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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Stephen Hadley; Interview With Buthaina Shaaban

Aired March 13, 2005 - 12:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6 p.m. in Rome, 7 p.m. in Beirut. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll get to my interview with U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley in just a few minutes. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go right to Rome, where Pope John Paul II is getting ready to leave the hospital momentarily, preparing to return to the Vatican.

CNN's Alessio Vinci is on the scene for us. He is joining us live.

Alessio, set the stage for us. Tell us what's about to happen.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf.

Yes, everything is ready here, the Gemelli Polyclinic in Rome. The police have already sealed the roads between here and the Vatican. And here at the Gemelli hospital the police escort is ready. We're just waiting for the pope any moment now to emerge from this window.

He will be loaded into this gray minivan that you can see through the window. And then escorted by police, the pope will be driven back to the Vatican.

That's about 17 days after he was first admitted here and operated upon. The pope had a tracheotomy to help him breathe.

I can tell you that lining up the streets, hundreds of pilgrims were waiting to get a glimpse, even just a glimpse of the pope as his motorcade will be driving by.

Unlike last time around, the pope this time will not be using his "popemobile." I don't think we should read anything into that other than the fact perhaps that this time around, the Vatican, while still wanting to make a very public statement here, saying the pope is well enough to return to the Vatican, perhaps they don't want to show too much of him.

Nevertheless, this minivan has windows, see-through windows. So we will be able to get even a glimpse of the pope as he leaves the hospital.

Earlier today, we saw the pope emerging from the window of his Gemelli hospital on the 10th floor here. The pope making his very first public statement from that window, telling a few hundred pilgrims who are gathered outside the hospital, "Have a good Sunday."

The pope did speak with a husky voice. But nevertheless, it does appear that he is recovering well, so well, in fact, that the Vatican has now decided in accordance with what doctors also are saying, that the pope is well enough to be able to return to the Vatican.

Of course, coming up in a week's time, beginning Sunday is a very important holy week in the Christian calendar, beginning on Sunday with Palm Sunday -- many, many events inside the Vatican. We already know that Pope John Paul II has delegated the presiding over those events to trusted cardinals and other aides.

The pope will make a few appearance here and there. But we do expect that he is still recovering from that surgery, Wolf, and, therefore, the pope is likely to participate in these events by perhaps watching it on television from the Apostolic Palace.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Alessio, a quick question: How much of a drive is it from the hospital back to the Vatican? How long is it expected for the pope to take before he gets back to the Vatican?

VINCI: Wolf, it is about three- to four-mile stretch of road. And of course, it's been completely cleared from traffic. So we do expect the pope to be back at the Vatican in less than 10 minutes or so from the moment he leaves the hospital.

The car, of course, will not be driving very fast for two reasons. First of all because, of course, the pope is still very frail and the car driving fast will be very uncomfortable for him, but also because I think there will be many people lining up the road, lining up the streets through which the pope will be passing by. And so, of course, the driver and the Vatican security wants to give the people an opportunity to get a glimpse of the pope himself.

Wolf?

BLITZER: CNN's Alessio Vinci reporting for us from the hospital in Rome.

Alessio, thanks very much.

And to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I just want to point out, as soon as we see the pontiff go into that Mercedes minivan for the quick drive from the hospital to the Vatican, we'll show you those pictures live here on CNN.

The pope getting ready to leave the hospital.

We'll move on to other news we're following right now. After weeks of pressing Iran to abandon its nuclear program, the United States is now taking a somewhat different approach, accepting an European-led strategy of offering the Iranians some incentives. The Bush administration is no longer opposing, for example, Iran's inclusion in the World Trade Organization.

But the administration's tough stance toward Syria does appear to be yielding some favorable results from the D.C. perspective.

Just a short while ago, I spoke with President Bush's new national security advisor, Stephen Hadley. We discussed those issues and much more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Steve Hadley, thanks very much for joining us, your first time on "LATE EDITION" since becoming national security advisor to the president. Let's get to the questions right away.

The U.N. special envoy emerged from meetings saying this. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERJE ROED-LARSEN, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY: The president has committed to withdraw all Syrian troops and intelligence from Lebanon in fulfillment of Security Council Resolution 1559.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Terje Larsen, the U.N. special envoy, saying President Bashar Al-Assad has made this commitment to withdraw from Lebanon. Is it good enough?

STEPHEN HADLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It's good news. We'll have to see the details. He's coming back to New York. He will report to Kofi Annan. We obviously want to see what the details are.

What we really need to see is, as 1559 requires, Syrian forces leaving Lebanon promptly. The reason we need to do that is we need to get to the point where elections can be held this spring, elections that are free and fair and are not influenced by the presence of Syrian forces. That's what we need to see.

BLITZER: Elections scheduled for May right now. Do you think all Syrian forces, military and intelligence personnel as well, will be out of Lebanon by the time of those elections?

HADLEY: We'll have to see what the schedule is. Certainly we would like to see that.

I think the big point here is, as you said, it needs to be both military forces and intelligence forces, and they need to be in a situation where the elections can go forward without the influence of those forces. BLITZER: What happens if it doesn't happen? In other words, what if the Syrians refuse to completely withdraw their troops from Lebanon? They're moving them now to the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, but what happens if May comes around, there are still Syrian troops in Lebanon?

HADLEY: Well, we'll have to see. The international community has been clear on this. The Lebanese people have been clear on this. And what Larsen has indicated today in the statement you read, that Assad is beginning to hear the message. I think we just need to see how this unfolds over the next days and weeks.

BLITZER: Well, when you say the Lebanese people have been clear, they haven't necessarily been clear, because this week we saw a huge demonstration organized by Hezbollah, a group the State Department, the Bush administration, says is a terrorist organization, put together a huge, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, supporting Syria, in effect.

HADLEY: Well, it's interesting. If you look at the footage of those demonstrations, what you saw overwhelmingly were Lebanese flags. And the challenge is going to be, I think, what Hezbollah does in the days forward.

Obviously, we consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization. We continue to regard them in that way. But there is an opportunity now for all forces in Lebanon who agree to a democratic future for Lebanon under the rule of law to participate in these elections.

We hope all of those forces would do so. We can get a Lebanese government which can then begin to lead the country forward.

BLITZER: Immediately after that pro-Syrian demonstration organized by Hezbollah, Omar Karami, the pro-Syrian former Lebanese prime minister, it was announced he was going to come back and form a new government, almost in defiance of United States and others and Europe, around the world and in the Arab world as well.

What do you make of that?

HADLEY: Well, obviously a number of folks in the international community and in Lebanon were a little disappointed at that choice. He has indicated, though, he wants to put together a government of national unity. There is some dialogue coming now with the Lebanese opposition. They have some conditions. We're going to have to see what kind of government arises.

But the first responsibility of that government needs to be free and fair elections, and that's what really needs to be our focus.

BLITZER: Is Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, in charge?

HADLEY: He is president of Syria. He has obviously sat down with Larsen. He has given Larsen some assurance that it will comply with 1559. I think we have to take him at his word, but as I said in my earlier answer, what we need to see is actions and deeds, not just words.

BLITZER: Are there direct contacts between the United States and President Bashar al-Assad right now on this issue?

HADLEY: We have, of course, have a -- we have relations with the Syrian government. We've had conversations with President Assad. But on this issue, it is the secretary-general's representative, Mr. Larsen, who has been conducting these discussions.

BLITZER: One of the aspects of Resolution 1559 passed by the U.N. Security Council calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias. In other words, many have seen that as a reference to the Hezbollah.

Does the United States believe that Hezbollah must be completely disarmed in Lebanon?

HADLEY: We believe that all elements in Lebanon have an opportunity through the elections to participate in the process that will result in a democratically elected government whose task is going to be to establish a democratic society based on the rule of law. We would invite all willing to accept the principles of democracy and the rule of law to participate in that process.

But, of course, one of the challenges for that new government will be how to deal with those elements, if any, that continue to take the path of violence and terrorism. Obviously, they have no place in the society based on democracy and rule of law.

But the sequence needs to be: Get Syrian troops out of Lebanon; get free and fair elections; get a democratic government in place in Lebanon. And they will then need to deal with those forces that are not prepared to accept democracy and the rule of law.

BLITZER: Well, I'm still not clear. Does that mean that the Hezbollah militia must be disbanded and disarmed?

HADLEY: The 1559 says they need to be disarmed. The question is obviously going to be a timing. And it's going to be an issue that is going to be for the new Lebanese government, that it's going to have to address.

And they're going to need assistance. We're going to have to make sure that the international community is ready, willing and able to support the new Lebanese government as it deals with the security, political and economic challenges it's going to face.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Iran for a moment. This week, a dramatic shift in U.S. policy: supporting the Western European initiative to offer incentives to Iran to walk away from its nuclear program; dropping objections to Iran joining the World Trade Organization; allowing the sale of spare parts for civilian airplanes.

In other words, a carrot being offered now, in effect, by the United States, by the Bush administration to Iran after so many U.S. officials had said Iran should not be rewarded for doing what it's supposed to do under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

What justifies this shift in U.S. strategy?

HADLEY: I would say it's not a shift in U.S. strategy, Wolf. We have and the president has been clear that we support the negotiations the Europeans are having with the Iranians, which is the objective of getting the Iranians to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions. We've said we -- the president has said we support those negotiations.

What the Europeans asked us to do was to withdraw our objection to two elements of a package they are putting together to offer to the Iranians in the negotiations they are conducting. And we agreed to do that.

We agreed to do that in exchange for a commitment from the Europeans that there must not be a nuclear weapon in Iran, that they have agreed with us that the agenda with Iran is not just a nuclear issue but support to terror, opposition to peace in the Middle East and failure to give their people freedom.

We've now got a strategic agenda with the Europeans. And we've also got an agreement from the Europeans that if their negotiations do not succeed and Iran resumes its effort to move toward a nuclear capability, then we will go together and take it to the United Nations.

BLITZER: Given the history of the bad intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, almost exactly two years ago before the war, are you convinced that U.S. intelligence right now is good enough to declare definitively without any hesitation whatsoever that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb?

HADLEY: Obviously, intelligence in Iran is hard to come by. It is a very closed society. They keep their secrets very well. What we and the international community learned and what IAEA has learned is that for over a decade, Iran has been pursuing elements of a program that could be used to develop a nuclear weapon and has kept it secret.

The uranium enrichment program which gives the fissile material that is required for a nuclear weapon was hidden from the IAEA inspectors: something that the Iranians say they have the right to do, nonetheless kept it hidden for years and years.

The failure to disclose and the lack of compliance with their IAEA agreements raises serious suspicions in not only our mind, but in the Europeans' minds.

And that is why in the negotiations the Europeans are having with the Iranians they are seeking guarantees that Iran will not seek a nuclear weapon. And the best guarantee is for them to permanently abandon their enrichment facilities. And that's what the Europeans are trying to achieve.

BLITZER: Because the Iranians flatly deny their building a bomb. One of their senior Iranian negotiators saying only today, U.S. officials are either unaware of the substance of the talks or they they are hallucinating, referring to the fact that Iran, they insist that Iran is not developing, moving toward a nuclear bomb.

HADLEY: We hear what they say, but the behavior has been suspicious enough that not only the United States but also the Europeans are concerned and think we need some guarantees that are clear, that will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon capability.

BLITZER: Time magazine in the new issue just coming out today is quoting or citing a restricted U.S. law enforcement bulletin that has circulated among U.S. security agencies saying that Abu Musab al Zarqawi -- terrorist number one in Iraq right now -- has talked in the words of Time magazine about hitting soft targets in the United States including movie theaters, restaurants and schools.

What can you tell our viewers about this restricted bulletin?

HADLEY: Obviously, if it's a restricted bulletin, it's the kind of thing we can't talk about publicly.

But let me say this: About two weeks ago we were very clear that we were concerned about reports which we think are very credible that the Zarqawi organization has moved even closer to Osama bin Laden's organization and that one of the tasks Osama bin Laden has given Zarqawi's organization to look at targets in the U.S. homeland.

We know that Al Qaeda has not given up their aspirations to attack targets in the homeland. The three you have mentioned are the kinds of targets we know that Al Qaeda has traditionally been concerned about.

But we at this point, sitting here, do not have evidence of a specific operation by Zarqawi's organizations targeting those kinds of targets. We just don't have that kind of information at this point.

BLITZER: We are all out of time.

Stephen Hadley, you've got a tough job ahead of you. Good luck.

HADLEY: Thanks very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And I just want to update our viewers. We're looking at these live pictures from the Gemelli hospital in Rome. There it is. A Mercedes minivan, Pope John Paul II is now inside that minivan, getting ready to leave the hospital for the quick drive, about 10 minutes or so, to the Vatican. The pope after spending -- what -- some 17 days in the hospital, following a tracheotomy.

Our Alessio Vinci once again is on the scene for us.

Alessio, the minivan beginning to leave, for this quick drive. We see the pontiff there. He's waving to the pilgrims who are going to be watching every step of the way: A very emotional moment, a very, very positive moment, given the very difficult medical condition that the pontiff has endured over these past several weeks. Alessio, tell our viewers a little bit -- and we have a camera actually inside the minivan, thanks to our affiliates in Rome. There he is, the pontiff, looking pretty good, Alessio. I don't know if you can see these pictures from where you are.

VINCI: I can, Wolf, and I can also hear the applause of the people. I'm not sure whether you can hear them, but it is a really an emotional moment here at the Gemelli Polyclinic. Pope John Paul II after 17 days is now leaving that hospital to make that very short drive about, as you said, four miles, to the Vatican.

And I can tell you that this is an extremely public event, a moment that many pilgrims not just in Rome, but presumably around the world, have been waiting for: the pope leaving this hospital.

Just to give you an indication about how big of a deal this is, the Italian -- both state and private television, which at this time usually broadcast very popular shows, including football results -- well, they are broadcasting the pope's departure from the polyclinic.

So it is a very, very big deal here in Rome. This is a moment that many Catholics had been waiting for ever since the pope was readmitted for the second time in just one month on February 24th at the Gemelli Polyclinic. The pope of course went through a tracheotomy, a surgery. They introduced a small tube that allows him to breathe more easily. We do understand that that tube has not been removed from the pope, and therefore the pope is still going through some breathing and voice exercises.

But as you can see, these live pictures, the pope still looking very well. He is saluting the pilgrims who are here just outside the Gemelli Polyclinic.

But I can tell you also there will be some people lining up the streets. I've been driving here. I've seen people using their binoculars from their own apartment windows.

So this is a man that, you know, you don't have to be a Catholic to be interested in what he is doing. There is a lot of interest here in Rome and indeed around the world.

Pope John Paul II clearly recovering well from both the surgery, as well as the medical treatment that he underwent throughout this 17 days at the hospital.

The weather in Rome is good. Well, it is a bit cold.

It is interesting to note, Wolf, you may remember when he was discharged from the hospital in February, the pope used his pope mobile, which is an open-decked car, which allows people from the outside to see him clearly. This time around the Vatican officials opting for a more closed-in car, perhaps because it is colder, perhaps because the Vatican officials do not want to show too much of the pope, who is still recovering.

These are now again live pictures from the Vatican. And indeed Pope John Paul II, who earlier today actually made an appearance from the hospital window and for the first time he publicly spoke -- for the first time ever since he went through the surgery -- the pope spoke publicly, thanking the hundreds of pilgrims who had gathered just outside his hospital window.

The pope said, "Thank you, and have a good Sunday."

Clearly the pope was still speaking with a husky voice. He is still learning how to speak with this breathing tube the doctors have inserted during surgery. This is a tube that allows him to breathe more easily. But of course he has to learn how to speak, because in order to be able to speak, he has to basically close a little hole that, you know, to his chest, where the tube has been -- through which the tube has been inserted, Wolf.

BLITZER: Alessio, we're so used to seeing Pope John Paul II in that so-called pope mobile. I don't know how extraordinary it is that he's now in a regular Mercedes minivan as opposed to the pope mobile.

But a lot of questions are going to be asked by the curious: why this van as opposed to the pope mobile, Do you remember -- you've been in Rome for a long time -- an occasion where Pope John Paul II has been in a regular car opposed to the pope mobile?

VINCI: Well, more often than not, when there are public events and this is, by all means, one of them -- the pope does use the pope mobile. I can't really speculate too much as to why the pope did not use the pope mobile because that car, as well as the minivan, are both closed cars.

And I can tell you what the journalists here were speculating about, saying, for example, last time around, Vatican officials were not very happy at the fact that we could tell how weak the pope was. Because, obviously, through the windows of the pope mobile, you have a much better glimpse and you can see a lot more of the pope.

But I must tell you that I was very surprised to see an inside camera shot from the actual window.

This is quite unusual, Wolf.

As a matter of fact, I believe this is one of the very first times that I can see, that I can remember, that a camera -- a live camera from inside the car into which the pope is moving.

As you can see, the pope has left now five minutes ago. And there are still people lining the streets of Rome. So, clearly, the pope leaving the hospital: a very, very public event, something that many have been waiting for for a long time.

And this is not just being broadcast around the world, but also here on Italian television, both private television as well as state television, which is breaking into the regular programming to show the pope leaving the hospital, Wolf.

BLITZER: Alessio, I want you to bring in our Vatican analyst, Delia Gallagher. I believe she is there with you. I'd be anxious to get her thoughts on this very visible exit of the pope from the hospital back to the Vatican, what this really means for Catholics not only in Rome, but around the world.

VINCI: Delia, thank you very much for joining us. I'll repeat the question. You cannot hear Wolf. But basically he was asking: What do you think of this very public exit from the hospital? What does it really mean for Catholics around the world?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN ANALYST: Well, I think one thing to say is that, of course, the pope is the symbol for Catholics and indeed for Christians. And there will certainly be those who will welcome the fact that the pope is able to go back to the Vatican. But there is still a lot of concern for his health. You know, we can't deny that. So I think there's a mixture of kind of gladness but concern.

VINCI: Of course, now the pope is returning back to the Vatican. There is a very important week beginning on Sunday with Palm Sunday. It's a holy week celebration.

How important do you think was it for the pope to be back at the Vatican, although we understand he will not be able to preside over most of the events which will take place at the Vatican? He has delegated that to trusted cardinals.

But how important do you think it is for the pilgrims who, by the thousands, are expected to flock to St. Peter's Square during that week beginning next Sunday? How important do you think it is to know that the pope is doing better and that he is actually inside the Vatican?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think one of the reasons we're seeing him leaving now, a week before the holy week begins is precisely because the Vatican doesn't want this pope's story to overshadow the main Christian story which is holy week and Easter. And I think that might even be one of the reasons we are seeing him leaving in this car instead of the pope mobile which you were talking about earlier.

You know, there's a certain sensitivity to the fact that, yes, this is a huge story but we don't want it to become another pope story: there's the pope again in his pope mobile leaving the hospital. And that takes over from the focus of Easter. Easter is the major holiday in the Catholic Church. And I think that is why the pope is deliberately coming out as soon as possible to leave a little bit of time for people to calm down, get away from the health issue and focus on Easter.

VINCI: That said, Delia, next week with the beginning of Palm Sunday and then all the events, including the way of the cross, the pope is unlikely to be seen by the pilgrims. Most likely he will participate at least nominally to these events through a television link.

I mean, how much of this do you think this is affecting the message that he wants, you know, for the pilgrims who are out there, again arriving here in Rome expecting to see the pope at least present during this very, very important event? How much do you think the pope's absence or at least his quote/unquote "telematic presence" will affect the pilgrims coming here.

GALLAGHER: Well, it's almost a paradox, isn't it? Because it's as if the less we see of him, the more the people want to see him and the more interested they are and the more the media is interested. You see?

So it becomes this story which even his presence -- as we heard a German cardinal say a few days ago -- even the pope's presence, even if he doesn't speak, speaks loudly, as it were.

So it's quite a paradox that we're seeing at this moment with this pontiff that he's been the great communicator, and in some way he's still communicating even if he's not speaking.

VINCI: Delia, thank you very much.

As a matter of fact, one of the pilgrims today here at the Gemelli hospital, moments after the pope appeared from the window, told me that the pope's actions speak much louder than the words he cannot pronounce.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Alessio, I'm going to have you stand by.

And, Delia, stand by as well.

Once again, to inform our viewers what we're seeing right now, not only in the United States but around the world: Pope John Paul II has left the Gemelli hospital. He's on his way back to the Vatican. He's sitting in the front seat of that Mercedes minivan for the quick drive back to the Vatican. He is waving.

We actually have a camera inside the minivan. We've been seeing the back of the pontiff's head from inside. He's waving to pilgrims that have gathered on the streets of Rome for this very, very emotional return to the Vatican by Pope John Paul II.

I want to bring in two influential members of the United States Senate who have been watching this together with all of us: Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut.

Senator Lott, I'll begin with you as we watch these dramatic pictures. This pope, this pontiff, has been an extraordinary personality on the international scene not only, not only within the Catholic church.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: No question about it. He is obviously one of the, if not the most beloved and respected religious leaders in the world.

He has touched so many people in so many countries. I mean, he has been very aggressive traveler. He's gone to Central and South America.

He came to the United States. I met him in, I think, 1977 when he was here.

There was an aura about him, Wolf.

And there's a sweetness and a softness about him. And he's just been a tremendous example.

I'm Baptist but I grew up with a lot of friends in the Catholic church, and I just know how they feel about him.

But for all people of faith, he is a symbol of what we would want in our religious leaders.

BLITZER: And these are so dramatic, Senator Dodd. These pictures, take a look these pictures. As you can see from this little minivan, the security officer, the agents, running alongside for this drive back to the Vatican.

It's an emotional moment but it's also historic.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, it is. And I am a Catholic, and this has certainly been a remarkable leader for the billion or more of us who are Catholics around the world.

But as Trent said, he transcends specific religions. I think his influence -- I think when history is written, there are a lot of people who take credit for the fall of the Soviet Union. I can't think of anyone who was more influential and important during that time than this pope, this pontiff.

And as Trent pointed out, his travels around the world, he's been very much in contact, in touch with people. He's been inspirational.

I think Pope John Paul XXIII -- John XXIII, rather, and this pope are the two most influential popes of the 20th century, earlier part of the 21st century.

So, his movements, his actions, and I think as one of the pilgrims pointed out, just his presence speaks as much as words he might otherwise say. We all hope and pray he'll have a speedy recovery.

BLITZER: And I think I speak for all of our viewers around the world when we pray for a speedy recovery. We wish him only the best.

We'll continue to watch these dramatic pictures coming out of Rome: the quick drive, Pope John Paul II making his way back to the Vatican, continuing to recover from his tracheotomy, his flu. He's 84 years old, but he's been a remarkable, a remarkable fixture, personality on the international scene and a great leader, of course, for Catholics around the world.

We'll take a quick break. Much more of our special coverage, including more with the senators, right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're watching what's happening in Rome right now. Pope John Paul II has left Gemelli hospital on the way back to the Vatican. Once gets to the Vatican, we'll show you these events live.

These are live pictures now. There he is, Pope John Paul II on the streets of Rome in that Mercedes minivan, not in the traditional pope mobile, getting very, very close to the Vatican. Once he's there, we'll continue to show our viewers what is's happening. A very happy moment in Rome and around the world: Pope John Paul II heading home.

We're continuing now our conversation with two influential members of the United States Senate. Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut.

Senators, we'll talk more about Pope John Paul II as he gets back to the Vatican. But let's talk about some other key issues happening right now.

Steve Hadley, the president's national security adviser was just on this program saying it's a positive development what the Syrians have promised the United Nations special envoy that they'll pull out even though there's no hard and fast timetable.

Are you convinced the Syrians, Senator Lott, are going to play ball and do this?

LOTT: I have my doubts but it is moving in a positive direction. They have been making more and more sounds about withdrawing to the Bekaa Valley and then hopefully totally into Syria. Now there needs to be some adjustment period. You know, what is going to happen as they pull back and pull out and are we going to be able to go to truly fair and open elections?

But Syria over the years hasn't always followed through on commitments they have made so I'm still leery of the Syrian government and what their intentions are in Lebanon.

BLITZER: Senator Dodd, what about you? Do you trust the President Bashar al-Assad to live up to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 and pull out of Syria?

DODD: I have my concerns. This young man is not his father. And I'm not sure he has the kind of power and influence inside Syria that his father had during his presidency. So that's an open-ended question, because they weren't quite firm enough about departure date exactly.

And secondly, an important question -- I think you raised it earlier in your interview -- and that is: What happens with Hezbollah? In the past, Syria was seen as the modifier on Hezbollah's activities inside Lebanon. And in the absence of Syria being there, what happens to the demobilization of Hezbollah's military militia? And if that doesn't happen, Syria leaves, here you could have some additional problems. I know Israel is deeply worried about the role that Hezbollah could play here without anyone sitting on them.

BLITZER: Senator Lott, as you know the Lebanese, a lot of Lebanese consider Hezbollah a political party. They do have seats in the Lebanese parliament. They do social services, social work. But the U.S. -- and we heard Steve Hadley, the president's national security adviser -- makes no bones about it. As far as the U.S. is concerned, this is a terrorist organization.

DODD: We are convinced. I am convinced that they're a terrorist organization. And they have contributed mightily to the problems in that region. However, you can't deny the fact that they are there.

BLITZER: They've got a lot of people out on the streets of Beirut this week in a demonstration in favor of Syria's presence in Lebanon.

DODD: Well, I have my doubts about exactly who those people were and how they got there and all of that. But, look, in a free and fair and open election, they can participate hopefully in an orderly and lawful way. But they are a major concern.

And Lebanon is a problem. You do have the distinctive religious groups and there has been difficulty in getting them to pull together and form governments. I mean, you've got the prime minister of one religious group, the president of another and the speaker of the parliament of another. It won't be easy but it's a further step. I think that's a positive sign going on with the Middle East.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get to that in a moment. Let's get to Iran right now, Senator Dodd.

He didn't want to call it a shift -- Steve Hadley -- in U.S. strategy backing up the Europeans, the British, the French, the Germans, who want to offer some carrots to the Iranian government in Tehran to walk away from their nuclear program. But a lot of observers do see it as a shift.

DODD: It's a shift. And I'm surprised the administration doesn't want to admit this is the right move to make or a difference in where we were -- clearly by dangling out some carrots there as we have and getting the Europeans to insist that if this doesn't work, they're really prepared to take some real steps, some sticks to apply to Iran if they don't disembark from a program on acquiring nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: But is it a positive shift?

DODD: I think it's positive, absolutely positive. The other thing is they've got to be more engaged. It isn't just enough, in my view. This is good. Let me be clear. I think it's very, very smart. I like to see us do a bit more. I think we've got to be engaged ourself in the process, not just turn it over to the Europeans to do. I'm not confident that's necessarily going to work. BLITZER: But you want direct U.S. talks with Iran?

DODD: I'd like to see us involved with Europeans in direct talks. I think we're going to have to be at that table. I don't think we can defer to the Europeans.

LOTT: This is a step in that direction.

DODD: It is a step. There's no question about it.

BLITZER: You welcome this. I'll tell you what some of the hardliners -- if you want to call them that -- some of the critics say that the president and others have repeatedly said Iran should not be rewarded for what it's supposed to do under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, which is not build a nuclear bomb.

LOTT: Yes. But we want to result here. We want actions that will stop their movement or their capability to have nuclear weapons. We have to engage. We have to do this. We have to do something else.

Try persuasion.

Try, in effect, you know, some reason why they would not go forward with it. And if it doesn't work, then you go to sanctions, you go to punishments. They are importing, even though they have oil, importing refined oil products. We could have a dramatic impact on them quickly.

BLITZER: The administration insists they have a commitment now from the Europeans that if this strategy doesn't work, the Europeans will be with the U.S. in going to the U.N. Security Council to seek sanctions against Iran.

DODD: Well, that's why I want to see us more engaged with Europeans. With all due respect, they made these commitments on paper, but we have seen in other examples where the Europeans have been less willing to follow up on their commitments in this area. I hope I'm wrong about that, but I think if you are engaged with the Europeans in those discussions, there's a greater likelihood the Europeans will fulfill those commitments.

BLITZER: Are you going to vote for John Bolton, in favor of John Bolton to become the next U.S. ambassador of the United Nations?

DODD: I doubt it. I would doubt it at this point. I want to give him a chance to come and make his case. But someone who has been as antagonistic to this international body and to the role it plays, sending him up in light of the president's trip to Europe, really offering some new opportunities to work with international organizations, I'm a little bit surprised they'd choose someone as hostile, outspokenly hostile to the U.N. system and international organizations.

I think he's got some real trouble when he comes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

BLITZER: He'll be confirmed, though, you think?

DODD: I wouldn't go so far as to say that.

BLITZER: You think Republicans will vote against him?

DODD: Well, let's see. I don't want to obviously, we have a confirmation process. I know Dick Lugar's going to give him a quick hearing. I'm sure he's going to come up and tell us what he wants to do if he's chosen there. But I think this nomination has some problems.

BLITZER: What do you think, Senator Lott?

LOTT: Oh, I'm sure that there will be some criticism and he will, I know have a number of senators, some maybe in both parties, opposed to him. But, look, in America and in the Senate there are a lot of people that have some very strong feelings about the failings of the United Nations.

Maybe we need somebody up there that will help shake the place up a little bit. At the same time, where we've got a new secretary of state that's very aggressive in going around the world, the president's engaging more and more with our European allies, maybe this kind of thing makes, you know, good sense. I think he'll probably...

BLITZER: You'll vote for him.

LOTT: I will be voting for him. I've known him pretty well since the mid-'80s. You know, you can question a president's decision to make this selection, but surely we're not going to have a filibuster. And I assume once again the president's choice to be our or his representative to the United Nations will be confirmed. I think he should be. And we'll see what happens.

BLITZER: All right. We are going to take a quick break. But we have lots more to talk about. We're going to continue our conversation with these two United States senators right after a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We want to show our viewers these live pictures. This is an Air China aircraft that slid off the runway at LAX, at Los Angeles International Airport -- 330 people on board. Nobody has been hurt. Everything is fine. It's just sort of stuck on a soft part of the runway. The plane was en route from Los Angeles to Beijing. Everything is just fine. We just wanted to show our viewers that picture.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with two influential members of the United States Senate, Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi and Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut.

Senator Dodd, there was a memo that was released last week from Stan Greenberg and James Carville -- you know them both very well, Democratic strategists, party strategists -- in which they said, "Why has the public not taken out their anger on the congressional Republicans? We think the answer lies with voters' deeper feelings about the Democrats, who appear to lack direction, conviction, values, advocacy or a larger public purpose."

That's written by Stan Greenberg and James Carville...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... about your party -- and you're a former chairman of the Democratic Party. So you guys have a big problem...

DODD: Have you stopped beating your wife?

(LAUGHTER)

DODD: Well, no, look, I think this is obvious. We went through a very tough election last year, the presidential race, congressional races. We lost too many seats in the United States Senate. And I think we're regrouping. It takes some time to do that. I think there is an expectation that we're going to be more united. I think Harry Reid is doing a good job as the Democratic leader. He's new at this. It takes some time, I think, to get organized and get the thing working as well as you'd like.

But I believe the Democratic Party is going to be strong, be competitive. I think we're going to do very well in the races in 2006, under Chuck Schumer's leadership, with the Senate campaign committee,

So this is a period of readjustment for us come after.

BLITZER: You have a problem too, Senator Lott. The Republican Party, that is, the president of the United States, when it comes to Social Security reform -- new Associated Press poll asked whether the President Bush is doing a good job handling Social Security, 37 percent approve of the way he's handling Social Security, 56 percent disapprove of the way he's handling Social Security. And a lot of people are nervous about his partial privatization proposals for Social Security, including some Republicans, as you well know.

LOTT: Well, first of all, James Carville sent me the Democrat plan on Social Security reform, and I have it here.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: You have a blank sheet of...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

LOTT: I have a blank sheet. But, having said that, now, this is an issue that we're going to have to deal with, and it needs to be bipartisan. It needs to be done. Since Senator Dodd and I have been in the Congress, we've already taken actions to make changes in Social Security at least four times.

And so we can do it now, or we can do it later.

BLITZER: There are 44 Democrats in the United Senate,

LOTT: Right.

BLITZER: Almost all of them have announced that under no circumstances will they support these private retirement accounts taking money out of the Social Security system, which in effect means they could filibuster if they want, they could delay and this proposal will go nowhere.

LOTT: I think that the politics of this issue have changed and are changing, partially because the demographics have changed. Once people that were born before 1950 understand that this is not about them, they're going to get their benefits the way they've been getting them, in the way they were scheduled to get them, it's about their children and their grandchildren and what are they going to get?

I personally am for an opportunity for some personal savings accounts, but I say to my Democratic friends, look, they know, the American people know that the numbers don't add up. You've only three people now working to support every retiree.

BLITZER: But these personal accounts are not going to do anything to extend the solvency of Social Security.

(CROSSTALK)

LOTT: Well, all right, all right, OK.

Well, I believe that I could make an argument that they would be a positive thing.

You know, what we're trying to do here is to protect, secure, and strengthen Social Security and its value. I want to make sure -- my mother is 91 years old, bless her heart, retired in Pascagoula, Mississippi, a former schoolteacher and all. What she gets from Social Security is not enough for her to really live on. My daughter, who is a working mom, and the grandchildren I have, I want to make sure it's there for them, and worth more when they get there.

But here's what I say to my Democratic friends. OK, look, let's not argue about what you want to do. Let's see: What is it we can do to make sure we preserve Social Security?

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, that's a fair point. Where is the Democratic alternative to saving Social Security? DODD: First, this program that the president's suggesting is so -- it's dead on arrival. It's not just Democrats, Wolf, you mentioned, there are a lot of Republicans who will never vote for this. And that's why the president hasn't even put this on paper.

With all due respect, having a Democratic proposal, where's the president's? He's the one out talking about this issue.

The privatization of Social Security is the dismantlement of Social Security.

Now, there is an issue of solvency that needs to be addressed, some time over the next 50 years, between now and 2052. There are a variety of ways in which you can do that that are a lot less painful than what the president is suggesting by privatization of this program.

I know, my friend Trent knows, this program is not going to make it.

I don't know why -- if they want to test this thing -- bring it up for a vote next week, next month. This thing will fail in the United States Senate.

Now, you need to do some things because doing nothing would be a mistake. And then there are a variety of suggestions on how you can do it.

If you just reduced the president's permanency of the tax cuts from over $11 trillion to $9 trillion over the next 75 years, pick up $2.2 trillion, you solve the solvency problems of Social Security.

Remember, in 2052...

BLITZER: They're not going forward, at least this year, with a permanent extension of all those tax cuts.

DODD: Just saving $2 trillion out of it, you've solved the problem of solvency. And that's over the next 50 years. Remember in 2052, 80% of the solvency...

BLITZER: Quickly, let's let Senator Lott get a quick response.

LOTT: First of all, we're not going to vote next week...

(LAUGHTER)

DODD: Of course not.

LOTT: ... This is debate is not over. We're going to think about it. We're going to talk about it.

The president's going around the country making speeches, talking to the people.

Eventually, we will go forward in the Finance Committee in the Senate. We will have a bill. Hopefully, we'll have Democrats' input.

Secondly, this is not privatization. This is some small opportunity for our children and our grandchildren to be able to have more when they retire by using some of their money. This is not our government.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we're all out of time.

But Senator Dodd, I'll give you the last word?

DODD: To do this, it would require $5 trillion in additional debt to what we have over the next 20 years.

And secondly, you'd have a 45 percent reduction in benefits under this proposal. That's a disaster for people.

LOTT: Well, we could solve this problem with having an honest index of benefits. In other words, based on prices not on wage increases, and that would solve the problem in perpetuity...

BLITZER: In effect, that reduces benefits though?

DODD: Absolutely, by 45 percent.

LOTT: It would reduce the amount of increase that people are -- would have.

Why should I get 40 percent more than my mother gets based on the same wages? That's not fair.

DODD: That's destroying Social Security. That's what -- with all due respect, there's been too many people who wanted to dismantle this program.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Senators? Unfortunately we have to leave it there. A good discussion. Thanks Senator Dodd...

(LAUGHTER)

LOTT: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Senator Lott. Always good to have both of you on "LATE EDITION."

DODD: Thank you, always enjoy it.

BLITZER: And don't forget our web poll question of the week: "Is democracy spreading in the Middle East?"

You can cast your vote right now. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results in the next hour.

And later we'll get special insight on the push for democracy in the Middle East from a top Syrian government official and a prominent Middle East analyst.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: The Lebanese need to be given the same opportunity to chart their political future. And it's very much time that Syria get that message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Another week of heated demonstrations and strong demands for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon. Who will prevail? We'll get insight from Syrian Cabinet Minister Bouthaina Shaaban and Adib Farha, a former adviser to slain Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All free nations must stand with the forces of democracy and justice that have begun to transform the Middle East.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The push for political change. Does the world embrace U.S. policy? Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Richard Holbrooke, weigh in on the war on terror, Iran and democracy in the Middle East.

Welcome back. We'll talk with the top Syrian government official in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: A serious plan for a full-troop withdrawal from Lebanon is now on the table. The two-stage exit would get under way by the end of the month and begin a process of ending a 29-year Syrian military presence in Lebanon. Our Beirut bureau chief, Brent Sadler, has been following this story. He is joining us now live with the latest.

Brent?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf.

The Syrian troop movements in Lebanon certainly are gearing up in terms of their momentum. A first phase appears to be now well under way. Western diplomatic sources confirming to CNN here that at least a third of Syria's 15,000 troops that were here just a few weeks ago have already crossed the border from Lebanon and have entered Syria to scenes of jubilation among Syrians at the border welcoming their troops back home.

The question is: What happens next? Well, all eyes have been on United Nations special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, who told CNN in an exclusive interview with me only yesterday that he had been given very firm commitments by Syria's president, Bashar Al-Assad, that Syria was now, quote, "irreversibly committed to a complete and full withdrawal of Syrian troops and, most importantly, Syria's intelligence services in Lebanon in quick form."

That means that there is an expectation that in the coming weeks, Syria, along with its Lebanese supporters in the government here, will create a situation whereby there's full agreement for a total withdrawal of all those forces ahead of planned parliamentary elections here in mid-May.

Now that, Wolf, is a key demand of the U.S. president, George W. Bush. That environment for elections should take place without any coercion from Syria's military and especially its intelligence forces.

Now earlier this day, in the southern Lebanese town of Nabatiyeh, again another very large pro-Syrian demonstration called by two key Shia Muslim political parties here, mainly Hezbollah, the organization. Islamic Resistance as it's called here in Lebanon, denounced as a terrorist organization by the Washington administration, called out at least 100,000 supporters on the streets of Nabatiyeh demanding that there be rejection of international interference, mainly they say by the U.S. and France in internal Lebanese and Syrian affairs. This ahead of a counter-rally that's planned on the streets of Beirut Monday by the opposition to Syria here exactly one week to the day after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Brent Sadler. I think you meant one month to the day, is that right?

SADLER: Sorry, yes, Wolf, yeah, one month to the day -- exactly four weeks ago Monday, that Mr. Hariri was killed in that massive blast.

BLITZER: And it's caused quite a tumult, quite a dramatic series of developments inside Lebanon. Brent Sadler reporting for us from Beirut.

Thank you, Brent, very much.

And just a short while ago, I spoke with Syrian cabinet minister Buthaina Shaaban about her country's next steps.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Buthaina Shaaban, once again, thanks very much for joining us on "LATE EDITION." Let's get to the issue of the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. What is the timetable now that Syria has agreed to withdraw military and intelligence personnel from Lebanon? BUTHAINA SHAABAN, SYRIAN CABINET MINISTER: As you know, Wolf, Terje Larsen was here yesterday, and he met with President Assad. And there is two stages of withdrawal. The first stage will be completed by the end of March. And then the people from the two armies will meet and set the time for the second stage, which I think will be as soon as is logistically possible for the army to move.

The important thing, Wolf, is that the Syrian leadership has taken the decision to withdraw Syrian troops according to the Taif agreement and it will be done as soon as possible.

BLITZER: I spoke just a little while ago with President Bush's national security adviser, Steve Hadley, who says, like the president, that Syrian forces must be out of Lebanon by May when the Lebanese are scheduled to have their elections if there are to be free and fair elections in Lebanon. Can you meet that may timetable?

SHAABAN: You know, Wolf, today, Terje Larsen is saying in Beirut we have to take care that the troops should not withdraw too quickly. But I think the troops will meet a very fast timetable. But if you allow me to comment on that, you know, the elections will take place and I think that troops will move out of Lebanon probably before then. I don't know how logistically possible it's going to be, but probably before then.

BLITZER: And what about the intelligence operatives? There have been various estimates how many intelligence officers there may be in Lebanon, 5,000, maybe even more. What about them?

SHAABAN: Well, the intelligence services are part of our troops. And when the troops withdraw, this is intelligence related to the troops, they will be withdrawing with them.

BLITZER: Do you sense right now that there is in Lebanon a possibility that following a Syrian withdrawal that country could slide back into the civil war that occurred, as we all remember, in the '70s and '80s?

SHAABAN: Well, we certainly hope not. Everybody in the region is very worried about what might happen to Lebanon. And you remember when the civil war broke out, it was only Syria and Syrian troops and the Syrian people who stood by Lebanon. And we just hope that Lebanon will stand on its feet and will do what is right for the country and for the people.

But I really believe that for comments coming from Washington or from the U.N., we would love them to think of the country, of the region, of the stability of the region, you know, and of the future of the region, rather than giving some statements which might bring harm to all of us.

BLITZER: Does Syria support U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 which calls for withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon?

SHAABAN: Well, President Assad said yesterday that he will implement what is related to Syria of that resolution, which is the withdrawal of the Syrian troops.

But honestly, Wolf, to be honest with you, nobody in the region believes that it is the Syrian troops that is the issue.

Syrian troops went to Lebanon to put an end to a civil war, to help Lebanon to reclaim its democracy and its life. But I think there is a much bigger and much more dangerous agenda for the region.

And that's why we urge the American administration to think of the region a little bit more carefully and to consult with the people of the region regarding the policies toward the people of the region.

BLITZER: Does Syria support the provision in Resolution 1559, which calls for the dismantling and the disarming of all the Lebanese militias, the Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias in Lebanon, specifically Hezbollah?

SHAABAN: Well, Hezbollah is not a Lebanese militia. Hezbollah is a political party that has 13 members in parliament. It is a very popular and it is a very important political party that put an end to Israeli occupation of Lebanon. And so it doesn't come under militia at all.

As I said to you, Wolf, there is a lot of work that needs to be done from other perspectives.

You know, the problem is that the American administration mostly listens to Israeli sources who occupy our land and who have a different agenda in the region. But they have to listen to other sources. Syria has been saying for years that the only solution in the region is a just and comprehensive peace. And we said today, the only solution for the region is a just and comprehensive peace, and all these partial solutions will not work for anybody in the region.

BLITZER: Stephen Hadley, who was just on "LATE EDITION" with me -- he's President Bush's national security adviser -- he says Hezbollah is a terrorist organization which has an armed militia which must be disbanded, according to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559. Hezbollah does have a military wing, as you know.

SHAABAN: I know. But it is a resistance against occupation. And there is still part of the Lebanese territory that is occupied. And you know, Wolf, when we hear all this we here in the Middle East, we think why is no such effort being made to implement other resolutions?

You know, 242, 338; our territories are still occupied; 194, the resolution concerning Palestinian people, Syrian people, Lebanese people -- we expect from the American administration, from the U.S. as a super power in the world, to be concerned about all people in the region, about the security of all people, Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese, not just about the security of the Israelis because this will not bring security to anyone in the region.

BLITZER: One final question, Bouthaina Shaaban. A lot of U.S. officials wonder whether Syria is really committed to an independent Lebanon. They fear that Syria has always seen Lebanon as part of a greater Syria, and that explains why Syria doesn't have a formal embassy in Beirut because it doesn't recognize Lebanese independence.

What is the policy of the Syrian government when it comes to an independent and free Lebanon?

SHAABAN: It was in the 1950s, Wolf, that we had the same monetary system with Lebanon, and it was Syria who insisted in having a different monetary system.

It was the late President Assad who insisted on putting lines and borders between Syria and Lebanon. The Lebanese people are our brothers and sisters, and we are certainly interested in anything that is good for them.

The security of Lebanon is our security. The strength of Lebanon is our strength. So nobody should ever imagine we wish anything except good for Lebanon because good Lebanon means good Syria.

BLITZER: So you recognize that there should be a free and sovereign, independent Lebanon. Is that right?

SHAABAN: Absolutely. It is free and independent. I hope that the same recognition will go to Palestine and to Iraq as well, to be free, sovereign and independent.

BLITZER: Bouthaina Shaaban, joining us from Damascus, once again thank you very much for spending a few moments on "LATE EDITION."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just ahead, we'll get the view from Lebanon. We'll talk with Middle East Analyst Adib Farha.

Then a diplomatic dialogue with two senior American statesmen, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. They'll weigh in on the shifting dynamics in the Middle East, tensions between the U.S. and Iran and much more.

And, in case you missed it, we'll recap the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows.

Much more "LATE EDITION" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and doing charity. And Hezbollah has a political arm as well.

(APPLAUSE)

It holds 12 seats in the Lebanese parliament.

Still, the Bush administration remains firm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE: Our view of Hezbollah has not changed. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And joining us now with his perspective on how the Syria-Lebanon relationship is playing out, and what the potential changes mean for the Middle East region, is our guest. Adib Farha is a Middle East analyst. He's joining us here in our Washington studio.

Adib, thank you very much for joining us.

You heard Bouthaina Shaaban, the Syrian cabinet minister, say probably all the Syrian military and intelligence troops will be out by the time of the scheduled Lebanese elections in May. You believe her?

ADIB FARHA, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST: I'd like to believe her, but we've heard promises reneged on more than once before, and already she's saying, probably, it's not a firm commitment.

Unfortunately, the Lebanese opposition feels that, even when Syria gives what sounds like a firm commitment, they still back down from it, much less when she's only saying "probably."

BLITZER: You were close to the slain Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, for many years. That assassination, that car bombing about a month or so ago has caused a tumultuous change of developments inside Lebanon right now.

Give us your assessment where the political winds are, what the political situation inside Lebanon is right now. How anxious are Lebanese to see the Syrians get out?

FARHA: I think there is no human being in the world that doesn't wish for his country to be free from any foreign presence, and to restore -- to be independent and fully sovereign over their land. And I think all of the Lebanese share that.

However, there are some Lebanese -- Hezbollah, obviously, being one of them -- who have their own interest in Syrian influence remaining in Lebanon because the interests of Syria and the interests of Hezbollah are intertwined.

But with the exception of Hezbollah, I would say the vast majority of the Lebanese are certainly hoping that the day will come when their country will be fully independent, fully sovereign and with absolutely no foreign troops.

BLITZER: They put together a very impressive demonstration on the streets of Beirut this past week. Hundreds of thousands of largely Lebanese -- yes, there were some Syrians, but mostly Lebanese who support Hezbollah, support the Syrians, were very vocal.

FARHA: Well, there is no denying the fact that Hezbollah is a force to be reckoned with on the Lebanese political scene. They enjoy a huge constituency.

However, I think, as much as Hezbollah made a statement of strength and force this week, which seems to have given them a stronger hand in the Lebanese political system, I think they also stand to lose from the demonstration of last Tuesday.

Until last Tuesday, Hezbollah had the unanimity and the solidarity of the vast majority of the Lebanese people, mostly because they stayed above the political fray. As of last Tuesday, they have declared themselves a party in the internal squabbles, and a lot of the opposition feel that Hezbollah is getting ready to do serious bidding when and if Syria finally pulls out.

BLITZER: Is it your understanding that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, the reference in there to disarming militias, Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, is a direct reference to Hezbollah, that Hezbollah has a militia that must be disarmed?

FARHA: Well, according to the international community, Hezbollah must disarm. That's what 1559 says.

I mean, the reference was obviously -- when they say "foreign and local militias," there are no other ones.

The only problem here is that most of the Lebanese do not view Hezbollah as a militia. It is viewed as a resistance movement.

However, things have started to change since the Israeli evacuation of May 2000, and the more Hezbollah insists on liberating the Shebaa Farms, the more it loses some of the support of the Lebanese...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The Shebaa Farms is a tiny little area in the southern part of Lebanon, disputed area. It either belongs to Syria or Lebanon, depending on whom you speak to.

FARHA: Right. If you'll give me a minute here, Wolf, the Shebaa Farms is Lebanese. However, as far as the United Nations is concerned, which is the only international legitimacy, it is part of Syria. And in fact it had become part of Syria before it was occupied by Israel.

Therefore, in accordance with the United Nations, any resistance activities in the Shebaa Farms is outside Resolution 425. If Syria would like to help Hezbollah and the Lebanese to liberate Shebaa Farms, then Syria ought to send the proper documents to the United Nations indicating that it is Lebanese. Then the resistance activities will be legitimate and covered under the April 1996 understandings.

BLITZER: Bottom-line question, you heard Bouthaina Shaaban say that Syria does recognize a sovereign, free, independent Lebanon, doesn't regard it necessarily as part of greater Syria. Do you believe that?

FARHA: I don't think most Lebanese believe that.

BLITZER: What do most Lebanese, in your opinion, believe?

FARHA: Judging by Syrian actions, judging by Syrian maps that you see all over Syria, most Lebanese feel that the Syrians still maintain that Lebanon is part of the greater Syria and it is a part that has to return to Syria; not any different than Saddam Hussein used to consider Kuwait part of Iraq.

BLITZER: Adib Farha, we have to leave it right there. Thanks very much for joining us.

FARHA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck to you and to all the Lebanese people.

FARHA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on the capture of an accused gunman that kept the city of Atlanta on edge.

Then, perspective from two senior American statesmen, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, on the push for democracy in the Middle East, the war on terror, and much more.

More "LATE EDITION" straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE: The hard work of freedom is the task of generations. Yet, it is also urgent work that cannot be deferred.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announcing that John Bolton is President Bush's choice to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us are two guests who know firsthand about the challenges and difficulties of diplomacy. In Connecticut, Henry Kissinger: He served as the U.S. secretary of state under former presidents Nixon and Ford. And in New York, Richard Holbrooke: He was the United States ambassador to the United Nations under former president Bill Clinton.

Gentlemen, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

And Dr. Kissinger, I'll begin with you. Do you believe Syria will withdraw all of its military and intelligence forces from Lebanon by the time of the scheduled Lebanese elections in May?

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: It will be very reluctant to do it, and it will look for ways to avoid it and to delay as long as possible.

But the pressures that are now being used against it, I think will in the end make it withdraw.

BLITZER: So it will withdraw.

What about you, Ambassador Holbrooke?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: I agree with Henry on this. I think the real issue here is that Syria has been a tremendous obstacle to peace in the Middle East ever since the 1960s. And Lebanon has been a tortured country forever. In 1958 President Eisenhower sent troops in, and we had the tragic bombing of the barracks in 1983.

And if Syria will behave itself and stop being such an obstructionist, supporting terror throughout the region, it will make a huge difference. And Lebanon, as you said in your previous interview, desperately deserves some peace and quiet.

BLITZER: What's the best strategy, Dr. Kissinger, to get the Syrians to cooperate with the U.S., the Europeans, not only when it comes to Lebanon but other issues; for example, insurgents coming into Iraq from Syria and the whole issue of Syrian support for international terrorism?

KISSINGER: I think Syria has to understand, and I believe it is beginning to have it brought home to it, that interference in Iraq is going to run enormous risks of American retaliation, if necessary.

And with respect to Lebanon, it seems now that the world community is united on this issue. So I think we will be able to achieve the withdrawal of Syria. And if Syria wants to play any role in the region, it will have to stop interfering in surrounding countries...

BLITZER: In that part of the world...

KISSINGER: We will have...

BLITZER: ... Yes, I was going to say to Ambassador Holbrooke, in that part of the world, Ambassador Holbrooke, is it better to deal with a country-like regime, a country like Syria with the regime that it has in Damascus? Is it better work with carrots or sticks?

HOLBROOKE: With terrorists or what?

BLITZER: Is it get bettor work with a government -- as is the case in Damascus -- is it better for the U.S. to throw out carrots or throw out sticks?

HOLBROOKE: Proper diplomacy requires a combination of the two, and I think that the current pressure on Syria is very productive.

And I would note that it is built around the United Nations' Security Council Resolution for those people who keep maligning the U.N. I noticed that Steve Hadley in his interviews this morning referred to how important the U.N. process is. So what's going on now is very important.

I would also comment that Bashar al-Assad, the son of the legendary strong man who ran the place and who died, is clearly not up to filling his father's shoes. Joe Klein had an extraordinarily interesting article and interview with him in Time magazine this week which showed how weak he is.

So something big is happening in Syria, and I hope it will result in a seat change in that country's behavior because they have been an obstacle to peace in the region ever since I can remember.

And Henry Kissinger, who spent much more time there than I have, can give you chapter and verse on that.

BLITZER: Well, you spent a lot of time, Dr. Kissinger, with the father, Hafez al-Assad, negotiating disengagement agreements between Syria and Israel.

Is the son, Bashar al-Assad, is the son really in charge based on what you know right now?

KISSINGER: He is not in charge to the degree that the father was and isn't made of the steel that the father was.

And based on the interview that Dick Holbrooke mentioned, he seems to be somewhat uncertain about his own prospects. So we may see not only a change in Lebanon, we also may see a change in the Syrian political system.

BLITZER: Ambassador Holbrooke, one of the big wild cards, and you talked about the tortured history of Lebanon, a big wild card is Hezbollah right now, an organization the U.S. government, the Clinton administration, the Bush administration, has long considered to be a terrorist organization responsible for the murder of Americans in that part of the world as well. But it does have a political party now, and it does clearly have influence in Lebanon.

How should the U.S. government be dealing with this Hezbollah element of the Lebanese equation?

HOLBROOKE: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that's sponsoring terrorism. It also has a political wing and a political base. This is not unprecedented.

There have been many organizes with similar histories that have emerged out of the shadows of terrorism and into participation in Democratic institutions over generations.

One can talk about Jerry Adams and his wing of the IRA. But behind him were rejectionists who continued violence.

Right now the pressure should be on Hezbollah to behave itself, to show that it is not a terrorist organization. And anyone who accepts them as a political party simply because of that extraordinary rally in Beirut this week, is deluding themselves. Their track record is unambiguous and very dangerous, and they have killed far more people, I'm sure, than even we know about.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, there are some who believe that if Hezbollah plays its cards right there could be a split over the whole issue of Hezbollah between the U.S. and Israel, the Israelis being much more forceful in rejecting any kind of deal with Hezbollah, if you will. Is that an analysis that you accept?

KISSINGER: There could be a disagreement. But I'd like make a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) point. The United States has had spectacular success in recent months in the first stage of the democratic process, that is to say with respect to elections.

But the next stage of the democratic process involves: Who gets into power by the democratic process and what means will they employ? If Hezbollah gets elected and if Hezbollah does not give up its military organization or its terrorist aims, then we will have a big problem even if it got elected because we want two things.

We want a political process that is not based on terrorism. And we want, of course, people to be able to express their choice. And this is something that the U.S. government will have to study, not only in Lebanon, but has to look at with respect to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other countries where we have been urging the institution of a democratic process, which I support.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. But we have a lot more to talk about with our guests. We'll continue our conversation with Henry Kissinger and Richard Holbrooke right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I look forward to working with our European friends to make it abundantly clear to the Iranian regime that the free world will not tolerate them having a nuclear weapon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush, speaking on Friday about a new U.S. strategy in dealing with Iran and its nuclear ambitions.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke.

What do you make of this apparent shift, Ambassador Holbrooke, in the U.S. strategy toward Iran now going along with the European effort to offer incentives to the Iranians to walk away from their nuclear program?

HOLBROOKE: I'm very pleased by it, Wolf. I think the administration has belatedly, but finally, made a major change in its policy. And what they did was the essence of good diplomacy.

And I say this as someone who criticized them on your program and elsewhere last year. They have cut a deal with the Europeans which makes perfect sense. There was no chance for European/British/French/German initiative to work with the absence of U.S. participation. And it also wasn't going to work if the Europeans did not say that they were willing to put the issue into the Security Council if necessary.

So the deal that the Americans struck with the Europeans was smart. We join the initiative and the Europeans agree that if it doesn't work it goes to the U.N. for additional pressure. It was a very good deal. And I congratulate Secretary Rice and Deputy Secretary Zoellick for the hard-headed way they went at it after a long period in which we were getting nowhere.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, there are some critics, though, who say the United States is blinking, the United States has blinked, that the Iranians should get no rewards for doing what they're committed to doing as part of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, which is not building a bomb. What do you say?

KISSINGER: Well, we are talking with the North Koreans in the six-party talks in Beijing. And the North Korean regime is just about the most brutal that exists in the world.

The critics have this point: One should not believe that one can create enough incentives to do away with the Iranian nuclear program without creating an incentive for other countries to create nuclear weapons in order to share in those benefits.

But as long as it is measured, as it has been in the recent announcement and as long as we and the Europeans have agreed that if this does not work we will go to the Security Council and presumably then think of pressures that can be used, I believe it is the right diplomacy and probably the only diplomacy to proceed.

BLITZER: All right. Let me get your thoughts, Ambassador Holbrooke, on John Bolton, the man nominated by President Bush to be the next U.N. ambassador to the United Nations. Eleven years ago he said this -- it's causing quite a stir, as you know, right now -- he said, "There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that is the United States, when it suits our interest and when we can get others to go along."

Is this man suited to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a position you held during the Clinton administration?

HOLBROOKE: Wolf, that's a decision for the United States Senate to make. And I think, based on that very powerful interview you just had with Senators Dodd and Senator Lott, we can anticipate a tough confirmation battle.

I've never met John Bolton. I never talked to him until one hour after the announcement, when he called me and asked to meet with me. I'll meet with him this week in Washington. And until I meet him I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The quote you've just shown on the screen and many other quotes and comments he's made raise a fundamental question. Of course, John Bolton's going to say he's for reform in the U.N. So am I, so is Kofi Annan, so is Jesse Helms, so is Henry Kissinger. We all want reform. The U.N. is a bureaucratic mess and Kofi Annan is making a major effort to do it.

But the question arises as to whether John Bolton believes that a stronger U.N., a more effective U.N. is in the American national interests or whether he shares the view of some people that a strong U.N. hamstrings the U.S.'s freedom of maneuver.

I don't share that latter view. We have the veto in the Security Council. We're the host nation, the founding nation, the largest contributor. We can direct the U.N. and protect our interests.

But I look forward to seeing Secretary Bolton answer those questions. And I'm willing to overlook the quote you've just shown on the screen if he will pledge himself that a stronger U.N. and a reformed U.N. is in the American national interest, which is certainly my view.

BLITZER: We don't have a lot of time left, Dr. Kissinger. But I'm anxious to get your thoughts on the controversial policy of what's called rendition: in effect the U.S. government taking suspected terrorists apprehended on U.S. soil, and sending them to third countries, whether Syria or Egypt or Jordan or Morocco or other countries around the world for interrogation, where techniques might be supposedly more effective. What do you make of this?

KISSINGER: It's something that one usually would not welcome. On the other hand, we have to consider that these are issues that may involve thousands of American lives. And we're dealing with people who have been trained to avoid interrogation. It's something that I'm not happy with.

On the other hand, it's something that I can understand. And it is inherent in the nature of the struggle in which we are engaged. But it's not something that is a general policy I'm at ease with.

BLITZER: We only have a few seconds left, Ambassador Holbrooke. Are there occasions when the U.S. should be doing this, knowing that those suspected terrorists might be tortured in third countries?

HOLBROOKE: I have no evidence as to whether it does in fact increase the protection to American lives or not. There's no more controversial issue. It goes back deep into history. And I feel very uncomfortable with it. I understand Henry Kissinger's answer.

But the evidence is out and the United States has to be extremely careful because our own image, our own values in the world, are also at stake. So the balance here is probably the most excruciatingly difficult than any chief executive can face. And I think the best thing to do is just to leave it at that.

BLITZER: Richard Holbrooke and Henry Kissinger, thanks to both of you very much for joining us here on "LATE EDITION."

And up next, we'll have the results of our "Web Question of the Week": Is democracy spreading in the Middle East? We'll share the results when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check the highlights from some of the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to put to rest the buzz that she might decide to run for president in 2008.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE: I don't want to run for president of the United States.

TIM RUSSERT, HOST, "MEET THE PRESS": "I will not run?"

RICE: I do not intend to run. No, I will not run for president of the United States. How's that? I don't know how many ways to say no in this town. I really don't.

RUSSERT: Period, I will not run for president of the United States?

RICE: I have no intention. I don't want to run. I think people who run are great but I don't want to run.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On CBS' "Face the Nation," the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, and the Ranking Democrat, Joe Biden, weighed in on why the United States is and should be giving so much attention to Lebanon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Lebanon is a tinder box that could result in a civil war. You don't know how anyone's going to response once that occurs.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: Lebanon is next door to Israel. Syria is next door to Iraq. All of these people are very juxtaposed. And the assassination of Hariri, a horrible event, has opened up possibilities for the world to say, the Saudis and the Egyptians, everybody, "Syria, get out of Lebanon."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Former Major League Baseball slugger Jose Canseco is testifying this week before a House committee investigating steroid use among players. This morning on ABC's "This Week" he said, when it comes to steroids in baseball, everyone's hands are dirty. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSE CANSECO, FORMER PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL PLAYER: I think if Major League Baseball wanted in the past to completely just sever steroids from Major League Baseball, they would have done it. Obviously there was so much money to be made. And I truly believe that players' agents are involved, definitely trainers, coaches, general managers, up to owners. They all know and they knew exactly what was going on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And on "FOX News Sunday," the new chief of staff to the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said he's optimistic about President Bush's U.N. ambassador nominee John Bolton despite his past remarks about the world body.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK MALLOCH BROWN, CHIEF OF STAFF TO KOFI ANNAN: A U.S. ambassador to the U.N. has to be very effective in New York but he also have to be very effective in Washington. And of course that's where there's a real silver lining to John Bolton's appointment. If he can corral the different Congressional points of view and the administration's point of view into a single set of recommended reforms for the U.N. which we can respond to, that's good news for us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows -- that's a feature every week at this time here on "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

Our "LATE EDITION Web Question of the Week" asks this question: Is democracy spreading in Middle East? Here's how you voted. Take a look at this: 20 percent of you actually said yes; 80 percent said no. Remember, though, this is not a scientific poll.

Let's take a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines here in the United States. The new issues coming out today. Newsweek: examining the incredible shrinking dollar. Time magazine says, "Hail, Mary! Why Protestants are celebrating the mother of Jesus." And U.S. News and World Report" focuses in on the great jobs ahead. If you're looking for a job, it might be a good idea to read that issue of U.S. News and World Report."

That's our "LATE EDITION" for this Sunday, March 13th. Please be assured 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 then, thanks very much for watching us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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