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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Discussion With Colin Powell; Did U.S. Drop Ball in Bin Laden Hunt?; Catholic Church Mired in Scandal

Aired April 21, 2002 - 12:00   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5:00 p.m. in London, and 7:00 p.m. in Jerusalem. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for this three-hour Late Edition.

We'll get to my interview with the U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell, in just a few minutes, but first our news alert.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: And just a short while ago I spoke with the U.S. secretary of state.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks once again for joining us on LATE EDITION. Welcome back from the Middle East.

Where do you go from here? Are you sending the CIA director, George Tenet, to pick up where you left off?

COLIN POWELL, SECY. OF STATE: Well, not yet. The first thing we had to see was the Israeli withdrawal. And now we see that that is in full swing. It doesn't mean the crisis is over. Many of the Israeli units will still be on the outskirts of some of these towns and just on the other side in Zone B.

And we want to see access now. We want to see life start to return to normal in these towns and cities.

But the withdrawal that Prime Minister Sharon and I spoke about last week and the schedule for the withdrawal, he has met the timelines that he gave me last week, and I'm pleased about that. And it's two weeks and two days from the president's speech of April 4.

Now that that is under way, I think opportunities present themselves to begin security coordination again.

We still have two difficult issues, the Mukada (ph) in Ramallah, where Chairman Arafat is located, and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. We're working both of those problems, trying to find a solution. They're really not so much directly related to the withdrawal, as they are to the peculiar circumstances of these two situations, the Zeevi murderers in the Mukada (ph) in Ramallah, and the people who are detained inside the Church of the Nativity. And we've got to solve both of them.

BLITZER: Well, let's talk about both of those issues very briefly.

On the five suspected killers of the Israeli tourism minister, Rehavam Zeevi, do you believe that they should be handed over to the Israelis, as the Israelis demand, or the Palestinians have proposed that they put them on trial? Do you have confidence in a Palestinian trial of them?

POWELL: I'm trying to broker a solution. On the one hand, the Israelis feel very, very strongly that they committed a crime against Israeli citizens, they should be under Israeli jurisdiction and go before an Israeli tribunal.

The Palestinians are of the view that they have them in detention now, and under the provisions of the bilateral agreement that they have with the Israelis, that's where they belong, and they should be tried by Palestinian authorities.

I think what we should be doing right now, and what we are doing right now, is looking for ways to bridge these two positions and see if we can't find a solution. We have faced difficult jurisdictional problems like this in the past and found solutions, and we're looking for a solution now.

We do not want to see the situation resolved in a violent way. And that's our message right now: Give us time to find a way out of this, and let's not try to solve it through the use of any violence.

BLITZER: Well, is one possibility the U.S. might take custody of these five suspected terrorists?

POWELL: No, that is not one of the possibilities. But I would rather not ticktock through the list of possibilities.

BLITZER: The Israelis also say they want another individual, a man by the name of Fuad Shubakee (ph), who they say was responsible for the Karine A shipment, the shipment of arms from Iran to the Palestinian Authority.

First of all, do you believe that he was acting on his own, that Yasser Arafat knew nothing about that shipment?

POWELL: What we have said is that we believe that knowledge of that shipment extended rather high in the Palestinian Authority. And as you know, Chairman Arafat gave us a letter some time ago accepting responsibility on behalf of the Palestinian Authority for that shipment.

BLITZER: So does that -- that ends the issue right there?

POWELL: No...

BLITZER: Should Mr. Shubakee (ph) be allowed to go free?

POWELL: No, I think this falls into the same category as the Zeevi killers, and we have to resolve this as a package.

BLITZER: What about Bethlehem? How do you resolve that standoff where some 200 armed Palestinians remained holed up in the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square?

POWELL: We have a number of interesting ideas that we're looking at, not only U.S. ideas but ideas that have been put forward by other nations and some church officials. And we hope that the two sides will begin talking to one another in a more focused way to find a solution.

And so, it's a little bit like the situation in Ramallah, but I'm hopeful that with good will on both sides in an effort to resolve it in a non-violent way, we will find a solution.

BLITZER: Lots of media reports that the CIA is directly involved in trying to find a solution to the Church of the Nativity standoff. Is that true?

POWELL: There are a lot of people who are working on solutions with respect to that standoff. I would not say that the CIA is in the lead role at the moment.

BLITZER: So is the State Department in the lead role in that?

POWELL: There are lots of people who are playing a role.

BLITZER: What do you see as far as the accusation that the prime minister of Israel defied the United States, the president of the United Statesm in delaying the withdraw from those areas that Israel recently reoccupied?

POWELL: The president wanted to see the withdrawal take place as quickly as possible. And he said that in his speech on the 4th of April, and he reinforced that the following Saturday on the 6th of April when he spoke in Crawford, Texas with Prime Minister Blair and when he spoke to Prime Minister Sharon that afternoon.

We always recognize that you can't stop an operation like that immediately. There would be some time lag. We would have preferred a much shorter time lag. But when I visited with Prime Minister Sharon on three occasions in the course of my trip, it was last weekend that he gave me the specific timeline for the withdrawal, and I shared that with the president.

So we have been clocking that in the course of the week, and the withdrawal is taking place in accordance with the timeline that Prime Minister Sharon and I discussed last weekend.

BLITZER: The Arab, and Palestinians in particular, are outraged by the statement President Bush made that Ariel Sharon is a man of peace. You've seen the reaction.

First of all, do you believe that Ariel Sharon is a man of peace?

POWELL: You know, in every conversation I've had with Prime Minister Sharon, he has concentrated on security. He was elected to office because Israel was not secure. The intifada was killing on a daily basis innocent civilians. So he was elected on a platform of security, and we've talked about security repeated.

But in every conversation I've ever had with Prime Minister Sharon, when we talk about security, we've also talked about the peace process. He has recommitted himself over and over to the Tenet work plan, to the Mitchell peace plan. He acknowledges that there is a need for a Palestinian state.

Even just a few weeks ago, before the incursion began, the night before the Passover massacre, he once again said that he was committed to this. And he accepted the Tenet work plan and told General Zinni that at the time, the bridging proposal that General Zinni had put forward.

POWELL: So he has shown, even while he is concentrating on security, that he is interested in moving forward to negotiations and peace.

In my conversations with Chairman Arafat and with Arab leaders, I've noted that same desire. It is Crown Prince Abdullah who went to the Arab League Summit in Beirut and put forward a powerful message of how 22 Arab states are now prepared to live in peace with Israel, if issues of boundary, if issues of refugees, if those other difficult issues can be resolved.

And this is a powerful statement coming from the Arab side. It's a powerful statement not just because it comes from the Arab side, but because it's a message to Chairman Arafat, as well, that we all now have to join in moving forward toward peace and toward negotiations.

And it's why, in my press conference in Jerusalem before I left and in all the statements I've made, I have been focusing on security, on more rapid movement to negotiations, a political process, and humanitarian efforts and reconstruction and economic rebuilding. All of these have now come together in a more accelerated way, and we have to get going.

There is way to get going, and that's through Tenet and Mitchell, but we have to accelerate our efforts. The Palestinian people are looking for security in their own homes as they see it -- security from harassment, security from humiliation, security from Israeli responses. The Israelis want to live in peace and security in their own homes and in their communities. But they know that the way to get there is through discussions that will lead to a political settlement.

BLITZER: Is Yasser Arafat, Mr. Secretary, a man of peace?

POWELL: Yasser Arafat I have talked to in considerable detail in the two visits I had with him in Ramallah. And what I said to him is that, "You have used terror and you have used violence to try to achieve your goals. This is the time to stop moving in that direction that will not lead you to your goals. This is the time to make a strategic decision and to use your position as leader of the Palestinian people, which Palestinian people say you are and which I understand you are, now use that position to speak out against incitement, to speak out against violence, to speak out against terror, to tell your people that this is the time to use the good offices of the United States and the international community, the Madrid statement we've put out, the U.N. resolutions that have become so powerful in recent weeks, to move toward a peaceful solution." It's the same message that I gave to all of our Arab friends as I visited the region: "Use your good offices. Use your influence with the Palestinian people, with the Palestinian leaders to move us away from incitement. Use your leadership position with your own people to talk against violence, talk against suicide bombings, and to talk to peace. And let's give peace the opportunity to flourish."

Because it is only through negotiations that get us to peace will we find a solution that will create another state, Palestine, living in peace side by side with the state of Israel.

BLITZER: So are you prepared, when all is said and done, to say today that Yasser Arafat is a man of peace?

POWELL: I think that we have to give him the chance to demonstrate that he is a man of peace. It is not for me to designate him or not designate him. The burden is on Chairman Arafat to match deeds with words.

He has said the right thing recently. Now we have to look for him to do the right thing, by speaking out as the leader and by taking action within whatever capacity he has, however limited that capacity might be, to take action to demonstrate to all of us that that is what he wants, peace and a Palestinian state.

BLITZER: Former President Jimmy Carter, writing in the New York Times today, had some recommendations for your administration. Among other things, he said this: "It is time for the United States, as the sole recognized intermediary, to consider more forceful action for peace. The rest of the world will welcome this leadership."

Among other things, he says maybe it's time to reconsider all that U.S. military assistance to the Israelis if they're not using it legally according to the stipulations provided under the existing legislation.

POWELL: We have no plans at the moment to restrict any of the support that we provide to our friends and have provided for many years, in fact, since President Carter was in office.

And as the president noted, I think we are much more active. It is this president, President George W. Bush, who went to the United Nations last fall and called for the creation of a Palestinian state by the name of Palestine, saying it for the first time in an international forum such as that. In my Louisville speech last November, laid out a comprehensive framework as to how we could move forward. We have supported U.N. Resolutions 1397, 1402, 1403, all of which move us in the right direction. We have embraced and welcomed Crown Prince Abdullah's plan, his vision for a way forward, as captured now by the Arab League. And President Bush looks forward to seeing Crown Prince Abdullah later this week.

POWELL: So we are engaged. The president sent me to the region. The president's given me clear instructions as to what we want to do -- security, negotiations to get a political solution, and a humanitarian reconstruction, economic leg to our strategy.

BLITZER: A lot of people have gone now into the Jenin refugee camp, the Palestinian refugee camp on the West Bank, and have expressed horror at the sites that they've seen. I know that your assistant secretary, William Burns, was just there.

What did he tell you about these allegations that the Israeli military may have been involved in what the Palestinians say was a massacre?

POWELL: I sent Bill Burns in on Friday. He spent over three hours in the camp. And his reports were very troubling -- the suffering that has occurred, the humanitarian need that exists. But in three hours, he couldn't come to any conclusions as to whether there was unwise use of force.

That's why it was important for us to have a U.N. team go in. I'm pleased that the United States played the leadership role on Friday in developing the resolution that will be sending in a U.N. team, and I'm pleased that the Israeli government is accepting a team to come in and find out the facts. And we will support that team in every way possible.

We are also doing whatever we can to help in this humanitarian effort. We are sending in 800 tents, family-size tents, to be provided to people who have lost their homes. We're sending in enough water-purification equipment to take care of 10,000 people a day, and over 1,000 disease-reduction kits, they're called, to try to keep communicable diseases from spreading in this current situation of lack of sanitation, lack of running water.

We're also encouraging the Israelis to open Jenin up as much as possible to humanitarian relief. And finally, working with friends and colleagues around the world to get more explosive ordnance demolition teams in so that we can get rid of the booby traps and unexploded ordnance, which is getting in the way the relief effort.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, we have to leave it right there. I want to thank you very much. Good luck.

POWELL: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a difficult mission. You have your hands full, as you probably know by now.

POWELL: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And up next, we'll get the response from the United States Senate to the administration's efforts in the Middle East. We'll also find out if the United States is any closer to capturing Osama bin Laden. We'll speak with the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham and the Vice Chairman, Richard Shelby, when Late Edition continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every leader, every state must choose between two separate paths, the path of peace or the path of terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush speaking to cadets about the war on terror at the Virginia Military Institute on Wednesday.

Welcome back to Late Edition. Joining us now to talk about the war on terror in the Middle East, as well as elsewhere, are the two top members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. In Birmingham, Alabama, the Republican Senator Richard Shelby. He's the vice chairman of the committee. And here in Washington, the chairman of the committee, Florida Democrat Bob Graham.

Senators, welcome back to Late Edition.

Senator Graham, let me begin with you.

Is the secretary of state right when he says that the United States must continue to meet with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, even though the Israelis, at least the prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, has branded him a terrorist?

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: First, I believe in the principle that when we are dealing over the international boundary, when America is dealing with the world, we should be dealing with one voice, and that voice should be the president of the United States. We can have our disputes domestically, but internationally, we need to be united.

I agree with the administration, as expressed by Secretary of State Powell, that our goal is peace. And if you're going to achieve peace, you not only need to stop the violence, but you've also got to have a plan as to how you're going to bring the parties together on a long-range arrangement in which they can live together.

BLITZER: As you know, Senator Shelby, many of your conservative Republican colleagues, both inside the Congress and the Senate as well as outside, have a serious problem with the president's policy in trying to pressure the Israeli government into withdrawing and dealing with Arafat. They say he's abandoned what Bill Bennett calls that moral clarity he enunciated right after September 11: You're either with us or you're with the terrorists, as the president used to say.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Well, I'm not here today to criticize our president. I hope the president has every success, because he's speaking for the nation here.

But I do have some reservations, at times, as all Americans do, when you're dealing with violence, you're dealing with Arafat, that a lot of us know personally, that has been a proponent of violence for many, many years.

And at the end of the day, Wolf, I believe Israel has a right to exist as a nation. They have a right for security. And if terrorists are blowing up their shopping malls, and they are, and they're killing their people, how can you blame a nation for trying to secure itself? You can't.

BLITZER: Senator Shelby, let me ask you a question that I asked Secretary Powell a few moments ago. Do you believe that Yasser Arafat is a man of peace?

SHELBY: I think it's all in the definition. You know, the history of Yasser Arafat, he's been a terrorist. He's been many, many things. He's been a revolutionary from the beginning. His goal, ultimately, might be peace, as he sees it. But do I rank him with Dr. Schweitzer in the history books as man of peace? Absolutely not.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, you're privy to U.S. intelligence. Obviously, you're the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. I'll tell you what I heard when I was in Israel last week from Israeli military intelligence sources. They don't believe Yasser Arafat ever abandoned terrorism. They're convinced he's still pulling the strings and orchestrating these kinds of terrorist operations right now, whether through his own Fatah Al-Asqa Martyrs Brigade or some of these other groups.

GRAHAM: I think the most damning indictment of Arafat was his rejection of the proposal for peace that was submitted in December of 2000. That was a clear set of principles that would have brought the parties to the point that they could have reached a long-term peace.

I thought it was an extremely generous offer on behalf of the Israeli government. And its rejection by Arafat raises the question of whether he really has, as his ultimate objective, peace, or whether his ultimate objective is the elimination of the state of Israel, through a constant pursuit of terrorism.

BLITZER: So you're still willing, though, to give him the benefit of the doubt, even at this late moment?

GRAHAM: I think that his actions, in rejecting that last offer, which would have given to the Palestinians almost all of the West Bank, a bridge to Gaza, a resolution of the refugee issue, and his rejection of that offer, in my opinion, eroded his definition of being a man whose objective is peace. BLITZER: What about that, Senator Shelby? Do you agree with Senator Graham?

SHELBY: I think we got real close, very close to the peace process, to ending it, what, 18 months ago. It wasn't done. It wasn't completed.

I believe that Yasser Arafat would like peace on his terms, yes, but I don't believe he's a man of peace per se.

BLITZER: But do you still believe that he's orchestrating, involved in committing acts of terror against Israelis?

SHELBY: I believe that he either is involved or he's looking the other way, because there's just too much terrorism involved on the West Bank not to know, especially if you are in a position of power.

GRAHAM: I think the answer to that question is, yes, that Yasser Arafat has and continues to use or certainly acquiesce in the use of acts of terrorism, particularly these homicide bombings, as a means of achieving his goals.

BLITZER: And it doesn't appear -- at least, do you believe he's made any decision to abandon that in the aftermath of the secretary's visit? Because he did issue a statement condemning suicide bombings, condemning that most recent bombing in Jerusalem a week ago Friday.

GRAHAM: Statements aren't the same as actions which will indicate a sincerity and depth of commitment.

BLITZER: Senator Shelby, what specifically do you want Yasser Arafat to do? Because, as you know, over the past few weeks the Israelis have destroyed huge chunks of his military infrastructure, his security infrastructure, his police force. Can he, assuming he wanted to, can he control the situation right now?

SHELBY: Well, that's a very good question that you just posed, Wolf: Can he control the situation on the ground on the West Bank even if he wanted to? That's the central question.

I doubt that he can. There are a lot of other groups there that are waiting in the wings to take over. Arafat is not a young man. A lot of people believe his days are ticking, but he intends to stay there a long time. But if he gets out too far of his people, then he will be eclipsed. It always happens.

I believe right now that he is listening to the ground, he's listening to the people there that are trying to fight, use violence as a means to ends. And I believe, at the end of the day, that's not going to work. The Israelis are too strong.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, are you at all concerned that Prime Minister Sharon defied President Bush by not withdrawing immediately from those areas the Israeli military recently reoccupied, what, two weeks ago when the president made that demand? GRAHAM: Before I answer that question, if I could go back to the previous question. I think that, while Arafat's ability to control has been diminished now that he's hunkered down in that barricade in Ramallah, that over the period of his leadership he has had the ability to control and has not demonstrated by actions the willingness to use that capability.

In terms of the pullback of the Israeli troops, I would agree with what Secretary of State Powell said. We would have hoped that they would have moved earlier. He recognizes, as a general, that you don't just turn around military operations overnight, and there now are evidences that there is the beginning of a pullback, and I think that's a positive sign.

Because I believe that a series of things almost have to happen simultaneously. On the side of the Palestinians, a strong message and acts that will indicate they're prepared to stop the violence. At the same time, the Israelis, having achieved their objective of destroying the infrastructure of terrorism, begin the withdrawal process.

BLITZER: All right. Senators, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about.

We'll continue our conversation with Senators Bob Graham and Richard Shelby, and they'll be taking your phone calls when Late Edition continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Protesters here in Washington this past week on both sides of the Middle East conflict urging the administration to take action, but they have very different actions in mind.

Welcome back to Late Edition. We're continuing our conversation with Senators Bob Graham and Richard Shelby, the two top members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senators, we have a caller from Miami. Go ahead, Miami, with your question.

CALLER: Yes, my name is Dr. Vadia (ph) and I'm calling from Miami. Thank you very much for receiving my call.

My question is for Senator Shelby, if he thinks, like many of us are thinking now, about revoking Yasser Arafat's peace Nobel prize?

Thank you very much for your...

BLITZER: All right, Senator Shelby. Should the Nobel Committee take away Yasser Arafat's Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared after the 1993 Oslo Accords with the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and the then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres?

SHELBY: Well, that was done for past accomplishments and that was to bring them to the table, I believe, starting in 1993, and that was a milestone there. The Nobel Committee makes that decision. I have nothing to do with it.

I would hope that, despite everything, that Yasser Arafat would look back in his career, on his life and say "Gosh, that was the Nobel prize. I was a recipient of the Nobel prize, jointly, for a good reason, and that is for peace. Maybe that's the road you need to go down again."

BLITZER: Senator Graham, do you want to answer your constituent in Miami?

GRAHAM: No, I don't think that's an issue that the United States government should become involved with. That is a decision made by a private organization which makes those recognitions.

I also think that it's not in our interest to make Arafat any more of a martyr than he has already attemped to drape around his shoulders. This would be another contribution to his martyrdom.

BLITZER: Senator Shelby, I guess the question is involving Prime Minister Sharon. He's under an enormous amount of criticism from outside Israel, especially in the Arab world, in the Palestinian community and Europe, much more than here in the United States, for overreacting to the suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians that all of us are so familiar with.

And if you take a look, they say what he did, the Israeli military did in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin, for example, they say he committed atrocities that the Israeli military was engaged in a massacre.

What do you say to those who are making that point?

SHELBY: Well, I don't know all the facts of what happened on the ground in that town. But I can tell you, violence brings violence. When you're blowing up malls, then there's going to be a reprisal. It always is, such as Israeli reaction to it for the security reasons.

It's easy to criticize. Sharon is a soldier. He's a professional solder. He had a distinguished career there before he ever was in politics, and I think that what he's looking is a military response. And when -- if this country was attacked on the ground, like Israel, day after day, I believe that we would have to have some type of military response just like he's doing.

BLITZER: The critics of Sharon, Senator Graham, say that by his taking this tough action and going in to these Palestinian refugee camps the way the Israeli military did, he's just creating a new generation of Palestinian young people who are willing to become suicide bombers.

GRAHAM: War is hell. You look at what happened in our own civil war, and there were instances that remind you of what we're seeing today in the Middle East.

I think the important lesson for us is that we need to use our influence to try and bring this 50 years of violence and death to some peaceful resolution as quickly as possible. Time is not on our side. The longer this thing drags on, the more the moderate voices around the world, particularly within the Muslim world, are becoming radicalized. And that will have implications not only in this immediate conflict, but also on our war on terrorism and our long-term relationship with about 20 percent of the people of the Earth.

BLITZER: Senator Shelby, one achievement that Secretary Powell did manage to accomplish during his mission was to calm down the situation along Israel's northern borders with Lebanon and Syria. That had been a very tense situation that could have exploded, escalated into a wider war.

You were recently in Damascus. You met with President Bashar al- Assad. What was your impression of this new young leader of Syria, the son of the late Hafez al-Assad?

SHELBY: Well, a bright young man, a medical physician, opthomologist by training. Young, but seemed to be willing to learn and able to learn.

We discussed the issue that you just brought up, the border between Lebanon and Israel. We both agreed that this was a hot spot and hoped that it would be deemphasized, and I think we move in that direction.

I wish we could do more for peace, Wolf, but at the end of the day, people have got to sit down with the framework, be willing to negotiate peace and not terrorism, not war.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, you're the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. I want to read to you, from the new issue of Time Magazine that's coming out today and tomorrow, this little nugget. We'll put it up on the screen.

"Militants belonging to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades told Time they are preparing to avenge last week's arrest of top Arafat deputy Marwan Bargudi (ph), and they believe the U.S. should share the pain. "`Now,' says a senior Brigades leader in the West Bank, `American targets are the same as Israeli targets.'"

Now, that's ominous if it's true. Do you believe that the kind of suicide attacks against Israelis could spread to here in the United States, given U.S. support for Israel?

GRAHAM: Well, of course, we saw it happen on September 11, so the answer is not, will it come, but will it come again? And yes, that is another risk of this conflict going on, is that the targets will expand. I think, frankly, the most vulnerable targets now are Jewish targets outside of Israel, as we have seen particularly in France, attacks against a synagogue.

Everything argues for us to use all the influence that we can to try to bring this matter to some resolution as quickly as possible, because the consequences of a protracted, further conflict are extremely ominous. BLITZER: Well, you know, Senator Graham, the German media have been full of reports that that bombing of the synagogue in Tunisia about a week or 10 days or so ago was the result of an Al Qaeda operation, a truck bombing, a suicide bombing. What do you hear from U.S. intelligence? GRAHAM: I have not had a briefing on that specific issue. As you know, the Tunisians defined it as being an accident and did not find that there was a terrorist connection. But it is an issue that deserves the fullest exploration, but also as a signal that targets, particularly, I fear, Jewish targets around the world beginning in Europe, are vulnerable. And targets of the United States interests may become increasingly subject to terrorist acts, as the statement of the Arafat-related organization indicates.

BLITZER: Let me let Senator Shelby weigh in on that. That's obviously a very, very ominous description described by Senator Graham. Do you want to add anything to that?

SHELBY: I would just say that we know that we live in a open society. We're vulnerable in certain areas. We're very strong in others. We're on alert. I believe when things happen like in Tunisia, it's more than suspicion, especially when they blow up a synagogue, they blow up a church, they blow up a shopping center. It's not an accident.

BLITZER: All right, Senators, we have a lot more to talk about.

Just ahead, additional reports have surfaced this past week that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden may have been surrounded at Tora Bora in Afghanistan. Did the U.S. military let Osama bin Laden get away? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: As I've said, if you're chasing a chicken around the barnyard, and you haven't got him, were you close some time? I don't know. Maybe you were, maybe you weren't. But we don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, at a briefing this past week at the Pentagon, explaining the search for Osama bin Laden.

Welcome back to Late Edition.

New information surfaced this past week that the U.S. military may have been within reach of Osama bin Laden during the December fighting in Tora Bora in Afghanistan. Did the U.S. drop the ball?

We're talking to the two top members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat Bob Graham and a Republican, Richard Shelby.

Senator Shelby, did the U.S. drop the ball in December at Tora Bora?

SHELBY: Well, we're not sure. There are always going to be misses, near misses, and successes. If Osama bin Laden was near the area, if he was near the net where we were trying to entrap and destroy some terrorists, if we could have gotten him there, assuming he was there, that would have been great. But there will always be near misses here and there and in the future.

But what we've got to do is continue the hunt, because we've got to be relentless in our pursuit of this man. And I believe we are and will be.

BLITZER: Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: We don't know whether he was in those mountains. Probably the chances are that he was at Tora Bora and was able to escape. Our evidence continues to be that he is probably alive and most likely someplace in Afghanistan.

One of the things that set the context for that activity in Tora Bora was a policy of trying to reduce U.S. casualties. And so we were relying particularly on the Northern Alliance troops to do the groundwork, while we did the aerial bombardment. That was a conscious policy with the objective of minimizing U.S. deaths and injuries.

And I think now we are being more aggressive. There are some 6,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and we are more directly engaged in the ground effort to hunt down Osama bin Laden and the other remainders of Taliban and Al Qaeda.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, that videotape that we saw of Osama bin Laden that was released this week, we don't know how old it was, whether it's authentic. What is your assessment, based on the information you've received?

GRAHAM: The assessment is that the videotape didn't tell us very much that we didn't already know. It probably was done some time around the first of the year.

One interesting thing was that it showed the possibility that bin Laden had suffered an injury on his left side, because, if you notice the photographs, he never used his left arm, although we don't have any information that he is close to any life-threatening injury.

The feeling is that that tape was released not for our benefit, but mainly for the Arab world to try to make bin Laden seen as the leader, particularly with a connection to the Palestinian cause. It was also an outreach to his support base, particularly his financial support base, which our intelligence is has been declining but still exists and still provides him a source of revenue to continue his operations.

BLITZER: Senator Shelby, is the U.S., in your opinion, any closer to knowing where Osama bin Laden is, even approximately, or even whether he's still alive? SHELBY: Well, the last thing first. We believe he's still alive. We don't know that beyond a reasonable doubt and a moral certainty, but I believe he's still alive, myself.

But as Senator Graham says, there's a strong probability that he is in the area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, moving around there. He doesn't have a lot of sanctuaries he can go to.

As far as the tape was concerned, there are two things about the tape. One, it confirmed Al Qaeda's culpability in the September the 11th deal beyond any question, the last will and testament of one of the perpetrators.

Secondly, if you look closely at Osama bin Laden, he looks like he's going through a lot. His body, he looked like he had a lot of tension on him, he looked withered and drawn.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, one of the Al Qaeda leaders captured by the United States, Abu Zubaydah, apparently provided some informations that led to that alert to the banking institutions in the Northeastern part of the United States. How reliable is that information from Abu Zubaydah?

GRAHAM: It was more confirming than new information. We've known that one of the targets of bin Laden has been the United States economy. His thesis is that the United States' world power is based on its economic power and, therefore, that's where he has targeted his attention. Without accident, the World Trade Centers were the primary focus of his September 11 assaults.

This is a continuation of that effort to undermine the U.S. economy and the value of the U.S. dollar, which have been stated as two of bin Laden's strategic objectives.

BLITZER: On that note, we unfortunately have to leave it. Senator Graham and Senator Shelby, always good to have both of you on Late Edition. Thanks to both of you for joining us. We'll have you back.

And coming up in our next hour, the U.S. Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, joins me one on one to talk about the Middle East, the war against terrorism and much more. We'll also talk with Israeli and Palestinian officials about the crisis in the Middle East. All that and more when Late Edition continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We're serious when we talk about two states living side by side.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: President Bush proclaims his commitment to the Middle East peace process. But was Secretary of State Colin Powell's mission too little, too late? We'll get three perspectives from the U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Israeli foreign policy adviser Daniel Ayalon, and Palestinian Authority legal adviser Michael Tarazi.

And Bruce Morton asks where the line is drawn between war and terror.

Welcome back too Late Edition. And we'll talk with the leader in the U.S. Senate, Tom Daschle, in just a moment. But first, here's is CNN's Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta with a news alert.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Earlier today, I spoke with Senator Tom Daschle about the situation in the Middle East, the war on terror and more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. THOMAS DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: Senator Daschle, thanks so much for joining us.

Let's get right to the issue of the week, the crisis in the Middle East. Do you have confidence in the way President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell are handling this situation?

DASCHLE: I do have confidence, Wolf. This is not a very easy situation, under any circumstances. And I have the greatest confidence in Secretary Powell's efforts. I think that it'll be some time before we really fully appreciate the impact of his trip. And we're going to be briefed this coming week about where he sees things as they are right now. And -- but yes, I have confidence.

BLITZER: As you know, there are some largely conservative Republicans, who are complaining about the president's efforts to try to end that crisis, saying that he's abandoned the moral clarity that he expressed after September 11, by leaning on the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw from some of those areas recently reoccupied by the Israeli military.

Do you think that they are right?

DASCHLE: Well, I think that the president has to listen to all sides, and he has to ensure that he can be the peacemaker and find ways to reach out to both the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. That isn't going to satisfy some from the far right.

But he does have a very difficult job to do, and I think, rather than listen to far right, it's important to listen to both sides in the Middle East and see if we can find some peaceful resolution. That's going to take persistence. It's going take a steady hand. It's going to take some clear understanding of how we get from here to there. But if he's prepared to demonstrate that kind of leadership, I think we can continue to find the progress that we so desperately need right now. BLITZER: In much of the Arab world, certainly among Palestinians, the president was widely criticized for calling the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, a man of peace. Do you believe he's a man of peace?

DASCHLE: Well, this isn't a very peaceful situation in the Middle East right now. And I think that it it's going to require a risk for peace. Past predecessors of Mr. Sharon have certainly risked their political circumstances for peace, and I think we've got to see more of that in the future.

But clearly, this is difficult time. It isn't a peaceful time, it is important for us to show that we're prepared to take risks for peace, and I hope both sides will do that.

BLITZER: Does that -- I'm trying to get the answer. Do you agree with President Bush, that Sharon is a man of peace?

DASCHLE: Well, I think he wants to be man of peace, but he's under attack. His communities have been destroyed. People have lost their lives. Suicide bombers continue to oppress all regions of Israel. It's pretty hard to be man of peace when you are under attack. There will be a time when Mr. Sharon and others can show how peaceful and how determined they are to risk the circumstances for peace, and I'm confident that Mr. Sharon will do so.

BLITZER: The Israelis, Sharon in particular, say that the secretary's decision to meet with Yasser Arafat was a tragic mistake. Was it a mistake for Colin Powell to meet with Yasser Arafat?

DASCHLE: Well, I don't think that he had any choice, Wolf, if he's going to bring about some peaceful resolution. This is not an easy set of circumstances, by any definition. And I think it is important that both sides come together. How is that going to happen if we can't be intermediary? How can we ensure that we began this dialog if somebody doesn't create the opportunities for that to exist? We must be the catalyst for peace. We must be the catalyst for negotiations.

And the only way that's going to happen is for Secretary Powell and others in this administration to show the kind of leadership demonstrated by Secretary Powell this week.

BLITZER: But the advisers to Sharon made no bones about it. They don't believe that Yasser Arafat is man of peace. In fact, they accuse him of being a terrorist. They say he's always been a terrorist. He's never changed any of his basic terrorist orientation. And it's just futile to think that the Israelis can make a deal with Yasser Arafat.

DASCHLE: Well, Wolf, we are deeply disappointed that he didn't renounce terror. That in some ways, it shows, again, his questionable credibility, when it comes to his willingness to find a peaceful resolution.

But he's all we've got right now. I don't know that there is an alternative. Who would the Israelis or who would we go to, the Hamas or some other group that's even more radical? I don't think we have that choice. He is now the designated leader of the Palestinian movement, and we've got to accept that whether we like it or not.

The fact is that there is no choice. We must continue to find a way to resolve this matter, and the only way to do it is to talk to a representative of the Palestinians, and Mr. Arafat, today, is that individual.

BLITZER: So you say that the Bush administration should continue that dialogue as the next steps unfold?

DASCHLE: Well, as I say, I don't know that we have any choice. It's not a palatable choice.

DASCHLE: In many ways, it's extraordinarily frustrating. And I understand Israeli resentment and anger toward the suicide bombers and all of the leadership in the Palestinian movement for their determination to continue to disrupt any opportunity for peaceful coexistence.

But I think we've got to keep trying in spite of the anger, in spite of the resentment, in spite of the tremendous loss of life.

BLITZER: The former president Jimmy Carter wrote a peace in the New York Times today. Among other things, he wrote that he's not convinced that Ariel Sharon really wants a deal with the Palestinians. Among other things, he says that Sharon's ultimate goal is, in Jimmy Carter's words, "to establish Israeli settlements as widely as possible throughout occupied territories and to deny Palestinians a cohesive political existence."

Do you disagree with Jimmy Carter on that point?

DASCHLE: I don't know that we gain anything at this point by second-guessing the motives of any of the leaders at this point, Wolf.

I think it's far more important for us to say, "Look. What's happened has happened. Where do we go from here?" How do we find a way to ensure that what's happened stops? How do we put the kind of pressure in the region, on both sides and on those in the surrounding areas, to ensure that somehow a peaceful dialogue can be recreated?"

It's happened in the past. There has been negotiations. We have seen successful movement as others have intervened. President Clinton showed remarkable leadership in his effort to do that a few years ago. We can do that again if we keep the pressure on, if we show the leadership, if we do the right thing. I don't want to second-guess today. I think the most important thing is to go from here.

BLITZER: Other critics of the administration have said this is a case of too little, too late; that for a year -- a better part of a year, the administration simply washed it's hands of the situation in the Middle East, really didn't get as aggressively involved at a high level that it should have gotten involved in the situation, has obviously deteriorated. Is that fair criticism?

DASCHLE: I think it is fair criticism. I think we left a void. We created a void that probably allowed for the degeneration of the circumstances as we see them now.

But what's past is past, again. And what I said a moment ago is how I feel regardless of who we might be questioning.

Right now, I think what we have to do is to put the pieces together, show consistent engagement. Not disengage, but engage in an even more meaningful and consistent way. Show our determination to continue, regardless of the set backs, regardless of what momentary failure there may be, and move on and try to accomplish something in the time we have available to us.

BLITZER: What about the Palestinian complaints, when you take a look at the pictures of what happened to that refugee camp in Jenin on the West Bank, the rubble obviously -- the pictures are very, very awesome, very, very graphic.

Do they have a point that the Israelis overreacted in going forward with this military operation in the aftermath of the suicide bombings?

DASCHLE: Well, Wolf, that matter, as you know, is being investigated right now, and I think, until the investigation has been completed, it's difficult for any of us to come to any conclusions about what happened, about what the reaction was and how we might characterize it. So, until we get more answers, I think it's very difficult.

It's a tragedy of immense proportion. Just as we've seen, tragedy after tragedy, it's compounded and complicated and extraordinarily painful to see, as you've noted. But clearly, we've got to the facts before we jump to conclusions and exacerbate the situation even more.

BLITZER: So the bottom line on the Middle East, next step, where should the U.S. go from here, or the Bush administration, what's your bottom line?

DASCHLE: Well, Winston Churchill use to say, never, never, never give up. We can never give up. We've got to stay engaged now. We've got to continue to show strong leadership. We've go to reach out. We've got to be the brokers here. If not us, who? There is no other alternative. It's up to us to do it. We've got to do it right, and we've got to do it in a way that commands the kind of credibility and attention that only the United States is able to do.

BLITZER: Is Colin Powell the man to do it, or does this require presidential leadership, direct presidential involvement like former President Bill Clinton tried to do at the end of his second term?

DASCHLE: Well, I'll leave that to the administration. I don't think we could underestimate or, I should say, overestimate the tremendous stakes involved here. And so, I think the president's involvement may be required at some point.

But clearly, Secretary Powell has tremendous standing, has immense credibility. I think he has done an excellent job. There may come a time, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, that the president himself may have to be engaged and take this to the next step.

BLITZER: Some are calling on both sides for the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, to take another look at economic and military assistance to the Israelis -- the Palestinians and the Arabs don't like that, obviously -- and to the Palestinians.

BLITZER: Is this is a time for you in the Senate to take another look at where U.S. tax dollars are going to Israelis and Palestinians?

DASCHLE: I don't think so. As I said, I think it's important for us to try to find ways to solve the problem, not create even more problems. My guess is that any threat like that would be counterproductive and might even set back whatever credibility we have with either side.

So I think it is important for us, as I say, to stay engaged. Part of that engagement is to continue to provide the kind of assistance and the level of support that we have in recent years.

BLITZER: The other criticism is that this issue, the Israeli- Palestinian crisis that's unfolded in recent weeks, has made it much more difficult for the U.S., for the Bush administration to take a look at Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

Is that what has happened? Has the Iraqi threat potentially to the United States, at least as seen by the administration, been undermined as a result of what's happening between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

DASCHLE: Well, I do think that it's important for us to take first things first, whether it's in Israel or in Afghanistan. The president has said that we've got to find the Al Qaeda leadership and do all that we can to stop terror around the world.

He said that there are 60 countries where Al Qaeda may be located today. If we've found them in Afghanistan, we still have 59 others to go.

We have a long, long way to go to resolve the problems in Afghanistan, and it seems to me until we've solved that problem, until we've come to some successful conclusion there, and in Israel, other additional military or international exercises would be premature.

BLITZER: So the Iraqi issue right now has been pushed aside because of the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, the Israeli- Palestinian issue, and perhaps other issues as well. Is that fair?

DASCHLE: I would certainly think so.

BLITZER: This week you made some, I guess some -- you raised some eyebrows again by talking about the Taliban leadership and the Al Qaeda. I want to listen to what you said on Thursday here in the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DASCHLE: We captured the Taliban leadership by and large, but they weren't the ones who killed 3,100 Americans. Al Qaeda killed 3,100 Americans, and we've got to find those Al Qaeda leadership -- that Al Qaeda leadership, and we haven't done it yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You remember the criticism a month or so ago when you raised some questions about the Bush administration's overall approach, how successful, how unsuccessful it may be.

Are you getting yourself into political hot water right now by raising these kinds of questions?

DASCHLE: Oh, I don't know, Wolf. I just have to express myself in the most honest way I can.

I think the president was right a long time ago when he said one of the most important things we can do is to find bin Laden. We haven't found him yet. In fact, we've only found two of the top 12 Al Qaeda leaders today. So we have a lot of work to do.

I don't think we can view ourself as safe or secure until that job has been done. We haven't accomplished it. It's not right, in my view, to minimize the importance of that goal as the president himself articulated it last fall.

So we've got to keep the pressure on, the heat on, do what we can to make sure that that element of our overall mission is successful.

BLITZER: So the mission won't be successful until Osama bin Laden personally is either killed or captured?

DASCHLE: That would be my view, correct.

BLITZER: And as you take a look at the prospects of that happening, what are the prospects of that happening?

DASCHLE: Well, I'm not the best one to ask. I think that it is important for us to use every means available. Intelligence sources are at the best they've ever been. We've got the cooperation, at least in that regard, from the entire international community.

And the president was right also when he said we don't know how long this is going to take. It may take weeks, it may take months. I think he even said it may take years. So we've got to be patient.

I'm just saying we shouldn't change our goals because we haven't accomplished them in the first couple of months. It's important for us to keep the effort going to ensure that everyone understands we're not going to quit until we're successful.

BLITZER: Let me switch gears to a domestic issue before I let you go, Senator. You and Richard Gephardt, the House Democratic leader, wrote a letter to the three cable news networks here in the United States -- CNN, Fox, MSNBC -- complaining about all the live coverage that we give jointly to the administration, the lack of live coverage we give to you.

BLITZER: Among other things, you said, "We are concerned that cable news coverage tilted toward the White House muffles the voice of the Democratic Party, undermines our ability to communicate our ideas to our constituents, and undercuts the debate that is the heart of our democracy."

Do you want us not to cover the president of the United States?

(LAUGHTER)

DASCHLE: No, he -- in fact, I said, in my public comments in the last week or so, Wolf, that clearly you've got to cover the president. You're right in doing so.

But I think the American people yearn for a good public debate, and it's pretty hard to hear a good public debate if they only hear the president, if they only hear one side.

All we're saying is that, in addition to the coverage you provide, and even not even in the same level or the same amount of coverage, that you ensure that that public debate can be heard, that both sides can be heard, and that there be some effort to strike a balance.

In recent months, and perhaps even years, but certainly months, that has not happened, and we wanted to call attention to your executives and others to see if we can provide a better balance in the coming months.

BLITZER: As far as you know, have they responded to your letter yet?

DASCHLE: As far as I know, they have not.

BLITZER: Was it any different when Bill Clinton was president? Because we gave him -- and he was a Democrat, obviously -- over eight years, a lot of coverage as well.

DASCHLE: Well, a lot of the coverage you gave Bill Clinton wasn't the kind he wanted.

But I would say that we haven't done any direct analysis of past years that I'm aware of. What we have done is an analysis of what has happened in the last year or so. And I must say, the imbalance is pretty striking. We sent a pie chart that was quite dramatic in the amount of coverage given the Republicans, both in the Congress as well as in the administration, and the minimal coverage given the Democrats.

So we want better balance, we want that debate to be reflected, but we certainly understand your right and your need to cover the president of the United States.

BLITZER: We're only 30 months away from the presidential election here in the United States. Is it time for Tom Daschle to formally throw his hat into the ring?

(LAUGHTER)

DASCHLE: I don't think so, Wolf. It's going to be a long time before we make that decision. I've got one focus and one goal, and that's to retain the majority of the United States Senate, and we're going to do it.

BLITZER: All right. Tom Daschle, always good to have you. We gave you plenty of time today to make your views known. Appreciated very much your joining us...

DASCHLE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: ... on CNN. Thank you very much.

DASCHLE: You bet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just ahead, Palestinians offer to try murder suspects as Israeli troops complete their withdrawal from most of the West Bank areas recently reoccupied. Are these the first steps on the road back to a peace process? We'll talk live with Sharon foreign policy adviser Daniel Ayalon and Palestinian Authority legal adviser Michael Tarazi, when Late Edition continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition.

The Bush administration has drawn some criticism for its support in the face of Israel's refusal to withdraw immediately from the Palestinian territories. Where does the U.S. relationship with Israel stand right now?

Joining us from Jerusalem is chief foreign policy adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Daniel Ayalon.

Now, Mr. Ayalon, welcome back, to Late Edition. Thanks for joining us.

How much damage, if any, do you believe was done to the U.S. Israeli relationship by the prime minister's decision to, in effect, defy the president and not withdraw immediately from those areas in the West Bank the Israeli military recently reoccupied?

DANIEL AYALON, ISRAELI FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: No, I don't think, Wolf, there was any damage. In fact, Operation Protective Wall officially ended today, and the IDF pulled out of all areas that Prime Minister Sharon promised the president. On the other hand, we don't see the Palestinians make good of any of the expectations from them. They were supposed to accept cease- fire and also to start a security plan, according to General Zinni's bridging proposal. We have accepted that. We have accepted cease- fire long ago. Until now, there is no response from the Palestinians.

BLITZER: Though, when you say...

AYALON: And also...

BLITZER: When you say, Mr. Ayalon, when you say the withdraw is complete, is it back to the lines that existed before the incursion a few weeks ago, or are there new lines, buffer zones, that are being drawn that effectively gives Israel new positions inside the West Bank?

AYALON: Well, there is complete disengagement with all the towns. We are back into the lines, before the operation started, except the two flashing (ph) points in Ramallah in compound of Arafat, where he keeps giving shelter to terrorists and to the murderers of our cabinet minister Zeevi, which he has to hand out according to all the international norms and the agreements.

And also, we have the unfortunate incident in Bethlehem where Palestinian terrorists, armed, went into this holy place, desecrating it, taking some clergymen as hostage. And we hope also to reach peaceful solution there.

BLITZER: Well, let's go through both of those issues. First of all, the Arafat headquarters compound in Ramallah. The Palestinians are now suggesting that those five suspected terrorists accused in killing the Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi, that they, the Palestinians themselves, try them in this particular case for murder.

Would that be acceptable to your government?

AYALON: No, not at all. We have seen Palestinian justice, which is really a hoax. They are not really in custody. There are no trials. And they are really revolving doors, where they put out terrorists and then release them.

The same happened with the murderers of Zeevi and also with Fuad Shubeki (ph), which was the mastermind of the Palestinian alliance with Iran and Iraq. And they have been in their custody, but in no jail. They were not interrogated, and no justice was meted out to them.

So we demand that they would be handed over to Israel. They pre- meditated this brutal murder of our cabinet minister on Israeli territory, so they are liable for extradition. These are the norms, international norms, and also the agreements that we have signed with them.

BLITZER: The prime minister, when I interviewed him in Jerusalem earlier in the week, said basically the same thing. I want you to listen to the exchange I had with Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So what you're saying is, unless Fuad Shubeki (ph) and some others inside Ramallah, inside the....

SHARON: Think about the murder of our minister of tourism.

BLITZER: Unless they're handed over, you'll surround that compound in Ramallah indefinitely?

SHARON: Yes, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Because the secretary of state, in an interview an hour or so ago that aired here on CNN, said the U.S. is looking for some sort of way to finesse this issue.

BLITZER: The Palestinians say they'll try those five suspected killers of the tourism minister. The Israelis, as you know, say you want to try them. They're looking for some compromise, some area in between, although he says the United States is not interested in taking custody of the five suspects.

What is he basically looking for, as far as you know?

AYALON: Well, Wolf, I think it's a shame that we even have to discuss or negotiate the handing over of these murderers. I mean, this should be very evident. These murderers should be tried. They should be tried in Israel; they perpetrated this crime in Israel.

The fact that the Palestinian leadership is giving shelter and are hosting murderers and terrorists is against any international norm. And it is really unfortunate that we even have to discuss it. If I were them I would have tried to get rid of them as fast as possible to gain any credibility, if they have any remain.

BLITZER: You know, the Palestinians point out -- I interviewed Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, earlier this past week. He said that when they move those five suspects from Nablus to Ramallah a few weeks ago, they had to cross Israeli lines, Israeli military checkpoints. Your government was aware of that and allowed it to go forward, allowed those five to be moved into the Ramallah compound where Yasser Arafat is holed up right now.

Is Saeb Erekat right?

AYALON: Well, this is true, and we tried to trust in them, trust in them to try them, to interrogate them, to give justice to them. But nothing happened. And this proves my point before that their justice system is a hoax. They were there supposedly in jail for a few weeks, but no jail was there. They were still working from their offices, perpetrating and planning more terror, completing their operations. When we moved in, nobody was in jail. On the contrary. So, there is no surprise that our demand now is to hand them over.

BLITZER: And so the bottom line -- nd we'll move on and talk about the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem after a commercial break -- but the bottom line is that you will remain surrounding Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah until you get access, you get custody of those five suspects?

AYALON: Yes. And we will expect the Palestinian leadership to keep up with the basic international norms and with the agreements and to hand over the murderers and the terrorists that they give shelter to.

BLITZER: All right. Mr. Ayalon, stand by. We have much more to talk about.

We'll continue our conversation with the chief foreign policy adviser to Ariel Sharon, Daniel Ayalon. And he'll be taking some of your phone calls. Late Edition will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our conversation with the chief foreign policy adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Daniel Ayalon.

Mr. Ayalon, welcome back.

I just want to nail down the one point on the Ramallah standoff. You say those five suspects accused of killing the Israeli tourism minister must be handed over. Do you also insist that Fuad Shubeki (ph), the man responsible supposedly for the Karine A arms shipment from Iran to the Palestinian Authority, must he be handed over as well before the stalemate, the standoff ends?

AYALON: Yes, by all means. Fuad Shubeki (ph) not only financed the Karine A, but he also finances -- and we have all the documents to show, and I think we have showed in different occasions with the international press. There are documents that he signed, financing terror, financing the suicide bombers and the explosive belts, all under the supervision and direction and approval of Arafat.

Fuad Shubeki (ph) is also the one that, on his passport, which we also found, have all the stamps to Iraq and to Iran. He is the one which is linking, I would say, this axis of evil that the Palestinians, Iran and Iraq form. And this is very unfortunate, and we must have him.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity standoff. It doesn't look like there's any movement in resolving that issue either, is there?

AYALON: Well, unfortunately the terrorists there, who took hostage some clergymen and some young people in this holy place, are taking their cues and orders from the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, which have encouraged them not to give up, not to lay down their arms.

We have given them some options, where they can lay down their arms and stand on trial. If they are clean, of course they will be released. If not, they will have to get justice. There is another option that we gave them, which is to leave the country, but so far they have not accepted any of that.

And again the blame is on the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, who are refusing to give them any chance for a reasonable solution so far.

BLITZER: So it doesn't look like there's any opening, any resolution any time soon. That standoff will continue, is that right?

AYALON: Unfortunately. We are determined to have a peaceful solution there, and we're not of course going to, in any way or shape, harm these very holy places. We hope that the Palestinian terrorists in there also would respect the place and finally come out without their guns.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the situation in Jenin, the Palestinian refugee camp on the West Bank. The U.N. special Middle East envoy, Terje Larsen, earlier in the week went there and had some harsh words for the Israeli military. Listen to what Terje Larsen had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERJE ROED-LARSEN, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL'S PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE TO THE PLO: I think I can speak for all the U.N. delegation that we are shocked. This is horrifying beyond belief, just seeing this area. It looks like as if there'd been an earthquake here, and the stench of death are many places where we are standing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: As you know, Mr. Ayalon, the Israeli government accepted a U.N. call, together with the United States and others, for a fact-finding mission to go into Jenin and find out precisely what happened.

Are you demanding that you will have veto power over who will be involved in that U.N. delegation? Specifically, will you let Terje Larsen be part of that delegation?

AYALON: No, we won't have a veto power, Wolf.

What happened in Jenin was the fierce battle, the fierce battle against terrorists armed to their teeth, who booby-trapped everywhere around them. We lost 23 of our men. And we were very careful to go on a very precise mission, house to house. And we didn't use artillery or airpower, or we could have demolished indiscriminately. We were very careful.

And most of the casualties are terrorists. Some, very few, are civilians which were caught by the terrorists, used as human shields.

I think that the fact-finding team should be a professional one that would understand the battle that took place. Also, you must understand that Jenin refugee camp is pretty much intact. There is a very small area -- only 10 percent of the houses were demolished, as a last resort, after they were called out, the terrorists, and they didn't.

I don't think that any press conferences that are made on location would help anything to solve the situation. I think we need professional teams there to help the humanitarian catastrophe.

And we share the sentiments of the Palestinians there. The responsibility for it lies squarely with the Palestinian leadership and Arafat, who turned this refugee camp into a terror nest, into a extreme terror center. Twenty-three suiciders came from Jenin, and there were many more there when we moved in.

I think it is also for the U.N. to check itself, how did they let this terror apparatus, this terror center to be built in supposedly an innocent refugee camps? The mandate of the U.N. was to help these refugees and not to let them build terror nests right there.

BLITZER: Mr. Ayalon, we only have a few seconds. Is Terje Larsen persona non grata in Israel as far as your government is concerned?

AYALON: No decision has been made. Although it is not secret that the fact he blamed Israel without looking into the fact, without showing sympathy and looking at the context of the masscre of Passover which started the operation. This is very unfortunate.

Also regarding this very operation in Jenin, which was an military operation we believe should be checked by military people and not politicians who may use it to make some political capital or media exposure.

BLITZER: All right, Daniel Ayalon, in Jerusalem, the chief foreign policy adviser to the prime minister, thanks so much for joining us.

Just ahead, Yasser Arafat offers to try five Palestinians Israel accuses of murdering a cabinet minister. Is this an overture to peace? We'll ask the Palestinian legal adviser Michael Tarazi, when Late Edition continues. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition. Joining us now from Jerusalem with the Palestinian viewpoint is the legal adviser to the PLO, Michael Tarazi.

Mr. Tarazi, welcome to Late Edition. Thanks for joining us.

You just heard the representative of the Israeli government reject a Palestinian proposal to try those five suspects in the killing of the Israeli tourism minister. Where does that situation now stand as a result of that rejection? MICHAEL TARAZI, PLO LEGAL ADVISER: Well, I think you have to remember that there already is a governing law in process here with respect to these kinds of issues. And we signed Oslo. It was very clear that anyone who is accused of criminal activity against Israelis would be arrested by the Palestinians. Israel would then present evidence, and a trial would be conducted by the Palestinians. We arrested those people, as Israel requested. They were being held in a jail at the headquarters.

But Israel never presented us with any evidence and that's what we're still waiting for. They seem to be acting as if these people are already guilty, and it certainly isn't our role to hand over innocent Palestinians without any sort of evidence.

BLITZER: So if the Israelis do provide some evidence that they were allegedly involved in the assassination of Mr. Zeevi, would you believe the Palestinian leadership would then hand them over?

TARAZI: No, no. Then we would have a trial pursuant to the agreements that we've signed with Israel. We have a law. We go through and we apply that law.

I also need to point out to you, Wolf, that this doesn't apply just one way. We, on several occasions, have asked the Israelis to apprehend or incarcerate or try Israeli citizens accused of attacking and violently attacking and even killing Palestinian civilians. Not one has ever been apprehended. These are particularly true with respect to settlers, people who live illegally in the occupied Palestinian territories on confiscated Palestinian land, who are usually there, very sort of religious zealots. And they openly and often attack Palestinian civilians, and Israel has never once apprehended any one of those Israelis.

BLITZER: The Israelis, as you just heard Mr. Ayalon say, are not going to leave the surrounding area outside the compound not only until those five suspects in the Zeevi murders are handed over, but also a very long-time friend, close adviser to Yasser Arafat, Fuad Shubeki (ph), is also handed over. He's accused of being the mastermind of that Karine A Iranian arms shipment to the Palestinian Authority.

Could you ever imagine Yasser Arafat handing Fuad Shubeki (ph) over to the Israelis?

TARAZI: Not unless there's a reason that he should, and so far we haven't seen a reason that he should.

As a I said earlier, we have very clear-cut rules. If Israel's asking us to violate the Oslo agreements, it should state so very clearly, and it should also state that we're no longer obligated under the Oslo agreements to carry on our security operations with respect to Israelis.

But they're not asking us to do that. They're simply trying to sidestep Oslo. They're playing Rambo, and they want us to cooperate with that. And that's not the way it's going to be. BLITZER: So that standoff presumably will continue in Ramallah. Yasser Arafat will be holed up inside that little area without being about to move around as used to be the case. That's obviously not something he wants, right?

TARAZI: Well, of course it's not something he wants, but he's not certainly going to sell people short simply for his own personal security and for his luxury. That's not the kind of leader President Arafat is.

BLITZER: What about Bethlehem, the standoff at the Church of the Nativity, where inside, as you know, some 200 Palestinians many of them armed, remain holed up? It doesn't seem -- there doesn't seem to be any resolution of that either.

TARAZI: Well, you're absolutely right, Wolf. It's the same exact situation. We have seen absolutely no evidence that these people are guilty of any criminal activity, let alone terrorism.

There seems to be an attitude by the Israelis, and unfortunately parroted by the Americans, that any Palestinian with a gun must be a terrorist, and therefore they must be handed over. That's not the case.

In the cases of Jenin or even in Bethlehem, people who resisted the invasion of their towns were not necessarily criminals. I mean, wouldn't Americans with guns resist a foreign invading army as they came into their town? That is not a definition of criminality or terrorism.

And so, absent evidence by the Israelis, I don't see any reason or any right -- any reason to hand over those Palestinians or any right by the Israelis to demand that they be handed over. BLITZER: So that standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square in Bethlehem, as far as you can tell, is going to continue for the foreseeable future?

TARAZI: Absolutely, and unfortunately.

BLITZER: All right. Michael Tarazi, stand by.

We have to take a quick break, but we have a lot more to talk about with the PLO legal adviser Michael Tarazi. He'll be taking some of your phone calls as well. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: All parties must say clearly that a murderer is not a martyr. He or she is just a murderer.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush speaking out earlier this week. Welcome back to Late Edition.

We're continuing our conversation with the Palestinian legal adviser Michael Tarazi.

Mr. Tarazi, what do you say about what President Bush said, that all parties must clearly say that murderer is not a martyr; he or she is just a murderer? Are those suicide bombers who went out and killed Israeli civilians, are they murderers?

TARAZI: Absolutely. We have condemned those suicide bombings repeated. And most recently, President Arafat did it in a New York Times op-ed piece published on February 3. And that was also reprinted in Arabic in not one but two Palestinian papers, as well as the Hebrew Press.

But you know, Wolf, we always seem to be focusing on these condemnations. These are not -- condemnations is not what stops these kinds of attacks. We have to be very clear that there is a link between the Israeli lack of security and the Palestinian lack of freedom.

Unless President Bush can start talking as eloquently about Palestinian freedom, Palestinian independence, the rule of law and Israel's need to end its occupation of 35 years of Palestinian territory, then we can make progress. But these sort of one-sided statements do nothing to promote progress, nor do they do very much to prove that the United States can play an even-handed role in the process.

BLITZER: But, Mr. Tarazi, President Bush is the first American president to openly, publicly call for the creation of a Palestinian state, Palestine, that would live alongside Israel. That represents a pretty far-reaching statement, given the history of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

TARAZI: Sure. He called for a Palestinian state. So most Palestinians are saying, so where is it?

And that's the problem. Palestinians are very jaded. They're very skeptical. They've been under brutal, military occupation for 35 years. They've been denied political freedom, civil rights, human rights. Their land was taken away from them. In some cases, they're denied even water. They have no freedom whatsoever.

So to hear President Bush talk about a state is helpful, but it doesn't convince the average Palestinian who's been hearing about statehood now for many, many years. You have to remember, in 1947 the U.N. voted to create a Palestinian state. We've been expecting a Palestinian state for 53 years now, and it hasn't happened.

BLITZER: Well, you know, the argument is that the Palestinians have themselves to blame. They could have had a Palestinian state in '47 or '48 but rejected the Jewish state that was going to be, supposedly, part of that partition plan. And most recently, U.S. officials, Israelis certainly, point out that Arafat had a golden opportunity for a Palestinian state with Prime Minister Barak but rejected Clinton's proposals at Camp David.

TARAZI: Well, this is what we have to keep in mind. What needs to be the governing law here is not Clinton's parameters. It's not Clinton who gets to decide what kind of state we have to have. There is a law here and the fourth Geneva convention was drafted for a purpose. Israel already has borders, and those borders are much larger than what it was ever entitled to under the partition plan.

Israel controls 78 percent of historic Palestine. The Palestinians have recognized Israel's right to exist on that 78 percent in exchange for Palestine's right to exist on the remaining 22 percent. That wasn't Clinton's plan.

Clinton did the Israeli thing. He said, "Great, we'll take the 78 percent, and now let's keep negotiating the other 22 percent. And if you Palestinians don't want to accept it, then you just aren't prepared to compromise." If Clinton really wanted a fair compromise, he would take all of historic Palestine and divide it 50/50, not 78/22.

BLITZER: Well, obviously, the U.S. is not going to -- the Bush administration certainly is not going to do that.

Let me ask you about what happens next. As you know, what Secretary Powell -- what he said on this program today, only about an hour and a half or so ago. What he said, that Yasser Arafat -- it's not enough to simply utter words condemning terrorism, he must back it up with deeds, stop the incitement, take forceful action by his security services to arrest those individuals who are engaged in terrorism.

At this point, can Yasser Arafat do that, given what's happened over these past few weeks? TARAZI: Well, I don't know the status of the security infrastructure. As you know, that Israel claims that it was a war against terrorism. Of course, it really was war against the Palestinian people and Palestinian infrastructure; i.e., they have destroyed the Bureau of Statistics, agriculture ministries and, of course, the security infrastructure as well.

TARAZI: But the real question, Wolf, is not whether or not we're capable of doing it, the question is whether are not that's really going to solve anything. Is the Bush administration continuing down the same tired path they've been going down for the last year and a half, making it sound as if the only problem in the Middle East is violence?

Violence isn't the only problem here in the Middle East, Wolf. It's also the denial of Palestinian freedom. That's also a big problem, and that's been a problem for the last 35 years.

Unless we're going to address both sides of that equation, we're not going to get very far. And Palestinians sort of throw their hands up in the air and say, "Great we can address security concerns, but where does our freedom come into this?"

BLITZER: Michael Tarazi, the PLO legal adviser, joining us from Jerusalem, thanks so much for joining us today. Always good to have you on our program.

When we return, your letters to Late Edition, plus Bruce Morton's essay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE MORTON: If the Palestinians had attack jets and tanks, wouldn't they use them? If the Israelis could only use guerrilla terror tactics, wouldn't they? Well, they did, of course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is there moral equivalency in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A beautiful day here in Washington.

Time now for Bruce Morton's essay on the struggle for balance in the Middle East.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORTON: President Bush says the Palestinian suicide bombers aren't martyrs, just murderers. But the dictionary says a martyr is someone who willingly suffers death for religion or some other cause, and the suicide bombers do that.

So, martyrs and murderers, both terrorists surely. But again, where do you draw the line?

The suicide bombers terrify. But if you're crouched over your kids in a Palestinian refugee camp as Israeli artillery shells start to land, you're probably terrified too. Is there a difference?

The Israelis are an organized army and wear uniforms, but does that really matter? Don't they both deal in terror?

It's an old question. The Bible commands, "Thou shalt not kill," but churches have always made exemptions for what their leaders thought were just wars. But where is justice in the Middle East?

The Israelis have a country and want to keep it. The Palestinians don't have a country and want to get one. It is unfortunately the same country, and splitting it in two won't be easy.

Mr. Bush labels the Palestinians, not the Israelis, terrorists. But aren't there two sides, each seeking a homeland with the weapons they have?

If the Palestinians had attack jets and tanks, wouldn't they use them? If the Israelis could only use guerrilla terror tactics, wouldn't they? Well, they did, of course, in their struggle for independence in the 1940s. Menachem Begin, later a prime minister, was a leader in blowing up a Jerusalem hotel, for instance. The Palestinians are on the president's terror list, along with Iraq, which he clearly wants to attack. Israel isn't. But it's hard to see differences, except that the Israelis are better-armed. Both Israel and the Palestinians are fighting for very high stakes with the weapons they have.

Negotiations? Sharon says he'll pull his tanks out of West Bank cities but plans to maintain security zones in the West Bank.

A deal? That would involve somehow dismantling, getting rid of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Would Sharon's government or any government that follows him agree to that?

And if a deal could somehow be made, would the extreme Arab groups, the bomb-lovers, keep to its terms? And how many foreign troops -- NATO, American, whomever -- would it take to impose a peace? No other region asks so many hard questions.

I'm Bruce Morton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Bruce.

It's time now to say goodbye to our international viewers. Thanks very much for watching.

For our North American viewers, stay tuned for the next hour of Late Edition. The Catholic Church has been mired in scandal. We'll talk to a priest, a nun and a Catholic official about their solutions to keep the Church safe from scandal and from abuse.

Then, Late Edition's Final Round. Our panel weighs in on the day's top stories and answers your questions, as well.

That, plus a check of the hour's headlines, when Late Edition continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. The American Catholic Church in a crisis of faith, amid charges of sexual misconduct by priests. This week the American cardinals will answer a summons from the pope. It's the first time in 12 years that the Vatican has called them to a meeting.

CNN's Rome bureau chief Alessio Vinci has more.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: And joining us now for some perspective to talk about the crisis in the clergy are three members of Catholic Church. In New York, William Donohue, he's president of the Catholic League; in Houston, Texas, Father Steve Rosetti; and here in Washington, Sister Maureen Fiedler.

Thanks to all of you for joining us. Mr. Donohue, let me begin with you and ask you what, if anything, do you expect to emerge from these two days of meetings between the U.S. cardinals and Pope John Paul II?

WILLIAM DONOHUE, PRESIDENT, THE CATHOLIC LEAGUE: Well, first of all, I think that the confusion which exists now, in terms of what to do, will end. They're going to come out of this with a coherent set of guidelines and understandings. Maybe the details will have to be worked out in June, but I think there's going to be a consensus. I think that's what's going to emerge out of this.

Not only will they understand that the holy father is not too happy about this whole situation, for obvious reasons, but they're actually going to do something about it.

I was very impressed the fact that the holy father was talking about the greater need for discipline, because there's been a breakdown in discipline in the Catholic Church which, at least on the macro level, is responsible for this crisis.

BLITZER: Father Rosetti, do you believe anything significant is going emerge from this meeting, in terms of changing the situation as it exists right now, where there's a, as you know, there's a crisis of confidence in the Church?

FATHER STEVE ROSETTI, CATHOLIC CHURCH: Yes, Wolf, there is a crisis of confidence.

I don't think we're going to expect the holy father to come down with the detailed suggestions but rather a direction, saying that this is an important issue and that we need the American bishops to work together to solve it.

So I think what we're going to find is that the issue is heightened in its importance, not only in America but also with the international church and with Rome.

BLITZER: Sister Maureen Fiedler, what do you think? What do you think has to be done or will be done at the Vatican this week?

SISTER MAUREEN FIEDLER, WASHINGTON, D.C: Well, I don't know. I look at this meeting and it's a meeting of men who many of whom themselves have been unfortunately part of the problem.

I think exhortations to more discipline on the part of clergy or simply trying to find solutions, whereby these things are reported to civil authorities, just skim the top of the problem.

There really is a sickness at the heart of the Church, and that sickness is the closed male clerical culture which has tended to protect its own at the expense of the children of the Church. And that has to be addressed.

I think what is needed is not just a meeting of cardinals. I look at this and I say, where are the laity? Where are the victims? Where are the voices of the whole people of God that need to be heard? We need a council of the Church that includes both the laity and the bishops and the clergy to get at this problem root and branch.

BLITZER: All right, Mr. Donohue, Sister Maureen raises some very, very serious issues. What do you say, first of all, about the treatment of women in the church?

DONOHUE: I think it's splendid. I think just because Sister Maureen Fiedler had an ambition all of her life to become a priest doesn't mean anything to me, doesn't mean anything to most Catholics. The fact of the matter is that you're not going to resolve this question by ending celibacy or having women priests. The problem is one of governance. The problem is one of having some common sense and the courage to act on it.

Now, I know there are a lot of people in the Catholic community who are dissidents. Actually there's a small number of them, but you know, they're always unhappy. They've been unhappy with the Catholic Church for years. Sister Maureen Fiedler is a penultimate expression of dissidence in the Catholic Church. They're not going to listen to people on the fringe. They're going to listen to the people in the mainstream (ph).

BLITZER: All right. Let's let her respond.

FIEDLER: Allow me to answer that.

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.

FIEDLER: First of all, Mr. Donohue may be surprised to know I don't want to be a priest myself. I have been working on Church reform for 25 years because I love the Church.

And in fact, every poll that has ever been taken in the last 20 years shows that the vast majority of Catholics want fundamental reform in the Church. The most fundamental that we need is really the democratization of the Church and the incorporation of the laity in decision-making, as well as reform of the ministry.

BLITZER: Well, let me -- let's get the perspective of Father Steve Rosetti. What about this debate about the treatment of women in the Church? Is it time, for example, Father Steve, for women to be allowed to become priests?

ROSETTI: Wolf, I think this issue of child sex and abuse in the Church is very important, but people are using this issue to bring out their own agenda -- for example, celibacy, homosexuality, women's ordination, church's teaching on sexuality. Those are all important issues, but they're really not related to the issue of child sexual abuse.

When we look at the actual issues, I think they're much more clinical in terms of why priests molest minors. And we find out that priests are no more likely to molest minors than anyone else.

So when we bring in peripheral issues to this, we obscure the problem and actually don't get at making society safer for children.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Sister.

FIEDLER: At the psychological level, I agree with him. Celibacy, homosexuality, women's ordination have nothing to do with child sexual abuse. But at the level of power -- and it's the misuse of power, I think, that has been most scandalous to faithful Catholics -- they have plenty to do with this particular crisis. Because if we're going to reform it, we have to change the fundamental power structure of the Church to incorporate women, to incorporate married people, to have a healthier attitude toward human sexuality in general.

BLITZER: Let me bring back Father Steve Rosetti and read to you what Pope John Paul II said yesterday about the whole issue of celibacy in this context: "The value of celibacy as a complete gift of self to the Lord and his church must be carefully safeguarded. Behavior which might give scandal must be carefully avoided. And you yourselves must diligently investigate accusations of any such behavior, taking firm steps to correct it where it is found to exist."

BLITZER: This is the most substantive statement the pope appears to have made about the sexual-abuse scandal ongoing here in the United States, since it erupted weeks and weeks ago.

In your opinion, does his holiness, the pontiff, now get it, what's going on here in the Catholic Church in America?

ROSETTI: Wolf, I think the holy father's always gotten it. He has a great love for children himself, and has always gone around the world being with children.

I think what's emerging these days in the Vatican hierarchy is an awareness of this issue that's surfaced in America is more and more becoming where this is not simply an American issue, this is an international issue. It's not simply American priests and society where child abuse takes place. Child abuse takes place around the entire globe.

So I think not only do we need a national policy in the United States, we need one for the worldwide Church. And I think the Vatican's starting to become aware of that this is indeed an international policy.

BLITZER: Sister Maureen wants to weigh in. Go ahead.

FIEDLER: Yes. If the pope really gets it -- and I hope he does -- then he needs to call for the resignations of Cardinal Law and Cardinal Egan and the other hierarchy that have covered these scandals up.

I think it's strong action that will actually begin the change and begin to signal the kind of change that the Church needs.

BLITZER: Mr. Donohue, earlier today, Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston did speak out on this very substantive issue for the first time publicly since his name surfaced, obviously weeks ago, amid calls for his resignation, supposedly because he looked the other way in the face of accusations against various priests. Listen to what the cardinal had to say in church earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARDINAL BERNARD LAW, ARCHBISHOP OF BOSTON: Despite the anger and broken trust that many feel toward me, and despite perceptions that next week is simply a gathering of aged, conservative cardinals and Vatican officials, please note that as long as I am in a position to do so, I will work tirelessly to address this crisis and to underscore its severity. This is a wakeup call for the Church.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What does that mean to you, Mr. Donohue? Does it suggest to you that Cardinal Law now should not resign?

DONOHUE: I don't know whether he's going to resign or not, but, I mean, I've heard all ideas floated, such as they may announce a co- adjudicator (ph), someone who would work with him for a time being and then replace him. I think that those are serious issues that have to be dealt with.

Obviously, he's gotten the message. The question is this, though. Whether Cardinal Law resigns or not, we're still stuck with the problem. And Father Rosetti, I think, has explained it very, very well, that you have to look at the problem in the Church, in the way it's been governed, but also look at it contextually, look at the sociocultural currents that have been floating in our society now for a couple of decades.

If we are serious about this problem, and we're not going to deal with it just from the Catholic Church, we have to look at the sexual engineering of American society and the consequences that have taken place over the last several decades.

BLITZER: All right. Everyone, stand by. We have a lot more to talk about, but we have to take a quick break.

More with William Donohue, Father Rosetti, Sister Maureen Fiedler, your phone calls as well, when Late Edition returns. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition, and we're continuing our conversation about the crisis in the Catholic Church with William Donahue, he's president of the Catholic League; Father Steve Rosetti; and Sister Maureen Fiedler.

We have a caller from Florida. Go ahead with your question, please.

CALLER: Yes. My question is to anyone who cares to answer it. Why haven't the legal authorities gotten involved with this thing? It looks to me like, you know, you have an accessory after the fact here.

BLITZER: What about that, Father Rosetti?

ROSETTI: Well, I think it's not as simple as people might think. The Church actually has been following the reporting laws. That's one of the guidelines set forth in 1992 by the Bishop's Conference.

But the problem is that the laws are very limited. You're required to report child sexual abuse when the victims are still minors, and the Church has been doing that by and large with some unfortunate exceptions. However, most of the time, the victims are not minors, and so what happens is, when they come as people who are adults, the laws don't apply.

So there is a question that bishops have to answer in their June meeting is, what are we going to do with victims who come forward who are no longer minors? How can we report them without violating the victim's confidentiality?

BLITZER: OK, let's take another caller from Georgia. Go ahead Georgia.

CALLER: Thank you very much, Wolf. Great show.

My question to the panel: With the pope's fragile health, doesn't something drastic have to be done to restore confidence in the people across the country and the Catholic Church, with the polls showing that there's a lot of discomfort and loss of confidence?

BLITZER: What about that, Mr. Donohue?

DONOHUE: Well, there's certainly no loss in confidence in the pope. He may not look all that good on television, but certainly his mental acuity is clearly there, and that's what matters. This man has tremendous energy. The fact that externally he gives off an impression of looking sickly, doesn't mean that he is.

And I think that -- no, the problem is right here in this country. If the bishops had exercised more common sense and courage in how to handle this and followed what the holy father has been saying for a long time, we probably wouldn't have had this problem.

FIEDLER: The crisis is international, not just in the United States. I work with the International We Are Church Movement. It is all over Europe. Cases are being uncovered in Mexico. There has been similar cases in Africa, Latin America. This is a worldwide crisis of the Church universal, and that's why the movement I'm a part of is calling for a new council of the Church to deal with the root problems here.

BLITZER: Mr. Donohue, I want to read a poll that the Wall Street Journal, NBC News had. It was just released. How frequently does sexual abuse of children by priests in the Catholic Church occur? Look at these amazing numbers. Very frequently, 24 percent. Somewhat frequently, 40 percent. Not very frequently, 27 percent. Does not occur, only 1 percent.

But look at this, a vast majority of Americans think either very frequently or somewhat frequently children are abused by priests.

ROSETTI: If I could address that question, I'd appreciate it.

BLITZER: I would like for you to address it, Father Rosetti, but let me ask Mr. Donohue to address it first.

DONOHUE: Yes, it just goes to show -- and I'm not blaming the media here because I think they have a responsibility and they've done a pretty good job overall on this. But let's face it, for the last month we've been preoccupied with this question. So, certainly, Catholics, who know more about the real numbers than anybody else do, would come to this conclusion.

The best evidence shows it's around 2 percent, all right, the work of Phillip Jenkins of Penn State. It's 2 percent in the clergy in other religions too. It's 8 percent amongst the adult population. It just goes to show you, though, when all of a sudden the microscope has been on the Catholic Church, people think "My God, every other priest is involved with this." Ninety-nine percent of the priests are good men, and I want to make sure we get that point across. And guys like Father Rosetti should be made a bishop after listening to him.

BLITZER: What about that, Father Rosetti?

ROSETTI: Well, I certainly agree that the percentage of priests who sexually molest minors appears to be about 1.6 to 2 percent, which is -- by the way, one case is one too many, and they are completely inexcusable. But the American public is being given the impression that somehow this is a problem unique to the Catholic Church and unique to priesthood, and it's not. This is a crisis not just in the Catholic Church, but in our entire society. If you think, about one out of every three or four women are sexual abused in our country before the age of 18, and half as many men, this is an epidemic throughout our country, not just in the Church.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Sister Maureen.

FIEDLER: Yes, well, I agree with that. And there certainly was the scandal as well that was uncovered by the National Catholic Reporter about a year ago, the sexual abuse of nuns by priests in 27 different countries in the world. So there are many kinds of abuses. But I think it's really impossible to know with polling data the actual extent of the sexual abuse.

BLITZER: Well, that's just the perception, the perception of...

FIEDLER: Right. Oh no, I realize the poll is a perception, and it's certainly much inflated of what the reality actually is.

BLITZER: The media coverage probably has generated some of those answers.

FIEDLER: Oh, sure.

BLITZER: Let me go back to you on this point, Mr. Donohue. Another question in that NBC News-Wall Street Journal Poll. Should priests be allowed to get married? Look at this. 79 percent of the American public say yes; 12 percent oppose.

Is the Catholic Church out of step with what public opinion would want them to do?

DONOHUE: I hope so. If you want to Protestantize the Catholic Church, you're going to get Protestant-type results. Let me be very clear about this. The mainline Protestant denominations -- Episcopalian, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Lutherans -- they have been losing numbers, huge numbers over the last 30 years.

So if you really want to hurt the Catholic Church, all you have to do is get rid of celibacy, invite the women in, and you'll get Protestant-type results. That would make a lot of sense.

Also, there's a major difference between a preference and a demand. You ask the average American, do you think priests should marry? "Oh sure, let them marry." Is it really driving them? Is this on their plate? I mean, very few people are agitated about this the way Sister Maureen Fiedler is. So let's make a big distinction between a preference and a demand. There's no demand.

BLITZER: Let's let Sister Maureen respond. Go ahead, Sister.

FIEDLER: There's a very strong movement worldwide for a married clergy. There's a very strong movement for the ordination of women and for the democratization of the Church. And all of these things can only help the situation as it exists. The poll numbers that you show actually show an increase over the last ones I've seen in those favoring a married clergy in the Church.

Now, I want say again, those are not going to solve the problem of pedophilia in the Church, because celibacy is not psychologically rooted in pedophilia. Most pedophiles in our society are, in fact, married men.

The reason for ending mandatory celibacy is for justice for people who are married. And the reason to ordain women is justice for women.

BLITZER: Father Rosetti, button this all up for us and give us your assessment, what must be done now to restore confidence in the leadership of the Catholic Church?

ROSETTI: Wolf, I think the June meeting will be very important for the American bishops. They're going to need to come out with a strong statement and some clear, extended guidelines on how to deal with this issue. The American bishops, as a body of bishops, need to come together and say, "OK, we endorse these policies, and we're going to follow them."

BLITZER: OK Father Steve Rosetti, Sister Maureen Fielder, and Mr. Donohue, thanks to all three of you for joining us. Appreciate it very much.

ROSETTI: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be covering extensively this week, the situation -- the meetings in the Vatican. Stay with CNN for the latest on that.

And coming up next, the Final Round. We'll hear what our very opinionated panel has to say about the day's big stories. Late Edition's Final Round, right after a news alert.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome to Late Edition's Final Round. Joining me, Julianne Malveaux, the syndicated columnist; Peter Beinart of the New Republic; Rich Lowry of the National Review; and Kim Alfano, the Republican media consultant, CEO of Alfano Communications.

Kim, welcome to our Final Round.

ALFANO: Thanks.

BLITZER: Secretary of State Colin Powell running the talk show marathon today, talking up his Mideast peace mission. The operative phrase, "opportunities present themselves." And he downplayed any possible disappointment and international perception that the Israelis were too slow to bow to U.S. demands to pull back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL: We always recognized that you can't stop an operation like that immediately, there would be some time lag. We would have preferred a much shorter time lag. But we have been clocking that in the course of the week, and the withdrawal is taking place in accordance with the timeline that Prime Minister Sharon and I discussed last weekend.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Rich, is there any evidence the Israelis or the Palestinians actually listened to anything that the secretary of state said?

LOWRY: Well, I think they were listening in the sense that they weren't putting their hands over their ears when he was saying things.

(LAUGHTER)

But beyond that, I don't think there was much there. This was a fool's mission to begin with, so the secretary of state looked a little foolish. The trip began with a snub, when the king of Morocco dissed him in public. It ended with a snub, when Mubarak refused to meet with him.

Meanwhile, throughout this period, the administration was making a demand on Israel that there was never any chance that Israel was going to comply with. So the administration, in the last three weeks, has lost major prestige and credibility in the Middle East. And that's why this policy, if you can call it that, which is a charitable word to call it, has been a disaster.

BLITZER: You know, he's a good conservative. He's criticizing a conservative administration. You're a good liberal. Are you going to defend this administration?

MALVEAUX: No, you can't defend this administration at all. In fact, what I would criticize, very different from Rich, is the fact that the United States is funding this nonsense. There are so many U.S. dollars in the funding of Israeli weapons that the fact that they would ignore us is reprehensible.

When President Bush -- and you know I'm not his next best friend -- but when President Bush says, "Withdraw now," and they say, "We're not going to do it," we have other weapons at our disposal. We don't have to send our secretary of state like a Mary Kay salesperson dialing for dollars. All we need to be doing is saying, "OK, we're going to pull some money out of here." We're funding this.

BLITZER: Is it time for the Bush administration, as Julianne suggests, to get tough with the Israelis?

ALFANO: Well, I think that, you know, the bottom line is, it's a delicate balance. You have to balance a zero tolerance for terrorism with an intellectual attempt at trying to find a way to find peace in a 100-year-old conflict.

I mean, I don't think anybody wants George Bush to be a meathead and just say, "OK, we're going to go in guns ablazing," to a problem that's been gone over...

MALVEAUX: It's not 100 years old.

ALFANO: ... and over and over again.

And I think it's very important that we -- at least Colin Powell tried. I think that we went in there and we discussed what could possibly be done. None of us here knows exactly what went on in those meetings, and none of us knows exactly what's going to come out of it. But I think it was an intellectual attempt to try to find some...

BLITZER: He made an effort. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, insists, however, that the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians is actually worse after the Powell mission than before.

BEINART: Yes, although if Powell hadn't gone and the U.S. hadn't put the pressure, we hadn't phoned Arafat, Arafat probably would be out of West Bank by now. And then I think we would be in a worse situation. Rich probably disagrees, but think we'd be in a much worse situation.

So at least you have give him the credit for that. As you know, in the Middle East, things can always get worse. And I think we're stabilizing at a very, very, very bad place, but it could have gotten worse if the administration had done nothing at all.

MALVEAUX: Stabilizing downward, though, not upward.

BLITZER: All right, let's move on because -- Peter's absolutely right, and I was just there this past week. As bad as it is, there's a potential there for a lot worse.

Our quote of week, President Bush welcoming home the secretary of state and saying that he has a vision of what the Middle East should be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The secretary's trip made it clear that our nation thinks beyond the short term, that we're serious when we talk about two states living side by side, and that we are laying the foundations for peace, the structures necessary to get to peace. Progress is being made toward our vision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Peter, what is that vision?

BEINART: Well, in some ways, the vision is not complicated. It's the same vision that Barak offered at Camp David and Taba. It's a Palestinian state on almost all of the West Bank, on all of Gaza, a symbolic agreement on Jerusalem, and the return of some Palestinisn refugees and a financial payment to most of them.

The real problem is, you have -- the United States' influence is limited. Historically, you find that deals are really only taught (ph) when the leaders of both sides themselves -- and you have extremely poor leadership on both sides.

I wish the right would admit how terrible a leader Ariel Sharon is. Because it's not just that Yasser Arafat has made a strategic choice for terrorism. It's that you have in Israel a prime minister who has always, always opposed a Palestinian state, even though most smart Israelis realize it's the only way.

BLITZER: All right, Rich?

LOWRY: Peter, what happened, though -- you may be right about Sharon ultimately. He rejected Oslo from the beginning. But what happened...

BEINART: And he has people in his government....

LOWRY: ... was Arafat -- what happened...

BEINART: ...who support transfer.

LOWRY: What happened was Arafat retroactively vindicated his view of Oslo. The Oslo process is based on the idea you bring Arafat back because he will crack down on the militants and do the dirty work for you. He did not do that. Instead, he joined the militants.

And this is where Sharon is right. You know, wars oftentimes create the predicate for peace. There wouldn't have been peace with Egypt if there hadn't been the '76 defeat of Egypt and the '73 defeat of Egypt. This massive defeat of the Palestinians that happened over the last two weeks may eventually, eventually, over the long term, create the conditions where they can both.

BEINART: Only if Israel...

MALVEAUX: Rich, the reason why you're wrong about this...

BEINART: ...is willing to re-occupy the West Bank for a generation, in, which it's not willing to do.

And the notion that Israel never violated Oslo is just nonsense. Everyone knows that there were settlements continuing throughout Oslo. The entire Netanyahu prime ministership was one violation of Oslo after another. It was not only Arafat.

LOWRY: Arafat was never serious about...

MALVEAUX: But you know what? The bottom line -- if I could just get in here, if you don't mind. I mean, I think that you characterize this wrong, talk about war vindicates peace. The fact is that you create people with very long memories, and these people with long memories are not going to give it up.

You have not given Palestinians -- not you, personally, but we have not given Palestinians anywhere to go. There's no wiggle room for them. The only wiggle room, which nobody co-signs, but the only wiggle room is these suicide bombs, that you now want to escalate by calling homicide bombings.

LOWRY: You're justify terrorism, right there.

MALVEAUX: No...

LOWRY: You're making excuses...

MALVEAUX: You are making excuses for terrorists, because Sharon is...

LOWRY: No, I'm making...

MALVEAUX: ... Sharon is as much a terrorist as Arafat.

LOWRY: I'm making excuses for arresting and killing terrorists.

MALVEAUX: No, Sharon is as much of a terrorist as Arafat is. And you've got to be clear about that. You cannot take -- you cannot take tanks and run through people's communities and then say "Have a nice day." It doesn't work that way.

BLITZER: Kim?

ALFANO: And here it is. This is microcosm of what's going on. How can you, in the same breath, answer the question we just answered and say what George Bush tried to do with Colin Powell going over there was the wrong thing to do, and then in the same breath say, you're never going to solve this problem, what's -- you know, the fight is so deep and the chasm is so deep that it can't be bridged and that everybody should continue fighting. I mean, you got to have it one way or the other.

BLITZER: All right.

ALFANO: What's the bottom line? What shall we do?

BLITZER: Let's move on.

Like Julianne Malveaux, the former president Jimmy Carter wants the United States to get tougher with Israel. Carter wrote a column in today's New York Times about what he calls persuasion. How the U.S. can use guns and money. "There's a legal requirement," says the former president, "that American weapons be used only for Israel's legitimate self-defense."

Plus, Washington pumps in a $10 million a day budget surplus to the Israeli government. Quote, "Normal diplomatic efforts have failed. It is time for the United States, as the sole recognized intermediary, to consider a more forceful action for peace. The rest of the world will welcome this leadership."

Rich, is Jimmy Carter right?

(LAUGHTER)

LOWRY: Do you think I'm ever going to say Jimmy Carter is right?

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: You're going to ask him that?

LOWRY: No, he's wrong. I mean, his idea is that the Israelis are the problem here.

But I will say he has a point. And you know, the problem with the Clinton administration is Clinton didn't know the meaning of the word "is." Apparently Bush doesn't know the word -- know the meaning of the word "must." He's saying, "The Israelis must do this. The Palestinians must do that. The Arab states must do this," without any "or else" behind it. And if Bush were serious about Israelis must withdrawal right now, he should adopt Carter's policy.

ALFANO: But the question is -- you're right, it's about the definition of words. And the bottom line is, what is defense? What is defending themselves? They had people walking into markets blowing themselves up, killing women and children. They're defending themselves. They're creating a security.

MALVEAUX: No Palestinian women and children are killed, Kim? Come on.

ALFANO: Yes, absolutely, they were.

MALVEAUX: Let me just say...

ALFANO: But they were killed when they were in the midst of...

MALVEAUX: But you know what? Here's the deal here, here's the deal, here's the bottom line.

ALFANO: I guess I won't finish.

MALVEAUX: If the United States took their money out of this, the playing field would be very, very different. The Israelis have an advantage because of U.S. money. They are kemping (ph) that advantage. They're shoveling it down Palestinian throats.

ALFANO: No, absolutely not, absolutely not.

MALVEAUX: It's completely unreasonable. And the fact is that if that money were not there, we'd have a very different...

BLITZER: All right, Peter will have the last word in this round. BEINART: Here's where I divert from you, Julianne. Israel has a fundamental commitment to the state of Israel, which is still under threat from its Arab neighbors.

We only have leverage with Israel because we do -- we do give them unwavering financial support. That has to continue. We do need to talk tough to Sharon. But we cannot put that credibility fundamentally at risk.

BLITZER: The U.S. commitment to Israel.

BEINART: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, stand by. We're going to take a quick break.

Your phone calls and e-mail for our Final Round panel when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our Final Round.

Has the Middle East crisis overwhelmed President Bush's war on terrorism? Today the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, once again tweaked the Bush administration for failing to find the terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DASCHLE: I think the president was right a long time ago, when he said one of the most important things we can do is to find bin Laden. We haven't found him yet. In fact, we've only found two of the top 12 Al Qaeda leaders today. So we have a lot of work to do. I don't think we can view ourself as safe or secure until that job has been done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Julianne, the last time Daschle spoke out a few weeks ago about this, he got himself into some political turmoil, hot water, for criticizing the administration in the midst of a war. Is he doing it again?

MALVEAUX: I don't think so. He's holding the administration accountable. The fact is that we are in the middle of a war, the president's entitled to support, but he's also entitled to critical questions, and that's what Tom Daschle is doing. I'd be disappointed if he weren't raising questions. I think he's right on time.

BLITZER: Rich?

LOWRY: I basically agree with that. You characterized his remark as "tweaking" the administration. I think that's about right.

And this is the interesting thing. Over the last week or so, you've seen Democrats criticizing the Bush administration from the right, on the war. Lieberman and others saying they haven't been supportive enough of Israel, and Daschle and others saying they didn't do enough to get bin Laden.

And I think that's where the Democrats would want to be, ideally. Criticizing him from the right if the war doesn't go well, and hitting him on the left on the traditional Democratic issues like prescription drugs and Medicare and whatnot.

ALFANO: I have a news flash.

BLITZER: Yes.

ALFANO: Tom Daschle and Joe Lieberman, they're running for president.

(LAUGHTER)

And it's obvious that, no matter what went on this week, they were going to tweak Bush. We had ANWR, we had the tax vote, we had this going on. I mean, obviously the man -- we had Florida last week. They're running for president. They're not going to accept anything that's going on as going well.

MALVEAUX: Especially...

ALFANO: And frankly, that's what they need to do to run for president.

The downside is, this is a very popular president for them, and he is very successful in his -- no matter whether his approval ratings are slipping or not, they're still in the high 60s. And he's doing a great job.

BEINART: I think Rich is absolutely right. The problem is, the Democratic criticism is very superficial, and the Democrats are also divided.

I mean, they need to go much further than what Daschle said. They need to say that Bush made a critical mistake by not putting U.S. troops on the ground in eastern Afghanistan to go after bin Laden, and relying on the Pakistanis and Afghan groups. And he needs to say that they're making a continuing mistake by not putting U.S. troops on the ground as part of a larger peacekeeping mission. If they did that, then I think we'd have an interesting debate.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on and talk about the Catholic Church. The Catholic cardinals go to Rome this week from the United States to meet with top Vatican officials over the crisis in the American Church over sexual abuse by priests.

A lightning rod for criticism of how the Church responded to the problem has been the Boston cardinal Bernard Law. Spoke to his flock before Sunday Mass today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARDINAL BERNARD LAW, ARCHBISHOP OF BOSTON: Despite the anger and broken trust that many feel toward me, and despite perceptions that next week is simply a gathering of aged, conservative cardinals and Vatican officials, please know that, as long as I am in a position to do so, I will work tirelessly to address this crisis and to underscore its severity. This is a wakeup call for the Church.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Kim, will the Church wake up?

ALFANO: Well, I mean, it's a very complicated issue. The bottom line of this whole thing is that it's a two-tiered issue. One is a legal question. Is the Church going to say that those who have committed acts against children, like anyone else in our society, have to be face the law, face the music and have an investigation on that? But on the flip side, they're looking at the whole sort of over- arching principles of the Church.

I think one has to be taken up before you can answer the second one. Until they know what really happened and have investigated, you can't really kick people out. But I think ultimately if they find out something has been covered up, Law should go and should be prosecuted.

BLITZER: Is anything going to happen at the Vatican this week when the American cardinals meet with the pope?

MALVEAUX: I don't think so. The pope has been tepid on this. I think the issue and the tragedy is the broken faith. You have people -- I grew up Catholic, my mom still attends the Catholic Church. People are withdrawing support. People are very heart-broken about this. And you have thousands of young men who have been affected by it, and I don't think it's ever going to be made right.

BLITZER: Thousands of young men?

LOWRY: Well, we don't know the numbers. It's certainly true Cardinal Law betrayed the faithful and he should go one way or the other. The Vatican doesn't, I think, issue pink slips and ask you to clear out your desk tomorrow. He'll be slowly eased out, if anything. I think that should happen. But also the Church has to deal with the touchy issue, a very nettlesome one, and that is the prevalence of gays in the priesthood. Because a lot of these cases don't involve the molestation of little boys, pedophilia. Involves having sex with teenage boys, which is more sort of homosexual behavior.

MALVEAUX: They're still minors, and it's still an issue.

LOWRY: No, no, I'm not justifying it. It's just not something heterosexual men do.

BLITZER: This is obviously an issue for the Church to discuss this week, but do you think they'll get into that kind of specific issue, gays in the Church, when the pope meets with the American cardinals? BEINART: In a two-day meeting, it seems unlikely. It seems like you only real have a two of the cardinals of the premier leadership who really want to push this into a doctrinal decision about potential marriage, about celibacy, about gays. That's Mahoney in Los Angeles and McCarrick here in Washington.

Unfortunately, it seems like most of the other cardinals are very staunch supporters of the pope, who are really not willing to entertain a broader debate, even though it seems like that's what the Church needs.

BLITZER: And there are 13 U.S. cardinals; 12 of them will be going to the Vatican.

We have a caller from New York. Go ahead, New York.

CALLER: Hi, Wolf. My question is, why doesn't the holy father get involved in the Middle East, namely Bethlehem with the six nuns and the priests that were killed by the Israelis?

BLITZER: Well, that's a fair question. Should the pope, even at his age, in the 80's, very sick, he's got a lot going on, do you think he should get involved and try to ease the situation in Bethlehem, where the standoff at the Church of the Nativity continues?

LOWRY: Well, I would hope not, because I think the Vatican's policy in the Middle East has traditionally been disastrously pro- Arab.

And I think Israel has a point. There are thugs and terrorists and murderers holed up in that church, and they shouldn't just let them walk out.

MALVEAUX: I think there are thugs on both sides, and I think that -- it's good to have someone in this mission that's pro-Arab. Certainly no one else in the United States is. The Arabs have had everything weighed against them.

I'm not sure that the pope should be involved, but I certainly do think that there is nothing wrong with some pro-Arab voices right now.

MALVEAUX: We need to see both sides of this. And I think the United States...

ALFANO: But the difference is...

MALVEAUX: ... has notoriously been unable to do that.

LOWRY: Do you think that Rumsfeld is a terrorist because the U.S. killed innocent people in Afghanistan?

MALVEAUX: I don't think Don Rumsfeld is a terrorist, but I think that...

LOWRY: Why not?

MALVEAUX: ... but Ariel Sharon is.

LOWRY: If Ariel Sharon is a terrorist, so is Don Rumsfeld.

MALVEAUX: Well, then if you want to make that leap, you make it.

LOWRY: What's your definition of terrorism?

MALVEAUX: If you want to make that leap, you make it.

LOWRY: You are the one making the leap.

MALVEAUX: You're the one who...

LOWRY: You're the one making the leap.

MALVEAUX: You're not going to put words in my mouth, Rich. You're not going to that today.

LOWRY: You have to make a distinction between deliberately killing civilians and...

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: Well, it is deliberate when you take a tank and run it through somebody's neighborhood.

LOWRY: ... collateral damage.

MALVEAUX: When you take a run a tank through somebody's neighborhood and you know we're going to show... ALFANO: Not if somebody is shooting at you. Not if somebody is shooting at you and setting booby traps and blowing you up.

BLITZER: We'll get into the definition of terrorism on another occasion. We have to take another quick break.

Our lightning round just ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Time now for our lightning round. Tanned, rested and raring to go, Bill Clinton offered his services as a Mideast peace negotiator. Jimmy Carter also made his pitch in today's New York Times.

Should ex-presidents only be seen on the golf course and not heard at all?

BEINART: I would send Bill Clinton or offer him the chance to go to the Congo.

(LAUGHTER)

That seems to me a much less -- and that's not because I hate him. It's because it's actually -- the human consequences of that tragedy are actually greater than in the Middle East. It gets no attention. It's actually somewhere we need a high-profile envoy. In the Middle East, Clinton would do no good.

BLITZER: Kim?

ALFANO: I would say that, at this point, it's always good to have information from people who've been there before. But at the bottom -- at the end of the day, right now we've got Colin Powell and George Tenet and Secretary Rumsfeld, and that's a pretty good A-Team, so let's start there.

BLITZER: Don't forget Dick Cheney.

ALFANO: Dick Cheney.

MALVEAUX: Forget Dick Cheney.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Bill Clinton, does he have a role to play in trying to promote peace in the Middle East?

MALVEAUX: Jimmy Carter's done it well in Haiti and other places. I say don't count Bill Clinton out.

LOWRY: Well, as far as Jimmy Carter goes, I mean, he's quite an expert at cracking down on U.S. allies and appeasing thugs and dictators. So if the administration wants to go that route, it's comforting to know that he's on call.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: As soon as you start talking about this, you know the Reverend Jesse Jackson can't be far behind.

MALVEAUX: Well, you know what? He has also been effective. I mean, it's easy to poke fun at the Reverend Jackson, but the fact is that Reverend Jackson has been effective in certain situations, and let's be very clear about that. Not in all, but in certain situations.

BLITZER: Is there a chance at all that this president could call the Reverend Jackson and say...

(LAUGHTER)

... we want you to go to Ramallah and Bethlehem and work those problems out?

ALFANO: I'll say it right now: No.

(CROSSTALK)

BEINART: Only if Jackson assured him he wasn't coming back to the U.S.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Are Democrats so desperate they really think Senator John McCain would run for president as a Democrat?

ALFANO: I think that says an awful lot about what went on in Florida last week and how disappointed everybody was in their stars as they came up and sort of paraded themselves out on one of the most boring set of speeches that I think I've ever watched.

BLITZER: But you can't imagine McCain leaving the Republican Party, can you?

ALFANO: You know, he votes like a Democrat sometimes. I can't imagine what John McCain will do. I don't pretend to be in his mind.

MALVEAUX: You know, this is the most partisan -- I expected Kim to give us partisan spin, and congratulations, Kim. You have not at all disappointed me.

ALFANO: I know. I'm good at this.

MALVEAUX: Of course we don't think that McCain is going to leave the Democrats...

BLITZER: Leave the Republicans.

MALVEAUX: ... but McCain tweaks Bush. As long as he tweaks Bush, we love it. And the fact is that he is tweaking Bush. He is making a case that everybody is not mired in the far right and everybody is not captive. I think McCain is interesting, but I think at the end of the day, he's not a lot different than Bush.

BLITZER: Is that at all serious, that McCain could possibly leave the Republican Party?

LOWRY: Well, it makes some sense on paper. And a piece Peter ran in his magazine makes a very clever case for it. The problem, I think, is McCain is not just a party guy, and the president is not just the president, he's a leader of a political party. In the same way that McCain makes a rotten partisan Republican, he wouldn't be a good partisan Democrat either. So I think he'd be a non-starter for the party regulars. BLITZER: All right.

BEINART: That's a good point. But as Jonathan Chake (ph) pointed out in our magazine, the Democrats desperately need someone with credibility and who's hawkish and is tough on foreign policy and on military policy, and John McCain could do that.

BLITZER: All right. A new terror threat this week against banks in the Northeast of the United States. How much can you trust information coming from a busted Al Qaeda leader like Abu Zubaydah who's now under U.S. control?

MALVEAUX: I don't think you can trust it at all. I think that we're in a state of high alert. We've always been in a state of high alert. And I think that they're tweaking us again, to use the word "tweak" from the last segment.

BLITZER: Just making it up, Abu Zubaydah?

LOWRY: Well, Wolf, the problem is oftentimes criminals are the only ones who have advance knowledge of crimes. So I'm sure he has some credible and useful information. I'm just not sure whether this was a legitimate tip.

BLITZER: You heard Senator Graham, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, on this program earlier say it sort of corroborated other information the U.S. intelligence community was getting, what Abu Zubaydah apparently said.

BEINART: Yes. But something else he said. You know, in some ways there's more evidence on the ground that one of the real targets are Jewish targets outside of Israel. I mean, there's been this bombing in the synagogue in Tunisia. I think that's the really frightening potential phenomenon we're seeing.

BLITZER: Abu Zubaydah, you think they can trust this information?

ALFANO: Well, I think that, corroborated with everything else that they know, I don't think it hurts to tell us if they think that there's a elevated threat.

BLITZER: All right. President Bush, meanwhile, hosts the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah at the Texas ranch this coming week, and the international policy will get served up a little bit with mesquite- grilled steaks. (LAUGHTER)

What's going to happen when the president meets with the crown prince who, of course, is the real power in Saudi Arabia?

LOWRY: I think we can be very safe in predicting that Abdullah will not come away with a presidential nickname, at least not one that can be repeated on television.

(LAUGHTER) This will probably be a contentious meeting. It should be a contentious meeting. Saudi Arabia's more a part of the problem in the Middle East than the solution.

BEINART: I agree with a lot of what Rich said. I think the Saudis will probably come and say, "Look, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is undermining our authority." And I think what Bush should respond to say is, "No, what's undermining your authority is the fact that you're a dictatorial, corrupt regime that's hated by your people. That is not the problem of Ariel Sharon, no matter how many problems he has."

BLITZER: Do you think they'll be some good chemistry there between the crown prince and the president?

ALFANO: Whether the chemistry's good or not, I think this gives George Bush the opportunity to say, "You need to define terrorism as terrorism. You need to put your money where your mouth is and stand behind us when we say to Yasser Arafat that he needs to put, you know, his money where his mouth is." And I think it's just a nice opportunity for him to start to clarify and draw another line in the sand.

BLITZER: Julianne, you have the last word of the Final Round.

MALVEAUX: I think that Mr. Bush will draw a line in the sand. I think he has to here, and I think the stakes are very high.

ALFANO: We agreed.

MALVEAUX: Yes, we did agree, Kim, I don't believe it.

BLITZER: The mesquite steaks?

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: Not those steaks. I think the stakes in the Middle East are the terrorism issue.

But I do think that the president has an opportunity to stake out some ground.

BLITZER: We've got to thank our Late Edition Final Round. Thanks to all of you.

Kim...

ALFANO: Thanks. It was fun.

BLITZER: ... I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you.

MALVEAUX: (OFF-MIKE)

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Julianne.

And that's your Late Edition for Sunday, April 21. Tune in again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

Remember, please join me Monday through Friday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, for Wolf Blitzer Reports.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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