Yes, Wolf, that is a fantastic clip and her campaign was on a hair trigger waiting for an excuse of pretext to respond this way. I think people will question whether this was the right incident to do it, but this shows that, A, she's concerned about Senator Obama; B, that she's concerned about the personal life coming up. Two things that was in the mind of the Clinton camp, A, if you're a woman candidate you need to err on the side of being tough; and, B, it's their history.

BLITZER: So did she win this initial skirmish with Barack Obama or lose?

ALLEN: I think that we can't know that, but her campaign believes they accomplished what they intended to. The question is, did it remind people of things that the Clinton campaign had hoped for in the past? BLITZER: Here's another clip, Bill, I want to play in her reacting to that Maureen Dowd/David Geffen uproar. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I want to run a very positive campaign and I sure don't want Democrats or the supporters of Democrats to be engaging in the politics of personal destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Can we talk about winners and losers on this feud, Bill?

SCHNEIDER: Well, both candidates, I think, were damaged by this. I think it was surprising that Senator Clinton's campaign lashed out so quickly and so sharply against Senator Obama because he, after all, wasn't the one who said those words. They said it was David Geffen, his chief fundraiser. Geffen does not have the role in the Obama campaign and it was surprising.

I think she was trying to make a point. The point was, if the Republicans try to attack me, I'm going to fight back. Unlike other Democratic nominees in the past, she's going to be tough. She's going to fight back.

But then it was also surprising that Senator Obama, who said he wouldn't have anything to do with slash and burn politics, he had some very tough charges he lobbed at Senator Clinton.

BLITZER: And the fighting is only just beginning. Guys, thanks very much. Mike Allen here in Washington, Bill Schneider out in Hollywood. Bill, enjoy the Academy Awards tonight. Thanks for coming in.

By the way, it's not only Bill who's in Hollywood today. Watch for a CNN special, "Hollywood's Gold Rush," live from the red carpet. That airs tonight, 7 p.m. Eastern. You're going to want to see it.

And remember, Bill Schneider is part of the best political team on television. Stay with CNN for the latest campaign news.

Up next, in case you missed it, "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show roundup. Don't go away. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's snowing here in Washington. Check out this live picture coming in from the White House. A miserable day in the nation's capital. If you like snow, though, not too bad.

Welcome back to "Late Edition." Still to come, in case you missed it, "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show roundup. And coming up at the top of the hour, right after "Late Edition," "This Week at War" looks at Iraq, Iran, whether the U.S. military is overstretched. John Roberts, "This Week at War," coming up right at 1 p.m. Eastern.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. On NBC, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, Carl Levin, made the case for changing the original authorization for the Iraq war. But on Fox Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was critical of that plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-MICH.: Hopefully, we're going to come up with a resolution which is going to modify, in effect, the previous resolution, which was very broad, told the president that he had authority to do basically whatever he wanted to in Iraq, and to come up with wording which would modify that broad resolution and broad authority so that we would be in a supporting role rather than a combat role in Iraq.

Things have changed in Iraq. We don't believe that it it's going to be possible to remove all of our troops from Iraq because there's going to be a limited purpose that they're going to need to serve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE: I can't imagine a circumstance in which it's a good thing that their flexibility is constrained by people sitting here in Washington, sitting in the Congress trying to micromanage this war. I just don't think it's a good thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On the other Sunday shows, two political heavyweights gave their support to some presidential hopefuls with strong records on the environment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: See, my favorite Democrat for a number of years now has been Al Gore. His burning issue now is global warming and preventing it. He can do infinitely more to accomplish that goal as the incumbent of the White House than he can making even movies that get, you know, that get Oscars.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, R-CALIF.: I am very happy with McCain simply because he has been a pro-environment person and someone that believes very strongly in the environment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

And that is your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, February 25th. Please be sure to join us next Sunday and every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern for two hours. "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk. We're in the "Situation Room" Monday through Friday.

That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "This Week at War" with John Roberts starts right now. John?

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