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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview With Al Sharpton; Interview With Terry Waite
Aired April 1, 2007 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11:00 a.m. in Washington and here in New York, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad, and 6:30 p.m. in Tehran. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
We're keeping our eye, right now, on unfolding developments in Iran, where 15 British sailors and marines are being detained, this for the 10th straight day.
Fredricka Whitfield is at the "Late Edition" update desk in Atlanta for a quick update on what's going on. What's the latest, Fred?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Wolf.
Well, you know it was coming to this. While Iran continues to hold those 15 British sailors and marines in Tehran, now, you're looking at this scene, right here, unfolding in Tehran, right outside the British embassy in Tehran, Iran, where hundreds of people, including many Tehran University students, are gathering.
They're hurling firecrackers. They are also chanting, all of this taking place just one day after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Britain "arrogant" for not apologizing for those British sailors and marines allegedly trespassing into Iranian waters.
We're continuing to monitor developments there, out of Tehran. When we get any more information or any new images, we'll bring that to you. Wolf?
BLITZER: Protesting students, demonstrating outside an embassy in Tehran, eerily similar to what happened back in 1979, when those Iranian protesters took over the U.S. embassy in Iran and held those diplomats...
WHITFIELD: That's right. It looks like history, possibly, repeating itself.
BLITZER: Right. They held those American diplomats hostage for 444 days.
Is there any sense, Fred, based on what's coming in right now, that a similar situation could be unfolding in Tehran?
WHITFIELD: Well, we certainly hope not. But it seems as if it's similar drum beats, beating all again, you know, years after America and the world witnessed that before.
And now we're hearing from Great Britain that, while they are trying to carry on some kind of talks of diplomacy so that they can, perhaps, see, in person, or talk directly to those sailors and marines, Iran is denying them that kind of access. And that is only further irritating Great Britain.
But at the same time, Tehran holding its ground, saying that these sailors and marines were in Iranian waters. Great Britain is saying, no, they were in Iraqi waters. So the drum beat continues.
BLITZER: We're going to stay on top of this story and go back as developments unfold, Fred. Thanks for monitoring this for us.
The former British hostage negotiator, Terry Waite is now offering to travel to Tehran to try to help resolve this crisis.
Waite was himself taken hostage back in Lebanon, held for some five years in the late '80s, early '90s, while on an earlier mission to try to free other hostages. He's joining us now from Cambridge, England.
Terry Waite, thanks very much for coming in. What's your proposal right now?
What would you like to do?
TERRY WAITE, FORMER HOSTAGE: Well, just going back a few years, in the early '80s, in '81, I travelled to Tehran to meet with Revolutionary Guards over the case of about four British people, Anglicans, members of the Anglican church and a similar number of Iranians who were detained, accused of engaging in espionage.
And I was able to negotiate with the Revolutionary Guards. We were able to get to the bottom of the issue, discover that the charge was empty. They were released to my care.
And throughout, the Revolutionary Guards behaved totally honorably in relationship to myself.
My proposal, this time, which is being made entirely without any consultation with British government, for my part, is purely on humanitarian grounds.
First of all, I would ask for permission to travel to Tehran to meet with the hostages, to be assured of their best welfare so that a message from an independent person such as myself can be passed to their families. Because their families, obviously, are suffering great strain at this time. That would be a sign of good will. And it would somehow be a stair which would enable us to be a little more released from some of the crazy rhetoric that's building up around this situation.
BLITZER: Do you do have any direct contact...
(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: ... Terry Waite, with the Iranian government? Have you made this proposal to them? Are they receptive?
WAITE: The proposal will be put in writing to them tomorrow. For the moment, since mid-day yesterday, when I first had this proposal, the proposal has simply been made through the media there, as a way of getting the message across to them.
But it will be, first thing in the morning, put in writing, with the hope that a response will come from the Iranian authorities.
BLITZER: Has there been any reaction from British officials to this proposal?
Do they think it could be helpful, harmful?
WAITE: They have not given me, as yet, any reaction. And I haven't sought any.
And if I do make such a trip, I think it would be very important that the trip is seen to be exclusively a humanitarian endeavor, not in any way financed by the government.
Although one would hope that the government would give backing and support, I think it's very important that the independence of such a mission is maintained.
BLITZER: The last time you were involved in these kinds of activities, you were an assistant to the archbishop of Canterbury. You went to Lebanon. You went elsewhere. And in the process, you yourself were taken hostage and held for some five years.
How concerned would you be about a similar situation unfolding right now?
WAITE: You're quite right. On the last occasion, which was in Beirut, I fell victim to political duplicity. I myself became a suspect.
I was able, at the end of the five years, to come out of that experience, when I was not regarded as being engaged in espionage, which was the accusation made in the first place.
So I came out of that, If I hadn't been, I wouldn't be speaking to you now. There is always a risk, traveling anywhere in the world these days, but in my experience, in dealing with the Iranian people and the Revolutionary Guards, they have been, toward me, honorable.
And I would expect, on the whole, they would continue that, should such a visit from myself come about.
BLITZER: The Iranians have released a video of some of the captive British sailors and marines speaking out. I want you to listen to this little clip, what they released this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) THOMAS SUMMERS, CAPTURED BRITISH SAILOR: I'd like to apologize for entering your waters without any permission. I know it happened back in 2004. And our government promised that it wouldn't happen again. And again, I deeply apologize for entering your waters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: As you know, Terry Waite, a lot of people suspect that's coerced -- that's a forced statement on the part of these British sailors and marines.
Is this appropriate, for the Iranians to be showing this kind of video around the world?
WAITE: There is a lot of inappropriate behavior, on all sides, in this manner. And that's what happens in situations of this kind. It is a result of -- the whole capture, of the detention of these men is a result of a long history of difficulty in communication, difficulty in relationships, and in some cases, threats that have been made toward Iran and vice versa.
All this flies around situations of this kind. What my aim would be, and what I think the aim of politicians in this situation ought to be, is to cut through the rhetoric, to cut through some of the forceful language that is being used and begin to get down to common sense negotiations.
As I understand it, the territorial waters -- it is an area of dispute. If it's an area of dispute, the matter can be resolved quite amicably, if you sit down with people and talk about it.
But sometimes the language that's being used on both sides and being used quite forcefully from the western side has not been conducive to setting an atmosphere in which there can be reasonable talking.
BLITZER: Terry Waite joining us from Cambridge in England. Terry Waite, stay in touch with us and let us know if there is an opportunity for to you go over there and try to do something about this very tense stand-off. Appreciate you joining us here on "Late Edition." Thanks very much.
WAITE: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Just ahead, President Bush and Congress locked in a fight over Iraq war funding. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kit Bond, they are standing by live to weigh in.
Then, Iraq sectarian strife -- three perspectives about what's happening right now and what it will take to try to stop the violence.
This programming note for our North American viewers -- coming up after "Late Edition" at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, John Roberts hosts "This Week At War."
"Late Edition" will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from New York.
Still ahead, my interview with Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. He talks about how he would handle Iran, the war in Iraq if he were in the White House. That's coming up in our next hour.
But right now, we are joined by two leading members of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee: in Washington, the panel's Republican vice chairman, Kit Bond; and in San Francisco, Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California.
And, Senator Feinstein, let me start with you and talk about this situation, the tension with Iran right now, Iran's decision to continue to hold these 15 British sailors and marines. Here's how the president this weekend summarized this situation. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The Iranians must give back the hostages. They're innocent. They were doing nothing wrong and they were summarily plucked out of water, and as I say, it's inexcusable behavior.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. What's your reaction? Obviously, the use of the word hostages by the president is seen as significant.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I don't think you can underestimate the seriousness of this. And the reason I say that is because we have so isolated Iran, and basically had no communication with it that provides a basis for the settlement of a problem like this one.
I mean, there is some information that the boundary, the water boundary, may be disputed. I don't know whether that's true or not. I do know that it is a very explosive, incendiary situation, and we should find a way to communicate and help great Britain in this matter.
You know, situations like this can explode into much more general violence. And all the symptoms are there for it, and I think that's symptomatic of some of our basic failures in foreign policy. If we don't like someone, we don't talk to them. Therefore, you really don't have the relationships that you need when something like this happens.
BLITZER: Senator Bond, in fact, even as we speak on this day today, some demonstrations, angry demonstrations, by Iranian students, as they're being described, outside the British embassy in Tehran.
Unlike the United States, Britain restored diplomatic relations with Iran years ago. How worried are you right now that this tense stand-off could get a lot worse?
SEN. KIT BOND (R), MISSOURI: Sure. They are just Iranian students who decided to show up. This is part of a major strategy orchestrated by Ahmadinejad who has forecasted Armageddon and wants to push every way he can.
Now, we have had low-level discussions with Iranians. The British have diplomatic relations with them, but so far, it hasn't done them any good. I agree that we must pursue every diplomatic measure. The British need to be talking with the Iranians.
The fact that we call those sailors hostages is an absolutely appropriate term, but we must make every effort to assist the British in peaceful settlement of their outrageous action, their totally unlawful use of putting the British sailors on television with forced coercion just as another indication of how far out of bounds Iran is.
BLITZER: The Iranian president, Senator Feinstein, said this on Saturday. He said, "After the arrest of these people, the British government, instead of apologizing and express regret over the action taken, started to claim that we are in their debt and shouted in different international councils, but this is not the legal and logical way for this issue."
How worried are you, Senator Feinstein, that some sort of miscalculation right now could trigger an even worse situation? And I say this with these war games underway, these exercises. Two U.S. aircraft carriers right now engaged in exercises in the northern Persian Gulf?
FEINSTEIN: Well, this is what I was speaking of in general terms. It's a very potentially explosive situation. And I think cooler heads have to prevail. I think diplomacy is the order of the day.
And there are some that have relationships with Iranians who are close to the supreme leader. And I think rather than going to the president, it should be a channel to the supreme leader because he can make a difference in this situation.
BLITZER: Here is what John Bolton, Senator Bond, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told me here on "Late Edition" last Sunday. I want you to listen to this and get your response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BOLTON, FMR. U.S. AMB. TO U.N.: I think, ultimately, the only thing that will stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons is regime change in Tehran. This regime has shown zero evidence that it's changed its strategic decision. And to date, the pressure that's been applied to them has not moved them an inch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you agree with him, Senator Bond? BOND: Unfortunately, it doesn't look like there is any other option other than regime change, but we believe that there are a substantial number of Iranian citizens who are very uncomfortable with the direction that the current president and the supreme leader are taking them.
I would hope that other nations who have much to fear from a nuclear Iran, such as Germany and China and Russia, would be willing to join with the Security Council and start employing escalating sanctions on Iran to force them to change their way with the nuclear weapons or even to bring about a regime change in Iran.
BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. But, Senator Feinstein, I want to you react to that regime change idea first. Is that the only solution from the U.S. perspective, as you see it?
FEINSTEIN: No. I heard that being put forward on your channel. And I very much regret it. You know, I don't know who the United States thinks we are that we are the keeper of all the world and that if we can't get along with a government, we've got to change that government and then we do it by a preemptive war.
And I think that's tragic. And I think it will set in place a kind of dialectic with the Islamic world that is very, very dangerous indeed. So I wish that conversation had never taken place.
I think cooler heads need to reveal. I think diplomacy needs to work at its fullest. I think we need to put some of our best diplomatic minds forward to help the British and sit down with people and solve this situation and stop all the saber-rattling.
It seems that, these days, all America knows is the threat of force. And, in fact, that's just one thing and it's the last thing. And why we have moved it always up to the very first thing, I don't know, but it's a mistake. It's a mistake for our future. It's a mistake for America's presence in the world today.
And I just hope that cooler heads prevail and I will try to do everything I can. I'm going to have occasion to meet with some Iranians this next week with Stockholm, and I will certainly raise the question and try to be helpful. And let's just keep our cool and get this job done.
BLITZER: All right. Senator, stand by. We have a lot more to talk about, including the confrontation unfolding in Washington right now between Congress and the president over funding for the war in Iraq. I'm also going to ask both of these senators whether the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, should be going to Damascus, Syria after all. The White House very angry about that.
Also more on the daily violence, the insurgency that's unfolding in Iraq right now. We'll get a status report on what's actually happening on the ground.
Then, surveying a crowded Democratic presidential field with Al Sharpton. The former White House hopeful tells us whether he's ready to back a candidate or become one himself.
Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Fred, thanks very much. Coming up on "Late Edition," a lot more with Senators Kit Bond, Dianne Feinstein about the situation in Iraq and that confrontation over war funding.
Then, escalating tensions over those British sailors and marines. It's all unfolding in Iran. We'll get three views on what message the Iranian government might be trying to send.
"Late Edition" will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from New York.
We are continuing our conversation with Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri. They're both members of the Intelligence Committee.
Senator bond, I know you want to respond to what we just heard from Senator Feinstein wrapping up this current stand-off, this crisis with Iran.
BOND: Let me make it very clear, Wolf and Dianne, that I am not and have not called for military action in Iran. I do not believe it should be taken off the table and I believe Senator Obama will be saying the same thing later on. I believe we must pursue diplomatic efforts.
The people of Iran are restless under the current administration, already voting in opposing parties at local elections.
I believe the economic pressure and diplomatic pressure is the best opportunity, the best avenue we have to pursue now.
BLITZER: OK. Senator Feinstein, the president, this week, responded very angrily to the moves in the Senate, which followed the moves in the House to pass a war funding emergency spending bill, if you will, that includes a timeline, a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq.
Here's what the president said. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: It makes no sense for politicians in Washington, D.C., to be dictating arbitrary timelines for our military commanders in a war zone 6,000 miles away.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Your decision -- you voted for that bill that calls for the start of the withdrawal, in a few months, and a complete withdrawal of combat forces by the end of March next year.
What's your response to the president, Senator Feinstein?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I think the president has to realize that this country is deeply divided, and that a majority of people in this country, today, want us out of Iraq.
What happened in the Congress, in the House of Representatives, and in the Senate, is really without precedent. We have taken a very strong position with respect to the war, in terms of setting a timetable, in terms of establishing some benchmarks.
This is binding. It is part of the supplemental appropriations. The bills are slightly different. They will be reconciled in the conference committee and they will go to the president. And most likely, people believe that he will veto it.
BLITZER: He says he will. He promises...
BLITZER: He promises, Senator -- he vows he will veto that bill.
FEINSTEIN: Oh, I assume he will.
BLITZER: You don't have the two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate to override that presidential veto.
What do you do next?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I think we stick to our guns. I think that is yet to be worked out, but it will be worked out. I think this is a very important time because the Congress and the president are now on different roads, and which road will prevail remains to be seen.
A president has to lead, but people have to follow. And right now, people are not following this president, in the United States. The people have spoken through the Congress.
BLITZER: Senator Bond, the latest Newsweek Magazine poll seems to suggest that Senator Feinstein has a lot of support on her position.
Whether or not withdrawal by March of 2008 -- it was asked, do you support or oppose that? Fifty-seven percent said they support it; 36 percent say they oppose it.
It looks like the American public is more in line with the Democrats on this issue than the Republicans. BOND: You know, one of the reasons, Wolf, our troops in Iraq tell us, is because of the biassed reporting that comes out from the major TV news channels covering it.
They cannot believe that the progress that they are making is not being shown and only the bad side is only being shown.
Nevertheless, if Senator Feinstein and others really want to cut off the war, they have the right to cut off funding and vote it up or down.
I don't think they have the votes to do that. So they have tried a very political settlement. They are trying to please both sides, but what they do is send the wrong message.
It sends the wrong message to the enemies, the terrorists, the insurgents, the Baathists, say, just stay there; America is moving out; you can go ahead and pick off our troops because we are not going to support them. It sends the wrong message to our allies, the Sunnis and other neighbors in the region that we want to come in and help us.
And of course, it sends the absolute wrong message to the men and women who are fighting there.
So, I think this, as the president said, trying to micromanage a war when we just confirmed that General Petraeus has a new plan that everybody had called for. And it is too early to see if it's working, but we have to give it a chance.
BLITZER: The White House counselor today, Senator Feinstein, really went after the Democratic majority in the House and the Senate, saying this. I want to play for you what he said on ABC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: We sent the wartime supplemental 55 days ago, and what does the Congress do?
They go on a two-week break, for their Easter recess, at a time when our troops need the funding.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Senator Feinstein, do you want to respond to Dan Bartlett?
FEINSTEIN: Yes. May I respond?
The supplemental came to us on February 5. The prior supplemental took about five months to pass.
There is enough funding. We may have to make some changes in the allocations of the funding, but there is sufficient funding until the end of July.
The supplemental will certainly be conferenced and passed. So, you know, I think this is just a shibboleth, in essence, to come back with something.
The supplemental is going to get passed. But it is going to have in it in the Iraq resolution.
And you know, we have 145,000 troops there now, in an escalation called a surge. It hasn't stopped the fighting. Our people are in the middle. And the time has come to redeploy out of Iraq. And we do so, in an orderly way, in these resolutions.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time, Senator Feinstein. I want you to weigh in, and then I'll ask Senator Bond to weigh in on the speaker's decision, Nancy Pelosi, to include a stopover in Damascus, Syria, this week, a visit that the White House is blasting, saying it's totally inappropriate, given Syria's role in Lebanon and Iraq.
What do you say about your fellow Californian?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I'm very supportive of what the speaker is doing. And the time has come for members to begin to go to some of these countries and establish their own dialogue and see for themselves.
Once again, Wolf, this business of, we're not going to talk to a given country, only isolates them, only makes them more recalcitrant. I think it is a very healthy thing. Republicans have gone to Syria on more than one occasion. There is no reason why this bipartisan delegation should not as well.
BLITZER: All right. Senator Bond, I'll give you the last word and then we've got to go.
BOND: First, delaying the supplemental -- and they know it's going to get vetoed and it should be vetoed -- means that we can't continue to provide upgrades, repair, training, all the things that our troops need.
The new MRAP, the missile-resistant ambush protection vehicles that are included by Senator Biden's amendment will not be made available to purchase, but we need to make safe travel.
So it's bad. And as far as the speaker trying to negotiate with a country that is supporting the war in Iraq, I think that's why the Constitution gives the power to conduct foreign policy to the president, not a bunch of freelancers in Congress.
BLITZER: We, unfortunately, have to leave it there. A good discussion, though, Senator Bond, Senator Feinstein. Always good to have both of you on "Late Edition."
BOND: Thank you.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: And coming up, the unrest in Iraq, the British-Iran stand-off, the impact on an already very tense Middle East. We're going to get three perspectives. And later, senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. He talk about how he'd handle a potential crisis with Iran if he occupied the Oval Office.
Stay with "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
BLITZER: The question on everyone's mind right now is when will the Iraqi government be able to stand up and stop the violence so that U.S. troops can start to stand down?
Joining us now to discuss this and more, our guest on the ground in Baghdad, CNN's own Michael Ware; in Washington, David Ignatius, he's an international affairs columnist for the Washington Post; and here in New York, Richard Haass. He's president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Gentlemen, thanks to all of you for coming in, and I'll start the discussion with a report that General Barry McCaffrey, retired U.S. Army four-star general, released this week following another visit in Iraq.
Among other things, he said this: "Although we have arrested 120,000 insurgents and killed some huge number of enemy combatants, perhaps 20,000 plus, the armed insurgents, militias and al Qaeda in Iraq, without fail, apparently regenerate both leadership cadres and food soldiers. Their sophistication, numbers and lethality go up, not down, as they incur these staggering battle losses."
Michael Ware, first to you since you're there in Iraq. Is General McCaffrey correct, bottom line?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely. And it's been this way ever since 2003. Indeed, we've seen through the course of this war, since the fall of Saddam's regime in April '03, the insurgency not just mutate and transform, but grow in complexity, grow in sophistication and grow in breadth as more and more international players became involved.
And this was a trend that was emerging by the end of the summer of '03. So to say that this is continuing and goes on is of no surprise. A distinguishing feature of this insurgency has been its unbelievable ability to regenerate.
BLITZER: All right. I want to play for Richard Haass what Senator John McCain said in a news conference in Baghdad today. Listen to this, Richard.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Things are better and there are encouraging signs. I have been here many years, many times over the years. Never have I been able to drive from the airport, never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Clearly a much more upbeat assessment of things, while still very serious, are moving, at least he says, in the right direction.
RICHARD HAASS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, the bottom line is, Wolf, they're both right. Depending upon where you are in Iraq, you can see very different things. So right around Baghdad where the surge has been heaviest, yes, there's been what you might call some microimprovement. But take a step back. Look at the country as a whole. No, there hasn't been.
What you are still seeing is a country that's more sectarian than national. When these people get up every morning and they look in the mirror, they see themselves more as Sunnis and Shia and Kurds than they do as Iraqis. National forces are still thin and weak.
So Senator McCain is probably right in terms of the specific areas he's seen. But I'm sorry to say, I don't think it's right. I think Barry McCaffrey is probably correct when he talks about what you might call the strategic direction of the country which, unfortunately, is still going in the wrong direction.
BLITZER: Where you do stand, David Ignatius, on this, I guess, bottom line question of whether things are moving in the right or wrong direction in Iraq?
DAVID IGNATIUS, WASHINGTON POST: I think it's too early to make a serious assessment of whether the surge is working. I think our discussion in the last couple of minutes has illustrated the paradox of the surge. There is no question in my mind that as we put more troops into Baghdad for a Baghdad security plan, we will be able to stabilize or give the appearance of stability in those neighborhoods.
I was in Baghdad last August with General Abizaid, the then- CENTCOM commander, doing what Senator McCain did today in his tour of neighborhoods that have been secured by U.S. troops. And, yes, we are the toughest militia in Iraq. We can beat out everybody out of these neighborhoods for a little while.
But that's not the same thing as having stability through the country, making progress toward a political solution. The problem with the surge is, you surge, you stabilize the area, but the rest of the country and the political dynamics remain unchanged. I still don't hear anything that really speaks to that.
BLITZER: Well, what about the fact, Michael Ware, that Senator McCain and his VIP delegation could actually drive in from the Baghdad Airport to the international zone, the so-called Green Zone, the secure part, relatively speaking of the Iraqi capital, and then go out on a tour of some marketplaces? What, if anything, does that say to you?
WARE: Well, it speaks, unfortunately, to the naivete of the congressional delegation and it touches upon what David has just said. The fact that they were able to drive from the airport has been done by American representatives for years now. That is not new.
The fact that they were able to stroll through a marketplace that was heavily secured by American convoys and air assets and Iraqi troops bristling all around them has been done and done and done before. I myself, like David, have walked the streets with American generals. It speaks of nothing except the appearance on the surface.
And whilst the surge is having an impact on certain types of violence and needs to be supported, nonetheless, the underlying dynamics behind this war, undercutting this war, are not being addressed, which is why we are now seeing America cutting deals with the Baathists while we are seeing the prime minister cutting deals with Muqtada al-Sadr, the militia leader.
BLITZER: And, Richard Haass, I want to read another excerpt from General McCaffrey's report because it does speak to the problems in Iraq right now. "There is no function of government that operates effectively across the nation, not health care, not justice, not education, not transportation, not labor and commerce, not electricity, not oil production. There is no province in the country in which the government has dominance."
There are, what, 18 provinces in Iraq and the usual assessment is that things are going relatively well in 14, 15 of them. There are a few that things aren't so well. He says that the situation is bad in all of those provinces.
HAASS: Well, it's not bad in the north. The Kurdish areas are remarkably stable. They're economically booming. But there the credit essentially goes to the Kurdish people and the Kurdish leadership.
BLITZER: But that was happening even before Saddam Hussein went down when the U.S. was flying those no-fly zones in the northern part of Iraq.
HAASS: Right. You haven't had the federal government have sway in the north now for over a decade. The south, again, the federal government is weak. It's really a Shia stronghold. Sharia law is quite strong.
What most people talk about when they talk about Iraq, as you know, is the center, Baghdad and west. That's where you have the most mixed populations. That's where the situation is worse. And, again, one is not really seeing structural or systematic progress there. That's the reason that one has to be somewhat bearish when one thinks about what Iraq is going to look like six months or six years from now.
BLITZER: And I'm going to take a break, but David Ignatius, just weigh in on that last point.
IGNATIUS: You know, I think that we are still at a moment of blockage. What's most striking about the last year is we have really tried to reach out to the Sunnis, hoping to get to the insurgency and contain it and we have failed. That was the policy of our ambassador, Khalilzad. We really worked hard at it. It didn't produce any results.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about with our panel, including we're going to get their reaction to what we heard from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia this week. He suggested that the U.S. was engaged in what he said was an "illegitimate foreign occupation of Iraq." What is King Abdullah up to? What's going on on that front?
We're going to also pick their Brains on what's happening in the stand-off between Britain and Iran. A lot more coming up with our panel.
And, later, Al Sharpton. We're going to find out -- because he's going to be here, I'm going to ask him specifically whether or not he is planning to jump into the 2008 race, what he thinks of the other Democratic and Republican candidates.
And, later, we'll also assess the ever-growing race for the White House with our own Jeff Greenfield, Candy Crowley and Joe Johns. They're all part of the best political team on television. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from New York.
We are talking with three guests: CNN's Michael Ware in Baghdad; Washington Post columnist David Ignatius; and Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He's here in New York.
Richard, let me start with you and read to you what King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a good U.S. ally over these years, said on Wednesday at the Arab Summit in Riyadh. "In our beloved Iraq, the bloods among brothers are shed in the shadow of the illegitimate foreign occupation and the repulsive sectarianism threatens civil war."
Were you surprised he branded the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, what he said was an illegitimate foreign occupation?
HAASS: Surprised is probably not strong enough. It's outrageous, in part because it's not illegitimate. We're there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is not an occupation in the sense of anything that's enforced.
More important, the Saudis know full well that they want us there, and they have been one of those who have been cheerleading against Congress and others who have been seen to somehow have been pulling out the rug and leading the United States to a hasty withdrawal.
The Saudis know full well that could lead to not only a more intense civil war, but possibly a regional war which they would be, in some ways, in the thick of. They don't want us to leave. They want the United States to essentially try to leave Iraq in a somewhat more stable way. So clearly, the king and others are playing to the domestic and regional galleries. But it's unfortunate because it makes it that much more difficult for the United States to retain the domestic and international support that it wants.
BLITZER: Do you do understand what the Saudi gain in Iraq right now, David Ignatius, is?
IGNATIUS: Well, it's a little confusing. I think Richard had it about right. You can't really expect King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to be more supportive in public of the U.S. presence in Iraq than Democratic members of Congress. He does have to guard his flack in the Arab world.
The Arab world is very, very angry at the United States. We really have to underline that. When you travel in that part of the world -- I've been going out there for over 25 years. I've never seen a mood like this. And King Abdullah's comments reflect that.
I do think, because he doesn't want the U.S. to leave in a hurry, calling our presence there illegitimate was kind of nonsensical, but I think it is a reflection of the realities of Arab politics now.
BLITZER: Michael, you've done some brilliant reporting on what's going on on the ground in Iraq, and you've actually seen some sort of Saudi role there. Practically speaking, what are they doing? Because, clearly, they are concerned about the Shia and any alliance the Shia majority in Iraq would have with Iran.
WARE: Yes, well, essentially Saudi Arabia, like many of America's important Arab allies, feel that they've been completely sold short and left in the lurch by Washington as a result of the invasion of Iraq and, more importantly, the construction of the particular type of state that we see.
Here are America's friends in the region sitting back, watching America bring this new system into one of its neighbors, and they see this new system called democracy deliver power into the hands of those America's allies see as the greatest threat to the region: Iran and Iran's friends and allies and proxies in Iraq.
They see America emboldening everybody's enemy and they've been scratching their heads about it. They screamed about it before the invasion. They've been screaming about it ever since, so there is support for the Sunnis here. At the moment, it's covert. At some point, it's going to have to step up.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the stand-off right now between Britain and Iran over those 15 British sailors and marines that were taken in the northern Persian Gulf.
There's a lot of concern, Richard, that this could escalate, the situation could get a lot worse, and that the whole issue of oil exports and the price per barrel could be affected.
Listen to Senator Joe Biden. He was earlier today on Fox. I want you to you hear what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., D-DEL.: I think you continue to ratchet up, get the entire world to ratchet up further the pressure on Iran, but I think quietly you have to be preparing to be able to deal with Iranian oil and be prepared to, down the road, make the kind of -- take the kind of action that would cut off their importation of refined oil and affect their export of crude oil.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, if Iran's export of crude oil is affected, that could dramatically increase the price per barrel.
HAASS: Probably in the short run, but not that much over time. Iran exports somewhere between two-and-a-half million barrels a day, maybe three -- a little bit more than that -- percent of the world's oil right now.
There's probably not much spare capacity in the system, so I think right now in 2007, we are in better shape. Though you are basically right; there would be a short-term price spike. But we're basically in better shape than we were a couple of years ago.
But I think what the senator is talking about is interesting, the idea of some sort of pressure on Iran also to get at roughly half of their gasoline that they import. They don't have refining capacity. That's one of the Achilles' heels of that regime. What we need to do is keep this combination of diplomacy and mounting pressure on them.
And also, one other thing, Wolf, is not to allow this hostage situation to divert us from the real issue, which is Iran's development of a uranium enrichment capacity which down the road would, obviously, put them in a position to make nuclear weapons. That's ultimately far more important. I don't mean to be insensitive, but it's ultimately the most important question vis-a-vis Iran.
BLITZER: We're going to have to leave it right there. Good discussion, Richard Haass. Thanks for coming in here in New York. David Ignatius of the Washington Post, our own Michael Ware in Baghdad, appreciate it very much.
Coming up, my interview with Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. He offers a glimpse of what his administration's foreign policy would be.
Also, we're going to turn to part of the best political team on television to help sort out a very crowded White House race. This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
BLITZER: Welcome back. This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk. In just a moment, we'll be speaking live with the former Democratic presidential candidate, Al Sharpton. He's right here in "Late Edition." We're in New York today, not in "The Situation Room" in Washington. We're going to be talking to Al Sharpton in just a moment.
But there's some other important news that's happening right now; in fact, two big stories we're following, one in Iran, the other in Iraq. We'll go to Baghdad in a moment. But let's check in with Fredricka Whitfield at the "Late Edition" update desk for a quick look at what's happening in Tehran right now.
A lot of drama on the streets there, Fred?
WHITFIELD: That's right, lots of drama. And in fact, those demonstrations are intensifying there, in Tehran, where hundreds of people -- you're looking at the images right now -- have crowded outside the British embassy there in Tehran.
And the smoke you're seeing, well, that's because many firecrackers have been hurled across the fence. And you'll also see some images, some still images, some close-up shots of who some of these demonstrators are.
That image right there is of an Iranian clergyman who was throwing a rock toward the British embassy. And then you'll see that there are Iranian police that are trying to hold back these demonstrators.
The demonstrators are made up of laymen, clergymen, as well as a number of university students who have crowded outside the embassy. They're calling for the expulsion of the British ambassador there in Iran.
Meantime, British ambassadors are saying their requests have been denied to try to see these 15 British marines and sailors who are being held captive in an undisclosed location.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is calling Britain "arrogant" for not apologizing for these sailors and marines for being allegedly in Iranian waters. The standoff continues, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to stay in touch with you, Fred, and you'll update as us more information comes in from Tehran. Thanks for that.
In Iraq, meanwhile, earlier today, Senator John McCain and some other Republican congressmen spent some time getting a personal view of the security on the streets of Baghdad, elsewhere.
Joining us, now, from Baghdad, CNN's own Kyra Phillips.
Kyra, you've had a chance to hear what Senator McCain and his delegation have to say today. First of all, update our viewers, Kyra, on what their bottom line is.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what's interesting, Wolf. And this is what I'm taking away from all of this, as I listen to these politicians and also go out onto the streets throughout Baghdad and greater Baghdad, is that it's very easy to go into certain areas and say things are improving.
For example, I went into Dora Market yesterday with General David Petraeus. Things are improving. Shops are opening up. But, still, Al Qaida is active in the area. They're still dealing with a death squad.
So, I could see a John McCain coming forward today, like he did, saying, look, I'm not saying this is mission accomplished, but there's still a lot going on. There's still a lot of challenges. There's still a lot of danger.
It's the easy answer, Wolf, for anybody. There are improvements going on throughout this country, but, also, there are incredible security challenges and violence that plagues this country.
BLITZER: Kyra, when you went out with General Petraeus this weekend and you walked around some streets in Baghdad, describe for us how much security he and you had.
PHILLIPS: I would probably say triple the presidential entourage, Wolf.
Now, I'm exaggerating a little bit, but in all seriousness, outer, inner, and perimeter security; sniper teams, personal security guards, humvees, helicopters -- you name it.
That man cannot travel this country without security. And he even said to me, you know, we'd be in a lot of trouble -- all these men around me would be in a lot of trouble if anything happened to me.
There's a great responsibility. He is the general commanding all U.S. forces in Iraq. He has to have security. Anywhere he goes, he must be protected because he's the man in charge of all the military action that's happening in this country.
So, yes, we went through Dora Market, and we had security everywhere. He wore a soft cap. I didn't wear a helmet. We felt comfortable. Why? We had lots of security.
BLITZER: But for average -- I take it then -- correct me if I'm wrong, Kyra, and you've been there for a few weeks now -- for a U.S. soldier to simply leave his or her base and get into a car and drive to a coffee shop...
PHILLIPS: No, forget it.
BLITZER: ... go to a restaurant and just meet with a bunch of friends. That's outrageous?
PHILLIPS: No. That's a pipe dream, Wolf. I mean, I wish -- even driving down the streets of Baghdad, you see the closed-down restaurants.
People aren't going to -- whether you're a journalist, whether you're military, whether you're a leader in this country, whether you're an Iraqi civilian, you are taking a risk.
I talked to shop owners on the streets. I can only stay there a short time. Sometimes I can't even go there at all. I'm a target. I'm an American.
But even the Iraqis say, yes, I have to come to work, but every day I'm worried something is going to happen to me.
Everybody is at risk. There is not one type of individual that is safe in this country, including the extremists.
BLITZER: Kyra Phillips is doing some terrific reporting for us in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. Kyra, be careful over there. We'll talk to you during the week as well. Thanks very much.
Let's get some analysis on what's going on, on that and some other political issues.
Joining us, civil rights activist and former Democratic presidential candidate -- and some say, maybe, future Democratic presidential candidate, the Reverend Al Sharpton. He's here in New York with us.
Reverend Sharpton, thanks for coming in.
REV. AL SHARPTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good morning.
BLITZER: Let me just ask you, direct, is there a chance you're going to run again, this cycle, for president of the United States?
SHARPTON: I have no plans of running. There's no preparation, and I don't see anything, even as volatile as the politics here -- I don't see anything that could happen that would make me want to enter the race.
BLITZER: So that means you're satisfied with the Democratic field?
BLITZER: In other words, there's somebody out there that you would like to be next president of the United States?
SHARPTON: No, what it means is that I have decided to play a role of trying to really put a lot of attention on some of the issues that I would hope the field would address.
And sometimes you can do that from the stage, as I did last time; sometimes you can do it other places.
I intend to have a lot to do with the race, working with others, in terms of policy, but I have no plans of being a candidate. But I am not saying that I have decided that someone represents the things that I think need to be the priorities, in terms of a platform.
BLITZER: Who, among the Democrats, Reverend Sharpton, is closest to you, in terms of his or her views?
SHARPTON: Well, it's hard to say. I mean, I head the group National Action Network. At our conference, next month, all of the candidates are appearing.
So far, I've heard John Edwards has a very good policy of positioning on the poverty question, started his campaign in the ninth ward, lower ninth ward of New Orleans.
Mrs. Clinton has always been good on health care and other issues.
Senator Obama is certainly exciting new voters.
Whether any one of them are closer to what I and others -- because it would be a collective decision, if we endorsed at all -- is hard to say.
I'm hoping all of them deal more with things like disparity in health care, in terms of class and race, disparity in education, the whole criminal justice matter. We have cases all over America.
BLITZER: Who is closest to you on the dominant issue right now, the most important issue, arguably speaking, at least?
That would be the war in Iraq.
SHARPTON: I would probably say Dennis Kucinich would be the closest. He and I were the only ones who were against the war last time.
BLITZER: Because he opposes any funding whatsoever for the war in Iraq. Is that why?
SHARPTON: That's correct. And I think he's been the most consistent.
But again, the war in Iraq -- and how you deal with your opposition. Because there are some that say, I'm opposed, but they are for funding. They say, I'm opposed, but they help candidates that are for it.
So there's all kinds of variations. It's a lot more complex than just a simple yes or no answer.
BLITZER: What's your take on this current stand-off with Iran over those 15 British sailors and marines?
SHARPTON: Well, I think it's interesting that we're not seeing this president come with a lot of military, unilateral talk.
I think that, as we see Blair going back and forward here, that clearly, Blair is trying, in many ways, to use diplomacy, that hard diplomacy, a much different posture than the attitude they gave us about Iraq, when there was not even the evidence, as you have here, hostages. BLITZER: I spoke with Senator Obama, earlier this week, back in Washington, in his office on Capitol Hill. We're going to play a big chunk of that interview later this hour, but I want to play this little excerpt for you right now. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: I don't expect African- Americans to vote for me simply because I'm African-American. If they do end up moving in my direction, it's going to be because they've seen my advocacy on behalf of racial profiling legislation, on behalf of reforms of the death penalty, on behalf of giving health care for kids, on behalf of issues that are of importance to the African- American community and to people outside the African-American community.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think of him?
SHARPTON: I have had dialogue with him. I did not know a lot about him. And I've asked him to talk about issues. He's one of those coming.
I think he said, in his interview with you, because I saw some of it, he's respected some of the work that I've done. I'm getting to know some of his work. I want to know more.
And I think that he's correct that African-Americans will not and should not vote for him just because he's African-American.
There was just a mayor's contest in Chicago, where he supported the incumbent white mayor against the black candidate, so I'm sure that he would give African-Americans the same option that he exercised, to go to with whoever they felt was in their interests.
BLITZER: Well, you've supported white candidates against black Republican candidates in the state of Maryland, for example, when Michael Steele was running for the U.S. Senate.
SHARPTON: Absolutely. I think that it's based on our interests like anyone else. I think women will question Hillary Clinton, and they should. I think that all across the boards Latinos will question Bill Richardson. I'm almost think it's racially offensive and it's certainly insulting to act like we are any less intelligent and less serious about our interest in anyone else in the American body politic.
BLITZER: Now, I want to read to you from that controversial article in the New York Post -- your hometown newspaper -- here on March 12th...
SHARPTON: Well, of course. BLITZER: ... because it caused quite a stir in terms of your relationship with Senator Obama. "The Reverend Al Sharpton has launched a big-time effort to tear down Illinois Senator Barack Obama as a candidate for president, The Post has learned. 'He's saying that Obama never did anything for the community, never worked with anybody from the community, that nobody knows the people around him, that he's a candidate driven by white leadership,' said a prominent black Democratic activist who knows Sharpton."
That caused quite a stir. Give us your bottom line on what this article is all about.
SHARPTON: The bottom line is, I think Senator Obama addressed it that he felt that it did not come from his camp. -- we felt it did -- and that he reiterated his public respect for what I do.
Clearly, if I was embarking -- let's be very candid and clear -- on a campaign to tear anybody down, you would not need a leaked story. I've never been shy or reluctant if I were going to campaign for or against anybody. So I think it was a matter of somebody trying to push their own mischief.
I'm not trying to tear anyone down. I'm trying to lift up the fact that there are clear disparities in this country that are not being addressed. I'm on my way to New Orleans to meet Reverend Jesse Jackson dealing with the whole question of rebuilding Gulf port states. These things need to be front and center. It's about lifting up what has been ignored. It's not about tearing anybody down.
BLITZER: Speaking of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, he was outspoken this week in criticizing the Congressional Black Caucus for agreeing to co-sponsor two debates with Fox with the Fox News Channel.
Reverend Jackson, president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, saying on Friday, "I'm disappointed by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute's partnership with Fox. I strongly encourage them to reverse that decision. Why would presidential candidates or an organization that is supposed to advocate for black Americans ever give a stamp of legitimacy to a network that continually marginalizes black leaders and the black community? Fox moderating a presidential debate on issues of importance to black Americans," Jackson says, "is literally letting the Fox guard the henhouse and Fox should be rejected."
What's your reaction?
SHARPTON: Well, again, I haven't had that discussion with him or the members of the Congressional Black Caucus. I participated in the 2004 debates that Fox did with the Congressional Black Caucus that was uneasy at that time. So I would have to look at the whole issues of whether they had other offers.
I remember when this station, CNN, I helped to get do the debates in Harlem during 2000 with Al Gore and Bill Bradley. And I don't know why this station wouldn't...
BLITZER: We will be. We will be co-sponsoring a debate with the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. CNN will as well.
SHARPTON: Well, that's good. I think -- again, I don't know enough about the particulars. I'll look into it. But, again, that's all the more reason why we should not be endorsing people before we at least have the debates on our issues and know what they stand for.
Otherwise, we're just -- we're not running for American Idol. We're running for president, and people need to explain to us what they will do, not just how they may appear and how impressive their persona is. That should be on American Idol.
In a presidential primary, we're talking about who's going to run the free world all the way down to things that matter to us. We need some sound policy and firm positions backed up by a track record.
BLITZER: Reverend Sharpton, thanks for coming in.
SHARPTON: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And coming up here on "Late Edition," who will decide when it's time for U.S. troops to leave Iraq? The president faces off against Congress. We'll take a closer look at this high-stakes battle with the best political team on television.
Then we'll discuss what some call the first primary. Which candidates are running the race to raise money?
And later, my one-on-one conversation with Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama -- the focus, Iraq and Iran. All that coming up on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
BLITZER: I want to go back to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield at the "Late Edition" update desk.
BLITZER: We'll move on to some political news we're following. The political battle lines over the war in Iraq clearly were drawn this past week as Congress passed military funding bills with timelines and benchmarks that the president has said he refuses to accept. He's vowing to veto that legislation.
Joining us now to discuss this and a lot more from Washington, CNN correspondent Joe Johns and our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. And here with me in New York, our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in. I want to play what the president said on Wednesday vowing to veto that Democratic-sponsored legislation. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: The House and Senate bills have too much pork, too many conditions on our commanders in an artificial timetable for withdrawal.
And I have made it clear for weeks if either version comes to my desk, I'm going to veto it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. I want to pick up with Joe Johns first.
Joe, you've covered this stand-off, you've covered Congress specifically for a long time. This is a high-stakes game of chicken that the president and the Democratic majority, with some Republicans supporting it, that they're engaged in right now.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It sure is, and there's a question of just how long is this thing going to go on because the administration has already started the blame game. Look, Congress has gone out for its recess and they haven't dealt with this issue. They realize that there's going to be a veto.
There's a CRS report, the Congressional Research Service report, out that says they have plenty of time. They can wait until July before the troops really start getting affected by this, but as you said, it is certainly a standoff between the administration and the Congress, the Democrats trying to basically flex their muscles and say, "Look, we're here. We're doing something on Capitol Hill and we are trying to do what voters are most concerned about." And that is deal with Iraq, Wolf.
BLITZER: And, Candy, the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, she basically came out and told the president, "Mr. President, there's a new game in town." I want to play this little clip of what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: On this very important matter, I would extend a hand of friendship to the president just to say to him, calm down with the threats. There's a new Congress in town. We respect your constitutional role. We want you to respect ours.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I think it's fair to say, Candy, that the stakes for Democrats and Republicans for the White House and the Congress are enormous, the political stakes.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they really are, and here's why. For the Democrats, if you want to look towards 2008, they need to deliver what they were elected for in 2006, and that is the bulk of the country has said "We want out of this war." You remember we first started with these nonbinding resolutions and it's now worked up to this amendment attached to the funding bill. So the Democrats have to deliver.
The president is getting under increasing pressure from his Republicans all of whom face reelection coming up. At least a third of the Senate and all of the Congress is now coming up for election in 2008. They have a president who isn't up for reelection but whose actions will directly affect their chances in 2008.
BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, give us some perspective on this battle. This is one battle. There's another battle involving the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and potentially involving subpoenas to White House officials like Karl Rove to come up and testify on Capitol Hill. It's a real tense moment between the White House and Congress right now.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN ANALYST: Right. But I think of the two situations, the place where the White House least is happy being is in the Alberto Gonzales situation, because on that one they're running against what I think is the oldest metric in the political book to judge when a president is really in trouble or anybody, when your own side starts to say, uh-uh.
I think with respect to Iraq, within the Congress, the great majority of Republicans, whatever they think, will still stand with the president as opposed to the Democrats.
On this case, you have a cabinet member who many Republicans are now saying "wasn't straight with us" and that trumps everything. The substance of that fight over the firing of the U.S. attorneys is trumped, I think, by the fact that people are saying, "He wasn't straight with us when he came before the Congress."
This also tells you why when the opposition is in control of Congress and sets the agenda and chairs the committees and decides what hearings they're going to hold, it can be a migraine-sized headache for a president in power.
BLITZER: And they have subpoena power. And, Jeff, let me get you to weigh in on this quote from Robert Novak, the syndicated columnist writing in the Chicago Sun-Times. "With nearly two years remaining in his presidency, Bush is alone. In half a century, I have not seen a president so isolated from his own party in Congress -- not Jimmy Carter, not even Richard Nixon as he faced impeachment."
That's Bob Novak, someone you and I and a lot of our viewers know quite well, saying some pretty dramatic things about the current president.
GREENFIELD: And as if to underline that, the front page of the New York Times just today has a remarkable story about Matt Dowd, who was a senior strategist for George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004, essentially repudiating Bush's presidency saying "deeply disappointed. He isn't listening. He wasn't the president I think of."
And that's part of what I was saying, Wolf. It's the rule from schoolyard baseball games and basketball games. Your own man says so. When your side starts saying -- and look, Bob Novak is not exactly a flaming liberal. When he starts saying, "This guy's in real trouble," that means a lot more than if Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid were to say it.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break but I have a lot more to talk about with our panel and including what Senator Chuck Hagel suggested in a magazine interview, and he even used the impeachment word talking about this president. Not that he's necessarily endorsing impeaching President Bush, but he raised that possibility in some dramatic statements. We're going to talk about that a lot more.
We are also going to tell you where the candidates are heading on the campaign trail toward 2008.
And later, my one-on-one interview with Senator Barack Obama. You're going to want to see it. "Late Edition" will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from New York. Let's take a moment to see where some of the presidential candidates will be in the next couple of days on the campaign trail.
Former Senator John Edwards will be campaigning in New Hampshire tomorrow, heading to Iowa on Tuesday, crossing paths with Senator Barack Obama as he wraps up a weekend in Iowa today. And tomorrow, he has a town hall in New Hampshire.
Delaware Senator Joe Biden has a policy speech on civil rights scheduled at Iowa's Drake University on Tuesday.
Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo has what's being billed an important announcement scheduled for tomorrow in Iowa. It's expected to be his official entry into the presidential race.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani will be in New Hampshire tomorrow. He's scheduled to make his first official campaign trip to Iowa Tuesday.
Finally, at least one candidate is not expected to appear in either Iowa or New Hampshire. On Monday, former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas will be attending a Republican dinner in Little Rock, Arkansas. When we come back, we're going to talk about that and a lot more, who's up, who is down in the presidential race. Our political panel is standing by for that.
And coming up tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, young Muslims torn between innocence and extremism. CNN's Christiane Amanpour explores the battle over Islamic ideals in England, and what drives Muslims at the crossroads to turn to terrorism.
"Late Edition" will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting today from New York.
We're continuing our discussion of the political situation, with CNN correspondents Joe Johns and Candy Crowley. They're in Washington. Jeff Greenfield -- he's here with me in New York.
Today, Candy, when Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, in an interview in Esquire Magazine, in the April issue, even throws out the so-called "I" word, the impeachment word, saying, "Before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment."
He's a fierce critic of the president's Iraq strategy. What does that say about the president's problems right now?
CROWLEY: Well, it says that they're at sonic boom level at this point, over the Iraq war, which is not a surprise.
I think, probably more important than what Chuck Hagel is saying, is what Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the leaders in the House and Senate, respectively, are not saying. They're not using the impeachment word.
We have already heard it, as you know. There have been -- there was, before the election talk of, well, if Democrats get in charge, they could move to impeachment of the president for a number of things that people saw as things that he could be impeached for.
Now, that Chuck Hagel brings it up is probably not surprising, but it's more important who isn't bringing it up, at this point.
BLITZER: What are you hearing about impeachment, Joe Johns, because, as Candy points out, Nancy Pelosi said, as soon as she was elected speaker, that this is not on the agenda, not on the table?
JOHNS: Well, there were a lot of Democrats who had hinted at that and talked about it, from time to time, but the fact of the matter is, there is some concern among the Democrats on Capitol Hill about being perceived as driving the train off the cliff, and that is the thing that has, sort of, kept them holding back on this issue of impeachment.
They look back at what happened with Bill Clinton and all, and they see that, number one, there were the articles of impeachment. But in the trial over in the Senate, nothing really happened. And all it did was serve to, sort of, create this more division in the country.
So a lot of Democrats, while they talk about it privately and pay some lip service to it, you certainly don't see any groundswell on it.
BLITZER: How worried should Democrats, Jeff, be to this charge that they're only interested in hammering away at the White House and their subpoenaing him on the president's advisers, on the Alberto Gonzales flap; they're sniping away on Iraq, trying to be generals, if you will, from Capitol Hill, second-guessing the president, the commander in chief, on these issues, as opposed to doing dramatic things to improve some of the domestic agenda items they promised that would get passed if they were elected? GREENFIELD: They were concerned enough about it to frame a 100- hour strategy, rolling out some very safe, if you will, ideas.
BLITZER: Like increasing the minimum wage?
GREENFIELD: Right. More aid to college kids...
BLITZER: But so far none of that has been passed?
GREENFIELD: Well, because the Senate has to act, and the Senate always acts more slowly.
But what I'm saying is that they were very conscious of the notions that they wanted to be seen as producing something.
Look, it is a problem that always happens with an opposition in control of Congress, because they don't have the levers of executive power.
Harry Truman got re-elected running against the "do-nothing" 80th Congress. Bill Clinton helped -- got re-elected, in part, by going after the Dole-Gingrich, especially Gingrich-controlled Republican Congress.
It's a very tempting thing for the party in power of the White House to blame whatever goes wrong on a recalcitrant or obstructionist Congress. I'm sure the Democrats know this. It's not exactly a secret. It's basic politics 101.
But it's not as though the Congress, by itself, can do anything. They can't put these programs into power, especially since the Democrats have a one-vote margin in the Senate and -- what is it -- about a 15-vote margin in the House?
That's not enough to override a presidential veto, either.
BLITZER: OK, let's talk a little presidential politics in the brief time we have left.
Rudy Giuliani, the Republican frontrunner, right now -- he got himself into, I guess, some trouble, at least in the newspapers here in New York City, where I am right now, over this whole relationship he had with his former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, with this interview he did with his wife, suggesting she could participate in Cabinet meetings if he's elected president of the United States.
Where do you see his campaign right now?
CROWLEY: Well, his campaign, if you look at the polls, is still leading. He still has, amazingly, the majority of conservatives backing his presidential bid.
Nonetheless, I think what you're seeing is what happens to all frontrunners. I've had so many people say to me, you don't want to be a frontrunner, at this point, because that's where all the ammunition is fired. So you're beginning to see the dissecting of Rudy Giuliani's record, and you are beginning to see it from some powerful places, firefighters' unions and places like that. So he is the target right now. And that's what comes with being number one in the polls.
BLITZER: And Joe Johns, Senator McCain is in Baghdad right now. He's really rolled the dice on this war in Iraq.
JOHNS: He certainly has. And he's talked a lot about his view that things aren't as bad there in Iraq as some, including we in the media, have suggested.
He's taken some hits for that as well. Obviously, Senator Obama has hit him pretty hard on it. So he's rolled the dice a little bit, but that's what he's got to do, and he wouldn't want this to be put in terms of politics in any way, but the fact of the matter is, somehow or other, he's got to appeal to the base, and he has a hard time with the conservative base in the Republican party, at least from time to time.
BLITZER: Joe Johns and Candy Crowley, they're part of the best political team on television.
And until today, Jeff Greenfield has been part of the best political team on television. But unfortunately, Jeff is going to be leaving us, moving on to a new challenge and new adventure.
We want to wish you only the best. I can only speak for myself, but I'll speak for everyone. We thoroughly enjoyed walking the wall with you, covering all of those races.
Jeff Greenfield, you're a very, very good guy and we'll miss you.
GREENFIELD: It's been a blast.
BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, a good man.
Guys, thanks very much to all of you for coming in.
Coming up next, my conversation with Senator Barack Obama. He opens up about his plans for Iraq, what he would do about Iran -- all that coming up. Don't go away.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York today.
Some say Senator Barack Obama lacks the experience to deal with the tough questions of what to do in Iraq, how to handle a confrontation with Iran. I had the chance to sit down with him this week in his Senate office. We discussed those issues.
BLITZER: And joining us now on Capitol Hill, Senator Barack Obama.
Senator, thanks very much for inviting us into your office.
OBAMA: Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the dominant issue right now affecting the country, the war in Iraq.
BLITZER: Some of your critics say you have not done enough to stop this war since coming into the United States Senate.
What do you say?
OBAMA: Well, I'm very proud of the fact that I was against this war from the start. I thought that it was ill-conceived, and not just in terms of execution, but also conception.
What I also said way back in 2002 is, once we were in, we were going to have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in, and that we had some obligations to the Iraqi people, as well as the national security interests of the United States, to make sure that we handled an exit properly.
And that's what I have tried to be consistently projecting over the last two years of my time in the Senate.
BLITZER: Let me point out what you said back in 2003. And I'll give you the exact quote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Just this week, when I was asked, would I have voted for the $87 billion, I said no. And I said no unequivocally, because, at a certain point, we have to say no to George Bush. If we keep on getting steamrolled, we are not going to stand a chance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You said no then. But, since then, you voted for funding the war.
OBAMA: Well, that $87 billion, I had a very particular concern. And that was, you had $20 billion worth of reconstruction funds that were given out on a no-bid basis. And, as a consequence, I was concerned that you would not see that money spent effectively.
BLITZER: That was largely for Halliburton.
OBAMA: That's exactly right.
And, since that time, we have discovered that in fact the money wasn't spent wisely. We still have $9 billion that's missing somewhere in Iraq that we still aren't clear about. Some of those procedures were tightened in the votes that I took.
But, most importantly, I have said consistently that I think it's important, if we're sending our young men and women into battle, that they have got all the resources they need to come back home safely and also to execute their mission.
BLITZER: Because some ardent opponents of the war, like Dennis Kucinich, for example, who is a Democratic presidential candidate...
BLITZER: ... he takes a principled stand. He's not going to vote to fund troops going off to this war, because he believes that would help bring the troops home.
You know, the problem is, is that you have got an obstinate administration that has shown itself unwilling to change in the face of circumstances on the ground.
And, in that situation, what you don't want to do is to play chicken with the president, and create a situation in which, potentially, you don't have body armor, you don't have reinforced humvees, you don't have night-vision goggles.
Now, there is a ratcheting-up of pressure on the president. And I am very pleased about the vote that took place yesterday, where a majority of the Senate for the first time said we need to have a timetable.
BLITZER: But he says he is going to veto that right now.
OBAMA: I understand.
BLITZER: And there is a game of chicken going on right now.
OBAMA: I understand that he says he is going to veto it. There is no doubt he will veto it. But what you are starting to see, I think, is a bipartisan movement in the direction of having a clear endgame.
And I am very pleased that the bill that I presented back in January calling for a phased withdrawal starting on May 1 of this year, with the aim of getting all combat troops out by March 31 of next year, that many of the elements in that bill ended up being part of this package that was voted on yesterday.
BLITZER: If the president does veto it, as he vows he will, what do you do next?
OBAMA: Well, I think we continue to put these votes up to the Senate. We put more pressure on many Republican colleagues of mine, who I think recognize that the Bush approach has not worked, but are still unwilling to put pressure on their president.
BLITZER: Because he says the money starts drying up in mid- April...
BLITZER: ... for the troops to head over to Iraq.
OBAMA: Right. I think that we continue to put a series of votes up and try to convince our colleagues on the Republican side that the only way that we are going to change circumstances in Iraq is if you see a different political dynamic; that there are, at this point, no military solutions to the problems in Iraq; that what we have to do is get the Shia, the Sunni, the Kurd to come together and say to themselves "We, in fact, are willing to start making some compromises around oil revenues, around the arming of militias and so on."
In the absence of that, we can send 20,000 more troops, 30,000 more troops, we're not going to see a significant change.
BLITZER: Yesterday, I interviewed Republican presidential candidate John McCain and he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: Failure is catastrophe. Failure is genocide. Failure means we come back. Failure means they follow us home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What if he's right? What if he's right, and what you're proposing and a lot of Democrats are proposing results in genocide in Iraq?
OBAMA: Well, look, what you have right now is chaos in Iraq. After having spent hundreds of billions of dollars, after seeing close to 3,200 lives lost, what you now see is chaos. And there's no end in sight.
Now, John McCain may believe that it's an option for us to maintain an indefinite occupation of Iraq, regardless what happens in terms of the politics within Iraq, so that we're, every year, sending $100 billion over to Iraq, so that, every year, we're seeing hundreds or thousands of young Americans dying, so that we continue to see a deterioration of America's standing in the world.
I don't think that serves the best interests of the United States. And I don't think it will ultimately result in the kind of...
OBAMA: ... stabilization in Iraq that's necessary.
Now, these are judgment calls. I don't question John McCain's sincerity in believing that the approach that he wants to take, which is essentially a continuation of Bush policies over the last six years, are the right ones to take.
BLITZER: If you're president of the United States in January of 2009, and the situation is basically the same in Iraq as it is right now...
BLITZER: ... what would be your immediate first step?
OBAMA: Well, the bill that I put in I think...
BLITZER: But assuming that bill doesn't go in.
OBAMA: No, no, but I think assuming that things are the same, I think the same dynamic will be at work, which is to say we're going to pull out our combat troops out of Iraq in a phased, systematic way, that we continue to provide the Iraqi government with logistical and training support, that we have those forces over the horizon to respond to crises that spill over into the remainder of the region.
And most importantly, we have an aggressive diplomatic initiative with those countries in the region to make sure that we are part of a broader conversation about how can we stabilize Iraq and stabilize the region?
BLITZER: You're president of the United States...
BLITZER: ... 15 American sailors and Marines are captured by Iranians, the Revolutionary Guard in the northern Persian Gulf, and they're held. What do you do?
OBAMA: Well, I think that the British obviously are taking the prudent steps that are required, sending a strong, unequivocal message to the Iranians that they have to release these British soldiers. I think that they are handling it in the appropriate way.
You know, my sense is that the Iranians are going to stand down fairly soon, but, look, one of the obligations of the commander in chief is to make sure that our troops are protected, wherever they're projected around the world.
BLITZER: So if they were to hold them, let's say, for 444 days -- Iranians have held Americans hostage for a long period of time -- what, do you just let them be held there?
OBAMA: No, you don't. I think you take firm action to make sure that those troops are returned.
BLITZER: You want to be specific?
OBAMA: You know, I think that it's important to say that all options, including military, would be on the table in such a circumstance.
BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama, speaking with me earlier in the week. Up next, in case you missed it, "Late Edition's Sunday morning talk show roundup. Find out what White House Counselor Dan Bartlett has to say about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: I want to quickly check back with Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center. There's this developing story we've been following out of the Middle East all day.
What's the latest on what the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is up to?
WHITFIELD: Well, Wolf, now call her a messenger. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she will deliver a message from Israel to Syria when she arrives there in Syria.
The message that she'll deliver, from Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, that Israel is interested in peace if Damascus stops supporting terrorism.
These comments coming from her, just moments ago, as she addressed people there in Jerusalem.
Pelosi has been taking a lot of heat back here at home in Washington, particularly from the White House, calling her trip "unwise" to Syria. Wolf?
BLITZER: She was in Jerusalem today, will be in Damascus later in the week. We'll be covering all of that. Fred, thanks very much.
Still ahead here on "Late Edition," in case you missed it, "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show roundup. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.
On Fox and ABC, there was discussion on the Iraq war funding bill passed this week by the U.S. Senate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: We have voted for every penny the president has asked for, plus additional money that he didn't ask for, for the troops, like with these new MRAP vehicles that will protect troops better.
And so I think it's a little bit of -- you're going to see a little political dance coming up here that relates to a showdown.
And the showdown relates, not to the money for the troops, because everybody's there, but relates to whether or not the mission should be changed in Iraq, in terms of how the troops are used.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOMMY THOMPSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It really just targets, to the enemies, that we are not there for the long haul. We're not there to defend our troops.
That is what's wrong with the Democrats. They want to pull out. They want to hold money. And all that's doing is giving an opportunity for the terrorists to say, you know, all we have to do is hunker down and we're going to be able to -- we're going to be able to outlast the Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On NBC, Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel explained why Congress simply didn't cut off war funding to force a change in policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLES B. RANGEL, D-N.Y.: You don't have the votes to do it. There are some people who believe that, if you cut all the funding off, you leave our soldiers and military people exposed, and they'd have no money, and then we'd go back to the scene we had in Vietnam where we were fleeing by helicopter.
And so it's all compromised. That's what legislation is all about, and you have to make the best moral and conscious decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On CBS, the counselor to the president, Dan Bartlett, was critical of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's upcoming trip to Syria.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN BARTLETT, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: We did ask her not to go. We did not believe it would advance the diplomatic efforts in the Middle East. I think most Americans would not think that the leader of the Democratic party in the Congress should be meeting with the head of a state sponsor of terror. They should be back in Washington, passing a war supplemental bill to make sure that our troops in harm's way get the funding they need.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning shows, here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk. And that is your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, April 1. Please be sure to join us next Sunday, every Sunday, for two hours, beginning at 11 a.m. Eastern, for the last word in Sunday talk.
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