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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Syrian Cabinet Minister Buthaina Shaaban; Interview With Arlen Specter

Aired February 27, 2005 - 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, 5 p.m. in London, 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll go to Damascus and talk with a top Syrian official in just a few moments. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Now to the fallout from that Friday night terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, an attack for which the Syrian-based Islamic Jihad is claiming responsibility. Israel is saying it's prepared to launch retaliatory strikes against Syria if necessary.

Joining us now live from Damascus with reaction from the Syrian government is Syrian cabinet minister Buthaina Shaaban.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks, Minister, very much for joining us.

And we'll begin with the Tel Aviv terrorist attack Friday night. Ariel Sharon saying today, "The terror attack was carried out by Islamic Jihad members. The orders came from Islamic Jihad sources in Syria. We know this for a fact."

And Abu Tareq, of Islamic Jihad's Damascus bureau, is quoted as saying, "The calm period with the Palestinian Authority was an agreement for a month that has ended. Israel has not abided by the pacification period. This is the main reason that led to this operation."

Is the Syrian government responsible for allowing Islamic Jihad to plan such operations from Damascus?

BUTHAINA SHAABAN, SYRIAN CABINET MINISTER: You know, Wolf, I really would love the news to focus on what is taking place in reality rather than in concept that are so irrelevant. Syria has reiterated so many times that it has nothing to do with anything that takes place inside Israel or inside the occupied territory.

But, as you know, Wolf, nowadays if a terrorist attack took place in Beirut they accuse Syria. If it takes place in Tel Aviv, they accuse Syria. Probably for tsunami, they would accuse Syria. I mean, Syria now is targeted for some ulterior reasons that have nothing to do with anything that's taking place on the ground now.

BLITZER: Does Islamic Jihad, though, have an office in Damascus, an office that Abu Tareq, whoever he is, claims responsibility for the Friday night attack in Tel Aviv?

SHAABAN: Well, first of all, the Islamic Jihad offices are closed.

Second, even when it was open, it was a media office.

Third, there is no possibility that anybody from Damascus can carry out such an operation in Tel Aviv.

Fourth, the Syrian law prevents anybody from doing anything outside Syria or inside Syria.

Fifth, Syria has never carried out a terrorist attack against anyone. It was the other way around. It was Israel who carried out a terrorist attack on the streets of Damascus in Syria.

BLITZER: The Bush administration and the State Department say Syria still supports terrorism, that it's a state sponsor of terrorism. They cite support not only for Islamic Jihad, but for Hamas, but most specifically for Hezbollah, which operates with Syrian support.

What do you say in response to those accusations?

SHAABAN: Well, I say that Hezbollah is a Lebanese political party with 11 members in parliament. It only defended its country against occupation.

But there is terrorism taking place in the area, destroying houses, killing people and occupying lands, which I think is a very bad kind of terrorism that the area needs to get rid of in order to have stability and peace.

And remember, Wolf, Syria has been an active partner in the peace process, and since then it has been calling for a just and comprehensive peace in the region. And Syria argues that only just and comprehensive peace in the region will secure stability and peace for people in the region.

BLITZER: Are you bracing, your government in Damascus, bracing for possible Israeli retaliatory action for the Friday night terror attack?

SHAABAN: I would like to ask you, Wolf, whether the American people accept that a party in the region who is supported by American money is occupying other people's lands, leading aggressions against neighboring countries, and all the time threatening neighbors. So, is that acceptable to American people and to international audience?

That's what we the Arabs are suffering from, all the time aggression and accusation and occupation from Israel.

BLITZER: Speaking of occupation, the U.S., the Europeans, the Lebanese most specifically are calling on Syria to stop occupying parts of Lebanon. Is the Syrian government ready to withdraw all of its forces from Lebanon?

SHAABAN: Syria has been redeploying its forces from Lebanon long before anybody on the international community asked Syria to do that, simply because there is Taif agreement, and there are agreements between the Syrian and the Lebanese governments that have been carried out in full agreement between the two peoples and the two countries. And the Syrian-Lebanese relationship will sort that out beautifully.

BLITZER: When will that happen? The Taif agreement occurred in the '80s, and Syria still has thousands of troops inside Lebanon. Many Lebanese, most of the Lebanese, based on the demonstrations we've seen on the streets of Beirut and elsewhere since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, say it's time for Syria to pull out.

SHAABAN: Yes, these were not all the Lebanese people.

And I would like to remind the audience, Wolf, that the Taif agreement includes other things. It includes to get rid of the confessional system in Lebanon. It stresses the Arabism of Lebanon, the future of Lebanon. This is what Syria has been working on.

And as you know, these are not easy issues, but there are full- fledged agreements between the two countries, and they are working toward all these objectives.

And only a few days ago you heard the Syrian government doing also another redeployment in consistence with these agreements between the two governments and the two peoples.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So when will the withdrawal finally occur? When will it be complete, all Syrian forces out of Lebanon? Will it take weeks, months, more years? What is the answer?

SHAABAN: Well, Wolf, as you heard from our foreign minister today, there is a schedule for the forces to withdraw. But I do not think that the troops, the Syrian troops in Lebanon are the issue.

The issue is something different. I think there is a huge scenario that was set off by the terrorist attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. And that scenario is, again, is the stability of Syria and again is the stability of Lebanon. And we would really like to draw the world's attention to the fact that our countries need peace and stability and security.

BLITZER: President Bush says it's not just the Syrian troops that need to get out.

SHAABAN: They do not need more war and more destabilization. BLITZER: He says there's another -- there's another part of the story. Listen to what President Bush said this past week about Syria.

SHAABAN: I lost you, Wolf. I lost you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Syria needs to withdraw her troops from Lebanon.

I will state it again. The position of our government is Syrian (sic) must withdraw not only the troops but its secret services from Lebanon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Minister Shaaban, I don't know if you can hear me, but if you can hear me, the president in that sound bite just said Syria must withdraw not only its troops, but also its secret services from Lebanon. Is that going to happen?

SHAABAN: Well, as I said, there are agreements between Syria and Lebanon that would fulfill all the commitments of the Taif agreement. And I'm sure the Syrian government is working along with the Lebanese government to fulfill all that agreement.

BLITZER: One final question involving Syrian cooperation with Iran. Your prime minister was quoted as saying Syria and Iran face several challenges, and it is necessary to build a common front. Is Syria and Iran now forging this common front against the United States?

SHAABAN: You know, Wolf, that I worked for 10 years as an interpreter, and when I heard our prime minister's statement in Arabic, I really laughed for what people made of it in English. Our prime minister was speaking about cooperation that existed between Syria and Iran for years and will continue to exist.

There was no military person in his delegation, and he was not speaking about a military pact (ph), as Foreign Minister Kamel Harazi went on to explain the next day.

But as I told you, I think there are some parties who are targeting Syria for whatever is being done or said and to create different concepts to justify this targeting.

BLITZER: Bouthaina Shaaban, joining us from Damascus.

Thanks, Minister, very much for spending a few moments with us here on "LATE EDITION."

And just ahead, the man who will be at the center over the battle involving President Bush's federal judicial nominees. But he's also facing a much more personal struggle, this one with cancer. I'll speak live with U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter. He is standing by. Then, spotlight on Iran: Is it or should it be the next U.S. military target? A leading U.S. senator and a leading U.S. congresswoman weigh in.

And later, President Bush trying to mend fences with America's European allies. Did he succeed? We'll talk with the German, French and British ambassadors to the United States.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

There could be a showdown in the U.S. Senate this week as hearings begin for one of President Bush's nominees for the federal bench. Ten of his nominations were blocked by Democrats last year.

One man, though, who will be trying to steer his colleagues away from a bitter fight is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who's facing a life-and-death struggle of his own.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): The battle over President Bush's judicial nominees and perhaps the next Supreme Court justice are high on his agenda, with Senate Republicans threatening to dramatically change the rules of the game.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: If we have a nuclear option, the Senate will be in turmoil and the Judiciary Committee will be hell.

BLITZER (voice-over): But his latest personal battle with Hodgkin's disease could overshadow his professional confrontations.

SPECTER: I beat a brain tumor and surgery bypass and a lot of tough political opponents. And I'm going to beat this problem, too.

BLITZER (voice-over): This Democrat turned Republican has made headlines his entire career.

In 1964, he helped develop the controversial "single bullet theory" for the Warren Commission's investigation into President John F. Kennedy's death.

Often a maverick Republican, he was among those who rejected President Reagan's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Robert Bork.

But his contentious questioning of Anita Hill made him a feminist target.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPECTER: You took it to mean that Judge Thomas wanted to have sex with you. But, in fact, he never did ask you to have sex, correct?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER (voice-over): He ran for president in 1995 as a pro- abortion rights Republican.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPECTER: If we're to be successful, we're going to have to take abortion out of politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER (voice-over): But he later withdrew. And he voted "not proven" on the Clinton impeachment resolution.

Far from shying away from the spotlight, Specter wrote an autobiography in 2000 celebrating what he calls his passion for truth but what his critics call a passion for publicity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from Philadelphia is Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Senator, good to have you back here on "LATE EDITION."

I want to get to some of the other issues in a moment. But I want your reaction to what we just heard from Damascus from the Syrian minister, Buthaina Shaaban, when she says that Syria is cooperating, fighting terrorists, and has nothing to do with either the Friday night terror attack in Tel Aviv or the assassination of Rafik Hariri in Lebanon.

SPECTER: Wolf, I thought those responses were weak.

When she talks about redeployment as an excuse for no withdrawal, we know that Syria has housed the terrorists in Damascus for decades. I visited Syria on many occasions. That's a subject that I had taken up with Hafez al-Assad and Bashar Assad.

And I think that President Bush correctly laid down the marker some time ago, that anybody who harbors terrorists is guilty of terrorism itself.

And when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says, as you quoted him earlier in your program, that there is proof positive that Islamic Jihad, operating out of Damascus, was responsible for the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv in the past few days, I think Syria is in deep trouble unless they make some changes, big changes, and right away.

BLITZER: Well, what else do you think the U.S. should be doing, if anything?

SPECTER: Well, I think that there are more sanctions that the United States should be imposing on Syria under the Syrian Accountability Act, which has passed the Congress and been signed into law.

But I think right now the Israelis are not going to fool around. The Palestinians have had elections. There has been an accord between Palestine, the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority and Israel. And now to have Islamic Jihad strike with the bases out of Damascus is simply intolerable.

So I think Israel may well take the next step.

BLITZER: Let's talk about your health a little bit, Senator Specter. A lot of us were very, very concerned when we got word a couple weeks or so ago that you now have Hodgkin's disease. What stage is this cancer?

SPECTER: Well, they say it's 4-2 or 4-B. But we caught it at a very early stage. And Hodgkin's is curable. And I've already undertaken a course of treatment which is designed to last about six months, designed to cure it. And I've already had the treatment and back in work in Washington. And I'm very optimistic.

When you replayed some of my life history, Wolf, going back to the single-bullet theory, I hadn't realized I'd overcome all those problems. I'm a little more optimistic now than I was a few minutes ago.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right. Well, that's good to hear that, because you have to have a positive attitude. You're going to go through chemotherapy for, what, your doctor said 32 weeks, every two weeks to go through chemotherapy? That can be quite debilitating, can't it?

SPECTER: Well, it can be, but not necessarily. I'm under very fine care. I'm told that I can have the treatment on a Friday and go back to work on Monday. I had a treatment nine days ago, when I was back in Washington.

And I'm very optimistic generally, Wolf. I think, if you approach these problems with a positive attitude and try to explore all the alternatives on the judicial situation, on asbestos reform, on a lot of issues that I have faced -- and I did beat a brain tumor, beat it twice, bypass surgery, a lot of tough political opponents.

And I've got a lot of energy, Wolf. I had a news conference that lasted almost an hour in Washington last Thursday; I answered a lot of questions. And watch me, Wolf. Watch me.

BLITZER: I've been watching you for many years, Senator. I know you have a lot of energy, and I know you're going to beat this one too.

But in terms of the effect that the chemotherapy, the illness could have on your day-to-day work, you're projecting you're going to go ahead and do all the responsibilities as chairman of the Judiciary Committee and all your other work as senator during this period of treatment? SPECTER: That's right, Wolf. I'll be on the floor tomorrow. I don't want to tout a competitor, but if you tune in to C-SPAN 2, I'll be opening the debate on the bankruptcy bill.

And the president sent up his nominees on February 11th, and the very next day, February 12th, I scheduled hearings. The first hearing day, we were back on Tuesday. We'll be having a hearing on William Myers, and we'll be having a hearing on other judicial nominees on Thursday.

And in the midst of all this, I'm working on an asbestos reform bill, which is a very, very important matter for America, and a great many other matters too.

So, listen, you can only take it a day at a time and see how the treatment works, but from what the doctors say and from the way I feel today and from what happened on the first treatment, I'm plunging ahead.

BLITZER: Your leader, the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, says it's time to get away from the filibuster, the 60 votes needed to beat a filibuster on terms of judicial nominees, and go for a simple majority. This is what's called the nuclear option, because Democrats are threatening all sorts of retaliatory moves, in effect paralyzing the Senate, if this nuclear option, as it's called, is used.

You oppose Senator Frist on this issue, don't you?

SPECTER: No, I have not taken a position on that nuclear option, Wolf. My view is I'm not going to do anything until I come to that bridge. I'm not going to jump off the bridge until I come to it.

Listen, I've talked to every member, Democrats and Republicans, on the committee and a lot of other members too. And I think there's a lot of sense, sentiment that we'd like to avoid it.

But the matter has been ratcheted up so much. It all got started in the last two years of President Reagan and the four years of Bush I, when the Democrats slowed up Republican nominees. And then Republicans ratcheted it up even more during six years of Clinton. And then the Democrats took it to a higher level -- you wouldn't think it possible, but they did -- in an unprecedented filibuster, never been done before in the history of the republic. And then Republicans took it even a step higher with the interim appointments.

So now you have a situation where nobody wants to back down. But I'm taking it a step at a time.

On Tuesday, we're going to have a hearing for a man named William Myers. And I count 58 votes for cloture, as to Myers. And he's up for the Ninth Circuit. And a number of senators have said there ought to be balance, and the Ninth Circuit's a very liberal circuit.

Then on Thursday I'm going after a nominee named Judge Boyle from the Fourth Circuit. And I have some ideas about some of the other lines. I'm going to use every ounce of my energy, Wolf, to avoid confronting the nuclear option, because I think it would be disastrous for America. The Senate has a long, rich tradition for protecting minority rights. Did it in John Jay's impeachment trial, about 1815 upholding the independence of the judiciary, and in the impeachment trial of Johnson in 1868.

And right now this judge squabble is a big, big issue, but 100 years from now it's not going to be as important as protecting minority rights, which the Senate has been the guardian of.

So, I think we have a heavy duty to do everything we can to avoid the problem. And that's what I'm going to do my utmost to do.

BLITZER: You've always been a voice of moderation in the Senate, and I suspect you will continue to be so, hopefully for many, many years to come.

Senator Specter, good luck in the Senate. More importantly, good luck with your personal battle with cancer. Appreciate your joining us here on "LATE EDITION."

SPECTER: Great to be on your program. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator Specter.

Up next, a new terror strike in Israel. What will it take to save a tenuous Israeli-Palestinian truce? We'll ask U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and U.S. Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman. They're standing by to join us live.

First, though, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including a major capture of the U.S. military's most-wanted list in Iraq.

Stay with "LATE EDITION." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now to talk about U.S. intelligence matters, global flashpoints and much more, two key members of the U.S. House and Senate: in Greenville, South Carolina, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. He's a key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He's just returned from his third visit to Iraq. And in Los Angeles, California Congresswoman Jane Harman. She is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. She also serves on the Homeland Security Committee.

Good to have both of you on our program. Thanks very much. We'll get to all those issues in a moment.

Senator Graham, you're a member of the Senate. You just heard what Senator Specter said on this so-called nuclear option, changing the rules of the game, if you will, on judicial nominees to prevent filibusters, allowing a simple majority to go through and confirm judicial nominees.

Where do you stand on this issue?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, number one, what's going on in the Senate is kind of a politics of escalation. We're getting sort of like the Mideast: pay back everybody when you're in charge.

The Constitution really does set the way you nominate and confirm judges. The constitutional process for 200 years has required a majority vote to confirm a judge. A filibuster is an internal rule of the Senate that requires 60 votes to go to a final vote.

So I've always felt that the filibuster rule, when applied to a constitutional process in terms of judicial nominations, is not healthy for the country, is out of bounds and needs to be changed.

But Senator Specter is right. It would be better to find common ground to change this. I think a procedure that would allow a Democrat or Republican president to get an up-or-down vote would be good for the country.

BLITZER: All right. So let's move on and get into some other issues, and I'll bring in Congresswoman Harman.

There's a story on the front page of The New York Times today. Within the CIA, it says, "there are growing fears of prosecution" because of CIA officers' involvement in interrogating detainees or terrorist suspects, whether at Guantanamo Bay or inside Iraq or elsewhere.

You and Senator Graham wrote an article saying you got to come up with better rules of the game for interrogation.

How worried should CIA officers be right now that they could wind up going to jail for some of the interrogation methods that they thought were approved at the highest levels of the Bush administration?

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, let's start with this, Wolf. America should be worried about the black eye we have because of the treatment of prisoners in interrogation in Iraq and Afghanistan and so forth. Interrogations matter. Getting information out of prisoners in advance of attacks planned against millions of Americans is something I'm for, but torture and tactics just short of torture are wrong.

And that is why Lindsey Graham and I wrote an article about the fog of law: these various Bush memos that create a climate of uncertainty out in the field and that have sadly, I think, permitted the abuses we've seen.

And that's why we need a legislative framework to make clear that torture is never OK, that outsourcing torture, sending people to other countries where they're tortured, is never OK; that what is OK is accountability at the highest levels of the administration for a strict set of procedures in rare events where we absolutely know we can get information to prevent attacks against millions of Americans.

BLITZER: But should career officers at the CIA be prosecuted, Congresswoman Harman, right now for allegedly engaging in torture methods against terror suspects?

HARMAN: Well, Wolf, I think we have to learn what the rules of engagement were at the CIA. We know about the military rules, and the military is prosecuting people.

I wouldn't want to say they're off the hook, but I do say that, going forward, we need to empower interrogators by giving them clear rules.

And we haven't done it. It's Congress's job to legislate here. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution says that Congress shall set the rules for captures on land and on water. And we have not done this.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, I know you feel very strongly on this issue. You're a former U.S. military prosecutor. How high should the buck go in terms of the abuses that apparently occurred?

GRAHAM: Well, there are two levels at Abu Ghraib. There are the people engaged in the misconduct at the individual level. And there's a thing called command responsibility in the military, dereliction of duty.

And I do believe that what happened in that prison was not only against what we stand for as a nation, is totally against what the men and women who serve want to happen, it is also a result of dereliction of duty.

And I hope some of the senior people who allowed the prison to get so out of control also are held accountable. Just about...

BLITZER: When you say senior people, how senior? Because there are some suggestion, as you well know, Senator Graham, that at the Pentagon, at the White House, top officials gave authorization for some of these methods.

GRAHAM: Well, nobody gave authorizations for what happened in Abu Ghraib. That's not really accurate. What happened at Abu Ghraib was a breakdown in discipline. It's not fair to hold me, Jane or Rumsfeld responsible for criminal misconduct 5,000 miles away.

But it is fair to hold commanders accountable for what happens on their watch, and also to hold civilian war planners accountable.

One thing you've learned about Abu Ghraib, it's a classic example of where we got it wrong. You had 600 detainees in August. By October you had 6,000. The people guarding the prison were not trained to be prison guards. They were reservists who were promised to come home, had the rug yanked out from under them. It was a formula for disaster.

So we need to learn from our mistakes. BLITZER: Let's move on to another important issue, namely Iran and its nuclear ambitions.

Congresswoman Harman, there's a front-page story in today's Washington Post. Iran was offered nuclear parts by A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist, as far back as 1987, a long time ago, almost 20 years ago, in fact.

How close, based on all the information you have right now, is Iran to developing a nuclear weapon?

HARMAN: We don't really know, Wolf. I don't think our intelligence products are good enough yet. The Israelis would admit that they don't absolutely know. The world intelligence agencies don't absolutely know.

And this is why I'm so pleased that we are finally reorganizing our intelligence capability in America, taking a 1947 business model and changing it. It was a tough fight, and I'm very proud of the small role I played.

But on Iran, there's a front-page story in the Los Angeles Times today that says our intelligence agencies knew about A.Q. Khan years ago and watched him but didn't confront him because they were afraid of exposing sources and methods.

We let that go on too long. His documents were destroyed in 2002. We still don't know absolutely how many countries in the world benefited from his obviously brilliant designs for nuclear material.

BLITZER: One of the problems...

HARMAN: We cannot let Iran go nuclear.

BLITZER: One of the problems, Congresswoman, is that President Musharraf of the Pakistani government has not allowed the U.S. to formally directly question A.Q. Khan...

HARMAN: That's true.

BLITZER: ... only submit questions in writing through the Pakistani government. This is deemed to be a major problem in finding out exactly how he distributed nuclear capabilities and technology.

HARMAN: I agree. He's also been able to destroy documents.

Musharraf is an ally of America, and it is tricky to help him stay in power, which I think is in our interest, and yet have him confront A.Q. Khan, who is still viewed as a national hero in Pakistan and the father of their nuclear industry, which is a point of national pride for them.

So I wish we could improve that situation. We do need access to him and to all who dealt with him. We have wrapped up a lot of that network. We've obviously taken the nuclear, the WMD materials out of Libya, but there may be as many as 18 countries that benefited from A.Q. Khan's network, and there may be parallel networks operating that we don't know enough about.

BLITZER: We're going to take a break, but I want Senator Graham to weigh in on this sensitive subject, as well.

What do you think the U.S. should be doing as far as Pakistan is concerned to get answers from A.Q. Khan?

GRAHAM: Well, the Pakistani government, led by Musharraf, has been a great help in the war on terror, but disclosing what is out there is important. We need to know where Iran and North Korea are at, in terms of nuclear capability. And if Pakistan can help us understand the threat we face, they should come forward. And if they refuse to, I think it's a giant step backward and makes the world more unstable.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take a quick break and continue our conversation shortly with Senator Graham, Congresswoman Jane Harman. "LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous.

Having said that, all options are on the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush speaking in Brussels on Tuesday.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're talking about that and more with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman of California.

Senator Graham, Russia and Iran today signed an agreement. And Russia will be providing enriched uranium nuclear fuel to Iran, insisting that there's no evidence Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon.

What, if anything, should the U.S. be doing about this latest agreement between Russia and Iran?

GRAHAM: Make a full-court press to get Russia to come to realize that a nuclear Iran is not a stabilizing influence; it's a destabilizing influence.

I just got back from Afghanistan and Iraq. This is my third trip. And every military leader I talked to spoke of efforts by the Iranian government to destabilize Afghanistan and Iraq. Every civilian representative of Iraq and Afghanistan that I've talked to thought that Iran was trying to destabilize these emerging democracies. Iran is part of the problem, not the solution. And the Russian government is ignoring reality. They're going for a heavy water treatment plant. Why do you need heavy water to develop a commercial nuclear reactor?

So I hope the Russian government will stop this empowering of Iran.

I hope the Pakistani government, as Jane said, would come forward and share with us what technology Iran has. Because the world needs to be united on this idea of controlling Iran's ability to develop a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: Your friend, Senator Graham, Senator McCain earlier today said it's time to kick the Russians out of the G-8 and not invite them to the next G-8 summit later this year, because of some of the steps it's taken as far as democracy in Russia and some other steps including cooperation with Iran.

Do you agree with Senator McCain on that?

GRAHAM: God bless him. We've got to be tough.

You know, when Putin said something about maybe Bush wasn't a legitimate president because of the Electoral College, well, Bush didn't change the Electoral College rules to benefit him. They'd been in place for 200 years. And Putin is changing every institution of democracy to suit his needs.

And yes, it is time for the Russian government to pay a price for empowering the bad guys and slipping back away from democracy. It's time for freedom-loving nations to stand up and say, "Enough already."

BLITZER: Kick them out of the G-8?

GRAHAM: If that would make a difference, put it on the table. As President Bush just said a few minutes ago, all options need to be on the table.

We cannot win this war on terror if people are undercutting us. And one way to undercut us is to empower Iran.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Harman, what do you think?

HARMAN: I agree. I was just in Kiev, Ukraine, with Senator McCain and others. And in fact, Senator Graham was there too. And you look at President Yushchenko's face and you understand how courageous the Ukrainians were to stand up to pressure from the former regime there and possibly the Russians.

This is the time to be tough with Russia. Russia has been transferring technology to Iran for 10 years. Our intelligence is real good on that one. And North Korea has been doing it too. It's not just about Pakistan. And Iran going nuclear is a danger for the entire world, including Russia. And let me just make one more point, Wolf. You talked about Syria earlier on your broadcast. Iran is the one that is also fueling the terrorism inside of Syria. Hamas is based in Damascus. It's supported by Iran. And it is a direct threat to Israel.

Now that we finally see democracy emerging from Palestine and Israel, it's critical to keep our eye on the ball there while, at the same time, we stop Russia and other neighbors who would destabilize that wonderful emerging flower.

BLITZER: Did you mean Hamas or Hezbollah?

HARMAN: I meant both. Hamas leadership in Damascus is destabilizing Israel and Palestine. And so is Hezbollah, which is directly supported by Syria along the Lebanese border with Israel.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, you recently were in Iraq. You came back with an assessment that I want you to share with our viewers. Are you more upbeat or downbeat, as you look to the immediate future of Iraq?

GRAHAM: Well, it's a mixed feeling. This is my third visit.

The big news is the election. It was very gratifying, as an American, to see Iraqis be able to vote for their own future. We should take a lot of pride in that. And the men and women who sacrificed to make that happen in our military should take a lot of pride in it.

But let's not let the elections mask the hard problems that lie ahead. The one thing I've learned by my third visit is that the security situation is worse. We had a lot less freedom to travel around.

There are two enemies in Iraq. There are the foreign fighters, the Zarqawi types who can only be killed or captured. And there are the Sunni minority, who believe at this stage that a centralized government in Baghdad run by Shias is not in their best interest.

The military is increasing in numbers, but its capability is suspect.

So my impression is that we've got a long way to go. You got a 1,400-year religious dispute between Sunnis and Shias that are part of the mix. You're asking the Iraqi people, Wolf, to write a constitution in a year. It took us a decade.

So we're going to have a large military and civilian economic footprint in Iraq for a long time to come. Let's not let the elections mask how hard this is going to be.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, Congresswoman Harman, we have to unfortunately leave it right there. We're all out of time. Thanks to both of you for join us on "LATE EDITION."

GRAHAM: Thank you. BLITZER: And don't forget our "LATE EDITION" Web question of the week: Will U.S. relations with Europe improve during President Bush's second term? You can vote right now. Go to cnn.com/lateedition, and we'll have the results in the next hour.

You can also e-mail us your questions for our guests at lateedition@cnn.com.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's much more coming up on "LATE EDITION," including President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin debating democracy: Is Russia backsliding? Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski weigh in.

And in case you missed it, our highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows. All that, much more, coming up.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

There are dramatic developments unfolding in Lebanon right now and word of possible Syrian involvement in the capture of one of Iraq's most wanted.

We'll get to all of that. We'll also explore the pros and cons of what happened during President Bush's European journey. All that coming up.

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

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go right to Lebanon, the government there banning a number of demonstrations for and against Syria's military presence in Lebanon. But there's other dramatic developments unfolding right now, as CNN's Brent Sadler joining us on the phone from Beirut with details.

Brent, what is happening?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, first of all, thousands of demonstrators remain in downtown Beirut. That's been the scene of wave after wave of anti-Syrian protests since the assassination of Rafik Hariri almost two weeks ago.

Now, the Lebanese government is facing a vote of no confidence most likely Monday. And in advance of that parliamentary action, tens of thousands of Lebanese were hoping to be put onto the street by anti-Syrian activists.

Now, the government has said in the past couple of hours here that it's given the orders to the military and security forces here to use all necessary means, quote, "to preserve security and order and to ban these demonstrations."

So there is really now the possibility of the demonstrations possibly turning violent, if there is a confrontation between security forces and so far these peaceful demonstrators. One of the main opposition groups saying they will go ahead with their protest Monday despite this ban, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brent Sadler reporting for us from Beirut. We'll continue to watch that story.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Israel is apparently considering military strikes against targets in Syria following Friday night's bombing in Tel Aviv.

CNN's John Vause joining us now live from Jerusalem. He's following that part of the story.

John?

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Israeli government has no doubt that a suicide bomber who killed four people in Tel Aviv on Friday night was ordered to blow himself up by the leadership of the militant Islamic group based in Syria.

Now, the Syrian government denies that allegation. That's not enough for the Israelis. The Israeli deputy defense minister told CNN that a possible militant strike on Israel is a very real possibility.

That would be a repeat of airstrikes, which were carried out in October 2003 when Israeli jets bombed a suspected training camp for Islamic Jihad just south of Damascus. Those airstrikes were ordered after a suicide bomber killed 21 people. Islamic Jihad leaders in Syria, according to Israel, were involved in that attack.

Right now, though, the Israeli government is preferring to see what happens with diplomatic pressure on Damascus.

A key demand by Israel is that the Syrian government close down the headquarters of militant groups like Islamic Jihad, which Israel says is in fact operating out of Damascus. Once again, the Syrian government denies that allegation.

In the meantime, the Israeli government is now putting pressure on the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, demanding that not only should Abbas disarm the militant groups, but Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister is demanding that they be eliminated altogether.

Across Israel, security is once again back on high alert. And the handover of five West Bank cities to Palestinian control is now on hold.

Wolf?

BLITZER: And, John, just to be precise, Israeli officials are insisting they have no doubt that Islamic Jihad, based in Damascus, was responsible, did in fact commit this terror attack Friday night in Tel Aviv?

VAUSE: Exactly right, Wolf. The intelligence which the Israelis have -- and they're emphatic about this -- is that the order for that suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on Friday night came from Damascus.

And even the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has said that a third party was involved in this and has vowed to hunt down those responsible.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. CNN's John Vause reporting for us from Jerusalem.

We'll get back to you as developments unfold.

There was a surprise today from Pope John Paul II. He is still hospitalized, recovering from a tracheotomy and relapse of the flu. CNN's Alessio Vinci is joining us now live from Rome with details.

Alessio?

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf.

Well, Pope John Paul II made a brief but nevertheless significant appearance from the window on the 10th floor here of the Gemelli Hospital. The pope was wheeled by an aide, and he appeared for just about two minutes.

He didn't do much. He blessed a few pilgrims who were gathered outside his hospital window here at some point. He moved his arm a few times and blessed them.

He also brought his arm to his throat, almost apologizing that he could not speak. As you know, the pope is recovering from throat surgery that was performed on him on Thursday to ease his breathing.

Although it was a surprise appearance, if you want, so much in fact that this appearance was not relayed live on giant television screens in Saint Peter's Square, where minutes later thousands of pilgrims were actually hearing the pope's own words being read by a Vatican aide.

Of course, this is Sunday, a traditional day when the pope delivers his Angelus, which is a prayer and a message to pilgrims and devoted people around the world. And this time the Angelus was read by a Vatican aide.

But nevertheless, the Vatican television did not manage to relay the pictures of the pope, which instead on those giant screens we were seeing giant pictures of an old much healthier pope than what we saw today from the window here at the Vatican, Wolf.

BLITZER: Alessio Vinci reporting for us from Rome with the latest on Pope John Paul II.

Alessio, thank you very much.

And we're just getting this story in from the Associated Press. A dispatch from Cairo, Egypt: Iraqi officials, according to the Associated Press, are quoted as saying that Syrian authorities captured Saddam Hussein's half-brother inside Syria and handed him over to Iraq in an apparent goodwill gesture.

According to the AP, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan, a former adviser suspected of financing insurgents inside Iraq, was captured in northeastern Syria near the Iraqi border. That, according to what the Associated Press is saying, two senior Iraqi officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. If, in fact, Syria did hand over this most- wanted half-brother of Saddam Hussein to Iraqi officials, it would represent a significant gesture on the part of Syria.

We'll continue to watch this story, try to get independent confirmation. We're working on that story. But once again, the AP reporting Syria handed over the captured half-brother of Saddam Hussein to Iraqi authorities.

Just ahead, assessing President Bush's foreign policy from the European perspective. We'll speak live with the British, French and German ambassadors to the United States.

And later, what's the real threat from Iran? We'll get special insight from former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: America and Europe face a moment of consequence and opportunity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush speaking during his European tour this past week. It's being called his "charm offensive," hoping to lead to a fresh effort to shore up the U.S.-Atlantic alliance strained by the war in Iraq.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Joining us now to talk about the president's trip, where U.S.-European relations stand and much more, three guests: Germany's ambassador to the United States, Wolfgang Ischinger; France's ambassador to the United States, Jean-David Levitte; and Britain's ambassador to the United States, Sir David Manning.

Ambassadors, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome to "LATE EDITION."

Let's start with the French ambassador to the United States.

The relationship between George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac has been strained. It supposedly got on a better track this past week, but there's still serious problems, mostly involving the U.S.-led war in Iraq and France's opposition to it.

Has the relationship dramatically improved?

JEAN-DAVID LEVITTE, FRANCE'S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Yes, I do think so. Wolf, I participated -- I was privileged to participate in the dinner in Brussels between the two presidents, and it worked very well.

On Iraq the two leaders have decided to let history decide who was right and wrong and to focus on the future. That is, to build on the success story of the elections. And I think all Europeans now are ready to help the Iraqi government to rebuild the institutions...

BLITZER: What is France ready to do, specifically?

LEVITTE: We have proposed to train 1,500 gens d'armerie officers in the coming months.

BLITZER: Police officers.

LEVITTE: Yes, military police. We have also given money to the NATO program to train Iraqi officers.

BLITZER: How much money?

LEVITTE: Half a million dollars. We are number one together with Germany in financing the funds to help. And...

BLITZER: Half a million dollars, given the fact the U.S. has spent about $300 billion, that doesn't sound like a lot of money.

LEVITTE: Wolf, no, it's only a small program, but it's important in the symbolic way because it's a NATO program. So we've been invited by the U.S. and NATO headquarters to participate in this small program, and we will. And with Germany, we are number one in our contributions to the funds. And...

BLITZER: The telephones?

LEVITTE: No, the training of Iraqi officers.

And third, we have proposed to help the Iraqi government to rebuild the institutions. It's a first priority now, together with security. The government has to work well. The parliament has to be well-equipped with civil servants, efficient and so on. The provinces have to be well-equipped with civil servants. So that's another opportunity.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the relationship between President Bush and the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.

That was bitterly strained, as you well know, especially when Schroeder ran for re-election and used the U.S., in effect, as a campaign issue, given the unpopularity of the U.S.-led moves toward Iraq.

Has this relationship, based on what you know, Mr. Ambassador, improved?

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER, GERMANY'S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Oh, I certainly think so, Wolf. In fact, I don't really think we really needed the meeting in minds, President Bush's visit to Germany this past week, to improve the relationship between the two governments. I think we've been doing quite well over the last year already.

BLITZER: What about the relationship between the two men?

ISCHINGER: I think they get along much better than some of our public seem to believe. They are both leaders who have in their career decided to take risks. And as an eyewitness, I cannot report any complaints from either side in getting along with one another. So I don't really think that's the problem.

The question was, as I see it, was this mostly atmosphere or is there also substance...

BLITZER: What's the answer?

ISCHINGER: ... to report?

And my answer is there was a lot of good atmosphere, so surely there is improvement across the board.

I think there has also been substantive movement and change, not only because President Bush, by visiting the European Commission, put to rest the suspicions in this country and in Europe that America might no longer be supportive of the European Union, of the idea of European integration, but also because in the meeting with the German side, in which I had the chance of participating, President Bush, I believe, enhanced the degree of U.S. support. He went a step further in terms of expressing his support for European efforts on Iran.

So I think that was important. We'll...

BLITZER: All right.

Let's talk a little bit, Ambassador Manning, about Iran, because this is a big problem right now. Your three governments -- Britain, Germany, France -- have one approach. The United States, the Bush administration has seemingly a different approach.

There's a good relationship between Tony Blair and George W. Bush, but on this issue of Iran, how much of a disagreement is there between the U.S. and the Europeans?

SIR DAVID MANNING, GREAT BRITAIN'S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Well, I think we're all very encouraged by the president's visit and, indeed, by Secretary Rice's visit, because this has been an issue that's been discussed by all our heads of government, and much more widely than the three of us here.

And what is quite clear is we all agree that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon, but we all agree that we should tackle this by diplomacy.

And the president came back from Europe saying that he was going to reflect on what he'd heard. He discussed it with his colleagues during the visit. And we will now see where this takes us. But I think this has been a very good opportunity to review the whole Iran issue.

BLITZER: You know, the Russians today signed an agreement with Iran to provide fuel, enriched uranium. What, if anything, are the European allies going to do about that?

MANNING: Well, this is not a new deal, Wolf. We've known this has been in the pipeline for some time. And what is it implies the Russians will supply the fuel, that the Iranians will use it, and they will do so under full-scope safeguards. This will be monitored very carefully...

BLITZER: So you're not concerned about it?

MANNING: Well, the important thing is that when the fuel has been used, it will be returned to Russia. This is what is critical. Here is the Iranian government accepting that it is not going to insist on the full fuel cycle.

BLITZER: So you don't have a problem with the Russians...

MANNING: We don't have a problem with it.

BLITZER: You don't have a problem with what the Russians are doing? No?

LEVITTE: No.

BLITZER: So you have a problem with what the Russians are doing?

ISCHINGER: No. So long as there are these full-scope safeguards, then I think we're in good shape.

BLITZER: Several members of the U.S. Congress have a huge problem with this, and the Bush administration has a problem with it. Senator McCain earlier this morning, Senator Lindsey Graham on this show, said the U.S. and its G-8 partners should kick the Russians out of the next G-8 meeting for what it's doing not only as far as Iran is concerned but because of the crackdown on democracy inside Russia.

LEVITTE: On Iran, I agree totally with what David just said. And the goal of free Europeans is to make sure that there will be no possibility for the Iranian government to build a nuclear bomb. And the best way to achieve that goal is to convince the Iranian government to not to accept or to build enrichment and reprocessing plants, because they don't need it. But we accept the idea that Iran could have electricity through nuclear plant. That's...

BLITZER: Even though they have so much oil they don't really need it for their own energy needs.

LEVITTE: Well, that's not illegal. And it's difficult to say, well, you have electricity from oil and from...

BLITZER: So you're not convinced that Iran is building a bomb?

LEVITTE: Well, we want to make sure that this will be impossible in the future. And the only way to do so is to stop the enrichment of uranium and the reprocessing of uranium. That...

BLITZER: Let Ambassador Ischinger -- are you convinced Iran is still clandestinely trying to build a bomb or not?

ISCHINGER: Well, I think the important question, Wolf, is not really what we think, what our suspicions are. The important thing is what we know their capabilities are, what our intelligence, our collective intelligence, and the IAEA, what they report about it. And there have obviously been violations, which need to be addressed, which continue to be addressed.

And no doubt about it -- and I think that was clear during the president's visit -- there is no difference in our concern about Iran having potentially in the future nuclear weapons and the American concern. Our concern is the same. We are as serious about this as the U.S. government, and I think that is good. We are really united in the purpose here.

BLITZER: Let's go around the table once, and then we'll take a quick break. Should Russia participate in the next G-8 summit?

ISCHINGER: Of course. Russia is a member of this group.

MANNING: Certainly we think Russia should participate. It's going to be in the chair next year. But it's on the basis of the shared commitment to the policies that the G-8 represents. So of course we want Russia to be in the chair next year, but we also want a reaffirmation of the sort of partnership possible on the basis of common and shared values.

BLITZER: Ambassador Levitte?

LEVITTE: Exactly the same position.

BLITZER: So all of you agree. You all disagree with Senator McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham.

MANNING: If that's what they said. I'm afraid I haven't heard what they said.

BLITZER: Well, that's what they said.

MANNING: My government is committed to the continuation of...

BLITZER: Jane Harman, too, the Democratic Congresswoman, Jane Harman, suggested the same thing.

All right, let's take a quick break. Much more coming up. We'll ask the ambassadors about the president's image in Europe. Has he shed what's being called that cowboy image?

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're talking about the U.S.-European relationship with our guests: Germany's ambassador to the United States, Wolfgang Ischinger; France's ambassador to the United States, Jean-David Levitte; and Britain's ambassador to the United States, Sir David Manning.

One of the issues of contention -- and I'll begin with Ambassador Ischinger this time -- the issue of Syria's contention between the U.S. and the E.U., is the E.U.'s decision to sell weapons to China.

Congressman Henry Hyde, the chairman of the International Relations Committee in the House, wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, he said, "The new European Union policy will provide the Chinese leadership with a significant propaganda coup and strike a blow to the pro-democracy movement in China. Even more disturbing, E.U. security policy toward China is on a collision course with America's extensive security interests in Asia."

That's a serious problem. I know it was raised during the president's visit to Europe this week.

ISCHINGER: I think our decision in the European Union to lift the so-called embargo -- you know, it was a political decision made at the time of the Tiananmen incident -- to lift this embargo, I think this decision needs to be properly explained and placed in the right context.

We have said -- and I think we need to say and explain over and over again -- that it is not the intention of the European Union as a whole, nor is it the intention of individual governments, to start exporting, you know, if you wish, wildly to China with complete disregard to the security interests of others, including the United States. That's just not true.

What we are about to do, what the intention is, is to in a way normalize the relationship that we have with China, but not to increase our arms sales.

BLITZER: How much of a source of contention is this issue, E.U. arms sales to China, between the United States and the Europeans?

MANNING: Can I just say, I think there's been an awful lot of heat about this, Wolf, but not a lot of light.

As Wolfgang has just said, the embargo was put on at the time of Tiananmen. It only captured very big armament projects. It didn't capture the sort of things that now concern us so much, such as dual- use capability goods, high-tech, and command and control components.

And in 1998, we in the European Union developed our own control mechanisms. It's called the "code of conduct." It's not a particularly catchy phrase, but this code is very important. And most of our exports to China have been exported under this code since 1998. It's far more sweeping in its scope than the embargo is.

BLITZER: All right.

MANNING: So I think it's very important that this is understood, because we haven't had lots of complaints about this. This code will continue in place. It will go on catching our exports.

We want to strengthen it. We want to have transparency, so that we can consult with the U.S. administration about this. At the same time, we're keen to have proper dialogue on security in Northeast Asia.

So I think it's a misunderstanding. And our leaders, together with their European counterparts, all said in December, no qualities have changed, no quantities have changed in our arms exports.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on, talk a little bit about Syria and Lebanon, what's happening in the Middle East.

Ambassador Levitte, the French and the U.S. have been very closely aligned, when it comes to getting Syrian forces out of Lebanon.

First of all, this AP report now suggesting the Syrians handed over one of Iraq's most wanted, the half-brother of Saddam Hussein, to the Iraqis as a goodwill gesture.

We have not independently confirmed that, but if that is true, how significant of a development do you believe that would be?

LEVITTE: Well, it would be certainly a positive development, and that's exactly what we expect from Syria.

Now, on Lebanon, what we want is free and fair elections taking place this spring in Lebanon according to their constitution and without external pressure.

And that's where the United States and France are working well together, simply to ask all the actors to help in the implementation of the resolutions of the Security Council...

BLITZER: You want the Syrians out of Lebanon, not only their military but, as President Bush says, their secret services, their intelligence operatives in Lebanon as well? LEVITTE: Well, that is what the U.N. Security Council has requested through Resolution 1559. That is also what the Taif accord had decided years and years ago.

BLITZER: Are you ready to increase sanctions, economic, diplomatic sanctions, on Syria if they don't comply?

LEVITTE: We are not yet at that stage, because you know that there is a U.N. inquiry helping the Lebanese inquiry about the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri, former Prime Minister Hariri. So we will see what are the results, and the Security Council will convene and decide.

BLITZER: What do you make of this latest development, if it's true, that Syria is actually cooperating, handing over a most-wanted Iraqi to the Iraqis?

ISCHINGER: Well, as they say, everything is possible in the Middle East, and we have seen positive things recently, in the Palestinian elections, Iraqi elections.

If this means that Syria is trying to be helpful -- this is what it appears to mean; we don't know the details or the background yet -- then this would be good news.

BLITZER: You know, Ambassador Manning, that the Israelis are blaming Damascus for the Friday night terror attack in Tel Aviv, citing a statement from Islamic Jihad in Damascus, claiming responsibility. And the Israelis are weighing their options right now, as well.

Potentially this is a serious moment.

MANNING: Well, I don't know whether we have any confirmation as to who was behind the bombing in Tel Aviv, but it is utterly to be condemned.

I notice that the Palestinian leadership have called it an act of sabotage, and that's exactly how we see it. Because this is a key moment.

Tomorrow in London there will be a meeting where we will have the Palestinian leadership. And our aim in that meeting is to help the Palestinians to help themselves, because we had a moment of opportunity in the peace process, as the president has said and as Secretary Rice said in Europe. And whoever is behind these efforts to wreck this process, clearly this has to be condemned out of hand. We have to do everything we can to ensure the process goes forward despite their efforts.

And I would just add to what my German colleague said that, as far as the question of whether Syria has handed over Saddam's half- brother, one of the things we've all been asking for -- the United States, the European Union -- is that Syria should help us in Iraq, that we should not have any support there for the insurgency. So I think it's not only about our relationship here with Syria, it's very important in terms of Syria's attitude to the whole issue of Iraq, as well.

BLITZER: David Manning, thanks very much for joining us. Jean- David Levitte, Wolfgang Ischinger, the ambassadors from Germany, United Kingdom and France, I appreciate you joining us.

We're going to take a quick break. Up next, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including Israel telling the Palestinian government certain things following Friday night's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

Then, is the United States being tough enough on Russian President Vladimir Putin? We'll ask former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now to discuss Syria, Russia, other international flashpoints, two distinguished guests: In Jacksonville, Florida, the former U.S. defense secretary, William Cohen. He is now the CEO of The Cohen Group. And here in Washington, the former U.S. national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Gentlemen, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Dr. Brzezinski, I'll begin with you. Syria supposedly right now, according to the AP, handing over Saddam Hussein's half-brother to Iraqi authorities as a goodwill gesture, but at the same time now accused by the Israelis of direct responsibility for Friday night's terror attack in Tel Aviv.

What's going on?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, first of all, I think the phrase "goodwill gesture" is kind of comical. If the guy is a thug he should be handed over. But what sort of a deal is it, handing over people as goodwill gestures?

As to the terrorist act in Israel and Syria, apparently there was a terrorist organization in Damascus who claimed responsibility. That is intolerable. If it is in Damascus and the Syrians don't act against it, they in effect assume some of the responsibility. So I would expect the Syrians, and I think the international community should expect the Syrians, to crack down.

BLITZER: What do you think, Secretary Cohen?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I agree with Dr. Brzezinski. The notion that they're handing over someone as a gesture raises the question of, how long have they had him, how long have they known about him, and why have they withheld him to date?

So this notion of exchanging a terrorist or suspected terrorist in trying to defuse public criticism of their own activities it seems to me is rather hollow.

BLITZER: What, if anything else, should the U.S. and the international community, Dr. Brzezinski, be doing to convince the Syrians to pull out of Lebanon?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, actually I think the pressure that's being applied, not just by us but by the French, for example, who have a lot of interests in the area and a lot of historical past involved with the area, and others is exactly right.

But it should be sustained. It should be public. And it might also reduce some of the internal pressures in Israel to strike against the Palestinians. Because if that happens...

BLITZER: To strike against the Palestinians. What do you mean by that?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, in retaliation for the terrorist act.

BLITZER: But supposedly in Israel, they're weighing whether to strike against Syria right now.

BRZEZINSKI: Look, if the Syrians don't crack down on the organization from Damascus that claims responsibility for terrorist acts in Israel, they're making themselves liable to such a strike.

But my point is terrorists should not be allowed to dictate the pace of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations of the peace process. And therefore I hope that if the Syrians become the focal point of the reaction, that the Israelis will be able to ease up a little bit on the Palestinians.

BLITZER: Secretary Cohen, you know this region very well. It is pretty amazing that all these Lebanese are now standing up publicly -- leaders, demonstrators, average Lebanese -- and basically declaring to the Syrians, "Get out." Because in the past, this could have resulted in severe retaliation against them.

COHEN: I think it's a remarkable demonstration of their courage. It's also, I think, a demonstration of what is taking place. And we talk about transformation, the notion that we saw the transformation taking place with the Iraqis going to the polls by the millions in order to cast their votes, the vote taking place amongst the Palestinians to elect a new leader.

I think this image is being seen around the world, including in the Middle East. And this is giving hope to many millions of people to rise up and say we want to be rid of an occupying force.

That applies certainly in Iraq with respect to the United States. It applies in Israel with respect to the occupation of the western bank as such and also in Gaza. So this notion of occupation is really starting to take root, and people are rising up against it.

BLITZER: You know, you may have seen, Dr. Brzezinski, Der Spiegel raising the question, maybe Bush was really right in his rhetoric and his demands? The fact that Mubarak now, the president of Egypt, is suggesting there can be elections and there can be opposition candidates running in elections in Egypt seems to suggest that maybe the pressure is building.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes, but let's not be too quick about cheering. If there are free elections in Egypt, who is going to win them? It could be the Muslim Brotherhood. Look who won the elections in Iraq: the Shiites, and rather theocratic.

I mean, let's not be too simplistic about it. Elections can produce extremely intolerant, emotional majorities. And I think we have to be alert to that.

BLITZER: There was an example in Algeria not that long ago. There were elections, and people got elected that you and I and a lot of other people would not necessarily want to be elected.

BRZEZINSKI: Precisely.

BLITZER: What about Mubarak's statement, though, Secretary Cohen? Is President Mubarak responding to the kind of lecturing he's been getting from President Bush?

COHEN: Well, I think we have to be careful that we're not seen as lecturing other countries. I think what we do is we lead by example.

I think that we raise the question of the need for freedom and liberty and free elections, given the caveat of Dr. Brzezinski, that just because you have elections doesn't mean you'll have a democracy. So we have to take that into account.

But nonetheless, there is a fundamental desire, I think, on the part of people to want to have an opportunity to freely discuss their future and vote for their future.

With respect to Egypt, I think it is a rather significant step by President Mubarak to say that there are going to be multi candidates now running for office or parties, rather than one-party rule. I think that's a very significant step.

BLITZER: Dr. Brzezinski and Secretary Cohen, listen to what Vladimir Putin said this week when he met with President Bush in Slovakia on the issue of democracy inside Russia. I'll actually read it to you: "The fundamental principles of democracy and institutions of democracy must be adopted to the realities of Russian life today, to our traditions and our history, and we will do this ourselves."

He wasn't budging at all in the face of criticism that he's cracking down on democratic values.

BRZEZINSKI: No, he wasn't budging. And, well, I thought the president did very well before the meeting with Putin, when he spoke to thousands and thousands of Slovaks and talked about freedom spreading from Georgia and Ukraine, eventually to Belarus and Moldova, implicitly criticizing Putin.

In the meeting with Putin himself, I thought he was a little timid. He obviously had a briefing paper which said, "Don't talk about partnership. Don't talk about friendship. Talk about constructive relationship." Because in two minutes he used the word "constructive" eight times, but he didn't really address any of the basic issues.

BLITZER: Should the Russians be kicked out of the G-8, the next summit?

BRZEZINSKI: I think it's useful for leading senators like McCain and Lieberman to bring it up. I think it's premature to act on it, but it is a very useful reminder to the Russians that the G-8 are supposed to be based on shared values.

BLITZER: What do you think, Secretary Cohen?

COHEN: Well, I think we also have to take into account the views of our European friends, the guests you had on earlier. The United States can be more effective and most effective when it's working in concert with its allies.

For the United States to take a, quote, "unilateral position," say the Russians should be kicked out at a time when there is not a consensus within our European alliance as such, I think would result in an ineffective gesture.

But I think it's correct to raise the issue, to talk about it and to bring as much pressure as one can to make sure that the reforms that were initially undertaken are carried out and not reversed through any kind of autocratic rule.

BLITZER: Dr. Brzezinski, we saw Pope John Paul II briefly today at his hospital window, not speaking. He's still recuperating from his tracheotomy and his flu.

This is the pontiff that you know well. You met with him, and you know his impact in ending the Cold War. Remind our viewers what his role was.

BRZEZINSKI: His role was enormous, but it wasn't what many people in this country think it was or portray it as having been. He's often talked about having been an ally of President Reagan and as having worked together with the CIA, and that's just totally incorrect.

His impact was really spiritual and, by being spiritual, became political. He all of a sudden made people aware of the total spiritual emptiness of the communist system. And when he started visiting Eastern Europe as pontiff he made people aware of the fact that overwhelming majorities were against the system, majorities composed of people who hitherto thought they were alone and isolated in their opposition.

He gave them courage. He gave them conviction. He gave them a sense of direction, which was omnipotent in its effect.

BLITZER: And I think I speak for all of us, all of our viewers, we wish Pope John Paul II a speedy recovery.

On that note we have to leave it, unfortunately.

Dr. Brzezinski, thanks as usual for joining us.

Secretary Cohen, thanks to you as well.

Up next, the results of our Web question of the week: Will U.S. relations with Europe improve in President Bush's second term?

Plus, "LATE EDITION"'s Sunday morning talk roundup.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our "LATE EDITION" Web question asked this: Will U.S. relations improve during President Bush's second term -- U.S. relations with the European allies? Here's how you voted: Twelve percent of you said yes; 88 percent said no. Remember, though, this is not a scientific poll.

In case you missed it, let's recap some highlights from the four other Sunday morning talk shows.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," the former conservative columnist for the New York Times, William Safire, took a direct swipe at President Bush for supposedly being too soft during last week's meeting with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM SAFIRE, NBC'S "MEET THE PRESS": I was disheartened and dismayed by the way he went eyeball to eyeball with President Putin and Bush blinked.

Here is a president who has been talking eloquently about extending freedom and fighting for democracy around the world in his inaugural address, in his State of the Union.

And as soon as he comes up against the man who is doing more to stop the extension of freedom than anybody else, he wimps out. All of a sudden -- I think this was as big a blunder as his father made when he gave the "Chicken Kiev" speech, saying "stay within the Soviet Union."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On "FOX News Sunday," Republican Senator John McCain also blasted the Russian president. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Vladimir Putin seems to me to be acting somewhat like a spoiled child. He tried to interfere in the elections in Ukraine, in a very embarrassing fashion. He throws people in jail. He now is repressing the press. He is now appointing governors of all the provinces in Russia. Every step he takes seems to be headed toward a restoration of the old Russian empire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In his State of the Union address, you may remember President Bush condemning the use of steroids by professional athletes. That was more than a year ago. But today on ABC's "This Week," his fellow Republican California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took a somewhat different view.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST, ABC'S "THIS WEEK": You've admitted to using steroids in the past. Knowing what you know now about them, would you have done it?

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Yes, absolutely.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No regrets?

SCHWARZENEGGER: No, I have no regrets because at that time it was something new that came on the market. And we went to the doctor and did it under doctor's supervision. We were experimenting with it. It was a new thing.

So we can't roll the clock back and say, "Now I would change my mind" or anything like this. For those days, that's what we did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And on CBS's "Face the Nation," Republican Senator John Sununu and Democratic Senator Jon Corzine squared off over partially privatizing Social Security.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. JOHN SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Personal accounts, allowing younger workers the choose of investing in a thrift savings plan option that gives a getter rate of return, I think, leads to a better system. It's better for younger workers. It's certainly better for low- and middle-income workers that don't have access to IRAs and 401(k)s.

SEN. JON CORZINE (D), NEW JERSEY: We need to make sure we're not talking about an ideological or a policy shift away from guaranteed benefits, which is what Social Security is. This proposal of privatization is a radical shift in the covenant that we have laid down with regard to Social Security one generation to the next.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: "LATE EDITION" highlights the four other Sunday morning talk shows here, this being the last word in Sunday talk.

Let's take a closer look now at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States. New issues just coming out.

Newsweek has Martha Stewart on the cover with her last laugh.

Time magazine looks into the math myth involving women.

And U.S. News and World Report says eat more and lose weight.

All on the cover.

That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, February 27th. Please be sure to join us next Sunday, every Sunday, at noon eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'm here Monday through Friday, noon and 5:00 p.m. eastern.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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


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