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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With King Abdullah of Jordan; Interview With Andrew Card

Aired December 7, 2003 - 12:00   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7:00 p.m. in Jerusalem and 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll get to our exclusive interview with Jordan's King Abdullah in just a few minutes. First, though, let's go to the CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: The Bush administration is making a major push to get U.S. allies more involved in the reconstruction of Iraq. But the ongoing attacks by insurgents are leaving many countries reluctant to contribute additional resources. And there's added concern the violence in Iraq is adding to an already volatile overall situation in the region.

This past week, Jordan's King Abdullah, a key player in the region, was in Washington for talks with President Bush about Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. I spoke with the king this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Your Majesty, thanks very much for joining us on "LATE EDITION." Welcome to Washington.

KING ABDULLAH, JORDAN: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Let's get right to the issue of Iraq. Jordan has huge interests, huge stakes, involved in what's going on. The impression we get from afar is that it looks like it could fall apart. How bad is the situation, from your perspective?

ABDULLAH: Well, I don't think we're at a point where it'll fall apart. I think our concerns at the moment is that the disengagement that the government wants to do in July...

BLITZER: The U.S.

ABDULLAH: The U.S. disengagement, which is on the security, also handing over governance to the Iraqis, has to be carefully articulated and worked out so that we don't leave the Iraqis in a sort of an impossible situation to be able to go on with their lives. BLITZER: But can this work, given the opposition, the apparent opposition of the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who wants elections before there can be some sort of transition?

ABDULLAH: Well, again, I think that if you're going to have elections, you have to give all the constituencies in Iraq a fair chance and a balance.

BLITZER: But is that realistic right now?

ABDULLAH: If we're keeping to the July deadline, this is our concern. There needs to be some homework done to make sure that all of Iraqi society has a fair chance at elections. At the moment, some groups are much more organized than others.

BLITZER: Because the concern is, at least expressed by many U.S. officials, if there were elections, the Shiite population in Iraq, which is about 60 percent, could win and forge some sort of ayatollah- led Islamic fundamentalist regime, which would not necessarily be what the coalition wants.

ABDULLAH: Or a lot of the surrounding countries in the area. That is a concern, I think, even before going into the war...

BLITZER: Are you concerned about that?

ABDULLAH: Well, we've, luckily, in Jordan, because of the Hashemite lineage, are always very close to the Shia. But the concern of a Shia republic is one that could effect destabilization for the whole region. And so this is something that has to be taken into account.

BLITZER: Do you feel safer now, Jordan, because Saddam Hussein is on the run?

ABDULLAH: Well, we've actually always felt very safe in Jordan. It's the situation is, in the Middle East, somewhat unstable because of 9/11, because of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and obviously the instability in Iraq. So the region is unsettled, much more than it was before, but it's because of a series of different issues.

BLITZER: All of our viewers remember when the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad was attacked. Do you know now who was responsible for that?

ABDULLAH: We have some strong leads. The usual suspects are the ones that everybody says they are. We may have some other leads that there may be some other people involved. Those are still being followed up.

BLITZER: Who do you suspect did it?

ABDULLAH: Well, I wouldn't want to say who we suspect. What has been announced is where we are -- sort of that's the line that we're toeing at the moment, but we do have our intelligence capability. We are following up one or two leads that might lead us to other sources. BLITZER: The question is, are these terrorist attacks in Iraq -- forget about the Jordanian Embassy -- in general, the work of Saddam loyalists or foreign terrorists who've come into Iraq?

ABDULLAH: I think it's a mixture of both, quite honestly. But we're seeing more of a systematic campaign by insurgents. And so I think that that is something that we really have to look at over the next month or so. There's more of a pattern. That means that this is more of an organized, premeditated, sort of a national campaign that is something that will worry, I think, coalition forces.

BLITZER: Do you think -- do you see the fingerprints of al Qaeda in Iraq right now?

ABDULLAH: There is, I think, the prints of al Qaeda, definitely in Iraq.

BLITZER: In what sense?

ABDULLAH: Well, again, some of the things that we Jordanians have been up against are directly linked to al Qaeda -- terrorist organizations based in that country.

BLITZER: Has there been an alliance forged between al Qaeda and Saddam loyalists, these Fedayeen, who are still out there trying to fight?

ABDULLAH: If there is an alliance, I would imagine it's a loose one. Both have, maybe, common aims and, therefore, common grounds to interact, but I don't think it is as sinister as maybe you've just alluded to.

BLITZER: Where are these al Qaeda, these foreign terrorists, coming into Iraq from? For example, is Jordan a source -- the border between Jordan and Iraq, how secure is that?

ABDULLAH: That is, I would like to think, the most secure border. And I know from the days when I was commander of special forces, where his late majesty gave me the mission as commander of special operations to secure that border, that is the most secure border.

BLITZER: So, that's secure. What about Syria?

ABDULLAH: Well, there's always -- this is the issue that's being discussed at the moment. I still think that across the Syrian border it's not as secure as all of us in the international community would like.

BLITZER: Can the Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Asad tighten up security to prevent these foreign terrorists...

ABDULLAH: Yes.

BLITZER: ... from infiltrating into Iraq?

ABDULLAH: Yes.

BLITZER: Why isn't he doing that?

ABDULLAH: Well, that's the question that we've all been asking. I think that it's been put to him very strongly in the past several months that he needs to be more vigilant. Now, whether the orders from Damascus haven't got down to the people on the ground, that's there for speculation. But I think all of us have been very open and direct that that border needs to be secured as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: What about Iran? I know you were just recently there. How secure is that border, and are terrorists coming into Iraq from Iran?

ABDULLAH: That, because of terrain, is probably the most difficult border to protect. All I can say, from my meetings with Iranians and from what I've seen on the ground, there has been an improvement on border flow, but to what extent I really can't give you any exact figures.

BLITZER: What about the money flow? Saddam Hussein had a lot of money, some of it has been found, but presumably a lot is still out there. There's money moving around. How big of a problem is that in financing the insurgency against the coalition?

ABDULLAH: From what little I know, there is a lot of money being passed around the inside of Iraq to support insurgency activities. And I think it's taken probably coalition's forces by surprise to what extent the financial support mechanism is for the insurgencies are.

BLITZER: So they still have money that they're getting?

ABDULLAH: I think so, yes.

BLITZER: There has been some controversy involving Ahmed Chalabi. The Jordanian government -- your government has indicted him. He's wanted in Jordan.

ABDULLAH: And the Lebanese.

BLITZER: And in Lebanon. How confident are you that -- and he's a member of the Iraqi Governing Council right now. What are you doing about that? Do you see him as -- what?

ABDULLAH: Well, again, this is up to Iraqis, and we don't want to get involved in the internal mechanism of Iraqi governments.

We do have an issue with Chalabi, and I presume that if he becomes a prominent member of the new Iraq then that's something that has to be dealt with between the new Iraqi government and the Jordanian government.

At the moment, I guess I can say, from what I know of the issue, there is somewhat of a truce between Chalabi and Jordan at the moment. I haven't gotten involved in it, but I presume at one stage, sooner or later, because he's indicted in Jordan, because he's indicted in Lebanon and he has issues in the international community, we are going to have to solve this problem.

BLITZER: He says he was framed by pro-Saddam Hussein elements in Jordan and Lebanon.

ABDULLAH: All I can say from what I've seen, I would have to support the position that the government took on indicting him several years ago. That's not to say that obviously politics pay a big role at the moment, and as I said, this issue should be resolved at state- to-state level.

BLITZER: So you're saying that there could be a truce, some sort of deal worked out with him, between Jordan?

ABDULLAH: Well, you know, if he has a leadership role in Iraq, we're going to have to. We're going to have to solve this problem. He obviously defends his innocence. I don't want to get too much into it, but from what little I say, his innocence is something that we're going to have to deal with.

BLITZER: Are Saddam Hussein's daughters, other family members are still in Jordan?

ABDULLAH: The daughters are still in Jordan, yes.

BLITZER: And how are they doing?

ABDULLAH: From what little I know, I think they're doing -- life is normal. They are looking after their children and trying to put their lives together, I think.

BLITZER: And they'll stay for the time being?

ABDULLAH: For the time being.

BLITZER: They're welcome in Jordan.

Do you have any suspicion where Saddam Hussein is right now? You assume he's alive?

ABDULLAH: I assume he's alive, yes.

BLITZER: And you think he's in Jordan -- in Iraq? Sorry.

ABDULLAH: He's in Iraq, definitely.

BLITZER: He's in Iraq. But do you have any suspicion where?

ABDULLAH: It's anybody's guess.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We have to take a quick break. When we come back, King Abdullah weighs in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the unofficial peace accord signed this week in Geneva.

Then, Mission Iraq, is the United States losing ground? Two leading U.S. senators assess the overall situation: Democrat Christopher Dodd, he's just back from Iraq; and Republican Chuck Hagel.

And later, a White House report card, does President Bush deserve high marks? We'll talk with his chief of staff, Andrew Card.

Plus, a North Dakota coed still missing, but a suspect in the case is apprehended. We'll go inside the courtroom on that case and others with our expert legal panel.

LATE EDITION will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This position of this government is clear, and it's firm. We appreciate people discussing peace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush commenting on the unofficial Israeli- Palestinian stalemate, the agreement that was reached this past week in Geneva. Also, he was commenting on his meetings with Jordan's King Abdullah this past week.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We return now to my interview with the king.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, if there is a peace process. Do you believe that Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Arafat can ever work out a deal, these two leaders?

ABDULLAH: I think that the animosity between them makes it very difficult for the Israelis and the Palestinians to move forward in the peace process. The two characters have issues with each other. That's not to say that the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority can't move forward.

BLITZER: When you say that they have issues, because there's some movement here and there...

ABDULLAH: There's no trust, there is no confidence in each other. That's the major issue. And Israelis and Palestinians are suffering because of that.

BLITZER: Who is to blame?

ABDULLAH: Well, again, this is the problem. The major issue of the Palestinian-Israeli problem is the blame game. Everybody keeps pointing the finger at each other, to an extent that they forget what the bigger picture is. The bigger picture is to move to stability, to give hope to Israelis and Palestinians and get the road map up and running. At the moment, the blame game is only resulting in the loss of life of Israelis and Palestinians.

BLITZER: The Israelis say they really can't start -- resume peace negotiations until there's a halt on the terrorism, the suicide bombings. That has to come first.

ABDULLAH: Yes.

BLITZER: Palestinians say they have to stop the security barrier, the so-called fence, they have to stop the settlement activity, they have to stop the clamp-down on the Palestinians.

What has to happen first in order to get peace negotiations going? Jordan, of course, is intimately involved, has a peace agreement, like Egypt, with Israel.

ABDULLAH: Well, with everything that takes courage and initiative, it's compromise. I know there is a security issue that I do believe that this prime minister -- Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Ala is desperately trying to solve with the Palestinians. But he needs also the support of the Israelis to commit to their side of the issue, if he's going to be able to use his credit with the Palestinians.

This is the problem that we had with the Abu Mazen government. He was asked by the international community and by the Israelis to do X amount on security. When he achieved that, he was asked to do a bit more and a bit more and a bit more, without anything in return, to the point that then he became basically neutralized. And we can't afford that with Abu Ala.

BLITZER: Well, because we remember when you hosted the summit in Aqaba; the president of the United States was there. There was great hope that Mahmoud Abbas, the then-prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, would be able to do something. But apparently Yasser Arafat didn't give him the clout to deal with the security services, to clamp down on Hamas, Islamic Jihad, that he might have liked.

ABDULLAH: That was part of the issue. But I also felt, at the same time, that the Israeli government could have also helped Abu Mazen. I mean, when it becomes, sort of, the sensitive issues of settlements, of the wall, of the economic destitution of the Palestinians that are really in an awful state, the best people who could have supported Abu Mazen at that point was the Israeli government. And so, there was a series of lack of support to make Abu Mazen succeed.

The problem that we're faced now, we have Abu Ala as prime minister, but we're running out of candidates. If Abu Ala does not succeed in getting core Palestinian institutions to support him, to getting the Israelis to meet him halfway -- if he fails, who's the next prime minister? We're running out of candidates. And this is the major problem.

BLITZER: Well, Abu Ala is Ahmed Qureia, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. Do you believe he will be given the authority by Yasser Arafat to do what the prime minister needs to do?

ABDULLAH: Well, this is what we're all working on at the moment, to make sure that the, sort of, the conflict inside the Palestinian institutions are resolved, and that there is some sort of conformity to be able to move forward.

But at the same time, the Israelis need to be able to sort of open up and encourage the Palestinians that when they do achieve this, that they will be met halfway on the other side.

BLITZER: As we speak right now, there is an effort in Cairo to try to get a suspension of terrorist activities by Hamas, Islamic Jihad against the Israelis, a one-year truce, if you will. What do you hear? What's the latest on that possibility?

ABDULLAH: So far, so good. And we're all supportive, we're all keeping our fingers crossed, and we hope that that issue will unfold so that the Israelis and the Palestinians can get to that little baby step that we're talking about, so that the road map can then be put back on.

BLITZER: Prime Minister Sharon says the Palestinian Authority must dismantle these groups -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad. Ahmed Qureia says that's unrealistic right now. What do you believe?

ABDULLAH: Again, it all comes down to compromise. I know that this prime minister is sincere. He'll try to do the best. But there's a lot that Israelis can offer to the Palestinians, also, to give ammunition to this prime minister, in front of his people, in an ability to crack down on terrorist organizations.

BLITZER: What, specifically, do you want Prime Minister Sharon's government to do right now?

ABDULLAH: Well, I think settlements are a major issue.

BLITZER: Be specific.

ABDULLAH: I think that we -- stop settlements, I think, pull out of settlements. Obviously, this is what all of us in the international community are talking about. And I think that the wall is very provocative...

BLITZER: The security barrier.

ABDULLAH: The security barrier. Now, from the Israeli point of view, again, because both the Israelis and the Palestinians are in the trenches and sort of living from day to day, security is a major issue to the Israelis. So this wall gives them a sense of security.

But in the long term, I think it will be tremendously damaging to the Israeli-Palestinian future, the Israeli-Arab future, the Israeli- Jordanian future and also to the future of Israel. Because this wall ideally ends up cutting off 1.3 million to 1.4 million Palestinians inside of Israel. And in eight, nine years, with the birth rates, 50 percent of Israel is going to be Palestinians. So are you going to give them the same rights that the Israelis have? I mean, this is a major issue. I think this wall is going to be disastrous for all of us.

BLITZER: But you understand the concerns of Israel. Jordan's been the victim of suicide bombers.

ABDULLAH: Yes.

BLITZER: You know what terrorism does. You can't blame them for trying to protect their people.

ABDULLAH: No, it's a knee-jerk reaction because of the security issue. And this is why the wall is felt by many Israelis to be an issue to solve the problems. But what I am concerned is the long-term solution. The long-term solution -- and actually the wall might create more problems.

BLITZER: This unofficial Geneva accord, as it's called, this peace agreement -- Yossi Beilin, the former Israeli justice minister, and Yasser Abed Rabbo, the former Palestinian information minister. Is this deal, this agreement that was worked out, the future, as far as Jordan is concerned?

ABDULLAH: It's a very fascinating document. And basically, I know that you were monitoring the last time the Israelis and the Palestinians met at Taba, so what we're talking about in this document is Taba-plus, with the blanks built in.

And I think that any initiative that complements the peace process, that tries to move the process forward -- and the principles in the Geneva accord are actually in line with the road map -- I think it can only be a positive thing.

BLITZER: Your Majesty, as usual, thanks so much for giving us the time here in Washington.

ABDULLAH: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Welcome to the United States.

ABDULLAH: Thank you. Good to see you again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just again, we'll go to Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

Then, the insurgency continuing in Iraq: Does the United States have an adequate blueprint for countering the violence? We'll talk about that with Democratic Senator Chris Dodd -- he's just back from Iraq -- and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel.

And later, a new plan for Middle East peace. But will the Israeli and Palestinian governments sign up? We'll talk with the architects of that plan, plus a critic.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We made the right decision when it came to Iraq, because Iraq will be free and will be peaceful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush resolute in his decision to go to war against Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now, two leading members of the United States Senate: Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as the Select Committee on Intelligence. Democrat Chris Dodd of Connecticut is also a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Senator Dodd, you're just back -- last night, you flew back from Iraq. What's your overall, bottom-line impression about the situation on the ground right now?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, first of all, I need to tell you that our troops are doing a terrific job. I mean, it's very important for parents and family members who are worried about their kids and their loved ones over there, you ought to know they're doing a fabulous job.

Secondly, I would tell you that these matters are all related. I was in Afghanistan, as well as being in Israel, and these matters are all connected. We need to stop thinking of them in stovepipe ways, that Afghanistan is separate from Iraq, and Iraq is separate from the conflict in Israel and Palestine.

In Iraq itself, several observations. I was with Senator Jon Corzine from New Jersey. The two of us made the trip together. Just a couple of observations: One is this interim authority, we need to make sure that interim authority is going to be chosen properly. If we try to handpick that authority...

BLITZER: The one that's supposed to be elected in these caucuses in June?

DODD: In June. If we decide who those people are, contrary to what the Iraqi people want, then we could make a huge mistake.

We met with people in Basra, as well as Baghdad. The sense I had is, while they deeply appreciate us taking Saddam Hussein out, while they deeply appreciate the effort we're making, they want their country back. And I think they'd like all foreigners out of the country. Now, I don't think that's wise, necessarily. But we better be very careful. If we don't have a government that enjoys the support of the Iraqi people, pretty soon over there we're going to be asked to pack our bags.

BLITZER: The bottom line, is the situation from the U.S. perspective getting better right now or getting worse?

DODD: Well, I think it's getting better in terms of the number of attacks against us, clearly, but the qualitative attacks are certainly increasing. This is a far more organized opposition than it was even a few weeks ago.

But if you don't handle the politics right -- and we haven't handled the politics right, quite candidly, despite the terrific job our military has done -- then we're going to find ourselves in a deepening, worsening situation.

That's why choosing the interim authority, how it gets chosen, why it is so critically important, in my view, that you ought to bring in the U.N. for that purpose alone, even if for nothing else than to help make that choice of how you choose that government. A poor choice, wrong people being put in position of authority, could mean that we'd face even more difficult problems in the coming weeks.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, you're quoted in one of your newspapers, "The Lincoln Journal-Star" today as saying the Bush administration, and I think this is a direct quote, didn't think through the consequences of what's happening in Iraq right now.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Well, I think that speaks for itself. Yes, this is imperfect. Yes, it's imprecise. Yes, it's dangerous and complicated. But all the big questions that we did not think through, like who was going to govern, exactly what Senator Dodd is talking about, how were they going to govern, who would be selected, how would they be selected, long-term commitment of the United States, troop force structure, money, allies -- we didn't think through that.

The fact is...

BLITZER: Well, that's a serious charge. Why didn't the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, the intelligence community think through these consequences?

HAGEL: Well, as we are removing ourselves further and further from the time we invaded Iraq, we are finding out more and more that, in fact, there were cells of planning within this government but essentially that they were not used. They were not acknowledged, the reports.

And so we are where we are. Now, the fact is, we can't lose.

BLITZER: But is this just Monday-morning quarterbacking, or was there a serious blunder on the part of the Bush administration? HAGEL: Well, I think we'll need more time to really assess that. But the fact is, these big issues that Chris Dodd's talking about, which I saw when I was over there a few months ago, all of us are giving thought to now as to how do we put this country back together, how do we ensure a future for this country that, in fact, stabilizes the Middle East and doesn't set the Middle East back, all are related to what Chris was talking about earlier: the Middle East peace process, the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Afghani situation.

But I don't think we ever sought in the completeness of the universe of all those things. We came at it on the basis of a singular universe, this is Iraq, this is Afghanistan. Now we're having to bring these together in an integrated way. But this is tough and it's difficult.

BLITZER: When you say, Senator Dodd, that all of these issues, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the Iraq issue, the Afghan issue, the war-on-terror issue, are all part of the same problem, what do you mean?

DODD: Well, in a sense, there is common denominators in all of them, in a sense. I mean, what you're seeing in Iraq, for instances, the terrorists there are not just going after U.S. soldiers. You've seen bombs in Istanbul. You've watched a British consul get destroyed. You're watching South Koreans as well as Japanese and Spanish intelligence officers be hit, along with U.S. soldiers.

What the terrorists have done, what we've failed to do, was to internationalize all of this. And they see common denominators in all of this. And we've got to link them together, in a way, certainly as we approach...

BLITZER: But you don't want the U.S. to cut and run and just simply withdraw from Iraq?

DODD: No, no, the issue isn't cutting and running. Obviously we need to continue our involvement. The question is, are we going to be smart about the politics, so that we get the military aspects of this correct?

My concern in Iraq -- and we'll jump to Afghanistan in a minute, if you want -- my concern in Iraq is that we're trying to handpick a government. The British failed miserably at the end of World War I in doing that.

I met with the Governing Council. They're nice people. Half of them spent 35 years in exile, out of the country, some of them living in London and New York. They have no knowledge...

BLITZER: When you say the U.S. is trying to handpick a government, the U.S. may be trying to do that, the plan that Ambassador Bremer has put forward, accepted by this Governing Council, calls for these caucuses in June in these 18 provinces to come up with some sort of transitional authority.

DODD: As Tip O'Neill would say, politics is always local. This is a governing council trying to hold on to power which they don't really have.

The fact of the matter is, whether you choose it by caucus, it -- I'll make the point again to you, I'm not going to tell you which I think is a better process, direct elections or caucus. But you better make sure it's an Iraqi government that the Iraqis want.

BLITZER: Well, if it's an Iraqi government, Senator Hagel, as you well know, that the Iraqis want, 60 percent of the people of Iraq are Shiite Muslims, 15 million of the 25 million. They, most of them support the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who wants, it's clear, some sort of fundamentalist Islamic, ayatollah-led government.

HAGEL: Well, the fact is, Wolf, just as you led to some of the earlier questions, about not thinking through these things, you cannot impose a Jeffersonian democracy on anyone, or any government on any country. This is going to have to develop on its own.

But if, in fact, the premise here is to allow the Iraqis to govern themselves, defend themselves, then they're going to have to make those choices themselves. And we cannot be in a position to dictate...

BLITZER: But what if they choose an ayatollah-led, fundamentalist regime?

HAGEL: Well, that is, to a certain extent, out of our control here. We can help mold and shape and get them to where they need to be for a legitimate, fair, free election.

Hence the point that Senator Dodd made, which I've been making and a number of us for long before we went into Iraq, the United Nations and the internationalization of this effort is absolutely critical to the outcome in the interest of all of us.

BLITZER: On that point, though, Senator Dodd -- and we'll get to your water in a second...

(LAUGHTER)

Senator Dodd, with the attacks going against the Spaniards, the Japanese, the Koreans, the U.N., the Red Cross, you can't blame a lot of these other countries from being reluctant to get involved in the situation on the ground in Iraq right now. You're saying the U.N., NATO should have a more active role.

DODD: Well, clearly, as I said, the U.N., we're not being terribly successful in getting them deeply involved from a military standpoint. I thought they'd be an ideal organization, because they've done it so well in the past, is to deal with the elections.

Once again, we're going to ask our U.S. military to become...

BLITZER: So you want there to be -- just to be a sure -- U.N.- sponsored elections?

DODD: Well, I'd like the U.N. to handle the election process, either caucuses or direct election.

And let me take issue, if I can, Wolf, with something you just asked Chuck, and that is, we don't know whether Sistani is necessarily going to support a religious fundamental government.

BLITZER: He says he wants an Islamic element, an Islamic character to the government.

DODD: I know, but Shias are not -- to brand them all sort of being alike is insulting to these people. There are differences here. Remember, it was the Shiites who were brutalized by Saddam Hussein. They're the ones who were most harmed by this previous government. And I think there's a lot more diversity within that community than we're allowing ourselves to believe.

So, making an assumption that a Shia-elected government would be detrimental, absolutely detrimental to our interests, I don't necessarily buy that. I think we can't make that assumption, given the risks associated.

BLITZER: There are secular Shiites, including Ahmed Chalabi, who is a Shiite, and he's a secularist, as you well know. So Senator Dodd makes a valid point.

But how concerned are you about this whole factor, the lack of presumably interest by the international community, the U.N., NATO, to play a more active role?

HAGEL: Well, I'm very concerned about it, and I have been for many, many months. The fact that Secretary Powell was in Europe last week trying to encourage and make the case for NATO to be in Iraq, I think, makes the point here. This administration is coming to understand how critical the internationalization is here, not just in resources and money and force structure, which we've been asking our partners for for months, but in the legitimacy that internationalization brings.

Because here's the point. The bottom line, Wolf, is the Iraqi people, will they support and believe and trust and have confidence in whatever process is used to get to a new government in Iraq? They must have confidence in that. If this is just an American show, then they won't have confidence.

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

We have more to talk about with Senators Dodd and Hagel. They're going to also be taking some of your phone calls, so this is a good time to call us. We'll continue our conversation with them when "LATE EDITION" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Senators, as we speak right now, we're getting this in from our reporters on the scene in Cairo, where there has been an attempt over these past several days to try to get some sort of cease-fire going between -- involving Hamas, Islamic Jihad, some of these Palestinian groups, and the Israelis. Apparently, those talks have now collapsed. They are at an impasse, according to CNN Cairo Bureau chief Ben Wedeman. Disagreements centering on all sorts of issues.

I know you were just there. You met with the new Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia. This is a major setback if, in fact, these talks are, in fact, over.

DODD: If that story is correct, this is a major blow. It was real hope -- when we saw him, he was leaving to go to Cairo. The discussion was -- we were the first, I think, delegation from the Congress to meet with him, the new prime minister.

The real hope was that we could get some cease-fire agreement here, hopefully one that went beyond just the West Bank and military targets or civilian targets. And the fact that this has collapsed, if that news is correct, is a major setback.

The issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict spreads throughout the region. It would be foolish to suggest that mere resolution of that would end all of these other problems. But it is something you hear about whether you're in Islamabad, in Kabul. No matter where you are in the region, this issue weaves its way through every one of these conflicts.

And, frankly, I must say here, the administration just seems to be disengaged from this issue, Wolf. And it's...

BLITZER: The Bush administration.

DODD: Yes, absolutely. And this vacuum is creating all sorts of problems. The reason you have a Geneva accord is because the sense is a vacuum...

BLITZER: Well, let me let Senator Hagel weigh in.

The Bush administration totally denies that. They say the secretary of state, Colin Powell, the president -- he met with King Abdullah in Washington this past week -- are very much involved in trying to get this peace process, the so-called road map, off the ground.

HAGEL: They must do more. They should have been doing more.

The fact is, you cannot take the focus that we placed on Iraq, when we invaded Iraq, and believe that Afghanistan, the Middle East process, our other obligations, responsibilities around the world are not going to suffer. They have. You have only so much leadership and focus and resources, and they have. We have sidetracked partly that process.

BLITZER: So what, specifically, would you like the White House, the State Department to be doing right now?

HAGEL: What I'd like to see happen is someone get in there, day to day, minute to minute, representing the president of the United States, like the president himself announced a few months ago, when he said that my national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was going to be day to day running this show. I haven't seen that.

In fact, if we're going to have any movement at all, and any progress -- and I happen to agree with Senator Dodd on this -- the longer you defer this and let this vacuum boil and this cauldron get hotter and steamier, the more problems you're going to have. You're not going to be able to put it back together.

I'd like to see somebody, day to day, minute to minute, in that thing, right now, trying to bring it together.

BLITZER: They had a relatively low-level official, John Wolf, an ambassador, who was, sort of, delegated to stay in the region and touch base with the Israelis and the Palestinians.

HAGEL: You've got to do more than that.

Now, I would also say, and I think everyone understands, we cannot impose peace. The United States can't do that alone. We understand that.

But only the United States can bring the parties together here. We are the only ones trusted on both sides with the resources, the leadership, the command that can do that. And the longer we stay out of that, the more dangerous it will be.

BLITZER: We're going to be speaking in the next hour with the architects of this unofficial so-called Geneva accord, this peace plan that was signed in Geneva with a lot of fanfare this past week. Is that something that you think should be in the works?

DODD: Well, look, the reason it's getting so much attention is because there's an absence of effort on the government side, if you will, either on the Palestinian Authority or the Israeli or our side.

So you watch this group of civilians, former government officials, getting together from both sides, having a meeting in Geneva in which they announce a plan. People wouldn't have paid that much attention to it were there something serious going on on the governmental level. The fact that there's little going on at the governmental level, then the Geneva agreement seems to get far more attention.

The details of it are really interesting, but they're sort of meaningless if not embraced by either the Sharon government or the Palestinian Authority, which in neither case is that happening.

So it becomes even more important. What I heard over and over again is you need someone -- they've named Jim Baker to work on Iraqi oil situations...

BLITZER: On lowering the debt.

DODD: Yes, well, the debt issue. Excuse me. Well, they ought to have -- that's what we need to have dealing with the Israeli- Palestinian -- George Mitchell's name was brought up several times. You need to have a high-level personality that can get in and really engage the parties. I heard that over and over again, Wolf.

BLITZER: The Israelis argue that the first and foremost thing that has to be done is the suicide terrorist attacks have to stop. How do you stop them? Do you have confidence in this new Palestinian prime minister, for example?

HAGEL: Well, first of all, I don't think you're going to stop suicide bombers by building a wall that gobbles up a good amount of territory that really is legitimately in question.

BLITZER: So the Israelis are making a mistake...

HAGEL: I think they're making a huge mistake on this.

As to the prime minister of Palestine, I've met him a number of times. I think he is qualified and capable. It depends, obviously, on how he can maneuver the Palestinian government with Arafat.

Arafat is still a big problem here. He will continue to be a problem.

But this isn't going to get better unless the United States is somehow engaged day to day.

BLITZER: All right, last word on this subject, this security barrier the Israelis are building, is this a mistake? Or is there a legitimate reason why the Israelis are doing this?

DODD: Well, I think there's a legitimate reason. If you build that fence along the borders of '67, you can make a strong case the defense worked in Gaza in keeping some of these terrorists out.

But it also speaks volumes about the fact that we have to utilize this means in order to protect people. Obviously, the final analysis, if you can achieve a two-state policy here and bring peace, then fences don't become necessary.

But in the meantime, I think what Chuck is saying, where the fence is going in a number of places does raise some serious issues.

HAGEL: Oh, it just gobbles up huge segments of that territory that's in question. And what do we think is going to be the reaction here?

DODD: The Palestinian Authority said to me -- the prime minister said, look, we'll help you build the fence, as long as you build it along an area that doesn't encourage -- there are areas where it's going that raise some serious questions.

But understandably, there's a reason for it, given the attacks they're facing, and I accept that as a...

BLITZER: Senators, we're going to leave it right there.

Good to have you back in the United States, Senator Dodd.

DODD: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Glad that you got back safe and sound.

I know you're going to be travelling. Just be safe wherever you end up going, Senator Hagel as well.

HAGEL: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Dodd and Chuck Hagel.

Up next, "LATE EDITION's" picture of the week. It's something special for the holiday season.

Also ahead, the Bush agenda: What are the president's priorities as he gears up for his reelection run? We'll get the inside story from the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card.

Much more "LATE EDITION," that's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Time now for "LATE EDITION's" picture of the week: Christmas in Washington. On Thursday, the president and Mrs. Bush helped two lucky children illuminate the national Christmas tree, decorated with 13,000 lights.

BLITZER: A beautiful sight, in fact, it was.

Time now for Bruce Morton's essay on the elusive democracy and peace in the Middle East.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean got in trouble a couple of months ago for saying the United States should be more even-handed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "It's not our place to take sides," he said.

Other candidates and American Jewish organizations jumped all over him, and, of course, he had made a political mistake. American Jews are not a huge group, but they vote and they give money to campaigns, and politicians don't like to offend them.

Dr. Dean promptly said he didn't mean, of course, that the U.S. wasn't on Israel's side in the fight against terror and so on and so on, and the furor subsided.

But politics aside, he had a point. The U.S. gives more aid, arms and money to Israel than to any other country. An American president could, in theory, read this past week about settlements in Gaza and the West Bank expanding, about the fence to protect them growing, and say, "Wait a minute, let's try to pressure them into changing direction."

Because of the politics, that won't happen. President Bush is likely to go along with whatever his friend, Prime Minister Sharon, does, but it's hard to see how more settlers and more fence will ever lead to a settlement.

Down the road in Iraq, peace is elusive, too. The Shiites, a majority in the country, may not love America, but they were glad to see Saddam Hussein fall, glad to see the Sunni muslims in his Baath Party out of power. So were the Sunni Kurds in the north.

And some Shiites are calling for elections now, or at least (UNINTELLIGIBLE) saying, "Let's wait."

The problem is to create a system under which the two groups who were oppressed by Saddam, the Shiites and the Kurds, won't dominate so much that they can oppress the Sunnis, who used to repress them. The need, in other words, is for a democracy with enough openness and enough liberty so that the minority has some room to move, has some hope, can eventually win an election.

That's just the kind of democracy which is under attack here in the U.S. With the political parties using gerrymandering, redistricting in an effort to create in the House of Representatives not close elections but safe seats. Of the 435 seats in the House maybe 30 will be competitive in the 2004 elections. The rest will be safe, held mainly by the left wing of the Democratic Party, the right wing of the Republican, the extremes.

"Do as I say," Uncle Sam should tell the Iraqis, "not as I do."

I'm Bruce Morton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Bruce.

Much more ahead here on "LATE EDITION," including the Bush campaign war chest flush with cash. Can any Democrat beat the president's fund-raising power? We'll talk with the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, about Iraq, the war on terror, much more.

Then, a man dies in the custody of Cincinnati, Ohio, police. A community is up in arms, but does a controversial videotape tell the whole story? We'll get special insight into that case and other legal issues from a pair of attorneys.

"LATE EDITION" will continue at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We'll get to my interview with the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, in just a moment. First, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: For the United States and its coalition partners,the situation in Iraq remains tenuous, indeed. What happens on the ground in Iraq could be a huge issue in next year's presidential contest right here in the United States.

Earlier today, I spoke about Iraq and other key issues with President Bush's White House chief of staff, Andrew Card.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Andrew Card, thanks for joining us. Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." You haven't been on the program in quite a while.

ANDREW CARD, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It's great to be with you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Good to have you back here in Washington.

Let's talk a little bit about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That was, perhaps, the major reason why the U.S. went to war. Any progress in finding WMD in Iraq?

CARD: Well, first of all, the regime of Saddam Hussein is a horrible regime. Now, they hurt their own people. They were a threat to the region and a threat to the interests of the United States. And weapons of mass destruction was one of the concerns, but it wasn't the only concern.

After all, the previous administration also called for regime change in Iraq. And the United Nations passed many resolutions calling for Saddam to take certain actions, and he refused to take those actions.

But we do have an ongoing effort to uncover weapons of mass destruction. And Dr. Kay has been working with the CIA and other officials in Baghdad to discover what is there and what we know about it and go through reams and reams and reams and reams of documents...

BLITZER: You were referring to David Kay, the CIA official -- or who's on loan to the CIA -- to look for WMD.

As far as you know right now -- six, seven months after major combat is over -- have you found any significant or even insignificant quantities of WMD, weapons of mass destruction, in Iraq?

CARD: What we have found is that there was a program that was looking to take advantage of chemical weapons and biological weapons. And we think there may be programs that were looking at nuclear weapons.

But the work is still ongoing. And I think it would be wrong to prejudge the effort that Dr. Kay is undertaking. It's a huge task. And he's got to interview a lot of people and go through lots of documents. So let's let the process clear out.

The one thing that is sure is that the Iraqi people are better off without Saddam Hussein, the region is better off without Saddam Hussein's regime, and the United States and its interests are better off because we don't have that horrible dictator in power.

BLITZER: When you say there were -- you're looking at nuclear programs that were ongoing at the time of the invasion?

CARD: We're looking for -- we think there's evidence of some programs that they have. I can't speak to whether they were ongoing or not ongoing. All I can tell you, his intent was not very good. He used weapons of mass destructions against his own people. We know that he had developed the capability to use chemical weapons and biological weapons.

And let's let the process play out.

BLITZER: Was U.S. intelligence going into the war faulty?

CARD: Well, intelligence -- I think, first of all, there was plenty of justification to go to war. He had stiffed the United Nations many, many times. He was a threat to his own people and a threat to the region. He was a threat to our interests. And we had called for -- as a country, we had called for regime change under the previous administration.

But when you go there today and you see some of the mass graves that are there, where he murdered his own people, you just can't help but think that we are much better off with Saddam there. So, I think that's a moot point.

The good news is, Saddam is no longer a threat to his own people, and the people in Iraq are finding more hope and opportunity. It'll come through governance of their own country, and we're finding that all around the country.

BLITZER: But you and the president get a daily intelligence briefing.

CARD: We do.

BLITZER: Looking back, was intelligence bad?

CARD: I think intelligence overall has been very, very good. But, you know, intelligence is a collection of dots and then an analysis on how those dots might be connected. Some of those dots may not be what they appear to be and some of the connections may not have been what people would have suggested. But overall, the intelligence in the United States is very, very good. And I've got great confidence in the work that the CIA does and the FBI.

BLITZER: To this very day?

CARD: To this very day.

BLITZER: You say Saddam Hussein is no longer a threat to his own people, but some suggest he is still a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, that he personally is ordering, orchestrating these insurgent attacks against the United States. Is he?

CARD: Well, I think there are Baathist elements, that may or may not be directed by Saddam Hussein and his loyalists, that are looking to disrupt the progress that is being made for the Iraqi people. And they're taking on some of the coalition forces and taking on some of the Iraqis who are now protecting Iraqi interests by having their own security forces that we helped train and mobilize.

But, overall, the country is in much better shape today than it was before the war. We're finding schools are opening, and small businesses are created, and there is hope and opportunity, and governing councils are starting to function, especially outside of Baghdad.

We know that the Sunni triangle, for example, is still an area of great angst and security challenge, but overall, the country is in much better shape today than it was prior to the war.

BLITZER: Was it a mistake when the president appeared on the USS Abraham Lincoln May 1st, declared major combat operations over, and there was a huge banner, as you remember, saying "Mission Accomplished"? Looking back on the White House role, you're the chief of the staff for the White House, was it a mistake for the White House to be involved in putting that banner up on the Abraham Lincoln?

CARD: Well, it was a spectacular visit by the president to the troops on that ship that had accomplished an important mission for their country. And the president was there to celebrate the successes of those particular sailors and Marines and the great work that they did. They were on an unusually long deployment.

And they were the ones who requested that slogan; their mission had been accomplished. And yes, the White House did produce the banner, but it was produced at the recommendation of the request of the sailors and the Marines that were on the ship.

But, you know, it was a spectacular event. And those men and women who wear the uniform of the United States services perform noble service for their country, and I think it was appropriate that the president pay tribute to them.

And, yes, it did celebrate the end of major conflict in Iraq, and now we have ongoing security operation in Iraq, but, thankfully, the major conflict is over.

BLITZER: Ambassador Paul Bremer, the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, though, warns it could get a lot worst in the coming months. Listen precisely to what he said the other day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) L. PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVIL ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: In the immediate phase ahead of us between now and the end of June, we will actually see an increase in attacks, because the people who are against us now realize that there's huge momentum behind both the economic and political reconstruction of this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's pretty alarming -- an increase in attacks between now and the end of June.

CARD: I think it's logical, also, to anticipate that. And we'll be ready should that happen.

But, you know, we are making great progress in the economy in Iraq, and the Iraqi people are finding more opportunities for jobs and to express some of their hope and desire through a free-market economy.

We also know that they are working toward self-governance.

And as they make progress in the economy and toward self- governance and sovereignty, I do think some of these Baathist elements that want to go back to the old ways may offer some challenges. But we'll be ready for them.

But let's not kid ourselves. This is a difficult task. It took the United States an awful long time to move from the Articles of Confederation to a Constitution. We're asking the Iraqi people to make a move from a horrible dictatorship to a full democracy. And we're going to do it in a record fast time, but we're going to do it with the Iraqi people taking the lead, rather than having something jammed down their throat by outside forces.

BLITZER: The chief ayatollah of the Shiite Muslims in Iraq, Ali Sistani, says he wants direct democratic elections to take place. Sixty percent of the people of Iraq are Shiites. Presumably he thinks they would be elected.

You oppose that, at least for now. The plan that the U.S. and its partners have put forward call for these caucuses, in effect, to take place, but not elections right away.

CARD: Well, Wolf, there are several steps that can get you to the point where there would be full practice of democracy, where there would be full elections.

BLITZER: When would there be elections?

CARD: Well, first of all, you have to have a good census. You have to know who is eligible to participate in the democracy in Iraq. It should be Iraqi people. And there has not been a good census of the Iraqi people.

We think the progress toward self-governance could include caucuses. We have caucuses in the United States. Iowa will be experiencing caucuses very soon to help pick a candidate to run for president in the Democratic Party. So caucuses are not anti- democratic.

We do think that there are several models that can be used toward the progress of getting to full elections. And I'm sure that the Ayatollah Sistani would like us to get there, and we can. But let's have a road map to democracy that we can follow, and I think we do have one.

And Ambassador Bremer has been working not just with the United States and our coalition partners, but most importantly, with the Iraqi people. And the Iraqi Governing Council has embraced a plan that would have an interim form of government that would allow for some transfer of authority, as they work toward a full election and where the people could express a view as to who should lead their country.

BLITZER: Realistically, elections would take place when?

CARD: Well, I think it has to be process-driven. It would be wrong for us to pick a date, because, first of all, that would be a great signal to the other side, if we just hold our nose until that date, then we can do something bad right afterward. No, let's -- the Iraqi people should help determine what the timeline of opportunity for sovereignty is. And we'll work with them.

BLITZER: The president...

CARD: But security is very important as well, and the United States will be there. First of all, we're not going to abandon the Iraqi people as they take the road toward security and economic opportunity. And we'll be there as long as it takes.

BLITZER: The president has said that James Baker, the former secretary of state, the former treasury secretary, would come back to help reduce or eliminate Iraq's pre-war debt, around the $120 billion, maybe even more. Some have suggested this is a slap at Colin Powell, the secretary of state, and John Snow, the secretary of the treasury, because Baker will be reporting directly to the president.

CARD: Well, it's certainly not a slap at either one of those outstanding leaders. Secretary Powell was one who helped to suggest that James A. Baker should be invited to help seek an effort to reduce the amount of debt that the Iraqi people have.

This is a huge task, and it will not be easy. Secretary Baker is taking on a massive challenge on behalf of the country. And, yes, he will be reporting to the president, but he'll be working closely with Secretary Powell and Secretary Snow as he undertakes this very difficult mission.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to an ad that the Republican National Committee is airing right now on terrorism. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: The war against terror is a contest of will in which perseverance is power. Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president has suggested earlier that he was not going to use this issue of terrorism, the fight against terrorism, in a political context. Is it appropriate for the RNC to be doing precisely that?

CARD: Well, the Republican National Committee is not the president's reelection campaign. It's the Republican National Committee.

BLITZER: But the president's in charge of the Republican Party.

CARD: But we also are somewhat restricted under the new campaign laws from coordinating too closely with the Republican National Committee on aspects that might include the role of the president in their activities.

But I think the ad that the Republican National Committee ran is a very responsible ad. It took public statements and highlighted them, and I think it's appropriate.

BLITZER: But doesn't it politicize what the president said he wasn't going to do?

CARD: It's taking publicly stated comments that the president has used and highlighting them. And I'm very proud of the record that this president has on fighting terror. And this is an ongoing challenge that the United States will have for a long time, and the president is committed to following it through.

BLITZER: A couple of political questions before I let you go. John Kerry, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, your home state, running for the Democratic nomination, in a new issue of Rolling Stone magazine says this: "When I voted for the war, I voted for what I thought was best for the country." He then goes on to say, "Did I expect George Bush to f*** it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did."

I'm anxious to get your reaction to that.

CARD: Well, I've known John Kerry for a long time, and I'm very disappointed that he would use that kind of language. That's beneath John Kerry, and I'm disappointed that he did it.

BLITZER: And do you think he should -- what do you think he should do?

CARD: Well, I'm hoping that he's apologizing, at least to himself, because that's not the John Kerry that I know. BLITZER: Hillary Rodham Clinton, she was just in Iraq the day after the president was in Iraq. She said on Saturday in the Houston Chronicle, "This administration is in danger of being the first in American history to leave our nation worse off than when they found it."

CARD: I disagree with Hillary Clinton about a lot of things.

The one thing I do agree with her is that we've got tremendous men and women wearing the uniform of the United States fighting to beat back terrorists and to secure the hopes and dreams of the Iraqi people. And I was pleased that she went to Iraq to pay tribute to our troops, and the president paid tribute to the troops, and that's appropriate.

BLITZER: You're from New England. What do you think of Howard Dean?

CARD: Howard Dean is a good governor in Vermont who is no longer governor. So he would not be my choice for president of the United States.

But the Democrats are going to have an interesting time sorting out who their nominee will be, and we'll be running the country and getting ready to lead for the next four years.

BLITZER: A final question. The president supposedly looking for some big idea right now, as he enters his last year in the first term, perhaps sending a man or a woman back to the moon. Is this something that's realistic right now, given the $400 billion, $500 billion budget deficits that you now have?

CARD: The president has called for a bold agenda for America even when he was first running for president, and in his first and second year of his term and the third year of the term, we've called for a bold agenda. And he will continue to have a bold agenda for this country.

But I'm not going to go into specific programs. The president understands that we do want to continue to explore space. After the disaster with the space shuttle, the president said that we would not give up on space exploration.

But really, he will have a bold agenda for this country that will center around, first of all, winning the war against terror, securing the homeland and returning our economy to full growth so that people who are looking for a job can have a job.

And yes, we're going to be fiscally disciplined. We know that the taxpayers' money is the taxpayers' money. And we're going to get the deficit cut in half within five years. And we're going to have spending on the domestic side that won't be any different than the spending in your home.

BLITZER: But is the president weighing, considering the option of sending someone back to the moon? CARD: We have lots of suggestions that are being made by members of the president's Cabinet and administrators like Sean O'Keefe at NASA. And the president will make a decision, but I guarantee you he will have a bold agenda for this country.

BLITZER: Andrew Card, good to have you back on "LATE EDITION."

CARD: Good to be here with you. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good luck.

CARD: OK.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Just ahead on "LATE EDITION", we'll get a live report from Cairo. Late-breaking developments on efforts to secure an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.

Then, pushing peace: Opposition Israelis and Palestinians offer their own plan to try to end the violence. We'll talk with the architects of that proposal, as well as an adviser to the Israeli government.

And later, a high-interest legal case in the United States: Scott Peterson declares his innocence in the death of his wife and unborn son. We'll discuss the strategies of the prosecution and defense with two legal experts.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

At the prodding of Egypt, Palestinian factions have been holding talks in a secret location near the Egyptian capital this weekend, trying to draft a proposal for an Israel-Palestinian cease-fire, but those efforts have apparently fallen short.

Let's get a live report. CNN's Cairo Bureau chief, Ben Wedeman, he's following the story. He's joining us with the latest.

Ben, what happened?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically, Wolf, these talks were, by and large, a failure. Not only were they unable to come up with some sort of comprehensive or partial cease-fire agreement; all they could really do is issue a press release that made no mention whatsoever of any kind of cease-fire.

Now, these talks, which took place under fairly intense Egyptian supervision, were aimed at trying to get groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad to sign on to a cease-fire, an end, for about a year, of attacks against Israeli civilians. But they simply weren't able to come up with an agreement. The groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, said they might consider an end to suicide attacks against Israelis. But they demanded Israeli action in return, including a halt to assassinations of Palestinian militants, ends to raids on Palestinian territory and release of Palestinian prisoners.

They also refused to grant any sort of mandate to Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to negotiate on their behalf with the Israelis.

Now, it was expected that Qureia would be meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sometime in the coming days or weeks. But now, the Palestinian prime minister has very little to negotiate with, and he's hardly in a position to enforce a cease-fire on Islamic Jihad or Hamas, given his fairly weak standing among ordinary Palestinians -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman with the latest on efforts to try to secure a truce in Cairo.

Thanks very much for that report, Ben. We'll continue to follow up throughout the day.

Up next, breaking the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate. We'll talk with the men behind a new Middle East peace plan, an unofficial peace plan, as well as an adviser to the Israeli government.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I welcome ideas from whatever source. And it seems to me, the more people who talk about the prospect for peace, the better off we are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: United States Secretary of State Colin Powell commenting on a new and very controversial Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that was signed in Geneva, Switzerland, this past week. However, the signers were private citizens, not official representatives of the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

We're joined here in Washington now by the architects of that plan, the former Israeli justice minister, Yossi Beilin, and the former Palestinian Authority information minister, Yasser Abed Rabbo. And also joining us from Jerusalem, Dore Gold. He's Israel's former ambassador to the United Nations, and he's a current adviser to the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon.

Gentlemen, welcome to "LATE EDITION."

And I want to get to the Geneva accord in just a second, but briefly, Yossi Beilin, your quick reaction to the collapse of these Egyptian-led efforts to try to get Hamas, Islamic Jihad to accept a cease-fire with Israel?

YOSSI BEILIN, FORMER ISRAELI JUSTICE MINISTER: I must say that I would like very much to see a cease- fire. But I believe that a kind of a coalition between the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas and Islamic Jihad is a very artificial one, and I would like to see a coalition of sanity between pragmatic Israelis and pragmatic Palestinians who are fighting against their extremists. I'm not surprised by this collapse.

BLITZER: Yasser Abed Rabbo, are you surprised?

YASSER ABED RABBO, FORMER PALESTINIAN INFORMATION MINISTER: Well, I was surprised, yes, because I think there were efforts that were exerted by the Egyptian government, but I hope that the Israeli government will not make benefit out of this collapse. I hope that, at least for once, the Israeli government will try to meet our good efforts and good initiatives by some positive steps, by putting an end to all kinds of assassinations, all kinds of demolition of homes, all kinds of incursions, and building the wall...

BLITZER: All right.

ABED RABBO: ... around the Palestinian areas.

BLITZER: Dore Gold, you're in Jerusalem. This has all just happened within the past few moments. Any reaction from your government yet?

DORE GOLD, ADVISER TO ISRAELI P.M. ARIEL SHARON: Well, Israel's not a party to this internal Palestinian discussion in Cairo, which essentially sounded like a discussion between men in suits about which Israelis you can kill and which Israelis you can't kill. Obviously we can't give this our blessing.

What we can give a blessing to is the vision in the road map, the specific call for an unconditional cease-fire, with security steps like dismantling the terrorist infrastructure. That's what the Quartet called for, that's what we're expecting.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get to the Geneva accord, and I want you to stand by, Dore Gold, because you're going to be part of this discussion.

The Geneva accord, signed with a lot of fanfare in Geneva, Switzerland this past week, an unofficial peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Among the highlights, removal of most Israeli settlements; shared sovereignty over Jerusalem; return, basically, to the pre-1967 lines; end attacks by Palestinian groups against Israelis; a limited right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, does the plan specifically call for the elimination of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, other Palestinian groups the State Department brands as terrorist organizations? ABED RABBO: Well, the plan is for a final peace between Israel and Palestine, and it does not go into the details of different political controversial issues. It deals with the basic issues that were left for the final status, including Jerusalem...

BLITZER: But can there be an agreement as long as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, these other groups profess that they don't want any Israel in any borders, they don't believe in a Jewish state, they believe in Palestine in all of that historic territory?

ABED RABBO: Well, there are extremist forces on both sides. There are forces on the Israeli side which consider what we are doing as treason.

But nevertheless, we want a referendum to be conducted for the Palestinians and for the Israelis, so that, at the end, it is the decision of the people themselves, in spite of the opposition of the extremist forces.

BLITZER: Yossi Beilin, as you well know, you've been very sharply criticized by the Israeli government for your involvement in this peace process, as it's been called.

The Jerusalem Post, in an editorial, wrote, "No sane government can allow its foreign policy to be conducted by unauthorized private citizens any more than it can allow unauthorized citizens to conduct its police or military responsibilities. If they want to know why they can't win an election, they need look no further than the Geneva initiative itself."

BEILIN: Well, first of all, we did not sign any agreement. We signed just a cover letter to the Swiss foreign minister, because we did not pretend to be the governments or the representatives. We are not implementing any policy -- foreign policy of the government of Sharon.

Israel is so proud of being a democratic state in the Middle East, and part of this democracy is a strong civil society which has contacts with other countries, with other peoples, in order to further their interests on behalf of themselves, their children, their future.

And I think that we are patriots who are trying to save ourselves. This is more than legitimate.

BLITZER: Dore Gold, you probably saw that poll in Haaretz that came out: Do you agree with the Geneva plan? Thirty-one percent of the people of Israel in this poll said they support it; 38 percent said they oppose it; 20 percent were undecided; 11 percent said they'd never heard of it, don't know anything about it.

It looks like there's a big chunk of the Israeli public at large who thinks this initiative merits some further consideration by your government.

GOLD: Well, you know, all Israelis, Wolf, are united, whether they come from the left or the right, in the quest for peace. The big debate is how to achieve peace. We've had peace achieved by Likud governments. We've had peace achieved by Labor governments.

But, you know, there is only one source of authority in this country that can negotiate peace agreements with our neighbors or with representatives of our neighbors, and that's the elected government of Israel.

Imagine in the United States if some self-appointed group made contact with Saddam Hussein's -- members of his former regime and offered the United States some way out of the quagmire it currently has in Iraq. How would President Bush, his administration, others feel?

BLITZER: All right.

GOLD: You know, it wouldn't be done. The Democratic Party wouldn't do it. Even people like Jesse Jackson or Ramsey Clark wouldn't do it. Not only because it's not illegal -- it's illegal in the United States -- because it's just not done.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let me let Yossi Beilin respond to that, but also respond to the very harsh criticism that the columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote in The Washington Post here in the United States.

He said this. He said, "Yossi Beilin -- a man whose political standing in his own country is so low that he failed to make it into Parliament -- after helping bring his Labor Party to ruin, Beilin abandoned it for the far left Meretz Party, which then did so badly in the last election that Beilin is now a private citizen."

Those are strong words.

BEILIN: Yes, but they are so totally unimportant. You know, they are so far from reality.

But imagine that it is all true. The question is whether this agreement is something that we can go for and save ourselves before Israel becomes a Jewish state which dominates a Palestinian majority, or can we just speak about legitimacy and so on and so forth?

We did something which is totally legitimate. I mean, the Palestinians are not Saddam Hussein, with all due respect. We have formal relationship with the Palestinian Authority. I mean, just recently, the son of Sharon met with the Palestinian leadership in London. How can you even compare it to Saddam Hussein and whoever?

BLITZER: All right. Does...

BEILIN: And about internal politics: Mr. Sharon wanted me on his government as one of the leaders of Labor Party. It was my decision not to join Sharon's government. It was my decision to leave Labor. It was my decision not to run on the very high slot in Meretz but in a very far (ph) one. I mean, I could have been easily a minister or a member of Knesset. This has nothing to do with this agreement. BLITZER: Let me get Yasser Arafat's stance on this Geneva accord. As far as you can tell, Yasser Abed Rabbo -- and you've been close to the Palestinian Authority president for many, many years; you brought me to him when I interviewed him about a year and a half or so ago -- does he support the bottom line of this agreement?

ABED RABBO: Well, in fact, he declared that he encourages this agreement, and he supports the efforts that we are making in order to create a kind of a joint platform between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

We represent the Palestinian mainstream. And in this support by Yasser Arafat, in fact, we are saying that the Palestinian mainstream is ready to go toward a final status deal on the basis of two-state solution, as it was included in the road map and as the vision of President Bush had repeatedly said this.

So, this is the basic thing. I'm really amazed, because Mr. Gold tries to insist on this point, that we are replacing governments. That's not true. We did not in any occasion say that we are officials. On the contrary, we said that the Geneva accord is just a model we are presenting to the governments, and we are asking the governments to start negotiations to have peace.

BLITZER: I'm going to let Dore Gold have the last word because we're all out of time.

But, very briefly, you're an academic. What's wrong with an academic exercise, along the lines of what was just done over these past two years since the collapse of the peace process actually happened, from your perspective? There have been a lot of academic exercises along these lines.

GOLD: You know, dialogue is great, and I was part of meetings with Palestinians and Arabs from all over the Arab world. That's not the problem. The problem is negotiating detailed agreements and presenting them to world leaders as though there's a parallel diplomacy going on.

Had this occurred during the time when we were negotiating with President Sadat of Israel, Prime Minister Begin would not have reached peace. It would have simply have undercut the position of the government of Israel.

But, I have a question for Yasser Abed Rabbo, if we have time. Have you given up on the right of return?

ABED RABBO: Well, I will respond to Mr. Dore Gold. The Israeli government continues attacking only the formal side of the Geneva accord. He's avoiding any discussion of the contents, because he does not want to reveal his real position.

GOLD: Have you given up on the right of return? I just want to know. Have you given up on the right of return?

ABED RABBO: No, sir, I want to ask you. Do you... GOLD: Just tell me. Yes or no.

ABED RABBO: Mr. Gold, do you accept a Palestinian state...

GOLD: Two-state solution, I accept it.

ABED RABBO: ... with East Jerusalem as its capital and the two- state solution? If you accept this, I accept what you say. You answer me now.

GOLD: I am not negotiating. I asked you in your agreement...

BLITZER: All right. All right.

(CROSSTALK)

ABED RABBO: OK, thank you, Mr. Gold. Thank you very much. I accept what you say if you say that I accept the Palestinian state on the borders of '67.

BLITZER: Gentlemen, we're going to unfortunately have to leave it right there.

GOLD: I'm not negotiating...

ABED RABBO: OK, thank you, sir. I'm not negotiating with you, either.

BLITZER: The agreement has been written, and there are all sorts of stipulations about the right of return. That's the right for Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in what is, of course, now Israel. We're not going to have time, unfortunately, to get into the discussion. But that's what it says in the agreement, the Israeli government will have the final say who is allowed to return and who isn't allowed to return.

We're going to thank our guests very much. This discussion clearly not going away.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

A missing North Dakota coed, a Cincinnati homicide involving a very controversial videotape, and developments in the Scott Peterson case -- those are just some of the major legal stories here in the United States this past week.

Joining us here to help sort through some of them, two prominent attorneys: In Boston, former prosecutor Wendy Murphy. In Los Angeles, criminal defense attorney Harlan Braun.

Good to have both of you on "LATE EDITION." Wendy, let me begin with you. We've all seen that videotape of that beating in Cincinnati, police in effect earlier being resisted by this 350-pound man, Nathaniel Jones. What do you make of the legal side of what we see here?

WENDY MURPHY, FORMER PROSECUTOR: You know, Wolf, I think it's very difficult to know everything about this case from the videotape. I mean, the best evidence, really, is a videotape of any crime, but it doesn't tell you the entire story. I mean, this is a guy, we know now, was high on crack and PCP, both drugs that make for very aggressive and extremely violent behavior.

That doesn't mean that police weren't acting inappropriately, but I think you have to appreciate the fact that police have the power and the right by law to use that kind of force against aggressive citizens who are being violent toward them.

BLITZER: All right.

MURPHY: It doesn't look pretty. We all feel uncomfortable. But that is part of what police are supposed to do to protect all of us from crime and to keep the citizens safe.

BLITZER: Harlan, the coroner has ruled this a homicide, even though he's not suggesting that the police went above and beyond their legitimate self-defense. What do you make of the word "homicide" in this coroner's report? Because, as we all know, he did die.

HARLAN BRAUN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It just means that he died at the hands of another; it doesn't mean that the police were acting illegally. But it does create the public impression that it's a, quote, "murder." So that's the problem with the word itself.

BLITZER: Well, from what you saw of the videotape, Harlan Braun, did the police go too far in beating this man?

BRAUN: I don't believe so, but these tapes are very deceptive. If the average viewer looks at them casually, it can look like a pretty severe beating, but you have to see the whole tape and understand the circumstances of it.

In the Rodney King case -- and there's been a number of cases in L.A. where the casual viewer's view is much different than the juror's view. So that discrepancy between an average juror and the average viewer is a very dangerous and volatile situation.

BLITZER: Should the Justice Department, Wendy, the federal government be brought into this investigation in Cincinnati?

MURPHY: Well, I think it's important, very important, given the race question, that there be Justice Department officials involved. Cincinnati has a long and troubled history with race relations, especially involving the police. So I think the citizens are entitled to know whether there is something unusual about the way this case was handled. But, you know, Wolf, when I look at the tape, I ask myself -- and having been a prosecutor and understanding the way police conduct their business, what I always ask myself when there's a race question is, if this man, if Mr. Jones had been white, would the police have done anything different? And I honestly cannot say, looking at that tape, that I think police with that level of aggression, that kind of man, that large man, coming after them, refusing to back down after they've asked him to do so, that they would have done something different whether he was black, white or any other color or any other type of person.

BLITZER: One of the six police officers involved in the altercation was, in fact, African-American himself.

Let's move on to another case that has generated an enormous amount of interest here in the United States, specifically the fate of 22-year-old Dru Sjodin, the North Dakota college student who's been missing now for more than two weeks.

Harlan Braun, there is a suspect, this Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr., a registered sex offender. He spent more than 20 years in prison for committing a sexual assault against an adult woman, at least two of them in this particular case. What do you make of this specific case?

BRAUN: Well, there's two things that are difficult about it. One, you can't make him talk, to tell you what he knows about the case, under our Fifth Amendment, as much as you might want to.

The other thing that I wonder about is, the car manufacturer of my car knows where I am any given moment, 24 hours a day. I wonder why we don't have these type of convicted sex offenders on some kind of an ankle bracelet so we know where they are geographically. I think that type of thing would be much greater deterrence than simply registering them the way we do today.

BLITZER: All right. That's a good question, Wendy. I know you've spent enormous amount of time studying this issue.

MURPHY: Oh, you know, there's no doubt about it. I mean, Harlan's right. That not only an ankle bracelet, a car bracelet, any kind of way to track people like this, it's a no-brainer.

You know, this is a guy who you don't have to be a scientist to figure out that he was dangerous. Three prior convictions, he'd been in prison for over 20 years. This is a guy who showed a propensity to commit sexual violence against women. And nobody was watching him and so-called experts decided he was safe to walk around free? It's ridiculous.

I mean, this is the textbook case for why people are crying out for registries. It may not be the perfect answer. Registries do raise some interesting civil-liberties questions. But it's sure better than letting somebody like this run free. Look what happened as a result.

BLITZER: Very briefly to both of you, first to Harlan, the prosecutor in this particular case says, "No deal." He's not ready to make any deal with Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr., if he talks and says whatever he might know. We don't know if he knows anything about the fate of Dru Sjodin.

Is this smart, not to deal with this guy and his lawyers?

BRAUN: It depends on the family of the girl. I mean, if they really need to know what the circumstances are and that would be helpful to make a deal, say, to spare the death penalty, like in our state, I would think a prosecutor has to respect the feelings of the family.

But at least for the time being, I could see that as his initial position for terms of negotiation.

BLITZER: Wendy?

MURPHY: I just think it's just a gross injustice that a person can literally take an innocent human being, do something hideous to them and hide information about where they are, especially if she was alive.

I mean, the Constitution is important. Due process rights are important. But life is more important than his due process rights. Life is more important than the Fifth Amendment.

There's got to be a legal mechanism in place, and we've got to be comfortable with it, a way we can force people in these kinds of situations to give up information when an innocent person is missing. If she died because the Fifth Amendment made this guy stay silent, then there's something wrong with our Constitution.

BLITZER: All right. Harlan, you're in California, you know about California law. Another case, high interest here in the United States, Scott Peterson accused of murdering his wife, unborn son. He was in court this past week with Mark Geragos, his attorney, once again, in Modesto, California. Can he get a fair trial in that community, or should there be a change of venue?

BRAUN: I don't think he can get a fair trial in that community. The question is whether it's going to make a huge amount of difference somewhere else. There's so much publicity. I think he'd be better off in a larger metropolitan area where the jury -- there may not be the intensity of the publicity. So I think the case will be moved probably to southern California.

BLITZER: What do think, Wendy?

MURPHY: You know, I always laugh when defense attorneys say, "Oh, we were looking for, you know, a fairer venue, and let's move it to an inner city where things would be a little bit less intense." That's code for we want the dumbest jury possible.

Because in a case like this where common sense tells you that there's an awful lot there against this guy, you're only going to win if you can do a little smoke-and-mirrors, dog-and-pony show and get a really dumb juror someplace to just disbelieve the evidence.

That's why they want inner-city jurors. That's why they want jurors from places where there is less sophistication and so on. It's an ugly but real truth about the way the our criminal justice system works.

BLITZER: Wendy Murphy and Harlan Braun, two of the best in the business. Thanks for joining us here on "LATE EDITION."

MURPHY: Thank you, Wolf.

BRAUN: Thank you.

BLITZER: And when we come back, we'll reveal what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's take a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States.

Time magazine has an exclusive on "The hidden enemy: Behind the lines with insurgents sowing terror in Iraq."

U.S. News and World Report looks into the roots of global terror.

And Newsweek focuses in on lawsuit hell, as they call it: How fear of litigation is paralyzing our professions.

That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, December 7th.

For our international viewers, "World News" is up next. Coming up next for our North American viewers, "People in the News."

Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'm here Monday through Friday, twice a day, noon and 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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