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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Hamid Karzai; Interview With Chuck Hagel, Joe Biden

Aired December 12, 2004 - 12:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 8 p.m. in Baghdad, 9:30 p.m. in Kabul, Afghanistan. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
We'll get to our interview with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, in just a few minutes. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Now to Afghanistan and what's been a historic week for that country. Its first-ever democratically elected leader, Hamid Karzai, was sworn into office. Leaders from around the world, including the U.S. vice president, Dick Cheney, attended Karzai's inauguration. He had served as Afghanistan's interim leader after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.

Just a short while ago, I spoke with Hamid Karzai about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the lingering threat from the Taliban and much more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: President Karzai, thanks so much for joining us. Congratulations on your election. Welcome back to "Late Edition."

Let's get right to the issue of your election. What was the key to this electoral success, given the fact there were so many opponents, terrorists, Taliban, al Qaeda operatives who were trying to derail the election?

PRES. HAMID KARZAI, AFGHANISTAN: The desire of the Afghan people for a good life, for a life ruled by law, for peace. The other element, the tremendous cooperation of the international community. On top of that, the United States.

BLITZER: What were the major lessons that you learned from your experience with this election in Afghanistan that you think might apply to the upcoming scheduled elections in Iraq, July (sic) 30th?

KARZAI: The major lesson in Afghanistan was that the Afghan people wanted change from the tyranny of terrorism. That was proven three years ago. And every step that we took, the Afghan people have proven that. The lesson that we have for Iraq is, I hope the Iraqi people will also recognize this opportunity, and learn that, just like the Afghans, that suffered for the past 30 years, fighting the Soviets, and then the internal fighting between political parties and armed people, and then the tyranny of the Taliban destroyed Afghanistan, ruined it, and brought our life to nothing.

The Iraqi people also gain nothing if they allow these people who come from outside and destroy their lives. They must go to polls. They must take this opportunity, elect their people to parliament, and have a government of their own, and have peace. That's a desire for them and the way out for them, from our side.

BLITZER: From your vantage point, and you're in the region not far from Iraq, what does it look like? Are you optimistic that there can be a peaceful move towards democracy and successful elections in Iraq?

KARZAI: I saw something very hopeful the other night, when some Iraqi political parties and personalities have fielded about 200 candidates for the elections. And I was very happy when I saw that this was backed by Ayatollah Sistani.

This was the first hopeful thing that emerged from there. And I'm glad to see that.

I hope other Iraqi political parties and personalities and tribal chiefs will follow and will do the same and will take their country toward elections and peace, as a result of that.

BLITZER: You have scheduled parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, in the spring. How does that look? Does it look like everything is moving on schedule, peacefully, toward those elections as well?

KARZAI: Yes. Everything is moving on schedule. The technical preparations are taking place. The political parties are trying to have as many candidates as they can and to win the elections.

The parliament will complete the state structure in Afghanistan. It's something we need very, much to have the -- a legitimate order established in Afghanistan.

So I'm looking forward to a parliament and to a complete Democratic system in the country to emerge in another, hopefully, five-to-six months.

BLITZER: The last time we spoke, I interviewed you here on "Late Edition," and you said this. You said, "We will definitely catch him one day. No fugitive can run forever, nowhere in the world. They will be caught, one way or the other." You were referring to Osama bin Laden, Mullah Mohammed Omar and other al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

Let's speak specifically about Osama bin Laden. Are you any closer today to finding the al Qaeda leader than you were six months ago?

KARZAI: Well, the events in Afghanistan have proven that terrorism is defeated. Politically, they are gone. The Afghan people, the international community, the U.S. people, together with us, have defeated them.

Now, for a man like him, who is on the run, who is hiding, I would repeat my words, that no fugitive can run forever. We will get him, sooner or later. And trust me on that. We will do that.

BLITZER: Are you any closer today than you were six months ago?

KARZAI: In terms of the specifics of the Afghan nation and the coalition against terrorism, yes, we are much closer. In terms of getting him physically, let's count on our luck and good pursuit.

BLITZER: Where do you believe he's still hiding out, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, or perhaps someplace else?

KARZAI: It's very difficult to say where he is hiding. He cannot be away from this region. He definitely is in this region. Specifically, to say he's on the border or in Afghanistan, or inside Pakistan, or somewhere else, would not be a proper thing for me to say. But we can say definitely that he's around this region and that he can't run forever.

BLITZER: There was talk that the Pakistani military was redeploying some of its forces from South Waziristan, along the border, and not necessarily doing everything that it could to find him. That was disputed last Sunday when I spoke with President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. He insisted they were doing everything they could.

Do you have confidence that the Pakistani military, the Pakistani intelligence community, are wholly committed to finding Osama bin Laden?

KARZAI: They are. They have proven that in the past few months. They did a dedicated fight against terrorists on their own territory. They lost the lives of their soldiers, just like the American families lost the lives of their soldiers, in Afghanistan and in the fight against terrorism and in the liberation of our country.

The conduct of the elections went very well indeed in Pakistan for Afghan refugees. Over 5,500 (ph) Afghan refugees -- 100,000 Afghan refugees participated. They arrested a few days ago, the person who claimed to be the leader of Jaish-e Muslimeen, who was behind the kidnapping of the three U.N. workers.

We are satisfied with what Pakistan is doing. If together all of us can do more in this regard, it would be better for all of us. But I am grateful to the Pakistani conduct in the past few months. And I'm grateful to the commitment that President Musharraf has shown to the fight against terrorism and to helping Afghanistan, and for the very important thing, for the very (UNINTELLIGIBLE) operations that we had there. BLITZER: Some analysts, experts have suggested Osama bin Laden might be hiding in Iran. Do you have any reason to believe that's possible?

KARZAI: I haven't heard that, sir. I cannot comment on that.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the...

KARZAI: I don't know that.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Taliban perhaps trying to make a comeback despite the elections, despite the progress inside Afghanistan.

Why is it so hard to find Mullah Mohammed Omar, the former leader of the Taliban?

KARZAI: Well, first of all, nobody has really seen Mullah Mohammed Omar. We don't know as to how he looks. He can look like thousands of other Afghans.

Secondly, he's hiding somewhere, another fugitive that's hiding.

So in his case, I will repeat my words as I repeated with Osama bin Laden: "We'll get him one day."

And I can tell you, we were close to these guys several times before. We might get very close to them again, and next time, we might get so close as to getting them.

BLITZER: Here is a very disturbing development, as you yourself acknowledged in Afghanistan, the opium production.

The poppy cultivation is up 64 percent, according to the United Nations, and the households cultivating opium, up 35 percent.

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan said recently this, he said: "The narcotics trade poses a mortal threat to Afghanistan. Narcotics pose a threat to Afghanistan's political future. Drug dealers could take over the political system. Narcotics pose a threat to the economy. Criminal gangs and Mafia can bring the economy under their control. Afghanistan, unfortunately, is the world's largest producer now of illegal drugs of opium."

How do you get this situation under control? There's such -- it's such a devastating, disruptive element, not only in your country but worldwide?

KARZAI: Well, sir, we are, as a nation, embarrassed about that. We -- I am not going to detail the circumstances that got us into this situation, but stated in one word, it was the misery of the past 30 years that forced Afghans to go to the cultivation of poppy.

The Afghans have lost their pomegranate orchards to poppy fields. The Afghans have lost their vineyards to poppy fields, their apricots orchards to poppy fields. It's not a happy thing for us. The Afghans don't like to be known as poppy growers. And we saw that two days ago, at this grand national conference that we had against poppy, in which I spoke and lots of other Afghan personalities spoke.

And there was a commitment by them to fight poppy. The Afghan Clergy Council, the Afghan religious body, has made statements about this every time they've met.

As a matter of fact, they made another statement today directed at me, urging me to stand by the words that I made and fight poppies.

We don't like as a nation to be growing poppies in our country.

I promise you, and I like that American people and the rest of the world should know this, that we will fight poppy. It is not good for us. It hurts our economy. It destroys our government. It brings us a bad name. The money goes to the rest of the world. It doesn't come to us. And even if it came to us, we don't want that kind of money.

So we will fight it. We want a legitimate, honorable life together with the rest of the world. We know it hurts us, it hurts you, it hurts everybody. So we will fight it.

BLITZER: When will we begin to see a reduction in the cultivation or the production of these poppies, opium, in Afghanistan?

KARZAI: We plan to destroy the fields. We have planed a certain percentage of the fields to be destroyed this year. And we will definitely go up to the objective. Just, let's hope, that we will succeed in doing what we have planned.

And once we have done that, I can come to you, maybe in a few months' time, to say how much we will destroy this year, completely, and how much we'll go to the next year. And how we are going to replace poppies by alternative crops and by substitute farming and economy. That will take a few years to complete.

But we have resolved to fight poppies, and we will begin to destroy some of the fields this year. And we will do it.

BLITZER: One final question, Mr. President. A letter that was written to you by the group Human Rights Watch. Among other things, they wrote this, on December 3rd:

"U.S. forces continue to arrest and hold Afghans at detention sites around the country, incommunicado and indefinitely, without regard to and in violation of Afghan law. Allegations of physical abuse continue to be raised, and the U.S. military's response to such allegations remains inadequate. The Afghan government is responsible for human rights violations committed on its soil, even if committed by foreign armed forces acting on its behalf."

You've seen this letter. Is this true? KARZAI: The United States came here three years ago to fight terrorism, together with the Afghan people. The result of that fight was the liberation of Afghanistan, and the subsequent democracy and freedom and a better life for the Afghan people.

The Afghans recognize that. The Afghans know that without that fight, without that presence, without the presence of the American troops in Afghanistan and that fight, Afghanistan would have not been what it is today, a country with a better economy, a country with better life, a country with institutions emerging, and you saw the democratic values shown by the people of Afghanistan.

Now, we also know that this did not come to us or to America, or to the rest of the world, without a price. It came to us with the price of the Afghan lives. It came to us with the price of the American lives. American children shed their blood here in order to free us, and to free America from terrorism. We have as a nation a very clear understanding and a deep appreciation of that. We are very grateful for it.

Now, along the way, mistakes are made. All of us make that mistake. The American troops have made mistakes here. The Afghan government has made mistakes here. Others have made mistakes there. The coalition forces have made mistakes there. The Afghan people have seen that, and have accepted it.

From now, onwards. Of course, as the Afghan government establishes itself more solidly, the recourse by the Afghan people is, that a lot of the operations that are being done should be done in coordination with the Afghan government. We have picked up, this up, we've discussed it with the American government, with the U.S. forces here, with the U.S. ambassador here. There is complete agreement on that. We are moving toward improving that situation. It's something on which we're clear, we're on top of it, and we will resolve it.

BLITZER: President Karzai, that's all the time we have. Once again, congratulations to you on your election. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the people of Afghanistan. Thanks for joining us on "Late Edition."

KARZAI: Thank you, Mr. Blitzer. Very nice of you. Thanks to the American people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Hamid Karzai, speaking with me just a short while ago.

Just ahead, we'll turn to Iraq and two top U.S. senators just back from Baghdad. Republican Chuck Hagel and Democrat Joe Biden weigh in on what's going on right now.

And later, 49 days until Iraq's national elections. Will they be free and fair? We'll get special insight from a prominent Iraqi author, the man who may be his country's next ambassador to the United States.

"Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

A week of key developments as the U.S. House and Senate finally approved intelligence reform legislation, backed by President Bush. But his choice to be the next homeland security secretary, Bernard Kerik, suddenly withdrew his name from consideration. That followed the unexpectedly tough questions the U.S. defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, faced from soldiers preparing to go to Iraq.

Joining us now to talk about all of this and much more, two key U.S. senators who have just visited Iraq and the region: in London, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. He is a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is also a member of the Intelligence Committee. And in Delaware, Senator Joe Biden. He is the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senators, welcome back to "Late Edition." Thank you very much for joining us.

I'll begin with you, Senator Biden. Did Bernard Kerik do the right thing by withdrawing as a possible secretary for homeland security?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Absolutely. Absolutely. He did the right thing.

Quite frankly, as Rudy Giuliani said, having a problem where you have maybe an undocumented alien, maybe -- I don't know the details, nor does anyone else that I'm aware of -- having not paid properly withheld, we have been through this, you know, going all the way back to the attorney general's slot and the first administration of President Clinton. And this is a man who is going to be in charge of immigration.

He did the right thing, and I'm glad he did it.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, was it just the nanny issue? Or were there other issues in his past that could have caused him confirmation problems?

BIDEN: Well, I think he did the graceful thing, and he stepped down. And so I am not going to add to the speculation as to whether there may have been other things. The nanny thing was enough all by itself.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Hagel? How much responsibility should the president and the White House staff accept for not thoroughly vetting this nominee in advance of the uproar that's followed the past few days?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Well, nominees are always the responsibility of the president and his team. I don't know enough of the details, Wolf, to be able to comment much beyond that. I know what I have read in the papers. And like Joe Biden, without knowing more of the details, I think I will leave it at that.

BLITZER: Do you have a candidate, Senator Hagel, that you would like to see emerge as possible secretary of homeland security?

HAGEL: Well, there are many talented individuals out there who could do that job, Wolf. I think we would be looking for someone with some experience, with a wider-lens understanding of law enforcement, certainly security issues, immigration and, I think, also, someone that has an understanding about the world and our role in the world, diplomacy.

I don't see this as a tunnel-vision kind of a job. I think you want to widen the lens on this a little bit, because that is such a critical job with such a wide, deep portfolio of so many responsibilities. I think you are looking for someone who has that kind of wide, vast experience in a background.

There are Democrats out there. There are Republicans that are out there. And I'm sure the president and his team will find the right person this time.

BLITZER: You want to throw out a name, Senator Hagel?

HAGEL: I don't have any candidates.

BLITZER: All right.

What about you, Senator Biden? There has been a lot of speculation about a lot of names, including one Democratic senator, Joe Lieberman, a friend from Connecticut. What do you think?

BIDEN: Joe would be great. But I would like to find a Republican from a blue state. Maybe we could pick up a seat.

(LAUGHTER)

I shouldn't be so facetious.

But all kidding aside, Joe would be great.

I agree with Senator Hagel. And I think this is an important point to emphasize: Up until now, we have thought of the homeland security as sort of the local cop. The truth of the matter is, the guy who is heading -- or woman who heads Homeland Security Department has to have a clear understanding of American foreign policy, has to be able to sit at the Cabinet table and be able to have his or her view heard along with the secretary of state and the secretary of defense.

We have put an incredibly large number of people under that office. We have given it a wide, wide area of responsibility. And it has been a stepchild up to now.

So, I hope whomever it is has a broader portfolio than just merely being a first-rate law enforcement officer, as Bernie Kerik was.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, I want you to listen to this exchange, a very famous exchange that occurred a couple days ago in Kuwait. A U.S. soldier asking a very pointed question to the defense secretary. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPECIALIST THOMAS WILSON, TENNESSEE NATIONAL GUARD: Now, why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfill for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That answer has been widely criticized, the answer that Donald Rumsfeld gave.

And you issued a strong statement condemning the fact there is not enough armor yet for vehicles going into Iraq.

Is it time for Donald Rumsfeld, in your opinion, to step down?

BIDEN: I thought is was time for him to step down a year and a half ago.

But, look, Donald Rumsfeld can't have it both ways. If, in fact, we went with the Army we had, and it's this ill-equipped, then in fact we should have waited. Because this was a war of choice that I supported. There was no sense of urgency to go when we did.

The truth is, as I believe Senator Hagel would agree with me because we have been there four times together, we did not go with the army we had. We had an incredibly heavy mechanized army we left at home.

Speaking with the general of the 1st Cav, who was in charge of 1st Cavalry, an honorable, tough, straight-shooting division, pointed out to us at the front end of the war he wasn't allowed to take his heavy equipment. He's still not able to take all his heavy equipment.

We went into war without the hundreds of thousands of troops that we needed.

And, so, you can't have it both ways here. We did not go with the army we had.

And I'll conclude by saying that this is not a surprise to Joe Biden or Chuck Hagel. I remember Chuck Hagel, when we went the first time, a year ago August, Senator Lugar, Hagel and Biden, 117 degrees. I turned around and wondered where Chuck was.

As an old Army guy, Chuck, as a sergeant, was back talking to a noncommissioned officer behind us, asking about whether they had everything they had and what the morale was.

It was clear then there was not available. They knew it. They knew it then. They haven't done anything about it.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Hagel?

HAGEL: Well, I have always believed that if you want to know what's going on in the Army, go to the guys who really fight and the guys who lead and are the backbone of the Army, and they're the noncommissioned officers. And that's exactly what I did do. Joe is correct.

But beyond that, a couple observations.

One, Secretary Rumsfeld's response to this young soldier -- that soldier and those men and women there deserved a far better answer from their secretary of defense than a flippant comment. That might work in a news room where you can be cute with the television audience but not when you're putting these men and women in harm's way, who will be wounded, some, some will be killed.

And I wonder what the parents thought. I wonder what the parents thought, the parents who have men and women over there, sons and daughter who are fighting. I don't think they appreciated that answer.

Enough about that. What we've got here...

BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt you, Senator Hagel.

HAGEL: Yes?

BLITZER: Let me interrupt you, Senator Hagel, because it sounds to me like you're expressing a vote of no confidence in the defense secretary.

HAGEL: Well, the secretary of defense reports to the president of the United States. I've had my differences with this secretary of defense, and I have been very clear on it.

I don't like the way he has done some things. I think they have been irresponsible. I don't like the way we went into Iraq. We didn't go into Iraq with enough troops. He's dismissed his general officers. He's dismissed all outside influence. He's dismissed outside counsel and advice. And he's dismissed a lot of inside counsel and advice from men and women who have been in military uniforms for 25 and 30 years.

One of the reasons we've got this problem, Wolf, in my opinion, is that we were unprepared for what we were going to face, what we are facing, in a post-Saddam Iraq. And this is just one more manifestation of the problem.

Listen, when I talk to these young troops that come back from Nebraska, National Guard Reserves, active duty, and I sit down with them alone in a room and no one there, no cameras, I ask them -- I was hearing some of these same things over the last year: not the right kind of weaponry, personal body armor they didn't have. They didn't have armor for their vehicles.

But yet too many of our leaders in this administration were going around the country telling and reassuring Americans our troops had everything they wanted. Certainly the Congress was passing a lot of money to make sure they had everything they wanted.

So there are a lot of pieces in this.

I do think there is some good news. I do think the military is working to resolve these issues. I do think we are putting more armor on those vehicles and we are getting the personal armor to these troops and the weapons.

But it goes beyond that, Wolf.

BIDEN: Hey, Wolf, can I make one...

BLITZER: I want to take a quick break, Senators. Hold on one second.

BIDEN: OK.

BLITZER: But very briefly to you, Senator Hagel, were you disappointed that the president asked Rumsfeld to stay on?

HAGEL: The president's decision is his decision. He will live with that decision. He'll have to defend that decision. And that's all I want to say about it.

BLITZER: All right, Senators, stand by. We have a lot more to talk about. We're going to take a quick break, though.

We'll also have a quick check of what's in the news right now, including an update on today's bombing attack in Gaza. There are casualties, extensive casualties.

Then, securing Iraq. Is it safe enough to hold elections in January? January 30th, to be specific. More insight from Senators Hagel and Biden. That's coming up on "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The terrorists will do all they can to delay and disrupt free elections in Iraq. And they will fail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Violence won't deter Iraq from holding national elections in January, that's the word from President Bush.

Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're talking with two key U.S. senators, who have just returned from Iraq. Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, and Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware.

Senator Biden, are you convinced the elections can occur on January 30th?

BIDEN: I think so. I'm not certain. It's a matter of two bad choices. One, I think the risk of postponing them is greater than the risk of having them, but it's going to be a close call. The question will be, as you know, Wolf, when it is over, will enough Sunnis have been able to vote or willing to vote that it will be viewed as a legitimate election? But I think the alternative is one that is even more dangerous, postponing it. And -- and -- what that may do in the Shia areas of the country.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Hagel? We keep hearing from top Bush administration officials, from Iraqi leaders that of the 18 provinces, 14 or 15 of them are pretty safe. It's only three or four where there is any serious problems. That would be around the Sunni triangle, the area where the Sunnis are launching in large part this insurgency. Do you think realistically there can be a fair election if the Sunnis don't participate?

HAGEL: I don't know, Wolf. One of the individuals that we met with last week when we were in Iraq at least gave me some more assurance that this can come off, this election on January 30th in a fair, free way. That was the U.N. coordinator over there, Carlos Valenzuela, as well as the interim Iraqi government electoral commission members that we met with.

Listen, this is going to be imperfect. It's going to be raggedy. But just as Senator Biden said, I don't think we have any option here. I don't see how we present a better situation or how we enhance the possibility of a better election by waiting. That would just develop a larger and wider and deeper vacuum for the insurgents to strike and strike and strike.

But I do think that the Iraqi people now have it within their power, with this first set of elections -- and I think most of the Iraqis will understand this and do understand it -- to start developing their own future, by electing their own national assembly, starting to take ownership of their own destiny. And the sooner that the Iraqis can govern themselves, defend themselves, and have a sense of that confidence, the sooner then we will see a positive outcome. And I think that quite honestly, Wolf, is the exit strategy for the United States and our partners there in Iraq.

BLITZER: All right, Senators, I want both of you please to stand by. Our correspondent in Israel, John Vause, is standing by with word on the latest explosion along the border between Gaza and Egypt. John, tell our viewers in the United States and around the world what has just happened.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there appears to be two very, very powerful blasts in a tunnel which Palestinian militants had dug under an Israeli checkpoint separating Gaza and Egypt. The first explosion happened about an hour ago. Now, according to a flier which was being issued in Gaza for the militant Islamic group Hamas, they say that tunnel was packed with 1.5 tons of explosives.

Now, as far as casualties, there is a great deal of confusion at this stage. We are hearing a number of reports. Initially there were as many as seven casualties on the Israeli side, up to 10. A short time ago, an aide to the Israeli prime minister, Ra'anan Gissin told the Associated Press that as many as four Israeli soldiers have been killed.

After that first blast, which happened about two hours ago, the area came under sustained attack from mortar fire as well as small arms fire. The Israeli Defense Forces tell us that hampered their efforts to evacuate the wounded.

Now, within the last hour, there was a second explosion from within that tunnel as well. Now, this is a checkpoint which Palestinians use to cross from Gaza into Egypt. It is manned by both Israelis and Palestinians. However, the Palestinians stopped work around 4:30 local time, an hour before the first explosion.

So right now, as far as the death toll, we are hearing from Ra'anan Gissin, who is an aide to the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, four Israeli soldiers have been killed. And we're told that the casualty count could in fact be much higher than that. This is still a developing story, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John Vause, we'll be getting back to you with more details.

Senator Biden, let's pick it up with you, I know both you and Senator Hagel also visited the region, speaking with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, including the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This would appear to be the most significant Palestinian attack since the death of Yasser Arafat. What does it say to you about the prospects of reviving the peace process and the January 9th scheduled Palestinian elections?

BIDEN: I will be able to tell you that better when you see the reaction of Abu Mazen and the reaction of Sharon. It was clear that Sharon understood and Abu Mazen understood, and when I went down and met with, and later Chuck met with Mubarak, that this was going to happen. No one doubted that there would be an attempt to disrupt the -- the evacuation of Gaza by the settlers over this long haul.

And so the question always has been, when this happens, will it demonstrate that Abu Mazen is going to do something about it, trying to do something about it, have the capacity to do something about it, and how will Sharon respond to his perception as to what the new Palestinian chairman has done?

And that is going to tell the story. No one, though, doubts, no one doubts that there will be more, more terrorist attacks in order to disrupt what everyone has felt for the first time in a long time, Wolf, that both sides, the Palestinian new leadership and the Israeli present leadership, for the first time in my recent memory, both think they have someone they can deal with.

But it will depend on how each of them respond to what was predictable, and that is additional terrorist attacks.

BLITZER: What's your assessment of the situation right now, Senator Hagel, based on the conversations you had with the Israelis and the Palestinians?

HAGEL: Well, and I might add, as Joe mentioned, with President Mubarak, because Egypt is a very key player in all of this. Especially in helping establish security along that border. And that is a very important part of whatever happens. Not just January 9th, but as we move forward.

So with that said, I would just note that it's very important here, that both sides not allow the terrorists, those who want to sabotage these elections and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the road map, not allow them to hold the future hostage.

We do know, as Senator Biden said, that there are those strong forces out there who are doing everything and will do everything they can to sabotage the elections and the peace process. There is going to be risk on both sides. For Prime Minister Sharon, as well as the new Palestinian president. We understand that. But we have to stay focused. That means we especially the United States, our quartet partners, to support the Palestinian leadership, that new elected leadership, as well as the Israelis and Prime Minister Sharon.

I'm very pleased, by the way, that the Labor Party is going to be part of the coalition of Sharon's government. We met with Shimon Peres when we were there. Peres is a very significant player in this. I think he can help Prime Minister Sharon. So we must stay very focused and steady with all of the support that's going to be required.

BIDEN: May I add one thing about this, Wolf?

BLITZER: Go ahead.

BIDEN: Motive is critically important here. And I think that's what is different this time, that I think Sharon will look at. The Israeli intelligence, as you know, is very good. They're going to know pretty well whether or not Abu Mazen has attempted to and will continue to attempt to crack down on the militias, in this case if it was Hamas who conducted this.

If they are clear that he is doing all within his relatively limited power now to do something about it, I don't think it will derail the process. But if for some reason they conclude, Israeli intelligence concludes, that he has not attempted to deal with this kind of activity then I think we are in trouble.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to take another quick break, Senators, but we have more ground to cover.

Just to update our viewers, an explosion along the border between Gaza and Egypt. At least four Israeli soldiers dead. We're monitoring that situation for you. Much more with Senators Biden and Hagel coming up, including this question -- I'll ask them whether they're planning on runs for the U.S. presidency in 2008. A lot of people want to know the answer to that.

"Late Edition" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're continuing our conversation with Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel and Delaware Democratic Senator Joe Biden.

And I'll start with you, Senator Hagel, on this question. A lot of controversy, the oil-for-food program in Iraq, the scandal, the billions that were diverted. Do you think, as Senator Norm Coleman does, that Kofi Annan should resign as secretary-general of the U.N.?

HAGEL: No, I do not, Wolf. First of all, we do not have all the facts. One of the most respected American public servants of our time, the former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, who is heading up the United Nations investigation of this, has not come back yet with a full report. He has noted recently he'll be sharing all that information with appropriate congressional committees. We are still looking at it in the Congress. To say at this point that the secretary-general should resign is -- is very, very premature. And I don't think we should be talking about that. We should be talking about finding out what went wrong, figuring out how it doesn't happen again.

But I think what's going to happen when all the facts are in here, Wolf, a lot of people had some responsibility here. And a lot of people didn't fulfill that responsibility. And therefore, this thing turned into a very big fiasco.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Biden, do you want Kofi Annan to resign or stay on?

BIDEN: I think it's too early to tell that, and I agree with the reputation of Volcker, and I think we should wait.

But I want to point out also, all this money went missing with contracts renewed with the United States sitting on the Security Council voting to renew those contracts. So there is a lot of responsibility to go around here, and I think it's too easy a solution, even if it is the primary -- even if it ends up that Kofi Annan, the facts point that he should resign. There is a lot of other people who are culpable here. But I think it's too early to tell that. Volcker is a man of great integrity. Let's wait for his report. Let's not get ahead of the curve.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, there is a front page story in "The Washington Post" today, suggesting the Bush administration doesn't necessarily want to see the Mohamed ElBaradei stay on as secretary- general -- or the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and in fact has been eavesdropping on his conversations with Iranians. I don't know if you saw that story...

BIDEN: I did.

BLITZER: ... but do you have confidence in Mohamed ElBaradei?

BIDEN: I have found him to be a pretty straight shooter. He hasn't given the administration what they wanted to hear. He turned out to be right about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. I think he -- and I agree with the administration, he's a little -- go a little too slow with regard to Iran. But this is really a dangerous and slippery slope. That story also pointed out there is significant debate within the administration of how rough they should get on this and how coarse this should be.

So far, to the best of my knowledge, there is nothing in any of those, that eavesdropping, that has indicated that ElBaradei has done anything that was untoward, illegal or inappropriate. I think it's a very slippery, dangerous slope, as we are trying to reestablish ourselves as a player in the international community. I would be very careful if I were them.

BLITZER: All right. We're almost out of time, but I want to ask both of you a political question, in terms of 2008. Lots of names already floating. Never too early to talk about presidential politics.

BIDEN: Oh, yeah.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, what are the prospects you could face if you were running as the Republican candidate? Joe Biden, who might be running as the Democratic candidate?

HAGEL: Well, first of all, Joe Biden would be an excellent candidate for president. I don't know what party he chooses, but if he chooses a party and runs for president, he will be a good candidate. The American people should take and would take a long look at him.

I think the American people are exhausted right now with presidential politics, Wolf. Interesting question, fun question. Four years away as we all know is a long time. I'll make a decision about my political future after the 2006 elections.

BLITZER: What about you, Senator Biden?

BIDEN: It's a lifetime. We have plenty of time to make that decision. But one serious point -- and by the way, will I consider it? Yes, I would consider it. But you know, a lot depends on whether or not my point of view is compatible with where the Democrats want to be after the 2006 election. We'll look. A lot of work to be done in the meantime.

One thing Chuck makes a point about, we kid about this, but one of the things that is really important is I think the country is looking for candidates in both parties -- and I'm not counting myself as one -- who, in fact, are ready to appeal to red and blue alike, and not, and move away from the vitriol that we saw in the last election. And there is a number of candidates in the Republican Party who would fit that bill, including Chuck.

BLITZER: All right, we'll leave it right there, Senators. A good discussion. Thanks to both of you for joining us here on "Late Edition."

BIDEN: Thanks for having us.

BLITZER: We'll have you back.

HAGEL: Thank you.

BLITZER: And we'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition."

What political landmines lay in Iraq's future? We'll explore that topic with a prominent Iraqi author in just a few minutes.

First, though, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: With the countdown to Iraq's elections approaching, there is now -- there is obviously no letup in the violence. Insurgents keeping up the attacks, and the gruesome discovery this weekend.

Let's begin our coverage this hour with CNN's Karl Penhaul. He's in Baghdad with details of the latest developments.

Karl?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Certainly this weekend nowhere near as bloody as last weekend, when you'll remember that more than 50 people got caught up in weekend violence.

Nevertheless, though, this weekend there has undoubtedly been violence. Today, for example, a U.S. Marine was killed in western Iraq, in Al Anbar province. The Marines giving no further details of how this Marine was killed, but obviously Al Anbar province home to those restive towns both of Fallujah and Ramadi.

Also today, the military reporting an incident that occurred yesterday in the northern city of Mosul. A suicide car bomber drove a vehicle into one of these Stryker armored personnel carriers. The suicide bomber obviously was killed, but nobody on that Stryker vehicle was killed, although seven soldiers were wounded. We understand all those have returned to duty.

There was a firefight, though. In that firefight, the military tell us that 10 insurgents were killed, some of them dead after an aircraft dropped a 500-pound bomb on their positions.

And then the gruesome discovery of five headless bodies. Four were discovered in a location about 50 kilometers south of Baghdad. The fifth body was discovered near the town of Balad, which is north of Baghdad. No clue either as to the identity of the victims, or who may have killed them. But obviously in the past we have seen this kind of attack not only on international hostages, but also on members of the Iraqi security forces that have targeted by insurgents.

Wolf?

BLITZER: CNN's Karl Penhaul in Baghdad.

Karl, thanks very much.

There is a developing story we're following along the border between Gaza and Egypt. An attack, an explosion there, killing, we're told by Israeli government officials, four Israeli soldiers.

CNN's John Vause joining us on the phone now with an update on what's going on.

John?

VAUSE: Wolf, by all accounts this attack appeared to be well- planned, and certainly was deadly. According to the military Islamic group Hamas, more than a ton of explosives was packed into a tunnel half a mile long, which according to Hamas took four months to dig. And the target in all of this was an Israeli checkpoint where Palestinians cross from Gaza into Egypt.

Now, moments after the first blast, rescue crews tried to evacuate the dead and wounded. They came under fire from mortars as well as automatic weapons, hampering their efforts to get to the wounded.

According to a leaflet which is now circulating around Gaza, this was a joint operation by Hamas and a group which we haven't heard much from -- or haven't actually heard from at all before -- called "The Fatah Hawk," which is an offshoot of Yasser Arafat's political Fatah Party, the party which he started.

The first time we've heard from this group, Fatah Hawk. There are some reports that this was in retaliation for an assassination what they say was, in fact, the assassination of Yasser Arafat, who died November 11th. That has yet to be confirmed, at this stage.

Of course, there have been a lot of rumors sweeping through the West Bank and also through Gaza, that Yasser Arafat was poisoned, even though that's been vehemently denied by French officials in the last few weeks.

So at this stage, Wolf, according to Raanan Gissin, a senior aide to the Israeli prime minister, four Israelis have been killed and several others have been wounded, some seriously.

Wolf?

BLITZER: One related development, a story the Association Press is now reporting -- I don't know if we have anything on it, John. Marwan Barghouti, the imprisoned Palestinian convicted by the Israelis of inciting terrorism, serving five life sentences, he had been a candidate to run for the Palestinian Authority presidency, but now the Associated Press is reporting, quoting associates of his, he has decided to withdraw as a candidate.

What, if anything, do we know about this?

VAUSE: Well, Wolf, over the last week or so, ever since Marwan Barghouti's wife put in his nomination to run for president for the Palestinian Authority -- those elections to be held January 9th -- there's been a constant stream of officials traveling to Barghouti's prison to try to convince him to withdraw from this race.

He is certainly the second most popular Palestinian behind Yasser Arafat. He holds a great deal of street credibility. And he would have given the favorite candidate amongst Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, who has the party nomination and was the one candidate who they were hoping would have a decisive win in all of this, Marwan Barghouti was seen by many as possibly being a spoiler, the Ralph Nader of Palestinian politics, if you like. So there has been a lot of pressure on Barghouti to pull out to try and show there is this united front within the Fatah Party.

And he has been wavering in the past. Initially he was going to run, and then he wasn't going to run, and then about two weeks ago he decided he would run. But as I said, in that period of time, there has been a lot of pressure on Barghouti to pull out and just give Mahmoud Abbas the clear running in all of this.

Wolf?

BLITZER: John Vause reporting for us from Jerusalem.

Thank you very much, John, for that report.

Let's get back to Iraq now. The violent countdown to elections often obscures how that country is charting its new course on the world stage.

One of the people mentioned for leadership roles, possibly as Iraq's ambassador to the United States, is joining us now live. His name is Kanan Makiya. He is an MIT-trained architect, author and documentary film-maker.

Mr. Makiya, welcome back to "Late Edition." Thank you very much for joining us.

KANAN MAKIYA, AUTHOR: Thank you for inviting me.

BLITZER: Did you envisage this insurgency developing, over the course of now almost two years, the way it has?

MIKIYA: No, to be honest, not to the extent and manner in which it has developed. I think no one quite expected it.

But we should also be careful with words. I mean, the word "insurgency" is tossed around. This is a very nihilistic backlash principly by the former Saddam loyalists, members of the Baath Party.

That is one of the reasons it is so effective, because these people had connections with one another. They were connected. They had authority structures between them that predated the war. And this is a way of continuing the war that never really finished on April 9th.

BLITZER: There is some suggestion that Saddam and his loyalists planned for this kind of insurgency, knowing, there was no great surprise, the U.S. was going to lead this invasion, that they actually had a plan, a contingency for an insurgency to develop against what they would call the occupying forces.

MAKIYA: The evidence is mounting that that's the case. Documents are being found, and questioning of some of these people -- of these insurgents is proving that point beyond a shadow of a doubt.

BLITZER: So why is it such a surprise? Why is it such a surprise that this insurgency developed? Could Saddam keep a secret like that?

MAKIYA: Well, it was kept, yes. I mean, it is clear, only after the war, the extent of the planning that went into this kind of backlash attack.

And it was made, I might say, easier by the fact that when the coalition forces went in there, they did not pick up the Saddam loyalists. They picked up the top tier, the 52 people in the deck of cards, but they left the tens of thousands of people who ran the Mukhabarat and the secret intelligence services, the torturers, if you will, the informants, the people whose job it was to police, inform and terrorize Iraqi society. Those are the people leading the insurrections now.

BLITZER: And that miscalculation was compounded by another blunder that occurred. Let me show you this exchange I had. I interviewed the interim president of Iraq, Ghazi al-Yawar, this week here in Washington. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GHAZI AL-YAWAR, INTERIM PRESIDENT OF IRAQ: We can reinstate some of the old security forces who are carefully screened. I think, we're adopting the right program right now.

We should also depend on Iraqi ex-military generals, who are above any suspicion, to be part of the rehabilitation and recruitment for boosting up the moral of these people.

BLITZER: In hindsight, it was a mistake to disband the Iraqi military.

AL-YAWAR: Definitely, it was a mistake. It was a mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Was this such a big mistake? Because at the time, everyone felt, you know, the U.S. has to lead this de-Baathification process through, and the Baath Party permeated throughout the military.

MAKIYA: With hindsight, I would say the way it was done was wrong. It should have been done over a number of years, gradually, without dropping all of the structures at once, but that it needed to be in the long run, over, say, a period of five years from the fall of the regime. I still think, personally, it was the case.

But the president is right. The way it was done exacerbated the problem.

BLITZER: Who is responsible for that decision, in your opinion? And you know the situation about as well as anyone.

MAKIYA: Well, I'll be honest with you, Wolf, I was one of the people that argued for it. So, in that sense, I don't want to point fingers. I'm among the people who argued for demilitarization.

And as I said, I still think that was the right position. The way it was done was wrong. And we only learned that after the fact. So I won't point fingers at others by myself (ph).

BLITZER: Well, that's blunt of you and candid of you to say that.

The elections, January 30th -- this notion of spreading out the election, not just on one day, but two or three weeks, it was an idea floated by the interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi. Is that going anywhere, that idea?

MAKIYA: The mechanics of it are, I think, being looked at right this very moment. I'm really not in a position to answer if it is going to work out or not.

But the idea, the principle behind the idea is a sound one, that is to minimize, to increase the ability to make secure the areas of the election.

Because, let's not forget, the single most important thing about these elections is not that people want to boycott them or don't want to participate. It is that they are being intimidated from participating.

BLITZER: And today the body -- we heard Karl Penhaul report from Baghdad, four or five beheaded bodies that were found. Police officers, security guards, targeted, with a deliberate objective of what?

MAKIYA: It's a campaign of intimidation beyond belief, something quite extraordinary. And it will escalate from here through the elections. The job of these people is to make this fail.

BLITZER: So it's going to get worse between now and January 30th?

MAKIYA: I think these people are going to do their level-best to make it get worse, yes.

They are in the business of making the Iraq project fail, from beginning to end. That for them is victory.

And it is up to us to make sure it doesn't happen.

BLITZER: Well, how can you have an election, especially in these provinces around the Sunni Triangle where so many of the Sunnis live, how can you have an election where people would be afraid to go and vote because they would be targeted as collaborators if they were to do so?

MAKIYA: Well, Fallujah operations have led to a dramatic decline in the number of operations.

Now Mosul is shaping attention. I think to focus on the city of Mosul would be very, very wise on the part of the Iraqi security forces and coalition forces.

Mosul is a huge city. The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is about over 300 million people strong. Make that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) safe, and you have a very large percentage of Sunni population able now to vote.

BLITZER: The spiritual leader of the Shiite community, the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, he's telling the Shias, go ahead and vote, and vote for some sort of fundamentalist Islamic kind of regime or government.

How worried are you, as a secularist, that there could be another Islamic fundamentalist regime emerge democratically in Iraq?

MAKIYA: I'm not worried. I don't think Ayatollah Sistani is calling for a fundamentalist government. He is himself a believer in the separation of religion from politics.

However, you could very have a strong Shiite-dominated government -- that is, Shiite identity politics is what is coming to the fore today in Iraqi elections.

That's an interesting new phenomenon. We have never seen that before. But that is an actual consequence of the decades of oppression and suppression that Iraq's minority groups have suffered -- all groups, Kurds, Shiites, have suffered under this regime.

As a consequence, once Pandora's box was lifted, the furies started to emerge. Everybody insisted on being the thing that they were denied from being before. That is a natural human impulse, I'd say.

So, the question of containing those furies within the framework of Iraq, of re-establishing Iraqi political identity, that is paramount.

And I believe, from everything I know about the Ayatollah, and I have met him, that he believes in that too.

BLITZER: Let's take a caller. We have a caller from Minnesota who has a question.

Go ahead, Minnesota.

CALLER: Yes, Wolf, thanks. Quick question. Do you think it's feasible or would it make sense for Iraq to be split along Sunni, Shia and Kurd, like a lot of people have suggested? I know Ambassador Holbrooke had suggested that. Do you think that's feasible or, at the end of the day, will we see that?

MAKIYA: It would be an unmitigated disaster, not only for Iraq but for the whole Middle East. It would lead to bloodshed beyond belief. You cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. However the Iraqi state was conceived -- over 100 years have passed since that time. Iraqi is now an actual entity. People believe in Iraq. To start regrowing the map in the Middle East today would be disastrous.

BLITZER: Saddam Hussein -- tomorrow will be one year, the first anniversary since his capture. He's in a prison awaiting trial. Based on what you know, when will that trial actually begin?

MAKIYA: I think it will start in the spring of next year, sometime around that time. It is matter of trying to do the trial in the best possible circumstances, where he gets a chance to defend himself and the charges are properly drawn up and evidence properly put together. So, that is what has held up the trial so far.

BLITZER: You've spent years putting together a lot of the documentation, the evidence of the regime of Saddam Hussein, a project that you worked hard on. You're still working very hard on it. Tell our viewers what this is all about and what you still have to do.

MAKIYA: At the bottom of the line, it's about Iraqi identity, the very question that the speaker asked us about. How are we to build a new Iraqi identity, post the fall of this regime?

Previously, the Baath Party built it on the basis that Iraq was an artificial entity. It was an entity that belonged to the Arab world. The only thing they counted was the Pan-Arab nations. People were taught to believe they were in an artificial structure.

It seems to me Iraqi political identity will now have to engage and deal with the fact of what happened to it, what happened to Iraq under Iraqis.

So, in the Iraq Memory Foundation, we're devoted to remember that past. And we believe that that memory, that act of consciously going back over the documents of the past, which are documents that the regime itself created and which is the testimonies of victims and survivors of that regime, that is the way to bring up the next generation of the Iraqis: in the knowledge of what they or their predecessors or their fathers and their grandfathers did at some point in time.

And upon that, a humbler sense of who I am may emerge. That would be a great contrast to the bombastic rhetoric of Middle Eastern politics and the false heroics of Arab nationalist politics.

BLITZER: Some have suggested that the trial of Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz and others from the Baath leadership of the old Iraq, that that could serve as a sort of an education for the Iraqi people right now, along the lines of the Nuremberg trials after the Second World War.

Is that an analysis, a comparison that you would accept?

MAKIYA: Yes, it is, absolutely. And don't forget, the whole field of Nuremberg opened up whole new fields of study in how modern totalitarian regimes behaved, and the ways in which it's exterminated large numbers of Jews, for instance.

So, too, will these trials of Saddam and his cronies open up what the Baath Party really was, and therefore open up to scrutiny not only in Iraq, but to the whole Middle East and to the world the truly abhorrent nature of this regime.

If worked from the inside out, a new form of politics has necessarily got to emerge from this. It may not happen next year, it may not happen for a few years, but one in which one looks at oneself more self-critically, rather than find somebody else to blame for one's own problems.

BLITZER: When will we know if you're going to be the Iraqi ambassador to the United States?

MAKIYA: That is in the hands of the government. I have no idea. It is their decision to make. And I will serve if they wish me to.

BLITZER: A very, very politically correct statement.

(LAUGHTER)

MAKIYA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Kanan Makiya, good luck to you, good luck to all the Iraqi people.

MAKIYA: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Coming up, Iraq is in a very dangerous neighborhood, with leaders of both Iran and Syria right next door. We'll ask two former U.S. national security advisers about the risks and opportunities ahead.

"Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There is still time for you to weigh in on our Web question of the week: Do U.S. troops in Iraq have adequate resources? You can vote right now. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results for you later this hour.

Up next, the former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and the former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski on crucial and violent pre-election weeks in Iraq and more.

You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The objective of the U.N. and other institutions must be collective security, not endless debate.

For the sake of peace, when those bodies promised serious consequences, serious consequences must follow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush needling the United Nations during a news conference earlier this month.

The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, comes to Washington this week to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Joining us now with perspective on a number of key issues on the world stage, two guests: Retired U.S. Air Force General Brent Scowcroft. He served as the national security adviser to both former presidents Ford and the first President Bush. And Zbigniew Brzezinski was former President Carter's national security adviser.

Gentlemen, welcome back to "Late Edition." Thanks for joining us.

Who is responsible, General Scowcroft, in your opinion, for the miscalculation on the insurgency that has erupted with such deadly consequences in Iraq, for miscalculating that insurgency and all that flows from that?

BRENT SCOWCROFT, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I don't know who inside the administration you can say was responsible for it. I think the administration operated heavily on the basis of a single assumption as to what the consequence would be, and perhaps didn't pay enough attention to the alternative, to the what-ifs.

BLITZER: The assumption was that the U.S. would have a speedy defeat of Saddam Hussein, and then things would fall into place.

SCOWCROFT: Well, there would still be a structure in place which could pick up and move over, and that we would be simply liberators and monitoring the reconstitution of the destroyed economy.

BLITZER: We heard Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi intellectual, someone widely expected to be the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, just say that he himself didn't think this insurgency would develop, and he would share -- take responsibility.

A lot of Iraqis were telling the Bush administration this kind of notion, "Don't worry."

SCOWCROFT: Oh, indeed. Much of our intelligence, that which purported to come out of Iraq, was from emigres who had sources back there, who may have had their own reasons and so on.

But I think, you know, it cannot be surprising that there's an insurgency now. The dimensions of it, the organization, the financing and so on, perhaps is a surprise...

BLITZER: We know there was...

SCOWCROFT: ... but not that there was an insurgency.

BLITZER: Dr. Brzezinski, we know there was a huge intelligence blunder on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Everybody recognizes that now.

But now it's apparent, and Kanan Makiya now believes, and other Iraqis, that Saddam Hussein was plotting this insurgency all along, anticipating a U.S. assault. That would seem to be another intelligence blunder of huge import, and as a result a lot of Americans and others are dying.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, it's not just an intelligence blunder. It's a question of the mindset. There was such fervor to go to war against Iraq. And it was propounded with such intensity and, I'm sorry to say, demagoguery by a bunch of fanatics that it was quite natural for them also to argue that it's going to be very easy, that we'd be welcomed as liberators, that the aftermath would be very simple.

I think we're dealing here with a problem which goes beyond intelligence. It's a fundamental misjudgment, and it's a consequence of a decision-making process in which skeptics, questioners, people who disagreed really didn't play much of a role.

BLITZER: Well, you use a tough word, "fanatics." Who do you mean, when you say fanatics, talking about fanatics?

BRZEZINSKI: I'm not going to mention names, but people who, either for religious or strategic reasons, have a very one-sided view of Iraq and of the Middle East and what needs to be done in the area.

BLITZER: When you say "religious reasons" -- I'm pressing you, because these are strong words that you're throwing out, and you're a man of very precise language.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think we all know that in American politics, particularly in recent times, there has been an intensified linkage between extreme religious views and politics. And there are a number of people who have very, very intense feelings about the Middle East. And I think that has colored our approach to Iraq and has colored our assessments of what would happen.

BLITZER: Well, maybe I'm missing something. Are you talking about fundamentalist Christians? Are you talking about Jews? Specifically, what are you trying...

BRZEZINSKI: I'm talking about all of them. I'm talking about all of them: people who approach this issue with a very strong religious fervor or a kind of strategic fanaticism, the kind of fanaticism that leads some people currently, for example, to argue that we should attack Iran, that we should bomb Iran.

BLITZER: And is this related to support for Israel is coloring their...

BRZEZINSKI: In some cases, I'm sure it is. In some cases, it isn't. It's a mixture.

You know, this is a very diversified country, and there's a variety of viewpoints.

But in recent times, and particularly after 9/11, there has been an intensification in intensely views, intensely views. And when that is translated into the decision-making process, in which you really don't vent alternatives very systematically, you are inclined to get into difficulties of the kind that we're now facing in Iraq.

BLITZER: Do you accept that, General Scowcroft?

SCOWCROFT: This is a complex situation, and I would leave it to my colleague to define it.

The one point I would like to make, though, is I think we're in danger of exaggerating the degree to which Saddam Hussein planned this whole insurgency. I think if it had been carefully planned, we wouldn't have pulled him out of a hole in the ground like a rat. There would have been much more going on.

I think they have reconstituted, and it probably is Baathist- oriented and so on. They're very well-organized and so on.

But I think that's going a little too far, to think that this was all one part of a grand plan.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that?

BRZEZINSKI: Yes, I think the point about Saddam hiding in a hole doesn't fit with the notion of a well-planned underground insurgency.

BLITZER: But there's no doubt they have a lot of money and they have lot of people and they're causing enormous amount of damage.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes, but it's also a fact that shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein -- and let me remind you, I was a critic and opponent of the war -- there was still a predisposition in Iraq to feel it's good that he's gone. But we, unfortunately, mishandled the aftermath. And now, a year and a half later, it is an occupation. And generally speaking, people don't like to be occupied by foreigners.

BLITZER: I'm interested in your assessment -- and you're a retired U.S. Air Force general -- of this exchange that Rumsfeld had with the soldier in Kuwait this past week on a lack of armor and their going into battle not fully protected.

You can understand why a lot of troops and their relatives, their families, the American public is pretty upset about this.

SCOWCROFT: Look, I think it's understandable that our vehicles were not prepared for this kind of operation. We have a wonderful military machine, but it's basically geared to a World War II kind of massive military operation, not to roadside bombs exploding under vehicles and so on and so forth.

Now, you can argue how rapidly we have been able to adjust our vehicles. And we're getting a lot better in the whole insurgency kind of thing.

But this is a kind of war that we thought was behind us. This is not high-tech war now. This is low-tech war. This is routing people out of apartment buildings and so on. This is the toughest, meanest kind of warfare, much more like clearing out Berlin in World War II than it is in either Desert Storm or military operations.

BLITZER: All right, I'm going to pick up on that. We're going to broaden this discussion, get into some other areas, as well. But we'll take a quick break.

Up next, a quick check of what's making news right now, including the latest on the Palestinian presidential race.

Then, the former national security advisers weigh in on the political intrigue in Ukraine: a democracy movement's opposition candidate poisoned.

Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We're talking about the world's global hot spots and the challenges they pose with our guests, former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Brent Scowcroft, Iran, how worried are you that Iran is moving closer toward developing a nuclear bomb?

SCOWCROFT: Well, I'm terribly worried. I think they probably are. Indeed, you know, I mean, you go back as far as the Shah, the Shah was talking about obtaining nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: What should the U.S. be doing that it is not doing right now? SCOWCROFT: I think we should be more wholeheatedly supporting the Europeans. I don't know whether their approach will work. But it seems to me we ought to be presenting Iran with a picture of better relations, of increasing our contact with the regime, in exchange for them foregoing the right to enrich uranium.

It might not work. But certainly a tough line is not likely to produce anything.

BLITZER: A military option, in your opinion, is...

SCOWCROFT: I don't think we have a reasonable military option. And therefore, I think we have little to lose by reaching out and trying to draw them at least into freezing their program.

BLITZER: What's your assessment, Dr. Brzezinski?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all, I'm not terribly worried, but I agree with Brent.

BLITZER: Why aren't you terribly worried?

BRZEZINSKI: Because for one thing, they are not about to have it. It will take several years for them really to have it. Secondly, what can they do with it as a practical matter? This is a serious country. This is not a fly-by-night fictional country that could act in a totally reckless fashion.

BLITZER: What about giving it to terrorists?

BRZEZINSKI: Oh, but would they want to do that? They have security problems, serious security problems around them. Pakistan, which is unstable, India, Russia, Israel, have nuclear weapons. They have a real security problem.

And the way to deal with this issue is the way Brent recommends, which is to try to work them into international system in which they can pursue their nuclear program on a peaceful basis, but they get some benefits from abandoning, forsaking the military program, and then eventually point towards some sort of an arrangement, some sort of an arrangement for a nuclear-free Middle East. Because less than that is not going to offer them a long-term inducement to eschew nuclear weapons.

SCOWCROFT: Let me tell you why I'm more worried than Zbig is. It is not Iran itself, but if Iran gets away with enriching uranium, Brazil already has announced that it wants to enrich uranium, and pretty soon you'll have every medium-sized country in the world producing the capability for nuclear weapons. I think that we ought to try to stop now, before it gets started.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

In October, October 14th in The Financial Times, you were quoted as saying this: "Ariel Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger. I think the president is mesmerized. When there is a suicide attack followed up by a reprisal, Sharon calls the president and says, 'I'm on the front line of terrorism,' and the president says, 'Yes, you are.' He, Mr. Sharon, has been nothing but trouble."

Did you say that?

SCOWCROFT: Unfortunately I did. It wasn't supposed to be for publication.

BLITZER: This was in an off-the-record conversation?

SCOWCROFT: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: And so it got out there.

SCOWCROFT: Yes.

BLITZER: And so explain to our viewers what you meant. And I assume you meant this, what you said.

SCOWCROFT: Well, I think the best explanation I have is what Dov Weisglass gave as to what Sharon's strategy was.

BLITZER: He's an aide to the prime minister?

SCOWCROFT: He's an aide to the prime minister. Which was to get out of Gaza, because the Israeli position is pretty untenable, get out of one or two settlements, finish the wall, and then say, we're through.

The administration has felt that Gaza was the first step in a program, and what I have been arguing is if Sharon has his way, it's not the first step, it's the last step.

BLITZER: But fundamentally, the question is this: Do you think Sharon has the president wrapped around his finger?

SCOWCROFT: That was -- I would never have used that in public, of course not. But what I believe is that Sharon appeals to the president and his attitude on the war on terrorism, and he says "I'm on the front line of that war. The people after me are terrorists." What is the president going to do? No, they're not terrorists? In that sense, the president plays into Sharon's plan.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I thought you were going to throw some embarrassing quote at me.

BLITZER: No.

BRZEZINSKI: I thought Brent's diagnosis was brilliant. And I think one should say publicly what one says privately. And I agree with him.

BLITZER: You agree that what? Be specific. BRZEZINSKI: Whatever you cited him as saying, the whole works.

BLITZER: That the president is basically controlled by Ariel Sharon?

BRZEZINSKI: "Controlled" is your word. I don't think he said that.

BLITZER: Well, I'll repeat. It says, "Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger."

BRZEZINSKI: Yes, that's about right.

BLITZER: That's being precise.

BRZEZINSKI: Sharon comes and whispers "Terrorism, terrorism," and the president is now...

BLITZER: But Israelis do face terrorism.

BRZEZINSKI: Of course. But this is not the whole problem. It is not the entire problem, and certainly not the global problem.

BLITZER: What do you think the United States should be doing now, after Yasser Arafat's death, to try to jumpstart a revived peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians?

BRZEZINSKI: We should be doing what a friend of mine and a colleague of Brent's recently recommended, Henry Kissinger. He said something with which I very much agree. We should be much more explicit about staking what the actual content, what the elements of a peace settlement ought to be, not leave that wide open.

Because if you leave it wide open, the Israelis and the Palestinians distrust one another so much that they'll never move towards peace. But if we lay on the table a package -- and there are several key elements of that package which are generally known and understood -- and say, this is what the settlement will be based on, then I think we move the parties concerned toward serious negotiations.

BLITZER: But that would seem to be -- and we're going to take a break, but I'll let you wrap this up, General Scowcroft -- the U.S. sort of imposing a settlement on the Israelis and the Palestinians, or squeezing both sides to come up with some sort of solution. Is that something that would be a good idea?

SCOWCROFT: I have been opposed to that for most of this conflict. I think it is the only solution now. The two sides by themselves, the animosity is so deep and the mistrust is so wide that they can never do it by themselves. We have got to say, this is it. And you know, as Zbig says, the outlines of a settlement are really quite clear. There are a few rough edges that need to be honed off, but it is not difficult to see what a settlement is now. But we are the ones that have to impose it. BLITZER: All right. We'll continue this conversation and expand it to talk about what's happening in Ukraine. But we'll take another quick break. Our conversation with the former national security advisers will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're talking with our guests, two former national security advisers, Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Dr. Brzezinski, what do you make of this opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko, in Ukraine, whose face has been so brutally distorted; now the evidence suggests he was poisoned. The question is, poisoned by whom.

BRZEZINSKI: We don't know by whom, but we can guess. Presumably either someone from the security services of Ukraine, or maybe Russia, or from one of the mafias that feels threatened by the prospects of his election.

BLITZER: They play hardball over there. They play pretty tough.

BRZEZINSKI: Let me mention this: Yushchenko's promoter, a banker called Hetman (ph), was going to run for president against Kuchma. Somebody shot him in the elevator as he was going home to his apartment. It was never uncovered who did it. I mean, there is a tradition here knocking off political opponents.

BLITZER: Are these Ukrainians that are doing this or Russian- influenced (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

BRZEZINSKI: You can't separate those elements, because the Ukrainian mafia is tied in very closely to the Russian mafia, and then that has been made worse by Putin's bizarre behavior, really bizarre behavior, of endorsing Yanukovych so blatantly -- blatantly and brazenly -- and then even congratulating him when he hadn't yet won.

So this connection adds an international dimension to all of this, which is very serious.

BLITZER: General Scowcroft, what is your assessment of what's happening in Ukraine right now and this poisoning of the opposition leader?

SCOWCROFT: Well, I agree with what Zbig said. I think, you know, this is really tough business. This is a tough area. It goes far back to Kuchma, who really started out wanting to be able to run...

BLITZER: The president of Ukraine.

SCOWCROFT: The president. Who wanted to run again. That avenue seemed to be closed, so he has his handpicked man, and so on. Yushchenko is the opposition. And I think that is the outcome. BLITZER: It raises questions, though, about in this post-Cold War era, the U.S.-Russian relationship, specifically the relationship between President Bush and Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.

The Economist magazine wrote this on December 11th: "Far from being a political and economic reformer who runs an admittedly flawed but still recognizable democracy, Mr. Putin has become an obstacle to change, who is in charge of an ill-managed autocracy. The question is, what can the West do about it?"

Do you agree with The Economist?

SCOWCROFT: I think that's an exaggeration. I'm not sure who Mr. Putin is. He's a complicated figure. But I think he was acting here -- I think he lost it in a way. He was acting against his own best interests by criticizing so sharply the United States as being behind this and so on. That's not in his interest, whatever he actually believes. I think he just -- I think he went overboard.

BLITZER: Do you think he went overboard?

BRZEZINSKI: No, I don't. I think Putin represents the interests of the last gasp of the Soviet elite, and particularly of the KGB.

And he's been very consistent since coming to power in doing two things. One, restricting the freedom or democracy within Russia itself. He's been very systematic about it. And secondly, trying to reimpose Russian primacy, domination perhaps even, preponderance in any case, over its immediate adjoining neighbors, countries that became independent when the Soviet Union disintegrated.

And the biggest prize is Ukraine. And that's the prize he's trying to grab. And I think he's overreaching.

BLITZER: Is the president behaving responsibly in dealing with Putin right now?

SCOWCROFT: Yes, I think he is. I think he is.

Zbig may be right. I'm not sure he's right. There's no question that Putin relies on the KGB people, because I think they're the only ones he trusts in the system. But I don't think he's simply a throwback. I think he is more complicated than that.

But there's no question that the near abroad, whether it's Ukraine, whether it's Georgia and probably will go into Central Asia, is the area where we want to assure independence for those countries, and Putin would like to reabsorb them. That is a true area of conflict between the two sides.

BLITZER: Brent Scowcroft, thanks very much for joining us.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, always a pleasure to have you on the program as well.

Up next, the results of our Web question of the week. We'll show you what they are. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our "Late Edition" Web question of the week asked this: Do U.S. troops in Iraq have adequate resources? Take a look at this -- 8 percent of you say yes; 92 percent of you say no. Remember, this is not a scientific poll.

And that's your "Late Edition" for Sunday, December 12th.

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

I'm here Monday through Friday twice a day at both noon and 5 p.m. Eastern.

Until tomorrow, thanks very much for joining us.

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