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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With George W. Bush; Interview With Senator Dodd; Interview With Congressman Paul

Aired December 2, 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 is 11:00 a.m. in Washington and here in New York, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you are watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
Supporters of the so-called U.S. military surge in Iraq have the numbers to back them up. There's been a dramatic drop in the deaths of U.S. forces, as well as Iraqi civilians over the past few months. But is this changing the minds of war critics?

Joining us now is Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd. He's also a leading member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he's chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

Senator Dodd, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to "Late Edition."

DODD: Thank you, Wolf, very much. Good to be with us.

BLITZER: Thank you. Even John Murtha, who's just spent some time in Iraq this past week with U.S. forces, one of the leading critics, is now saying the surge is working. I want you to listen to what he told me also on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN P. MURTHA, D-PA.: The real key is not only are our troops doing well, but the Iraqis are finally starting to step up in the provinces.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. He's also pointing out the Iraqi government hasn't yet lived up to its political obligations, but as far as the military situation is concerned, the surge is working.

DODD: Well, listen. There is no doubt, Wolf -- you and I have talked about this. I think, obviously, an additional 30,000 troops in the country and concentrated in areas where there's been problems in the past, the violence is going to come down.

The issue is -- that I think you've properly identified -- is what happens here when our troops leave? Are the Iraqi military forces going to be able to pick up this responsibility? Will the political leaders in that country decide to form a government that will bring in Sunnis and Shias and Kurds so they have a nation-state?

And that's the $64 question for all of us here. And there's great concerns that many of us have here that once we leave in a sense here, this would begin to fall apart again because there's been no leadership up to now by the political and religious leaders of the country. And that's really the issue for us.

There is no doubt, obviously, you put that many troops -- U.S. troops on the ground in certain areas, they've done a fabulous job. I've said over and over again in every House visit, every town hall meeting, I'm engaged in, Wolf, I ask the audience to join me in expressing our deep appreciation to the men and women in uniform who are doing a fabulous job. They haven't failed.

In my view, the policy is. So I happen to believe at this point here that we really ought to begin that redeployment process here and let the Iraqis assume this responsibility.

BLITZER: The -- your friend, John McCain, who's also running for president as a Republican, he's blasting you and other Democratic critics for your stance over these past several months. Listen to what he said. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: If we continue this strategy we can succeed. And if we'd have done what the Democrats said to do six months ago, Al Qaida would be telling the world they beat America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You want to respond to Senator McCain?

DODD: Well, we always said from the very beginning here there was no military solution for us in Iraq. This was a civil war in that country here. And, frankly, there wasn't any Al Qaida in Iraq until, of course, this grew up and became a petri dish for them. We need to be in Afghanistan where Al Qaida is. They're resurgent there, not so much in Iraq.

And we've misplaced priorities, in my view, here. We've got a problem growing by the hour in Afghanistan, a problem in Pakistan and all of our attention is in Iraq. The longer we remain committed to that particular effort here, I think the greater the danger is for our country.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But his point, Senator -- Senator McCain -- excuse me for interrupting -- his point is if the U.S. were to leave quickly right now, just as the surge is beginning to show some signs of progress, the whole thing could collapse and all that progress would be for not.

DODD: Well, again, I make the point, Wolf, you know, look, we've been at this longer than World War II now, $10 billion a month, $2 billion every week here. At what point -- we've been promised year in and year out that the Iraqis were going to assume this responsibility. When is that going to happen? How much longer, at what great cost do I have to continue to listen to that argument here?

Yes, the surge is working, if you will, because we're there. What happens when we begin to redeploy? Are we going to stay there indefinitely, permanently here, to provide that kind of security in Iraq? I don't think we can, nor should we.

And it's affecting our views and policy in every other place in the world. The Taliban is growing stronger in Afghanistan. Al Qaida is coming back in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's where the attention ought to be today and John is wrong about this here. You continue doing what we're doing in Iraq, we're going to have major, major problems on our hands for years to come.

BLITZER: The number two official at the State Department, the Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, gave an interview to The Washington Post published today in which he says "Within six months" -- I'll read to you precisely what he says.

He says, "I don't doubt that six months from now, we'll look back and they" -- referring to the Iraqi government -- "shall have passed," the various changes that the Iraqi government is under pressure to do, the political changes like getting a deal on oil revenues, provisional elections -- provincial elections out in the provinces and other matters that they have not done so far.

So basically what Negroponte is saying is within six months, he thinks the Iraqis can get their political act together. Do you believe that's possible?

DODD: Well, listen, I would love to have that be the case. I'm not wishing that it doesn't work. But, Wolf, how many times have you and I heard that over the last five years? How many times have you and I been told that this is -- the insurgents are behind us, we're gaining the ground. And time after time we've learned painfully here that that's not the case.

You know, the Iraqis, again -- and I say this respectfully -- but they've known what they've had to do here. President Bush has urged them to do it. The vice president has. Our military leaders have. Members of Congress have gone over and over again begging them to form that kind of government and assume this responsibility. And five years later, they've yet to do it.

So I hope that John Negroponte is right, but if history is any teacher to me, we're going to be disappointed once again. All the more reason, I think, why we need to speak with some clarity and boldness in where we need to place our priorities and influence.

That's what I would do as president here, is refocus our attention on the problems where they really exist instead of continuing to depend upon us keeping a civil war going in Iraq. That's unfortunate in my view. BLITZER: The president is asking for nearly another $200 billion to continue the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He went over to the Pentagon earlier in the week, met with the top military brass.

Democrats in the House are suggesting $50 billion as a down payment, but that has to be linked to a timeline for troop withdrawal from Iraq. Here's how the president responded to that. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Let us tell our men and women in uniform that we will give them what they need to succeed in their missions without strings, and without delay. I asked Congress to provide this essential funding to our troops before the members leave on their Christmas vacation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are you ready to do that, Senator?

DODD: No, I don't think so. And maybe others will, but I think that's a mistake again here. John (sic), this is not a question of supporting our troops. That's a specious argument here. It's a policy we're talking about. Our troops have not failed and we'll do whatever they need to provide whatever support our troops need here.

The question is, are we going to continue a policy here that is digging a hole deeper and deeper and deeper for ourselves? That is where I think the mistake is here and that's what needs to change.

Again, I emphasize to you, I think our continued policy in Iraq here is hurting us in that part of the world and not helping us. And we ought to readjust that policy and focus our attention and our resources on where the real threats exist in my view.

So I will oppose that $200 billion. I think the president's wrong. But to suggest somehow that this is only about supporting our troops I think is a phony argument. We'll always support our troops. No one's ever going to back away from supporting our troops. It's not about the troops. It's about a failed policy.

BLITZER: The president convened some 15 nations and international institutions in Annapolis this past week to try to jump- start the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. Iran was not invited, neither was Hamas which controls Gaza, as you well know.

I had a chance to interview the president earlier in the week over at the White House, and we spoke a little bit about Iran. And I want you to listen to this exchange that we had.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Would the U.S. respond militarily on behalf of Israel if Israel were attacked by the Iranians?

BUSH: I have made it clear, absolutely, that we will support our ally Israel if attacked by Iran.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: You (inaudible) that?

DODD: Well, again, I think, look here. We're jumping ahead of ourselves here. What this Annapolis meeting showed -- and by the way, I hope it works. You and I have talked about this already, Wolf. Nothing would please me more than to have a two-state solution here.

Israel would get the security it deserves and needs, and the Palestinians get a state, an independent state. That's the ideal goal here.

Why did it take this long, six or seven years? Walking away from the Middle East over the last six or seven years has exactly contributed to the kind of problems we're seeing today, in my view, with Iran. Had we been engaged more consistently over the years, I think we would have had a lot more success.

So I haven't given up on the idea that there's still a strong possibility that we can achieve the results we all seek in Iran, and that is not to have them accumulate weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons. I don't believe we ought to be talking about the only way to deal with this problem is through military force.

We all understand that option exists. But this administration seems to draw that option out first and foremost every single time. I hope we'll be here.

They'll re-engage now, utilizing the Annapolis meeting, which was very successful, at least on one level. It brought together Syria, the Arab League, all the other major parties in the region were there, except as you point out, the Iranians and Hamas, which should have been excluded, in my view, should not have been at that meeting. That ought to be the impetus now for us to try and move forward and deal with the Iranian problem through diplomatic and political means. So, talking about military action in Iran I think is premature.

BLITZER: Let me pick your brain before I let you go -- because we're almost out of time -- as far as your position as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee is concerned. There was a story in The Washington Post yesterday suggesting perhaps some sort of bailout is in the works to deal with homeowners who maybe foreclosed because of the mortgage crisis here, the subprime mortgage bubble that seems to have collapsed at least in a lot of the housing market.

I want to read to you from The Washington Post" on Saturday: "Mortgage rates for homeowners with spotty credit histories would be temporarily frozen under a nearly completed agreement between top Bush administration officials and a broad alliance of Wall Street's biggest banks, mortgage investors, non-profits and consumer groups."

Is this a good idea based on what you know?

DODD: It is. In fact I made the recommendation about a month ago to the administration, and I'm glad to see they are picking up on it. I thought this would help everybody here. If you freeze -- and we talked about the teaser rates, Wolf. That is those rates they drew people into these subprime mortgages on. Would be a good idea. And this way, the homeowner can stay there, maintain at least some payments here without losing their home and going into foreclosure.

And obviously the lending institution or those that hold the mortgages would get something other than zero. So it looks to me, as we said a month ago, a good solution here that would provide everyone with some relief at this point. So I welcome what the administration is apparently going to move on. Again, we should have done it a while ago, but I think this could be a real help.

BLITZER: Senator Chris Dodd, thanks very much for coming in.

DODD: Thank you, Wolf, very much.

BLITZER: And up next, two other senators, Carl Levin and Arlen Specter, they'll weigh in on the fight brewing on Capitol Hill over funding the U.S. mission in Iraq.

Plus, a special conversation with the number two U.S. military commander in Iraq about whether the downward trend in violence can be sustained.

You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. A snowy day here in New York City, but that's what happens in the winter. It's December almost. It's December right now, in fact. It is almost the winter. It is a snowy day in the Northeast.

Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from New York.

Coming up at the top of the hour, my exclusive interview with President Bush. But right now, we turn to two leading members of the United States Senate. In Detroit, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin of Michigan. And in Philadelphia, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Senators, thanks to both of you for coming in. Let's start off with this historic conference that occurred in Annapolis, Maryland, Senator Levin, this past week. The president of the United States bringing together Israelis, Palestinians, others in the Middle East. The Arab world, the Muslim world, a lot of international institutions.

Hamas, Iran were not invited. And one of the top leaders in Hamas said this, reacting to what happened in Annapolis. Mahmoud Zahar said, "Whoever thinks we will recognize a Jewish state are deluding themselves. There will be no recognition of the state of Israel."

Is this Israeli/Palestinian peace process, Senator Levin, going anywhere?

LEVIN: Well, we all hope so. It's obviously been long-needed. We need leadership on our part, but we also need the parties, particularly the neighboring states, to be supportive of this process. And it was kind of discouraging to me that you couldn't even get a Saudi representative there to shake the hand of the prime minister of Israel.

I just think that kind of behavior is not particularly helpful, but hopefully the other countries will do better than the Saudis and support a process where everybody's got to come together. But it is going to take leadership and good will.

BLITZER: But do you agree, Senator Levin, it was the right thing to do not to invite Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Iran to this conference?

LEVIN: Oh, yeah, absolutely. In fact, I think one of the purposes, though perhaps unstated at this conference, is to isolate those countries. These are countries which support terrorism and also have not recognized even the possibility of recognizing Israel.

So, sure, I think it was the right thing to do to exclude them, to isolate them, And to, matter of fact, bring the countries that were there in more solid solidarity against Iran and Hamas.

BLITZER: Senator Specter, here's what the president told me about his strategy in dealing with this. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I believe that the best way to defeat those terrorists and radicals, however, is through a vision based upon liberty. And so, my message to the Israelis is, it's in your interest that your prime minister negotiate with the Palestinians a democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think about this whole situation?

SPECTER: I think that it was wise not to invite Hamas. I think it would have been more prudent to include Iran. I do not believe it is realistic to isolate Iran on what is going on today. I think that we really ought to be engaging Iran on all fronts -- bilateral talks, as we did successfully with North Korea.

Right now, efforts are being made by a number of nations -- China, Russia, Britain, France, Germany -- to try to impose sanctions on Iran if Iran does not yield on the talks which are under way. So that I would talk to Iran and I would impose sanctions if we can't get them to stop enriching uranium.

BLITZER: But Senator Specter, what about the notion as President Bush repeatedly points out that the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaks about the dismantling of Israel?

BLITZER: Is that not a problem for you?

SPECTER: Well, it is a major problem. But I don't think he's going to be the president of Iran forever. And I think that there are forces within Iran whom we can talk to.

Listen, the military option is there beyond any question. But it ought to be the very, very last resort. And we ought to be undertaking diplomacy. We had a major problem with North Korea. We engaged in a variety of approaches. One was bilateral talks; secondly, the sanctions which were imposed. And we were successful there. And I would use that as a blueprint with Iran.

BLITZER: Is he right, Senator Levin? Is Senator Specter right?

LEVIN: Maximum pressure on Iran, including sanctions, and the more pressure, the better, and it would make less likely the military option. But that is what we need to do with Iran. We've got to keep Russia on board because they clearly do not have an interest in Iran having a nuclear weapon. I don't think there is any country in the world that wants Iran to have a nuclear weapon. And so we got to keep the world united...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But should Iran have been invited? But, Senator Levin, should Iran have been invited to this conference?

LEVIN: I would not. I think not inviting them is part of the maximum pressure on them, isolating them and telling them that until they change their position in terms of seeking nuclear weapons, that we're going to put maximum pressure on them. And then one of the ways to do that is to isolate them by not inviting them to a conference such as this.

BLITZER: Quickly, I want to get both of your takes on what's happening in Pakistan right now.

Senator Specter, I'll start with you. The president, Pervez Musharraf, he took off his military uniform, he's no longer the chief of the Pakistani military. He promising that the state of national emergency will be over with by December 16th and the elections will take place in January. Is everything back to normal, if you will, in U.S./Pakistani relations?

SPECTER: I don't think things are back to normal but they are improving. Those are two good steps. But let's see what those elections are going to bring. Musharraf now has competition.

I think it is very important that Pakistan maintain its Democratic institutions. They're fragile. They're not longstanding. But let's see what those elections bring and let's see what Musharraf's political opponents can do, including Benazir Bhutto.

BLITZER: Senator Levin, you have confidence in President Musharraf? LEVIN: I'm hopeful. I wouldn't say that I'm overly confident that those elections will be free, but hopefully they will be, that the -- not only Mrs. Bhutto but also Mr. Sharif will participate and that they will be free and fair elections. It is essential for Pakistan that that happen.

BLITZER: There are elections, Senator Levin, also today in Venezuela. And the president, Hugo Chavez, is making some bold declarations. He's accusing the CIA of trying to topple him.

He's also saying that he's ready to turn off the spigot and not allow Venezuelan oil to be sold to the United States if he senses that things continue to deteriorate from his perspective. I'll play a little clip of what he said. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): If the government of the United States were to attempt against Venezuela again, if it were to try and destabilize the country, we would not send any more oil to the U.S.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The U.S. imports about 11 percent of its oil from Venezuela. How worried should U.S. consumers be? Because that could increase the price per barrel and the price at the gas tank.

LEVIN: Well, I think we have to focus on what he said, that if we should seek to destabilize him, that something then would happen. First of all, we're not seeking to destabilize him. His policies, his efforts at dictatorship, to amend the constitution so he can stay there for life, that is what's destabilizing Venezuela, not our policies.

But I think more than ever, we have to be more independent of these kind of threats and that's going to require major initiatives and alternative energies. And that's what we should focus on, and not be overwhelmed by these kind of threats from dictators so that we don't even have to worry about that in the future.

But I'm not worried particularly. They need our money as far as I'm concerned as much as we need their oil.

BLITZER: Senator Specter, very briefly, what do you think about President Hugo Chavez? SPECTER: Well, I think it is very healthy that his allies are challenging him. It is a very good sign that his efforts to be dictator for life may well fail. And I wouldn't pay too much attention to his threats either.

I think there is an encouraging sign that Congress may be about to enact some really significant legislation, increasing gas mileage and having more emphasis on hydropower and alternatives so that we may take a very significant step on the path toward oil independence from Venezuelan oil by legislation, even this month yet. BLITZER: But that legislation wouldn't fully take effect, the new standards, until the year 2020, which is still a long time down the road. I'm going to have both of these senators stand by because we have a lot more to discuss with Senator Specter and Leahy (sic).

Also, we're going to be going live to Baghdad in just a moment and get a progress report from the number two U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno. There you see him. He's standing by live. He'll be joining us right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from New York.

As we mentioned earlier, there has been a significant drop in violent attacks in Iraq. The result is a dramatic decrease in deaths among U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians, as well as the return of Iraqi refugees -- at least the start of the return of some Iraqi refugees from neighboring countries, especially Syria and Jordan.

But what will it take to sustain this positive trend? Joining us now from Baghdad is the commander of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq, the number two U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno.

General, welcome back to "Late Edition." We're going to discuss what's happening in Iraq with you and then go back to Senators Levin and Specter shortly. But let's get a progress report on what's going on. Thanks very much for coming in.

I'll put some numbers, General Odierno, up on the screen as far as U.S. troop casualties in Iraq. They've gone down dramatically over the past six months. Thirty-seven American troops died in November, 38 in October. That's obviously a lot fewer than had been the case earlier. As far as Iraqi civilians are concerned, 471 died in November, 565 in October, but a lot more earlier.

Is it fair to say, or is it too early to say, General Odierno, that the surge has been a success?

ODIERNO: Well, I would just say that we have seen a consistent trend now since June of steady progress. I would say that -- so we are clearly moving in the right direction. And that's for several reasons. One is, I think, the additional forces we have has been able to eliminate safe havens and sanctuaries, that we continue to see increased capacity in the Iraqi security forces.

But probably most importantly, we're seeing the Iraqi people reject terrorism within Iraq.

ODIERNO: And they really are coming forward and working with the forces in order to end this violence that's occurring in Iraq. We still have a long ways to go, but we certainly are on the right path.

BLITZER: When you say "a long way to go," how long will it take to get the job done?

ODIERNO: Well, I think now we have security at a level where we have to now look at other things. The increase of services to the people, the increase of political accommodation at the local level, the provincial level. And we are starting to see some of that. And we need some time to do that.

And we still need to reduce violence a little bit. It's still too high. There's still too many civilians that are dying, and obviously we're still losing too many soldiers and Marines, airmen and sailors over here. If we lose any at all, it is too many. We think we can continue to reduce that.

So, I think there's still things that we have to do to maintain the stability. That is, to bring the citizens involved in what we're doing. And they are reaching out to us with these concerned local citizen programs that we've established. And then we need the government to reach out to them to reconcile with them.

We had a very good meeting today with the prime minister where we agreed on steps towards reconciliation with these concerned local citizen groups. I think that's a big step forward for us.

BLITZER: Well, that raises the point that, yes, the military aspect of this seems to be working, but the political benefits that were supposed to result from the greater security, they haven't necessarily yet been achieved. John Murtha, the Congressman from Pennsylvania, I spoke with him on Friday. And he said the surge is working, but he also said this. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MURTHA: The central government, as the Iraqi leader said -- or as the American leader said to me, the thing that's the most concern to them, of stability in Iraq, is the fact that the central government's not doing its job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So that's the point. Is Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister and his government, are they doing the job that they were supposed to do with a more secure environment?

ODIERNO: Well, I think they're starting to take the right steps. They have not accomplished what we would like them to do. They're probably not doing it as quickly as we'd like. But they are starting to take steps. Some of these problems are long-term problems that have gone on for decades here in Iraq, and it's going to take some time to solve them.

But what's encouraging is there is some movement towards reconciliation. There has been some movement with some laws inside of the provincial -- I mean, inside of the parliament. But obviously we have not made the progress we want to yet.

But what we're seeing is at the local provincial levels, we're seeing significant more participation by the Iraqis, which is extremely encouraging. And that alone is creating stability in many of the areas within Iraq.

BLITZER: Well, did you get a hard and fast commitment from Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister? You say you met with him today. Did he give you an assurance that he was going to bite the bullet and take these difficult political steps to make sure that the military success that has occurred so far is not in vain?

ODIERNO: Well, the meeting today was specifically about the reconciliation process and these citizens who have joined us as volunteers and how we would integrate them into the security forces. And we have lined out steps now that allow us to move forward. And I think that's a key piece. It is a confidence-building measure, I believe, towards future reconciliation.

BLITZER: Here's what the former interim prime minister of Iraq, Ayad Allawi, told me last Sunday on "Late Edition." Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AYAD ALLAWI, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ: I think still the Iraqi forces are not ready yet to take the full responsibility. I think especially the police forces are still definitely not ready yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is he right?

ODIERNO: Yes. I think he is. I do agree with that. They certainly are much better than they were. Both the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police. But again, they're not quite ready yet to take full control, but they certainly can take partial control in certain areas. And that's what we'll continue to do and move forward.

We will do this in a very deliberate, slow way that enables them to be successful so we don't make the mistakes we've made in the past turning it over too quickly when they weren't ready. We think we have a plan in place to do that. The reduction of five brigades through next July allows to us do that and turn some responsibility over. And I'm confident that plan will work. BLITZER: Is Iran playing a better role right now than it was playing in terms of providing improvised explosive devices and other support to insurgents or others in Iraq? In other words, has the situation as far as Iran is concerned from your perspective improved?

ODIERNO: Well, I would just say this month we had a small reduction in the amount of VFPs that were used against us this month. That's a positive sign. We continue still to find some caches of rockets, mortars and other things from Iran.

So again, I'm still in the wait-and-see mode. We've seen some decline in activity. I hope that from our perspective that in fact they have stopped supplying some of these extremist groups. That would be very good. I'm not ready to say they have. But we have seen a slight reduction. I think it is a combination of several things: A combination of the work we've done, a combination of Iraq's security forces, and hopefully it's part of Iran now stopping the support to some these extremists. But I'm not ready to say they have in fact done that yet.

BLITZER: You're still holding on to some Iranian Revolutionary Guard elements, forces in Iraq. A, how many are you holding right now, and are there any plans to let them go?

ODIERNO: Well, I would just say that will be a political decision based on our military -- as well as our military advice that we give on whether we decide to let them go. Again, I think what we've been able to find out is something about the networks that are out there. I think that's still something that we have to be very careful about. And we still have some work to do in those areas.

So, I mean, I'll wait and see on what we do with them. And that will be a decision -- I'll make a recommendation and -- when asked, to the leadership.

BLITZER: How many are there?

ODIERNO: It depends on how you count them. There's some Revolutionary Guards or some Iranians we have in custody. I think total Iranians, it's somewhere between 10 and 15 that we have. I don't know exactly how many of those off the top of my head are part of the Iranian guards force.

BLITZER: There's also been some suggestion, General, that the Syrians may be improving, playing a more positive role right now from your perspective in terms of trying to prevent foreign fighters from entering into Iraq. Is that true?

ODIERNO: We have seen a reduction in the amount of foreign fighters entering Iraq. It's probably been about a 25 to 30 percent reduction that we've seen. I think Syria has taken some steps to limit that. I think some of it has to do with their own internal security measures. But we'd like to see them still -- we think they could do a bit more, but we are -- we're pleased the fact that they are taking some additional responsibility with their own internal security measures. Again, there's still too many coming across, and we would like to see it eliminated completely.

And we'll continue to ask them to do that. And it's important, I think, for them to take this additional -- do these additional things in order to reduce this flow of the foreign fighters.

BLITZER: The number of U.S. troops, I take it, still in Iraq right now, about 160, maybe a little bit more, 160,000, you're still planning on letting one brigade come back to the United States by Christmas? That would be, what, 3,000, 4,000 troops?

ODIERNO: That would be about -- that would be a reduction of about 3,500. In fact, that brigade is on its way home. They have started movement towards Kuwait. We're going through a bunch of what we call relief in places now, so our numbers are up about 160,000.

That's because we have several brigades changing out with others because their 15-month tours are up. What you'll start to see a steady -- we've reached the peak now here in December, and you'll now start to see a steady decline in our force structure from now until the end of July.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about that. How many U.S. troops will be in Iraq by the end of July? And down the road, how many will be there by the end of 2008?

ODIERNO: Well, I think that's something that we have to talk about at the end of 2008. I mean, I think we've -- General Petraeus has been very clear, he wants to make an assessment in March. I think that's the right way to do it.

Six months is a long time in Iraq. Things change. So, in order to do an appropriate assessment, I think we want -- every six months is the appropriate time. So I think when March comes around, we'll have a better understanding of what we can do from July on and whether we can continue to reduce our structure and how fast we can reduce our structure.

It will be conditions-based, based on the threat on the ground, based on the continued building of the capacity of the Iraqi security force, as well as successes that we've had. And if we're able to do all those three things, then I think he'll come in with a recommendation on how fast we would continue to reduce our structure, or if we cannot reduce our structure.

And I think he'll do that in an assessment in March, but I'll leave that up to him. In terms of our numbers in July, again, I think we'll be somewhere around between 130,000 and 135,000 by the end of July. And that's about the same as we were pre-surge.

BLITZER: General Odierno, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the men and women that you command. Appreciate your work very much.

ODIERNO: Thank you so much. It's good to talk to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up next, we'll get back to our conversation with two top U.S. senators, Carl Levin and Arlen Specter. They just heard what General Odierno had to say. We're going to get their reaction and a lot more.

BLITZER: All that coming up here on "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from New York. We're talking with Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan and Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

All right. We just heard from General Odierno. Senator Levin, you're chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. What do you think of his assessment of what's going on right now in Iraq?

LEVIN: Well, I think it's clear that there's been a reduction in violence and that, of course, is important. And that's good and hopeful it will last.

But as General Odierno said to us just after he -- you interviewed him, when I asked him, "Isn't it true that just a couple weeks ago he said that this window that has opened for the political leaders of Iraq to reach a political settlement is not going to be open forever and we don't know how long that window is going to last, and that's why it is so important that they get on with it -- the national leadership get on with solving their differences and reconciling their differences and compromising those differences?"

And he said, "Yes, that is still true," and that it would be OK if I quoted him. So I thought that on the program, frankly, he avoided that issue. He talked about making some progress at the provincial level.

He talked about military progress, which, thank God, has been made and it has been made because of the bravery of our troops. But that has not been equalled by any progress on part of the national political leaders.

And since there is no military solution to this problem, and everyone agrees to that, including Petraeus and Odierno -- there's only a political solution -- there's growing, I would say, frustration with the national political leaders in their failure to carry out commitments which they made to themselves and to us a year ago that they would compromise these major differences.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Specter, I think that's a fair point, that as much as the military progress that has gone forward is very, very dramatic, unless the government in Baghdad, the government of Nouri al-Maliki, does take those very difficult, but important, political steps, all this might be for naught. I wonder if you want to react.

SPECTER: Well, I think that's true. And I think that Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte made that point yesterday, that there has to be progress at the political level.

I thought that General Odierno's statements were, though, encouraging. What I liked about it was that he didn't overstate anything, that it was all cautious, but it was all on the positive side, even though incrementally so.

He talked about the reconciliation at the lower levels. That's significant, but there has to be more at a higher level. He talked about the indicators that perhaps Syria was being somewhat helpful. He wasn't definitive about Iran, but the explosives have been cut down.

And overall, I was impressed with his modesty, with his conservatism. But it came through that there are some hopeful signs. But there's no doubt that unless they can get together on reconciliation, come to an agreement on the distribution of oil funds and improve the services, that we're not going to have the kind of result we need.

BLITZER: On the funding for this war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Senator Levin, the president was over at the Pentagon and he really came out saying the Democrats have to give, appropriate, the nearly $200 billion they're seeking to continue these military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I wonder if you want to respond to the president, because what the Democrats are suggesting, especially those in the House, would be a $50 billion down payment, but linked to a timeline for a withdrawal for U.S. troops from Iraq. In the meantime, there's no funding going on. What's going to happen?

LEVIN: We're going to fund the troops. There's no doubt about that. We always have, and we always will. But we're also going to try to do a second thing. We're going to try to force a change in course.

We're going to try to put pressure on the president to put pressure on the Maliki government to settle the differences which should have been settled a year ago, were promised to be settled by Maliki a year ago.

And I didn't know what General Odierno was talking about when he said there was progress in the assembly on these national reconciliation issues. There's been no progress on that. In other respects I agree with Arlen, that he was cautious and careful.

But I thought he way overstated when he said that the parliament had been making progress on the key issues which they sought to resolve. We're going to provide the funds but we're going to continue to try to see if we can't get in place a timetable for the removal of most of the troops that we have there.

BLITZER: But the president says he'll veto any such timetable.

LEVIN: Well, we just have a goal in our most recent version. For heaven's sake, Wolf! We have a goal. Congress should be able to state a goal for the removal of most of the American troops without a veto threat.

If he vetoes that, and if we can get that done, he would be vetoing $50 billion of money for our troops because he doesn't want Congress to express our view that we ought to have just a timetable, which is a goal -- not binding, just simply a goal.

I can't believe that the president would deny our troops that funding, and I think it's a mistake for the Republican leadership in the Senate to be filibustering our effort to both provide the funding, but also state our opinion that there should be a goal set as -- a timetable set as a goal for the removal of most of our troops.

BLITZER: Senator Levin, Senator Specter, we got to leave it right there, unfortunately. But I want to thank both of you for joining us, a good discussion today on critical issues here on "Late Edition." SPECTER: Nice being with you. Thank you.

LEVIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up next, the best-selling author and pastor, Rick Warren, responds to criticism that he invited the Democratic presidential front-runner, Hillary Clinton, to his church. You're going to want to hear what he has to say. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Rick Warren is one of the most prominent pastors in the United States and author of the huge best-seller "The Purpose-Driven Life."

Now he's on a mission to try to stop the spread of AIDS in Africa and he's reaching out to both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.

I spoke with him on Friday in "The Situation Room" while that hostage situation at the Clinton headquarters in New Hampshire was still unfolding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PASTOR RICK WARREN, AUTHOR, "THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE": They only asked him one question. The question was, if you were elected president, what would you do about this issue? We weren't talking about foreign policy. We weren't talking to him about domestic policy. We weren't talking about other areas we care about, like abortion and things like that.

We asked them about this one issue, because this is a conference on a single issue, and that is what are you going to do with AIDS? No one has done more for aids than President Bush, having put $15 billion into PEPFAR, and we wanted to ensure that that legacy has gone on, because people don't realize that if that money is cut off, the millions of people whose lives are being saved right now around the world, they'll die.

They will die. It's not like you can stop the medicine and you'll continue to live on and on for the rest of your life. No, they will die. So it is very important issue of life or death.

BLITZER: Some people, though, were critical of you for inviting her because of her support for abortion rights.

WARREN: Right.

BLITZER: They say she should never have been allowed into your church. What do you say in response?

WARREN: Well, I say two things in response to that. One of them -- and I've said this for years -- if I only worked with people I agree with 100 percent, I couldn't even work with my wife because nobody agrees with you 100 percent.

And in order to get things done, you often have to build alliances. The specialist on this, one of my heroes, was William Wilberforce, who worked with people he disagreed with on other issues in order to get the ultimate abolition of the slave trade done. And I've just tried to follow that model. I think it is an effective model.

The other thing, though, is on a personal basis, if somebody's in a car accident, and they're lying on the side of the road dying and they're bleeding to death, when you walk up to them, the first question you ask is not, "Was it your fault"? You say, "Can I help you"?

And if I have to get somebody in a car and get them to the hospital in order for them to live, I don't care if that person is a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Jewish person or an atheist. If they'll help me get that person to the hospital and save a life, I will use their help.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Coming up, my exclusive one-on-one interview with President Bush. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Coming up, my exclusive interview with President Bush. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Words of warning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We will support our ally, Israel, if attacked by Iran.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In an exclusive interview, President Bush speaks out about tensions with Iran, Middle East peace efforts and the war on terror.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL; Republicans better pick somebody who's opposed to war or have a new foreign policy, or they can't win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Tough talk from Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Governor, I'm astonished that you haven't found out what waterboarding is.

MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know what waterboarding is, Senator.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Insight and analysis on this week's CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate and the race for the White House, with three of the best political team on television. The second hour of "Late Edition" begins right now.

And welcome back to the second hour of "Late Edition." President Bush right now at the center of a new effort to try to end the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He met this week with Arab and Israeli leaders over at the White House. The U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace summit took place in Annapolis, Maryland. The president also took some time to speak with me about his goals, as well as U.S. tensions with Iran. We spoke in the map room over at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks very much for inviting us.

BUSH: Welcome. Welcome.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Middle East peace process. You've got, what, 14 months or so to go. What are you personally, personally going to do to make sure that this really works, that there's a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, hopefully by the end of next year?

BUSH: First of all, any deal that gets done has to be agreed on by the parties. In other words, America can't impose our vision on the two parties. If that happens, then there's not going to be a deal that will last.

BLITZER: But as you know, Mr. President...

BUSH: My job is to facilitate the negotiations that were agreed upon yesterday. Yesterday was a hopeful beginning. But as I said in the statement here in the Rose Garden with Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas by my side, it was a hopeful beginning, and it was important, but not nearly as important as the days that are to come. And so our job is to facilitate those discussions, is to make sure that they stay on track. That they're is a focused effort. But we can't dictate the results.

BLITZER: Because a lot of times, as you know, studying these negotiations, they need help from the president of the United States to bridge those gaps, especially in some of the most sensitive issues which they're about to discuss, Jerusalem, settlements, borders...

BUSH: I'm going to absolutely help. BLITZER: That's what I'm trying to understand. What will you do?

BUSH: Depends on the circumstances, Wolf. One of the first things I did was get the negotiations started in the first place. And I'll make sure, as well as the secretary of state, that when they're stuck, we'll help them get unstuck. But I can't...

BLITZER: Well, are you ready to go to the region? Because it's been seven years, you haven't gone to Israel or the Palestinian territories...

BUSH: Wolf, Wolf, one -- first of all, the president doesn't have -- going to a region in itself is not going to unstick negotiations. It is working with the principals, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas. That's how you get things done. Now, if I have to call them together, I will. This idea that somehow you are supposed to travel and therefore good things are going to happen is just not realistic. What's realistic is to get the frame of mind of the leaders right and then head them off.

But this notion about how America can impose their vision just simply isn't going to work. It's got be a Palestinian vision, an Israeli vision where they find common ground. And our job is to help them find common ground.

And I'm going to spend a lot of time doing it.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, there are a lot of Israelis who are nervous right now, a lot of Palestinians who are nervous. Our interview is being seen all over the world. Do you have anything you want to say directly to the Israeli people who are worried perhaps that the U.S. might squeeze Israel, pressure Israel into making concessions that could undermine their security?

BUSH: Well, first of all, the vision that I hope emerges as a result of these negotiations, will be -- the implementation of the vision will be subject to a road map. In other words, I would never expect a country to allow terrorists to be on their border. I mean, it's -- the big threat in the Middle East is terrorism and radicalism, and I understand that.

And therefore I believe that the best way to defeat those terrorists and radicals, however, is through a vision based upon liberty. And so my message to the Israelis is, it's in your interest that your prime minister negotiate with the Palestinians, a democracy.

They also have got to understand, and so do the Palestinians, that before that democracy comes into being, certain conditions have to be met. And I happen to believe it's in the security interests of both people to conclude this agreement.

BLITZER: How much of a problem is the fact that Hamas was, after all, democratically elected, they control Gaza right now and they hate what you're trying to do? BUSH: Yeah. You know, part of the way to solve a problem is for there to be clarity. And the fact that they hate the thought of a democracy should say to the world what the problem with Hamas is.

I mean, what is their vision, is my question to the Palestinian people. Ultimately, if this can be done, if the state can be laid out, what the state should look like, then it gives people like President Abbas a chance to go to the Palestinians and say, you can have their vision of violence or this vision of peace. Take your pick.

BLITZER: What about the Iranians? They weren't invited to this conference even though a lot of Arab and Muslim countries were. What was the thinking in saying, you know what, to the Iranians, who do have a lot of influence in that part of the world, you can't come? BUSH: You know, they just -- they would be not constructive. This is a leader that announced he wants to destroy one of the parties that we're trying to support. And if you listen to their comments, they weren't going to come anyway. They were very non-supportive of the process.

BLITZER: Well, let me read to you what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, said today, and I'll quote him: "It is impossible that the Zionist regime will survive. We are disappointed that some individuals fell victim to the sinister Zionist regime. They are mistaken if they thought that this summit will bring any achievements for them."

Now, do you want to react to that?

BUSH: Just made my point. This is a man who doesn't believe in democracy and freedom and peace. And this was a conference of people who were supportive of the idea of a democratic state living side-by- side with Israel.

It's a send-off of two leaders to negotiate this state, a vision that has taken a while for people to accept. I'm the first American president -- I think the first American president ever to have articulated the vision.

I did so because I understand that a democracy on Israel's border is important for Israel's security, and that very democracy is important for the Palestinians to have a hopeful life. But it's also important for the broader Middle East, because there is a struggle going on between a free society and a society envisioned by radicals and extremists, many of whom are funded by Ahmadinejad.

BLITZER: Do you believe he would really like to destroy Israel?

BUSH: If I were an Israeli, I would take his words seriously.

BLITZER: Would the U.S. respond militarily on behalf of Israel if Israel were attacked by the Iranians?

BUSH: I have made it clear that the -- absolutely, that we will support our ally Israel if attacked by Iran. BLITZER: What does that mean?

BUSH: Well, you know, I hope it doesn't happen. But, you know, you're asking me to answer a hypothetical. My answer is, and they've got to understand, that we will support Israel if Iran attacks them.

BLITZER: Syria is a country that the State Department still has on its list of states that sponsor international terrorism, yet they were invited to attend. What was the thinking behind that?

BUSH: The thinking was because some of the Arab nations requested that Syria come. And we wanted to make sure as many Arab nations came as possible and -- which was quite an accomplishment for the secretary, I might add, to have convinced those nations to arrive. And I thought it was a very important signal for both the Palestinians and the Israelis to see the Arab nations there in the room, supporting a democracy living side-by-side in peace with Israel.

BLITZER: So was it good that the deputy foreign minister of Syria showed up?

BUSH: I didn't think it was harmful at all.

BLITZER: Because whenever I think of that, I think of the words you said on 9/11 -- and you said this from the Oval Office -- "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."

So if Syria is a country that harbors terrorists...

BUSH: Yeah, we have our differences with Syria. No question about it. I also happen to believe that a democracy in the Palestinian territory will advance the interests of people who care for peace. And we care for peace.

BLITZER: But do you think there's an opportunity now for the Israelis and the Syrians to negotiate a deal over the Golan Heights?

BUSH: That's going to be up to Israel and Syria.

BLITZER: Well, what do you think?

BUSH: I think what we ought to do is focus on a Palestinian state, Wolf. That's what we're focusing on.

BLITZER: So that's the priority right now, the Israeli- Palestinian forum (ph).

BUSH: That's why we had the conference in Annapolis yesterday which, as I said, was a hopeful beginning...

BLITZER: And...

BUSH: ... an opportunity for people to come together that have been at war with each other, to lay out a vision where people can see the emergence of a state. The state will be subject to the road map, as I told you. It's not going to come into being until certain conditions are met.

But the first step is the negotiation of the state. And I believe there's a good chance that this can happen.

BLITZER: How important was the fact that the Saudis attended? The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud, was there. Yet he pointedly refused to shake hands with the Israelis.

BUSH: I think it was a very important signal that Saudi Arabia was at the meeting.

BUSH: I was so pleased that his majesty sent the foreign minister. And I'm thankful that his majesty did that. But you've got to understand, there's years of animosity that have been built up between the parties and things don't change overnight. It was a significant step that Saudi Arabia was there. And it's a significant step that other Arab nations were there.

The question, however, is can Israelis and the Palestinians come to an agreement on what a state looks like? That's where my focus is. And I believe they can, Wolf. And it's a -- you know, it's an exciting opportunity for them.

BLITZER: Let me ask you a quick question about Pervez Musharraf, who took off his uniform today, the president of Pakistan. This is what you've been asking him to do. Do you believe this is a significant step in trying to restore democracy in Pakistan?

BUSH: I think it is. I do. It is something that a lot of people doubted would ever happen. And he told me he would take off his uniform. And I appreciate that, that he kept his word.

I've also said that President Musharraf is the person who has done a lot for Pakistan democracy. And in my judgment, in order to get Pakistan back on the road to democracy, he's got to suspend the emergency law before elections.

BLITZER: But am I hearing it right? You still have a lot of confidence in Pervez Musharraf that he will work with you to find Osama bin Laden, who presumably is holed up somewhere along the border with Afghanistan?

BUSH: He has been an absolute reliable partner in dealing with extremists and radicals. And you know, it's a tough situation in the remote parts of Pakistan. But I -- there's many examples of where the Pakistanis have, in cooperation with the U.S., brought to justice members of Al Qaida's hierarchy, and I'm thankful for that.

Also hope that he, you know, enhances Pakistani democracy and taking off his uniform was a strong first step. And having elections that are out from underneath the emergency law would be a clear signal that he's put Pakistan back on the road.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time. But a year ago, September, when we spoke up in New York -- you were there for the U.N. General Assembly -- you told me that "absolutely" -- that was your word -- you would authorize U.S. troops to go in to Pakistan if you had actionable intelligence on Osama bin Laden's whereabouts or other top-ranking Al Qaida members. Is that still your position?

BUSH: Yes.

BLITZER: Hasn't changed?

BUSH: No. Hasn't changed.

BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks very much.

BUSH: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: Good luck.

BUSH: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And coming up next, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul talks about his campaign and why he thinks he can win the White House.

Then, which Republican candidate gained ground in this week's CNN YouTube debate? Some of the best political team on television standing by to weigh in. You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a little snowy day here in New York City. Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is trailing in the national and state polls, but that certainly isn't stopping his underdog campaign from raising a hugely impressive amount of money, or tempering the enthusiasm of his supporters. I spoke with Congressman Ron Paul just a short while ago. He joined me from the campaign trail in New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, thanks very much for coming in. Welcome back to "Late Edition."

PAUL: Thank you. Nice to be with you again.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the CNN YouTube Debate. There was a comment that John McCain made about some of your strategies with a really, really dire assessment. I want play this little clip of what he said.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: Congressman Paul, I've heard him now in many debates talk about bringing our troops home and about the war in Iraq and how it has failed. And I want to tell you that that kind of isolationism, sir, is what caused World War II.

You allowed Hitler to come to power with that kind of attitude of isolationism and appeasement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You were shaking your head as you heard the final words, but the comparison to Hitler and appeasement and isolationism, you had a chance to respond, but I want you to elaborate this morning.

PAUL: Well, first off, Iraq is not Nazi Germany. And besides, I thought it was Hitler that caused World War II, not the American people who opposed going in. So it didn't make any sense. And then he was awfully confused about isolationism versus non-intervention. There is a big difference.

Isolationism isn't what I advocate. I advocate non-intervention, not getting involved in the internal affairs of other nations, and not pretending a country like Iraq is equivalent to Nazi Germany. Iraq had no army, no navy, no weapons of mass destruction, had nothing to do with 9/11, so the comparison makes no sense.

BLITZER: What -- under what circumstances, if you were president, Congressman Paul, would you intervene outside the borders of the United States in some sort of crisis around the world?

PAUL: When Congress directed me to in the act of war. If our national security was threatened and we went through the proper procedures, Congress would say, "Our national security is involved, it is threatened and we have to act." And Congress has that responsibility. The president is the commander in chief, and then he acts.

BLITZER: I guess the bigger point that John McCain was making -- and he had just spent some time in Iraq during the Thanksgiving break, meeting with U.S. forces there -- was that the surge, he says -- the military surge is working and that it would be a disaster if the U.S. were to pull out right now.

I will play a little clip of what he said after the debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Over in Iraq, the men and women who are serving know what is going politically here, that they pay attention. And I tried to point out to Congressman Paul that they believe that they are winning and they don't agree with his description of the motives for which we went to war in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You want to respond to him, Congressman?

PAUL: Well, yes, we do disagree on this. I don't believe we went to the war for the right reason. I mean, there were no weapons of mass destruction. It had nothing to do with 9/11. So we were there for the wrong reason and he doesn't understand the motivations for why they want to come here.

It's not because, you know, we are wealthy and prosperous and free. They come here because we are in their country. And even if there is an improvement, which we all hope there is, we plan to keep 14 bases over there, a huge Naval base, and we have this huge embassy.

We have a permanent plan to stay there and take over these $30 trillion worth of oil in that region. And the people in those countries know that and that's why they are very angry. And to deny that is folly. It just means that we have expanded the opportunity for the terrorists to come here because there is greater motivation.

So I think we are in worse shape than ever before because there are Al Qaida than ever before. There was no Al Qaida in Iraq before. Now they are all over the place, and their numbers are growing.

PAUL: So, if we want to protect ourselves against terrorism, we have to understand what motivates them. Even Wolfowitz admitted this. He said that the base in Saudi Arabia was an instrumental part of what motivated Osama bin Laden. So if we ignore that, it is at our own folly.

BLITZER: I think a lot of voters out there will agree with you. The question, though, is this: Will a lot of Republican voters agree with you?

Because when you made that point at the debate the other night, about what Wolfowitz has said about the al Qaida operations and the U.S. bases that existed in Saudi Arabia before the war in Iraq, you know, there were some boos that came out from that audience.

So here's the question: Are you in step, Congressman, right now with Republican voters whom you need to win in Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond?

PAUL: Well, a poll showed that half of the Republicans in Iowa are opposed to the war and would like to come home. The real control in New Hampshire, where I am right now, is by the independents, the group of people that won the election for McCain a few years ago.

So I would say that since 70 percent of the American people want out of the war, and they are tired of it, the Republicans better pick somebody who is opposed to the war or have a new foreign policy, or they can't win.

And I think the whole sentiment is shifting. The people are sick and tired of the war. We can't even afford it. We can't even fight the war without borrowing the money from the Chinese. So it doesn't add up. It really doesn't matter whether I'm right or wrong. The war is going to end because we are going to have such a political and financial havoc here with the devaluation of our dollar because we just can't keep affording.

This is usually how empires end, by spending too much money maintaining their empires. We are in 130 countries. We have 700 bases around the world. And it's going to come to an end. I want it to come to an end more gracefully and peacefully, follow the Constitution and follow more sensible foreign policy.

BLITZER: You made a charge at the debate the other night in which you suggested that, in your words, millions of acres of eminent domain would be used to build a new international highway from Canada through the United States down to Mexico, suggesting that maybe there was a plan to create some sort of North American Union, similar to the European Union, which is now being denied obviously by a lot of folks in Washington, including a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration, saying -- on Thursday saying: "There is no such super highway like the one he's talking about. It doesn't exist in plans or anywhere else."

On the basis of what are you making that suggestion, that there's plans under way someplace to build this kind of super international highway?

PAUL: Well, look up the Web site Security for Prosperity and Peace (ph), which is a government project, and they talk about the highway. Texas passed unanimously, in both House and Senate, a resolution to put it on hold. We have a bill in the Congress to stop all of the funding for this particular highway, and I think we have over 50 co-sponsors of it.

To be in denial of this, that this is not planned, they're not going to admit it. It's subtle. They'll say, we are just improving highways. But how come they had a meeting in April of 2005 with the president of Mexico, the United States and Canada, and they talk about these things?

So to be in denial is one thing. I mean, they do believe in globalism, much more so than most Americans. So I don't think there is any doubt about the plans. It is not going to happen tomorrow or the next day. But in time, this is likely to happen unless we have a shift in foreign policy.

BLITZER: I want to talk a little bit of politics in the brief time that we have left. The latest Des Moines Register poll in Iowa that is just out today, Congressman, has you at 7 percent, the same number as John McCain. Huckabee's at 29, ahead of Romney 24, Giuliani 13.

As far as fund-raising is concerned though -- and this is significant -- in the last quarter that ended, you had raised $5 million. But there is some suggestion in this final quarter of 2007, you could raise more money than any of the other Republican presidential candidates, given the enormous amount you have raised online.

Is that your assessment right now? Because there is some suggestion you've already raised in this quarter, what, $8 million, $9 million?

PAUL: Now that is not exactly right because yesterday it went over $10.5 million or $10.4 million. Our goal was to raise $12 million by the end of the quarter. And there is going to be another super day sponsored by our supporters, spontaneously, like they did on 11/5, when they raised $4.3 million. And they say this one is going to be bigger, and that's December 16th. So, something big is going on. The people are really annoyed with conventional politics, and we're spending this money. We're spending it in Iowa. So I think those polls are going to continue to shift. Our numbers are going up. And people are just starting to think about how they're going to vote in these primaries.

So who knows exactly what will happen. But we're pretty optimistic about the position we hold, and we're going to be financed for February 5th as well.

BLITZER: Well, a quick point on that. So, just to be precise, as of now, how much have you raised in this fourth and final quarter of 2007? And how much do you expect to raise by the time the quarter, at the end of this year, is already done with?

PAUL: Well, I think it's $10.4 million. It is very close to that. I know it is over $10 million. Our goal was $12 million, and we have almost a month left. And we have a big day set. So we're going to be way over our goal of $12 million.

And they could watch our Web site, and we run the tab minute by minute. Everybody know exactly what we,re doing. And, I mean, at this rate, it could be, you know, maybe $14 million or $15 million. It just is astounding. It astounds us.

But it really tells me that, although I had a great deal of concerns about the country, the American people were equally concerned, and they're willing to put their money with a candidate who is willing to state these positions, all these concerns, whether it is the foreign policy and coming home, or the irresponsible spending here, the terrible policy we have with monetary policy, the protection of our dollar, and the income tax system that is so unliked.

And I want to not just revamp it. I want to get rid of it and not replace it with anything. People are ready for some changes.

BLITZER: Congressman Ron Paul, thanks very much for coming in.

PAUL: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: It's getting nasty out there between Republican presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. Who has the most to gain from this fight? Our political panel's standing by to weigh in on that and more. Also when we come back, we're going to go live to Caracas, Venezuela. There's breaking news about today's significant election that's under way there.

Stay with us. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's a developing story that's just coming in to CNN out of Venezuela. Voters there are casting ballots on whether to make changes to the constitution that would, among other things, mean that the president, Hugo Chavez, could continue as president indefinitely.

Now there's a report of some violence involving one of Hugo Chavez's key opponents. CNN's Harris Whitbeck is on the scene. He's joining us now live from Caracas with the latest.

What's going on, Harris?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, details are still very sketchy, but advisers to the General Baduel who was charged as minister of defense until he retired a short while ago, and who has come out publicly denouncing Chavez's attempts to change the country's constitution, say that after he voted in the polling station near the city of Maracay, a man in the crowd apparently took out a gun and fired at least one shot.

That is all we know that this time. We do understand that General Baduel is on his way back to, Caracas, the capital, and at that time he will probably give more information about this incident.

Again, we spoke to the general's advisers. They say that all they know is that something did happen. They do know that General Baduel is OK. They're expecting him back here to give them more details.

Again, Baduel has criticized President Hugo Chavez quite severely in recent days. In fact, he has an op-ed piece in the New York times today, in which he says that the 69 constitutional amendments that are being voted on in today's referendum in Venezuela would lead Venezuela to totalitarianism. So, again, he's been criticizing President Chavez very much.

Other than that, as far as we know, voting is continuing at this time in polling stations all over the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll check back with you, Harris, once we get some results on whether these amendments, these changes in the constitution have been enacted. Harris Whitbeck on the scene in Caracas for us.

Coming up, it's now apparently a dead heat among the Democratic presidential front-runners in Iowa. We'll assess the contest, what's at stake with three of the best political team on television. "Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. A lot happening in politics this week. Let's get right to it.

Joining us, our congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin. She's following the candidates out in the cold in snowy Des Moines, Iowa. Stand by, Jessica. And with us here in a very warm studio in New York, our senior analyst Jeff Toobin, and Fareed Zakaria. He'll be hosting a brand-new program here on CNN on international affairs. That's coming up. Stand by for details.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Let's talk a little bit about New Hampshire first and foremost on the Republicans. I have a little news today. The New Hampshire Union Leader, the major newspaper in New Hampshire, endorsing John McCain for the Republican presidential nomination.

Joe McQuaid, the publisher writing this: "Simply put, McCain can be trusted to make informed decisions based on the best interests of his country, come hell or high water."

Are you surprised that this conservative newspaper has now come out and endorsed John McCain?

TOOBIN: Well, New Hampshire has always been very good to John McCain. And we are now in the extraordinary situation where you could make a plausible argument for any of five candidates in the New Hampshire -- in the Republican race winning this thing. Five candidates. I mean, that's just extraordinary, given how close we are to the vote.

BLITZER: It's really -- I guess I was a little surprised, Fareed, because of John McCain's position on immigration reform, supporting comprehensive immigration. And a lot of conservatives, as you know, simply flat-out opposed to what they call amnesty.

ZAKARIA: Well, McCain is a heretic on not just immigration. It's on global warming, campaign finance reform. So it is surprising. I think McCain wears well. You know, over time, he wears well because he's a serious man, enormous strength of character.

And I also think that very competitive nature of these primaries, with -- as Jessica was saying -- five people, means there has been a lot of competitive pandering. And these candidates are beginning to look a little foolish.

McCain not doing that, sticking by his guns, not suddenly finding out that he was for immigration before he was against it, has actually helped him, I think.

BLITZER: You know, Jessica, I'll put up some numbers on the screen, some of the recent poll numbers in New Hampshire, per se. The American Research Group poll that came out this weekend had Romney at 36, Giuliani at 22, Huckabee 13, McCain 11, everybody else way down. There was another poll though, a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll in New Hampshire, and it showed this: Romney 29, McCain 21, Giuliani 19, Huckabee down at 7, everybody else in low single digits.

As Jeff Toobin says, this contest is -- on the Republican side is wide open and certainly in Iowa, because we're going to get to those new numbers, as well. But give us your thoughts.

YELLIN: Jeff is absolutely right. It shows just how fluid this race really is and how much it can tighten and change in the coming months. And this endorsement today of McCain is significant. It's meaningful to him.

But we should also point out that they have also endorsed in the past Steve Forbes and Pat Buchanan, and we know it didn't deliver them victories. So New Hampshire's crucial to McCain, it just is yet to be seen if he's really going to pull ahead.

BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani, Jeff, had a big story that came out this week that may or may not wind up hurting him involving some expenses for his security detail that were appropriated while he was mayor of New York. And he denied any wrongdoing. I want to play this little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER MAYOR RUDOLPH W. GIULIANI, R-NEW YORK CITY: It was a perfectly appropriate set of expenses. I mean, it makes it look like there's something wrong with this. I was covered by the police 24 hours a day, every day that I was mayor. I was covered because there were threats to kill me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. What do you think?

TOOBIN: I think this is a disaster for Rudy Giuliani. New York City cops walked his mistress's dog. Is that appropriate? Has he answered that question? Why did that happen? Who was the police commissioner who approved that? Bernie Kerik, a corrupt thug. I mean, this is a big problem.

BLITZER: Fareed, you live here in New York and you remember those days. He was married, but I guess estranged from his wife and he was having an affair with a woman who eventually became his third wife.

ZAKARIA: I'm not as sure as Jeff that it will be as big a deal because Rudy has been able to bounce back from lots of these little things. And people have kept saying, "Trust us, New Yorkers, we know Giuliani is weird, he's something of an authoritarian, it will come through." So far the polls have not responded. He is still leading. My gut is he'll be able to get out of this one.

BLITZER: Jessica, I guess one of the big surprises so far is Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, especially where you are, in Iowa right now. I had a chance to speak with him earlier in the week in "The Situation Room." I want to play this little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE, R-ARK.: There is some surprise at how well we're doing, particularly in states like Florida and Texas, where we've not been able to do a lot of campaigning, spend a lot of money, hire people. I think it's a remarkable kind of surge that we're seeing, and not just in Iowa, but in other states, as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Well, let me put up these numbers from The Des Moines Register, the newspaper. You're in Des Moines right now. Among Republican likely caucus voters, Huckabee is at 29 percent right now. Romney is at 24 percent. Giuliani 13, Thompson 9, McCain and Ron Paul both at 7 percent.

There was a earlier poll, the ARG, the American Research Group poll, also showed Huckabee really moving up a few days earlier. Romney, who was ahead by 28 to 27 over Huckabee, Thompson at 14, Giuliani 9, McCain 9. Everybody else way down.

But there's no doubt that Huckabee is on fire in Iowa right now. Give us a little flavor of that.

YELLIN: He absolutely is the man right now. He has just sped ahead of the pack, and while it's still a statistical dead heat between Huckabee and Romney, this poll today also shows that people here think of him as the most principled, the most conservative of the candidates. They like him.

And you can see after the YouTube debate earlier last week that he was just the man who communicated as a person, that people felt they could relate to him. And it's really serving him well. People have surmised that it's his training as a minister.

But it's also his great sense of humor. They feel like he's a man who connects. He's real, and that he's consistent in his position. He doesn't flip-flop. And he's surging ahead.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to pick up that thought with Jeff and Fareed on Mike Huckabee. Also coming up, President Bush's former political aide Karl Rove sharing his thoughts about the presidential race earlier this morning. We're going to tell you what he had to say in our very popular "in case you missed it" segment.

"Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Much more with our political panel in a moment. But 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 CBS, Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain said it's time for some reassessments by critics of the Iraq war strategy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: They said we've lost several months ago militarily. Now they say, OK, well, we're moving militarily, but we're not doing the right thing politically. I'm very guardedly optimistic. People are coming back to Iraq. And those who predicted, many of them most respected people you and I know, that this conflict was loss ought to admit that maybe they were wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On ABC, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee talked about concern among some conservative evangelical voters that Rudy Giuliani could be the GOP nominee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE: I think the evangelicals are beginning to see they don't have to make that choice. And that's what I've said all along, since January, the end of it, when I first announced that I would be running for president, is rather than say, well, let's pick somebody that we don't agree with, why don't you pick somebody you do agree with? That's why I'm in the race. That's why my numbers are soaring.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On Fox, President Bush's former top aide, Karl Rove, said trouble could be ahead for presidential front-runners Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: I think both of them are going to face difficulties in Iowa. And the question is going to be for both candidates, for both parties, is, whoever wins Iowa, if it's not the front-runner, are they able to carry that through to the following primaries, have a bandwagon effect?

And it's going to be very troublesome for both parties' front- runners, because we're in uncharted territory. There's very little time between these primaries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On NBC, Democratic Senator Jim Webb was asked if he would consider the number two spot on his party's presidential ticket.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM WEBB, D-VA.: I don't think that would be -- first, nobody's talking to me. I don't think that would be a compelling enough reason for me to leave what I'm doing right now.

TIM RUSSERT, HOST, "MEET THE PRESS": But you don't rule it out?

WEBB: I just don't -- I have no desire to do it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk. We'll come right back with our political panel right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back, discussing the week's politics with Jessica Yellin, Jeff Toobin and Fareed Zakaria.

We were talking, Jeff, about this phenomenon, the Mike Huckabee phenomenon. He's now emerged in this Des Moines Register poll atop Mitt Romney in Iowa, even though he's got so much less money. What's going on?

TOOBIN: Well, the Republican base has been looking for a candidate since this campaign began. Mitt Romney has been trying to be that candidate, but he has the problem of having all these moderate stands in his background.

Fred Thompson has just laid a complete egg. So Huckabee has come on and become, at least for now, the candidate of the Republican base and that's a big part of the party.

BLITZER: And, you know, the immigration issue was really a serious issue at the CNN/YouTube debate and there was an angry exchange between Giuliani and Romney. I want to play that for you, Fareed, because Huckabee sort of was out of that exchange, but listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: If you're going to take this holier than thou attitude that your whole approach to immigration was so perfect...

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS.: I'm sorry, immigration is not holier than thou, Mayor. It's the law.

GIULIANI: If you're going to take this holier than thou attitude that you were perfect on immigration...

ROMNEY: I'm not perfect.

GIULIANI: It just so happens that you have a special immigration problem that nobody else up here has. You were employing illegal immigrants.

ROMNEY: You know, what...

GIULIANI: That is a pretty serious thing. They were under your nose. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right what do you think? This immigration issue has become a huge issue not only among Republicans but even on the Democratic side of the coin.

ZAKARIA: You know, what I think is funny about that exchange is that you have two people, neither of whom believed what they were saying, and that both Giuliani and Romney actually had fairly, for purposes of this debate, liberal positions on illegal immigration.

But they're pandering to the primary voters and again, Huckabee comes across better in that sense, because he's more authentic, he doesn't have to do it. The really interesting question is going to be what happens to immigration, which clearly has become a hot button issue, once you get past the primaries? Because in the general electorate, the feelings are somewhat different.

You know, 60 percent want tighter borders, but 60 percent also believe in legalization because that solves the problem of the illegals. How are these Republicans, particularly, going to find a way to pivot?

BLITZER: And the Hispanic vote will be significant on that front, as well.

Let's go back out to Iowa. Jessica Yellin is there. I'm going to put some more numbers up on the screen, the latest Democratic poll numbers in Iowa. Look at this, Jessica -- The Des Moines Register poll that's just out this morning.

On the Democratic side, Obama is at 28 percent, Clinton's at 25 percent, Edwards at 23 percent. It's really a three-person race out there. But if you go down Richardson's at 9, Biden is at 6, Dodd, Kucinich both 1 percent.

A few days earlier on the American Research Group poll -- look at this -- Obama was at 27, Clinton 25, 23 for Edwards, once again very close among the top three. Look at Joe Biden though. He did really well relatively speaking. He went up to 8 percent which is the highest he's been in Iowa. Richardson is at 4 percent, Dodd 3, Kucinich at 2 percent.

But The Des Moines Register poll, like the ARG poll, shows Obama slightly ahead of Hillary Clinton, Jessica. Give us your flavor. What's going on?

YELLIN: Well, the Obama folks here couldn't be more excited about this. I mean, it's within the margin of error but it puts Obama on top in the state. And it's a front-page picture here in The Des Moines Register, Obama then Clinton then Edwards.

But, again, we have to point out this is a statistical dead heat. And I spoke with Clinton's pollster, Mark Penn, last night and he reminds us that the race really didn't get decided, no one pulled ahead last time around until the very last week before the caucuses.

They are counting on another detail in this poll, which shows that 50 percent of those polled, of all those Democrats asked, said they could still be wooed away by another candidate. So it's all incredibly fluid, and could really change in the next four weeks. It all depends on what we see on the campaign trail between now and January 3rd.

And Obama is going to get, Jeff, you some star power helping him. Oprah is coming out to Iowa for a couple of days.

TOOBIN: Oprah will be in the house, yes.

BLITZER: As my dad used to say, might not help but certainly can't hurt.

TOOBIN: It certainly can't hurt. But the thing is, at this point, in four years ago, Howard Dean was still looking like the winner in Iowa. John Kerry was still nowhere. I mean, this is the most volatile state in a volatile election. So, yes, it's good news for Obama but it is only good news today and it could all change.

BLITZER: And, as we know, Hillary Clinton has some star power, also, in the person of the former president, her husband.

ZAKARIA: But she's battling expectations, Wolf. She has to do pretty well in Iowa. If Obama wins Iowa handily, the question then becomes what happens to Edwards? If Edwards drops out, if Edwards endorses Obama, to get that kind of momentum going into New Hampshire, I think that Hillary Clinton is in trouble.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Fareed, while we have you, because we're almost out of time, this Middle East peace conference that the president convened in Annapolis this week, what's your stance, because you know this subject really well?

Is it going to result by the end of his term, by the end of next year, in some sort of real deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Or is this just wishful thinking?

ZAKARIA: Nobody has ever lost money betting against the Palestinian peace process. And I'm going to bet against it. I think that the odds are it won't succeed.

I think the most striking development was a fairly conciliatory speech by the Syrian foreign minister which tells you that perhaps the whole purpose of this really is to create an anti-Iranian alliance of Arab states to wean Syria away from Iran. And, in that respect, it might actually be working.

BLITZER: Fareed Zakaria, our newest edition to CNN. Welcome, Fareed, to CNN. Jeff Toobin, welcome to you. Jessica, go inside. It's cold out there in Iowa. We'll see you in "The Situation Room" during the week. Thanks to all of you.

And if you'd like a recap of today's program, you can get highlights on our new and improved "Late Edition" podcast. Simply go to CNN.com/podcast.

Coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week At War" with host Tom Foreman. Here's a preview.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN HOST: Thanks, Wolf.

Strange things seem to be happening this week. In Syria, actually it appears that they're helping the U.S. achieve an Israeli/Palestinian peace deal. Is Iran shutting down the flow of explosives into Iraq? And why are politicians switching sides on the war? We'll explore all of this and much more as we wrap up a world in conflict on "This Week At War."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's take a look and see what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States. Time magazine has Barack Obama, "The Contender." Newsweek looks at "Fertility and Diet: How What You Eat Could Effect Your Odds of Pregnancy." And U.S. News and World Report features "America's Best High Schools."

And that's your "Late Edition," for this Sunday, December 2nd. Please be sure to join me again next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. Remember, we're in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until tomorrow, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York. For our international viewers, stand by for world news. For those of you in North America, "This Week at War" with Tom Foreman starts right now.

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