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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Showdown: Iraq

Aired February 23, 2003 - 12:00   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6:00 p.m. in Paris, and 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for this special LATE EDITION, Showdown: Iraq.
In a few minutes, we'll talk about where things stand in the showdown, with the ambassadors from three key U.S. allies: Turkey, Jordan and Kuwait.

We're also standing by momentarily for a news conference in Rhode Island in connection with that horrific nightclub fire Thursday. Ninety-six people died. We'll go there live once the governor of Rhode Island emerges, but first a CNN news alert.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: If the United States does go to war with Iraq, it will be counting on support from three key allies in the region: Turkey, Kuwait and Jordan.

Joining us now to talk about their countries' role in the event of war: Turkey's ambassador to the United States, Faruk Logoglu; Jordan's ambassador to the United States, Karim Kawar; and Kuwait's ambassador to the United States, Salem Al-Sabah.

Ambassadors, welcome to LATE EDITION. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. Ambassador, Turkey's ambassador, Faruk Logoglu, let me begin with you. A lot of confusion about Turkey's role in helping the United States over the past few weeks.

Is there an agreement now between Turkey and the United States that will allow some 40,000 U.S. troops to be based in Turkey and to move into northern Iraq, if the president were to give such an order?

FARUK LOGOGLU, TURKEY'S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: I don't think there is any confusion about the fact that Turkey wants to be supportive of the U.S. effort as sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council.

There is no final agreement yet between Turkey and the U.S. I believe we are close to one. And over the weekend, even at this very hour, Turkish and American teams are talking in Ankara to finalize agreement on three basic areas: economic, military and political.

If that is in place, then the final decision would be made by the Turkish parliament next week, when it convenes its first meeting, maybe on Tuesday.

BLITZER: It's fair to say you're very close to an agreement though, right?

LOGOGLU: That would be my interpretation. But I think as the talks are still continuing, it's better to be a little bit cautious, but we are quite optimistic and confident.

BLITZER: Let's talk about those three categories of what you're negotiating, what you're talking about. As far as assistance, economic and military assistance, I think you get about $252 million right now in annual U.S. assistance to Turkey.

But what you want is, what, $10 billion in new grants over an extended period of time and another $20 billion in various forms of loan guarantees and other kinds of forgiveness of loans. Is that right?

LOGOGLU: I think the figures are basically correct in terms of what has been pronounced in this area.

But I would like to correct one wrong impression. This is not really just about money. The economic package is just one pillar of what we are trying to obtain. Even if Turkey gets the right economic assistance package, it will not mean that it's going to be easy to get it through the parliament.

BLITZER: But if the government wants it to go through the parliament, it'll go through the parliament.

LOGOGLU: Not necessarily. I think given the fact that we have 95 percent of the Turkish people opposing of war, this is a democracy, and that's one of the facts, main facts about what we are trying to do in Turkey.

BLITZER: You wanted $10 billion in grants. The Bush administration willing to give you $6 billion in grants, and President Bush was pretty clear the other day saying that's about as high as he's ready to go. Is that going to be enough?

LOGOGLU: We are trying to bridge the gap by some creative efforts on both sides, and since we don't have the final dot on the agreement, I would like to refrain from addressing any specific numbers. But the Turkish government is making its best effort to come to a supportive position.

There is also the question, of course, of international legitimacy, what's going to happen in the U.N. Security Council. And that is going to be one of the elements that will influence the thinking of the Turkish government and of the Turkish...

BLITZER: So, in other words, you would like to see a second U.N. resolution passed. That would help your government, in order to get the kind of political support that you need?

LOGOGLU: It certainly would help our government. It would also help a lot of other countries that are thinking of joining the international coalition.

BLITZER: And if you do let those 40,000 U.S. troops go into Turkey and then eventually, if there is a war, move into northern Iraq, will Turkish troops go with them into northern Iraq? I'm still a little confused on the actual military role of Turkey.

LOGOGLU: We have talked about this. There will be a Turkish military presence in northern Iraq. But the main purpose of that presence will be to address the humanitarian situation, because we know that a lot of people are going to be displaced because of military action.

And we want to make sure that those displaced persons and refugees are given proper attention, are provided with food and medications inside Iraqi territory. And that will be what...

BLITZER: So the Turkish military will go in for humanitarian purposes, but not to fight, necessarily, is that what you're saying?

LOGOGLU: No, the Turkish troops are not going into Iraq to fight. That is for sure. We are going there strictly for humanitarian...

BLITZER: You know, the Kurds in Northern Iraq are very nervous about the Turks.

LOGOGLU: Yes, we do know that. Correct.

BLITZER: There's a long-standing animus, a long-standing tension between the Kurds of Iraq and Turkey.

How will you reassure them that you're going in for humanitarian purposes, as opposed to take over, let's say, some of those autonomous areas ruled by the Kurds right now?

LOGOGLU: I think it's important to remember that relative prosperity and security enjoyed by the Kurdish groups in northern Iraq are owed in large part to what Turkey has done for them, particularly in the context of Northern Watch, that's what has kept Baghdad away from northern Iraq.

In any case, all these questions -- what the Turks are going to do, how they are going to do it, where they will be -- all these have been discussed between Turkey and the U.S., and the Kurds have also been made part of these discussions.

So while you may see, you know, statements in the media about concern by the Kurds, they know exactly why we are coming there and what we are going to do.

BLITZER: So they have been part of this dialogue, as well, is that what you're saying?

LOGOGLU: Yes, that's what I'm saying.

BLITZER: The Barzani, the Talibani clans, all of the various factions of the Kurds?

LOGOGLUE: I think Barzani and Talibani talk more to the Turks than anybody else in the world. So they know.

BLITZER: OK, Mr. Ambassador, stand by. I want to bring in Kuwait's ambassador, Salem Al-Sabah, to talk about Kuwait.

You have a very different role right now than Turkey, at least for the time being. You're fully cooperating with the United States. A big chunk of your country, the northern part of Kuwait, is basically off limits to everyone except the military.

SALEH AL-SABAH, KUWAIT'S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: That's true. Actually, starting yesterday, 60 percent of my country, the whole northern sector of Kuwait, is off limits, even to Kuwaitis. Any Kuwaiti wanting to enter that area has to get special permission to do that. So we've cornered off 60 percent of our country for the use of the U.S. military.

BLITZER: About 100,000 U.S. troops are currently deployed in Kuwait, is that right?

AL-SABAH: That's correct.

BLITZER: And this would be the area where most of the U.S. military would move in on the ground against Iraq, if it comes down to a war.

Your country is totally supportive of this U.S. military mission, of this U.S. initiative to deal with Saddam Hussein. It's obviously because 12 years ago your country was occupied, was overthrown by Saddam Hussein.

AL-SABAH: Yes, but in no way this is a revenge from Kuwait on Iraq. We see our role as part of the international community, as doing our part in implementing Security Council resolution -- resolutions, actually, because there's more than one resolution. So we see our role as being part of the international community.

There are very, very clear resolutions. These resolutions command the compliance of Iraq, and they also command that the countries of the world participate in any way they can to ensure their implementation. So we see our role as implementing these -- or playing our small part in implementing these Security Council resolutions.

BLITZER: Exactly 12 years ago today, exactly 12 years ago today, the U.S.-led ground war to liberate Kuwait began. It lasted for four days, or 100 hours, as you well remember.

If you take a look at the situation right now, is war inevitable?

AL-SABAH: Well, we in Kuwait always say that we would like to see a peaceful resolution to this issue. We would like to see Iraq comply with its obligations in the Security Council resolutions and avoid, first of all, his people and the region a devastating war. So, war is the last option. We always see war as the last option.

But again, Iraq has to be brought to comply with his obligations. And we believe it when the president said the time is running out, but that means time has not run out yet. There is still, I think, we are in a window of opportunity at this point in time, and we hope that Iraq would make full use of this window and comply with his obligations.

BLITZER: Are you concerned that the Iraqis might try to bomb or explode Kuwaiti oil fields, along the lines of what they did a dozen years ago, or launch Scud missiles or other kinds of missiles into Kuwait?

AL-SABAH: Of course, we are. I mean, we are very, very concerned about what Iraq might do in the means of reprisals against Kuwait.

But I'm very, very confident that my government has taken all necessary precautions, together with our friends and allies, to safeguard the security of Kuwait and the Kuwaiti people living in Kuwait and other foreigners, of course, in Kuwait.

So we are doing our best to safeguard the country.

BLITZER: Well, like, what are you doing, like, specifically, to deal with the threat of biological or chemical attacks?

AL-SABAH: Well, first of all, we have very strong cooperation with the U.S. military in the sphere of anti-ballistic missile protection. And then the government, on its part, has taken a lot of emergency precautions to safeguard the population from chemical or biological warfares.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, I want to take a quick break because I want to go to Rhode Island.

The governor of Rhode Island speaking to reporters, once again, on that horrific fire at that night club Thursday night. Let's listen in.

GOV. DON CARCIERI (R), RHODE ISLAND: So much has happened in the last couple of days. Just to reflect on the enormity of the impact on these families, reflect on the absolute heroism of so many parts of the community, so many people, from the first responders, the people that were there at the scene immediately, to all the rescue personnel, fire, police.

As I said last night, the hospitals, it's absolutely incredible to me that we have suffered no fatalities at hospital. The staffs there, the Red Cross, the clergy.

I could go on and on and on to describe the outpouring of support for the families that have been impacted by this horrific tragedy.

I want to tell you that, having just come from meeting with the families and updating them, they are incredibly grateful. A number of them just said how thankful they were for the way the whole community has responded and the outpouring of love and concern for all of them. They sense it, they feel it, and they greatly appreciate it.

These are people who are suffering incredible loss and tragedy at the moment, and I'm standing before them trying to give them updates on identification. And I have to tell you, these are people that are obviously filled with spirit and are responding to the love and concern that so much of the community has come forward to express.

So I think that today, after what's happened, it's completely appropriate for me to just acknowledge the tremendous, tremendous outpouring of support, the energy, the heroic efforts all of you have reported on in responding to this terrible, terrible tragedy.

My concern, as you've heard me say from the beginning, is one and only one, which is those families and getting this identification process completed as fast as possible, so that we can give these families back their family members to go through the proper burial and remembrances.

I want to point out that tomorrow there are two services. One is at 5 o'clock at St. Gregory's. It's a statewide, interfaith memorial service. St. Gregory's Church was the largest one nearby. It's on Koesset (ph) Road in Warwick. And that will be at 5 o'clock.

That's going to be followed by a memorial vigil as approximately 6 o'clock at the West Warwick Civic Center. This has been organized by Speaker Murphy and a number of his colleagues. This is his hometown, and that town has come forward and wants to express their concern in this manner at this vigil. That'll take place at the West Warwick Civic Center on Factory Street in West Warwick.

I think also I would like to recognize here, and he won't want me doing it, but we have a newly elected state representative from West Warwick, Norman Landroche. And Norman was on the first firetruck to arrive at the scene on Thursday night. And he epitomizes to me the kind of heroic effort and what happened on those first responders, because we are convinced, were it not for the efforts of those people, that this tragedy would have been much, much worse.

The stories I've heard of people being pulled out of the building while it's engulfed in flames and smoke and trying to deal with them, triage the injured and so forth, I just want to acknowledge that Norman, with so many others, was integral to saving many, many lives.

I also want to say that -- thank all of you because the response that we've gotten from the dental community since we talked about this yesterday has been outstanding. The information is coming in rapidly. I have to say that the families themselves have put in an extra effort almost to provide the kinds of information about their loved ones that are assisting dramatically in the process of identification.

So thank you for all that you've done to assist in that process. It's working. The database that we have is building, and I'm confident that this process is going to accelerate in the next day, day and a half. Right now, we just announced to the families before I came here that there have been 10 more positive identifications this morning. They are moving very rapidly. We've doubled up the teams, as I indicated. We've got D-Mort teams from the federal government supplemented by our own people, and we have added more.

We are going 24 hours a day. They went through the night. We've got a mobile unit that is here that is on standby if we need to activate that. And so we've got the resources going full tilt right now to do this as expeditiously as we can.

My expectation is that by later this afternoon we will have more that will have been positively identified. The work of the forensic teams is progressing rapidly. My expectation is that probably by this time tomorrow, possibly tomorrow evening, they will have completed the task of examining all of the bodies and will be going against the database to make positive IDs.

I am concerned that we have some situations that perhaps we have not had families yet come forward for victims. We had a situation this morning that a family just came in from California, just found out that their son was one of the victims. We may have other situations like that. We may possibly have foreign students. We just don't know.

I am confident, though, that we will get through the identification process of the vast majority of those victims, as I say, within the next day and a half.

Right now, therefore, with the nine that we told you we positively identified the day before, six in the middle of yesterday -- I think the briefing we told you was six more, last night an additional six and the 10 now brings it to 31 that we have positively identified.

And as I said, I'm hopeful by the end of the day today that number will increase again, and so that the pace with which these identifications are completed is going to move along now.

I can't thank enough the response teams that have come in to help us here in Rhode Island. The cooperation, as I said, has been absolutely fantastic.

Also, we have assembled a team of State Department heads meeting this morning because there's going to be now all sorts of follow-on issues related that are, for certain, going to come forward.

We've already had requests in situations where burial assistance, people that don't have the resources, and all of the other kinds of things. That team is being headed by Jane Hayward, who heads our Department of Human Services. She's going to be the point person on that under the guidance of John Allcott (ph), who's the EMA head for this effort.

So we are moving forward with that, in terms of anticipating the kinds of issues that will come forward. No change in the hospital status, as the 80 that I reported last night are still the same. And there have been no fatalities recorded that we're aware of, which I think is a great testament to the quality of the care and the professionalism.

Lastly, there's two things I would like to comment. First of all, again, appeal to all of you and your colleagues to please respect the privacy of these families.

We have the site visit organized today. I think all of the -- again, just as we have seen throughout this -- the efforts to mobilize this, organize it so that the families -- we've got buses that are going to be shuttling them from the Crown Plaza to the site. We've cordoned off an area where they'll be able to move through, view the site. There is a memorial set up there.

And as you are well aware, we have set aside an area for the media removed from that site. And all I can do is appeal to all of you to please, please respect the privacy.

These families are going through such, such a tragedy, such an emotional odyssey right now, and their hearts are broken. And they still don't know, in many cases, whether their loved one has been positively ID'd. So right now, you just have to appreciate they need space, they need an opportunity to grieve, and they need an opportunity that's unencumbered by any of us.

As I said last night at the briefing, none of us here are going to be at that site. We've decided amongst ourselves that this is a time for the families on their own. And I would ask you to respect that.

Lastly, I know there's been some speculation that is not helping matters. And as I went over to meet with the families and be briefed this morning, there was speculation from some of the media that we had identified 60 positively. That is not true. And I am absolutely confident that the information that we have is the right information. It's coming directly from the medical examiner.

And it does not help these families to speculate that we are further along and that they are anticipating many more notifications. I keep trying to tell them we are working feverishly as best we can in an orderly fashion to get this done correctly. And they're going to hear it from me first, which they did before I came here. Then you will hear it, and you'll hear the exact numbers as they are reported from the medical examiner. Speculation beyond that is just not helpful, and it's just speculation.

So with that I'll answer any questions. Yes?

QUESTION: Do you know how many families may still be out there that don't know they've lost someone? Could it be a handful? Could it be...

CARCIERI: It's very, very difficult. You know, you have the sense that there are some. We don't know how to get at that, because, as I said all along, we don't know how many people were there.

I had a woman come up to me from one of the families just before I came here, asked me to appeal to you that publicly, if -- she was concerned, and she may be right, that we may have some people that left that scene who are still impacted from it, that may not even know who they or where they are.

Because she had the experience of another family whose member survived, who, because of the smoke inhalation, whatever it is, was totally sort of oblivious.

For all I know, we could have someone wandering around, or somebody that has stopped somewhere, that was impacted by this tragedy, and we don't know that, and neither does their family.

So, I don't know exactly how we would get at that, but if anyone has, A, taken in anyone or has observed anyone that seems disoriented or we're not sure that that -- please communicate that to the authorities.

This is -- it's a very, very difficult situation, because we just don't know that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CARCIERI: I'm sorry, let me just answer that -- I meant to point that out.

The two Jane Does in Massachusetts have been positively identified, and their families have been communicated with. So right now, in terms of the hospitalized, there are -- they've all been identified.

Yes?

QUESTION: What happens in the cases where the dental records aren't enough to identify people? What's the next step after dental records, if you don't have enough dental records?

CARCIERI: Right now they're on several fronts. First of all, they're fingerprinting in every case in which they can fingerprint. And then those fingerprints will be run against the databases that contain that information.

Secondly, a number of things that have helped, the information the families have provided, things like tattoos, things like rings that they know that a daughter or someone wore. That kind of information's been very helpful as well.

Failing that, failing fingerprinting, failing any dental records, then it's DNA, most likely, that'll have to be the means. And that, as you know, is a more lengthy process, but that's sort of the protocol. I think the sense is right now, if we've got information from the families of some kind, that most of the identification should be able to proceed that way without DNA.

QUESTION: Governor, assuming that you are able to identify all the bodies, what do you turn to next?

CARCIERI: Well, we're going on a number of fronts, as I've said. Next is the support ongoing from this point for the families that have been impacted, because there's going to be all kinds of issues, whether they say the simple things like burial expense, there's going to be insurance issues. There'll be hundreds of issues that I would describe as a natural follow-on to the families that have been impacted by this. That's one whole set.

As you well know, there's a whole series of investigations going on, under the direction of the attorney general, but it's involving the fire marshal, the state police, local police, ATF, all of that, to understand exactly what happened, as well as what caused this and any possible culpability.

At the same time, I've said that I want to -- I want a review statewide of all of the facilities that are similar to this. As we understand more about exactly what happened, then it's incumbent on us, first of all, to identify whether there are any other facilities hosting these kinds of events that have the same potential for this kind of a disaster. We want to know that. I want to see those, and I want to see those all examined and inspected.

Following on to that, there's a whole review of, do we need to take a look at the rules and regulations that we have in place? I think my colleagues here feel that that's an appropriate thing that we'll take a look at.

So there's a whole series of things that will happen, but I don't want to -- I keep saying it, because my whole focus right now is to get the identifications complete as soon as possible, so that those families can bring closure.

QUESTION: Governor, you talk about the meeting of the department heads. Was that an effort to create a one-stop-assistance sort of facility? And would it include the federal, Social Security, disability...

CARCIERI: The question was whether the meeting of the department heads was to create a sort of a one-stop shopping. The answer is yes.

It's, first of all, to figure out, amongst the different departments, what are the issues and what are the resources we have to respond to those issues, and then how to organize it so -- you're exactly right -- so that families can come to one focal point and with their questions. And then we've got the resources in place that are on standby to respond to those.

QUESTION: Governor, you had said earlier that pyrotechnics shouldn't have been there. Have you made any progress as far as assigning blame?

And if I could ask one other question, you were with the families today. You said they have a lot of love for the people that have helped out. But what are their other feelings? Is there anger? Are they placing blame themselves on anyone or any group? CARCIERI: Well, you asked two questions. First, in terms of the pyrotechnics, whether there's any new information there, and then secondly, the reaction of the families.

The first part is there's an analysis going on. I think it is making progress in understanding, A, the pyrotechnics and then the composition of the insulating material. I'm not prepared to give you that. That isn't complete yet, but that's ongoing.

I stand by what I've said before. I know that building, went there years ago when it was a restaurant. And just from a lay person's view, don't believe that's the kind of building we should have pyrotechnics exhibitions going on.

The third part, I've forgotten now what your other -- the families, I'm sorry, the families. It's -- the range is just what you would expect from the families.

First of all, there's the grief and the anxiety about the identification of their family member.

Secondly was what I described, you know, kind of the outpouring. They really feel the kind of support. Several, several people said they just could not be -- how do I say, more thankful for the kind of support they've received over there.

And then yes, there are some that, as you would expect, most, like me, angry, angry that this happened. It should not have happened. Why did it happen? All those kind of questions. And that's natural. I agree with them. So, yes, you get all of those things happening.

QUESTION: Governor, at the very beginning it was clear there were no permits for the pyrotechnics. Now it seems there is a question as to whether this insulating foam was appropriate for that application and whether or not that had been inspected by the local authorities.

Is that now an area of concern? And what is the status of those building permits, fire inspection permits of that material?

CARCIERI: Well, as I said earlier, there's no question that the composition of the insulating material is a major focus of understanding what that is. And my understanding is we have samples of that. Tests are going on, so that we can ascertain what that is exactly.

As you well know, there are some kinds of this material that are highly flammable. There are other types that are flame-retardant. And so, until we know what the material was and understand that, then we can make a judgment as to whether it was appropriate for that venue and that use.

And then all of the ongoing issues from that: If it was not appropriate, why was it in there? All those kinds of things need to be investigated and understood, because if it was the wrong material, why was it there?

QUESTION: For how many people do you have dental records, and how many more do you need?

CARCIERI: That's changing, you know, sort of as we speak. My understanding right now is that we have actual dental records on somewhere between 50 and 60 that are on-site. That's changing, as I say, right at the moment as those come in.

As I left to come here, there are still some dentists that have been identified but they've been unable to reach, so that will increase as well, Mark.

QUESTION: Governor, do you know if the families watched the Jeffrey Derderian statement yesterday? And if so, what was their reaction?

CARCIERI: I'm sorry, I can't hear you.

QUESTION: Do you know if the families at the hotel were watching the Jeff Derderian statement yesterday? And if so, what was their reaction? What were some of the reactions?

CARCIERI: The question was, do I know if the families yesterday were watching the statement by Jeff Derderian and what was their reaction?

I don't know that. I did not discuss that specifically with any of the families. I am assuming some probably did. I had no feedback from any family member related to that this morning.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CARCIERI: Well, I don't know if the attorney general would like to comment.

Patrick?

PATRICK LYNCH, RHODE ISLAND ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think, using the governor's words just a moment ago, just as everyone is moving feverishly at a pace regading notification -- naturally, that should be the first focus -- during that time, the investigation has gone at a similar pace, recognizing, naturally, the pain that Rhode Island families, particularly, are suffering but with others watching, the pain that has gone across, I think, our nation, we're working as quickly as we can on the investigation.

QUESTION: Can you tell us the age of the youngest victim either in the hospital or (OFF-MIKE)?

LYNCH: I have no comment on that.

QUESTION: Governor, can you tell us...

CARCIERI: No, I don't know, Bill. So, yes, I was going to say, we have the general -- when we finish here, the general has the list of names that we are releasing.

There are still, I think, one or two from the first group that we will not be able to release today because we're still having some difficulties with communication to one of the immediate family members.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) that owns that radio station. He was a fairly popular figure in Rhode Island. His name (OFF-MIKE). He was called "The Doctor" on the air. And quite a few of his listeners are (OFF-MIKE) about his death.

CARCIERI: I don't believe -- yes, we'll release the names to you. I don't believe I've seen that name as amongst those having been identified positively.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CARCIERI: No more than you do, the same kinds of anecdotal reports and so forth. I don't have any more facts than that.

Yes -- last one.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

CARCIERI: Sure. As I said earlier, it speaks to all those issues -- first of all, what the conditions are and how we're inspecting them, what we're requiring, and if those requirements cannot be sustained by a facility, what do we allow to occur there? All those things are going to be examined.

It's unfortunate, as you all know, that you have to have a tragedy like this that causes us to sit back and look at all of those questions. But that's the reality. And we're going to do it, because the last thing we need is anything like this ever to happen again.

So -- last question.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) statement yesterday, Mr. Lynch? Or the governor?

CARCIERI: Do you have any comment on...

QUESTION: Mr. Lynch, could you comment on that?

LYNCH: The Jeff Derderian statement? I would hope that Mr. Derderian is as cooperative with the law enforcement agencies involved in this investigation as he has been with the press.

QUESTION: Are you going to talk to him today or tomorrow?

LYNCH: I have no further comment on that.

CARCIERI: OK We are going to brief again at 5:30. I'm hoping by then, as I said, we'll have is more progress, more information, more names.

And right now, the general has the names that will be released of those that we have communicated with.

So thank you.

BLITZER: Governor Don Carcieri, the governor of Rhode Island, updating reporters, indeed updating all of us, on the latest on identifying bodies. He now says 31 of the 96 bodies have been positively identified. Another 10 identified only in the past several hours. He says he expects more to be identified positively in the coming hours.

We also heard from Patrick Lynch, the attorney general of Rhode Island, refusing to say where the criminal investigation is heading, saying it's moving quickly. They're moving along, but at this point, he says, they have a lot of work to do, as does Governor Don Carcieri.

We'll continue to monitor what's happening in Rhode Island. Later on LATE EDITION, I hope to speak with both the governor and the attorney general. We'll also be speaking with the former fire commissioner of New York City, Thomas Von Essen.

But now, let's get back to Showdown: Iraq. We're talking with three distinguished ambassadors here in Washington, ambassadors from Turkey, Kuwait and Jordan.

And let me speak to Karim Kawar, the ambassador from Jordan right now.

BLITZER: Jordan is a direct neighbor of Iraq. When the first Persian Gulf War happened after the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, Jordan lost a lot of money because it was a huge trading partner for Iraq.

Right now you're trying, at least according to press reports, to see if there's some way Saddam Hussein might go into exile. Is that realistic, knowing what you know about Saddam Hussein, that he might voluntarily go into exile to avoid a war?

KARIM KAWAR, JORDANIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Wolf, I don't think those reports have been substantiated, but Jordan's strong position to try to avert the strike to the region and to exert all efforts possible to avoid one, this is what we are trying to do. Because Jordan, again, stands to lose considerably from a war.

Today, the U.S. and Iraq are the two most trading partners with Jordan. Jordan receives its oil from Iraq at below-market prices, so the disruption of the energy supply, as well as having to find alternate sources, will cause us some economic repercussions. Plus, trade as a whole starts to suffer.

BLITZER: So what is the position of the kingdom, of your government, right now as far as a U.S.-led potential war against Saddam Hussein? Do you believe it's necessary?

KAWAR: Well, we hope it won't be a unilateral approach, and I think it's very important to work with the international community. Obviously, there are big challenges that not only face our nation but many countries around the world. So, working with the United Nations is the wise thing to do.

BLITZER: So you want a second resolution to be enacted before the U.S. and its coalition would go to war against Iraq?

KAWAR: It's very important, because there are experts, those are the inspectors, who know this business better than anyone else. There is the Security Council, which is the body that should take decisions when it comes to world issues. And we believe that working through those organizations is important.

BLITZER: You know Saddam Hussein, not necessarily personally, but his mentality, his government. Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, says by next weekend, March 1st, he wants to start destroying those Al Samoud missiles, which he says has a longer than 150-kilometer range which is authorized for the Iraqis, but not beyond 150 kilometers. Do you believe Saddam Hussein will give the approval to start destroying about 300 of those missiles?

KAWAR: We hope that his regime does. So far the reports that we have been seeing from Hans Blix and his team that Iraqis have been cooperating to a certain extent, but how far will they go in that cooperation I think will be the test of time.

BLITZER: Do you believe this time around, if there is a war, the Iraqis will launch missiles at Israel, as they did the last time? Because that could draw the Israelis in and could directly affect Jordan if the Israeli air force, for example, were to fly flights over toward Iraq. They would presumably have to go over your airspace.

KAWAR: That's true. Jordan will protect its airspace. We'll try to stop any Scud missiles from being directed toward Israel, but also we'll work to make sure that Israel does not get involved in a conflict.

Certainly, for the Arab world there is a big issue, which is the Arab-Israeli conflict, and specifically the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which has not been resolved, and the violence that we are seeing also within the Palestinian territories has not been seen before. And we are afraid that that conflict will cause bigger damage in the years to come.

BLITZER: Let me bring back the Turkish ambassador, Faruk Logoglu.

Mr. Ambassador, are you concerned of terrorist reprisals against Turkey if, in fact, you allow the U.S. to use Turkey as a staging point for war against Iraq?

LOGOGLU: Yes, that's a very real concern. That's one of our concerns. Other concerns are to make sure that Iraq stays together, territorially (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the aftermath.

BLITZER: You've received assurances from the Bush administration on the territorial integrity of Iraq?

LOGOGLU: Yes, we have. But of course, there will be, in the course of a military operation and in the days that follow, there will be groups that will want to, that may want to move in different directions.

And you want to make sure that Iraq stays together, and that all its elements, all the groups of the Iraqi population have an equal say in the structuring and rebuilding of their country.

BLITZER: All right. Unfortunately, we have to leave it right there.

Ambassador Logoglu, thanks very much for joining us.

Ambassador Al-Sabah, thanks very much. And Ambassador Karim Kawar, thanks to you, and thanks for your patience for sitting through that news conference. Appreciate it very much.

Hope you'll be back on LATE EDITION. Thank you.

We have much more coverage coming up. When we come back, I'll speak what the governor and the attorney general of Rhode Island, fresh from that news conference. We have our own questions we'd like to ask both of them.

Stay with us. Our special LATE EDITION will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Coming up, I'll speak with the governor of Rhode Island, and I'll speak with the attorney general of Rhode Island, Patrick Lynch and Governor Don Carcieri. They're coming up. We'll speak to them momentarily.

But first, before we get to the governor and to the attorney general, Bruce Morton takes a closer look at a new world order.

Actually, we don't have Bruce Morton ready to go. Let me speak to the governor and the attorney general.

Can you hear me, Governor?

CARCIERI: Yes, I can, Wolf.

BLITZER: And Mr. Attorney General, can you hear me as well?

LYNCH: I can as well, Wolf, yes.

BLITZER: OK, good. Thank you. I knew we were having some technical problems.

Governor, let me begin with you. The numbers are cruel, they're beyond belief. I know that all of us have been horrified since what happened Thursday night, but let's just review. Right now, you've positively identified 31 bodies out of the 96 that you found. You expect to be identifying more soon. Eighty victims are still...

CARCIERI: No, no. BLITZER: Go ahead.

CARCIERI: No, we've positively identified right now 21, Wolf, of the bodies. There are 96 are -- that we believe are victims. We positively identified 21 right now.

Our expectation is, throughout the course of the day, we will have more progress, because I know there are more that are awaiting actual final verification.

BLITZER: And 80 still -- 80 victims still in hospitals, is that right?

CARCIERI: That's correct.

BLITZER: And I assume they range from relatively good shape to horrible shape, is that fair?

CARCIERI: Yes, I would say that a vast majority of those are in very difficult shape. Of the 80, 23 are in Massachusetts hospitals. Many of them have specialized burn units. And of the balance in Rhode Island, the 57, the last count we had that there were over 20, almost 25, that were in critical condition.

So we still have a lot of work to be done, and the hospitals are doing a wonderful, wonderful job.

BLITZER: Governor, I guess the basic question I could ask you is a question that millions of Americans, indeed millions of people around the world, are asking themselves after this horrible, horrible event: How could this happen in this day and age?

CARCIERI: Well, you're absolutely right. We're all asking ourselves that question, Wolf. It was just a terrible tragedy, a terrible disaster.

My assessment of it right now is it looks like a series of very bad decisions were made. I'm familiar with that building from years past. In my judgment, pyrotechnic displays should never have gone on in that building.

We're trying to understand the composition of the insulating material that was used, because this building was engulfed in flames and thick smoke too rapidly, from experienced firefighters' standpoint. They're just shocked at how rapidly it went up.

So, we've got to understand that. We're all dismayed, and I think what we're going to find is some very bad judgments were made. Whether there are illegalities or criminality, the attorney general is going down that path as well.

BLITZER: Well, let me bring the attorney general in and ask him a couple of specific questions. I'm not sure he can answer them.

Patrick Lynch, the band says they did receive verbal permission to use the pyrotechnics. The owners of the club says no such permission was granted. What do you do now, in taking a look at potential criminal action?

LYNCH: Well, first, Wolf, the investigation has been ongoing virtually since this horrific incident had occurred, in this small state, in this very small community. I had a couple of my finest prosecutors, happened to live in the area, and responded, and from the outset in an expanding fashion. Unfortunately, but naturally, the investigative team has been working without rest, and will not stop until we make a determination.

I know, locally and even nationally, there is a cry for a determination. We have to understand our responsibilities, and not let the emotional tide drive our determination. We do, however, remain cognizant of the pain that our small community is feeling, and we'll move as quickly as we can to publicize that determination.

BLITZER: Given the pain, the agony that your small community has suffered right now, how compelled are you to go ahead and try to do your best to convict someone, to blame someone, if you will, criminally for what happened?

LYNCH: Well, it's a question of understanding your powers and responsibilities and staying true to them. Staying true to them in this instance is staying true to them in spite of a very compelling, emotional, heartbreaking, really, things that we've all seen. I was on the scene myself in the early morning hours.

I'm a father of a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old, the youngest of seven, and a lifelong Rhode Islander. The pain has ripped through our community and the nation.

I commend the governor sitting here for his remarkable leadership to try to give some solace onto the poor families, particularly, who are suffering at this time.

During that period of time, my focus has remained as have the remarkable men and women in law enforcement, fire and police included, to work tirelessly and through to the end to make a determination if charges can be brought. Again, cognizant that there is that pain, that compelling call for quick justice, we cannot do that. We must work at our normal course and to make a determination that is just, perhaps one that ultimately leads to a court of law.

BLITZER: Mr. Lynch, there are reports, and I'm sure you've heard about them if you haven't read them directly, that there had been earlier fireworks demonstrations or displays, pyrotechnics, at this club, The Station, in earlier years with other bands, not this band Great White. What do you know, if anything, about that?

LYNCH: Well, a couple of things. First of all, you know, you spoke moments ago about some comments made, conflicting apparently between different people, the band members and others. There were over a hundred certainly and the number, I think, is still in dispute about the number of people that saw this event and were there.

There are people, in fact, clinging to life as you and I speak, and they may ultimately be able to provide some input and evidence and perception of what occurred that evening. So it's a combination of factors.

The governor referred to a couple of other views. The fire marshal naturally is helping with the foam, the pyrotechnics.

But I can tell you regarding your question, that is naturally one of many that we're responding to. And frankly, in some ways the public and, perhaps surprisingly, sometimes through the press has been helpful inasmuch that we have gotten tapes -- Channel 12 locally has a tape which we will naturally use in our investigation -- and other people have since come forward.

So if, by chance, people are tuned in here, I would urge them to please, if they took a camera inside the club, not outside -- we have enough evidence of what happened there -- if they have film or footage of this band, even earlier in the evening, please contact your local authorities.

BLITZER: Mr. Lynch, I also heard at that news conference just a few minutes ago you said that you hope that the owner and the owners of the club will cooperate as fully with you as they appear to be cooperating with the news media. I wonder if you'd care to elaborate what precisely you meant by that.

LYNCH: Well, again, we are in the process of speaking with -- I can't even put a number on it, but certainly over 100 people and perhaps even more. During the course of that and in any criminal investigation, often times you need to return to certain people to ask more question.

Mr. Derderian has responded to some police questions, but I know last night, he held a press conference and all I indicated was that I hope in the future, knowing that we'll need to return to him and ask him some questions, I hope he is as responsive to law enforcement as he appeared to be with the press last evening.

BLITZER: Governor, let me bring you back into this conversation and ask you a question a lot of people are asking. This club had no sprinkler system. I take it it was grandfathered in because it was an older structure. Is it time to rethink some of the existing laws in your state, perhaps in other states, because of the tragedy that happened on Thursday night?

CARCIERI: Absolutely, Wolf. I think that it's clear when we finish this process and we understand exactly what happened, I think there are going to be all kinds of questions like that that need to be looked at again.

Right now, as I've said and I said in the press conference, my principle focus is to get closure to these families. The outpouring of effort, the support we've gotten from the federal D-Mort team on every front we are working to get these identifications done as quickly as possible so the families can have their family member back and go through proper burials and so forth and grieving.

But there are going to be hundreds of those kinds of issues, Wolf, that are going to be dealt with. I have very strong feelings myself. This should not have happened. This was unnecessary. It's just a disaster and a tragedy for these families that there's no explanation for except some very bad decisions.

And then, I think you're absolutely correct. We're going to look at other facilities in the state right now. I've asked the state fire marshall what other facilities we have like this anywhere in the state. Let's get a fast assessment of those. What kind of conditions are the interior of those? Are they sprinklered, not sprinklered? Has anybody got what kind of foam insulation? There's all kinds of this different insulation, some of which is highly flammable, some of which is flame-retardant.

So, we need to get to all of this. And I think you will find, just as you indicate, that we're going to have to make some changes in the way we regulate and what we demand in terms of these clubs.

BLITZER: Your fellow governors are meeting here in Washington this weekend. Later on LATE EDITION we're going to be speaking with three of those governors.

And I know that you're still in the immediate crisis mode, trying to deal with identifying bodies and getting life to some sense of normality in Rhode Island, but there are these kinds of clubs all over the country. There are thousands, maybe tens of thousands of these kinds of clubs where young people go. It is the nightmare for these kids. Their parents, their grandparents want to make sure that they go into areas where they are safe, there are not going to be these kind of tragedies. Sunday night, a week ago there that stampede in a club in Chicago. You, unfortunately, had to endure to experience this tragedy.

Any immediate recommendations you would have to your fellow governors right now in looking at what can be done to avoid these kinds of tragedies?

CARCIERI: Yes, my recommendation to them is just what I just said. I would undertake an assessment of all of the facilities that are like this, that are licensed, that have large groups of young people coming in for these kinds of bands and concerts.

I would double-check what the physical condition of those interiors are. Are they sprinklered, not sprinklered? How many exits do they have? Ceiling heights, what kind of insulation? I would have their state fire marshals and personnel doing exactly what we are doing now, because, as you well say, there are thousands of these things, Blitz.

I'm a parent of four children -- they're all married now -- 13 grandchildren. I remember very well when the kids didn't come home when they were supposed to, the anxiety, and particularly if you heard a siren go off. And so my heart breaks for these families, because the worst possible outcome has been experienced.

So, my fellow governors, I would say, look into this, look into it fast and deeply, and make sure that their facilities are not of a nature that something like this could happen. BLITZER: That's good advice. Let me bring back Mr. Lynch for another question.

Mr. Lynch, I assume past experiences in this he-said versus he- said, the band versus the owner of the club, on whether or not they got permission to use the pyrotechnics, might be in play. The owner of that Stone Pony Club in Asbury Park, New Jersey, says that when the band appeared there not that long ago, Great White, they went ahead and did a similar pyrotechnic display without any permission, and they were shocked when that happened.

I assume that kind of -- that kind of information could play a role in any criminal prosecution you might be considering.

LYNCH: Well, there's no question. Again, to, I guess, repeat the comments I made a moment ago, there is a whole list of things that we're doing -- not only a list of questions, but a list of potential evidence that we are assessing.

In fact, you've referred to other states. We certainly have gone there. And I need to credit ATF, the federal support, in assisting us in getting to those venues, and the response of the people there.

Some of that ultimately may just provide pertinent background information for this investigation, but potentially may ultimately be part of evidence, should criminal charges be appropriate. Those are the very things we're starting to address.

Regarding the credibility of witnesses, as a former prosecutor myself in the trenches, on issues of credibility, as you know, are never unusual. And that's why it's important to interview as many people as we can, assess what physical evidence we have, put that together and work through it in a timely fashion as quickly as we can naturally, again, cognizant of the pain Rhode Islanders are suffering.

BLITZER: Patrick Lynch, the attorney general of Rhode Island, thanks very much for joining us.

LYNCH: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Governor Don Carcieri, thank you to you, as well.

CARCIERI: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Our heart, of course, goes out to all of -- everyone in Rhode Island, everyone who has had to endure this tragedy. And good luck to both of you in dealing with the aftermath. Thanks very much for spending a few minutes with us.

CARCIERI: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, a heated worldwide debate as the United States mobilizes forces for the possibility of war against Iraq. Voices of dissent are calling for peace.

We'll debate the pros and cons of war with two members of the United States Congress: Republican House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter of California and Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington state.

LATE EDITION, Showdown: Iraq, will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION, Showdown: Iraq.

From diplomatic circles to newspapers around the world to legislative chambers, there is a debate going on over whether the United States should go to war against Iraq.

Joining us now are two members of the U.S. House of Representatives: In San Diego, California, Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter. He's the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. And in Seattle, Washington, Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott. He visited Baghdad late last year and has joined in a lawsuit to bar President Bush from ordering a war without a declaration from Congress.

Congressmen, welcome to LATE EDITION. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Representative Hunter, let me begin with you. You're chairman of the Armed Services Committee. You support President Bush in this showdown with Iraq. Why?

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, Wolf, we've had in the last six months eight hearings in the Armed Services Committee on this question, on the evidence with respect to weapons of mass destruction existing in Iraq. We've had three classified hearings.

In my judgment, there are weapons of mass destruction, particularly, chemical, biological. And further, in my judgment, within about three years Saddam Hussein will have a nuclear weapon. When we went in in 1991, he was six months away from having a nuclear weapon at that time. We took that apparatus away from him after the war. And in my judgment, he's going to have the ability within three years to have a system.

And I think beyond that, he has the intention to use weapons of mass destruction upon Americans. He's the only person, it's the only nation which has used ballistic missiles, for example, to kill Americans.

So, he has the capability with chem-bio weapons, he's going to have the capability with nuclear, and he certainly has the intent to use those systems on Americans.

BLITZER: All right. That sounds like a compelling case, Congressman McDermott, but you disagree. Tell us why.

REP. JIM MCDERMOTT (D), WASHINGTON: Well, first of all, we should not be at war. We have not in the Congress declared war, which is what the Constitution says should happen. The second thing is that the justification has never been complete. Hans Blix has never said they found anything that hasn't been done. Now we're coming up to the 1st of March and Mr. Blix has said, "Destroy the missiles." And before the words are hardly out of his mouth, the president of the United States says, "That won't be enough, even if he destroys the missiles."

So what we have here is an administration run by a war department headed by Mr. Rumsfeld that wants to go to war. And they are going to go no matter what happens. They are not going to listen to 10 million people in the streets or anybody else. They are really acting like they are the sole determiner of American foreign policy.

The Congress should make that decision. We should tell the president -- because many people denied, when we had that vote in the Congress, they said, "Well, I'm not voting for -- this is not a declaration of war." All right, let's have one before -- if the president's so sure it's the thing to do and Mr. Hunter is, let's have a vote on the floor.

BLITZER: All right, well, what about that, Congressman Hunter? There were two votes in the House and the Senate late last year giving the president authority to use whatever means he thought necessary. But Congressman McDermott says that really is not a sort of declaration of war, which he says the president should require.

HUNTER: Well, in theory you can have this argument that we've had for years and years, ever since Korea, about whether the president has a right to go to war, to go into a conflict. And under the War Powers Act, we have a division of authority between the Congress and the president.

But the facts are we authorized the president to use force in Iraq to enforce 1441. I don't know what Jim's interpretation of "use force" is, but I think that means military power.

BLITZER: Congressman?

MCDERMOTT: Well, this debate was written -- that piece of legislation was written so that you could read it two ways. Just as the resolution in the Security Council was written so that the French could think one thing and the United States could think something else.

We now have come up to the point where, apparently, everybody's convinced that we ought to go to war. Why not have another vote? Why not do it in the official way?

This war has not declared -- they haven't called for a draft yet. They haven't appropriated any money for it. And, yet, we're going to war. When we confront Mitch Daniels on the Ways and Means Committee I sit on, he said, "We didn't put any money in the budget for war. We'll get it wherever we need it."

And you have John Bolton talking in Jerusalem, saying we are going to take care of Iran and Syria and Korea next. I mean, he's laid out a continual war process.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman Hunter, the American public, based on our latest CNN-Time magazine poll that's just coming out today, is nervous about the possibility of war.

We asked this question: will war with Iraq increase terrorism in the United States? Look at this. 56 percent said yes, 36 percent said no.

And then we asked another question: Will the U.S. economy -- how will the U.S. economy be affected with war with Iraq? 61 percent believe it will make matters worse, 21 percent better, 9 percent no effect.

There's a lot of jittery people out there right now.

HUNTER: Wolf, I think one thing's been proven very clearly, and that is -- and I think it was driven home to us during 9/11 and afterwards -- this is not going to be the century of peace. This is going to be a very dangerous century. We have lots of aggressors and would-be aggressors who are going to be close to having nuclear capability in the next four to five years. So this is going to be a very difficult time for the United States of America, there's no doubt about that.

But there's no way to make that safe by, when we have eight resolutions, for example, with respect to Iraq disarming and they fail to disarm, pulling away and appeasing them.

And I'm reminded a little bit of the 1930s, when we had very strict regulations on whether the Nazis could build airplanes, for example, and have warplanes. And we'd go over there, and we'd say, "What are those planes doing flying up there in the sky," and the Nazis would say, "Those are flying clubs," and we'd say, "OK," and we'd leave.

Now we have a president with the guts to actually try to enforce one of these peace agreements, which was a series of agreements that we negotiated with Saddam Hussein to allow him to be spared after the 1991 war. He hasn't complied with those. He is moving toward weapons of mass destruction. And at some point, in my judgment, he's going to have a nuclear device which he will use on Americans if he has the chance to do so.

Now is the time to go in and enforce 1441.

BLITZER: Congressman McDermott, March 1st, Hans Blix wants to start destroying about 300 of those Al Samoud missiles the Iraqis have built. He says they have more than a 150-kilometer range, which is the limit that they were granted as part of the cease-fire after the first Persian Gulf War.

If the Iraqis don't give that permission, would you then change your mind?

MCDERMOTT: I would be willing to look at the situation and see where we are at that point. I don't think you should prejudge what happens. Blix has given them an order, and we'll see what they do. Do they destroy them all, do they say, let's make a test and see if they really are too long?

I mean, what they've already suggested is, take a missile, fire it, and you can choose any one you want and see how far it goes.

The United States, the Security Council, with all the pressure from the United States, is trying to make a pretext for war, and I'm simply not going to say this should be solved by war.

You spent an hour talking to the governor of Rhode Island about 96 Americans who died. We are preparing deliberately to kill thousands of Iraqi citizens in the process of trying to get one man. I think that is going to make us enemies and make us less safe in ways that we have no understanding.

BLITZER: That's a serious accusation, and Congressman Hunter, I know you want to respond to that.

HUNTER: Wolf, Wolf, we are taking action to prevent the potential killing of millions of Americans.

If you look at the anthrax that Iraq said it had in its own documents -- we've got the documents, it's their statements, their inventory records that they have some 8,500 liters of anthrax, enough to kill roughly a million people. Now, they -- the Iraqis haven't offered to destroy that.

The chemical bombs, we're talking about about 8,500 chemical bombs, those haven't been offered up for destruction.

So we're talking about taking action, preemptive action, but nonetheless action that follows a decade of negotiations and a series of resolutions in the United Nations saying, "Do what you promised to do to spare yourself in 1991."

Iraq hasn't done it. And if we don't work now and if we don't do what we have to do now, we're going to be faced with a very much more dangerous situation in the coming decades.

BLITZER: I'm going to let Congressman McDermott have the last word, since Congressman Hunter had the first word. Congressman McDermott, there are plenty of so-called hawks who say this is the late 1930s, you're dealing with a Hitler type of character, if you don't deal with him now, it's only going to be much worse in the years to come. What do you say to that argument?

MCDERMOTT: Dwight David Eisenhower, president of the United States, said, "They came to me talking about preventive wars as early as the early days of the Hitler regime, and I said, `No, we will not fight a preventive war.' And I still won't listen to anybody who comes into my office talking about preventive wars."

Bush doctrine is changing that. It is saying, "We are now an emperor that can impress our will on the entire world any time we want, with or without the United Nations. We will do what we want to do."

I don't want that kind of image for the United States. It will not make us safer. It will not make us more secure.

BLITZER: All right, we have to leave it right there. Congressman McDermott, Congressman Hunter, thanks for spending some time with us.

MCDERMOTT: Good to be here.

BLITZER: This debate obviously will continue.

We have much more coverage of the showdown with Iraq coming up. When we come back, three experts will weigh in with their insight and analysis. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION, Showdown: Iraq.

Joining us now to talk about the prospects for a new U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the possibility of war, as well as Iraq's reaction to the split among the U.S. allies, are three special guests:

Karl Inderfurth served as the assistant U.S. secretary of state during the Clinton administration. He now heads the International Affairs Program at George Washington University here in Washington. Retired U.S. Army Colonel Patrick Lang is a former analyst with the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. And Robin Wright covers national security, intelligence and terrorism issues for "The Los Angeles Times." She's also the author of the important book, "Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam."

It's good to have all of you on LATE EDITION. Thanks very much.

Pat, let me begin with you, because I know, based on our previous conversations, you believe the U.S. will win this war quickly but then huge problems are likely to develop.

PAT LANG, FORMER ANALYST, U.S. DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Yes, I think that's very true. I was talking to Robin about this before we came on. In fact, I think that we are likely to go through the Iraqi defenses very rapidly with a great deal of style, as a matter of fact. You know, it'd be a spectacular campaign.

But then you settle into the question of whether or not the Iraqis are really going to appreciate having us there. And there are a lot of people around town who think they all will. And I'm of the opinion that there are likely to be a lot of Iraqis who will not be pleased to have us there, on the grounds of their fears of being recolonized and things like this. And the country may start to come apart. It would be very difficult to get out of there.

BLITZER: But you don't believe that these people will be so happy to have this dictator, this tyrant removed from them, if you will, that they'll be throwing rose petals at General Franks and his troops when they move into Baghdad?

LANG: No, I don't think this is going to be a replay of Einhoven in 1944 with the Dutch coming out with bottles of wine. No, I don't believe that.

There'll be a certain number of people among the Shi'a in the south who will be happy to see that. But, unfortunately, a lot of those people are also very heavily influenced by the Iranian government and may be a problem politically afterwards.

The Kurds will be happy in the belief that they can perhaps accomplish some of their political agenda.

But I think there'll be many among the Sunni Arab population in the center of what might be called "essential Iraq" who will not be happy, because they will feel that we are, in fact, a foreign force occupying them. We better be very careful about this.

BLITZER: I read an interesting article in the New York Times today, Robin, saying that the Bush administration has been going through, in recent days, a whole long series of exercises, if you will, how to deal with a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, and they've got a game plan in mind.

ROBIN WRIGHT, LOS ANGELES TIMES: I think they've got a game plan in mind, but an awful lot still depends on what happens at the United Nations and whether this is a singular American effort or whether, as the U.S. actually would prefer, that there is some international role that it can call Iraq as part of a U.N. mandate, even if the United States plays the key role as the civilian administrator afterwards.

There are still a lot of things that the United States would like to see, even France very involved, whether it's reconstruction and the huge humanitarian issues that the United States is going to face.

Remember that every Iraqi family is dependent totally on the package of food provided them every month by the United Nations, and that a war will disrupt that effort and as well as the economy. And so that there will be an enormous dependence on outside aid, as well as, you know, issues down the road of reconstruction.

BLITZER: Yesterday, we heard President Bush in Crawford, Texas. He seemed pretty upbeat that eventually the U.S., his administration together with Britain, would get such a resolution passed through the Security Council, just as they did Resolution 1441 in November.

WRIGHT: Well, it's interesting, I think Secretary Powell has been quite confident about getting something passed. I think, though, that they're beginning to see something very interesting happen, and that is, a lot of these small countries, including countries like Angola and Cameroon and Guinea, you know, small countries in Africa, saying, "We may not vote at all. We may deprive them of the nine-vote minimum they need to pass a resolution."

Now, it may be that the U.S. can offer a lot of sweets in the form of aid to try to lure them onboard, but I think that the fact that the 50-plus nations of Africa met, you know, this weekend to talk about what their position was and they voted in unison that they're not ready for a war, indicates that there are bodies of countries in the world that are standing together. And it may be a lot harder than the administration thinks.

BLITZER: You served for many years in the U.S. government, including at the United Nations, as well as at the State Department here in Washington.

Is it your sense that when all is said and done, when the dust settles, this administration will have those nine affirmative votes, yes votes, among the 15 members of the Security Council, with no vetoes obviously?

KARL INDERFURTH, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Wolf, it would be a tremendous setback if they didn't have it. If they pushed this to a vote and don't get those nine votes, then that is a big setback for the U.S.

But it's going to be tough. Pakistan, a country that I dealt with when I was at the State Department, is on the Security Council. That is a very difficult vote for them, because there is already in Pakistan a great deal of anti-American feeling. They are concerned about the war in Iraq being anti-Muslim, and here is a Muslim nation, which Pakistan is. If they had to vote in favor, without others joining them, this is going to be tough for them.

BLITZER: And if they abstain, they don't get the nine affirmative votes...

INDERFURTH: They don't get the nine votes.

BLITZER: ... assuming that Russia or China or France don't use their veto, which is still a big if.

INDERFURTH: That is a big if. But, again, they can, if they abstain. If you get nine affirmative votes, you can pass it, but that's going to be a very close vote.

BLITZER: Do you see the Iraqis cooperating with Hans Blix and starting to destroy those Al-Samoud missiles?

LANG: I think that Saddam's government, and the Iraqi apparatus of government generally, is so skilled in all the mechanisms of deception and disinformation -- a lot of which they learned from the Soviets under a long tutelage from them -- that anything that is required in order to play the game out longer and to stall and to disrupt what they see as President Bush's campaign to obtain enough political support to go to war against them, they'll do anything like that.

If it requires destroying Samoud missiles, they'll destroy that. They'll probably tear down Saddam's statue in Baghdad if they had to, in order to accomplish the same goal.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that assessment, Robin? WRIGHT: Well, I think that we probably haven't seen a lot of the cards Saddam Hussein has to play. Remember, so much of the debate, really has focused on the outside world. That when it gets down to it, Saddam is likely to do some things, but he's not going to do everything.

He could have, remember, gotten rid of all of it in 1991. And the estimates are that he could have rebuilt what he has so far and much more, if he had only cooperated in the first place.

There is something about holding on to those weapons, I think, that's really in his essence, whether it's his belief that that's the basis for his power inside the country or in the region.

BLITZER: Do you believe that the Iraqi opposition -- this Ahmed Chalabi and some of these other groups, the U.S., various factions in the U.S. government have been dealing with on and off over these many years -- will be able to keep Iraq intact in the aftermath of a war?

INDERFURTH: It's a good question, and it actually goes back to Afghanistan. With Afghanistan, when the U.S. went in to fight the war on terrorism there, there was an opposition force, a Northern Alliance as well as a lot of Afghans that have been working for a long time for the day after the Taliban, if you will.

I don't see that in Iraq in the same fashion that the U.S. can build on it, but I think that experts here know that better.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Pat. And in that regard, before you answer, I want you to listen to what Secretary of State Powell said specifically, sensitive to the concerns that you expressed earlier. Listen to Powell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We're not going to destroy Iraq. And we think once the regime has been eliminated, there will be institutions that remain in place. And as soon as we can, we would want to get the military commander to transfer real authority to civilian leadership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is he dreaming, or does he know what he's saying?

LANG: Well, I think that the blueprint for a successful American stay in Iraq probably is to do essentially what he is saying, which is to say that you are going to probably put Americans in to run these existing ministries, so that they continue to exist and to function and continue to distribute food, all this kind of thing. I think that's absolutely important.

But the idea that which Chalabi and company and the Shi'a and other people seem to be pushing, that we can go in and smash up the crockery and then leave the next day, and that the people equivalent to the framers of Philadelphia will magically appear, is really an illusion. In fact, it's going to require that we stay around long enough to make sure that an effective government emerges based on the existing Iraqi civil service.

So I think Chalabi's idea -- and I saw his thing in The Wall Street Journal -- I think is absolutely fantastical.

BLITZER: Well, let me read an except, Robin, and get your reaction, because you've covered these guys for a long time.

He wrote this in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, among other things: "The transition to democracy, the tasks of exorcising Saddam's ghosts from the Iraqi psyche and society, can only be achieved through self-empowerment and a full return of sovereignty to the people. This is our job, not that of a foreign officer."

WRIGHT: Well, the problem is, Ahmed Chalabi and many of the people in the opposition are exiles. Chalabi hasn't been there since -- or fled there -- in 1958. And I think the United States is prepared to allow many in the opposition some kind of role.

But they believe that the majority of Iraqis, the 23 million still inside who have suffered under Saddam, really are going to want to play a role.

WRIGHT: And the United States is going to be discredited, frankly, if we allow the...

(AUDIO GAP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

It's been three weeks since the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated as it reentered the Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board. NASA is still searching for debris from the shuttle that could yield important clues to what went wrong.

Joining us now to talk about where the investigation stands right now is the NASA administrator, Sean O'Keefe.

Mr. O'Keefe, welcome back to LATE EDITION. Thanks very much.

SEAN O'KEEFE, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: Thank you.

BLITZER: Where does the investigation stand right now?

O'KEEFE: Well, at present we're still working through the details of trying to determine exactly what caused this accident. And an independent Columbia Accident Investigation Board has been at it now for three solid weeks to work through all the facts and evidence to try to, you know, narrow it down and come to some solution on what the probabilities or cause were that contributed to this particular horrific tragedy.

BLITZER: How many investigations are there? O'KEEFE: Just one.

BLITZER: Just this one outside panel that you brought in?

O'KEEFE: That's right. The independent Columbia Accident Investigation Board that Admiral Hal Gehman who, as you recall, investigated and was involved as the co-chair of the USS Cole disaster three years back, and he was involved in that particular effort.

And so, therefore, between them they've got better than 50 different accidents they've been investigating over the course of their careers. So I think we've got a fighting chance of figuring out what the probable circumstance was that caused this terrible accident.

BLITZER: Is foam, is that still the prime suspect? And we're hearing now that it may not have been one piece of foam but three pieces of foam from the external fuel tank that on takeoff sort of just went off and hit the left side of the wing.

O'KEEFE: Sure. Well, it's one of many theories, and it's not a favorite of anybody's at this juncture that I'm aware of. Everybody is looking at every single possible permutation of what could have caused this.

That certainly is an active element of the overall investigation, as well. And they have, in fact, determined that some of the early reports during the orbit of STS-107, the Columbia, about midway through there were reports that had looked at further information and determined there may have been as many as that.

BLITZER: Three pieces of foam?

O'KEEFE: Apparently so. Whether or not they all struck or not is something they're still working through.

BLITZER: But in your simulations, I mean, people think of foam they think something very light, they don't think that this could cause much problem. But given the speed of that shuttle, this could be, obviously, if in fact it was the result, it could be a horrendous thing.

O'KEEFE: Could be. There's a very spirited discussion going on back and forth between aerodynamicists, for example, on this very point, of how far to travel. We know it was something on the order of about 50 to 60 feet off the main external fuel tank and onto the orbit.

But exactly what speed was it traveling at, whether it was one that was greater than anything you'd imagine of a piece of styrofoam coming at you or whether it was something heavier than that, comparatively, given the speed it was traveling at, is something they're still debating back and forth and analyzing.

BLITZER: Now, some engineers, some NASA engineers were concerned even while the shuttle was up there in space. You released on Friday this e-mail from Robert Dougherty, a safety engineer, who wrote, among other things, on January 29th, in the middle of the mission, "We can't imagine why getting information is being treated like the plague. Apparently the thermal folks have used words like they think things are survivable but marginal."

Now, that seems to suggest that even while the space shuttle Columbia was in its mission, experts down here on Earth were saying, "We've got a serious problem."

O'KEEFE: Well, I think, on every single mission, prior to every single launch, any anomaly we encourage everybody throughout the agency to raise any issue they think looks problematic or troublesome. I find that to be heartening that there's that kind of spirited exchange going on.

BLITZER: But apparently he wasn't getting cooperation from others.

O'KEEFE: I can't tell. We're going to let the Columbia Accident Investigation Board make a determination of exactly what did transpire and what information was garnered, how it was analyzed. I'm going to live by that judgment from that independent group to tell us exactly what we could have, should have, might have, would have done had we known something differently.

But as it stands right now, those are the kinds of dialogues and debates that go on every single time, during every single mission that's involved so that everybody is fully conversant when all the matter is engaged in this.

So we want to encourage that kind of dialogue and are looking at releasing everything and anything we can find in order to get the maximum evidence and facts together...

BLITZER: So you're going to let sunshine reign in this particular investigation, and even if it's pretty embarrassing or damaging you're going to let it out?

O'KEEFE: Absolutely. Absolutely. We want to know if there was something we did, could have done, might have done, should have done, any of those circumstances in order to find out what the truth and the facts were in this case.

BLITZER: I know you read that long piece in The Washington Post today on the space shuttle Columbia. One of the things they pointed out was serious problems took place on 20 of the 28 missions of the Columbia, going back to 1981. Yet you allowed it to continue going forward.

O'KEEFE: Well, the approach that was taken in the article, as I read it, was that there was scarring on the external tiles of the Columbia, as there are on every single mission. As soon as the orbiters return, when the shuttle comes back, every time, on every mission, it is carefully inspected.

Then it goes through about a 90-day period in an orbiter- processing facility, to look at every possible element of damage -- and yes indeed, we're talking about things that are just real minor kind of hits, as well as things that might be more significant -- in order to determine if the next flight should be considered to stop or delay or defer, as a consequence of whatever occurred there.

So, that's not surprising, it's not unusual on Columbia. It was certainly the case on Discovery and on Atlantis, on Endeavor, on every one of those flights we examined, every single one of them, after every single mission.

BLITZER: What's the furthest west you found actual debris from the Columbia?

O'KEEFE: Just the other day, we were finally able to find a piece of debris that had come down just a little bit northwest, I believe, of Lubbock. So that's the furthest west we've found so far.

But we have teams in California, in New Mexico, and Arizona, looking at particular grids and areas that we've been able to determine, from using our FAA information as well as a lot of the NASA and Defense Department information, to find what the probable spots would be of earlier pieces of debris falling, as early as California, when it first came over it at about 200,000 feet.

So that'll be very, very illuminating evidence to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, and their assessment of exactly what the cause or probable cause of the accident had been.

BLITZER: Well, good luck to you, and good luck to all your investigators. Good luck to NASA. And once again, our condolences to all the families. Obviously, it's the first time I've seen you in person since that tragedy. Thanks very much, Sean O'Keefe.

O'KEEFE: Well, thank you, Wolf, appreciate it very much. This has been a very difficult time, and the families have been truly courageous through this whole event.

BLITZER: Yes, our heart goes out to them.

O'KEEFE: Appreciate it very much, Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Just ahead, with the United States under a high terror alert, the federal government takes new precautions, but do the states have enough resources to keep residents safe? We'll hear from three governors: Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and Mark Warner of Virginia.

LATE EDITION will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. The nation's governors have been meeting in Washington, D.C., this weekend, and the homeland security issue and readiness have been a key part of their agenda. Joining us now, New Mexico Governor, as well as former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Bill Richardson, the governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, and the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Mark Warner.

Gentlemen, welcome to LATE EDITION.

Let me begin with you, Ambassador Richardson -- or Governor Richardson, I'll call you that now. Is your state ready for possible terrorism?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, NEW MEXICO: No, and I'm really concerned, because in my state we have four military bases, Los Alamos, Sandia. The problem is resources. We have good standards, good direction from Homeland Security, but the $3.5 billion that has been committed to states, not one penny has been provided. So first-responder equipment, training, none of that has arrived for police and for firemen. So we're concerned. We're not ready.

BLITZER: What about South Carolina? A lot of military installations in South Carolina, a lot of potential targets in your state.

GOV. MARK SANFORD, SOUTH CAROLINA: Yes, probably the biggest of which is the port itself in Charleston, tremendous amount of international trade going in and out.

I would echo what Bill said, in that everybody is in place. I guess our big friction, if you will, as governors, is, is the money going to come in through the governor's office and be dispersed through there so that you can have a centralized approach, or is it going to go to every first responder out there? Our hope is you'll see consolidation of that money so we can have a complete statewide overview.

BLITZER: Virginia's already been -- the Pentagon is in Virginia.

GOV. MARK WARNER, VIRGINIA: Virginia's already been a victim.

BLITZER: So, but do you have enough resources? Are you ready, given what's already happened once in Virginia?

WARNER: Well, I'd echo what both the previous governors said. We'd like to see those federal dollars flow.

I do feel like we've made some progress though. We've made progress, for example, on setting up these community emergency response teams in a variety of communities. Virginia has more of those CERT teams than any state in the country.

We've passed legislation to make sure we know where our critical infrastructure is. For example, half the Internet traffic in the world passes through Northern Virginia. We didn't have an appropriate road map to protect that. We've got that in place right now.

So the dollars are coming, but we're also putting in place a series of legislative changes to make sure that we're fully prepared.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to take a quick break. We're just getting started. A lot more to talk about, Governors. Stay with us.

It's time to say good-bye to our international viewers. Thanks very much for watching.

Coming up for our North American audience, more with the governors and the latest on that deadly nightclub fire in Rhode Island.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're talking with three governors about homeland security in the state of the budget crunch they face. But first -- we'll get to those interviews. First, let's get to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta with a CNN news alert.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to our discussion with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and Virginia Governor Mark Warner.

Are you getting, Governor Richardson, enough information from the Department of Homeland Security here in Washington about terrorism threats, especially in the aftermath of going up from this elevated, or yellow level, to a high or orange level?

RICHARDSON: On that score, the administration is doing a good job. Tom Ridge and I have talked several times, once during the space shuttle to assure us it was not a terrorist situation, another time when we had some incidents in New Mexico.

The standards that they've set, the communication, the helping the states with technical advice on homeland security -- it's been good. But the big problem is lack of resources, lack of first- responder training, equipment, for our fire and our police people.

This is the problem: resources. We need to have a partnership, but it's got to involve resources.

BLITZER: I know a lot of the first responders are getting smallpox vaccinations. How is that going in South Carolina?

SANFORD: It's coming, I mean, on track. But, again, I think the question that you have to ask in looking at any of this is, what is secure? Because the nature of asymmetrical warfare is it hits you where you're not.

And so, I think that we do a tremendous disservice to the American public and, for that matter, the South Carolina public, if we suggest that somehow Washington will be the cure to all terrorism threats.

At the end of the day, that neighbor looking across the neighbor's fence or that local policeman, I think, has as much to do with national security and terrorism security as anything that will be done out of Washington.

BLITZER: But you don't want all the people in the United States to sort of become peeping Toms and try to just tell, you know, tattle tales, and look at everybody with that suspicious nature, do you?

SANFORD: I would rather have the neighbor looking across the neighbor's fence than an apparatus set up in Washington that took from us civil liberties that are, I think, a part of the American system.

BLITZER: What's the most important thing that you need in Virginia?

WARNER: We need resources. We need dollars.

BLITZER: That's money?

WARNER: We need the dollars to flow down to the first responders.

I think I'd echo what Governor Richardson said, we do have a good working relationship with Secretary Ridge. They've kept us informed.

What we're trying to do is, what Governor Sanford said, is involve our community. We're building up these community emergency response teams, training in first aid, training in response mechanisms.

We're trying to make sure that we know where all our assets are, both the hard assets, we've got only the Norfolk Naval Base but the Pentagon, a series of other military installations, but that other infrastructure, the utility lines, the telephone lines, as I mentioned earlier, the broadband capacity we've got in Virginia, particularly in northern Virginia.

We've got to make sure we've got all that information so we can be aware in the event of a terrorist attack.

BLITZER: You've got the CIA headquarters not very far away in Virginia, either. The CIA has suggested that if there's a war with Iraq, the likelihood of terrorism attempts increasing against U.S. targets goes up. So you obviously have to be concerned about that?

RICHARDSON: Well, I would be concerned especially because my state, Wolf, has four military bases, two nuclear weapons labs, Los Alamos and Sandia. We have a very open population.

So my concern is that if a target is not going to be Washington or New York or the East Coast, that within the heartland you're very vulnerable.

BLITZER: Do the people in New Mexico really fear terrorism? Because I know what's it like here on the East Coast, where I am, but what's the mood out there?

RICHARDSON: Well, the mood in New Mexico is apprehension. It's not as intense as it is here with the duct tape. But at the same time, there is concern, there is apprehension. There is, you know, a spirit of patriotism and unity about the effort with Iraq, but at the same time, everybody feels a certain vulnerability.

BLITZER: Is that the case in South Carolina, as well?

SANFORD: I wouldn't say to any great degree. I think the further you go away from the Northeast...

BLITZER: New York and Washington?

SANFORD: ... yes, New York and Washington, the more those feelings dissipate. So I would say there's no heightened sense of threat, in terms of immediate action on behalf of terrorists in South Carolina.

And I think what we're trying to keep in place is this balance between making sure that we don't have Washington to go out and solve yet another problem, when in many cases Chief Stewart and his crew in South Carolina, in conjunction with local law enforcement, can do a great job.

BLITZER: Do people in Virginia, I'll ask this directly, feel threatened by Saddam Hussein?

WARNER: I think the people in northern Virginia, outside of the Washington, D.C. area, really felt this heightened sense of concern. They were the folks going out and buying the duct tape. They were the folks that were concerned about what emergency response was going to take place in the particular schools.

The further south we got in the state -- in Richmond we were in the middle of our legislative session -- there wasn't that same level of concern. But it sure was very, very prominent in northern Virginia.

Whether that fear is toward Saddam Hussein or whether it's fear toward an amorphous threat of terrorism, I think it's a little bit of both.

BLITZER: Governor Richardson, put on your old U.N. hat for a moment, your diplomat's hat, and tell us if there's any way a war with Iraq can be avoided.

RICHARDSON: I don't believe so. I think it's important, though, that the United States go to the Security Council, get a second resolution...

BLITZER: What if we can't get nine affirmative votes?

RICHARDSON: But get France and Russia to abstain. Work the other 15 members of the Security Council. Get nine votes. This is where the nonpermanent members, like Mexico, like Colombia, like Syria, like Spain, Bulgaria, play an increasingly important role.

I think it is important that we get that international support from the U.N.

BLITZER: Is that doable?

RICHARDSON: It is doable. And I believe that the administration is proceeding on that right track.

And then we ask ourselves, what is in our best interests? Do we go in right away? Do we wait?

I don't think diplomacy has a role. As I said before, I think the last possible chance might be the secretary general of the U.N., Kofi Annan, undertaking a last-minute trip, as he did five years ago when I was U.N. ambassador, and then the Iraqis violated all of those agreements made with Kofi.

BLITZER: Do you think he might think about that?

RICHARDSON: Well, I don't know. I'm sure he's thinking about it. But I just think that war is probably most likely.

BLITZER: The other big issue -- and while I have you, I'll pick your brain on this -- North Korea, you had those North Korean diplomats in New Mexico a few weeks ago. It looks like, by all accounts, that situation is as much of a tinder box as any other situation in the world.

RICHARDSON: Yes. And I believe that the administration needs to engage in direct talks, put that issue on the back burner. I think Secretary Powell's doing the right thing, giving them unconditional food aid to the North Koreans, getting our allies in Asia to back them up, especially China. I don't think China will do much.

But eventually it's going to take face-to-face talks, where you get an agreement in exchange for them reducing their nuclear proliferation, we get some kind of an agreement that we don't attack them.

BLITZER: In South Carolina, I assume, correct me if I'm wrong, there's pretty much support for President Bush when it comes to Iraq?

SANFORD: There's a great degree of trust between the people of South Carolina, the president, Don Rumsfeld and his team. And, you know, you look at the number of squadrons that are leaving Shaw, the Marine Corps station in Buford, people are ready and willing to serve and sort of waiting to see what happens next.

BLITZER: Virginia, the same thing?

WARNER: People are supportive, but I think we'd like to see more international support if we're going in.

BLITZER: So you agree with Governor Richardson. All right, Governor Warner, Governor Richardson, Governor Sanford, thanks. Good luck at this -- I think all three of you will be going to the White House dinner tonight.

What do you make of Governor, you know, Rick Perry of Texas deciding he's going to leave the National Governors' Association because it costs, what, $160,000, and he thinks that you guys are too anti-Bush?

RICHARDSON: Well, I think many of us want to be bipartisan, and I heard that report, but I do think that within the National Governors' Association there is good bipartisan feeling.

WARNER: And I think we've got to work together on these issues. The issues that are confronting all our states in terms of budget shortfalls, it doesn't affect just Democratic states or Republican states.

BLITZER: It's all the states.

You're not leaving the NGA?

SANFORD: Haven't. And, you know, it's the president's brother that they're, you know, attending these meetings with us. I think we're going to try and find, you know, bipartisan compromise to a number of these problems.

BLITZER: Speaking of the president, I think he's getting ready to come back to the White House right now. There's Marine One, it's about to touch down on the South Lawn of the White House. When the president emerges, he almost always goes and shakes some hands of some tourists and some friends who have gathered. We'll watch the president, see if he stops and speaks with reporters on his way into the White House. We'll have that for you when we come back.

Also up next, a deadly fire turns Rhode Island -- at least one Rhode Island club into a panic room, just days after chaos in a Chicago nightclub claims lives, as well. Who's responsible, and how could these tragedies have been prevented? We'll get several viewpoints, including the former New York City fire commissioner, Thomas von Essen, when LATE EDITION returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Ninety-six people were killed, more than 180 injured, in that horrible Rhode Island nightclub fire. The tragedy occurred just three nights after 21 people were killed in a stampede of a Chicago nightclub.

Joining us now, special guests, in Chicago, Arterea Jackson. Arterea was one of the survivors from that nightclub stampede in Chicago. And from New York, the city's former fire commissioner, Thomas Von Essen. And in Chicago, Paul Wertheimer. He's the founder of Crowd Management Strategies, a firm specializing in crowd control. Thanks to all of you for joining us.

Arterea, let me begin with you, and walk us through what exactly happened inside that Chicago nightclub that resulted in 21 people getting killed.

ARTEREA JACKSON, CHICAGO NIGHTCLUB STAMPEDE SURVIVOR: OK, actually, it started from two young ladies, advanced (ph) to an argument and started fighting. And the security, you know, gradually put those -- I'm sure they put the two girls out.

And then after a good two minutes after that, there was another commotion on the other side of the club, and they said two guys started fighting or anything.

And then the next thing you know, five minutes later, prior to that, we smelled the pepper spray in the air. And that caused the crowd to run straight to the exit.

BLITZER: And what did you do that enabled you to get out?

JACKSON: I mean, I was actually pushed in between the crowd. You know, in between, I couldn't go from my right side to my left side. I had to stay squished in the middle on down to the stairs (ph), and then I was like trampled on.

BLITZER: You were trampled on? Were, like, other people were just running right over you? Is that what you're saying?

JACKSON: Yes. Over my head.

BLITZER: And I assume these were some big guys as well?

JACKSON: Yes.

BLITZER: So you must have been injured in the process?

JACKSON: Yes.

BLITZER: But eventually you got up and you managed to get out the door, right?

JACKSON: No. No.

BLITZER: What happened?

JACKSON: I actually was -- got stuck at the bottom of the stairs. And a lot of -- I assume about 500 people was on top of me. I was like at the bottom of the stairs, by the door, on my way out, through the doors. But I didn't manage to make it.

BLITZER: But fortunately you're here with us today. Arterea, stand by.

Paul Wertheimer, you specialize in crowd management issues. What was wrong at that Chicago nightclub? What could they have done differently to prevent that horrible tragedy?

PAUL WERTHEIMER, CROWD MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES: Well, first of all, everybody could have adhered to city codes and regulations. That would have prevented it.

The other issue is, the city could have enforced its own codes and regulations. That also might have prevented this disaster.

As far as what the people inside the venue could do, they didn't have many options. There was no emergency evacuation plan. Exit ways were locked or blocked or not visible. And people were left to their own devices.

In crowd management, that's the last thing you want to occur. People have to work together for the common good of a crowd. That's the point of crowd management, a point of an emergency plan.

BLITZER: What should people do, Paul, when they go to these clubs, other places where there are big crowds, in order to protect themselves going into an event, let's say, at a nightclub?

WERTHEIMER: Well, I think people should take care of the symbolic safety symbols that should be in the theater. Where the emergency exits are, if they are unlocked, if they can find that out. Look for emergency lighting for their own security. Look to see if there are in the public area of fire-suppressant materials. Keep a sense of what's going on around them.

But even more importantly, what people can do is tell their leaders -- their government leaders, their political leaders -- that they want the correct safety legislation that will protect them at public events throughout their community.

BLITZER: Thomas Von Essen, you were the commissioner -- the fire commissioner in New York City for a long time. You've now had a few days to digest what happened at that nightclub in Rhode Island. We spoke to the governor earlier who said they didn't have sprinkler systems in there, because that club was grandfathered in, meaning that after new laws were enacted, they didn't have to pay attention.

That sounds ridiculous to me, that they would allow those kinds of rules to stay in effect even when they could endanger people's lives.

THOMAS VON ESSEN, FORMER NEW YORK CITY FIRE COMMISSIONER: Well, it's not unusual. It happens everywhere. We've got good codes all around the country. But very often are grandfathered, based on the age of their building, the amount of construction or renovations that are taking place. And the local politicians, fire departments try very often to change it. But there are strong lobbies on both sides, so you can't always get it done.

BLITZER: Where do you stand on that whole issue of grandfathering in these kinds of regulations, these codes so that older buildings, which may be the most vulnerable, don't necessarily have to upgrade their fire-prevention equipment? VON ESSEN: I think it's easy. When people's lives are in danger, when you're going to have large groups of people in an area that can be overcrowded -- it looks to me like there were more people in that building than were supposed to be in it. It looks like the management definitely dropped the ball by not making sure that the people that come on stage aren't doing something that they're not supposed to do. It happened in Chicago, the same thing. The management once again allowed something to happen that's not supposed to happen.

Somebody has to be responsible. If the managers are responsible, legally, criminally, however the law reads it, I think you'll have people more responsive to acting in a safe manner. And the firefighters, the patrons, people who are counting on those rules being taken care of will be safer.

BLITZER: Commissioner, I want you to listen to these two excerpts, one from the lead singer from Great White, the band that was playing, that said -- suggested that they did have verbal authority to go ahead and use the fireworks during their act, and one soundbite from the owner of the club who denied it. But listen to this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

JACK RUSSELL, GREAT WHITE LEAD SINGER: We advance the shows and they'll say, we have said this is what we have, this is what it does, is it OK to use here or not? Some places say yes, no problem. Some places say no we can't do that, so we don't do it. It's not like a big part of the show. You know, tonight we had the permission to do it.

JEFF DERDERIAN, CO-OWNER OF THE STATION: At no time did my brother or I have any knowledge that pyrotechnics were going to be used by the band Great White. No permission was ever requested by the band or any of its agents to use pyrotechnics at The Station, and no permission was ever given.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: Well, obviously a 180-degree difference. Somebody's not necessarily telling the truth. What do you do in an investigation like this, Commissioner, when you have two very different arguments?

VON ESSEN: Well, they're both responsible, in my view. I'm not an attorney, but they're both responsible. Neither one of them has the right to give either one of them the authority or the permission to do it.

You've got laws up there. You have to go to the fire department for a permit. You've got to go to the local government for a permit. Neither one did that. So neither one has the right to put all of their patrons in jeopardy like that.

There's too many people in there besides. There should have been more staff trying to help people out of here. If you have a problem, people try to save money, they don't have enough help in these places and you have tragedies like this. It's wrong.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take a caller from Wisconsin. Go ahead, Wisconsin.

CALLER: Hello. I think that the main problem, besides all the other factors, is that the fire spread so quickly and people always panic. It doesn't matter where it is or what the other circumstances are.

BLITZER: Well, that's a fair question.

Go ahead, Commissioner.

VON ESSEN: Well, you know, fire spreads fast. That's why you don't allow fireworks on a stage with 11-foot ceiling and flammable material on the top. They use the same pyrotechnics in another facility, 30-foot ceiling with sprinklers and steel and concrete. Said there was no problem.

So, it's not the fault of the pyrotechnics, it's the fault of the people that allowed it to be used. The band knows it's not supposed to use it. The owner was caught by surprise. So they both dropped the ball. They're both -- they both made a major mistake, and they both can be very sorry at this point, but they're both guilty of a horrible mistake in judgment, both of them.

WERTHEIMER: And I would also suggest that when people are informed of what to do in an emergency evacuation, that they will act responsibly and in unison if they're given that option and reduce any injuries if, in fact, there are injuries. This was not the case in either tragedy. People weren't informed. People were left to their own devices.

And if I might add, too, in another area, I would agree with the former fire commissioner that there are, at least in my opinion, too many old buildings not intended for the use that they're used for today that should not be public-assembly venues.

BLITZER: Good advice from both of you.

Paul Wertheimer, thanks very much. Arterea Jackson in Chicago, as well, thanks to you.

Former Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, in New York, always good to have you on our program. Thanks very much.

Let's hope that people learn from this horrible -- these two horrible nightclub disasters.

Up next, LATE EDITION's "Final Round." Our panel is ready to square off on the week's big stories. The "Final Round," coming up, right after a CNN news alert.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back. Time now for our "Final Round."

Joining me, Donna Brazile, the Democratic strategist, Peter Beinart of the "New Republic," Jonah Goldberg of the "National Review" Online, and Robert George of the "New York Post."

The United States is going to take another crack, trying to get the United Nations Security Council to support military action to disarm Iraq.

Today in Tokyo Secretary of State Colin Powell outlined a new resolution that the U.S. and Great Britain will offer this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL: The resolution that will be tabled will be a simple resolution directly to the point. And once it has been tabled, there will be a period of consultation among Security Council members, among international leaders around the world, before a judgment is made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Donna, what happens if the U.S. doesn't have enough votes? They need nine affirmative votes, no vetoes, in order to get that resolution passed.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think, if they don't have the votes, it's clear to me that the administration will continue to pursue some level of diplomacy to build a coalition of the willing to get other nations to help fight this war and of course to keep the peace.

So, I suspect that, if they cannot get the nine votes, you'll still have Colin Powell working the phone and the president and Blair and others trying to build this coalition.

BLITZER: I would be amazed if they would even introduce a resolution unless they knew in advance that they were going to get the nine votes.

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: Yes, I think they think they can get the nine votes. I think ultimately Cameroon, Mexico, these countries really don't care what flag flies in Baghdad, but they do care about staying on good terms with the United States. And I think, in some ways, this will put Powell back to where he's strongest, which is in these bilateral negotiation and diplomatic circles, where he can really work one on one with these countries. And we're going to have a big chestful of goodies to sell to all these countries in exchange for a vote.

BLITZER: Peter, does it sound credible to you that a country, let's say, like Pakistan, an Islamic country, might be that ninth affirmative vote, but the U.S. isn't even thinking that Germany or France, NATO allies, could be those votes, within the nine?

PETER BEINART, NEW REPUBLIC: Well, Pakistan's not really a democracy, so they don't have to worry about the fact that public opinion as much is really against this war.

I think the other key factor -- I think Jonah is right -- is Russia. I think, if the Bush administration can finally get Putin on board, I think that will have an impact on -- it'll change the momentum, and it'll even put a little pressure on the French.

BLITZER: Because they're hoping that these veto-bearing countries, like Russia, China, France, will at least abstain.

BEINART: Yes, it's one thing -- if France is isolated, and they have to wield a veto, and China and Russia won't, I think maybe, at the end of the day, they'll blink.

BLITZER: What do you think?

ROBERT GEORGE, NEW YORK POST: Yes, I would tend to agree with that. As Jonah said, it's on the fine line of looking for the coalition of the willing to the coalition of the willing to be bribed. And there's going to be this general continued negotiation. I think the administration obviously knows what it's going to do, and there will be a removal of Saddam Hussein. And everybody just has to jump on board.

GOLDBERG: Also, I do think that if France does veto, and we still get the votes but France then vetoes, I still think the Bush administration can claim it as a victory and still move ahead with the war, and just say, "Hey look, that's France doing that," and that would still give us the political cover that we need.

BLITZER: All right, let's move on to the next issue. The Bush administration is working feverishly to strike a deal with Turkey that would allow some 40,000 U.S. troops to use that country as a base in the event of a war with Iraq. The price tag: about $20 billion in various forms of grants and loans.

Earlier today on this program, Turkey's ambassador to the United States talked about the current state of the negotiations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOGOGLU: There is no final agreement yet between Turkey and the U.S. I believe we are close to one. And over the weekend, even at this very hour, Turkish and American teams are talking in Ankara to finalize an agreement on three basic areas: economic, military and political.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Peter, should the U.S. give Turkey basically what it wants?

BEINART: Most of it. I think the Turks are absolutely right, actually, in trying to get as much from us as they possibly can. They have every right to.

First of all, 90 percent of the population is against the war. It's a democracy. You have to give people something if they are going to along for it.

Second of all, Americans don't like to remember this: We left them hanging the last time. They had huge economic repercussions from the war. We didn't come through. I don't blame them for wanting guarantees.

BLITZER: All right. Hold on one second. Paul Wolfowitz, who is a man who helped negotiate a lot of the deals with Turkey, the deputy secretary of defense, he's participating in a town meeting in Dearborn, Michigan, right now.

I want to listen in, because he's speaking precisely on the showdown with Iraq. Listen to this.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: ... delivered last week in New York City.

As I said, I've come here to listen to you, not just to speak to you, but let me start our discussion by focusing briefly on five subjects.

First, what are the principles that should shape the future of a post-Saddam Iraq -- principles that can be broadly agreed upon by the Iraqi people themselves, by the United States and by the broader international coalition?

Second, what are some of the key issues that the Iraqi people will face in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's regime? And how can the international community assist Iraqis to answer those questions which Iraqis must answer for themselves?

Third, what kinds of assistance should the international community be prepared to provide to meet the immediate needs of the Iraqi people?

Fourth, perhaps most important, can democracy take root in Iraq, and how will it do so?

And fifth, and the reason why I brought such a distinguished and important group with me today, we want to talk with you in this open forum, and then we'll be available afterwards to talk in more detail, about how Iraqi-American citizens or Iraqis who have recently immigrated to the United States can assist the U.S. government and the coalition in the aftermath of a forcible removal of the Saddam Hussein regime, should it come to that.

Let me first briefly talk about those principles. In the speech I spoke of earlier, Steve Hadley, as I said, the president's deputy national security adviser, said, and I'm quoting now, "The goal which we are confident we share with Iraq's people is an Iraq that is whole, free and at peace with itself and its neighbors, an Iraq that is moving toward democracy in which all religions and ethnic communities have a voice and in which individual rights are protected, regardless of gender, religion or ethnicity, and," he concluded, "an Iraq that adheres to the rule of law at home and lives up to its international obligations." Let me summarize briefly the principles that the U.S. government is applying in thinking about a post-Saddam Iraq. And you can read them in more detail in Mr. Hadley's speech. They are first, and this is really the overarching principle, the United States seeks to liberate Iraq, not to occupy Iraq.

(APPLAUSE)

Second, Iraq must be disarmed of all weapons of mass terror, weapons-production capabilities, and the means to deliver such weapons. This is a complex and dangerous task for which detailed planning is already under way.

Third, we must eliminate Iraq's terrorist infrastructure.

(APPLAUSE)

Fourth, Iraq must be preserved as a unified state with its territorial integrity intact.

(APPLAUSE)

And fifth, with our coalition partners, we must help the Iraqi people begin the process of economic and political reconstruction.

Those are principles...

BLITZER: Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, the number-two official at the Department of Defense, participating in a town meeting in Dearborn, Michigan, where there's a large Arab- American population, outlining five principles that will govern U.S. policy in a post-Saddam Hussein era.

BLITZER: Let's continue our conversation.

Robert, those five points, which you listened to, they sound pretty realistic.

GEORGE: Two things that kind of jump out. One is that you can definitely see that the administration, you know, knows its end game. I mean, they're really mapping it. They're basically saying that the negotiation with the U.N. and everything else is kind of details, but they are mapping out the post-Saddam Iraq.

One of the things that also jumped out at me was the idea that they want to keep the territorial integrity of Iraq complete, which in a sense also speaks to what we were saying before about the issue of Turkey, because there's obviously -- there's concern as to whether Turkey is going to want to, in a sense, you know, deal with the Kurds, the Kurds in northern Iraq, who have more autonomy, and how they're going to relate with the Kurds in Turkey, who seem to want more freedom.

BLITZER: Do you have confidence that the Bush administration has a game plan, a post-Saddam game plan, in mind that will limit the U.S. military involvement in that country? BRAZILE: Well, apparently they've come up with a game plan, and they've laid out their principles. But what they haven't laid out is the checkbook, how much it's going to cost us, what's the cost overall in rebuilding the country.

As well as, look, the Ba'ath Party's been in power for over 30 years, and they do everything from, you know, provide police services to passing out food rationing. And I think we need to really think about the post-Saddam era and what that will cost the United States in terms of resources and long-term commitment in that region.

BLITZER: Earlier in the week, I interviewed General Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme allied commander. He thought there would be a war by mid-March. He thinks the war would last about two weeks, which obviously is pretty quick.

I was reminded, though, the 1967, the Israelis fought a six-day war, but now, all these decades later, they're still fighting that same war. Could the U.S. be bogged down in Iraq for decades if it's a two-week war?

GOLDBERG: There is that danger. You know, one military strategist I talked to once said, you know, it was very convenient that Japan was an island, which meant that you could actually protect its borders and work with an intact thing. Meanwhile, Iraq is in a region which is -- sets a very serious context.

I think -- and I'm a little off the page with a lot of conservatives on this, but not as many as some people think -- I think you need to have a very ambitious plan. Otherwise all this is going to do is create problems for us for the next 30 years. The whole point of doing this is to create -- to plant a democracy in the region.

Peter did a great column in his magazine on it this week. I think that you're seeing a bipartisan consensus, at least among conservative intellectuals, on that point, that if you're not going to move democracy into the Middle East, there's really no reason to do this at all.

BLITZER: What was the thrust of your great column?

BEINART: It was the fear that we're going to be betrayed. And I'm actually -- liberals who don't have any influence in this administration are going to have to rely on conservatives who do have it to hold the Bush administration's feet to the fire, because there are some conservatives who really believe sincerely in this, about creating a democracy, and I think there are some who don't. And that battle is still being fought.

BLITZER: But you think there can be democracy in Iraq?

BEINART: Not overnight, but you have to start building the building blocks for liberal government, slowly, slowly, but you have to put in the time and the money to do it. Otherwise I think that the whole thrust of history in the Middle East will continue to go against America's direction.

GOLDBERG: Well, Peter, if you're going to have that consensus, then you're going to have to trust conservatives. Conservatives are going to have to trust liberals not to go batty every single time a military governor of Iraq does something that betrays, you know, the wonderful spirit of democracy and hope. Because to actually plant the roots of democracy, you actually need to rule pretty toughly at first, and you have to have trust.

And I don't trust liberals not to get up on their soapboxes and pound the podium too early and make a huge case that America's doing something evil and terrible in the Middle East, when all it's really trying to do is protect its own troops and protect its interests in the short-term.

BEINART: We'll see what Ahmad Chalabi and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) say. That'll be our lone stars, the true Iraqi democrats.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. Just ahead, why are so many Democrats lining up to challenge President Bush next year? That and much more.

Our "Final Round" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our "Lightning Round."

Although the possibility of war against Iraq has been taking up a lot of his attention, President Bush is trying to make sure he's seen as staying focused on the economy. This week he spent time pushing his economic plan.

But today, the Democratic congressman, the 2004 presidential hopeful, Dick Gephardt, gave the president a failing grade on the economy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D), MISSOURI: You know, there's an old saying, you make lemonade out of lemons. Well, he was handed a lemonade economy, and he's turned it back into a lemon. His economic plans are misguided. They're not in touch with reality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Jonah, is the economy President Bush's potential Achilles' heel in 2004?

GOLDBERG: Well, that line from Meet the Press was actually a line he took straight from his speech from this weekend, when he was speaking to Democrats. And what he always seems to leave out is that, you know, President Bush had a recession on his hands before he even implemented his economic policies.

But, you know, the point is taken. I think, basically, if the economy isn't good by Labor Day 2004, Bush has a really good shot of losing, unless, of course, it's Dennis Kucinich is the Democratic nominee. Then he can't lose.

(LAUGHTER)

But if the economy is going well at that time, I think President Bush is unbeatable.

BLITZER: If the Democratic candidate can ask this question, are you better off today than you were four years ago, and the economy hasn't improved, the president could be in trouble.

BEINART: Yes, but that won't be enough. I mean, the Democratic candidate will have to have credibility on national security. I really believe that if the Democrats don't meet a threshold on national security, the economy won't matter. They weren't able to use it in 2002 because they didn't have a message on national security.

BLITZER: Is this still, "The economy, stupid"?

GEORGE: It's not just the economy, stupid.

GOLDBERG: Don't call him stupid.

(LAUGHTER)

GEORGE: No, as Peter said, national security is once again in play, just as it was back in the days of the Cold War. That's -- Republicans tend to be stronger on that area. And the only time Democrats win is when they, in a sense, run almost to the right, the right of Republicans on national security issues.

But given that, the economy will seriously undermine George Bush's chances if it hasn't...

BRAZILE: National security and economic security go hand in hand. And if the Bush administration continues to push for these excessive tax cuts at a time when they're asking everybody to sacrifice -- you know, I wanted to tell some of the governors to send their Washington lobbyists to Ankara so that they can, you know, go ahead and get a piece of the pie that they're giving Turkey and perhaps bail the states out.

(LAUGHTER)

So I think this a problem for the president. He will have a tough time going out there and selling to the American people that he's a wartime president. But on the economy, on domestic issues, you know, the emperor has no claws.

GEORGE: Are you saying that governors are turkeys?

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: Oh, no.

BLITZER: No, no. She didn't say that.

Dick Gephardt is, of course, not the only one interested in challenging President Bush next year. Joining him, Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, former Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the Reverend Al Sharpton, Senator John Edwards -- just to name those who have jumped in already.

Peter, why are so many Democrats itching to run against a popular president?

BEINART: I don't think it has to do with Bush. I think it has to do with the fact that there is no Democratic front runner. If Gore were in, I think you would have many fewer Democratic presidential candidates.

The second reason I think that you see more people get in is that the top-tier candidates are pro-war; the party base is not.

So there was some room on the left. And I think that's the room that now Kucinich and Moseley-Braun and Sharpton have kind of filled in.

BLITZER: Are they really serious about this? They seem like such wild long shots.

GEORGE: Half of them are serious. Kerry, Lieberman...

BLITZER: No, I'm talking about Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley-Braun, Dennis Kucinich. They barely have name recognition outside of their own constituencies.

GEORGE: Dennis Kucinich, I think, just wants to be a flyer, to be the official left gadfly. Al Sharpton, I think, wants to become the official spokesman for black America, in a sense succeeding Jesse Jackson. Carol Moseley-Braun I guess has her own issues.

And I guess they feel that there's a good chance now to really seriously influence the debate in the party.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BRAZILE: Well, I think the party's in a new era. We're beyond the Clinton-Gore era. And I think these gentlemen and lady, they're running because they would like to help usher in this new era, to give the Democratic Party a new voice, a new message and, of course, a new momentum.

And look, I welcome all of the candidates. And in fact, Bob Graham will be coming in soon, perhaps Gary Hart and maybe one or two others. By September or October, the field will probably get down to five candidates, and we all know a year from now we'll see two or three front-runners emerge.

BLITZER: We'll see who that will be. Because of its stance on Iraq, France is taking a bit of a beating here in the United States. One North Carolina restaurant has gone so far as to take french fries off the menu, instead calling them freedom fries. Others are calling for a boycott of French wines and other products from France.

Are we being too hard on France, Jonah?

GOLDBERG: Well, look, I was a France-basher before France- bashing was cool.

(LAUGHTER)

And the reality is, is that this has been in the works for a very long time. Anti-Americanism in France has been going on for a long time. They've been sticking their thumbs in American eyes for a very long time.

And it may be going over the top in a couple of places, but that doesn't mean we don't have legitimate grievances against our partners in peace, the French.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BEINART: The French public opinion is against this war. France is a democracy. The French government is therefore against this war. It's not very complicated.

I think their opposition to the war is wrong-headed but sincere, and I don't think that changing the name of french fries to freedom fries is a particularly intelligent response.

BLITZER: You've got five seconds for the last word.

GEORGE: Oui.

(LAUGHTER)

Oui, we are being -- no, it's -- French-bashing is always a good thing.

BLITZER: OK, that's it. We've got to leave it right there. Thanks to our Final Round.

That's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, February 23.

Coming up in just a few minutes, 3:00 p.m. Eastern, CNN's "IN THE MONEY." That's followed at 4:00 p.m. Eastern by "NEXT@CNN," and at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, "AMERICAN STORIES."

Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. Of course, I'll be here Monday through Friday, 12:00 noon for "SHOWDOWN: IRAQ," 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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