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Interview with Senator Chuck Hagel

Aired October 3, 2002 - 12:20   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush prioritizes while the U.N. Security Council delves into the details of weapons inspections. Standing by with the hour's top development CNN's Richard Roth. He's at U.N. headquarters in New York, and Jane Arraf, she's in Baghdad.
Richard, let's begin with you. What exactly is the state of play in the Security Council and this visit by Hans Blix to the Council today?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Well, the visit by Hans Blix well under way. He's been inside the closed-door Security Council for more than an hour and a half. He's back fresh from two days of talking with Iraqi officials in Vienna.

Now, council diplomats telling us Mr. Blix did make progress in Vienna. But both the United States and United Kingdom pointing out inside the Council that there needs to be more clarity, though, on the arrangements for future inspections, and that this is best done with a new Security Council Resolution. This, of course, is opposed by France, Russia and China. In the meeting, France's representative did say that, yes, there may be some open questions on where the inspectors still can go totally in the country but that they should get back in there and begin the inspections.

Russia did not at this point say that a new resolution was needed. That did not come up, at least at this point.

So the divisions that you're seeing, Wolf, in the last few days and weeks are now playing out in the Security Council, and this can get very confusing for the weapons inspectors who are set to return in force on October 14th.

BLITZER: Richard, stand by the Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke out earlier today within the past hour or so.

I want you to listen to what he said.


COLIN POWELL, SECY. OF STATE: I'm optimistic that we will find a way forward in the Security Council. We must find a way forward if the Security Council will retain its relevance, but there can be no doubt about the determination of the United States, and I believe of all nations in the world, to include Russia, to disarm Iraq. We can no longer turn away from this danger. We have to disarm Iraq, and the president is quite willing to do whatever is necessary to bring that about. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The focus, Richard, as you can hear, disarming Iraq. You don't hear so much from the secretary of state right now on regime change. It's a subtle, but perhaps not so subtle difference.

ROTH: Yes, it may be more of a conciliatory gesture toward the other permanent members of the Security Council. I think we heard that from President Bush yesterday. Today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan again told me the focus is disarmament. You don't see the words "regime change" in the new proposed U.S. resolution. It's very tough, though, and it calls for unconditional, unrestricted access, as Blix will be reminding the Security Council members, those eight sprawling presidential sites, more than a thousand buildings, are subject to special conditions, which could slow down any surprise inspections.

BLITZER: And Hans Blix coming to Washington tomorrow. We'll be covering his visit with the Bush administration officials as well. Richard Roth. Richard,thanks for joining us to the United Nations.

Let's turn to Capitol Hill now. The Senate is preparing to debate U.S.-Iraq policy and the president's power to take military action against Iraq. Votes in the House and Senate are expected next week.

By a wide margin, the House is expected to grant the president the authority he wants to use military force. House speaker Dennis Hastert says it will be one of the most -- quote -- "somber and important" debates of the decade. That debate is scheduled to begin Tuesday in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Senate is still struggling over exactly what language to use in its resolution. The Senate is trying to come one a homeland security bill with other issues as well.

Let's bring in a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Chuck Hagel. He's a Nebraska Republican.

So far, Senator Hagel, you're giving heartburn to some of your Republican colleagues in the White House because you haven't jumped aboard the bandwagon. Why?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Well, Wolf, I think just as secretary Powell laid it out and the reports that came before me stated, the quoting of the speaker, this is a serious matter. We need to do this right. Each member of Congress needs to think this through, as the president, as the secretary of state is thinking it through. So we in the end will come together and I think have a strong bipartisan effort that will unite our Congress and our country behind our president.

But it is important that we have the debate to ask the tough questions so that the American people understand what we're doing and why, what the costs, what the risks may be and have our allies with us. That's a key part of this. BLITZER: You speak with quite a bit of authority, senator. Your combat experience during Vietnam, of course everyone knows about that. But what specifically don't you like, a specific example in the House language, which Democrats and Republicans, at least the leadership in the House, have agreed to. The White House likes that bill. What are you still concerned about as far as that House resolution is concerned?

HAGEL: Well, I think we start with the fact that the administration has moved a long way, Wolf, toward the interests and concerns to clarify those concerns and further define those concerns over the last two weeks.

So the resolution we're talking about today is vastly different from what the first resolution that the White House sent up. So that should be acknowledged. And I appreciate the administration working with us and the Congress on it. Where I think we could improve it, probably in the area of tightening up some of the reporting requirements. They started at 90 days. We're now at 60 days, and probably we could go to 30 days. I think a tightening up of the definitions under what basis we would go to war in Iraq. Do we really want to take America to war based on Iraq being behind or not paying war reparations? I don't know. I think not.

I think the fact is, just as Secretary Powell said, the focus should be on disarming Iraq, getting those weapons of mass destruction identified, and dismantled and destroyed. Those are the areas we could tighten up, and I suspect there will be some effort to do that.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, senator, we have an e-mail I want to read to you. We just got it from Jodie, who want to ask you this question: "Why are the politicians on the Hill still talking instead of acting. All the debate only politicizes the issue and does nothing to solve the problem or eliminate the threat." What do you say to Jodie?

HAGEL: Well, I would say this to Jodie: This is a Democracy. This is the kind of government where all the people should be heard. And in the end, we will act, we will come together with a judgment, a decision, a vote and have a resolution. But surely, we don't want to rush this nation into war without thinking it through, without asking the tough questions. That's what we're doing. Certainly we can't ask anything less, because people are going to die here. There will be consequences. And if we have to go to war, there may be very severe consequences for the future. I don't know how old Jodie is, but Jodie may be young. And the actions we take today are going to affect her future in the world.

BLITZER: Senator Chuck Hagel, always speaking from an independent position. Thanks for joining us from Capitol Hill.

And let's get the view from inside Iraq right now. Our Baghdad bureau chief Jane Arraf is standing by in Baghdad with the latest developments from there -- Jane.

JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Wolf, Iraqi officials are saying this U.S. insistence on the Security Council on a resolution opposed by other Security Council members is proof that the U.S. is interested not in disarmament, but in a personal battle with Saddam Hussein.

Now, reaction to White House comments that it would be much easier to shoot the Iraqi president rather than get into a long protracted war, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan says, if U.S. officials want to fight, he's got a proposal of his own.


TAHA YASSIN RAMADAN, IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT (through translator): Translator: Bush wants to attack the whole Iraq, the army and the infrastructure. If such a call is genuine, then let the American president and a selected group with him face a selected group of us, and we choose a neutral land, and let Mr. Koffi Annan be a supervisor, and both groups should use the same weapon.

A president against a president, a vice president against a vice president and a duel takes place. If they are serious, in this way, we are saving the American and the Iraqi people.


ARRAF: No response yet on that from the white house.

Despite all that talk, life here does seem relatively normal. You can probably see some of the traffic behind me. It's Thursday night, before the Friday holiday. And there are people going to weddings, people going out for the evening.

Earlier in the day, streets again normal, people looking for bargains, getting on with life, going to work and most of all reading the newspapers. Now, these are government-controlled newspapers, but what they're telling them is that the rest of the world is with Iraq and Iraqi officials are very much hoping that at the Security Council at least some of that is true -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jane Arraf in Baghdad, thanks for joining us. Jane, no response yet from the White House on that proposal for a duel by the Vice President of Iraq, Taha Yassin Ramadan, a duel between President Bush and President Saddam Hussein.


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