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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Saddam Tapes Raise bin Laden-esq Questions; Muslims Protest Presence of U.S. Forces

Aired April 18, 2003 - 16:00   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: Is it a sham or is it Saddam? On the day Baghdad fell, the U.S. is studying this video and new audiotapes too.

SADDAM HUSSEIN, PRESIDENT OF IRAQ (through translator): We are confident that victory at the end will be ours.

ANNOUNCER: Anger in the new Iraq. Muslims protest the presence of U.S. forces as the struggle to bring order to Baghdad goes on.

Is North Korea the next Iraq? A brazen announcement by Pyongyang puts pivotal talks with the U.S. in jeopardy.

CNN live at hour. Judy Woodruff reports from Washington with correspondents from around the world. A special edition of INSIDE POLITICS: "The New Iraq" begins right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

More than a week after the fall of Baghdad, Saddam Hussein is back on televisions around the world. Whether or not these newly released video and audiotapes are authentic, they may come as a jolt to the Iraqi people who are still trying to put their long-held fears of Saddam behind them.

CNN's Jim Clancy has more from Baghdad on these tapes and on the scene in the Iraqi capital.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If the source of these pictures is correct, President Saddam Hussein was on the streets of Baghdad last week even as his bronze image was collapsing in front of crowds only miles away. Surrounded by an entourage of gunmen, the Iraqi leader exhorted the crowd, his son Qusay with him. If it can be proved it is the Iraqi leader, it will add credence to reports a massive U.S. air strike that aimed to kill him missed yet again. It will also add urgency to U.S. efforts to track him down.

In a rare display of unity, both Shia and Sunni Muslim Iraqis joined together in prayers Friday. Islamic unity was the theme, but the U.S. came in for criticism. One cleric said the Americans toppled the regime for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and were not to be trusted. The incendiary mix of religion and politics predictably spilled out into the streets. A large demonstration, asserting Muslim unity, laid down a challenge to any outside efforts to impose a U.S.- led regime in Baghdad.

Elsewhere, an eerie sense of normalcy coexisted with the unbridled violence of the past week. As men looked on from a shabby street side cafe, the body of a looter lay a few meters away, other uncollected casualties lay nearby. This man, we were told, was gunned down for $150.

Below Baghdad's streets, urban legends live on. Thousands of people gathered around this traffic tunnel ripping apart ventilation shafts in the mistaken belief they would find secret prisons where loved ones had survived the regime and waited to be rescued. Crushing one another for a closer look, any reaction from those below stirred rumors another ghost from the past had emerged from a subterranean nightmare. No one, alive or dead, was found but hope dies hard when there is so little else left.

Others who ventured out took advantage of a bristling trade in transport, as confidence returns, private buses and taxies shuttle residents between cities or neighborhoods, giving Iraqis living proof loved ones were all right. Another sign the city was struggling to its feet.

(on camera): Meantime, at a power station in the capital, U.S. army general and Iraqi engineers work on what they call project dawn, to turn the lights back on in Baghdad and beyond.

(voice-over): General Steve Hawkins is trying to pull together resources from as far away as Kirkuk to jump start the electric grid. In the view of many, it is the single most important task at hand. Iraqi engineers at the south Baghdad power station laugh. They want to get the power working just to end the incessant questions from their neighbors who keep demanding to know when the lights will come on.

More to the point, these and other civil servants have understandable concerns about who will pay them, and when. It's clear, this man won't. But not as certain why remnants of the regime in hiding pushed these pictures to the surface, said to be videotaped by Iraqi television. They found their way into the hands of an Arabic news channel. The message isn't only that Saddam Hussein is still alive, still able to elude capture. It is also that he is still a force to be reckoned with.

But coming a week late, those images collided with the reality now on the streets of the capital. A reality that has said good-bye to Saddam Hussein for good.

Jim Clancy, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: It's hard to imagine how desperate some of those people are.

Well, as you can imagine, officials here in Washington are analyzing the newly released Saddam video and audio tapes as well.

And we're going to check in with our national security correspondent, David Ensor. David, what is the intelligence community making of all this so far?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're going to know within a day or so whether that's the voice of Saddam on the audio tape, Judy, pretty much definitively. But there's no reference on the audiotape to any particular event, so it could be months old. It doesn't tell you very much. The videotape will take longer. They're going to want to go frame by frame and look at what's in the background, and try to figure out when this thing was videotaped.

It looks like it's Saddam. That's the working assumption. And there you see focused in on is Qusay Hussein, his son. So, they're working with the assumption it is Saddam Hussein.

The question is, when? Was it really April 9, the day that the statue came down? Or was it perhaps recorded in March? Now, they've looked at another tape with some care, the one that was put out earlier that was said to be April 4. And they've come to the conclusion that that tape really was videotaped in early March. They base that on certain things they see in the background. They're not willing to be specific about what, exactly. And people are dressed for different weather and so on.

WOODRUFF: Somewhat colder weather, maybe.

ENSOR: So that tape, they believe, is three weeks -- was when he was still in control. And there was an untruth spoken about that one and maybe about the other one too.

WOODRUFF: So, on the audiotape, you're saying, they can authenticate that fairly quickly? They can compare the voice patterns and so forth and figure that out. But it's a different matter altogether with the video.

ENSOR: And the video's of great interest. If he was still alive on April 9 then the attempt to kill him on the night of April 7 didn't work. So, it does make a difference.

WOODRUFF: So, they're not even making any preliminary guesses about the video yet at this point?

ENSOR: No, but they're skeptical about it, since there was apparently a falsehood put out about the previous tape. They basically are suspicious that this tape may have been videotaped in March, when he still had control of Baghdad.

WOODRUFF: Because if they've done it once again, perhaps they've done it again.

ENSOR: They might have done it twice, right.

WOODRUFF: OK, David Ensor, our national security correspondent. Thank you, David.

The Bush administration now has something new to worry about in its standoff with North Korea over that country's nuclear program.

We're going to check in now with our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. She is in Crawford, Texas where the president is spending the weekend at his ranch. Suzanne, the White House reacting somewhat, I guess you'd say, to this word from the North Koreans, or appears to be word, that they're reprocessing these spent fuel rods.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, those talks very may well be in jeopardy, that according to one senior administration official. They could go forward or they could decide that they are not going to commit to those talks. It's something that perhaps the decision will be made in the days to come.

We've just heard from the White House spokeswoman, Claire Buchanan. She put it this way. She said, "We're consulting with other interested states. And once we have a clear set of facts in the views of our friends and allies, we'll make a decision as to how to proceed. So we're evaluating the statement and we're consulting with others." Those states she's referring to is South Korea, Japan and China.

Now, as we've been told from senior administration officials, they really don't know, they cannot tell at this point whether or not North Korea is lying, whether or not they'll go through with their threat. Some see this as simply a way of increasing their bargaining power, the negotiating power going into these talks. For some administration officials, they are certainly not surprised by this tactic. They have seen it before from North Korea.

But clearly, some administration officials are quite perturbed by all of this. One saying it's insulting. Another one saying, and I'm quoting here, "This is really sand in our eyes to say this the week before the talks."

Now, Judy, as you know, the Bush administration has put a lot of political capital into this. China has come forward and actually being a part of, an active part of these talks. For a long time, North Korea demanded that it be one on one, that the United States against North Korea in trying to discuss its nuclear ambitions.

The Bush administration has been very clear from the very beginning, it would not set up that scenario, where it would be the United States against Pyongyang. That it was, in fact, a multilateral situation.

Finally, North Korea came around just shortly after the fall of Baghdad and said, yes, we'll go ahead with those multilateral talks. Now, Judy, it's all up in the air.

WOODRUFF: So, Suzanne, when they say they're going to be talking with allies, they're clearly talking about the South Koreans, and who else did you say?

MALVEAUX: They're talk about the South Koreans. They're talking about the Japanese as well as the Chinese. And the Chinese really being the ones that have recently come forward and said, yes, we're going to go ahead. Those are the ones putting pressure on North Korea to come forward, to talk with the United States and, yes, to make this a broad-based, a multilateral discussion, not one on one.

That is something that the president has been very adamant about that he would not pit the United States against North Korea. That this was a concern that would be among all of the states in the region. And that is why they have been very insistent on making that happen. We'll see what happens.

WOODRUFF: So finally, Suzanne, what you're saying is we're not sure that those talks are going to take place now?

MALVEAUX: We are not sure what's going to happen. They say that they will continue through the weekend. This is scheduled for next week sometime. So really, they don't know -- all is up in the air. But they are certainly hoping that this will move forward. They've spent a lot of time with this.

But, again they also bring up the point that it is North Korea that is really in the position of being on the down side of this, that they feel that the United States really does have the upper hand.

WOODRUFF: All right, Suzanne Malveaux reporting from Crawford, Texas, a very windy afternoon in Crawford. Suzanne, thanks very much. We can hear the wind whipping around. Thank you.

WOODRUFF: A little later this hour, I'm going to talk with Wendy Sherman. She is a former state department North Korea policy coordinator.

When we return, we'll find out what people in two key European countries are saying now that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has been driven from power. The mood in France and Germany just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): 6:33 a.m., CNN's Jane Arraf reports from Kirkuk that local authorities and U.S. investigators are still mystified by a grave yard on a military base abandoned by the old Iraqi regime. There are hundreds of unmarked graves. Apparently dating back to the 1991 Gulf War or before. But it's not clear whether the people buried there are victims of regime atrocities, or whether this may be a military grave yard.

7:45 a.m., U.S. Central Command says another top Ba'ath Party official has been captured. Samir abd al Aziz al Najim was handed over to coalition special forces by Iraqi Kurds last night.

8:10 a.m., Abu Dhabi TV broadcasts videotape which it says shows Saddam Hussein in a Baghdad neighborhood last Wednesday, April 9, the day the city fell to coalition troops. The network has not said where it got the tapes. No U.S. official confirmation on when it was shot, or whether the man on the video is really Saddam Hussein.

9:59 a.m. At the Pentagon, CNN's Kathleen Koch reports that officials have said the U.S. has begun the process of interviewing Iraqi prisoners of war. Coalition forces have released 927 POWs from prison camps around Iraq because they were determined to be noncombatants.

10:03 a.m., according to the World Health Organization, Baghdad's health system is in better shape than initially feared. But the 700 patients who fled a looted and burned hospital have not yet returned for medical treatment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Well, days after the fighting has effectively ended, and the regime of Saddam Hussein has fallen, anti-war sentiment remains strong in France and Germany. And there is concern that peace in Iraq will be hard to attain. But in both those countries, Iraq -- rather, France and Germany -- moves are now underway to mend diplomatic fences with the United States and Britain. You remember, of course, both France and Germany opposed the war.

We have two reports now on the mood in the country, beginning with CNN's Jim Bittermann in Paris.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They may have been on the sidelines, but opinion polls indicate the French watched the war in Iraq very carefully. So has their opinion changed now that Washington rules? Any doubt about President Jacques Chirac's foreign policy? Some, apparently, but not much. Ask the butcher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Mr. Chirac is very popular here.

BITTERMANN: Or a baker.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I don't see any change for the moment.

BITTERMANN: Or a retired dealmaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Maybe the U.S. should not have made war, but now that it is done, we should not race to any questions.

BITTERMANN: A more scientific poll indicates much the same. While President Jacques Chirac's 70 percent approval rating remains stable, French support for the war doubled to 36 percent after the fall of Baghdad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The end of the war led to change of opinion, in part because factors concerning the weakening of France and the international scene. Forty-six percent of the French believe France is isolated diplomatically.

BITTERMANN: Chirac is now attempting to mend those diplomatic fences, suggesting a step-by-step approach to Iraq's post-war reconstruction, but never dropping insistence that the U.N. be involved. Even his opponents, like French doctor Bernard Kouchner would agree. Kouchner, who served for two years as the U.N.'s post- war administrator in Kosovo, was for the war to oust Saddam Hussein. But he says if the Americans try to politically rebuild Iraq without the U.N., they risk a fundamentalist backlash.

DR. BERNARD KOUCHNER, FMR. U.N. ADMIN., KOSOVO: There is a real threat, there is a real danger of organizing another Islamic republic, like in Iran. Don't minimize such a danger. And with the Americans, this danger is higher than with the U.N. system.

BITTERMANN: The French press increasingly suggests Chirac went too far in confronting Washington, but a conservative newspaper says he's not about to eat his words now, or give in on involving the U.N. in post-war Iraq. Still, as one leading foreign policy commentator here put it, France has burned too many bridges. If before the war French arguments were right, French conclusions were wrong. And he suggested, now is the time for prudence, modest and, above all, quiet diplomacy.

Jim Bittermann, CNN, Paris.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE HALASZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At Berlin University, there is still talk about the war, and its chaotic aftermath.

"There is a danger things will be even worse than before" says Katia Laf (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think they want to do something for the Iraqi people. The only thing that they want to do is to establish themselves in this region, and I think the next goal or the next aim is to conquer Syria or Iran.

HALASZ: And from this student, the war was not justifiable. Still he says, one has to see what will happen.

Germans did their best to head off the war, taking to the streets, demonstrating support for their government's refusal to back Washington's campaign to topple Saddam Hussein by force. Now, that war is happening, protests have gotten smaller. But a recent poll found 82 percent of Germans still don't think the war will produce lasting peace. It's good that Saddam Hussein is gone, they say, but...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I look at the situation of the people now, it's worse than before, because of the chaos there.

HALASZ: Some Germans blame America, some don't.

"One cannot always accuse the Americans of starting a war, but then not cleaning up. It takes time," says this housewife.

Back at the university, as students listen to the discussion about the future of Iraq, academics consider the effect the anti-war movement will have on Germany's future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it will not change society as a whole, but I think this mobilization that we have seen, particularly among high school students, young people, it will have an effect on the future in the sense that minority of these people will go on in being politically active.

HALASZ (on camera): This weekend, perhaps a final chance for the masses to protest. Over 100 demonstrations are planned over Easter with the overwhelming majority of Germans still saying they do not believe in this war.

Stephanie Halasz, CNN, Berlin.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: So the protests goes on in that part of the world.

Still ahead, can President Bush use his war victory here at home to score political points? Or will he suffer the same fate as his father? Questions up for debate when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Now, to the Bush administration's legal and political battles as the war in Iraq winds down. A federal appeals court panel is questioning the latest move by Vice President Cheney's lawyer to avoid disclosing information about Cheney's energy policy task force.

The lawyer asked the appeals court to intervene to stop a lower court effort to force Cheney to release the records. The panel's senior judge is quoted as saying, "You have no case." But it could be weeks or months before a ruling is issued.

Along the political front, the skirmishes continue over the president's tax cut plan. The group, Club for Growth, is using war analogies in ads defending the Bush plan and targeting moderate Senate Republicans who oppose it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AD ANNOUNCER: President Bush courageously led the forces of freedom. But some so-called allies like France stood in the way. At home, President Bush has proposed bold job creating tax cuts to boost our economy. But some so-called Republicans, like Olympia Snow, stand in the way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Another Club for Growth ad like this targets Ohio Senator George Voinovich.

Let's talk about war, peace and politics now with former Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile, and Ron Kaufman, who is the political director for the first President Bush. Good to see you both.

DON KAUFMAN, FMR. BUSH POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Good to be here, Judy.

WOODRUFF: So, some division among Republicans over the president's tax cut. While the president was largely focused on the war, you've got serious disagreements between some Republicans in the House, many Republicans in the House, some in the Senate. You even got disagreement among Republicans in the Senate. My question to you, Ron, is the president going to be able to turn some of the popularity from the war to fix his problem with his tax cut?

KAUFMAN: You know, Judy, this is a great country we live in. And most people love leaders who are strong and decisive and have the courage of their convictions, especially when they're right. And I think going into this war, the country was divided, Democrats and Republicans, quite frankly.

Now they're together. They love the president because he proved that he had the courage of his convictions that he was right. And today's Harris poll says two things interesting. One is Democrats, by a majority, support the president. And, interestingly enough, a problem for my friend here, Donna, is that the negative image of the Democrats in Congress has never been lower.

WOODRUFF: But what I'm asking is, is the president's popularity coming off the war, which is sky high, is he going to be able to transfer that to restore some of the tax cut plan?

KAUFMAN: I don't think you transfer it Judy. I think you do the same thing to the economy and to tax cuts you did to the war. Have convictions, believe in yourself, and go after them.

DONNA BRAZILE, CHAIRWOMAN, DNC'S VOTING RIGHTS INSTITUTE: I think, Ron, that they love the man. There's no question that the president's quite popular right now. But they hate the plan. They hate a plan that has caused all of these deficits across the country, the national deficit. And, of course, they believe more tax cuts will only remove more people from the employment rolls.

So I see the moderate Republicans now, and the liberals and conservatives in Congress on the Democratic side have finally found a useful strategy. And that is to oppose these massive tax cuts and to support moderate tax cuts that will be targets to the right people that help get the economy moving again.

WOODRUFF: How important is it that the president gets a sizable tax cut, I mean, well above the 350 that's come out -- $350 billion that's come out of the Senate? KAUFMAN: It's very important, Judy, not to him, per se, but to the country, to the economy, to our kids.

WOODRUFF: Is that because the economy is going to be the big issue next year?

KAUFMAN: The economy is always the issue. Listen, this election in 2004 is about the incumbent, just like it was about the incumbent in '96, like it was in '92. And the better the economy is, the better the incumbent is, the better he is going to do. And I'm glad Donna changed her mind here a little bit on tax cuts, because she's always been a real believer that a strong economy with low taxes is the best thing locally, and it's the best thing nationally.

WOODRUFF: You changed your mind, Donna?

BRAZILE: I've always supported tax cuts that are targeted toward the right people. And at this time, we're looking for tax cuts that are targeted to people who need the money, who will spend it, to get the economic engine moving in this country.

KAUFMAN: Welcome home.

BRAZILE: I'm -- well, I'm home on tax cuts. I'm not home on tax cuts to the wealthy. And I'm not home on tax cuts that will continue to blow the deficit out of the water.

WOODRUFF: Let's compare this President Bush running for re- election this year with his father. His father came off of a very successful war effort, turned around and the economy was having problems. Is it a fair comparison, Donna, to look at these two and say, this president could have the same problems?

BRAZILE: Absolutely. I think this president's going to be haunted by the same set of circumstances that haunted his father back in 1992: a weak economy. The country seemed not to be able to get back on its feet domestically. And unless this president really hones in on something that will work to get the economy moving, he may be one term, like his father.

WOODRUFF: Same situation, Ron.

KAUFMAN: I sure hope that the Democrats refight the election of '92. We'll be in great shape. Judy, this White House, these folks around this president, are a heck of a lot smarter than we were, unfortunately, for president 41, as we call him.

These folks understand the economy. They understand what has to happen. And the war on the economy will be equally as effective as the war against Saddam Hussein.

BRAZILE: They may have read the book, Judy, but I don't believe they have learned the lesson from 1992. And that is, it's still the economy, stupid. And unless they put forward a plan that will really provide economic growth and get people back to work, this president may find himself on the unemployment line in 2004. WOODRUFF: Thank you both. It's always good to see you. Donna Brazile, Ron Kaufman, thanks for coming by.

(CROSSTALK)

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.

Well, we're going to take a short break.

(NEWS BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Still ahead: sorting out fact from fiction in Baghdad. Our Nic Robertson will tell us about the fast-flying rumors on the streets of Iraq.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Well, even before today's new video and audiotapes were released by Abu Dhabi television, the fate of Saddam Hussein and his sons was a popular topic in the Iraqi rumor mill.

CNN's Nic Robertson has that and other Baghdad stories.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Baghdad, one of the hardest habits to break: smoking a traditional Arabic pipe, the ijami (ph), and gossiping with friends.

The weirdest rumor, says Walid (ph), a storekeeper, is that Saddam and his sons went to Syria, then Russia, then Britain. Ahmed (ph) the coffee shop owner disagrees: Saddam is with American intelligence, CNN or CII or whatever, he says, rumors to be mulled over, muddled, extended, and amplified.

"The Americans want our oil," he says, echoing Saddam Hussein's prewar mantra. But that propaganda pales in comparison with the latest stories.

"I saw it with my own eyes," he says. "The Americans opened the doors of the bank to let the thieves go in." Everyone around seems to agree. Another in the crowd desperate to get his voice heard shouts, "A Kuwaiti man with the Americans opened a safe in the bank."

(on camera): With little access to hard information and used to a regular diet of propaganda from the former government's radio and television services, people here appear to be filling the information vacuum now with fears, rather than facts.

(voice-over): In a more upscale neighborhood, where some normality is returning to the streets, those fears fan discontent.

"The Americans want the chaos here to continue," he says, "so we can't govern ourselves and they can justify their occupation." But that isn't all to this particular rumor.

"Saddam Hussein has been collaborating with the U.S. since 1963," Ackel (ph), a businessman says. "It's all a game to destroy the Arabs, to benefit Israel."

"Saddam is in Washington with Bush," adds Basam (ph). It's all a game.

Amidst the anger and frustration, though, the knowledge that good information is missing.

"We hear that the Americans want to destroy Iraq," says Hussan, a civil engineer. "We want the Americans to prove to us this is not true."

Perhaps carpenter Hafas (ph) has the attitude most in the West want to hear. "We don't care where Saddam is. All we are concerned about is the future of our country: electricity and water."

For now, however, in the absence of hard facts, Hafas and those like him seem to be in the minority.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Well, at least one of those rumors we think can knock down. We don't think Saddam Hussein is here in Washington, at least not right now.

Well, still ahead: With meetings with the United States scheduled for early next week, North Korea announces another step toward building nuclear weapons. We'll talk with a former official who coordinated policy on North Korea.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: North Korea announced today that it is in the final stages of successfully reprocessing 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods. Now, that has not been independently verified, but experts say, if it's true, North Korea could soon have enough plutonium for several nuclear weapons.

Joining me now is Wendy Sherman. She is the former North Korea policy coordinator for the State Department.

Wendy Sherman, why do you think the North Koreans said this at a time when we're just days away from these talks that they had backed off on the conditions for, making the talks -- allowing these talks to go forward?

WENDY SHERMAN, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT POLICY COORDINATOR FOR NORTH KOREA: The administration is at a very difficult point this afternoon, because, in fact, the North Koreans have done what they often do, which is to try to raise the stakes before a negotiation to ostensibly get more leverage. But this is more ominous than their usual negotiating tactics, because if they in fact are reprocessing or have reprocessed, then, as the State Department spokesperson said this afternoon, that's a very dangerous step.

WOODRUFF: Now the State Department is saying that it's ambiguous what the North Koreans are saying. They're consulting with allies to figure out what's really going on. These talks scheduled for next week could be off. Do you think they should be called off?

SHERMAN: I've been trying to think about this myself, since this news is so new. And I think, probably, the administration ought to go ahead with the talks, if for no other reason than to clarify what the situation is.

Korean speakers tell me that the statement from North Korea is ambiguous about whether they have reprocessed, are reprocessing, or are in the final stages of beginning reprocessing. So I think they have to sort out the language. But I think the administration had already backed off their position that North Korea had to move back from its nuclear ambitions before there would be any talks.

So these talks got scheduled with China, which was a good step. And I think, if for no other reason, we need to keep the door open, get clarification on this statement. But if they've, in fact, reprocessed plutonium, we're months away from them having five or six nuclear weapons, which is very, very dangerous.

WOODRUFF: Well, let me just ask you this, I don't know, simple question. But is it simply a matter of tense, verb tense here, whether they've done it or are doing it or starting to do it?

SHERMAN: I think it is partly tense and partly sort of the elliptical nature of the language that the North Koreans used.

I do think, though, it's a bit ominous that, in fact, in the statement, they've usually talked about reprocessing, saying they need energy. But this statement doesn't talk about energy. It talks about the need for deterrents after the war on Iraq. So I think, instead of the North Koreans having blinked by the use of our force in Iraq, they have, in fact, decided, the only way to deter the United States from going to war against North Korea is to have nuclear weapons. And that is not a good sign.

WOODRUFF: Last February, Secretary of State Colin Powell -- we went back and looked -- he said, if they begin reprocessing, that changes the entire political landscape. Do you think that's the case, if that's truly what they've done?

SHERMAN: I do think it's the case. For the Clinton administration, reprocessing was a red line. This administration has decided not to be public for negotiating purposes. But I can't imagine that it's not a red line for them in some way or other as well.

WOODRUFF: Stepping back, the United States has just enjoyed enormous victory on the battlefield in Iraq. What signal does that send to the so-called other members of the axis of evil, Iran, and particularly North Korea? Are they reading this? And is this some sort of backlash to it, or have they been further deterred? Or is there any way to know right now?

SHERMAN: I think there's no way to completely know. But I always believed that North Korea's lesson out of the war against Iraq would be that they needed to have nuclear weapons as the only way to deter the United States from attacking it. And that's a very serious situation, because their having five or six nuclear weapons not only means they could use them, but, more ominously, perhaps, even than using them, because that's tough to do, is selling them to other people who might then use them as a deterrent against the United States.

It's not a good moment. And I think the administration is in a very tough place this afternoon. And it's good they're consulting with Japan and South Korea this afternoon, and I'm sure with China as well.

WOODRUFF: So you're saying the success in Iraq could very much have been the opposite of a deterrent for North Korea?

SHERMAN: It could, indeed.

WOODRUFF: Wendy Sherman, the former coordinator for North Korea at the State Department, we thank you so much.

SHERMAN: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Good to see you again. Appreciate you coming by.

SHERMAN: Good to see you, too.

WOODRUFF: Just ahead: more fallout from the looting of Iraq's museums, as the search for Iraq's treasures continue.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: You're looking at live pictures coming to us right now from Rome, where Pope John Paul II is holding a candlelight Easter weekend service. This, of course, is good Friday.

We're sorry. We've just, apparently, lost that picture. Our apologies. We just want to tell you that the pope has been praying for victims of war, victims of terrorism. And it's all taking place on the grounds of Rome's ancient Coliseum, that service under way right now. And, again, our apologies for losing that signal.

Well, in Baghdad, meanwhile, Iraqis are telling tales of underground prisons and hidden prisoners. For many, the myths and the stories keep them hopeful that, some day, they may find family members who disappeared during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

Tim Rogers has a report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TIM ROGERS, ITN REPORTER (voice-over): It only takes a word. And in this chaotic city, this can be the end result: thousands of people crowding into an underpass because someone believes they've heard voices from inside the walls. And with expectation building, we were cheered on to witness the event.

These men are trying to force their way into a service duct, convinced they'll find missing prisoners inside. In Baghdad, most people believe there are underground prisons that have yet to be found. And the suggestion that one has been discovered can cause mass hysteria. "There are people in there," they're shouting. "Free them. Get inside." They smashed and ripped their way in with their bare hands.

ITV News cameraman Brad Vincent (ph) was lifted up by the crowd, so eager were they to share the moment. Pushing us up and on into the service shaft, we went, our lights shining ahead, with the crowd behind us straining to see in the dark. And in another shaft, they called ahead. But the search was in vein. This time, the tunnels were empty.

(on camera): It's an indication of the desperation that many of these people feel that they've gone at this in such a frenzy. Rumors abound about underground prisons in this city, but, so far, none have been found. These people are determined not to give up.

(voice-over): But their search will go on, and so will their appeals for the world to help them uncover this country's dark secrets.

Tim Rogers, ITV News, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: We keep seeing these stories. And it is just impossible for most of us to understand the depth of their desperation.

We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Iraqi museum workers are just starting to assess the damage to Iraq's history. Up to 20 looted artifacts have been returned after religious clerics called for that action. And now officials in the worldwide museum community have pledged their help in restoring Iraq's past.

Liz George explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iraq's history, Iraq's culture, it's all demolished.

LIZ GEORGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A cry from the heart from one of Iraq's archaeologists, a cry echoing around the world.

NEIL MCGREGOR, DIR., BRITISH MUSEUM: It's a catastrophe. It's a catastrophe for the people of Iraq. It's a catastrophe for the whole world, because the civilization of ancient Iraq was the first urban civilization in the world.

GEORGE: As the extent of the looting and destruction came to light, experts in the U.K. were already making plans to help. The British Museum is home to the largest Mesopotamian collection outside Iraq, including some of the earliest forms of writing.

MCGREGOR: It's the duty of the international community to try to restore as much as possible to the museum, and then I think the international community must organize itself to help their Iraqi colleagues restore what is left. The British Museum is putting six conservators and three curators into this. As soon as it's possible, they will go to work with their Iraqi colleagues in Baghdad to give whatever their Iraqi colleagues feel they need.

GEORGE: The first job will be to log what's gone.

(on camera): The links between the British Museum and the Iraqi people responsible for preserving the antiquities and some of the archaeological sites means at least there is a record of some of the key objects, and identifying these objects is the first step towards recovering these treasures.

DICK ELLIS, ANTIQUITIES EXPERT: Between London and New York you've probably got 80 to 90 percent of the world's antiquity sales.

GEORGE (voice-over): Dick Ellis is an expert in recovering stolen art. He says with London being the most important market for Islamic art, it's here that the looted treasures could reappear.

ELLIS: The first thing to do is to asses what has been stolen and to create a circular of certainly the key objects and to get that circular out into the marketplace to close down the route-to-market and to be able to identify these pieces as they surface.

GEORGE: With good records, an illegitimate sale is unlikely.

MCGREGOR: It will be impossible for our members to buy Sumerian, or indeed any other Mesopotamian antiquities for the foreseeable future without absolutely cast-iron problems because of the danger of buying material that's been stolen from these museums.

GEORGE: But for the curators in Iraq, identifying and circulating details of what's been taken comes second to the ongoing struggle of protecting items from further looting.

Liz George, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WOODRUFF: And that is it for this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff.

Have a good weekend. Thank you for joining us.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com



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