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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

The Azores Summit

Aired March 16, 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: This is an historic day, Judy. There's no doubt in the coming hours it should be abundantly clear whether the United States and its so-called coalition of the willing are about to go into a war or give diplomacy yet a little bit more time.
It's certainly, by no means, a done deal, but by all accounts everything we're hearing from sources here in Washington, all over the place, Judy, and all the body language we're getting from high-ranking U.S. government officials and others, it looks like the clock is ticking directly toward war, probably very soon.

We will be waiting, as everyone knows, for the statements to come from the leaders of the United States, Britain and Spain. They'll be holding a joint news conference scheduled for about an hour and a half from now, but there's no doubt that the indications are that this clock is moving directly toward war.

CNN's Chris Burns is standing by. He's in the Azores, and he's got some information about what we can expect in the next hour or two -- Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, what we heard from Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, just getting off that plane just now, telling reporters that what to expect from this meeting is where we are going as diplomacy comes to an end. If that is not ominous, I don't know what is.

Other comments that he made was he was asked if the president planned to address the nation next week. He said that is an option.

Also hearing earlier today comments by various officials running the spectrum, not only from the United States but also from Great Britain as Tony Blair arrived earlier, just about a couple of hours ago, also Jose Maria Aznar, the prime minister of Spain. The two of them also, they're (UNINTELLIGIBLE) making comments about how diplomacy is running out.

Jack Straw, the foreign minister for Tony Blair, is saying that there is the chance of war, the probability of war is much greater now. The comment from Jose Maria Aznar himself saying earlier today that he did not think that it was necessary to have another U.N. resolution, that one could go to war against Iraq now without another resolution. If you use the existing resolutions, they would warrant it.

That's exactly what President Bush has been saying for quite some time. It does look as the planes are closed front and center together that there is a closing of ranks shoulder to shoulder between the leaders. And it doesn't seem like in one hour of meeting here on this Portuguese island in the middle of the Atlantic that they're going to reach any kind of new diplomatic option, very, very unlikely, probably almost impossible.

What they will be doing is meeting for an hour, giving statements afterward, quick little press conference, and off they go. So it does look like they really want to show that they are front and center together on this as the threat of war increases.

A statement by Dick Cheney, the vice president, as he was interviewed earlier today talking about the grave decision that the president is going to have to make:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're close to the end, if you will, of the diplomatic efforts. We've done virtually everything we can, with respect to trying to organize a second resolution in the U.N. Security Council.

And clearly the president is going to have to make a very, very difficult and important decision here in the next few days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNS: Cheney also calling a non-starter, the proposal by the French and Germans and the Russians to give a little bit more time to weapons inspections, possibly some kind of a compromise on the U.N. resolution. Cheney calling it a non-starter. Does look like they're very much headed toward war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Burns in the Azores, we'll be checking in with you.

Obviously we're standing by for their joint statement, the news conference, scheduled now for around 1:30 p.m. eastern. CNN, of course, will have live coverage.

Judy, as we wait and watch these dramatic developments unfold, the indications are, the indications I'm getting at least, is if there's no diplomatic breakthrough in the coming hours the president of the United States could emerge perhaps even as early as tomorrow night on television to address the American public.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it is the case the administration is starting to talk about the need for the president to go before the American people, which, of course, is one of the final steps before the outbreak of military action.

Wolf, I'm also interested to see the very different takes you're hearing. People -- some looking at this development today, this summit as representing the failure of American diplomacy. Here you have the U.S. with its only two serious allies as it prepares to go to war. WOODRUFF: On the other hand, the U.S. saying this represents their determination to go forward in the face of an intransigent French, Russian, and the opposition of a number of other countries.

Very different interpretations, even at the last hour before military action is likely.

BLITZER: And the traditional Atlantic alliance about as deeply split as I've ever seen it, covering the story just as you have, Judy, for so many years.

Judy, just a little while ago, we had a chance to get the latest U.S. assessment on what is going on. I had a chance to speak with the secretary of state, Colin Powell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks once again for joining us...

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Good morning, Wolf.

BLITZER: ... on this potentially historic day.

And I'll ask you the question everybody wants to know: Is it all over?

POWELL: I don't know. The leaders will be meeting in the Azores today, and they're going to review where we are diplomatically.

Remember, that it was President Bush, President Aznar and Prime Minister Blair that co-sponsored the resolution that is before the Council. It was giving Saddam Hussein one last chance and it was giving the Council one last chance to apply its will.

And they will review where we are, and we will wait to see what the leaders say when their meeting is concluded.

BLITZER: What does Saddam Hussein -- what can he do, even at this late moment, to avert a war?

POWELL: It's hard to imagine, Wolf, because he has had 12 years' worth of opportunities to avert the situation that he now finds himself in.

He violated every one of the U.N. resolutions that was put before him. He constantly said he had told the world everything there was to know about his weapons of mass destruction. Yet even as recently as yesterday, he's coming forward with new documents, documents that should have come forward in 1991 and anytime over the last 12 years. He's playing a game at this point.

And what we see, what the leaders in the Azores see is a continuing pattern of noncompliance and noncooperation. And I think the curtain is coming down. We can't continue to go like this.

And it's unfortunate that there are members of the Council who say, just give it more time, give it more time and the inspections are working. But what's really working is force. Force is slowly causing him to do some things, but he's not doing them because he has changed his basic political strategy.

BLITZER: The French president, Jacques Chirac, tells our Christiane Amanpour that perhaps another 30 days could resolve this matter.

POWELL: The French have said they will veto anything that leads to the use of force. But without the potential use of force, Saddam Hussein is playing a game with the international community. So I don't know what this new proposal is all about.

There is another proposal, which I am working on today with the foreign minister of Spain and the foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, that came out of Germany, Russia and France yesterday, calling for a meeting of ministers again this week...

BLITZER: Tuesday.

POWELL: ... to discuss the situation.

Well, it's not quite clear when it's going to be or when it's supposed to be. It's up to the presidency of the Security Council to decide when a meeting will take place if one takes place, but there is all of these different initiatives around.

Unfortunately, with the French initiative, it's always accompanied by, "We'll veto anything that might lead to the use of force." But everybody understood when 1441 was passed that 1441 included serious consequences in the presence of continued noncompliance, and those serious consequences included the use of force. And there was no doubt about it at the time. 1441 passed by 15 to zero, and provides an international basis in law for the use of force should that become necessary.

BLITZER: Am I hearing you correctly, you're open to this French, German, Russian proposal for foreign ministers meeting in the coming days?

POWELL: I'm reading it. I just received it, and that's one of the reasons I'm in close touch with my British and Spanish colleagues. And he's in London, Foreign Secretary Straw, and Foreign Minister Palacio is in Madrid, and we've been talking already this morning with each other. We will look at it, but I don't see anything here that fundamentally changes the situation. And the situation is that I think diplomacy has got to be looked at very carefully to see whether or not it's run its course. That's what the leaders will be doing in the Azores this afternoon.

And we'll see what the Council wishes to do with this latest proposal for just another meeting. Another meeting to do what? To look at the fact that Iraq has tossed out a few more nuggets because of the pressure that it's under, the military pressure it's under?

But I mean, can anybody honestly believe that it wasn't for the military forces that assembled in the Gulf and the clear statement that President Bush and others have given that military force will be used, can anybody believe that Iraq would be cooperating in the slightest? What we are seeing is process cooperation. What we are seeing is little nuggets thrown out to deceive the international community.

BLITZER: But destroying more than 60 Al-Samoud 2 missiles and many of their warheads, those are not nuggets. Those are weapons that could kill a lot of U.S. troops.

POWELL: Right, and there are a lot more, and the capacity to build even more remains in place.

And remember, they were the ones who were saying, we weren't going to destroy this. Do you think they'd even think about destroying them if it wasn't for the fact that they were threatened with the use of force? Do you think they're doing it out of the goodness of their heart, because the inspectors asked them to or because the French or others asked them to?

BLITZER: Well, why not just keep the pressure on? Keep the troops there, keep the threat going, and continue to let the inspectors destroy weapons.

POWELL: Because we know you can't keep troops there forever. And right now, without a strategic decision on the part of Saddam Hussein to comply, I'm as sure as anything I've ever been sure of, if the pressure comes off, he will go back to his old pattern of behavior, if we don't see a fundamental change, and we haven't seen that fundamental change.

BLITZER: You saw General Peter Pace's comment, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, quoted in The Washington Post this week, that if you wait another 30 days, it's not going to seriously increase the amount of U.S. military casualties, if there is a war. That's what he told military officials at the Pentagon.

POWELL: There has been a lot of speculation, ill-founded speculation about the effect of weather. This operation is not dependent on weather patterns or whether it gets too hot to operate. There are ways to operate in hot weather, and we know how to do that.

I think what General Pace was saying was not give it more time, he was just answering questions that constantly come up about whether or not there is a weather deadline that has to be met.

BLITZER: So you could theoretically wait another 30 days militarily and not have an adverse effect?

POWELL: This military operation is not being judged on the temperature. It's being judged on whether or not the diplomatic course has ended, whether there is no point in allowing the diplomatic course to continue, because we still see Saddam Hussein not comply.

And let's remember where the burden belongs. It belongs in Saddam Hussein for 12 years of misbehavior, 12 years of failure to comply with the will of the international community, 12 years. We have waited a long time. Four months since 1441 was passed. Six-plus months since the president gave his speech in the U.N.

We have seen what Iraq is all about. And it is time to make a judgment as to whether there is any more room for diplomatic efforts or not, and that's what our leaders are doing in the Azores today.

BLITZER: But what I am hearing you saying is there is a little room, at least a tiny little room.

POWELL: That is what the leaders are discussing this afternoon: How much more time, if any, should be allowed for diplomatic efforts?

BLITZER: I want you to listen precisely to what the president said at his news conference at the White House on March 7th.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And yes, we'll call for a vote. No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote. We want to see people stand up and say what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United Nations Security Council.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that statement still operative?

POWELL: They are discussing this afternoon how to handle this diplomatic situation. A lot of them have stood up to be counted.

We know what the French are going to do. They're going to veto anything. They said they would veto the resolution that was put forward when we tried to find some flexibility last week. The British put forward another resolution; the French immediately said they would veto it, just before Iraq said they dismissed it.

And so, the three leaders meeting today with the fourth leader, the Portuguese prime minister who's hosting the meeting also present, they will discuss all of these issues, and we'll see what judgment comes out of that meeting.

BLITZER: But effectively, have you given up -- forget about the French veto -- have you effectively given up trying to get nine affirmative votes among the 15 members of the Security Council?

POWELL: I don't want to rule out any option that might be available to us right now, because this is what the leaders are discussing in the Azores this afternoon.

BLITZER: So is it still possible there might yet be another U.N. Security Council vote?

POWELL: It is one of the options that is available. And all of the options are still available to the president and to the other leaders who are meeting with the president right now in the Azores. BLITZER: How angry are you at the French government?

POWELL: Anger -- I can't use anger as a useful emotion in my business. I am very disappointed that France has played, frankly, a somewhat unhelpful role in keeping the pressure on Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein could always see that there was at least one nation, and others as well, who were signaling veto of anything that might put maximum force on him.

And unfortunately it's a continuing pattern from 1998 with the French, when they also abstained on the resolution that set up the previous inspection regime, or the inspection regime we're now under, Resolution 1284. They worked on it for seven months and still abstained. So they have not played, in my judgment, a very helpful role.

BLITZER: Is it still possible that Saddam Hussein and some of his top lieutenants, his two sons, for example, might yet willingly agree to leave, go into exile and avert a war?

POWELL: I think if Saddam Hussein and some of the other individuals around him were to leave, that certainly would open up the possibility of a peaceful solution.

As long as we made sure that the top leadership, those who might be committed to weapons of mass destruction and oppression of their people were moving out, and a new leadership was coming in, and outside leaders could come in, and outside Iraqi leaders, and a new leadership arise from the people of Iraq that would stop wasting the treasure of Iraq in weapons of mass destruction and threatening its neighbors and start to build a responsible nation, living in peace with its neighbors -- yes, that would be good. And the United States is more than willing to help in that effort, as are many other nations.

BLITZER: And would you forget about seeking them for war crimes tribunals?

POWELL: Well, that's a question that has to remain open, because some of them are guilty of the most heinous crimes against their own people, and so I can't just wipe that away.

But at the same time, if they were to leave, that would open up possibilities. And I would not want to close down on any of those possibilities, if it was possible to use that kind of action to prevent a war.

BLITZER: But you understand that they leave and they're still going to be searched, they don't get the amnesty, then there may be a disincentive.

POWELL: I think we can worry about that if they would leave. I think the other incentive for them to leave is that they are going to be removed if they don't leave.

BLITZER: Any purpose, as the Iraqi government is proposing, for Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei to go back to Baghdad in the coming days for one last effort?

POWELL: I don't know what purpose that would serve. They have been there several times. They put questions before the Iraqis. Sometimes they get answers; sometimes they don't.

Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei will be providing another report this week. Dr. Blix will be presenting a statement of key unresolved disarmament tasks, as he calls them. What makes them unique is they're not really new; they've been there for years. These are unresolved issues that the Iraqis could have resolved any time over the past five, 10, 12 years, and they have not.

That's the problem. The basic problem is lack of compliance and cooperation on the part of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime. And the responsibility for this crisis rests on Saddam Hussein, and not the Security Council, not the United States, but on Saddam Hussein, for his unwillingness to comply with his international obligations, essentially sticking his nose out -- thumbing his nose at the world. He is the one responsible.

And we ought not forget that on this anniversary of the Halabja massacre, where he used chemical weapons against his own people.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, is it time for the U.N. inspectors, the international humanitarian aid workers and journalists to leave Baghdad?

POWELL: I think it is a very dangerous time in Baghdad. I think it's been dangerous for some time. Not only for action that might be forthcoming, but I think there is a risk that Saddam Hussein might take action against them, to retain them, or to keep them as hostages.

So I think it's a dangerous time in Baghdad, and each person in Baghdad, whether a newsperson, inspector or in some other capacity, has to take a look at whether or not it is not time to leave. It's a judgment each of them will have to make, not just from the threat of potential military action, but from the threat of Saddam Hussein taking them as hostages.

BLITZER: But what is your personal advice to these people?

POWELL: My personal advice is they ought to take a hard look at the situation they are in, and it would be probably better for them to start leaving or making plans to leave.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck to you.

POWELL: Thank you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Coming up in the next hour, we'll be hearing directly from President Bush, Prime Minister Blair and the Spanish Prime Minister Aznar. You're looking at pictures of the president. He arrived only moments ago in the Azores for this emergency summit that could lead to war or peace. We'll have live coverage.

But just ahead, Iraq responds. We'll go live to Baghdad to check in with out Nic Robertson on the latest developments there. And I'll also have an exclusive interview with Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Aldouri.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

In about an hour, we're expecting to hear from President Bush and Prime Ministers Blair and Aznar. They're holding an emergency summit in the Azores right now. CNN will have live coverage of their joint statement, a statement that could determine whether there will be war or peace in the coming days.

In the meantime, the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein has put his country on a war footing in preparation for a U.S.-led invasion. Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is joining us now live from Baghdad with more -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is exactly what President Saddam Hussein did before Operation Desert Fox in 1998, divided the country into four separate, distinct regions, put very key people, trusted lieutenants in charge of those region.

Perhaps interesting that he's put his own son, his younger son, Qusay Saddam Hussein, in charge of the central region, that includes Baghdad and the areas out toward the Jordanian border. And it is known that Qusay Saddam Hussein is in charge of the elite Republican Guard. And the Republican Guard perhaps an indication that those stronger fighting forces will be used in the center of Iraq for the strategic areas and the heavily populated areas, such as Baghdad.

We've known, of course, that Iraq has been talking a lot about training for urban warfare. Perhaps another indication of how they plan to fight this war should it happen, but certainly an indication that Iraq is readying itself for war.

The reaction from people here, one of greater concern. For example, out in the market today, water pumps, something people don't normally buy here, hand pumps, sales of those going up. And in some of the up market areas, some of the electronic stores there shipping out the high-value items, putting them in storage, getting ready to close their stores down.

Also, while we've seen this preparation for war an apparent increase in cooperation with the U.N. inspectors, on some accounts, the U.N. here saying that they've received letters and documentation outlining Iraq's destruction of precursor agents for mustard gas. Also the Iraqi officials saying they've handed over video and photographs of mobile laboratories. Laboratories they say that are for food, that are for pharmaceuticals and medical supplies. They say these vehicles are used in the civilian and military industry.

But while preparing for war on one hand, appearing to sort of ratchet up and make efforts in some areas to increase cooperation with the U.N.

The U.N. also reporting that its fleet of eight helicopters that it uses for inspections in the country, that has now gone down to three helicopters. Five helicopters, the Bell 212 aircraft, now moved out of Iraq because the U.N.'s insurance company won't insure them while they're here. Wolf?

BLITZER: But for now, Nic, the inspectors themselves, they're remaining in Iraq? And is the destruction of more Al Samoud 2 missiles continuing?

ROBERTSON: Two more Al Samouds destroyed today. But the number of inspectors has been slowly decreasing. It's down to about 60 right now. A number of inspectors we are told are on rotation in Cypress, about 30 inspectors there. But if we go back a month, there were perhaps a hundred or so inspectors.

The U.N. says it has enough inspectors to continue its work. The three other helicopters it has, it says, are enough to continue that aerial surveillance type of work. They plan to continue. They say they have an evacuation plan but there's been no call to put it into place yet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Baghdad, please stand by. We'll be checking in with you throughout our special coverage today.

And just a little while ago, I spoke with Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Aldouri. We talked about the likelihood of war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us. I know these are very, very tense days for everyone.

Do you believe war now is inevitable?

MOHAMMED ALDOURI, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I still believe that the diplomatic way is still open, especially because of the cooperation, good cooperation between inspectors and Iraq, and also because of the good results we have after this three months of work in Iraq.

BLITZER: The Bush administration, the secretary of state, the vice president, they insist they've been waiting for 12 years for Iraq to fully comply. They are still waiting, but they say the time is virtually over, your government has not cooperated fully, completely, immediately with the inspectors. ALDOURI: Well, I think that the opposite is the correct say, that Iraq is cooperating. ALDOURI: Yes, of course, we have now more than 12 years, eight years of inspections, and four years without that, and now we restart again to have this cooperation.

Now we are cooperating proactively, there is a concrete results. Inspectors didn't found any mass destruction weapons, that's confirmed, what Iraq said that it is clean, really, from any kind of mass destruction weapons. And there is evidence saying that Iraq is cooperating, Iraq is giving whatever he found as evidence, as documentation.

We are working hardly (ph). I think there is a good and concrete results, and this was proven by inspectors.

BLITZER: But...

ALDOURI: So we hope that this will satisfy the international community, although I know that United States and the Britain are not satisfied. But the international community as a whole, inspectors, members of Security Councils, the international community, I think they are satisfied.

And for this reason, they are saying always that we can go further, and certainly much more progress will happen in the next few days. So why we are really very in a hurry to stop this exercise, which is very beneficial for the international community?

BLITZER: But the U.S. government, the British government insists and even Dr. Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, say there is still enormous quantities of anthrax and VX nerve agents that Iraq has not adequately accounted for, that you're still not telling them, showing them confirmation that you actually destroyed those weapons of mass destructions, or, in fact, that you still have them.

ALDOURI: Well, I think it is not a question of having or not anthrax and VX. We said -- we did said from the beginning that we destroyed these VX and anthrax -- they are -- they have asked documentation and proofs for that, and we are working on that.

Two days before, we sent a letter relating to the VX factor, and also yesterday afternoon, we sent another letter concerning the VX, and within two days, I think, tomorrow, or after tomorrow, we will present a very thorough document about the destruction of anthrax in 1991.

And we have asked also the cooperation of Mr. Blix and ElBaradei teams to help us to find out these evidence, although we are working and we are trying to prove to the U.N. inspectors that all these elements, all these VX and anthrax have been destroyed.

So just we need some time to prove to the international community, to give evidence to the international community that there is no more any kind, any quantity of anthrax and VX. So it is just a question of time, and it is just a question of patience to have these -- or to know about the real picture concerning the anthrax and VX. I think this is what is more important for (ph) the international community, and specifically for United States, to know exactly there is still VX or anthrax, as they said, or there is not. So why they are rush to have this war, of something which is not really exist?

BLITZER: Does your government still want Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei to come in the coming days to Baghdad?

ALDOURI: We did extend invitation to Mr. Blix and ElBaradei to go to Baghdad, to seek further, perhaps, cooperation, further answers from both sides on questions and suspend. So we are ready certainly, and we will be happy to receive them.

This is not for themselves. But this is -- this invitation to demonstrate our cooperation to the international community, and also to tell the international community that we still in cooperating, and we will continue that cooperation with the U.N.

BLITZER: The secretary of state and other U.S. officials say that one way to avoid a war, to avert a war is for Saddam Hussein, his two sons, Uday and Qusay, and other top leaders of Iraq to leave, to go into exile, and that way there will not be a war. Is that possible?

ALDOURI: Well, this is not the U.N. resolutions, Security Council resolutions. I have never seen anything of that in Resolution 1284 or 1441. This is perhaps the wish of certain states, but this is not the wish of the international community represented by the U.N., and this is really not the best way to conduct diplomatic things, and to have really the correct answer to the Security Council resolutions.

BLITZER: When I interviewed the secretary of state a few moments ago, he made it clear he was worried that if the U.N. inspectors, other international, humanitarian aid workers in Iraq, international journalists decide in the coming days to leave, he was afraid that there is a possibility your government may seek to stop them from leaving, and in effect, take them hostage.

Can you guarantee that anyone who wants to leave Iraq will be permitted to leave Iraq?

ALDOURI: Well, first of all, I hope that this moment will not come to have -- I mean, the war will not happen, and we can hopefully avoid this war. But if there will be aggression from Americans and others against my country, we will certainly only defend ourselves, but this has nothing to do with the foreigners in Iraq. Certainly they will be free, and they are actually to come or to leave the country whenever they want. It is our policy.

BLITZER: Ambassador, we are all out of time, but thank you very much for spending a few moments with us.

ALDOURI: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: This, of course, is a critical day in the showdown with Iraq. We are standing by for a news conference. President Bush and Prime Ministers Blair and Aznar, they're meeting right now in the Azores, an emergency summit that could determine war or peace. We, of course, will have live coverage.

But just ahead, has the relationship between two longtime allies been irreparably damaged over Iraq? I'll talk with France's ambassador to the United States, Jean-David Levitte, when LATE EDITION, Showdown: Iraq, returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACQUES CHIRAC, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE (through translator): War always means that we have reached an impasse, it is a clear sign of failure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The French president, Jacques Chirac, rejecting the idea that war with Iraq is necessary, at least for now.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION, Showdown: Iraq.

The clashing positions of the United States and France have put an enormous strain on relations between these two long-time allies. Joining us now is France's ambassador to the United States, Jean- Davide Levitte.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Do you believe that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, which was unanimously passed, 15 to nothing, with France's support in November, and warned of serious consequences unless the Iraqis fully complied, gives the U.S. and its coalition the authority to launch war against Iraq right now?

JEAN-DAVIDE LEVITTE, FRENCH AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Well, we have always stated that the war should remain the last resort. And we consider that we are not at that stage. We don't exclude the use of force, but as long as the inspections produce results, we should maintain the inspections.

BLITZER: I guess my question is, if the U.S. were to go to war tomorrow or the next day, a few days later, does it have the international legal authority, as far as your government is concerned, to do so?

LEVITTE: There is a debate on the legal issue, but politically, we see -- we think it's unwise to go to war now.

BLITZER: But you're not going to say that this is an illegal act by the U.S.?

LEVITTE: If there is a resolution now and it doesn't get the nine votes, yes, it would be illegal.

BLITZER: It would be illegal for the U.S. to go if there's no second resolution at the Security Council?

LEVITTE: If there is no second resolution, simply the U.S. on the basis of existing resolution go to war, it's a different situation. It's more complex. It's more of a Kosovo-type situation.

But what is important for us now is to do whatever possible to prevent this war. We consider the inspections produce results and should continue.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what the vice president, Dick Cheney, said earlier today, similar to what the secretary of state, Colin Powell, said on this broadcast. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With all due respect to the French, if you look back at their track record, they have consistently opposed efforts to hold Saddam Hussein accountable for his actions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's angry. He's angry at your government for what he says consistently opposing efforts to hold Saddam Hussein accountable.

LEVITTE: We don't exclude the use of force. We say simply now the inspections produce results. Thanks to the American presence in the region, thanks to the military buildup.

When we adopted this resolution, we had no illusion. Saddam Hussein is a dictator. We would not transform himself into a kind of Nelson Mandela. But at the same time, we were pretty confident that the inspections would produce results, that a peaceful disarmament of Saddam Hussein is possible. And that's exactly what is happening now.

BLITZER: What is your president, Jacques Chirac, saying specifically about a 30-day deadline for the Iraqis to comply?

LEVITTE: That is an idea which has been proposed first by president of Chile. Chile is a member of the Security Council, and President Lagos said, "Why not a 30-day deadline," and this proposal was rejected immediately, not in Paris, in Washington.

We still consider that we should meet, the 15 members of the Council, hear what the inspectors propose in terms of program of work, priorities, and then discuss a timetable.

BLITZER: So if the Iraqis are not in full compliance with U.N. Resolution 1441 within 30 days, would you then support war?

LEVITTE: The idea is that it is possible to disarm peacefully Iraq, and that's what's happening right now. Because of the military buildup, things are moving on. Let's go on and let's decide together. BLITZER: Because you heard the secretary say, even if you wait another 30 days, France is still going to veto any resolution.

LEVITTE: No, we say, if the inspectors tell us we have reached a dead-end, we cannot produce more results, but there is a lot to do, then the Security Council will meet and decide, and we don't exclude the use of force.

BLITZER: All right. Mr. Ambassador, unfortunately we have to leave it right there. Thanks very much for joining us.

LEVITTE: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador.

And just ahead, what are Americans thinking as the United States stands on the brink of war? We have brand-new poll numbers being released right now. CNN's Judy Woodruff and Bill Schneider will break down those results as soon as we come back.

And remember, we're also standing by for first word from the emergency summit in the Azores, where President Bush and Prime Ministers Blair and Aznar are meeting right now. We'll bring you their joint statement. That's coming up, as well.

An historic day today, this special LATE EDITION, Showdown: Iraq, will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Welcome back to LATE EDITION, Showdown: Iraq. I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.

A large majority of Europeans and Arabs, as we know, remain strongly opposed to a war with Iraq. But what about public opinion here in the United States?

Well, CNN's senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, joins us now with the result of a new CNN-Time magazine Gallup poll.

Bill, are Americans now more or less supportive of the idea of going to war with Iraq?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: More. Just since the beginning of March, Judy, the number of Americans who say they favor a U.S. invasion involving ground troops has jumped from 59 percent to 64 percent. That is the highest level of public support since just after the 9/11 attacks a year and a half ago.

But the issue has become hugely partisan. Ninety percent of Republicans favor an invasion. Democrats are split.

WOODRUFF: Bill, we know now, there is a possibility that there could be a decision to go to war without a U.N. resolution. What are Americans saying about that? SCHNEIDER: Well, Americans are willing to go into war with a rejected resolution from the U.N., but they want the U.N. to vote on this. If a new U.N. resolution is approved, Americans overwhelmingly favor war, even Democrats. If the U.S. offers a resolution and the U.N. rejects, a majority of Americans still favor going in.

The most likely scenario right now is that the U.S. does not put the resolution to a vote. What then? Then the public is split. Forty-seven percent favor war, 50 percent oppose war without any U.N. vote at all.

To the public, a U.N. vote means, "Well, we tried." No U.N. vote means, "We gave up."

WOODRUFF: And we have seen some shift, because it wasn't so long ago that most -- a large majority of Americans were insisting on U.N. support. That has slipped.

Finally, Bill, how does the public say that they think President Bush has handled the diplomacy in all this?

SCHNEIDER: Actually, they say he's done pretty well. Fifty-four percent approve the way President Bush has handled the diplomacy in Iraq. The public does not see this as a diplomatic failure.

The prevailing view is that the Bush administration did a fairly good job of diplomacy, but it did make some mistakes.

WOODRUFF: All right, a lot of talk about that right now. Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Well, question: What do Iraqi opposition leaders want from the United States? Wolf is going to talk with the prime minister of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq when LATE EDITION, Showdown: Iraq, returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION.

In Iraq, a grim anniversary. Fifteen years ago today Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the country's Kurdish population.

We are joined now here in Washington by the prime minister of the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, Barham Salih.

Dr. Salih, welcome to LATE EDITION. Thanks so much for joining us.

For those of our viewers who don't know, what happened at Halabja 15 years ago today?

BARHAM SALIH, PRIME MINISTER, KURDISH REGIONAL GOVERNMENT IN NORTHERN IRAQ: At 11:00 a.m. local time, Iraqi planes appeared on the skies of Halabja and bombed the civilian population with chemical weapons leading to the deaths of nearly 5,000 people. Terrible tragedy, the wounds are very deep, and our memories are so very vivid.

BLITZER: Do you fear that that could happen again if there is a war?

SALIH: We have learned to expect the worst of Saddam Hussein. We know that he has weapons of mass destruction. He has used them against us, and we have to expect the worse of this tyrant.

BLITZER: So as far as you and the Kurds who support you, you want the U.S. to go to war to see regime change in Baghdad?

SALIH: On this day, we have to remember that 15 years ago when Saddam Hussein did this terrible crime against the people of Kurdistan, the international community did not act. They are 15 years late.

But better late than never. The people of Iraq need freedom. The people of Iraq need peace. The people of Iraq need the overthrow of this tyranny that has inflicted so much pain and misery upon the people of Iraq.

BLITZER: How much cooperation militarily are the Kurds ready to give U.S.-British forces if there's a war? In other words, will there be bases, air bases in the northern part of Iraq that the U.S. will be able to use?

SALIH: We are freedom fighters. We welcome American and British help to enable us overcome tyranny, and we are partners to the United States in this endeavor.

We will work closely with the United States to achieve liberation for the whole of Iraq and work with the United States to establish a representative democratic government in Baghdad that will be at peace with the people of Iraq and at peace with the neighbors of Iraq.

BLITZER: And will Iraq stay one country? Because as you know, the Turks -- Turkey, your neighbor to the north, very concerned that you'll try to create an independent Kurdistan.

SALIH: We have resigned ourself to the hand that geography and history has dealt our people. Our neighbors would not tolerate the dismemberment of Iraq. We are part of Iraq.

We will work with our Iraqi compatriots to reshape the politics of Iraq and ensure that there will be a peaceful government and that there will be a federal democracy which will allow the Kurdish people a significant degree of self-government within a territorially united country.

BLITZER: When I spoke to the Turkish ambassador here in Washington not long ago, he said Turkish forces would move into Kurdistan, but only for humanitarian purposes. Do you trust the Turks?

SALIH: Well, to start with, I want to say that Turkey has been facilitating the protection for Iraqi Kurdistan over the last 10 years. And what we have today by way of freedom is because of that air patrols, the no-fly zones that are being launched from Turkey.

We believe, however, in the present circumstances, there must be no regional military intervention whatsoever, because if one country gets into the affairs of Iraq, the other neighbors will get in too, and it will become a mess.

We are now looking ahead for transition from dictatorship to something more representative and more democratic. The neighbors of Iraq stand to benefit from regime change. Their military intervention will only complicate matters and will create many, many problems that we are not in need of these days.

BLITZER: Dr. Salih, thanks very much for joining us.

SALIH: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Coming up in the next hour of LATE EDITION, we'll go live to the Azores for a news conference. President Bush and Prime Ministers Blair and Aznar, they've been meeting to try to determine the next step in the showdown with Iraq. We'll have live coverage. Stay with CNN for first word on what happens next. And up next, how are developments in the showdown with Iraq playing out here in Washington on Capitol Hill? We'll talk with the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, and the Senate's second-ranking Democrat, Harry Reid.

We'll also get perspective from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen.

A hectic day today, an historic day. That, much more, coming up. Our special LATE EDITION will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION.

We're standing by this hour for a joint news conference in the Azores. President Bush and Prime Ministers Blair and Aznar have been meeting. They're meeting right now to determine the next step in the showdown with Iraq. We'll have live coverage of that news conference. That's expected this hour.

We'll also talk with two key members of the U.S. Senate in just a moment. But first, here's CNN's Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta with a CNN news alert.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: At this hour, President Bush is meeting with the prime ministers of Spain and Britain. They're trying to determine what the next step should be, and we're standing by for their news conference that's expected at the bottom of this hour.

In the meantime, let's find out what's exactly expected. Our Chris Burns is standing by in the Azores, and he has the latest -- Chris.

BURNS: Wolf, don't expect a whole lot on the diplomatic side. We've been tempered by comments by a number of officials. Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman on Air Force One, in back of me, as he got off earlier with President Bush, saying that the meeting is aimed at determining where we are going as diplomacy comes to an end.

Other ominous statements like that downplaying any idea of really moving along on the diplomatic side. That there is -- there appears to be, anyway, an intent to move toward a military solution on this because it does appear that nobody's offering any diplomatic solutions that are acceptable. This one proposal by the French, Germans and Russians was immediately knocked down by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Other comments by Ari Fleischer -- he was asked whether the president plans to address the nation next week, and he said that is an option. He also said, "Make no mistake, diplomacy is coming to an end."

Other comments from other members here at this meeting that is wrapping up, probably in the next few minutes: On the British side, Tony Blair, the prime minister, his entourage says that this is the last chance for diplomacy. On the Spanish side, Jose Maria Aznar, the Spanish prime minister, saying earlier today that he believed there was no need for another U.N. resolution, that they could go ahead and attack Iraq since they believe Saddam Hussein is not disarming.

So it does appear that the three members of the coalition of the willing are getting together, closing ranks, shoulder to shoulder, at this meeting. Only lasting for just one hour. They will be reading statements afterward at a news conference we'll be covering. But it does appear they seem to believe diplomacy is not moving along.

Of course, Aznar and Blair face lot of harsh criticism back at home. Majority of polls indicate that people are against a war, especially without a U.N. resolution. In fact, there was a protest as the president arrived today. People shouting, "U.S., go away." It wasn't a huge protest, but it's a very small island. There were tens of thousands of people who turned out in Spain and in Britain just yesterday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Burns in the Azores, we'll be getting back to you, of course, as these events unfold.

Let's go to Baghdad now, where the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, has put his country on a war footing in preparation for a possible U.S.-led invasion.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, joining us once again from the Iraqi capital -- Nic.

ROBERTSON: Wolf, the Revolutionary Command Council here has divided the country into four different regions: the North, the South, the Middle Euphrates, and the center of the country.

Each area has been put under the control of one of President Saddam Hussein's trusted lieutenants. This is exactly what Iraq did before Operation Desert Fox in 1998. It appears to be an effort that, if Iraq loses some of its communications facilities, that command and control and central authority has been devolved out to these different regions and different leaders.

Now, that appears to be Iraq's response to the fact that war, it thinks, is getting very, very, very close indeed.

The reaction from the people here has been that this is a real step in the direction of war. They've heard a lot of talk about it. They've seen it on their television, looming in the military practices they see every evening here. But now people reacting to it. One luxury goods store we saw moving equipment, like television sets and high-value items, out of the stores. At another place in downtown Baghdad, people buying water pumps, many more water pumps than they have done in the past -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Baghdad, we'll be getting back to you. Thanks very much.

And as we await the start of this news conference this hour in the Azores, let's turn to two leading members of the United States Senate. Here in Washington, Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas, he's the chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee. And joining us from West Palm Beach, Florida, is Harry Reid of Nevada, he's the Senate's second-ranking Democrat.

Senators, welcome to LATE EDITION.

And, Senator Roberts, let me begin with you. How close is the U.S. to war?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: I think it's high noon time. I think it's the 11th hour and 59th minute. We have tried every diplomatic alternative I can think of. This would be the 18th resolution.

There's been another suggestion we wait another 30 days. Something has to be said for the war fighter in the region. Something has to be said for the operational tempo that they are going through, that the tip of the spear has to be sharp. It's getting a little duller now. I worry about that.

I was just there about, what, two and a half weeks ago. So I think the time for the action is drawing very, very close.

BLITZER: Senator Reid, do you agree with Senator Roberts?

SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: Well, I was the first Democrat to support his father's incursion into Iraq a dozen years ago. I supported the resolution last September.

But I think, Wolf, we have to focus on where we are now. And where we are now is it appears to me that we've had a diplomatic breakdown here. The United States of America, we can't get nine members of the Security Council to support another resolution? I mean, I'm really concerned about how we look from a world perspective.

Now, let's consider this past week, for example. While we in Washington are really doing not a lot, as far as traveling around the world, the French foreign minister is in Africa, Cameroon, Guinea and Angola. I think the president should have dispatched his emissaries to that part of the world.

You know, his father had a great model. He sent his secretary of state to the region 12 different times, 12 different times, to the region and to the European communities. And we have failed diplomatically. And I think that it's not really good.

We can win the war, Wolf, but can we win the peace? That's the question.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Roberts? Why is it that the U.S. can't get nine affirmative votes among the 15 members of the Security Council?

ROBERTS: Well, look at the nine. I mean, these are not exactly the stalwart members of the world community who happen to serve on the Security Council.

The Security Council isn't a one-man vote situation where you have the leading countries of the world who have a lot of stake at this -- I'm not trying to perjure their intent, in terms of the members of the Security Council, but look at NATO, where you have 18 out of 26 who have signed a letter and indicated, "Hey, wait a minute, we are with the United States."

There will be a coalition of the willing. There's a coalition of the unwilling, largely France and Germany and Belgium. There's good reason for those countries to have a different point of view. I respect that. As a matter of fact, I think they will join us in the reconstruction effort after the military action has taken place.

The French, you know, the French have really acted in a way, I think, that actually could cause more casualties in this conflict. I'm not really blaming them for that. They just have a different view.

In Germany, it is a pacifist government. If they change their view, I think the government would actually topple.

I understand...

REID: Wolf -- I'm sorry.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Senator Reid. I know you're anxious to weigh in.

REID: Wolf, my concern is that, 12 years ago, 90 percent of the cost of the war was paid for by countries other than the United States. Tens of thousands of troops came from all over the world to help us there.

I, again, recognize -- I supported the resolution. I'm just very concerned about what has happened during the past six months.

We have a situation where the European community announced this week, unless there's another vote on a resolution, they're not going to be involved in the reconstruction of Iraq. Those are serious contentions.

BLITZER: But, Senator Reid, are you blaming the Bush administration for the collapse of this alliance, this relationship, if you will, with France, Germany, Russia, or are you blaming them?

REID: Wolf, I'm blaming the situation on the fact that we have not been able, as the world's leading superpower, to diplomatically get countries on our side.

And we I -- you know, we can't denigrate -- and I know Pat didn't mean to do that -- but we're talking about Mexico, we're talking about Canada, we're talking about Chile. We're talking about some of the finest friends we've had in the world community for the last 50 years, who say, "Just slow down a little bit." They don't say they're opposed to the war. They say just slow down.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Senator Roberts, what would be the downside of waiting another 30 days and accept this challenge from the French president, Jacques Chirac?

ROBERTS: I just don't think it's going to accomplish anything. I mean, we have waited and waited and waited and waited for 12 years. They have violated the resolutions 333 times, 17 resolutions. Now you have the 18th, and so you're going to wait another 30 days and then another 30 days.

Ask the Kuwaitis. I was in Kuwait. They have 600 prisoners of war that haven't been accounted for. Ask Michael Scott Speicher, who is the American POW over there. Ask Qatar, ask Jordan, ask Tunisia. Ask all of the countries over there who say if you really mean it, quit drawing lines in the sand or you'll end up in the sand box. I'm not for war.

REID: But, Wolf, that...

BLITZER: Go ahead, Senator Reid.

REID: Wolf, that's my whole point. We're the United States. We're the good guys in all of this. Saddam Hussein's not a good guy; he's a bad person. That's why I think our diplomatic efforts have failed.

And I say that if waiting a month will get Russia, Germany, France, Chile, Canada, Angola, you know, these countries -- to say -- you know, the American people, the people in Nevada want another resolution. The president told us in his press conference. There's going to be a vote. Let people be accounted -- let countries be accounted for how they stand on this issue. I think we should have another resolution and a vote on it.

BLITZER: All right, let me let Senator Roberts weigh in on that. But I want you to listen to what Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, said only yesterday on Iraqi cooperation.

ROBERTS: I've been listening to him a lot.

BLITZER: Listen to this.

ROBERTS: Right, OK, go ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HANS BLIX, CHIEF U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Iraqis are very, very active in order to provide replies to questions which we had in the document we submitted to the Council recently. And we will make an assessment of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He, too, wants to wait a little bit longer to give the Iraqis another chance.

ROBERTS: I think Hans Blix would wait for five years if he could continue this effort in regards to 30 days, 45 days or whatever it is.

Again, they violated 333 times, 17 resolutions. You've got three resolutions that spell out, other than 1441, drastic action unless they comply. He has not complied. The only reason that he has moved at all is because of U.S. forces.

BLITZER: Senator Roberts, you probably saw the story in The Washington Post today quoting some in the U.S. intelligence community as saying they really don't have the hard evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and may not have that evidence until after a war.

ROBERTS: At the same time, the same intelligence agencies are telling us that it is a very good idea for our forces in the field to wear protective gear in case they be used. And here we are on the 15th anniversary of when Saddam Hussein did use them against his own people.

My worry is, we'll discover he has the weapons of mass destruction, all right, when he uses them. I have no question, being the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, that he does have the weapons of mass destruction.

One more thing, there was a poll, I can't remember -- and I don't think we ought to do this by polls, but 71 percent of the American people say get off the dime. You know, quit this business with the U.N., which is an eternal debating society. I don't, you know, I don't really decry that. But the United States is the only country in the world that has the ability to give the U.N. the ability to actually enforce its resolutions. Otherwise we can debate this this year, next year and next year.

BLITZER: Senator Reid when you voted in favor of that resolution in October, giving the president the authority to use force if necessary, do you think he has the authority right now, or does he need to go back to the U.S. Congress? REID: Wolf, this isn't a question of whether or not we have legal authority to go there. I believe we do. I believe we had that prior to our resolution in September.

But the question is not whether we can legally do it, the question is whether we should do it right now, whether diplomatically it's good for this great nation. Can this great nation, the finest country in the history of the world -- the greatest military in the history of the world is now assembled.

Can't we wait a little while to see if we can get some of our allies to go along with us? That's what I say.

BLITZER: All right, I want to just wrap this up. You raised the case of the U.S. Navy captain, Scott Speicher, the first U.S. pilot to go missing during the first day, if you will, of the first Gulf War a dozen years ago. He was originally reported to be killed in action. Now he's missing in action, POW.

Is there any new information that you have that he might still be held alive by the Iraqi government?

ROBERTS: Every intelligence assessment that we have -- and we have five or six -- indicate there's a pattern to it. Each one is not that specific, but the pattern indicates that he could very well be alive.

I have changed my view from possible to probable. We do have contingency plans to go in and get him, plus the other prisoners of war, which tells you a lot about Saddam Hussein. If he's interested in making any kind of a gesture, let him release Scott Speicher.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Roberts, thanks very much for joining us.

Senator Reid, thanks to you as well. Appreciate it very much.

And we're only about 15 minutes away from the start of a news conference in the Azores. That's where President Bush and Prime Ministers Blair and Aznar, they've been meeting. We'll, of course, have live coverage.

But just ahead here on LATE EDITION, is there still a realistic chance of diplomacy winning out over war with Iraq? I'll be joined by CNN's Judy Woodruff. And we'll get insight from the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the former Secretary of Defense William Cohen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage, our special LATE EDITION.

Remember, we're standing by. In the coming moments, we'll be going to the Azores. That's where President Bush and the prime ministers of Spain and Britain will be holding a news conference. We'll get an indication of what's next in the showdown with Iraq.

But in the meantime, let's get some perspective. Joining us now in our New York bureau, Dr. Henry Kissinger. He, of course, was secretary of state during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Here in Washington, the former Clinton defense secretary, William Cohen.

I'm also joined by CNN's Judy Woodruff, who will begin the questioning -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, Wolf. Let's turn to Secretary Kissinger for the first question.

Mr. Secretary, in your view, should President Bush make any concessions today, if it means that he would then have a shot at getting those nine votes on the U.N. Security Council?

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The issue is not what votes we can get, but what the conditions would be. And the only diplomatic solution that one can imagine is total disarmament of Iraq and Saddam's resignation from government.

If that could be achieved within a time period of, say, 30 days, and if it were agreed to ahead of time, then one can make the concession of giving some time to it.

But the conditions have to be absolutely unambiguous. They cannot be left to the inspection system, which defines progress in procedural terms, and at the end of which no more has been achieved than in the last five months.

WOODRUFF: But isn't what you're describing what the British so- called six benchmarks would accomplish, Mr. Secretary? Isn't that what Tony Blair has been trying to put together, something like what you describe?

KISSINGER: Tony Blair...

WOODRUFF: Which the administration has rejected.

KISSINGER: No. Tony Blair did not link it specifically to the resignation of Saddam. And I think to -- even if Iraq were to disarm and Saddam were left in place, with all the oil income that Iraq will get when sanctions are lifted, it would simply start the process all over again.

I think anyone who had violated U.N. resolutions for all these years, and who, since November, has been stalling on the current process, cannot be trusted to enforce any agreement. The only conditions that are acceptable in my view are those that give a very precise content that has to be accomplished in a very limited period of time, at the end of which those countries that are proposing it will join the combined effort to bring about that result.

BLITZER: As -- Dr. Kissinger, as I want to tell our viewers what they're seeing, they're seeing the location where this news conference, this joint statement will be made by the president of the United States and prime ministers of Spain and Britain as well as the host country, Portugal.

Let me bring Secretary Cohen into this discussion. You were the defense secretary. Would it be a serious military problem to wait another 30 days?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, the more time that passes, certainly, to maintain the troops in the desert at a very high operational tempo is going to start to drain them. That can be compensated for, provided -- I agree with Dr. Kissinger -- provided you have a very definite timeframe in which clearcut conduct will be taking place with consequences which are spelled out in advance. Then, I think, you could calibrate the operational tempo to take that into account.

But, with each passing day, it comes closer to the hot months and it makes it more complicated.

BLITZER: But, as part of the tradeoff, at what point do you say, it's better to wait a little bit longer and try to bring the French and the Germans, the Russians on board, get those nine votes in the Security Council -- at what point do you say, it's better to give them a little bit more time than to say, you know what, it's over?

COHEN: The question is, what is the time going to be used for? If, in fact, the French, the Russians, the Germans and others will say, "We are committed to using military force with the United States and the British and others if Saddam does the following things," then I think it would make a good deal of sense to wait.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, as you know, the Bush administration feels almost betrayed by behavior of the French government. And they see, and Secretary Powell said it to me earlier today, it really doesn't make any difference if they wait 30 days or longer. The French are going to veto anything that gives the authority to go to war.

KISSINGER: I would certainly not delay at all for three days for a French assertion that they will look at things at the end of that waiting period. The only thing that can possibly allow delay is a firm commitment that the countries that are asking for the delay will then join the military effort if the conditions are not met. And the conditions have to be absolutely unambiguous, a total disarmament and replacement of the government of Iraq.

If those conditions are not agreed to ahead of time, and if the commitment to go to war is not made, then there's no point in -- commitment to go to war if those commitments aren't met. And I believe also, I agree with Secretary Powell. The French government has been incompatible with an alliance relationship, and to some extent so has the German.

BLITZER: All right, we're standing by. We've now been told we're less than two minutes away from the start of this news conference, this joint statement that is about to be made.

And, Judy, as we await the start of this news conference, it's obviously a very significant day. Maybe our own John King, our White House correspondent, our senior White House correspondent has some thoughts what we might anticipate coming up -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the single biggest question here is did these leaders in this emergency summit meeting decide to seek another vote at the United Nations? Or have they decided to abandon the process and withdraw the U.S.-British- Spain resolution?

If they have decided to abandon the process, and we are told that was President Bush's inclination heading into this meeting. That he believed resolution was doomed to failure. If there is no vote at the Security Council, we are told we could hear from the president within a matter of days, perhaps as early as tomorrow night, Monday night here in Washington time when the president returns, a final ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, a very short window of time for Saddam Hussein to leave the country or face a U.S. military confrontation.

So the biggest question to be answered here in the Azores today, have these leaders given up on diplomacy? Or will they make one more run at a vote at the U.N. Security Council?

WOODRUFF: John King, that is the question.

And we are just about a minute, if not less, before the news conference of these three key leaders.

CNN's Chris Burns is on the scene in the Azores where the leaders have been meeting.

Chris, they call it a summit, but this is the shortest summit I can remember.

BURNS: Well, absolutely. It does appear to be very well scripted. There was a meeting of only an hour and they are issuing statements afterwards. So there isn't a whole lot of discussion there involved. They apparently, obviously had their minds pretty well made up. They wanted to make this a show of closing ranks, shoulder to shoulder, that they do agree.

And the communication that we've heard from the British and the Spanish as well as from Washington, does seem to indicate that diplomacy, if it's not dead yet, it's pretty close to it. One comment from a British official in the entourage that came with Tony Blair, the British prime minister, saying that this is the last chance for diplomacy.

The foreign minister, Jack Straw, saying that war is more possible than ever. The comment from Jose Maria Aznar, the Spanish prime minister, saying earlier today that he believes that you don't need a second resolution. Just like President Bush had said, you don't need a second resolution to go to war against Iraq. You already have a Security Council Resolution 1441, and others, that give that authority to do so.

Now, of course, that is bitterly disputed, not only by other countries but even by Mr. Aznar's own countrymen and Mr. Blair's own countrymen. And that is where they're looking for some kind of political cover. How will they do that?

Perhaps they may make some kind of mention of the Middle East peace process, as President Bush did a couple of days ago when he said there has to be some kind of a move toward this road map toward peace in the Middle East. That perhaps offering a bit, a bit though, of political cover for Mr. Aznar and Mr. Blair.

WOODRUFF: Just a bit, as you say. The president, President Bush, having flown two-thirds of the way across the Atlantic Ocean, but for a short meeting with an outcome that seems to be clear. Of course, we won't know until these leaders come out.

I'm here with Wolf Blitzer in Washington, waiting for the three and the prime minister of Portugal to come out to talk to the press. With us, Secretary Henry Kissinger, former Secretary William Cohen.

Secretary Cohen, you know, we heard Henry Kissinger say if you could work something out in 30 days with a firm timetable. We know the French have even said -- Jacques Chirac has said maybe 30 days. But the two are really talking about different things aren't they?

COHEN: Just as they were with the signing of 1441. That language was deliberately ambiguous, so that the French could claim that the end result was open for further negotiation.

And the United States had claimed that they had the French and others on record saying that, within that time frame, that they had to comply or else there will be serious consequences.

So, the French and the others have had a different interpretation. I think, if France were to say, give us 30 days, we'd say, to do what? And that is going to remain the important question.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, as we await the start of this news conference, the statement from the four leaders -- they're about to enter this hall in the Azores -- why do you think U.S. diplomacy has failed as it has, not even able at this late moment to get nine affirmative votes in favor of going to war against Iraq on the Security Council?

KISSINGER: Because the United States has had the direct impact of terrorism, and these other nations have not.

Secondly, each of these nations has priorities which don't exactly coincide with ours. France wants to establish the principle that European unity can be formed primarily on the basis of independence from the United States. Germany has had an election campaign during the summer which was fought on the issue of pacifism and anti-Americanism, from which it is very difficult for the German chancellor to retreat.

For Russia, I think this is an opportunity to get even for the expansion of NATO, in which they had to acquiesce in thing that they didn't particularly like. And all of them know that, at the end of the day, we will assume the full responsibility anyway, so they can play to their domestic opinion...

BLITZER: All right, Dr. Kissinger, we see the leaders emerging, walking in. I want to go right to the Azores, and listen to these historic comments.

(INTERRUPTED FOR CNN COVERAGE OF LIVE EVENT)

BLITZER: So there it is. There's the president of the United States and the prime ministers of Portugal, Spain and Britain. They're walking out of this hall in the Azores. The president of the United States announcing tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world, tomorrow we will determine whether diplomacy can work.

Judy Woodruff, as you heard, this president and the three prime ministers, it looks like diplomacy will be given a few hours more, but that's it.

WOODRUFF: I don't think it could be any plainer, Wolf. It's very clear the United States is saying, President Bush is saying, you have one day to come on board, and if you come on board, that's terrific, but if you don't, we are going. The president couldn't have been any more clear.

And, Wolf, when he was asked, and Tony Blair was asked, so, does this mean you're not going to try to go back to the U.N. to get a second resolution, they were in effect saying, we're going to make these phone calls, we're going to test the waters, but if the support isn't there, we are moving without the U.N., and relying, again, on 1441, the resolution that was voted on in November.

BLITZER: Which the president clearly believes gives him the authority to go to war if necessary.

WOODRUFF: That's right.

BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, John King. He's been standing by, listening to this.

It sounds, John, as you suggested earlier, that, if the diplomacy fails tomorrow, by tomorrow night the president could be on television addressing the American public.

KING: Wolf, we are told that will come no later than this week, and most likely as early as tomorrow night. The president in the Oval Office addressing the American people, more importantly directly addressing Saddam Hussein, and giving him one final ultimatum, that we are told will be no more than a few days, to leave the country or face a U.S.-led military occupation.

So what we see here in these pictures today, clearly the president saying he will make some more phone calls to see if they have a breakthrough at the U.N., but Prime Minister Blair, who very much wanted this vote, refusing to answer directly when asked by one of the British reporters as to whether there indeed would be a vote.

From that news conference it is clear they will make another round of phone calls, they will see if they can get a majority on the Council. But as the president noted, France has said it would issue a veto, so it appears that these leaders will abandon a vote if they do not at least have a clear majority on the Council. Tony Blair called it the "point of decision," and we are told President Bush could be in the Oval Office as early as tomorrow night.

In their words and in these pictures, utter contempt for France. The president saying France has agreed that it would never hold Saddam Hussein to account. All the leaders speaking of the strength of the transatlantic alliance. These pictures perhaps more than anyone important to Tony Blair, so that he can go home and say it is not just Tony Blair and the U.S. president, George Bush, it is Tony Blair along with two other key European leaders here, saying Saddam Hussein must be held into account.

Standing by at the summit site is our Chris Burns to offer some additional perspective -- Chris.

BURNS: John, it looks to me like if it's not necessarily an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein directly, it's an ultimatum to the international community, the members of the U.N. Security Council, the 15 members there.

And how many will actually side with this U.N. resolution, the one that the U.S. and Spain and Britain would like to push through? Up to now, only four votes are assured. They need nine votes and no vetoes. It looks like a losing game right now. So the vote in question, whether they'll have it or not.

Very interesting that they did mention the Middle East, and Tony Blair seizing up on it especially, saying that this is very important to show what he calls "even-handedness" in the Middle East, that they do want some kind of a roadmap for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

And that seems also very important political cover to Tony Blair, as well as Jose Maria Aznar, the two prime ministers very much under fire at home, facing a lot of pressure. Some face elections soon, so it's very, very trying times for them. They've got to show some kind of political cover.

Also, very interesting too that President Bush pointing out that -- or hoping that there will be a U.N. role in a post-Saddam Iraq, so looking afterward and nudging the U.N. to join in even if they don't join in this time, perhaps after the conflict.

Also, you mentioning about the possible speech that the president might make as early as tomorrow night, very interesting that the speechwriters not only spent the weekend in Camp David with the president, but also are traveling with him right now.

KING: And, Chris, Mr. Bush heading back immediately, or more consultations with the leaders before he comes back to Washington?

BURNS: As far as we know, he's supposed to be wheels up in the next couple of hours, I believe. There are no plans to stay any longer. This was a very, very short, well-scripted appearance, just a one-hour meeting, and these statements, and one only -- as you noticed, only one question from each journalist from each country concerned.

So, extremely limited, very short leash. They wanted to show that they're joined together, that this is a shoulder-to-shoulder statement. But in terms of any further discussions, it's going to be by phone from now on.

KING: Chris Burns, standing by at the summit site in the Azores.

Mr. Bush, as he noted, to make his way back to Washington in the next few hours. Aboard Air Force One, of course, state-of-the-art communications. Mr. Bush can continue those consultations.

But as Chris noted, in discussing a U.N. role in a post-war Iraq, the president said perhaps that would be a chance for the U.N. to, quote, "get its legs back."

The president obviously believes the United Nations has failed the test that he laid out in his big speech to the United Nations on September 12th. Momentous decisions to be made over the next 24 hours or so.

Again, coming out of this summit, we're told to look for the president of the United States in the Oval Office here at the White House, perhaps as early as tomorrow night, issuing an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, preparing the American people for a U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Wolf and Judy?

BLITZER: All right, John. Thanks very much. We are going to keep you standing by. We are going to get back to you.

I want to bring in CNN's Robin Oakley in London -- he's actually in the Azores. He's been watching this -- our senior European political affairs correspondent.

It looks like the president, Robin, is giving the French, the Germans, the Russians one more day to see if they can come up with something short of a veto and give the other undecided members of the Security Council one more day to see if there can be a resolution.

But if there's not going to be the votes there, and if there's definitely going to be a veto, it looks like he's going to prepare the American public for war.

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. That is very much the way it looks at the end of this press conference here in the Azores.

George Bush was saying that tomorrow is the day which will determine whether diplomacy can work. And he's promised that he and Tony Blair and Jose Maria Aznar will go on working the phones, talking to those with doubts. And basically they're saying the choice is still one for Saddam Hussein. He can go into exile, or he can agree immediately to surrender his weapons of mass destruction. If not, the clear implication was that there will be war.

What was not clear in this press conference, though, was whether they are determined to press ahead with a second U.N. Security Council resolution, whether they the got majority votes for that or not. Last week, President Bush, as he acknowledged here, was telling us there would be a vote. But now that is being left in some doubt, and neither he nor Tony Blair would answer that question directly, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Robin Oakley, thanks. Please stand by as well.

Judy Woodruff is joining me in Washington -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And, Wolf, we're going to bring back former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen.

Secretary Kissinger, to you first. On this point of whether there will be a second resolution, did you hear anything different from these leaders today that you think would persuade any one of the undecided countries, or any one of the countries that have been opposed, to change their minds and come on board?

KISSINGER: Well, any country that wants to play a role in the events that are bound to follow may decide to join us, but I don't think there were any new arguments that had been made, nor were they intended to be made.

And I think what the president has done, and what Tony Blair and Aznar have done, is to indicate that the time has run out, that those who are sitting on the fence have to come down one side or the other, and those of our allies and countries like Russia are given another chance to reflect about their long-term relationship with the United States. And time assured, and it will move toward an ultimatum, either by the United Nations or by the United States.

WOODRUFF: I want to bring Secretary William Cohen in, former Secretary of Defense Cohen.

Did you hear anything different? I mean, we just heard Secretary Kissinger saying he didn't. If that's the case, what's the incentive now for any one of these countries that are needed to make a majority on the Security Council to change their minds?

COHEN: Well, I think it's a question of they're making a list and kind of checking it twice. Who is going to be with the United States, and who is not going to be with the United States? And that they find that they can't get the nine, my expectation would be they would decide not to force a vote but, nonetheless, keep that list in mind in the future.

But I think you have to go beyond that. That once this war is over, it looks to me pretty much the die has been cast. We're going to need all of the other countries and we ought not to be severing any relationships with them.

I think that Dr. Kissinger, who has written extensively on the subject matter, but he has pointed out that if the United States seeks to impose its preeminence by force, it will lead to our isolation and also to the draining of our capacity.

So we have to be careful that we don't use this as another example of imperial idealism here or democratic idealism and imperialism that is reaching beyond our capabilities.

So we've got to take care that we get the U.N. and the other countries back on our side following whatever is going to take place. And I assume it's going to be war in the very near future. That we not diminish or denigrate those institutions, but try to rebuild them and to make them as relevant as we can in this war against terror.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, you clearly saw the contempt that President Bush had for France, the French President Jacques Chirac. He didn't mention him by name, didn't mention any French leaders by name. But certainly that anger came right to the top when he started speaking about this French veto that was going to happen no matter what the U.S. does.

Have you ever seen U.S.-French relations at a level like it is right now?

KISSINGER: No, I have not seen relations between the United States and those of our allies who have been opposing us.

The significant thing to remember here is it isn't just a difference of opinion. It is that France and Germany have been working actively around the world to thwart the United States and to oppose the United States. That has never happened.

And the challenge we now have is this. We don't want to break relations with them, and there should not be recrimination. On the other hand, one also cannot say that nothing happened.

And some soul-searching has to take place as to how the situation arose and what the alliance means when two major allies can take such a hostile position to the United States on a matter that the president has defined as a vital interest to the United States and for which he's willing to risk American lives.

WOODRUFF: Dr. Kissinger, at the same time, what does it mean? I mean, you saw the 12 flags behind these four leaders. If I'm not mistaken, those were the flags of the four countries repeated three times, if anything, to make it appear that there is more transatlantic solidarity than there appears to be.

What does it mean for the U.S. and Great Britain to be the only, with Bulgaria, among the only ones on the U.N. Security Council pushing, you know, a momentous decision to go to war?

KISSINGER: Prime Minister Blair spoke about the transatlantic alliance, that it's 26 nations, of which 18 have explicitly supported us and only three have opposed us. So to defend the transatlantic alliance, it's one of the keys to American foreign policy. That is something that we should look at, and see how it can be strengthened and how the unity of it, that, after all, does exist, can be expressed.

As far as the United Nations is concerned, it means that on the Security Council, there are many countries for which terrorism and the general principles of proliferation have very little meaning. And the African countries are far away. Chile is very far away. And some other countries, one has to express some disappointment about, but this is a peculiar combination of the United Nations.

And the president has called attention to the fact that there may be things which the United Nations can do together and regain its sense of direction, such as some aspect of the reconstruction of Iraq.

And I believe we should internationalize the reconstruction of Iraq. We should not undertake it as an American military occupation, primarily, and not make it look as if this is a new version of Western imperialism. So in that context, the international community may have an opportunity to redefine its purposes.

WOODRUFF: Dr. Kissinger, former U.S. secretary of state, joined here in Washington by William Cohen, former U.S. secretary of defense. We want to ask the two of you to stay with us.

But we do want to go quickly to the White House, to CNN senior White House correspondent John King.

John, we heard Secretary Kissinger talk about a peculiar combination at the U.N. Nevertheless, there is a U.N. timetable here.

KING: Well, there is a resolution on the table, an amendment put forward to the U.S.-British-Spanish resolution, that sets March 17th as the deadline for Saddam Hussein to disarm. That, of course, is tomorrow.

So if there is to be a new resolution in these urgent consultations overnight and into the morning and afternoon hours tomorrow, if there is to be a second resolution, one test would be they would have to come up with a new deadline. You cannot pass a resolution tomorrow saying Saddam Hussein has to be in full cooperation at that very moment.

We are told by U.S. officials that if that deadline were to be moved (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in consultations before this summit meeting, the president would agree to move it only a few days.

So that is one question facing the leaders. If -- and it sounds as though if they don't get majority support, there will be no vote -- but if there is a vote, they will have to pick a new deadline for Saddam Hussein.

And following on what Secretary Kissinger said, if you look forward, Judy, it is two months from now, President Bush is scheduled to travel to France, of all nations, for the annual meeting of the G- 8, the eight largest economies in the world.

That organization traditionally, as in the case of Kosovo, as in the case of the collapse of the Soviet Union, has stepped forward with the international reconstruction aid, if you will, after such incidents around the world and the military conflict.

If you look at the G-8 right now, on the one side have you Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan and the United States, which have favored the use of force if necessary to disarm Saddam Hussein. On the other side, Russia, Germany and France, with Canada, the eighth member, trying to broker a compromise at the United Nations right now.

So we will get, not only in the next couple days but at that meeting two months from now, a much clearer snapshot of how this confrontation we have today and the contempt -- I can't find a better word -- that this president clearly has for the French and, to a lesser degree, the Germans and the Russians right now, how that all plays out as to whether there will be long-term ramifications in these relationships.

WOODRUFF: John, can we just clarify what you were saying earlier. If the U.S. and the British are not able to get agreement of a majority of the Security Council for a second resolution, you were saying they fall back on other language, which then would call on them to set -- let me -- I don't want to make it more complicated than it is. They need to set a new deadline.

KING: If they are to pass a new resolution, they would have to pick a new deadline. Because the resolution on the table at the Security Council sets tomorrow, March 17th, as the deadline. So if they go for a new vote, they will have to pick a new deadline for Saddam Hussein.

We are told by White House officials President Bush is willing to only move that a few days, to sometimes toward the middle of the week as opposed to tomorrow.

It appears, though, if they cannot get majority support, as Secretary Cohen was noting, they will simply not seek a vote. They believe that is more damaging, to go to war after losing at the Security Council. U.S. and, increasingly, British and Spanish officials, we are told, believe you're much better off going under the auspices of Resolution 1441.

So if there is no vote tomorrow at the United Nations, President Bush will set his own deadline in the ultimatum he will deliver to Saddam Hussein from the Oval Office as early as tomorrow night.

WOODRUFF: Well, it certainly did sound that way just a moment ago, as if these leaders are ready to fall back on 1441 and go with that authority, assuming, Wolf, that they are not able to get the support for a second resolution.

BLITZER: And it looks problematic at this point, but a lot could happen in diplomacy within 24 hours when people's minds are as focused as they clearly are right now. One of the key countries, one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council is Russia. CNN's Moscow Bureau chief, Jill Dougherty, is standing by.

Jill, any reaction, official or unofficial reaction, you're getting from the Russian government to this dramatic statement that was just unveiled by these leaders in the Azores?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN'S MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: No, Wolf, no reaction. And really, at this point, you'd have to say that that reaction is going to have to come from President Putin. It's going to have to be his decision.

And this is -- if it's a dramatic moment for George Bush, it's a very dramatic moment for President Putin. Because he's being asked -- and can you bet that they will be talking, because they've been talking a lot on the phone. They will be deciding -- he will have to decide, Mr. Putin, not his foreign minister, no one else. It's his decision.

And either he sides with George Bush, or he does what it looks as if they have been saying all along. If it does come up for a vote, they said that they would veto anything that had an ultimatum and anything that had the automatic use of force. And you heard from Tony Blair tonight exactly those two points. Tony Blair saying we need an ultimatum and we need the use of force. So if the Russians do what they've been saying, they'd have to veto that.

Now, they could abstain, if it does come up for a vote. But that doesn't seem very likely, if this is the moment of truth and Russia wants to show that it's really in the game. A lot of people don't really feel that they want to just step aside and not take a decision.

Could he go with George Bush? It's anybody's guess. It seems unlikely at this point. But after all, again, Wolf, it's up to Mr. Putin.

BLITZER: Jill, I've noticed over these past several weeks, we've heard a lot from the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov. We've heard a lot from Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Sergey Lavrov. But correct me if I'm wrong, on this specific issue of whether Russia will vote, how Russia will vote, I haven't heard a lot from the president, Vladimir Putin.

I know that there have been several phone calls between Presidents Bush and Putin, but I haven't heard any public statements from President Putin how, precisely, Russia will vote.

DOUGHERTY: You're exactly right, Wolf. And, you know, this is very much how President Putin operates domestically and, you can see, internationally.

He talks to a lot of people, he listens to a lot of people. And only when he really, really has to make a decision does he come out with a decision. And so here it is, the 11th hour. Mr. Putin now will be called upon to make that final decision. The only thing that could really, again, make it easier for him would be if that resolution isn't even tabled, if the issue goes away and the United States goes ahead and does what it wants. Then Russia could stand aside and say, "Look, we really tried to stop this. We don't like war. We don't want it to happen, but that's life. The U.S. is going to do what it's going to do."

In that case, you know, Russia would look as if it did fight the good fight against a war, but the U.S. wanted to do it and went ahead. So that could be, in a sense, a solution for Russia.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, our Moscow bureau chief. We're going to ask you to stand by as well. Jill, thanks very much -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Wolf, we want to go now quickly to the United Nations to our Michael Okwu, who has been reporting from there for us today.

Michael, one question, it seems to me, coming out of this meeting, the summit in the Azores, is: What about the French? Is their ambassador to the U.N. around? Is he visible today?

Are you hearing anything from the French or, for that matter, any of the other Security Council members, who everybody's going to be looking to see now, are they going to change their view?

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, nobody's around today, Judy. We're certainly making a flurry of phone calls to find out just how they felt about the joint statements coming out of the Azores.

It's very clear at this point, anyway, that what's on the table, what's on the docket for this other, sort of, faction, if you will, on the Security Council -- the French, the Germans, the Russians, perhaps the Chinese, as well -- is to get down to brass tacks on Monday to discuss the chief weapons inspectors' program of work.

Now, that is something that he's been working on for quite some time. Dr. Blix, under previous U.N. resolutions, was supposed to put together a list of the key remaining tasks on disarmament for Iraq, and especially also to discuss some of the issues about whether or not this deadline could be extended, whether or not, perhaps, they were looking at a 30-day period for the Iraqis.

Of course, Jacques Chirac coming out today and saying that some of these countries involved would like to see a 30--day deadline for them.

So at this point, it does not look, Judy, it does not look like there will be any kind of agreement between these two major factions on the Council.

Now, some of the smaller countries on the Security Council have been pushing for a 30-day deadline. The Chileans did this last week, coming out of discussions they were having, of perhaps having a 45-day deadline for the Iraqis. U.S. officials have been saying that that is a non-starter. So it will be very interesting to see, given President Bush's throwing the gauntlet at them, whether or not they respond in kind -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Michael, it's interesting you mention the U.N. weapons inspectors' report. They may be planning to give it, but we didn't even -- I don't think we heard any reference to it from these four leaders. They plan to move, and move quickly. They are going to make these phone calls, see if they can generate any support. And if they can't, war is next. We didn't hear anything about the U.N. weapons inspectors.

OKWU: Very telling, Judy. This faction on the Security Council has been pushing all along to make sure that the chief weapons inspector has all the time he needs to finish his business.

Now, Hans Blix has been saying in the past he would need a lot more time to finish his job. Now, he has not come forward to the Security Council to specifically say, "I want X amount of time." But he's made it very clear that to finish the work that he was given to do in Resolution 1441, he said it would not take days, it would not take weeks; it would certainly take in the neighborhood of months.

The Russians, the Germans, the French are very keen to give him as much time as he needs. And in fact, they'd like to be able, perhaps, to give some sort of a 30-day deadline without any kind of a hidden trigger for war.

Their concern, at this point, of course, that is that U.S.-U.K.- Spanish resolution is something of a verbal Trojan horse, essentially a justification or a trigger for war wrapped up in diplomatic language -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Michael Okwu reporting for us from the United Nations.

So, Wolf, the weapons inspectors may be coming back with a report, but these leaders don't seem to have that on their radar screen.

BLITZER: At least the leaders we just heard from, it may be a little bit too little too late.

Let me just recap for viewers who may just be tuning in the dramatic developments unfolding today, I think it's fair to say, historic developments unfolding today, developments that could lead either to war or peace.

President Bush emerging from a summit meeting with the prime ministers of Britain, Spain and Portugal, saying, quote, "Tomorrow," meaning Monday, "Tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world." He then, in response to a question, said tomorrow will be the day that they will determine whether there's any useful role left for diplomacy, whether diplomacy can avert a war or whether or not there will be a war. And we're hearing from our senior White House correspondent, John King, that if diplomacy should fail tomorrow, the president, perhaps even as early as tomorrow night, could go on television, from the White House, address the American people, indeed address the world, and set the stage for a war.

We're going to continue our special coverage. We have a lot more coming up. Stay with CNN. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage of the Azores summit. President Bush emerging from the meeting, a brief meeting with the leaders of Spain, Portugal and Britain, saying tomorrow is a moment of truth. Tomorrow, in effect, will be the last day for diplomacy to see if there can be a resolution or not before the United Nations Security Council.

What happens next with weapons inspections in Iraq? The chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, and Mohammed ElBaradei, the chief nuclear inspector, want more time to conduct their work in Iraq. But the United States says more inspections won't rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.

Joining us now for some additional insight about Iraq's weapons arsenal are two special guests. Robert Galluci is a former United Nations weapons inspector. He is now the dean of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service here in Washington D.C.. And David Albright is also a former weapons inspector. He is currently the president of the Institute for Science and International Security.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Let me begin with you, Ambassador Galluci, or Dean Galluci, whatever you prefer being called nowadays. Does it look like these inspections have effectively run their course?

ROBERT GALLUCI, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: It's hard to see at this point how the inspections can produce much more, given recent events, and particularly today's events. It looks like the focus of activity really is on whether there is going to be a vote that will authorize the use of force. I don't think anybody is expecting very much to come out of inspections at the 11th hour or at a point past the 11th hour.

So I don't see the focus really on inspections at this point.

BLITZER: You had a distinguished career in the State Department in the U.S. government. You know diplomacy. Have you ever seen a situation develop like this where the chief weapons inspectors, who report to the U.N. Security Council, say give us some more time, and in effect, the super power -- the world's super power, the United States, basically says, no more time?

GALLUCI: This has been a bizarre use of inspections. From the beginning, there has been a difference of agreement about what inspections were supposed to produce. We've heard over and over again the inspections were not designed to find things the Iraqis were hiding. They were designed only really to accept Iraq's coming clean with respect to its weapons.

At the same time, there was pressure on the United States to provide intelligence so that the inspectors could find things the Iraqis were hiding. The linkage between the inspections and war was never clear. For some people who didn't want to go to war, the argument always was, well the inspectors didn't find anything and there are a lot of them and they have great access, so there is nothing to find. But people who did want to go to war, when the inspectors didn't find anything, they said, well, the Iraqis aren't turning things over.

So I don't think the regime has been very clearly linked politically with a particular outcome around which there was a consensus in the international community.

WOODRUFF: David Albright, let's bring you in now. It's Judy Woodruff here, also in Washington. You also are a former weapons inspector. We are hearing two very different stories. From the Bush administration, it sounds as if Saddam Hussein has done nothing, or almost nothing, to comply with the demand that he disarm. On the other hand, the weapons inspectors speak of progress. U.N. Secretary General Annan has spoken of progress, certainly the French and others. Who's right?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, in a sense, they are both right. I mean, Iraq is complying partially. But Colin Powell is right too when he said that Iraq has not made a strategic decision to give up all its weapons of mass destruction and come clean. And we know what that looks like.

And so in a sense, the inspectors are kind of caught between titans right now. And what clearly emerged in this summit is that the United States is not willing to compromise at all. And therefore, it's hard to see any other outcome than war at this point. I mean, we heard statements from France that it would accept a 30-day deadline.

And so I think inspections can continue. In fact, I'll tell you, they will continue. I mean, eventually inspectors will be back in Iraq because Iraq will be a signatory of the nonproliferation treaty. There's going to be questions about what happened. So inspectors will go back and they will continue to work.

But in the short period, I think short term, if the United States is unwilling to compromise at all, then I think we've seen the end of inspections.

WOODRUFF: So you're saying -- you know, your point is that the French have made some concessions. They've gone from three months down to maybe one month, but the Bush administration is standing firm. And you're saying -- in essence, you're saying it's the Bush administration that is holding up any sort of diplomatic progress here? ALBRIGHT: That's what it looks like to me. I think former secretary of defense Cohen mentioned a check list. I mean, starting on Friday, I would agree with that. It looks like a list is being checked off, and so I don't see the compromise on the U.S. side. I just see that they're going through the motions.

Sandy Berger this morning said on your show that there's a pivot toward war that was taking place at this summit, and unfortunately I would think that what I saw just recently would confirm that.

BLITZER: David Albright, stand by. I want to bring in former defense secretary William Cohen. He's been sitting with us analyzing, assessing what's going on.

These are dramatic developments, as we all know, but have you ever seen anything like this before, where you have such different views, the same evidence, basically, in front of all of the allies, but they come up with such different bottom-line conclusions?

COHEN: Well, you're seeing a situation in which they're starting from a different perspective. Those in Europe who are opposed to taking military action certainly have their own interests to pursue and to protect as such, and they have looked at the United States as, quote, a "hyperpower." That's a phrase that's been used over and over.

And they see it as a positive goal of theirs to try to rein in that hyperpower, and therefore there is in alliance as such or a coalition of the unwilling to try to restrain this predominant U.S. military power machine, and this is really something more than Iraq is involved here, this is really an issue that involves the U.S. role in the European theater, versus France and Germany and Russia. So, while Iraq is now the subject of discussion, it goes well beyond that.

The point I'd like to make, also, is that we should always try to have personal relations, in terms of pursuing our diplomacy, but we should never allow our diplomacy to become personal, and I think what's happened is, it's become very personal, in terms of the relation between the major countries involved, and that's something that we need to try to get beyond, because we're going to be turning to the United Nations for North Korea, we're going to be looking at other types of terror actions against the United States and other countries, and we're going to need these international friends of ours.

BLITZER: Let me bring back Ambassador Galluci on that specific point. The relationship, the personal relationships have deteriorated to such a point that President Bush and President Chirac basically aren't even talking right now, despite the fact that these are two great allies, the United States and France.

GALLUCI: They're two great allies, but the alliances that we've been talking about for some time, and Secretary Kissinger talked about, and Secretary Cohen, is an alliance that really was forged to deal with a common enemy, the Soviet Union, which doesn't exist any more. Whether the Atlantic alliance can be held together for the common threat we do face, international terrorism, is a question, whether it can deal with threats from countries pursuing nuclear weapons, North Korea, Iran, others is an open question.

This, the way the United States is dealing with the Europeans and some of the Europeans dealing with us, does not bode well, it seems to me, for the ability of countries to readjust to the new threats in the international community, which should be bringing us together, rather than dividing us.

WOODRUFF: All right. We're -- while we're talking with Robert Galluci and David Albright, and Bill Cohen, we want to go to Baghdad, to CNN's Nic Robertson.

Nic, any action there, any reaction to what came out of the summit in the Azores?

I'm not sure Nic Robertson was able to hear me. We do have Nic, but we want to be able to establish a linkage, so that we can hear one another.

While we're waiting for that, I want to bring back David Albright and also ask Bill Cohen this question: What are the implications for international relations, for the viability of the United Nations, if you do end up having the U.S., the United Kingdom, and some other countries go in, but with a U.S.-led coalition to carry out whatever military action there is without the explicit support, at least in this second go-round, from the U.N. Security Council?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think one thing that -- it'll certainly depend on how it goes. I mean, if it's an easy war, and there's not a lot of civilian casualties, and there's a quick reestablishment of order, then I think we'll weather this crisis.

I do think, in any case, we're going to see that there's a hardening of opposition to the Bush administration preventive-war theories, and also, I would -- I'm not sure how reconstruction'll go. To me, if I was a German, I would not want to pay very much for reconstruction. I mean, frankly, you know, they've been insulted, been told what to do, been called bad allies, and yet they're expressing their opinion.

And now they are being -- I guess I heard the summit leaders ask the Germans and the French to start paying for reconstruction. And I think that could become a very sore point, and particularly the way it was presented to them today, where it's either come with us or take the highway and now we want you to pay for it.

WOODRUFF: Well, those are all questions that we want to continue to explore here. David Albright, we're going to ask you stand by, you and Bill Cohen and Robert Galluci. We do want to -- I think we have Nic Robertson with us now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: I want to bring back the dean of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, the former U.N. weapons inspector, Robert Galucci.

Ambassador Galluci, we heard earlier on this program, on CNN, Secretary of State Colin Powell expressing concern that the Iraqi government might not allow those U.N. weapons inspectors, international aid workers, journalists, they might not let them leave when the time is right, may even take them hostage. Although, when I interviewed the Iraqi ambassador to the U.N., Mohammed Aldouri, a little bit after that, he said anyone can leave whenever they want.

But how concerned should these inspectors be, and others, that they might not be allowed to leave?

GALLUCI: I don't think anybody wants to put beyond the realm of possibility actions by the Iraqi government at a point when they believe they are about to be invaded by the United States of America and some of its allies.

So I don't want to completely dismiss that as a possibility. I don't think it's likely. I think that it is more likely that Iraq will continue to make a case that it is a victim here and that the Americans are the aggressors and would not, therefore, want to take international aid workers or international inspectors hostage. I don't think it can be excluded, but I don't think it's extremely likely.

WOODRUFF: I want to bring in former Defense Secretary Bill Cohen now.

Mr. Secretary, is it smart for anybody right now to be in Baghdad?

COHEN: I think it would be a good idea to get out of Dodge, so to speak. It is very clear to me that war is imminent. If they can leave, they should leave.

I would expect that Saddam is going to really have a tactic or a strategy of forcing the United States to harm as many civilians as we can by putting his military machine as close to civilian areas as possible to try to marginalize the clear military superiority of the United States and to then try and show the world that they are being victimized by hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people being killed.

Now, the United States will have to take all of that into account, and we try to do that on each and every military operation. But if you're talking about any kind of an urban campaign, then you're looking at potentially significant numbers of people being -- dying.

WOODRUFF: When you say putting his military -- his forces in civilian locations, be more specific.

COHEN: Well, I think Saddam has learned a very good lesson. He's not going to fight the United States out in the open desert, so to speak. He's going to try and draw his forces back into the city. He'll put his tanks up against civilian buildings, hospitals, orphanages, mosques. He will amass people in, I presume, targets for the United States, and then hope that CNN and others will cover that consequence on live television, showing the world that they're being victimized by this overwhelming superior power. That is something he's tried to do in the past, and I'm sure he will attempt to do it this time as well.

WOODRUFF: All right. And one final question here for David Albright. You said, I think, a little while ago, it's hard to imagine that some of these European countries who feel they're practically being insulted by the United States would want to play a role in the reconstruction of Iraq. But on the other hand, isn't the international community going to want and have to pull together after this because there are so many other problems the world faces?

ALBRIGHT: You hope. But, I mean, you can harm your relations to the point that that becomes a problem, and I think that the Bush administration is going to have to do something to reach out to these allies and not just give them the impression that they're there to support the United States in what it wants to do.

So I do worry, and I think that we're going to be having to face very soon a nuclear program in Iran that's further along than we anticipated. There's a -- big problems with North Korea, and I think that the international community may not be hanging together to deal with these things.

WOODRUFF: On that sobering note, we want to thank David Albright, Robert Galluci, and former Defense Secretary William Cohen. Thank you, all three, we appreciate it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Judy, we have much more coverage coming up on this day, on this day that could be the day before the U.S. and its coalition partners give up on diplomacy and prepare for war. And while we wait, they are waiting in the Kuwaiti desert as well. U.S. and coalition military partners.

When we come back, we'll talk to CNN military analyst, Retired General Wesley Clark and Retired U.S. Lieutenant General Dan Christman about the battle plan for a possible war. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage.

Whenever President Bush gives the green light, a U.S. military force of a quarter of a million troops will go to war against Iraq. Here to offer some perspective on what U.S. forces will be facing are two special guests.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, the former NATO supreme allied commander, now CNN military analyst, retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark. And here in Washington, retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Dan Christman. He was a senior military operations planner during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Generals, thanks very much for joining us.

General Clark, it looks like it's virtually over. One more day of diplomacy left. What does that say to you?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it says that the forces that have not arrived will not be in the initial phase of the operations. And so this is a plan that's gone through many different iterations. There's been a lot of talk about rolling starts to the plan. But the simple truth is that elements of three U.S. Army divisions that apparently are on orders to go to the Persian Gulf and participate in the fight are not there yet. And so that means there are just not enough forces to do everything that was envisioned at the start of the planning.

BLITZER: Well, which raises the question, General Christman, from a military perspective, why not wait another week or two and get those forces there?

LT. GEN. DAN CHRISTMAN (RET.), U.S. ARMY: I think any military commander, Wolf, would want more time, especially now, given some of the delays in moving in the 101st Airborne, for example.

But I think the key here also is to make certain that the surprise element, to the extent that we have that, tactically, is also maintained.

And if the president gives the order, there are sufficient forces in theater to execute that, although the desire, as Wes had mentioned, always is for an additional backup. I doubt we're going to get that, though.

BLITZER: But, General Christman, you speak about a surprise element. I don't think anyone would be surprised if the president gives the order to go to war.

CHRISTMAN: No, that's not the issue so much, Wolf, as the decision on the war. The question, though, is how it's going to be implemented, what minute, what hour, indeed what day over these next 10 days or so, where the actual attack takes place, and there are many opportunities here for -- still some surprise through deception operations and other events that will cause our forces to hopefully go in with the great deal of unexpected activity on our side.

BLITZER: General Clark, the Iraqis presumably are watching all of this very carefully. They may have some military surprises up their sleeves.

This is an incredibly dangerous moment right now, these hours, perhaps days, before a U.S.-led military strike.

CLARK: It is, Wolf, and this war is unlike other conflicts that we've fought in the last 10 years, because we believe that Saddam does have weapons of mass destruction, we believe he will attempt to use them. We're not sure if he's going to be able to use them against us, but he certainly has every incentive to want to, and the time he would want to use them would be right at the outset of the campaign, even before we jump off out of Kuwait, he'd like to catch our forces in a staging area. He probably wants to strike the people in Kuwait. And he'd like to go after Israel. He'd like to do it all at the outset. For him, it's a use them or lose them operation, and he knows, if he's going to use them, he's going to have to use them early, and that makes this different, and that's -- so we're working very hard on what we call "countersurprise" technology.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you very much.

General Clark, we're going to ask you to stand by. General Christman, always good to speak with you, thank you very much for helping us better understand potentially the military aspects of the looming war with Iraq.

CHRISTMAN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We have much more coverage coming up on this Azores summit. Coming up we'll go live to the United Nations. We'll also go to the troops. They're waiting for war in Kuwait.

CNN special report, "The Azores Summit," will continue in a moment.

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