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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Explosions In, Around Green Zone in Baghdad; Interview With Paul Bremer

Aired March 7, 2004 - 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, 11 a.m. in Crawford, Texas, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll get to my interview with Ambassador Paul Bremer in Baghdad shortly, but first let's go live to CNN's Ben Wedeman. He's on the scene for us right now in Baghdad, where only in the past half hour or so, Ben, we've heard a series of explosions not far from where you are right now.

Update our viewers precisely, Ben, on what we know.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's actually -- and I wish I could be precise, Wolf, but it's a little confusing.

We've just heard from a senior coalition officer saying that an orange and white pick-up truck exploded in the area north of the Rasheed Hotel. He indicating that that could possibly be the source of these large explosions and the flashes that we saw earlier.

Other coalition officials just a few minutes ago telling us that up to 10 rockets had hit the green zone in the area between the conference center and the Rasheed Hotel.

So, conflicting information, but what we did hear as soon as these series of explosions went off was the sirens that have been installed in the green zone to alert the people inside. We saw helicopters taking to the sky, flying around.

Now, in the past, there have been a series of such bombardments of the green zone, and clearly a cause of significant concern for members of the coalition. One senior coalition officer telling some of my CNN colleagues that they believe that the insurgents have the capability, in fact, to fire missiles from as far away as 40 kilometers, using timing devices made out of washing-machine parts.

So at this point, it's not clear exactly what the source of these explosions are, but it's clearly caused something of some jitters here in the city of Baghdad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: No word yet on casualties or destruction.

Describe, Ben, for our viewers the green zone. This is the most secure, supposedly, part of Baghdad. It's where Ambassador Paul Bremer, the coalition authorities are headquartered, where the U.S. military is headquartered. Describe a little bit about this area that's called the green zone.

WEDEMAN: Well, essentially the green zone is the heart of the Coalition Provisional Authority. It stands where before it was Saddam's presidential complex, his main presidential complex, and it contained a series of key buildings, his palaces, the prime ministry, other security buildings and whatnot.

So it was in the past really the heart of the regime. Now it is the heart of the coalition authority.

Security extremely tight in that area, because there have been a series of bombings in that -- suicide bombings in that area, causing quite a number of casualties. It's an area that's very difficulty for people to get inside of without some sort of clearance. Even journalists are searched very thoroughly. No one can just wander in there. In fact, it's almost as secure, probably more so, than during the days of Saddam Hussein.

Now, obviously what they can't protect against completely is rockets and other sort of projectiles fired into that area. But having said that, we must stress at this point, we're not clear whether these explosions that we heard this evening were a orange and white pick-up truck blowing up or missiles -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Or there have been several mortars that have been lobbed in recent weeks at targets in the green zone, elsewhere in Baghdad, some from as many as eight or 10 kilometers, perhaps even 15 kilometers from various areas.

The conference center in this green zone, that's where this document is supposed to be signed, this interim constitution. It was supposed to be signed on Friday, but there's been a snag, a delay. Maybe it will be signed tomorrow. We'll speak about that with Ambassador Bremer.

But is the conference zone in this area where we're seeing the smoke billowing from the green zone?

WEDEMAN: Yes, if, as we are told, the explosion occurred to the north of the Rasheed Hotel. The conference center is just across the street from the Rasheed Hotel, and we had heard from senior coalition officials that they were somewhat concerned that, during the Friday aborted signing ceremony for this interim constitution, that there would be so many members of the Iraqi Governing Council, VIPs, coalition officials gathered in one area, they were concerned that it could be a dangerous place to have so many important people assembled together.

And clearly the fact that something has happened in that area is going to redouble those concerns about the signing ceremony that could take place, we are told, as early as Monday at noon Baghdad time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Ben, at any one point in that green zone, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S. citizens, whether civilian or military, who are working together with the coalition authority in that area. Is that right?

WEDEMAN: That's correct. There are hundreds, if not, as you said, thousands, of coalition officials, Americans and other nationalities, as well as Iraqis who work there. During the day, it's a very busy and crowded area, a hum, a hive of activity. And obviously, for anyone who wants to harm the coalition presence here, that is the prime target. That is the place.

Obviously they've tried to attack, with suicide bombings, car bombs, mortars, missiles, you name it, Wolf. And so that is the bullseye for anybody who wants to attack the coalition.

BLITZER: All right. Ben Wedeman, who is right there for us, Ben, stand by. I know you're collecting more information, will provide it to our viewers.

We're going to move on.

This is just another reminder of a week of how messy and dangerous the process of trying to build a democracy in Iraq can be, despite that snag on Friday in establishing signing the interim constitution.

Coalition authorities are insisting the charter signing, at least now scheduled for tomorrow. That was scheduled before these explosions that are rocking the green zone in Baghdad. They're insisting that all of this remains on track.

Just a short while ago, before these explosions were heard and rocked Baghdad, I spoke with the chief U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Ambassador Paul Bremer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Ambassador Bremer, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Let's get right to the immediate issue at hand. Will this interim constitution be signed tomorrow?

PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVIL ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: I certainly hope so. The indications we're getting from what we've heard are that the Governing Council is going to get together tomorrow and sign it tomorrow, and I hope that will happen. It will be a really great day for Iraq and for all Iraqis.

BLITZER: The big issue of the stumbling block, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani did not want the Kurds in the north effectively to have veto power down the road. Have you finessed, have you worked out that sensitive issue?

BREMER: Well, you know, this is an issue that the Iraqis have been working on themselves, Wolf. And it's a great example of democracy at work -- a young, fledgling democracy not unlike ours a couple hundred years ago. And a lot of people have been paying attention to the fact that there have been some ups and downs over the last week. I dare say, if CNN had been around 200 years ago covering the writing of our Constitution, there would have been a lot of stories about this and that fight, and these guys walked out, and the federalists said this and somebody else said that.

They're working it out among themselves, and I hope they'll have it worked out by tomorrow.

BLITZER: Do you know how it will be worked out? It's a very sensitive issue because the Kurds have been persecuted in the past, and they want to make sure they can protect the autonomy they've had effectively for the last 10 years.

BREMER: Yes, but the fundamental issue here, I think, in terms of the political article that some of the Shia were having questions about, the fundamental issue is the protection of minority rights, whether they're Kurds or Shia or Sunnis or somebody who is just on the wrong end of a vote for a while.

Democracy is not just about elections, and it's not just about majority rule. It's also about protecting the minorities, who may be, as they are in our case, temporary minorities. The Democrats are in power and then they're out. The Republicans are in power and then they're out.

Democracy really does depend on the protection of minority rights. And at the bottom, that's the question that's involved here.

BLITZER: Is the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani effectively the most powerful man in Iraq today, calling the shots?

BREMER: Well, I don't know. I think there are an awful lot of people here who have been playing a very strong role. Probably the most powerful man in Iraq is Time's man and woman of the year, it's the American and coalition soldiers.

But there are a lot of people here who are playing an important role in the democratic evolution, including the 25 members of the Governing Council, the ministers whom I've just met with, the governors who I'll be meeting with here in the next couple of days.

There's a very broad political debate going on in this country, and everybody's having their say. And that's fine.

BLITZER: Will the June 30th deadline for handing over power to some sort of Iraqi governing authority, will that definitely take place?

BREMER: Yes. I think the coalition and the Governing Council have made a pledge to the Iraqi people to pass authority and sovereignty back to the Iraqis on June 30th.

And it's very clear from all of the conversations we've had from the newspapers, the television discussions, the opinion polls, that the Iraqi people want that authority back, as we have promised to give it to them. And that's our intention.

BLITZER: Who is emerging as the likely president of this new Iraq?

BREMER: Oh, gee. You know, it's too early to say who the personalities will be.

I think what we're going to see here over the next year and a half is a blossoming of political life. Lots of people are starting to surface. We've got a very able cabinet. We've got people in the Governing Council. We've got a group of governors, most of whom have just recently been reselected by their provincial councils. I think mayors will come to the floor. We'll see law professors and women.

I think we're going to see a blossoming of political life here over the next year and a half. And I, for one, am very reluctant to try to pick winners at this point.

BLITZER: Ahmed Chalabi is a man of some controversy, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress. He played a key role in the events leading up to the war. Is he likely to play a significant role in this new Iraq?

BREMER: Well, that's going to be up to the Iraqi people. We've got a program in place now where there are going to be not one or two but three different elections next year. The first one of which will take place not later than January 31st for a national assembly.

And Dr. Chalabi, like many other political leaders, will presumably compete for a seat in that assembly. And if he wins a seat, then, like other people, he'll be competing for influence in the new government.

But it's basically going to be up to the Iraqi people. That's the wonder of democracy. They'll decide.

BLITZER: Speaking of democracy, some critics, some Democrats especially, critical of the Bush administration for this timetable, this handing over of power by June 30th.

More in line with domestic American politics, the election coming up in November, as opposed to a substantive need to do that in Iraq.

The criticism is that you're more obsessed with the timetable than the substance of doing it right. What do you say to that criticism?

BREMER: I just don't think that's -- I don't think that's based on the realities here, Wolf. Since really last summer, it's been very clear that the Iraqi people do not feel like they are a defeated nation. And indeed, in contrast to Germany and Japan during the Second World War, we didn't defeat a nation. We defeated a regime, a terrible regime.

And so most Iraqis, I think, quite understandably resent being occupied. And I have to tell you, it's not much fun being an occupier either.

So we have all along felt it was important to get the occupation ended in a timely fashion. And we made a commitment in November to do that by next June, and that's what we'll do. We'll carry it out.

And the realities on the ground will determine that timetable and have determined that timetable. And the reality is, the Iraqi people want their sovereignty back.

BLITZER: Who, as best as you know, is responsible for these most recent terror attacks in Baghdad and Karbala this past week? Nearly 200 people were killed; many hundreds of others were injured.

BREMER: Well, these were really awful attacks. And, you know, to put it in an American terms, it was as if on a per-capita basis 2,000 Americans had been killed in one day. And we, of course, had 3,000 on September 11th. But you can imagine the impact on the Iraqis of these attacks coming, as they do, after about 25 similar suicide attacks.

We don't know for sure now, Wolf, who did it. But it certainly looks like it was this al Qaeda-linked terrorist named Zarqawi, who is a Jordanian. He, in a letter that we captured in January, made clear he wants to kill as many innocent Shia men, women and children as possible to try to set off a sectarian war here. And that hasn't worked, and I don't think it will work.

BLITZER: There were, though, some demonstrations, anti-U.S. demonstrations by some Shia in the aftermath of these terrorist attacks, complaining about the U.S. occupation, complaining that the Americans were not providing them enough security.

To a certain degree, if this was the work of Abu Musab al- Zarqawi, that strategy might be working.

BREMER: No, I don't think so. I think, first of all, there were understandable emotions right after these attacks. They were really horrible, horrible attacks. I've talked to a number of Shia friends who went and saw, both in Karbala and here in Baghdad, the sites of these attacks and they were very, very awful. So there were a lot of emotions at hand.

In terms of providing security, we had been asked by the authorities, religious and political authorities, to keep our coalition forces away from these holy shrines out of respect for the fact that they're considered sacred by Muslims. And we did that, we kept them away.

Now, we are responsible for law and order here. And we are beefing up security at the borders. We're going to take every step we can to do better to keep these people out of the country.

But there's no way you can prevent a suicide attack among a million people, which is how many people were on the streets of Karbala. You cannot wand-search or search a million people. So we have to just be realistic. It's not possible to have 100 percent security. We will do our best. We've established working groups in each of those three holy sites with representatives from the religious community to meet every week and discuss how we can coordinate our efforts to provide security while respecting the holy sites.

BLITZER: When you speak about 100 percent, let me read to you what General John Abizaid, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, testified before the Congress here in Washington this past week regarding foreign terrorists.

He said, "When you look at the number of foreign fighters that we are killing in Iraq, compared to the number of Iraqis that we are capturing and killing, it is still less than 10 percent of the total."

What do you say about that testimony? Because it is pretty sobering.

BREMER: Well, I think that's right. Of course, in the area of terrorism, it isn't so much the numbers that count, it's the damage that they can do.

We had probably six suicide bombers in Karbala. Of the nine attacks, six were apparently suicide bombers. But look at how many people they killed. A lot of people. So it's not a question of the raw numbers. We know we have foreign terrorists here.

The long-run solution, as in all fights against terrorism, is better intelligence, so you can go out and kill the terrorists before they come and kill Iraqis. And of course, we're working very hard on that as well.

BLITZER: The Justice Department dispatching in the coming days a team to Baghdad to start gathering evidence against Saddam Hussein for a war crimes trial that's going to be held at some point.

First of all, when do you think it will be held? And who will take the lead on that?

BREMER: Well, the second question is easy to answer. The Iraqis established a special tribunal to do war crimes trials. It will be under Iraqis, an Iraqi government. It will be prosecutors chosen by the Iraqis and judges.

The statute says that they can use international assistance for looking into and doing the prosecution thing, and also use international judges as judges.

I expect it will take some months before we see any prosecutions begin, because they first have to set up the court itself, get its rules of procedure established, get the judges, get the investigators, collect the evidence. We'll be helping them do that.

Probably towards the end of the summer, early fall, is a guess at this point. But I have to meet with these Justice Department people and see what they say.

BLITZER: That would be just around the time of -- getting close to the U.S. elections in November. Is this trial likely to take place before the election? It's a sensitive subject, as you can imagine.

BREMER: You know, there's a certain distortion that gets into the American political debate every four years, where we begin to think that everything that happens everywhere in the world is, in fact, dedicated to our elections.

As a matter of fact, the Iraqis have their own timetable here. They want to try these guys as soon as possible, and that's what will direct the timing, not something about our elections.

It will depend on how quickly they can get this thing set up, and how quickly they can make a case against Saddam or some of the other people they've got. It's not going to have anything to do with the American elections.

BLITZER: Is Saddam Hussein cooperating at all in the interrogation?

BREMER: He's not been very helpful, no.

BLITZER: Not cooperating at all.

One final question, Mr. Ambassador. Scott Speicher, the U.S. Navy pilot, the first pilot that went down at the first Gulf War, more than a dozen years ago, is there any new information that you've gathered at all since this most recent war that would either confirm that he's dead or maybe still alive or was alive? Anything new on Scott Speicher?

BREMER: I'm afraid there's nothing that would add to the information. We obviously continue to look and will continue to pursue it until we get an answer one way or the other.

BLITZER: You'll be coming back here right after June 30th, is that right?

BREMER: Yes, that's right.

BLITZER: Good luck to you. Good luck to your entire team. Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us.

BREMER: Thank you. Good to be with you again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We spoke with Ambassador Bremer just before these explosions that have been heard rocking the so-called green zone, the most secure area inside the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

Our Ben Wedeman is there on the scene for us.

Ben, you're collecting some more information. What do we know about these series of explosions?

WEDEMAN: OK, Wolf, we have much better information at this point.

What we've been told by a senior coalition official is that an SUV Toyota was parked about 400 meters north of the Rasheed Hotel. That Toyota had some sort of homemade launching device. It fired seven rockets toward the green zone. Three of those rockets impacted on the Rasheed Hotel, resulting in a life-injuring of a civilian contractor.

Now, the vehicle has been found still with two rockets inside of it. Now, the rockets were described as small, somewhere between 68 and 81 millimeters. U.S. troops are searching the area for more impact zones.

This official said that, despite this incident, they believed that security is still sufficient in the area of the conference center, which of course, is right across the street from the Rasheed Hotel, to allow the signing of this interim constitution to go ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ben, stand by. We're going to get back to you. We're going to take a quick break.

We also have, standing by, the former NATO supreme allied commander, General Wesley Clark, also a former Democratic presidential candidate. He'll join us live to talk about all these latest developments in Baghdad, plus more.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Much more coming up on the breaking news we're watching in Baghdad right now. Explosions rocking the so-called green zone. We'll get back to Baghdad.

Also, our Web question of the week is this: Is it appropriate for President Bush to use images from the 9/11 attacks in campaign ads? Go to cnn.com/lateedition to cast your vote.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), U.S. ARMY: As I learned to do in my year's of service, I want to say -- as we come to the Navy, we say, "Sir, request permission to come aboard. The Army's here."

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: The former NATO supreme allied commander and now a former Democratic presidential candidate, Wesley Clark, closing ranks with John Kerry. After his own campaign ended, General Clark wasted no time in endorsing the presumed Democratic presidential nominee.

Joining us now from Little Rock, Arkansas, is General Clark.

General, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.

Let's talk a little bit about what's happening, the breaking news in Baghdad right now. It looks like there was a car parked, an SUV in the so-called green zone, the most secure part of Baghdad where the U.S.-led coalition authority is headquartered. Some mortars or some rockets were launched. We don't know the extent of damage, but clearly we have been seeing smoke rising from certain buildings in the area.

How do you deal with this kind of threat?

CLARK: Well, it's a very tough kind of a threat to deal with. I mean, it is a function of intelligence. It's a function of getting the Iraqi security forces trained up.

But, Wolf, I think there's really two messages in this. Number one is, this was an improvised launching device. These are relatively small warheads. They weren't very effective in this case.

So if you look at the broad pattern at this, there's been a pattern of resistance. But on the other hand, the resistance is not terribly effective against the Americans in the occupation of the green zone.

What this requires is the same kind of patient force building, intelligence development and development of the civil defense corps in Baghdad and around Iraq that's under way. It just takes time.

And it's got to be undergirded by a whole broad set of measures to rebuild the economy, to support the political development of Iraq, and, I believe, by bringing in an international assistance, in the form of political and economic advice and a council and so forth, that Iraqis can turn to.

BLITZER: General Clark, it would seem that whoever's responsible for this attack, this series of attacks today in Baghdad, trying to make a political statement coming on the heels -- coming on the eve, if you will, of tomorrow's expected signing of this interim constitution, trying to scare people. Is that your sense?

CLARK: Yes. And continuing to show that, despite the presence of the Americans, there is a resistance.

There is a resistance. I think our troops are doing a great job there battling it. But this is still a society that's very much at risk. There's a risk of real civil war in Iraq. And that's what we're playing with. And we knew that, or should have known that, when we went in to occupy the country.

BLITZER: Senator Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, getting ready, he tells Time magazine, to send over a delegation to Baghdad to do some inspections, some investigating for him to report back to him on what's going on.

You're now part -- you're supporting Senator Kerry. Has he reached out to you and asked you to be part of this team?

CLARK: No, I don't know anything about this team. But I think it's a smart move, because I do think it's important that Senator Kerry and all of his advisers get the best and the updated information.

This problem with Iraq is going to be with us a long time, Wolf. And you know, there is a lot of controversy about these television ads, but I think what's interesting about it is what's not in the ads.

What's not in the ads are the issues like Iraq, where, despite the 30 June transfer of authority date and Paul Bremer coming back to the United States, we're going to have U.S. troops there for a long, long time. I think our army's planning to be there with 100,000 troops or more for the next three or four years.

And if you look at the strain that puts on our army, and if you look at all of the other measures that are required to make this a success, this is still very much an outcome in doubt. And it's going to be a huge challenge for the Democratic administration.

BLITZER: You believe the U.S. should finish the job whatever the cost. You don't want the U.S. to cut and run, do you?

CLARK: No. But what I do believe is what we need is an international organization with all the people who want to help given a seat at the decisionmaking table and a council there, like we had in the Balkans. And then some people on the ground who can provide assistance and resources to the Iraqis as they struggle with this problem themselves.

I think Paul Bremer is right, they don't want to be occupied. And I've been saying this for a long time. We should've gotten rid of this occupation authority a long time ago and replaced it with international authority, so that it works better with the Iraqis.

But we have to level with the American people, Wolf. We're going to be in Iraq, we're going to have a problem there, we're going to be putting a lot of resources there and money there for a long, long time.

BLITZER: You also heard Ambassador Bremer say he expected the Iraqis to put Saddam Hussein on trial, a war crimes trial, probably some time in the fall, perhaps even before the November election. Is that a good idea?

CLARK: Well, you know, I know that from his perspective, it doesn't look political. It certainly looks political from back here, and that's the reason you asked the question on that.

I think it's up to the Iraqi people themselves, but I hope that whatever trial they undertake, it's going to meet the highest standards of international justice. And I hope there will be a mechanism, where not only the Iraqi crimes, but the crimes against other neighboring countries can be folded in to this.

Part of the trial should not be only a quest for justice against Saddam Hussein, but an effort to clear the air, bring out the facts, and help the society itself pull together and move forward.

This ought to be a very transparent and a relatively long- duration process. Not a quick "you're guilty on three counts; line him up and shoot him" kind of a trial.

BLITZER: I know that you and other Democrats have been very critical of the president and his campaign for using images of 9/11 in these commercials that came out this past week. But this was, after all, the seminal event of his first term in office, what happened on 9/11 and how he led the nation in response. He makes a good case and his supporters make a good case, he shouldn't ignore 9/11.

CLARK: Well, I don't think it's right to use those images that divide the families. But I would say this, Wolf, that if this does become the issue in the campaign, there will be many of us who will point out that this administration did not do everything it could have done prior to 9/11.

We still don't have the results of the 9/11 commission. The White House is still quarreling and quibbling with providing a full disclosure of everything they knew and what they did before 9/11.

And, you know, one of the things I always saw in any large organization is it's not just the people in the middle, it's the people at the top that have to participate in getting a grip on what went wrong.

As Americans, we deserve an answer to what went wrong that enabled Osama bin Laden and the terrorists to come in and conduct the attacks of 9/11. If that does become the issue, I think it's a loaded gun pointed right back at the White House.

BLITZER: General Clark, as we continue to look at these live pictures coming from Baghdad, smoke billowing, clearly a fire as a result of this mortar attack in the so-called green zone, I want to play for you a soundbite, an excerpt of what the president said on Thursday in making it clear he's determined to get the job done. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If America shows weakness and uncertainty in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy. This will not happen on my watch.

(APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You can't disagree with him on that point, can you?

CLARK: Well, I don't think it'll happen on John Kerry's watch. I think John Kerry's a man that we can be proud of. He is going to be a very tough president. He's going to have very strong, consistent foreign policies. But he's going to have the right policies.

It's not just a matter of putting the troops in there, Wolf. When you're talking about winning the war on terror, when you talk about trying to solve the problem in Iraq, you cannot do this with military forces alone.

And one of the real problems we've had with this administration is, it's put an overreliance on our armed forces. It's an overreliance on trying to do things unilaterally. They haven't -- this administration hasn't built the kind of effective, multilateral policies that we need to be able to deal with Iraq and the war on terror.

And so I think that's a big part of having a strong, consistent policy.

BLITZER: General Clark, one final question: Do you want to be vice president of the United States?

CLARK: I think John Kerry's got to pick whoever's going to help him do the job best. He's got a process in place. I respect that.

As I said during the campaign, I was running to be president of the United States. I am going to try to help John Kerry, as he moves forward.

I think, Wolf, I think if you look at the country right now, where we are is, we've got significant challenges, at home, with job creation in America -- despite a recovery, it's primarily a jobless recovery. And when I was out on the campaign trail, I met thousands of people who told me about their employment problems. And we've got long-term problems in Iraq. And those are the issues that we ought to be talking about and bringing to the American people.

BLITZER: But, General Clark, you're a good soldier. If he says to you, "Please, I want you to be my running-mate," you'll salute and you'll say, "Yes, sir," is that right?

CLARK: Oh, Wolf, I've been out spending time with my family, I'm getting back into my own life, my business community. I'm going to try to do what I can to help John Kerry, because I think he's the right man to lead this country.

BLITZER: All right, we'll leave it right there. A little bit of ambiguity.

General Clark, as usual, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck to you. CLARK: Thank you.

BLITZER: And just ahead, we'll get back to Baghdad. We'll take a look and see what's happening in Baghdad right now, as these mortar attacks, the aftermath at least, continue to be explored.

And later, we'll speak with two U.S. senators on what's going on right now in Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Joining us now, two key members of the United States Senate. In Dallas, Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. She's the vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. Here in Washington, Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. He's the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Senator Hutchison, let me begin with you and get right to the breaking news out of Baghdad. These explosions, it looks like a mortar attack in the so-called green zone. We have been watching that over the past hour or so here on CNN. Underscoring the difficulties that democracy establishing in Iraq is by no means going to be easy.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: Absolutely, but I think the signing of this constitution is huge. It is something that gives the Iraqi people for the first time the right to vote, the right to free speech, the right to freedom of religion and then a sharing of power and rights for women. This is so big.

It looks like, of course, prematurely talking, but it looks like there was a desperate attempt to stop the signing of this constitution. And we must not let that happen.

BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, they're supposed to sign it tomorrow. Then again, they were supposed to sign it on Friday. But now we've seen this attack.

What's your sense? If this interim constitution is signed tomorrow, will the transition by June 30th take place?

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I don't see how it can. I hope it does. And I agree with Paul Bremer that I hope it's not based upon a domestic political agenda. But look, let's compare. We have to get that right, Wolf. It has to be the right date.

Look, they wanted us out of there two months ago. They wanted us out of there three months ago. The point is to make the basic law work and to get the cooperation of the people. And then to, you know, get out, so to speak, leaving military on professional terms.

BLITZER: Senator Hutchison, as we continue to look as these pictures from Baghdad -- we'll keep them up on the screen, smoke billowing continuing from an area that apparently was hit by one of these mortars -- there is a new book coming out by Dr. Hans Blix, the former chief U.N. weapons inspector.

And among other things, he writes this in the book. He writes, "Personally I tended to think that Iraq still concealed weapons of mass destruction, but I needed evidence." He thought there were weapons of mass destruction before the war, but he said he needed evidence and he didn't see any of that evidence.

There has been a huge debate about whether or not there was real evidence. There has been no finding of stockpiles of WMD since the war.

What's your sense? Was the American public sold a bill of goods going into the war?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think the intelligence commission is going to look into that. But I think that we can agree that all of the sources we had pointed to weapons of mass destruction. I think there could still be weapons of mass destruction hidden. Look how long it took us to find Saddam Hussein in that hole.

And I think we see these insurgents. And I think when these insurgents are tamped down, which I believe they will be, that we may still find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And I think the -- all of the intelligence that all of us -- Republicans, Democrats, President Clinton's administration, President Bush's administration -- can agree that our sources led us in that direction.

BLITZER: All right, what about that, Senator Rockefeller? You're the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

ROCKEFELLER: I hate to disagree with Kay Bailey Hutchison, but I have to on this. I think that the -- this is the theory sort of that if you can't find something and therefore you can't prove it doesn't exist, then you decide to interpret that it does exist. And I think...

BLITZER: It's still possible they may find something.

ROCKEFELLER: It's possible, but it's not probable. It is not probable. I mean, David Kay is -- now we have another person who is looking more at how do we get rid of these weapons, as opposed to finding them.

And you know, I'm glad that the -- I don't think the U.N. should come back in, UNMOVIC should come back in. I think our inspection group should do it because they are working seamlessly with our military. But I don't think it's going to happen.

And I think it leads to the question of, were we led to war, put into war with the proper truth?

BLITZER: And there is an investigation, independent investigation and various congressional investigations under way on that.

Senators, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to continue to watch what's happening in Baghdad right now, a series of explosions in the so-called green zone. We'll go back to Baghdad. More of our conversation with Senators Hutchison and Rockefeller.

"LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk, will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're continuing our discussion with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, and Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia.

Senator Hutchison, do you believe there is an al Qaeda link between what's happening now in Iraq and the remnants of the al Qaeda network?

HUTCHISON: I do. I think there is an al Qaeda link. We do believe that foreign terrorists have come in on the borders of Iraq and have helped these insurgents.

I also believe the insurgents are remnants of the Republican Guard. You know, the Republican Guard sort of disappeared. Our march into Baghdad was relatively easy. We thought we would face them, and we didn't really. I think they faded into the woodwork, and I think we're seeing them now. And I think they are aided by foreign terrorists, including al Qaeda.

BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, when I spoke to Ambassador Bremer earlier, he threw out the name Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, this Jordanian, believed to be a Palestinian born in Jordan, who's apparently wrote this letter to al Qaeda asking for help, trying to create some sort of civil war. Is he behind what's going on over there?

ROCKEFELLER: I think he's behind it far more than we think he is. I think...

BLITZER: What does that mean? What does that mean?

ROCKEFELLER: Well, if you've read his 17-point letter, he said he wants to create civil war, to disrupt the basic law of the constitutional whatever, and he wants to disrupt, and he wants to disrupt by getting Shiites to retaliate against Sunnis, or vice versa, so as to create that civil war. And he's been successful so far.

I'll bet he's behind what's happened today.

BLITZER: So is he public enemy number one in Iraq right now?

ROCKEFELLER: I think he's public enemy number one. I think we have to get him. Our forces are really focused on getting him.

BLITZER: Is he connected to al Qaeda?

ROCKEFELLER: Yes, he is. And he, during the time that we went to war, was about the only person over there who was.

BLITZER: Because the administration said there was a Saddam Hussein-...

ROCKEFELLER: And they were wrong.

BLITZER: ... al Qaeda link.

ROCKEFELLER: And they were wrong.

BLITZER: Well, what about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?

ROCKEFELLER: Al-Zarqawi, they were right. But he was up in Ansar al-Islam...

BLITZER: But he had no connections to Saddam?

ROCKEFELLER: Basically none. He had a leg operation in Baghdad, was in the hospital, was basically hiding up in Kurdish territory, over which Saddam Hussein had absolutely no control whatsoever.

BLITZER: Do you see a Saddam-al Qaeda link going into the war, Senator Hutchison?

HUTCHISON: I thought that Saddam Hussein was certainly getting involved in terrorist activities. We know that he was paying family members of suicide bombers in the Palestinian Authority. I think there was a lot of evidence that he was involved in terrorism.

BLITZER: Do you think this trial, this war crimes trial that the Iraqis are going to stage against him, put forward, should take place before the U.S. election in November?

HUTCHISON: I think the Iraqi people and the new Governing Council under the new constitution, as far as it can go, should make that decision, and I think they will make that decision. I don't think the United States is going to have a heavy hand here. I think, when the evidence is gathered and the Iraqi people are ready, they're going to be in charge of this trial.

BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, as you know, the Justice Department and the Bush administration sending a team over to Baghdad in the coming days to start gathering evidence against Saddam Hussein, to help the Iraqis, in effect. I assume that's a good idea?

ROCKEFELLER: I think it is.

I want to respond to Kay Bailey Hutchison. I do think that it's important that we do this right. And it's like the June 30th date. I personally think that the rush-up to get settlement, to get the basic law in place, to get the Governing Council turned into a permanent government, et cetera, is, in fact, somewhat dictated here by domestic political considerations.

On the other hand, having said that, I think it's much more important that we do it right. And, if it takes it past the elections, then that's fine with me, because doing it right in Iraq is more important than electoral considerations.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Rockefeller, we're going to leave it right there. As usual, thanks very much.

Senator Hutchison, thanks to you in Texas, as well, for joining us.

HUTCHISON: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're continuing to watch what's happening in Baghdad. A series of explosions rocks the city earlier today. We'll get more on that.

Also, still ahead, my conversation with Senator Ted Kennedy and -- there he is, Senator Ted Kennedy -- and the vice president of United States, Dick Cheney. All of that coming up in the next hour of "LATE EDITION."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." My one-on-one interview with the vice president, Dick Cheney, that's straight ahead.

First, though, let's get a quick check of the hour's top headlines.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get some more information on the breaking story we've been covering now for more than an hour in Baghdad, a series of explosions. CNN's Ben Wedeman is in the Iraqi capital. He's joining us now live.

Ben, update our viewers on what we've learned.

WEDEMAN: Yes, Wolf, it was only about an hour and a half ago when we heard a series of explosions coming from the direction of the green zone, and we heard the sirens blaring from that area.

Since then, we've learned from senior coalition sources that an SUV was parked about 400 meters to the north of the Rasheed Hotel. Fired with some sort of homemade launching device at least seven rockets toward the green zone, three of those rockets hitting the Rasheed Hotel. The Rasheed Hotel home to hundreds of workers and officers and officials in the Coalition Provisional Authority. Apparently one of those rockets injuring a civilian contract worker.

Now, according to this source, they were small rockets, between 68 and 81 millimeters in size. U.S. troops are currently trying to find any other impact points from these rockets.

Now, you'll recall that a similar attack took place in late October, while Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying at that hotel. In that incident, one person, an officer in the coalition, was killed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The entire series of the attacks, the series of explosions, the timing, raises suspicions, Ben, as you well know, that it could be linked to tomorrow's scheduled signing of this interim constitution. All of the important Iraqis are supposedly going to gather at the conference center, which is in this green zone, not far from the Al-Rasheed Hotel.

Do we have any reaction? Will this go forward in the aftermath of this attack?

WEDEMAN: Senior coalition officials tell us it will go forward. The ceremony will take place. We've heard from members of the Iraqi Governing Council that that signing ceremony will happen at noon tomorrow in the conference center.

Coalition officials say they believe they've taken adequate security measures, that there will not be any event occurring there, any mishaps, so to speak.

But we had heard in the days leading up to the aborted signing ceremony on Friday that there was concern. Because when the ceremony was supposed to take place, there were VIPS, there were diplomats, there were senior coalition officials, there were members of the -- most of the members of the Iraqi Governing Council in that building.

That building is just across the street, right across the street from the Rasheed Hotel. And this is an area that the insurgents, so to speak, have been trying to target for quite some time, not just with rockets and mortars, but also with car bombs, with suicide bombers. There's been gunfire in that direction. For them, that is the prime target when they're trying to hit at the coalition -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ben, stand by. We'll be getting back to you with updates throughout this hour, indeed throughout the day here on CNN.

Ben Wedeman joining us from Baghdad on this breaking news story, the explosions, the mortar attacks that rocked the heart of Baghdad just a little while ago.

Earlier this week I sat down with the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, for a special one-on-one interview. The vice president spoke his mind, as he always does, on a wide range of topics, including politics, terrorism and Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. Vice President, thanks very much for joining us. Let's get right to Iraq, terrorism. It seems to be getting worse, what's happening today. Is it getting worse?

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it's a terrible tragedy what happened today, obviously. But I think in terms of the overall course of events that what we've seen today in these attacks are desperation moves from al Qaeda-affiliated groups that recognize the threat that a successful transition in Iraq represents.

BLITZER: Now, when you say al Qaeda-affiliated groups, be specific because -- give us some evidence that this is orchestrated by Osama bin Laden. CHENEY: Well, today we don't know specifically about this attack yet. It has the hallmarks, in my opinion, of an attack orchestrated by a man named al-Zarqawi.

BLITZER: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

CHENEY: That's right. We've talked about him a lot before. He at one point ran a training camp in Afghanistan. Before we went into Afghanistan, he took refuge in Iraq and was there prior to our invasion of Iraq. He oversaw the poisons labs in northeastern Iraq that were al Qaeda-affiliated, run by Ansar al-Islam.

He has recently written a letter to the senior management of Osama bin Laden's group, al Qaeda, that we intercepted where he talks specifically about his strategy in Iraq. And that includes, among other things, launching terror strikes against Shia in order to try to start sectarian warfare.

BLITZER: So you see his fingerprints.

CHENEY: And this looks very much like that kind of an attack.

BLITZER: Well, let's talk about that a little bit, because as Americans see what's going on, today being the first anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security, they see these suicide bombings in Baghdad and Karbala, other places in Iraq, Pakistan and Jerusalem. Is it only a matter of time, God forbid, before it happens here?

CHENEY: We have to continue to be on guard here at home. We cannot assume because it's been over two years now since we were struck in the United States we cannot assume there is no threat. There obviously is a threat. And we're working at it all the time, every day.

The president and I get briefed every morning on the status of the threat, both overseas and domestically. And we've been able to disrupt attacks against the United States, disrupt cells by going on the offense. We've made it much tougher for them to hit us.

But we have to assume they're still out there. We know they're still out there, still trying to launch attacks against the United States.

What we're seeing, in terms of these other attacks, in Casablanca, in Istanbul, in Riyadh, in Mombasa, Bali, Jakarta, this is a worldwide enterprise. There are some 20,000 terrorists who went through those al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in the late '90s. And what we are seeing now in Iraq today, specifically, obviously, is an attempt to use terror to disrupt and interfere with our plan to turn over sovereignty to the Iraqis later this summer.

The closer we get to standing up a democracy in Iraq, the more desperate the terrorists become, and that's why we've seen the attacks we saw today.

BLITZER: You said before the war -- and I think I'm quoting you -- you said, "There's no doubt that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. There's no doubt he's amassing them to use."

The U.S. has not found anything, significant stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Were you wrong, or was the U.S. intelligence community giving you bad information?

CHENEY: Well, my statements tracked with what we were getting from the intelligence community. If you look at the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's WMD and my statements, they track almost perfectly to that period of time.

I think it's important to distinguish between stockpiles and capabilities.

BLITZER: But they found no stockpiles.

CHENEY: Have not yet found stockpiles, yes.

BLITZER: Do you think they still might?

CHENEY: Don't know. We've still got a lot of work to do before we can say we've been through all the documents and we've interviewed all of the detainees and we've looked in all the corners in an area as big as California before we'll be able to say there is nothing there.

The Iraqi Survey Group will be at work there probably for a couple of more years before we'll be able to completely resolve all those outstanding questions.

But we do know he had capability. David Kay said he had capability. David Kay said he was capable of producing biological weapons in relatively short order. He had the technology. He had the technical experts to do it. He had the basic raw materials, the labs, whatever he needed to produce biological weapons.

He had a nuclear program that had been robust back in the early '90s. Remember when you and I were at the Pentagon...

BLITZER: But that was before the first Gulf War.

CHENEY: That was before the first Gulf War, and there was evidence that he had, according to the agency reporting we got before this go-round...

BLITZER: But let's cut to the chase right now.

CHENEY: ... was that he had, in fact, reconstituted his nuclear program.

BLITZER: Do you have confidence in George Tenet as the CIA director?

CHENEY: I do.

BLITZER: Did you go over to CIA before the war and try to influence U.S. intelligence analysts? As the accusation has been made against you that you were pressuring them to come up with an assessment that you liked and that you ignored conclusions that you didn't like.

CHENEY: No, that's absolutely not true, Wolf, and there's a lot of testimony from David Kay, who's talked to the dozens of their analysts, the Senate Intelligence Committee, that's interviewed a couple of hundred analysts from the CIA, that they've not found one single individual who felt that they were maybe being coerced with respect to their findings.

My job is to go ask tough questions, and I do. I do that regularly and frequently. Either have analysts come in and visit with me on a subject, or I've been out there many, many times to pursue various and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) important topics.

If you're going to advise the president of the United States, as the intelligence community does, on these important issues that can affect matters of life and death, you have to be prepared to answer tough questions, and they are. I find that most analysts respond very favorable to that. They want to explain why they believe what they believe.

So, the notion that that should be a one-way flow, that the president should sit here and just receive input in and never have any questions being asked back out, makes no sense at all. That would be a weak administration, a lousy way to run the operation.

BLITZER: The other criticism that the Democrats, a lot of Democrats, are making against you involves your former company, Halliburton, which is now under criminal investigation by the Department of Defense for all sorts of potentially wrongdoing, sordid acts. And the charge is you made millions of dollars working there, and you're still getting, supposedly, deferred compensation from Halliburton. Is that true?

CHENEY: Well, what happened -- I did work there, but I severed by ties nearly four years ago, when I ran for vice president. Halliburton still owes me money -- money that was set aside for my retirement out of my salary back in, about, 1999.

Pursuant to the Office of Government Ethics, what I've done is take out an insurance policy that will guarantee the payment of what Halliburton owes me, whether Halliburton succeeds or fails.

If they go belly up tomorrow, it will not affect my financial status one iota.

So I've done everything. I've gone farther than the rules require, in terms of making certain I have no financial interest or stake in Halliburton. I don't today. I severed those ties back in 2000 and haven't had any interest since.

BLITZER: How much do they owe you?

CHENEY: Well, it's one more payment. I deferred half of my salary to be paid out over a five-year period of time after I left the company, and there's one payment left.

BLITZER: Of what?

CHENEY: A hundred and some thousand dollars.

BLITZER: A hundred and some thousands dollars.

All right. Let's move on and talk about Haiti. This is a critical issue. The former president now, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, accusing the Bush administration of effectively orchestrating a coup against him.

You're smiling. You're smirking.

CHENEY: Well, I've dealt with Aristide before. When I was secretary of defense, we had a crisis involving Haiti.

He left of his own free will. He signed a resignation letter on his way out. He left with his security detail on an aircraft we provided, not a military aircraft, a civilian charter.

Now I suppose he's trying to revise history, but the fact of the matter was he had worn out his welcome with the Haitian people. He was democratically elected but he never governed as a democrat. He was corrupt. He was in charge of many of the thugs that were committing crimes in Port-au-Prince shortly before he left.

But the suggestion that somehow the United States arrested him or forcibly put him on an aircraft to get him to leave is simply not true.

BLITZER: So you're happy he's gone?

CHENEY: I am happy he's gone. I think the Haitian people are better off for it. I think they now have an opportunity to elect a new government, and that's as it should be.

BLITZER: Alan Greenspan said in recent days that because of the huge budget deficit, $500 billion at least for the foreseeable future, if you want to keep those tax cuts that you pushed through Congress, you're going to have to start thinking of reducing Social Security benefits for the baby boomers, future generations. Is he right?

CHENEY: Well, I read his testimony in slightly different fashion. He talked about the current tax cuts that we've got in place. He is supportive of those, believes they ought to be made permanent, and talked specifically about those in terms of what they've done for the economy and encouraging savings and investment and economic growth.

Separate and apart from that is the long-term problem we have on entitlements, particularly on Social Security and Medicare. And those were the issues he was addressing, the long-term that will kick in five, 10 years down the road, as we have more and more people retired and fewer and fewer people actually working to support those retirees.

BLITZER: A very sensitive issue with the president now calling for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. In the 2000 debate against Joe Lieberman, you said you thought this should be regulated by states. You said, "I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that's appropriate. I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area."

Do you still believe that?

CHENEY: Well, I restated my position previously. The president's made a decision, partly because of what's happened in Massachusetts and San Francisco, that the administration will support a constitutional amendment, and that's his decision to make.

BLITZER: And do you support it?

CHENEY: I support the president.

BLITZER: I don't hear you say you support...

CHENEY: I support the president. Wolf, my deal with the president is that I get to advise him on the issues of the day. I never discuss the advice I provide him with anybody else. That's always private. He makes the decisions. He sets policy for the administration. And I support him and the administration.

BLITZER: The vice presidential running-mate slot, is there any doubt whatsoever that you will be on the ticket with the president?

CHENEY: Not in my mind. He's asked me to serve again, and I've said I'd be happy to do that, and I think that will be the ticket in 2004.

BLITZER: How do you feel?

CHENEY: Very good.

BLITZER: Everything all right?

CHENEY: Everything's great.

BLITZER: Thanks, Mr. Vice President.

CHENEY: Thank you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The vice president speaking with me earlier this week at the old Executive Office Building next door to the White House.

Coming up next on LATE EDITION:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I think we are in a very serious danger of seeing a civil war in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: A very different perspective. On the brink of democracy or disaster? My conversation with Senator Edward Kennedy about the challenges in Iraq and more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are just a few politicians like Senator Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, that both parties use to raise money and rally the faithful. An accomplished legislator, a vocal critic of the Bush administration and a very, very active campaigner on behalf of his fellow Massachusetts senator, John Kerry's presidential campaign.

I spoke with Senator Kennedy on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Senator Kennedy, thanks very much for joining us.

Very powerful speech you just gave on Iraq. But let's get to some of the fundamental facts to date. Are the people of Iraq better off today without Saddam Hussein?

KENNEDY: No question. The removal of Saddam Hussein is a positive step.

Many of us who voted against the war believe that Saddam was a threat, but he never was an immediate threat. And what we have had is this administration, this president manipulated and distorted the intelligence in such a way as to bring the American people to the position that, one, they were close to the point of having nuclear weapons; two, that there was close tie-ins between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein; and three, it was an imminent threat. Those facts were wrong.

And the most important responsibility the president of the United States has is bringing a country to war. And when an administration and a president distorts, manipulates information on this, they don't deserve another try.

BLITZER: And I want to get through all those points. But on the fundamental fact that even now, as we sit here in Washington, people in Iraq are ratifying an interim constitution, Shia and Kurds and Sunni Iraqis, they are debating amongst themselves, democracy, albeit very modest, beginning to take hold, that's a positive development.

KENNEDY: That's a positive. And we've lost 537 Americans.

And there's nothing to suggest that if we didn't have the inspections and the inspections had continued, that we couldn't have galvanized an international community that could have seen a replacement to Saddam Hussein and not seen the loss of American lives. We could have given more focus and attention on trying to find Osama bin Laden. And we could have been more effective working with the international community in terms of battling al Qaeda. We put finding Osama bin Laden, the battle against al Qaeda, on the second row. Now, listen, with regards to Iraq, I'm hopeful that we're going to be successful there. I do think we ought to internationalize elections. I don't think Americans holding the elections, that it's going to have the credibility that it should. And I think we are in a very serious danger of seeing a civil war in Iraq.

This is not -- this is not the end of it.

BLITZER: And no one believes it is. But did those 500-plus American troops die in vain?

KENNEDY: Well, I just think it was a war that we never would have had to fight. That is, the distortions, the misrepresentation on the basis of the threat to the American people by this administration was inaccurate and distorted and misrepresented.

If the members of the United States Senate understood the facts as they were today, that resolution never would have passed. I think we would have continued the containment of Saddam, very well may have been able to bring a change in the regime, and we wouldn't have lost those men. And the possibility of having greater stability in that region would have been enhanced. And we'd be further down the road in finding Osama bin Laden and dealing with al Qaeda.

BLITZER: You voted against that resolution...

KENNEDY: I did.

BLITZER: ... in October of 2002. Senator Kerry, whom you support for the presidency, voted in favor of that resolution. Was he snookered?

KENNEDY: No. I talked to Senator Kerry before the vote. I think we looked at the situation very much the same.

I think John Kerry was thinking what he would -- the powers that he would want if he were president of the United States.

If that resolution had passed and John Kerry had been president, we still -- we never would have gone to war. We would have mobilized the international community. We would have isolated and contained Saddam Hussein.

I think we would have seen a dramatic change in that region of the country, and we never would have seen the abandonment of the Israeli-Palestinian issue, which was left up in shambles.

BLITZER: The Clinton administration supported a policy of regime change in Baghdad, as well. And you supported a resolution in October of 1998. Let me read to you what you voted for, it was called the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998.

"It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime." KENNEDY: Makes a lot of sense. Made a lot of -- makes a lot of -- Saddam Hussein was a threat. We're all glad that Saddam Hussein is removed.

But I agree with what Secretary Powell said just a few months before we went ahead and invaded Iraq, that containment was working. I believe that the inspection system, with the international support, was functioning and working. We should have given it a chance.

And I think what is most important is we find out now that this administration has been indicted with its own words, its own misrepresentations, its own distortions, starting with the secretary of defense and continuing with the president.

BLITZER: I interviewed the vice president, Dick Cheney, this week, and he still holds out the possibility that the U.S. team, the inspectors, will eventually find weapons of mass destruction, not just capabilities, but actual stockpiles in Iraq.

KENNEDY: What was his justification for his statements leading us up to war? What was the possible justification when now we know, from the intelligence that we have, that it was a distortion, a misrepresentation? That is what he ought to faulted for. That's what he ought to be faulted for.

BLITZER: Well, in fairness, he said he was relying on George Tenet and the U.S. intelligence community for those estimates.

KENNEDY: The information will have a chance. Both of them -- let's hear from them both. Someone has to take accountability. They both can't be right. And when those -- clearly...

BLITZER: Who's to blame: George Tenet or Dick Cheney?

KENNEDY: There is no question. It is this administration, it is this president, it is accountability of leadership. Whatever the mistakes were in terms of the intelligence agency, it's this administration and this president that has the responsibility for bringing us to a war and distorting, and misrepresenting, and manipulating intelligence.

That's what we know today.

BLITZER: Well that's a serious charge against the vice president.

KENNEDY: It's true. Against the -- in his own words, in his own words, that speech that I've laid out today is the theories in his own words. And they cannot be justified, cannot be demonstrated, cannot be proven.

BLITZER: David Kay, who was the chief U.S. inspector, who spent months in Iraq, looking for weapons of mass destruction, came back and testified, couldn't find any. But even he says there's no evidence that Vice President Cheney or anyone else forced intelligence analysts, career professionals, to tailor or shape their conclusions. KENNEDY: The fact is his representations, his distortions, his manipulations are so in conflict with what the evidence is, and he must have known it, or should have known it, or Tenet should have told him about it.

It is -- there's accountability. Americans want accountability. And there is...

BLITZER: Should George Tenet still be the CIA director?

KENNEDY: Should George -- whatever. Whatever. Whatever you want to do with George Tenet is something where the administration can make a judgment.

I am concerned about the leadership of this president and this administration: distortion, misrepresentation, manipulation intelligence -- on intelligence. And it's wrong. And that I think they do not deserve to be reelected. And that's what this campaign is about, among other things.

BLITZER: One other sensitive point on the al Qaeda alleged connection to Saddam Hussein. What Cheney and others point to, including this week, is this one individual, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Palestinian who was born in Jordan who's public enemy right now number one in Iraq that he is associated with Ansar al-Islam, which has ties to al Qaeda, hence the connection.

KENNEDY: There's probably no question that there are al Qaeda units in Iraq. There are al Qaeda units in the United States of America. The question is the degree of control that they were having at the time of the previous regime. And there is absolutely no evidence, no evidence according to the FBI and according to the intelligence, that they were. That's the distortion and misrepresentation.

No one doubts that this al Qaeda has been floating around through all of these areas. They are in the United States. The question is control. The question is the contact. The question is the planning and the programming. And they've clearly misrepresented that track.

BLITZER: Speaking of al Qaeda, the 9/11 images that the president and the vice president are using now in their campaign commercials, is that appropriate?

KENNEDY: You know, the most powerful statements and comments about that have been the families.

BLITZER: Some of the families, some of the families. Not all of the families.

KENNEDY: I don't think you need many. I don't think you need many. You know, you don't need many of those that believe, as I do, that those extraordinary images belong to all Americans. And that it's crass to try and politicize it.

And I think that's what this administration has attempted to do. And it's not going to...

BLITZER: In fairness, though, to them, this was the seminal event of this first term of the Bush administration.

KENNEDY: There are ways of talking about -- it was the way that America came together. We all came together. We were all part of that moment. This affected all of us. It doesn't belong to a particular political party. This is a moment for all Americans for coming together. We were all proud to come together.

And we all referred to -- not only the extraordinary. We had 188 from my own state of Massachusetts. And we've seen the extraordinary courage of those firefighters. That will be emblazoned in all of our souls. But it belongs to all Americans, not a political campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Coming up, more of my interview with Senator Kennedy. He'll talk about the race for the White House and why he thinks his fellow Massachusetts senator, John Kerry, can win.

Plus, a check on what's making news this hour, including the explosions that have rocked Baghdad in the last hour and a half.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." More of my interview now with Senator Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Everybody agrees that you played an incredibly important role in helping your colleague from Massachusetts, John Kerry, get the Democratic nomination. You were out there in Iowa. I saw you out there in New Hampshire, all over the country.

But now many political observers say it's time to Senator Kennedy to step back a little bit, because he's got to reach out to moderate and middle-of-the-roaders, the so-called swing voters.

Should you lower your profile, for the benefit of Senator Kerry and those so-called swing states?

KENNEDY: I'm glad to help in any and every kind of way that I possibly can.

Beyond this, I think that this has been John Kerry's victory. I think people took a reading on him and were reminded about his extraordinary courage in the Vietnam, personal kinds of courage, wounded in action, saving a crew member's life.

And they also like a fighter. And John Kerry was out, from all the political pundits, and he came back. People like a fighter. I do, too. And America's going to find out what a fighter he is. I'm glad to go wherever we can be helpful and do what can be helpful.

BLITZER: And everyone knows you're a fighter. But let's talk about what they're trying to do. They're trying to paint him as a Massachusetts liberal, like Michael Dukakis.

KENNEDY: The time for cliches, the time for slogans are over. The one thing that we have seen over the last three years, we have an administration that doesn't do what it says and doesn't say what they'll do.

And people want to know what you're going to do about the economy. Here we have the economic projections by this administration. You're going to have 300,000 jobs this month. They created 21,000. And those jobs are paying 20 percent less than the jobs that they replaced.

They want to know, "Where's your program to deal with health care and health care costs?" It doesn't exist. They want to know what you're going to do about the increased cost of prescription drugs. They don't have a plan.

People are tired of cliches, slogans. John Kerry will talk truth to these issues.

BLITZER: And he'll fight aggressively, unlike Michael Dukakis, who some say held back?

KENNEDY: Well, John is ready to take this case to them. He's a fighter, and he'll take it to them. No one's going to misrepresent or distort.

BLITZER: This new Associated Press poll that came out this week, 46 percent for Bush, 45 percent for Kerry, very close, well within the margin of error. But look at this: 6 percent for Ralph Nader. He got almost 3 percent last time around.

Six percent for Ralph Nader? That could make -- easily make the difference.

KENNEDY: Well, it's once again -- reminds all Americans how important their votes are. And whether -- wherever they're going to be, and wherever they're going to come out, people ought to understand what's at stake in this country, the issues of war and peace, the state of our economy and the state of our judiciary.

The next president is going to probably nominate three Supreme Court justices to the Supreme Court. Anyone that cares about fighting for their values and their rights will get up early any morning and go out and work very hard for John Kerry.

Because he will appoint someone that will be in the mainstream of judicial thinking, and what we have seen with this administration, with its appointments to the judiciary, they don't meet that criteria.

BLITZER: You and Ralph Nader have been aligned on many issues over the years. Are you going to appeal to him to reconsider?

KENNEDY: Well, I mean, I'm glad to communicate to him and let him know my view. I'm not all of that close to Ralph Nader. I respect him, what he's done in the past.

I would believe that people have a real understanding, in this particular race, given the last one, the importance of their individual votes. And they will understand how important every vote is. And I'm convinced that Senator Kerry will win.

BLITZER: The commonwealth of Massachusetts, your state, about to go ahead and allow gay marriages to take place, in mid-May. I assume it will go forward, even though there's an effort to try to get a state constitutional amendment to change that.

Is this what you want?

KENNEDY: I've been strongly opposed to discrimination and prejudice my whole life in the United States Senate, and I've supported the Massachusetts ruling. I am strongly opposed to a federal constitutional amendment.

You've got 18 constitutional amendments to the United States Constitution. With the exception of Prohibition, one or two others, every one of them have been about expanding rights and expanding liberties.

And for this president, this administration, to offer a constitutional amendment which will write discrimination and prejudice into the Constitution, I find enormously offensive. And to do it for political purposes, I find enormously troubling.

I don't believe that they'll be successful. Nor do I believe that they should be successful. This is ultimately a decision that will be decided by the states.

BLITZER: But you personally -- you're a good Catholic. You support gay marriage?

KENNEDY: Yes. I support the Massachusetts Supreme Court. The Massachusetts Supreme Court decision does not require any sacramental aspect, does not require the Catholic Church to perform a sacramental marriage, doesn't a Protestant Church, a mosque or a temple to perform that.

So we're basically talking about civil marriages, or civil unions, in which all of federal benefits, approximately 1,200, will be available to people. And they will be treated fairly. And it seems to me that that is the right way to go.

BLITZER: One final question. I know Senator Kerry relies on your advice for many issues. What about a short list for vice president?

KENNEDY: He's going about it the right way. He's asked Jim Johnson, who's a well-known political figure. People have broad -- he has broad contacts in the Democratic Party and has been a very prominent and successful Democratic leader, to go through this process.

I think Senator Kerry will get an excellent series of recommendations. He'll make his judgment after...

BLITZER: You want to throw out a few names?

KENNEDY: No.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I didn't think you would, but I figured I'd ask Senator Kennedy. Thanks very much.

KENNEDY: Thanks very much. Nice to see you. Good to see you.

BLITZER: Thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: My interview with Senator Kennedy on Friday here in Washington.

Don't forget to tell us what you think of the Web question of the week: Is it appropriate for President Bush to use images from the 9/11 attacks in campaign ads? You can still cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results. That's coming up later.

Also coming up, inside the Howard Dean campaign and its demise, an incredible look at the front-runner's spectacular rise and fall.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's been almost two hours now since explosions rocked the heart of Baghdad. Let's go back to Baghdad. CNN's Ben Wedeman is standing by to tell us what happened.

Ben, tell us what you know.

WEDEMAN: Well, it was about two and a half hours ago, Wolf, when we heard some very large explosions coming from the direction of the green zone. Shortly afterwards, we heard sirens going off from that area.

Since then we have learned from a senior coalition official that this is -- the following is the scenario. A SUV Toyota was parked about 400 meters to the north of the Rasheed Hotel. It was equipped with some sort of homemade launching device. It fired seven rockets towards the green zone. Five of those rockets impacted on the Rasheed Hotel resulting in the injuring of one civilian contractor.

The vehicle was found ablaze by Iraqi police. They found that one, or rather two rockets were still on board that vehicle. And the latest we heard is it is still burning. They were apparently very -- relatively small rockets ranging between 68 and 81 millimeters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben, and the immediate prospect for the signing of this interim constitution still expected tomorrow?

WEDEMAN: That's what we've been told. We've been told by members of the Iraqi governing council that the signing ceremony will take place tomorrow, Monday, sometime around noon.

Now we saw, however, on Friday that of course that what they tell you in terms of scheduling isn't always reliable. Last minute disagreements aborted that ceremony. Now we've been told by senior coalition officials that despite this attack on the Rasheed Hotel, which is right across the street from the conference center where the signing ceremony will take place, despite that attack, they think it's going to go ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Ben Wedeman will be covering that story for us as well.

Thanks, Ben, very much.

We'll take a quick break. When we come back, inside the Howard Dean campaign. What happened? The rise and fall.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As part of our special "CNN Presents" on the Howard Dean campaign, we'll take a close look inside the Dean camp to see the men and women behind the rise and fall of the former front-runner.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE TRIPPI, FORMER DEAN CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Mike, do you know where they're holding him?

Here's the most important thing with the bat. What you want to do is just hold it up, like down here, and just say...

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF VERMONT: Don't look menacing.

TRIPPI: Yes, that's what I mean. That's the one thing about it. Have a nice smile on your face. "You did it." Something like that, but don't...

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the next president of the United States, Howard Dean.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DEAN: We're going to California, and Texas, and New York and we're going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TRIPPI: But the thing is, this thing was 48 hours ago. They're still running it. This is assassination. This is amazing. And it's just nuts.

I have seen this 20 times today. They just can't -- it's great tape, so they're just going to keep running it. It's like one of those big explosions in the war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're sending it out as little MP3 files.

TRIPPI: They get one of those heat-seeking missiles, and, shit, we're going to watch it for three nights.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We lost (UNINTELLIGIBLE) badly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, did you get the number?

TRIPPI: I've never felt this connected to the average volunteer working in the campaign. A lot of them are like, "What did we do wrong?"

Think about that. I mean, these people wrote like 118,000 letters to the people of Iowa, and we took third with 18 percent of the vote. And now, they're saying, like, "What did we do wrong? How come we couldn't make that make a difference? You told us we had the power to make a difference."

You know, so it's turning into, are the rumors about Trippi quitting true, or whatever, you know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are they true?

TRIPPI: Do you want to turn the camera off?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: CNN airs "True Believers: CNN Presents" tonight, 8:00 p.m. eastern. You'll want to watch this.

BLITZER: "LATE EDITION's" Web question of the week: Is it appropriate for President Bush to use images from the 9/11 attacks in campaign ads? Here's how you voted: Twenty percent said yes, 80 percent said no. Remember, this is not a scientific poll.

Time now for Bruce Morton's last word, on what it takes to make democracy grow and why a country like Haiti keeps trying and failing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush has said more than once that American-style democracy is the best system for all countries everywhere. The trouble is, it doesn't grow everywhere. This week's example is Haiti, which has been independent from France for 200 years, most of them full of conflicts and coups.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius quoted a Haitian this past week as saying perhaps that was because Haitians are descended from slaves from different parts of Africa with different traditions. Maybe, but the United States's population came from all sorts of different places too, and our system does work here. It takes time, but we don't have no Irish need apply signs at job sites any more, and, while no one would suggest that racism has disappeared, legal segregation has. We inch forward.

I think democracy works where people have had some practice with it. The United States was a British colony, the British had a very limited kind of democracy, only property owners could vote, women couldn't, and so on, but it was a model. The United States started off with a lot of those same restriction, and, like Britain, shed them over the years.

In Africa, countries which had been British started independence with usually a good university, a legal system, and so on. Mixed results. South Africa, once apartheid ended, has had peaceful elections. Uganda has had a long civil war. The Congo, which belonged to Belgium, which never trained anybody for independence, has been a disaster from day one.

Eastern European countries like Poland remembered democracy from the 1930s, and have mostly been able to restore it. Russia, which never had it, going straight from czars to commissars, still doesn't. No one suggests Vladimir Putin won't win the upcoming election there, but nobody would call it democratic either. It's the same with China. They've experimented with capitalism, but not with freedom, ever.

If experience with democracy is what it takes, what does the world do about a Haiti, or, come to that, an Iraq? If implanting democracy requires a long occupation by some democratic power, well, the odds of that happening aren't good. Neither Europe nor the U.S. is likely to want to station troops in these countries for 10 or 20 years. The voters would object.

And of course the Haitians and/or the Iraqis surely don't want to go back to being colonies. So what does the U.S. do in these places, aside from trusting in prayer? That's a good question, and, if the answer is lying out there somewhere in plain sight, I've surely missed it.

I'm Bruce Morton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Bruce.

That's our "LATE EDITION." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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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