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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Senators Levin, Graham; Interview With Mohamed ElBaradei

Aired September 19, 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, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5 p.m. in London, 8 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us on "LATE EDITION."
In a few minutes, my interview with Senators Carl Levin and Lindsey Graham. First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: A week of some of the worst violence so far in Iraq, plus new apprehension about the fate of hostages. Our senior international correspondent Walter Rodgers joining us now live from Baghdad with more.

Walt?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf.

Despite a week of bloody suicide bombings, chilling kidnappings and a shooting war, Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, today put on a brave face in London, predicting that democracy is still on track here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IYAD ALLAWI, PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ: We definitely are going to stick to the timetable of the elections in January of next year. We are doing our best to ensure that we'll meet the time of the elections. We are adamant that democracy is going to prevail. It's going to win in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RODGERS: The reality, however, is that three western hostages, including two Americans, Jack Hensley and Eugene Jack Armstrong, are going to be killed tomorrow according to their captors. The captors are demanding the release of two Iraqi women prisoners said to be held by the United States. If those Iraqi women are not released, according to this radical Islamist group, the two Americans and one Briton will be executed.

There is another reality here. This past week in Iraq, the violence was so bad that more than 300 Iraqis died. The worst, of course, was Baghdad outside a police station. Forty-seven people killed in that one single suicide car bomb attack on Tuesday. In the northern city of Kirkuk, another car bomb killed 19 people on Saturday. Sixty-seven others were sent to the hospital.

Hundreds of Iraqis died this past week, so many we do not even bother to report individual assassinations. How bad is it? The secretary-general of the Arab League, Amre Moussa, was quoted recently as saying, "The gates of hell have been opened in Iraq." French President Jacques Chirac is now saying, "The genie is out of the bottle in Iraq."

It is against this backdrop that Iyad Allawi is saying there will be elections in Iraq this coming January, although the U.N. secretary- general, Kofi Annan, is very skeptical about that, saying the climate hardly seems conducive to elections.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Walter Rodgers in Baghdad.

Thanks very much, Walter, for that report.

The surge of violence in Iraq, plus new intelligence forecasts the country could fall into outright civil war. We're at the heart of the debate that stretches from the streets of Baghdad to the halls of the United States Congress.

Joining us now, two influential members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Carl Levin is a Democrat from Michigan. He's joining us from Detroit. Senator Lindsey Graham is a Republican from South Carolina. He's joining us from Clemson, South Carolina.

Senators, welcome to "LATE EDITION."

I'll begin with you, Senator Levin. The New York Times reporting, quoting U.S. military commanders, that they anticipate a major offensive against insurgent strongholds, including in Fallujah beginning in November or December, shortly after the U.S. presidential election.

Are you among those Democrats who suspect politics may be playing a role in U.S. military decisions in Iraq?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Well, we know there was a political decision made in Washington telling the Marines a few weeks ago, first, to go into Fallujah, which was not what General Conway wanted to do, who is heading the Marine unit there. And then after they started to go in, it was a political decision in Washington which told them to come back out, which was also against the wishes of the Marine general there.

There is a real disconnect between Washington and our military, I believe, and what our military needs are. And I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised if the tough decisions, the painful decisions, are going to be delayed by this administration until after November 2nd. And it's too bad, because it's most important that this administration listen to some of even its Republican critics, which is that we've got a significantly worsening situation in Iraq.

And when you have the chairman -- the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Dick Lugar, who is harshly critical of this administration's unwillingness to look at the facts, the reality on the ground so that it can consider additional options, you've got a real problem with White House stubbornness.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Graham, Condoleezza Rice was on this program exactly one week ago. She insisted absolutely, positively no political influence in military decisions in Iraq.

But let me let you weigh in. Do you see political fingerprints on some of the military decisions?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I've been to Iraq twice, and the one thing I constantly hear is that we have enough troops. But I really don't buy that. And I think the security situation in Iraq is going to get worse before it gets better.

There's a rhyme or reason to what's happening here. They're attacking police stations. They're attacking people who want to join the army. They're trying to kill people who want to be part of a democratic government.

The terrorists are trying to drive people out. They're trying to overcome this move to democracy, so it's going to be tough in the short term.

I don't believe that we're playing politics here with military actions. I do believe that the political atmosphere in the United States is a reality, and we're just going to have to suffer through it.

I want the Iraqi people to know, come November, regardless of who the president is going to be, that we're going to stand with you. That when Prime Minister Allawi comes here and speaks to the Congress, I wish Democrats and Republicans both would tell him, no matter what it takes, if we need to have more, we will send more. We've got to win in Iraq.

BLITZER: Are you suggesting, Senator Graham, the U.S. simply does not have enough forces on the ground in Iraq right now to get the job done?

GRAHAM: I think we're going to need more people over time.

But one thing we've learned from Abu Ghraib is that we didn't have the right skill mix to manage that prison. I think we've been resistant to putting troops on the ground and putting resources where they need to be.

We're taking $3 billion away from infrastructure, putting it into security. We spent only a billion of the $18 billion. I've been critical of implementing President Bush's vision. I support President Bush's vision of having a democracy in Iraq.

When it comes to vision, I think Senator Kerry is the one who's been lacking. When he told the world that we would be out of Iraq in four years, that is the worst thing he could have done. If you're trying to change Iraq, and you're a politician in Iraq, it must be chilling to know that Senator Kerry is going to pull out an arbitrary deadline.

BLITZER: All right.

GRAHAM: It chills people who want to join. It also sends the wrong signal to the terrorists. If you're going to be out in four, maybe we'll kill enough people, you'll be out in two.

So think his vision is totally wrong for the times.

BLITZER: Let's let Senator Levin respond to that. He's a strong supporter of Senator Kerry.

Go ahead, Senator.

LEVIN: Well, it seems to me, Senator Kerry's goal is exactly right. That's a very modest goal, as far as I'm concerned, to have our troops out of there in four years.

The real problem here, though...

BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt for a second, Senator Levin. Why is that a very modest goal? U.S. troops are still in Bosnia. They're still in Kosovo. Frankly, they're still in Germany and Japan so many years after all of the conflicts there.

Why is it a modest goal to get U.S. troops, 150,000 or so, out of Iraq in four years?

LEVIN: Because you've got a totally different situation in those countries. You have a very disunified country here in Iraq, where one faction is very much at odds with another faction. And when you have a reality here at home, which is this administration is unwilling to see the facts as they are, and until you can consider different options -- and we've got to look at different options -- you've got to be willing to face reality.

The stubbornness of this administration in ignoring what is happening right now in Iraq, in ignoring its own intelligence estimates which just came out, which says that the best scenario we can find, the best one, is that it'll be a tenuous security situation there for years -- this administration still paints the rosy picture that things are just going fine, elections are going to be held. They've got to start listening to other people, and they've got to start watching and seeing what's going on on the ground.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, let me put some numbers up on the screen. The latest U.S. killed in Iraq: 1,028 U.S. troops up until this point the Pentagon says have been killed between hostile and so- called nonhostile action.

And the indications are in that National Intelligence Estimate that was reported on this week that the situation almost certainly is going to get worse before it gets better, if, in fact, it does get better.

What's your bottom-line assessment on this?

GRAHAM: Well, the bottom line is it will get worse before it gets better.

And I agree with Carl that we've done a poor job of implementing and adjusting at times. But they're not factional disputes in Iraq that's causing the dead -- the American dead, and the policemen who want to become policemen in Iraq and the soldiers being killed.

You've got two competing forces in Iraq. You've got terrorist, foreign fighters, hold over from the old regime that want to destroy democracy. And you're having people getting killed who want to change the country. You've got pro-democracy forces that are dying. You've got anti-democracy forces that are kidnapping and killing. And that's what is at stake.

Prime Minister Allawi is right. If we stand behind him, the pro- democracy forces will win. Arabs, Kurds, Sunnis, Shias have bought in in the hundreds of thousands of having a democratic Iraq. Thousands of people are trying to disrupt the lives of millions.

So this is not a civil war. This is a part of the war on terror, where the terrorists have gone to Iraq. And we need to fight back or we'll lose the region.

LEVIN: You got a lot of people...

BLITZER: But, Senator Graham -- let me let Senator Levin weigh in. But, Senator Graham, first, I don't see, maybe you see, an exit strategy that the president has unveiled as far as Iraq is concerned; what to do, other than generalities about calling for elections and hoping democracy takes hold.

Do you see a specific exit strategy that the Bush administration has come forward with at this point?

GRAHAM: Yes, sir, I do. The exit strategy in World War II was to take Berlin and Tokyo. There was nothing short of total victory. The same is here.

The only way we can leave Iraq, I think -- and I think Carl agrees with me here -- is to have a functioning democracy left behind, have a rule-of-law nation left behind. That means we're going to need more troops, not less.

And the administration has been stubborn about troops. We do not need to paint a rosy scenario for the American people. We need to let the American people know this is just like World War II; we're in it for the duration. But when we leave Iraq, the only way we can leave and have won is to have a functioning democracy behind. The people who are doing the killing don't want that to happen. If we stay the course, we will win.

BLITZER: What about the charge -- and I want Senator Levin to respond to this -- a very specific charge not only made by Senator Graham but many others, that John Kerry is sending all sorts of confusing signals out there, that he doesn't really have a strong sense of where he wants to go. And by suggesting he could get U.S. troops out within four years, he's sending a message to the insurgents, to the terrorists, "You know what? He is ready to cut and run."

LEVIN: The current message is exactly the worst message, which is that we're going to stay where we are, doing what we're doing, even though it's not working.

We are a very pragmatic people. We are supposed to learn when something isn't working that we should change direction. And the administration is unwilling to see the facts as they are so that it can look at additional options.

I call that stubbornness, not a strategy. The only strategy I see, the only exit strategy I see for this administration, is for them to try to get by November 2nd if they possibly can here.

BLITZER: Well, give me a specific. Give me a specific. What would you do differently, Senator Levin?

LEVIN: I would do whatever I could in terms, number one, of bringing bipartisan support in the Congress to look at additional options to change the course.

This president will not change the course on his own. He is locked into his own rhetoric.

And what we have in the Congress is some responsible Republican leadership, such as Senator Lugar, such as Senator Hagel, such as Senator Graham, who is on this program, who will join with Democrats to tell the president, "It is not working, Mr. President. We've got to consider other options."

BLITZER: But what are those options, Senator Levin? I need a specific.

LEVIN: You want me to give you a plan for an exit strategy right here on the television?

BLITZER: No, I want an option, some of the options you'd like to see the president consider.

LEVIN: It's got to involve three things. We've got to persuade the Iraqis that they have got to control their own violence if they want a country. We cannot want democracy in Iraq more than Iraqis want democracy. BLITZER: Aren't they trying -- isn't the administration...

LEVIN: That's number one.

BLITZER: Aren't they trying to train the Iraqis to do exactly that?

LEVIN: We're trying to train the Iraqis. We're also engaged in bombing cities right now, which is making enemies. That is not a strategy. Even the Marine general, General Conway said, that is not a strategy to engage in a guerrilla war right now in Iraq. I don't consider that a winning strategy. It is a losing, downward-spiral strategy, which creates a negative dynamic, which is that everybody, all of the violent factions, are shooting at us.

BLITZER: What's the third point you want to make?

LEVIN: We have to involve other countries that are not involved now by having an Iraq government tell Islamic countries, "You must join this effort or else we're afraid that the Americans will leave us," because we cannot do this alone, Wolf.

We've got to have the international community. It's been the major failure of this administration right from the beginning not to involve the international community, not to take the steps to involve them. Instead of canceling the U.N. inspections, we should have allowed them to be completed, which would have increased chances of bringing in other countries.

That is critically important. We cannot do this. We are the target of all the violent forces.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, go ahead. I'll let you respond to that point, because we're almost out of time.

GRAHAM: Number one, Iraqis are dying in droves. Every time they blow up a police station, more people want to volunteer to be policemen. They're training police in Jordan. I've met with the king of Jordan. The Jordanians are helping the Iraqis become policemen. NATO is being involved.

We need to adjust. I think we need more assets on the ground, more troops. But the idea that the Iraqis are not fighting for their own freedom is wrong. This is not a factional war in Iraq. This is terrorism against democracy.

Democracy will prevail, if we send a strong signal to the terrorists that we're not going to cut and run, we're going to spend the resources, the blood and treasure to win this. Losing is not an option for the world, not just the United States.

BLITZER: All right, unfortunately, Senators, we have to leave it there. Senator Levin, Senator Graham, thanks to both of you for joining us on "LATE EDITION."

LEVIN: Good being with you, Wolf. BLITZER: Just ahead, I'll speak with two U.S. congressmen, Chris Cox and Charlie Rangel, about the latest political fallout over President Bush's Vietnam-era record.

Also coming up, the mystery cloud over North Korea. I'll speak live with the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei. And I'll ask him if the world knows enough about what's happening there.

Plus, six weeks to Election Day here in the United States. The national party chairmen Ed Gillespie and Terry McAuliffe, they'll join us and they will face off.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: "LATE EDITION"'s Web question of the week: Have the presidential campaigns become too negative?

Up next, the Vietnam factor. Will past service swing votes this November? I'll ask two U.S. congressmen, Chris Cox and Charlie Rangel.

You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nineteen individuals have served both in the Guard and as president of the United States, and I'm proud to be one of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush speaking to the National Guard Association in Las Vegas this past week. The president did not mention the swirl of controversy over details of what he did and perhaps didn't do in the Guard during his years way back during the Vietnam War.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now to talk about old wars and current wars, two influential members of the United States Congress: Chris Cox is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He's joining us from Irvine, California. And Charlie Rangel is a Democrat. He's a decorated Korean War veteran. He is joining us from New York.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Let me begin with you, Congressman Cox. This week you issued a tough statement calling on the U.S. Congress to hold hearings, investigations into reports that CBS News showed documents alleging wrongdoing by the president during his days in the National Guard, documents that are now widely believed by many to have been fake.

How far do you want Congress to go in holding this kind of an investigation?

REP. CHRISTOPHER COX (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, to clarify, my recommendation is that we have a staff investigation, not congressional hearings. I don't want Congress to be seen as yet another attempt to influence this in a partisan way.

But I do think that, as we had hearings after the election was called in Florida for Gore while the polls were still open, and the Energy and Commerce Committee had testimony from the presidents of all of the news networks, including CNN, as you recall, and CBS, Andrew Hayward testified at that hearing, that we again have the same interest here in making sure that we have broadcast journalism operating in a way consistent with fair elections.

BLITZER: But let me...

COX: We have a national interest in conducting fair elections, of course. But I think a staff investigation ought to be focused on, first, what's going on obviously outside of Congress in the media, with other private organizations testing the validity of these documents.

And if it becomes established these documents are in fact forgeries, then the government interest is rather clear not only in having a fair, national election but also in understanding who it was and how and for what purpose, and so on, government documents and military records were forged.

BLITZER: Well, do you believe, Congressman Cox, that CBS News, "60 Minutes," Dan Rather, the anchor, that they were victimized by some forgery, some fake documents? Or do you suspect as, there are some on the extreme right, that they were part of some conspiracy to try to damage the president?

COX: I think all we know at this point is that CBS News, by all objective media assessments, including the Los Angeles Times yesterday, which had a very so tough assessment on this, at a minimum, wanted to get that story out there so badly that they didn't check their facts.

That's exactly what we inquired about in our hearings in 2001. And what CBS told us at that time was that never again would the impulse to get the big story out first trump getting it right, particularly when a presidential election is at stake.

That message that was delivered in 2001 obviously isn't being heeded at CBS these days.

BLITZER: Congressman Rangel, what is your suspicion now about CBS News, these documents, the president's service in the National Guard, the Texas Air National Guard, during the Vietnam War? Where do you stand on this whole uproar? REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: Well, I think it's frightening even to think about having staff or the Congress to provide oversight and investigate the press. I truly believe that if an investigation should be had, that Congress should stay a million miles away from it.

I think the newspapers and those who are watching this story are going to determine whether or not these articles are forgery. Forgery is a crime and, therefore, local government, not the federal government, should be involved in it.

And I don't really think, even when we get to the substance, to say that the son of a congressman received preferential treatment or went into the National Guard to avoid Vietnam, I don't really think it's an issue. There is no one in America that doesn't believe that it happens and that it happened with Bush.

I had a son that, instead of opting to go to the Reserves, he opted to go to the Marines. It's clear that Kerry could have opted to join the National Guard or the Air National Guard and avoid Vietnam. He chose to go to Vietnam.

BLITZER: But if CBS operates as a broadcast network, Congressman Rangel, over the airwaves, and there's a public good, if you will, and the Congress, the U.S. government gives them the opportunity to do so, why shouldn't at least some congressional staffers take a look at the involvement of CBS News in this kind of a situation only a few weeks before a presidential election?

In other words, what's wrong with Chris Cox's recommendation?

RANGEL: What's wrong with it is that it intimidates every reporter, every newspaper, every television.

I think that an investigation is being taken care of right now by the public, by competing television stations.

And even CBS says that they're going to report back what happened. And if there's any wrongdoing, I think there should be a prosecution. But merely to do this thing and make it more of a political issue is wrong.

And the fact is that no one has disputed the substance of the report, to say that he avoided service, he shirked his duty, he refused to take a physical, and after millions of dollars was invested in his training as a combat pilot, he chose to walk away from it.

BLITZER: Well, let's let Congressman Cox...

COX: Wolf, just for the record, I want to be clear that I dispute those facts.

BLITZER: Well, go ahead, dispute them very briefly, because I want to take a quick break, and then I want...

RANGEL: Well, the president doesn't dispute it. COX: This notion that the president disobeyed a direct order in not taking a physical I think is exactly what these fraudulent documents are all about, and that's not been established at all.

President Bush had nearly six years of active-duty service in the National Guard. He was well above the point requirements in every single year, including his last year, he was over the point requirements. And he did his duty to his country, and he did it honorably and well, and was honorably discharged.

RANGEL: Chris, when you refuse to take a physical -- and you have been a pilot, and most pilots just love to fly. They're unbelievable, fanatical about flying. To walk away from those...

COX: Well, that's why George W. Bush actually flew more hours, as you know, than most of those pilots. He was way above average.

RANGEL: But his flying rights were suspended as a result of him not taking the physical, which he should have taken. He walked away from that in order to campaign in Alabama.

COX: Charlie, I think it's important that people not get away with saying, "All this business about the forged documents is one thing, but the substance is correct," because it isn't.

The truth is, as you know, that George W. Bush asked for and received permission to take time off. He was over his point requirements when he did that. That was four years into his service. And to say otherwise, I think, does a great disservice to the record.

RANGEL: Chris, I think you and I would agree that whether the president avoided service in Vietnam, as tens of thousands of other Americans have done...

COX: But he did not.

RANGEL: ... is not a challenge to his patriotism.

You know if he wanted to go to Vietnam, he had the same opportunity that Kerry had, and so did so many other Americans. And fortunately for the president, he didn't run off to Canada, he didn't just run away from it, he did what other people did: joined the National Guard, and to avoid service in Vietnam.

And National Guard provided good service. And unfortunately now 40 percent of the troops in Iraq are National Guard people. So it's not the haven that it used to be.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to pick up on that point. I want both of you to stand by, Congressmen, but we have to take a quick break right now.

Just ahead, we'll also check what's in the news right now, including the latest on a meeting between Prime Minister Tony Blair in London and the Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi.

I'll be back with the congressmen, and they'll also be taking your phone calls.

And later, the book on the prisoner abuse scandal. Seymour Hersh talks about the "Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib."

Much more "LATE EDITION" coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that the president failed that fundamental test of leadership. He failed to tell you the truth. You deserve better. The commander in chief has to level with the troops and the nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, speaking at the National Guard Association also this past week in Las Vegas.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with Congressman Chris Cox of California and Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York.

Chris Cox, the Republican speaker of the House had some controversial comments last night, suggesting that al Qaeda might attempt a terror strike before the U.S. presidential election to try to influence the election along the lines of what they did in Spain.

Listen to this exchange he had with a reporter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: They feel they can operate with a little more comfort with Kerry than they have...

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: That's my opinion, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The suggestion being al Qaeda would prefer John Kerry in the Oval Office as opposed to George W. Bush.

Do you agree with Dennis Hastert?

COX: Well, I don't know, beyond what you just put up on the air, the context in which the speaker was answering the question, so I won't venture there.

But I will say that there is no question that whatever Osama bin Laden is thinking these days, nobody has a very good idea about that, so this is all in the realm of speculation. I doubt that Osama bin Laden is likely to weigh in on our presidential election. BLITZER: Because there's a lot of speculation -- I'll let Charlie Rangel weigh in on this -- a lot of speculation that al Qaeda might attempt something before November 2nd here in the United States, to have some sort of impact on the election. What's your -- yes, go ahead, Congressman Cox.

COX: That piece of the -- and, of course, Wolf, you and I have discussed this on air before, has been publicly available declassified intelligence for some time. It stands to reason based on events around the world that this is one of the things that al Qaeda might be doing and that we have to be prepared for.

BLITZER: But would their objective be to try to get Kerry elected? That's the question.

COX: Oh, I think trying to disrupt our democracy is a likelier focus of any such pre-election attack. I don't know that the political scientists within al Qaeda are any better than ours here in the United States at predicting what would be the result of that kind of chaos on voting.

So I wouldn't think that al Qaeda has it in mind to try and elect George Bush or John Kerry or Ralph Nader, because nobody is that good.

BLITZER: Charlie Rangel, there's no doubt that John Kerry is in some political trouble right now only a few weeks before the election. The American public has these images of him wind-surfing on vacation.

John Edwards, who was so outspoken, so out in front during the presidential primaries, some are suggesting he's in the witness protection plan right now.

(LAUGHTER)

He's virtually invisible on a national scale.

I know you've been critical of the Democratic presidential ticket right now for not going more on the offensive, but what do you make of the current problems that John Kerry and John Edwards have?

RANGEL: That's behind us. I think that John Kerry and vice president-next Edwards are on the campaign trail. I don't think the Republicans need al Qaeda in order to lose an election. They can win elections down there with the vote counters they have in Florida.

And for the speaker to say that that would be an attack before the election and the vice president to say that if Kerry wins, then we'll certainly have an attack, I truly believe that most Americans believe that we shouldn't be involved in this war. We are losing people every day. The president said that it was "miscalculation," that it's a "catastrophic success."

And I'm surprised to hear Chris bring up al Qaeda. You know, I mean, we were supposed to be going after Osama bin Laden, and all of a sudden we leave the president's friends out of Saudi Arabia, where the attackers came from, and go to Iraq. BLITZER: Let me interrupt, Congressman Rangel -- why don't you weigh in right now? Because you're always blunt, you're candid. What does John Kerry need to do right now, give him one piece of advice, in order to get elected?

RANGEL: To make it abundantly clear that he had more confidence in the president when he gave him authorization to go to Iraq than Charlie Rangel did.

Having said that, the president had the support of the world and of the country. He implied that he knew who was responsible for 9/11.

And one thing is clear: that we're there, and Kerry has to show how we got to get out.

It's not just a question of how the president walks or swaggers or how he talks. He doesn't represent Texas. He represents America.

And he has to get out there and let the world know that terrorism is not just a United States problem, it's an international problem. And he has to get a hands-on approach to the Israel-Palestinian problem, and get some trust in the region, and not just say that he's after this noun called "terror."

If terror wanted to give up tomorrow, we would not know where to go to get the surrender.

BLITZER: I give Congressman Cox the last word.

Go ahead. We're almost all out of time.

COX: We don't need a plan to get out. We need a plan to win. We cannot run away in the war on terror. And the greatest threat to the safety and security of people in Iraq and people in that entire region right now would be for the United States to weaken its resolve. We can succeed, and we will succeed if we just stay with it.

And I think there will be elections in January, and we can be very, very proud of them. We've got to build toward that and not signal to the terrorists that we're turning, cutting and running.

BLITZER: All right. On that note, we'll leave it. Thanks to both of you for joining us. Congressman Cox, Congressman Rangel, always good to have you on "LATE EDITION."

RANGEL: Thank you.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, please stay with us.

Angry protest unfolding in Iran as the world pushes for new restrictions on nuclear development there. I'll speak live with the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei. He'll join me from Vienna.

That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Iran rejected new demands by the world's nuclear watchdog agency today, with the United States warning Iran is moving closer and closer to producing nuclear weapons.

Joining us now, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei. He's joining us from Vienna, Austria.

Thanks very much, Dr. ElBaradei, for joining us.

I want to get to Iran and North Korea in a moment, but on the fundamental question of nuclear terrorism, how concerned, how worried should the world be that terrorist organizations like al Qaeda could get their hands on a crude nuclear device?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR, IAEA: Well, we're still very concerned about it, Wolf. I think we should not lose any vigilance. Just this weekend, in fact, we had a conference here with the participation of Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham to look at what more can we do to protect ourself, radioactive sources, nuclear materials.

I think we're doing well. I think we're doing all we can, but we are in a race against time, as I have said before, so we should continue to do all we can do.

It is easier for them probably get access to radioactive source, which is not a nuclear explosion, but we cannot exclude the possibility they can have a nuclear device.

And so we should continue on the path we are doing, put as much resources, protect all vulnerable facilities, all vulnerable nuclear material around the world, Wolf.

BLITZER: And those so-called loose nukes in Russia, in the former Soviet Union, is everything being done that must be done to protect the nuclear equipment and a nuclear bomb, if you will, that could be smuggled out of there?

ELBARADEI: A lot are being done. We are not the one who are doing that. That's mostly bilateral between the U.S. and Russia. But what I understand from Sam Nunn and other, we can do more. I think we need to allocate more resources and we need to accelerate the process, Wolf.

BLITZER: How close is Iran, in your estimate, right now to building a nuclear bomb?

ELBARADEI: Well, I hate to speculate, Wolf, but let me put it this way: We haven't seen in Iran any material imported or produced that could be used for nuclear weapon. That is the good news. We haven't also seen any of their small experiment directly related to a nuclear weapon program. However, I should add that this program has been going on for almost two decades. We're still going through a lot of investigation. We are making good progress and understanding the nature and extent of the program.

So I'm not sure we are facing an imminent threat, but we are facing Iran acquiring, if not already acquired, a capability to produce the material that can be used of nuclear weapon should they decide to do that.

It's really a question of intention. And the international community is concerned because that program has been undeclared for a couple of decades, because that Iran -- part of the ability to produce uranium is much ahead of its program to produce electricity, so there is really no urgency for Iran to continue with the speed it is going developing enrichment of uranium.

And that's why the international community, in fact, yesterday have asked Iran once more, as a confidence-building measure, to put a hold, to suspend all enrichment-related activities, unless we go fully through our investigation and provide assurance that this program is exclusively for peaceful purpose.

I hope Iran will heed the call by the international community. It is really in the interest of Iran, Wolf, to build confidence. I believe should confidence is built in the next few...

BLITZER: I was going to say, Dr. ElBaradei, but the Iranians have already rejected this latest appeal from the IAEA. As you know, the United States, the Bush administration is urging you to refer this matter to the United Nations Security Council where sanctions potentially could be imposed against Iran. How close are you to doing that?

ELBARADEI: Well, I'm supposed to present a report by the end of November to our governing board, so I still have couple of months.

I'm not sure Iran, reading what Iran have stated today, they have rejected it. They have said it is not a legal obligation, but it is a confidence-building measure.

I take that to be correct. I mean, the board said this is a confidence-building measure. We should not really tinker around about legalities.

What I am asking Iran for, please build the confidence, please work with me to build the confidence through the agency, please allow us to verify all outstanding issues.

If we can do that, then we can trigger a political dialogue, which Iran has already started with the Europeans.

To me, ultimately, we need to clarify every issue about the nuclear weapon program, and then engage Iran in a comprehensive political dialogue that discuss security, economic, human rights. This is the only way we can proceed for a durable solution, in my view, Wolf.

BLITZER: The other major concern involving a nuclear bomb, North Korea right now. I know the IAEA has been deeply involved in that.

First of all, do you know what that so-called mushroom cloud that was spotted over North Korea a week or so ago was?

ELBARADEI: I think as far as we know, we were told by our sister organization that monitoring explosive devices, that it doesn't look like a nuclear explosion. But we are not 100 percent sure.

BLITZER: Well, are you suggesting that they may have tested a nuclear bomb already, North Korea?

ELBARADEI: I think it's unlikely, Wolf. It is unlikely, but we are not there. We cannot really validate this conclusion for sure.

BLITZER: Because as you know, they've allowed some diplomats to go in and inspect. And the suggestion that we're getting from U.S. officials, from Bush administration officials, including Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, is they don't believe it was a nuclear test, although they can't rule out that the North Koreans would undertake a nuclear test at some point in the relatively near future.

How close is North Korea, in your opinion, in your estimate, to going forward with a test?

ELBARADEI: Well, I know for sure that North Korea have the plutonium that they need for nuclear weapon. I know for sure that we have been away for two years without any inspection in North Korea.

So I do not exclude at all that they have assembled a nuclear weapon or more than one nuclear weapon, Wolf. That will not surprise me. They have the facile material. They have the industrial infrastructure.

Whether they need to go for a test, whether they do a computer simulation, the fact remains that they are a nuclear-capable country. And the sooner we tried to attack this problem, again, like a political dialogue through all the concerned parties, the better for the world and our security.

BLITZER: And just very briefly before I let you go, are you leaving the door slightly open to the possibility that that mushroom cloud that was spotted was, in fact, a nuclear test?

ELBARADEI: I am leaving the door open, Wolf. I think I would like to go there. Our expert would go there. If North Korea would like to exclude that possibility completely, they would be well advised to allow us and other experts to go and inspect that. As long as we are not there, I cannot exclude that possibility 100 percent.

BLITZER: Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as usual, thanks very much for joining us.

ELBARADEI: Thank you very much, Wolf, for having me. BLITZER: We'll check in on what's making news right now, including the latest on President Bush's tour of hurricane damage in Florida -- the Florida panhandle as well as coastal Alabama. We'll go there.

And the author, Seymour Hersh, on tracing the origins of the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq from the holding cells of Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

And reading the signs, checking the calendar, weighing up the polls, the Democratic and Republican Party chairmen, Ed Gillespie and Terry McAuliffe, on the sprint to Election Day here in the United States.

"LATE EDITION" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're standing by. I'll speak live with Seymour Hersh and David Frum, also with a panel of ambassadors. All that coming up.

First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Seymour Hersh's reports in The New Yorker magazine dramatically brought to public's attention the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq. Now he has written a new book on the subject entitled "Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib." He is joining us here in Washington.

Also here, the former Bush White House speechwriter, David Frum. He's the author of, among other things, "The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush."

Thanks to both of you very much for joining us.

I want to get to the book in a moment, Sy, but let's talk a little bit about this allegation that is being made now by some Democrats that the White House is playing politics with U.S. military operations in Iraq right now. For example, holding off on a move against insurgents in Fallujah until after the election.

You've been doing a lot of reporting on this. What do you sense? Is politics being played on the military battlefield in Iraq?

SEYMOUR HERSH, "NEW YORKER": Just don't know. Don't know. There's no question that the timing is after the election, when they plan to get very tough. And that's going to increase a lot of casualties, not only among Iraqi civilians and the insurgency, but also among American soldiers. So we're going to see a dramatic spike. The timing is interesting. They say November and (ph) December.

I'm also was fascinated when we pulled out of Najaf. Remember, when we let Muqtada al-Sadr disappear with the troops. That was a few days before the Republican Convention.

But you look at it. You say that's interesting. But who knows?

BLITZER: Well, what about that? You were in the White House. You know how these decisions are made. Is it natural for the political leadership always, especially in the season of an election, to be worried about the impact of a presidential campaign?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE SPEECHWRITER: I think actually this administration thinks of that kind of thing much less than others. I mean, you have an administration with very powerful political staffs inside the White House who are not invited to participate in these kinds of decisions. They are very determinedly kept out of them.

If the administration is thinking about politics, it is not thinking about American politics. It is thinking about Iraqi politics. It is fighting a guerrilla war, an insurgency. You have to pay attention to the political cycles inside Iraq, to strengthening the Iraqi government and winning people over to the American and Iraqi side and not losing them.

BLITZER: I raise this whole question of politics and the battlefield decisions, because there's an intriguing paragraph in your book, "Chain of Command." Let me read it, and I'll put it up on the screen:

"Cheney had telephoned Donald Rumsfeld with a simple message: No resignations. We're going to hunker down and tough it out. Cheney's concern was not national security. This was a political call, a reminder that the White House would seize control of every crisis that could affect the re-election of George W. Bush."

You remember writing that?

HERSH: Of course I remember writing that.

BLITZER: How do you know? I mean, give us a sense of how you could come up with a serious allegation like that, Sy, that Cheney ordered in effect Donald Rumsfeld no resignations as the Abu Ghraib scandal coming forward?

HERSH: It comes from someone very high up in the process who has access to the JCS tank at the highest level, somebody who has access to the chairman and vice chairman, someone who has access at that level. Obviously, I can't name these people but obviously over the years I'm willing to let me record stand up on this issue.

Let me say something else that Cheney did not say. Cheney did not say, "What's going on over there? These pictures are horrible. They're a disgrace. Why don't you guys clean it up?" He doesn't say that. He says, "Let's hold it together."

And I disagree with you, David. I have no idea of the inside of the White House or any White House. But the notion that a few months before a national election that's going to be close that they're not interested politically and everything doesn't have a political spin, that would be irrational. Any White House, Republican or Democrat, would be concerned politically at this point.

FRUM: Well, you can believe that if you want to, but actually that statement expresses the same problem as in the paragraph, Wolf, you just quoted.

The statement that Cheney called Rumsfeld and said, "Don't quit," that might be a fact. It sounds like something that Cheney would say.

BLITZER: Not necessarily that Rumsfeld should quit but others should resign.

FRUM: But the next step, there are a thousand reasons why Cheney would say that to Rumsfeld, including that he thinks Rumsfeld is doing a good job.

The one reason that is almost certainly not true that when he said that was that he was thinking of the re-election of George W. Bush. Because from the point of view of short-term electoral politics, he'd be better off to have resignations. The self- interested, the cunning, someone who was concerned only with winning in '04, would have said, "Look, let's have some resignations. Let's blame some people, cauterize this, and isolate the president and the vice president."

So the problem is not whether you are right in reporting the quote, the problem is the rest of the sentence where you give your own understanding of it.

HERSH: Let me also say that the idea that you're going to ever think that they could ever get rid of Rumsfeld for political purposes will be good for them to do it -- the whole point I make in the book is that Rumsfeld is of one with Bush and Cheney.

When the president of the United States says after 9/11, "I want to smoke Osama bin Laden out of the snake holes," it's Rumsfeld who gets it done. They're together totally.

And so, just the notion that Rumsfeld could ever be in political trouble with these guys is impossible. They're all together on this.

FRUM: OK, that's completely different statement, though, than -- that's right. The president supports Rumsfeld because he relies on him, he thinks he's doing a good job, because he thinks that although the -- look, with everybody you get in government, you get a choice of problems. There's no such thing as a human being who gets everything right. Some people are too cautious. Some people are too bold.

And the story of Abu Ghraib, the story of this book is: Abu Ghraib, it's a disaster. It's wrong and it's harmful. And the president's condemned it and the vice president's condemned it and Rumsfeld has condemned it.

The great question is, and this is -- I mean, I think this is maybe the key thought in this whole book -- it's on page 46. "The roots of the Abu Ghraib scandal," you write, "lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in the reliance of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld on secret operations, on the use of coercion, an eye-for-an-eye retribution in fighting terrorism."

Now, I think most Americans would say coercion and retribution are the right ways to do it. It's better -- you want nothing to go wrong, but it's better to have the mistakes you get from trying too hard than the mistakes that we got from trying not hard enough.

BLITZER: We had that quote prepared; he read it coincidentally. But that's one of the most powerful quotes in your book on the roots of this Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

HERSH: Yes, of course. Let me make it clear. I'm not saying that Rumsfeld or Cheney or the president knew anything about Abu Ghraib.

That's completely irrational, those acts there. And of course they would have condemned them bitterly.

Of course. That isn't the point. The point is, how did we get to the point where we now acknowledge -- when you and I talked about these stories in May, when I wrote those articles, the issue then was, the Pentagon kept on saying there were seven bad seeds, it was only seven.

We now know, from the various investigations, that the field has expanded pretty dramatically. Even though the investigations don't go very far up the chain of command, they make it clear military intelligence, without getting colonels' names being dropped in, it's getting up the ranks with each investigation. Clearly it's more widespread.

And so, the point I'm making in the book is that, from the very, very beginning, there was an inability of this administration to exercise what they should have done. Abuses began right away. They're inevitable in this kind of a situation, because we are angry, we are frightened, we are worried. From the very beginning, we should have cracked down on abuses. The chain of command should have made it clear -- and I disagree with...

BLITZER: But can't you argue that they're doing exactly what they should be doing? There was the James Schlessinger investigation. General George Fay had an investigation. They have criminal investigations. They're going up the chain of command, and they're looking for how this kind of situation could unfold.

HERSH: Nobody, in none of the investigations, has gone beyond the parameter of the military into the political side of the Pentagon into the office of the secretary of defense, into Don Rumsfeld's office and his aide for intelligence, Steve Cambone, and their general, whose aide, chief aide is a general named... BLITZER: But you read those Schlessinger reports and the Fay report.

HERSH: Very carefully.

BLITZER: They've taken a close look to see if there was any evidence that it did go up into that kind of civilian leadership level.

FRUM: Wolf, in the past months, we've had on television people like Richard Clarke and others who are very critical of the Bush administration, what happened in the United States before 9/11, saying no one was willing to take a risk, they were completely bound in conventional thinking, that everyone was circumscribed -- and Clarke is especially hard on this point. They wouldn't do things in Afghanistan because they were so frightened.

And Donald Rumsfeld's mission in the Pentagon was to say, let us cast off after 9/11 those obsolete inhibitions, and let's accept sometimes we're going to make mistakes, but the mistakes we made before 9/11 were worse.

BLITZER: All right.

FRUM: And that, I think, is, for all the value of the reporting you've done, that is the great, I think, blindness of this book.

HERSH: Let me say one thing to you. You may say it's easy, and most Americans understand coercion and force sound right and feel good and being excessive is the right thing.

The professionals -- and I talk to the professionals -- the people who do interrogations in the FBI, in the CIA, in the special operations command all say one thing: Force and coercion does not produce good results in interrogation. Establishing rapport...

(CROSSTALK)

HERSH: Let me finish. And what happened is, force became the dominant theme, rather than establishing rapport. That's the reason why I got into the issue with the meeting with Condoleezza Rice.

BLITZER: But let me get to that. Because I want to play the sound bite from what she said on this program exactly one week ago, in response to the suggestion in your book that she was involved, that she was informed about these abuses at Guantanamo Bay, reported to Donald Rumsfeld about that, but that was the end of the story. Listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: There were also early on some concerns about conditions of overcrowding. But nothing that suggested, to my recollection, that there were abuses, anything -- abuses going on at Guantanamo, and certainly nothing that would suggest the kind of thing that went on at Abu Ghraib. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, you have different information, and that's been reported in your book?

HERSH: Well, yes, of course, not about Abu Ghraib, but about Guantanamo.

What happened is, by late summer of 2002, this is six months before the war in Iraq, there was a tremendous concern among certain experts, senior analysts in the CIA who knew the Islamic world, no intelligence was coming. We weren't getting anything useful. We had 600 people there, many of them plucked, you know, noncombatants, detainees from Afghanistan.

And so this -- an expert, somebody who I can't name, went down there. He knew Arabic very well.

BLITZER: You described him in great detail in the book without mentioning his name.

HERSH: Yes, I'm not...

BLITZER: Born in Palestine.

HERSH: Well, I've said that once, and I'm not...

BLITZER: I mean, there's not many guys at the CIA who were born in Palestine.

HERSH: ... saying that again. If anything, I shot my mouth off when I probably shouldn't have. I should have been more careful about what I said, because I don't want to do anything to identify him. And that was, you know, inadvertently I have, but going beyond it, the fact is he's an expert. I'm glad there are people like that in the CIA, which is why I'm very sorry I mentioned anything more than I should have.

By the way, the rules were my own. I got no guidance from anybody on what to say or not to say, except not to name him.

And anyway, he went down there and he talked to about, as he recollected, as he told others, 30 detainees. And half of them had nothing to do with anything. As his point was, if they weren't al Qaeda, then they will be when they get out.

He then subsequently, not in his written report, he told people he worked with in the CIA and in the White House -- and this comes not from people on the outside, people who worked for Condi. I've talked to a number of them. He was very, very worried about the conditions of the prisoner were in, including some senior people.

Things reached that point that General John Gordon, who was one of Condoleezza's specialist assistants for intelligence, a retired four-star Air Force general, was very concerned that there were basically war crimes, in a sense, being committed, abuses being -- the prisoners were being pushed around.

Now, do I know what she knows? Of course not. No journalist can know what's in someone's mind.

BLITZER: We are out of time. But I want to let David Frum respond.

Go ahead.

FRUM: Well, I will say that the theme -- the idea of the "Chain of Command" is the key one in this book and in this thinking about Abu Ghraib. Everybody condemns the abuses.

The question is, do we want to have the military and the CIA go back to their risk-averse, by-the-book mentality that they had before 9/11?

And the impact of the kind of scolding they're getting here is to say, "You know what? The safe way is the old way." And that old way is not safe for the people who pay their salaries.

BLITZER: From what I hear you saying though, David, and I'm going to just leave it like this. I want you to respond. Because some of our viewers will conclude from what you're saying that sometimes torture is productive.

FRUM: Torture is never, never productive. But what is sometimes, what is productive is a determination to look up every alley. There are stories in this book, for example, about the American forces snatching people who are genuinely al Qaeda and obtaining them for questioning. That's the thing that you want to see more of.

I agree with Seymour Hersh, everyone would, that torture doesn't get you the kind of information you need, besides being morally wrong.

BLITZER: On that note, we'll leave it alone. "Chain of Command" is the book. Thanks for joining us, Sy Hersh, David Frum.

HERSH: Thank you.

BLITZER: We'll continue this conversation.

Still ahead, as U.S. troops bear most of the burden in Iraq and Afghanistan, the world waits and watches. I'll speak live with three ambassadors to the United States from Germany, Spain and Australia. They will be here.

And later, running the country, running for re-election. The national party chairmen, Ed Gillespie and Terry McAuliffe, about the home stretch of campaign 2004.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

The war in Iraq strengthens the United States's ties with some countries, but strains relations with others. Joining us now, three ambassadors from U.S. allies, all posted here in Washington.

Wolfgang Ischinger is the German ambassador to the United States. That's not Wolfgang Ischinger, that's Carlos Westendorp. Now Carlos Westendorp is the Spanish ambassador; he's joining us from New York. Michael Thawley is the Australian ambassador. We're going to get all that straight.

Michael Thawley, Wolfgang Ischinger, Carlos Westendorp in New York, thanks to all of you for joining us.

Let me begin with Carlos Westendorp, the ambassador of Spain.

And I want your response to what Kofi Annan had to say this week in an interview with BBC Radio. He said, "You could not have credible elections in Iraq if security conditions continue as they are now."

What, if anything, is Spain prepared to do, Mr. Ambassador, to help get fair, democratic elections under way in Iraq, now that Spain has pulled its troops out of Iraq?

CARLOS WESTENDORP, SPANISH AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Well, the position of Spain is very clear. We are totally committed with the fight against terrorism. Together with our allies and friends. And also, we share the objectives of security and democracy in Iraq.

BLITZER: How do you do that? How does Spain plan on helping get those elections under way -- financially, militarily, civilian assistance? What specifically is Spain prepared to do?

WESTENDORP: Well, Spain accepted a resolution in NATO, which was not easy, given our position, mainly the position of the Spanish population. We asked not to be present in Iraq, and this resolution was in the way of training the Iraqi security forces. Spain is not going to participate in that, but is going to...

BLITZER: So...

WESTENDORP: Spain has accepted that.

BLITZER: But I don't hear anything specific what your government is willing to do to help Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the interim government establish elections there. Is there anything you're ready to do?

WESTENDORP: Well, this has to be considered, and could be perhaps in observation during the elections, but this is not yet started by the Spanish government.

BLITZER: All right.

Wolfgang Ischinger, what, if anything, is Germany prepared to do to help elections get under way in Iraq in January? WOLFGANG ISCHINGER, GERMAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: We have decided a long time ago that we will not participate in the war against Iraq. We did not send soldiers then, and my government is very firm in its conviction that it will not send soldiers into Iraq now.

Under that threshold, we are doing everything we can. We are training Iraqi soldiers. We are training Iraqi policemen. We are actually sending supplies. We are sending trucks. We are giving them a way to the future Iraqi armed forces. We are doing many different things.

We have also supported the force that is supposed to protect the United Nations in Iraq, as the United Nations tries to do its difficult job of helping this election process get under way.

BLITZER: So, let me just be clear, if the U.N. sends observers in -- and they're supposed to, hopefully soon -- to start getting these elections under way, Germany will send troops in to protect them, is that what you're saying?

ISCHINGER: No, no German troops remains...

BLITZER: Why no German troops?

ISCHINGER: Because we have had a very clear determination not only by the German government, but by the German parliament that we did not feel that it was right for us to participate in the war.

BLITZER: But that war is over with now. The invasion happened. There's a new interim government. Does Germany recognize this interim government in Baghdad?

ISCHINGER: Of course. We have just had a visit...

BLITZER: So why not help them?

ISCHINGER: Because there is no support, Wolf. There is no support. There is not a single political force in the German Bundestag. That's the simple truth.

BLITZER: So it's politics.

What about Australia? Australia, unlike Germany and Spain -- Spain was supportive of the Bush administration before the elections. No longer. What about Australia right now? How much criticism is your government getting in Australia for its willingness not only to support the U.S. government, but also to be a participant militarily in Iraq?

MICHAEL THAWLEY, AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Well, there's always been a strong division of opinion in Australia about the right or wrong of going in to Iraq with the United States in the first place.

But leaving that aside, there is certainly a very strong view that Australia should do what it can to help the new Iraqi government succeed and elections to be held.

BLITZER: Are you ready to expand your military involvement in Iraq?

THAWLEY: Well, right now we're in the middle of an election campaign in Australia. We'll be having elections on the 9th of October, and this is one of the issues that of course is part of the campaign.

But whatever happens there, I think it's fair to say that Australia will make a strong contribution in Iraq, because it's in the interests of the whole world that the new Iraqi government succeed and that elections be held, and it not become a source of instability in that part of the world and the rest of the world.

BLITZER: Ambassador Westendorp of Spain, as you know, your government, the new government in Spain after the Madrid terrorist bombings, has been widely criticized for, in effect -- and this is the accusation being made against your government -- succumbing to terrorist actions, pulling out your troops from Iraq in response to what happened in the Madrid train bombings.

In effect, the accusation being you're encouraging these kinds of terrorist acts.

Australia has elections coming up. There could be terror attacks against Australia to try to influence that election. As you know, November 2nd there are elections here in the United States.

What's wrong with that allegation being made against Spain?

WESTENDORP: I think it's totally wrong, because the opposition party at that time, the Socialist Party now in government, following the majority of the Spanish population, almost 95 percent of the Spanish population were against the war in Iraq, had made a very clear electoral promise many months before the elections that Spanish troops should be withdrawn if the Socialist Party came into power.

And that's what the present government has done, is just to fulfill an electoral commitment with the population, with the citizens.

BLITZER: But are you concerned, Mr. Ambassador, that it looks like Spain is succumbing to terror threats by capitulating, if you will, to these kinds of demands and pulling out of Iraq?

WESTENDORP: Not really. Spain is making a big effort, because being our population very much against war, we have made an effort in order to join our forces in the fight against terrorism and in peacekeeping operations. And this effort was very clear in Afghanistan, where we have sent 1,000 troops.

So, it is a clear commitment. It's an area where terrorism was the source of terrorism, and a very important one, and the Spain is there present together with other allies. BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador Ischinger from Germany, speaking about Afghanistan, Germany has troops, NATO has troops in Afghanistan, but they're woefully unprepared for expanding the presence in Afghanistan beyond Kabul and a few other locations.

Is Germany prepared to expand its military involvement in Afghanistan as part of the NATO framework?

ISCHINGER: Wolf, my country is probably doing more than any other of the NATO allies in Afghanistan. We are the country with the most troops, next to...

BLITZER: But are you willing to go even further?

ISCHINGER: We have just opened the second of what they call the PRTs, a provincial stronghold with civilian and military force.

We have been constantly upgrading and enlarging our military operations and our military presence, and we're fortunate to have...

BLITZER: All right.

ISCHINGER: ... on that particular issue, consistent bipartisan support in Germany.

BLITZER: But you're not willing to make a commitment to expand it right now?

ISCHINGER: We are expanding it. We're just saying...

BLITZER: The German involvement?

ISCHINGER: Yes, absolutely.

BLITZER: All right. One final question to the Australian ambassador.

As you take a look at the situation in Iraq right now, you've seen all the reports about the U.S. Intelligence Estimate. It could get a lot worse. Civil war, one of the scenarios, one of the options unfolding.

What is the Australian government's assessment right now about the situation in Iraq?

THAWLEY: Well, I think we have to be very realistic about the scale of the problems that we face in Iraq and the Iraqi interim government faces.

But I think we have got to keep our eye on two very important points. First is that Saddam Hussein is gone, and the Iraqi people, for the first time, have an opportunity to make something of their own choice in their own country. Second, there is an Iraqi government with a very capable leader. And third, we have a road map toward elections in January. And if we keep our eye on those things, then there's some prospect that we will win through. But we have to be realistic. It's an enormous challenge.

BLITZER: Michael Thawley, the ambassador of Australia, thanks very much.

Wolfgang Ischinger, thanks to you, the ambassador from Germany.

And, Carlos Westendorp, the ambassador from Spain, thanks to you, as well.

We'll continue these discussions.

Up next, we'll check on what's making news right now, and tough talk on the campaign trail this week. I'll speak live with the national party chairmen, Ed Gillespie and Terry McAuliffe. They're standing by.

More "LATE EDITION" straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

The candidates crisscrossed the map, new polls arrived almost every day, and TV screens hummed with ads this past week. Six weeks and counting to Election Day here in the United States.

Helping us keep count in Manchester, New Hampshire, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe. Here in Washington, D.C., the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ed Gillespie.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

We'll talk politics in a moment, but only a few moments ago, the president, down in Orange Beach, Alabama, touring hurricane-ravaged areas from Hurricane Ivan, spoke to first responders. Here's a little bit of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I want to thank the -- again, I want the thank the local officials for rising to the occasion. Most of all, I want to tell the citizens of this part of the world that we're praying for you, that we'll get help out here as quickly as we can, and that we ask God's blessings on you and your family. Thank you all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president speaking only a few moments ago.

Ed Gillespie, there are a bunch of articles on the op-ed page of The New York Times -- actually, I want to go to Terry McAuliffe on this. Democratic strategists, giving some advice to John Kerry, who seems to be, at least according to several of the national public opinion polls, in some trouble.

Hamilton Jordan, who worked for Jimmy Carter wrote this: "If you look at the last several months and you look at the Abu Ghraib scandal, the war in Iraq not going well and a sluggish economy and job losses in swing states like Michigan and Ohio, you'd say Kerry should be 10 points head by now."

What's wrong with the Kerry campaign? Why is it in trouble?

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: Well, first of all, the campaign is not in trouble. I am in New Hampshire now and I just got in from Michigan and Missouri, where I have spent the last three days unveiling Sportsmen for Kerry. I've been out there hunting. I can tell you, I have never in my life seen the enthusiasm that we have in these battleground states.

People are offering their advice, and that's great. But I can tell you, John Kerry is taking his message of creating 10 million new jobs his first term in office, a tax cut for 98 percent of the taxpayers, fully funding Leave No Child Behind, making sure on the issues of health care costs that he'll have a reduction of up to a thousand dollars on individuals to 45 million Americans today...

BLITZER: But let me interrupt, Terry, because in a lot of these polls, including our own CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, among likely voters, there's a double-digit lead that the president has nationally right now.

MCAULIFFE: Sure, but I could give you the Pew poll that was out last week. I could give you the Harris poll, the Christian Science Monitor. We had three polls out last week that showed us up or tied.

The issue is, as it relates to swing voters out there today, we are leading among the persuadable swing voters. So I'm very comfortable about where we have we are.

We have, as you know, about 44 days to go to the election. We're running against an incumbent president while at war.

George Bush has failed America, the first president in 75 years not to create a single net new job, 45 million Americans with no health insurance, underfunding Leave No Child Behind by over $30 billion, and he's made a mess out of Iraq. His own National Intelligence Estimates came out this week and said we have a mess in Iraq.

And George Bush keeps trying to put his -- he's like an ostrich. He keeps putting his head in the sand.

BLITZER: Ed Gillespie, there's a new Kerry ad that's out, and I want to play it a little bit of it, because it focuses in on a new strategy, at least a relatively new strategy that the Kerry campaign has undertaken. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: $200 billion. That's what we're spending in Iraq because George Bush chose to go it alone.

Now the president tells us we don't have the resources to take care of health care and education here at home. That's wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's an argument that could resonate with a lot of Americans who are in economic trouble without jobs. Why is the U.S. spending $200 billion in Iraq at a time when there's so many economic needs right here at home?

ED GILLESPIE, RNC CHAIRMAN: Well, Wolf, we're going to have victory in Iraq. That is critically important for our national security interests, that we not engage in a policy of retreat and defeat, which is what you increasingly hear out of the Kerry camp.

Of course, Senator Kerry is wrong when he says that we're somehow shortchanging education. In fact, funding for education K through 12 under this president has increased by 49 percent since he took office. First responders -- we saw the president with first responders today, a 460 percent increase. Health care, the president...

BLITZER: But you're funding a lot of that with an increase in the national debt. The deficit, going up to a record $450 billion. All of these projects, deficit spending, if you will.

GILLESPIE: But projections for the deficit are coming down, as you know, because of the economic growth that's resulted from the president's policies. You know, 50 percent of the deficit was attributable to low economic growth rates, which the president inherited. By moving forward with a pro-growth agenda, he's turned a recession into recovery.

BLITZER: The last few years, the deficit has not come down. It's gone up every year.

GILLESPIE: I said projections are coming down.

BLITZER: Projections are one thing. Hard numbers are another.

GILLESPIE: Well, but actually, if you look at the receipts that are coming in to the federal government as a result of the job growth and the now fewer payments going out because of that job creation, as well, 1.7 million jobs created over the past year.

And it's worth noting, Wolf, by the way, you know when Terry and others talk about this is the worst economy since the Great Depression, which is such a stretch, you know, Terry and many of his Democratic friends in 1996 were talking about how great the economy was under Bill Clinton.

The fact is unemployment, inflation, mortgage rates, real after- tax income are higher today than they were then.

BLITZER: Well, let me play for you, Terry McAuliffe, an excerpt of what Dick Cheney said this past week. Because what he's saying is so widely felt by so many people out there, mostly Republicans, although I assume some Democrats, that John Kerry has been all over the place when it comes to so many of these issues. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Senator Kerry today said he would always be straight with the American people on the good days and on the bad days. In Senator Kerry's case, that means when the headlines are good, he is for the war, and when his poll numbers are bad, he's against it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And reflecting that, Leon Panetta, the White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, writes this in today's New York Times:

"If John Kerry is to win this election, he will have to be much bolder about telling the American people exactly what he will do to make the country better. As a wise colleague in the House of Representatives once told me, 'Voters don't care so much about what you believe so long as you believe in something.'"

That's a serious allegation against John Kerry, that nobody really is sure where he stands.

MCAULIFFE: Well, let me say first of all, the Republicans have no credibility on this issue. I mean, let's look at the facts, Wolf.

George Bush told us that they had weapons of mass destruction. So did Dick Cheney. They did not.

They said that we would be welcomed over there as liberators. We were not.

They miscalculated on the costs. I mean, today the United States of America, we are bearing the brunt of 90 percent of the casualties today in Iraq and 90 percent of the cost. We do not have an international coalition.

BLITZER: Well, I'll interrupt on this point. John Kerry supported the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

MCAULIFFE: You bet. John Kerry wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein. John Kerry would not have gone into Iraq the way George Bush did it. What John Kerry first and foremost will do, he will always tell the truth.

Just look at George Bush this week going around telling us that things are rosy in Iraq. His own intelligence experts have come out. And as you know, there are three proposals. None of them good for the United States of America.

We have spent $200 billion in Iraq. We could be spending that on education and health care. BLITZER: But how can John Kerry focus in on doing what Leon Panetta recommends that he do, explain to the American public in a concise, relatively simple way where he stands?

MCAULIFFE: And he's going to do that this week. He's giving a major address on Iraq. The main issue is he would not do what George Bush would have done. He would have told the truth. And most importantly, he will get international troops over there to support us.

They will not go in and support us today because George Bush misled them. Nations are pulling out. We've seen countries pull out. Poland is now indicating they would like to pull out.

He will always tell the truth, and he also will make sure that our dependence on the Mideast oil, which is many of the results and many of the issues that we have today, that we don't have that dependence. And he will have a real, serious plan to move this country forward.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. I'm going to let you respond, Ed Gillespie, in a moment. But we have to take a quick break.

Much more coming up. We're taking your phone calls, as well, for the party chairmen, about this presidential campaign, among other things. We'll also talk about CBS News, "60 Minutes," and the president's service in the Texas Air National Guard.

You can weigh in on our Web poll question of the week: Have the presidential campaigns become too negative? Go to cnn.com/latedition. We'll have the results later this hour.

And we'll be back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We are talking with the two party chairmen: Ed Gillespie, the Republican Party chairman, Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic Party chairman.

Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House, made some controversial comments last night, Ed Gillespie, suggesting al Qaeda may want to get John Kerry elected in this election and launch an attack against the United States between now and November 2nd.

Do you accept that?

GILLESPIE: I'm not familiar with the speaker's comments. I know this: There's obviously in Spain, there was the terrorist activity that was seemed to be designed to affect an election outcome. I don't know that that's going to be the case in this instance.

Let me say this, by the way, if I could, Wolf, about Terry's comments on Iraq and Senator Kerry's position, because I don't want it to go unanswered. The fact is, Senator Kerry has moved beyond inconsistency when it comes to Iraq to utter incoherence. When you try to figure out what his position is, sometimes it's painful. It's like pig Latin, trying to figure out what he's trying to say.

BLITZER: I want to get Terry McAuliffe's reaction to what the speaker suggested last night, that al Qaeda may prefer John Kerry, more accommodating, if you will, than the president in the war on terror.

MCAULIFFE: You know, outrageous statements, once again trying to scare Americans.

You know what Americans want us to talk about? They want to know about they're going to get a quality job with benefits to it, how their children are going to get a quality education and their parents are going to live in a dignified retirement.

But this comes right on the heels of the vice president, Dick Cheney, saying, you know, you need to vote for us or else you're going to get a terrorist attack. It is disgraceful. There should have no room for this in our political discourse.

And I remind you that, you know, we could have done a lot better. The president of the United States on August 6th of 2001 was told in his briefing that America was going to be attacked by al Qaeda and they may use airplanes. He didn't call the FAA. He didn't leave his month-long vacation. He sat down there.

Americans resent this type of attacks on Kerry and others as it relates to our national security. We are all together as one when it relates to protecting the country. John Kerry will keep you safer.

BLITZER: Terry McAuliffe, on the CBS News, the "60 Minutes" document flap, documents purporting to show the president disobeyed orders when he was in the Texas Air National Guard, some conservative Republicans, critics of the Democratic Party, suggesting that Democratic operatives may have been involved in faking these documents, if in fact they turn out to be fake.

Has the Democratic Party -- you're the chairman -- looked into this entire uproar right now? Have you done an internal look to see if Democratic Party officials may have been involved this?

MCAULIFFE: Yes. I have checked after these issues were raised, and no Democrats, none at the Democratic National Committee or the John Kerry for President, had anything to do with the preparations of the documents.

But, I mean, you want to talk about issues with documents? How about the president's National Intelligence Estimates, which says the mess we have in Iraq today.

The issues that I've talked about as it relates to the president's Guard service came out of the Associated Press lawsuit. Listen, it's clear that he was a privileged son. He used connections -- his daddy was a congressman -- to jump over hundreds of people.

And, as you know, now we know with the documents out that didn't perform when he should have. He was missing six months in 1972 and three months in 1973. It goes to his character and credibility, which relate to the president's activities today on all issues.

BLITZER: And he did get a honorable discharge. Do you still stand by your earlier comments that he was AWOL, Terry McAuliffe?

MCAULIFFE: I do. But let me tell you this: Do you think the son of a congressman is going to get a dishonorable discharge? Absolutely not. He did not show up.

But we're not fighting over a war 35 years ago. It goes to his character and credibility. He is misleading us on Iraq. He's misleading on the deficit, on jobs, on health care and education. And it is what it is.

GILLESPIE: You know, the only two people, I think, left in America today who are standing by the CBS report are Terry McAuliffe and Dan Rather.

MCAULIFFE: I'm not standing by the report.

GILLESPIE: Terry, you've still got it up in the on your Web site, don't you? Yes, you do.

MCAULIFFE: I don't stand by the CBS report.

GILLESPIE: Well, then why do you have it on your Web site?

MCAULIFFE: I have nothing to do with the CBS -- call Dan Rather up. I'll give you a quarter.

GILLESPIE: Why do you have it on your Web site?

MCAULIFFE: I've got my own evidence.

GILLESPIE: Nothing Terry -- if I might, Terry. You just went on for a while, and I allowed you to.

The fact is that nothing that has come forward since Terry first made this rash accusation on this program about eight months ago has changed.

The president served honorably. He got his points. He was honorably discharged.

And now Terry, after spending about 3 1/2 minutes talking about the Guard service, as he's been doing all week, now says, oh, but we don't want to talk about 35 years ago. The fact is, it's all he wants to talk about, when we're focused on trying to win the war on terror. We're talking about policies that affect people today.

BLITZER: All right. GILLESPIE: The president put forward a very positive agenda in New York City. That's why he's up in the polls today, because that's what people want to talk about.

BLITZER: We're all out of time, but is it still on your Web site, as far as you know, Terry McAuliffe?

MCAULIFFE: I've been out hunting for the last three days...

GILLESPIE: Yes.

MCAULIFFE: ... so I don't know if it's on the Web site. I'll check when I get back, Wolf.

GILLESPIE: And you're going to take it down if it is?

MCAULIFFE: Right. I'm not -- you and Eddie are sitting in Washington, man. I'm out here with the...

(CROSSTALK)

GILLESPIE: Are you going to take it down if it is, Terry?

MCAULIFFE: I'll check it out and get back to you, Ed. I need to get back to Washington.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We are all out of time, unfortunately. You guys are having way too much fun, talking about politics.

Ed Gillespie and Terry McAuliffe, thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, we'll tell you the results of our Web poll question of the week: Have the presidential campaigns become too negative? We'll have those results when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here are the results of our Web question of the week. Take a look at this. Remember, though, it's not a scientific poll.

That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Thanks very much for joining us.

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