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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Jalal Talabani; Interview With Thomas Friedman

Aired April 10, 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, 6 p.m. in Rome and 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching, from around the world, thanks for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll get to my exclusive interview with Iraq's new president, Jalal Talabani, in just a few minutes. First, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: We're getting details now on a developing story we're following: another strong earthquake that struck in Indonesia off the coast of Sumatra just a few hours ago.

CNN Producer Kathy Quiano is joining now live on the phone. She's in Jakarta with all the latest information that we're getting.

Kathy, what do we know?

KATHY QUIANO, CNN PRODUCER: Many panicked residents, particularly in the port city of Padang, still refuse to return to their homes. The strong earthquake sent them rushing off for higher ground for fear the tsunami would follow the quake. But fortunately that didn't happen.

Except for a few destroyed houses there are no reports of major damage and casualties. The Indonesian Meteorological Agency says it's reported about 20 aftershocks since the first quake, but these have lessened in intensity.

So now it's about 11:00 p.m. here in Indonesia. Residents are staying out in the streets, on soccer fields, in their gardens despite efforts by local officials to calm them down. Residents say they'll most likely camp out for the night.

The people of Sumatra have been on the edge since a major quake hit the island of Nias just over two weeks ago killing at least 600 people. And, of course, as you know, Indonesia is still reeling from the death and destruction caused by the December 26th tsunami. Almost 200,000 people are believed to have died in that disaster. Wolf?

BLITZER: And no official casualty estimates yet that have come in, Kathy? QUIANO: Wolf, officials are saying that there are no reports of damage and casualties, as he said, except for a few houses that they're still checking out. Hone official said that a few houses have been flattened.

Right now the main concern is that panicked residents are still rushing to open fields and refuse to go home.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Kathy Quiano, joining us from Jakarta with the latest information. We'll continue to follow that story.

Let's move on to Iraq now where the country's new national assembly convened today. This weekend also marks the second anniversary of the fall of Baghdad.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad. He's joining us now with today's developments.

Aneesh?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good afternoon.

The national assembly did meet. They did not vote on a prime minister or his cabinet. That's the final vote needed to finish forming the transitional government. Instead, they dealt with internal security matters.

It comes, as you say, on the second-year mark of the fall of Saddam and Iraqis are reacting in varied ways. Yesterday in Firdos Square thousands upon thousands of mostly Shia but also some Sunnis poured out in protests demanding the immediate withdraw of coalition forces and also Saddam Hussein to face immediate justice. They had effigies of President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, as well as Saddam Hussein.

Now, you'll remember, Wolf, it was in that exact same location two years ago to the day that the world was hypnotized as jubilant, newly liberated Iraqis tore down that statue of Saddam Hussein with help of American forces. A far cry from that image there yesterday, it gives you a sense of the complex nature of what has happened in the past two years.

For the average Iraqi, they lie somewhere between anger and jubilation. Most of them, Wolf, just anxious for this transitional government to take form and to deal with the multiple issues that confront this country.

BLITZER: CNN's Aneesh Raman reporting for us from Baghdad. Aneesh, thank you very much.

And just a short while I spoke with Iraq's new president Jalal Talabani about the major challenges facing his country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks very much for joining us. Congratulations on being named the new president of Iraq. Did you ever in your wildest imagination over these many years as a Kurdish leader believe that you would be the president of Iraq one day?

PRES. JALAL TALABANI, IRAQ: Well, I struggled with other Iraqis and other Kurdish forces for liberating Iraq from dictatorship and having democracy in the country.

My personal desire was to participate in the struggle for liberation and democracy. As a personal desire, I was dreaming to be a professor in university. I was not thinking to be president or prime minister or any other official post.

BLITZER: Well, what about this notion of a Kurd, someone who's not an Arab, becoming president of Iraq: Did you ever think a Kurd would be the president of Iraq?

TALABANI: Yes, of course, because when we are struggling for a democratic Iraq, this must be based on full equality among all Iraqis. And the Kurds are an important part of Iraqi people. Of course, they have a right to receive any kind of posts they deserve because the new democratic Iraq will be free from discrimination, from national oppression and from religious oppression.

BLITZER: As you know, yesterday, the supporters of Muqtada Al- Sadr, the Shiite radical, emerged on Baghdad, demanding an immediate U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq. What do you think of a timetable for a U.S. military withdrawal in your mind?

TALABANI: Well, I'm not supporting such a kind of idea. And the meeting yesterday was not only for the American removal of forces, but also it was against terrorism and against remnants of Saddam Hussein's people.

I think we are in great need to have American and other allied forces in Iraq until we will be able to rebuild our military forces, rebuild our security forces and until we will be assured that there will be no danger from terrorism and from full intervention in our internal affairs.

BLITZER: Do you have an estimate how long that might take?

TALABANI: Well, I think we are trying to build as soon as possible our military forces. I think within two years we can do it. And in the same time, we will remain in full consultation, coordination, cooperation with our American friends, who came to liberate our country.

BLITZER: So your belief is that within the next two years, virtually all, if not all, U.S. forces will be out of Iraq?

TALABANI: Well, asking United States forces to leave Iraq is not depending on this. It depends on many factors. One is to secure the country from terrorism and from the danger of interference in the internal affairs of Iraq. And also it depends on the common desire of Iraqi people and American people. This will be discussed in a very friendly framework and in very friendly climate between Iraqi people and American people.

BLITZER: As you know, the demonstrators, the al-Sadr demonstrators yesterday also demanding that an Iraqi government be based on Islamic law, the sharia.

This seems to be something that Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, the new prime minister, is inclined to accept as well. How concerned are you that the sharia, Islamic law, will become the law of the new government of Iraq?

TALABANI: Well, you know, now we are living in a democratic climate. We have full democracy. Everyone can ask for his own slogans. But we have unanimously decided, in the governing council, we have decided to have TAL

And in TAL, we agreed that Islam is the religion of Iraq. And we respect the Islamic identity of Iraqi people. But we will not have an Islamic government. We are not asking for Islamic government.

BLITZER: The new constitution is supposed to be drafted by August 15th, although there is a clause you can ask for a six-month extension, a six-month delay. Will you be able to draft a new constitution on time?

TALABANI: I hope, yes. I hope we will be able to draft the constitution on time, especially because we have agreed, among the main forces which are ruling the country that TAL will be the main source of the new constitution and that we must have this constitution according to the principal of consensus among all Iraqis, among Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs, and people of Iraqi Kurdistan. For that, I think this will facilitate drafting the constitution as soon as possible.

BLITZER: Who are these insurgents that continue to launch this battle against U.S. coalition forces and the Iraqi security forces who are allied with them.

TALABANI: We have different kinds of terrorist activities, mainly those who came from outside, from Al Qaida, Ansar al-Islam, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Jihad -- those people who are fundamentalists and who are very, very reactionary and who are against the majority of Iraqi people, against Shiites and Kurds.

We have some groups of Iraqis -- the Baath Party -- and some people who were angered by some acts of Iraqi government or political forces. Those Iraqis we can -- and I hope we can reach an agreement with them, to ask them to come to participate in the democratic process in Iraq. But the others, we must fight...

BLITZER: Do you have any idea, Mr. President where Abu Musab al- Zarqawi is?

TALABANI: Yes. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is one of the main criminals in Kurdistan, and he committed many crimes there. Then when we eradicated the terrorists Ansar al-Islam in Kurdistan, with the help of the American people, he escaped and came to the Arab Sunni area. And he's one of the main criminals we are facing.

BLITZER: Is Muqtada Al-Sadr in the same category from your perspective? In other words, do you want him captured and arrested?

TALABANI: We hope so. I think if we could capture Saddam Hussein, one day we will capture him and other criminals who are still hiding themselves.

BLITZER: So Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shiite radical, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Sunni radical, you put them in the same category?

TALABANI: Well, Zarqawi is an extremist. He's against Shiites and against the Kurds, and against the democracy, and against new development of Iraq. For that, you can consider him the enemy of all Iraqis.

BLITZER: And Muqtada Al-Sadr?

TALABANI: Of course also, a part of these criminals.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Coming up, more of my exclusive interview with the new Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani. I'll ask him about Saddam Hussein's upcoming trial, and more.

Then the two top members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar and Joe Biden, weigh in on how Iraq's new government is taking shape, and the implications for the United States.

And later, inside the Catholic conclave. We'll get insight into who might be the next pope. "LATE EDITION" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our "Web Question of the Week" asks this: the next pope will be from what part of the world? Will it be Europe, Latin America, Africa, or the United States? You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results at the end of this program.

And we'll welcome your questions for our guests. Email us right now at "LATE EDITION." That's cnn.com. We'll try to read some of your questions on the air.

Straight ahead, more of my exclusive interview with Iraq's new president Jalal Talabani. You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We return now to my interview with the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: What about Saddam Hussein's trial? When do you expect that will begin?

TALABANI: Saddam Hussein's trial will start when the new government will be formed. We, the presidency, we asked Dr. Iyad Allawi to form the cabinet as soon as possible. And we hope that he will be able to form it within one week, and then we will discuss how to start the trial of Saddam Hussein and other criminals of war.

BLITZER: So you're saying, when Dr. Al-Jaafari becomes the new prime minister, forms his new government, within a matter of weeks, you're saying, the trial of Saddam Hussein will begin?

TALABANI: I cannot say exactly when it will begin, but I say, after the -- when we will have new government, then one of the tasks of the new government is to send those criminals to be tried in the court.

BLITZER: When you were sworn in as the new president of Iraq, we're told that they showed the videotape to Saddam Hussein in prison, as well as to several of his henchmen.

First of all, is that true, based on what you know?

TALABANI: Yes, they showed him and the others, Arab prisoners, they show the election in National Assembly, and then they show the ceremony.

BLITZER: What was the point of that? Why did they do that?

TALABANI: The Iraqi minister of human rights wanted to show them which kind of democracy we now have and how a president and prime minister of Iraq must be elected -- not by military coup, or conspiracy, or plotting, but by free election by the people.

BLITZER: Over the many years Saddam Hussein was in power, you had your ups and downs with Saddam Hussein, a very bitter relationship at some points. But at other points there was a good relationship, including in 1991, right after the war.

When you look back on this whole experience that you -- we're showing our viewers a picture of you and Saddam Hussein way back in 1991 -- when you look back at this relationship, what goes through your mind now?

TALABANI: You know, we had a long and prolonged struggle against the dictatorship. And within this prolonged struggle, sometimes we were obliged to have negotiations with them and to discuss problems with them.

It happened many times in the history of the Kurdish revolution. But all these negotiations failed because the dictatorship was insisting that we must surrender to them, and we refused to do it.

I think that we consider negotiation as one of the tactics of the struggle, and I think we got many benefits from these kind of negotiations with the government of Baghdad.

BLITZER: What about the feuding that you had over the years, the ups and downs with your fellow Kurds, especially Masoud Barzani? Has that been worked out, or is there still tension within the Kurdish community?

TALABANI: Well, Mr. Barzani was the man who nominated me for this post, and he insisted that I must represent the Kurds in Baghdad. With him we have the same and common ideology and common things about the new Iraq, which must be a democratic, federative, independent Iraq based on the human rights and democracy.

At the same time Mr. Barzani is of course, like me and like others, concerned about the legitimate rights of the Sunni Arabs in Iraq.

BLITZER: Have you given up your dream, Mr. President, for an independent Kurdistan?

TALABANI: Well, we haven't struggled in the past for independence, because we were realistic. We could see that this is something impossible to achieve. We always struggled for democracy for Iraq and Kurdish rights within the framework of a democratic, united, independent Iraq.

We think that, of course, the Kurdish people have the right to self-determination, like other peoples of the world, but this right was used by the Kurdistan National Assembly in a way that the Kurds asked for federation within the framework of democratic Iraq.

BLITZER: Is there still fear in your heart, in your mind that civil unrest, a civil war could erupt inside Iraq, and that Iraq could break apart into various ethnic groups?

TALABANI: No. There is no real danger for civil war, and I think the Iraqi unity will be consolidated more and more by providing democratic rights for Iraqi people, by extending democratic rights for everyone and by starting to secure the country and rebuild the country.

BLITZER: What about bringing back into the government former Baathists, former Baathist supporters of Saddam Hussein's regime? As you know, there's a trend toward doing that right now. Do you support that?

TALABANI: Now we have a government. We have a free election. We have a National Assembly, freely elected and the government will be formed, and it will try to do its duty within the limited period. And then of course, at the end of the year, we must have another election. Then we will have the national assembly and we will have another government.

BLITZER: One final question, Mr. President. As you become president of Iraq, a lot of people saying it's largely symbolic, politically significant, but the real power will be in the hands of the new government led by the new prime minister. What do you say to that, that they will have the power, you will have the symbolism?

TALABANI: That is not true. According to the law, the president represents the sovereignty of Iraq, and he has the right to look over all important issues and affairs of the government.

And with two vice presidents and with the prime minister and his deputies and with the speaker of the house, they are forming a collective leadership to lead Iraq. And don't forget that those people, like me and like two vice presidents, are representing huge forces of Iraqi people.

We are not only representing ourselves. For that, the Iraqi government will listen to us, and we will have a collective leadership in Iraq.

BLITZER: Any plans for your coming to visit Washington any time soon?

TALABANI: I hope so. I hope, of course, I will visit Washington as soon as possible.

BLITZER: Well, I'm sure once you're here, we'll be anxious to see you in person. Jalal Talabani is the new president of Iraq. Once again, Mr. Talabani, congratulations. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the Iraqi people.

TALABANI: Thank you very much. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And still ahead, we'll have more on Iraq, and the last- minute lobbying for President Bush's controversial choice to be the next United States ambassador to the United Nations. We'll talk about the looming showdown over John Bolton with the Republican chairman and a top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Up next, though, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including tomorrow's Texas summit between President Bush and the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon. You're watching "LATE EDITION." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Joining us now to assess where things stand with Iraq, the Israel-Palestinian peace process and more, our guests, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana; and the committee's top Democratic, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. He's joining from us Delaware today.

Senators, thanks very much for joining us.

Mr. Chairman, I'll start with you. Jalal Talabani, the new president of Iraq, suggests two more years needed for U.S. troops in Iraq. That doesn't sound like a lot of time.

Is that realistic?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: Well, it probably is realistic in terms of the bulk of the troops. I think Talabani mentioned specifically that in that period of time he thought the Iraqi security forces would be sufficient to keep control.

But at the same time he added that there might still be insurgents, and he might also have added there might be hostile powers on the borders of Iraq that could be of interest to both Iraq and the United States.

So it offers, I think, the road map that both President Yawer and now the former prime minister Allawi gave when they were over here; namely the constitution formation, the election of the officers of the country at the end of this year or the beginning of next year and then serious talks with United States about withdrawal and the pace of that and what would be required.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, do you think that within two years the Iraqis can effectively take charge of their own security?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Yes, I think that Dick summed it up exactly right. I think that's the single most important thing we have to be doing now is make sure that training is on target and that they have the capacity to govern.

They actually are having a real political debate, which is healthy. I meant it's interesting to see. It took them a while to form the government. They don't have the cabinet yet.

But the truth of the matter is, when you think about it in one respect, it's pretty darn healthy that they're actually engaged in a serious debate about serious issues.

I think by the end of '06 we're going to have a pretty clear picture of whether or not it's succeeding or failing. And success will be dependent upon a government that's representative and a capacity to govern in terms of security.

BLITZER: So you would estimate, Senator Biden, that between now and the end of 2006, the 140,000 U.S. troop level or at least more than 100,000 would probably still be needed?

BIDEN: No, what I'm suggesting is we'll sure know by then whether or not we're on the right trajectory. If we're in the trajectory I hope we'll be on, we will have probably drawn down additional troops during that period of time. And during the full 24- month period between now and then we, if all goes well, we'll be in a position where we have, I think, considerably fewer forces on the ground in Iraq.

And if things don't go well, I suspect you'll see the American people calling for us to significantly draw down anyway. BLITZER: All right, let's move on and talk about drafting of this constitution, Senator Lugar. It's supposed to be done, and you heard President Jalal Talabani say he thinks they can do it by mid- August, August 15.

Do you think they can do it by then?

LUGAR: Well, I think the president's confidence is well-placed. He understands the urgency of this.

And I would just join Joe Biden's thoughts that it's miraculous they have come to this point with officers of the country that have general consensus. They've had to discuss many of the constitutional issues to get to that point.

Specifically: What is to be the place of the Kurds? How much autonomy? There has not been mention of how they've disposed of the Kirkuk and the oil resources question, but that's been a big part of these conversations.

These are people who have been practical politicians but they represent folks in Iraq who have warred with each other from the beginning of the country.

So this is an extraordinary turning point that in a practical, pragmatic way they are sitting down and talking about August 15, which is a short period of time away, but with thought that you have to do it if a referendum in the country, another full-scale election is to occur -- and then moving on to name, really, the leaders of the country, both administrative and parliament.

Those are important dates for us as well as for them for the reasons that you discussed earlier. And clearly the transition that proceeds this way will have a great deal more confidence with the American people.

BLITZER: This weekend, Senator Biden, marks the second anniversary of the fall of Baghdad. That statue of Saddam Hussein, as all of us remember, went down.

And yet at that same square this weekend, yesterday, these Shiites, the supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr came out in very big numbers not only demanding an immediate U.S. withdraw from Iraq but also demanding Islamic law take charge in Iraq and also making all sorts of other demands not necessarily something the United States would welcome.

How big of a problem is this Shiite minority within Iraq right now, the minority of the Shiites who want the U.S. completely out right now and don't want to cooperate with the United States?

BIDEN: I think they're a problem, but they're not that big a problem. Because if you notice the leaders of the two largest parties in Iraq, the man who has become the prime minister of Iraq is a Shia who has apparently (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he has specifically said he doesn't think it is time for the United States to leave. I think you're seeing a little jockeying within and among the Shias for control. Sadr is always a problem.

But what is unknown is to what degree will the sharia -- as you kept asking Talabani -- what degree will that be the law of the land, or will it be the Islamic state that has the influence of the sharia?

The question remains. It's one of the gigantic questions that will determine, quite frankly, not only our relationship, but, quite frankly, determine whether or not there is an ability of the Kurds and the Shia to stay in the deal together because the Kurdish instinct is very different than that.

And the big outstanding issue here is: How are we going to get the Sunnis, how are the Sunnis going to get engaged in this? Because no constitution that is going to be able to fly is going to be able to be written between now and August without greater Sunni participation.

BLITZER: Did you notice, Mr. Chairman, that some Sunni leaders are now urging fellow Sunnis, Iraqi Sunnis, representing about 20 percent of the country, to go ahead and join the Iraqi military, to join Iraqi police force, but to use them as an instrument against the United States from within the Iraqi military or police establishment?

That sounds very worrying to Americans.

LUGAR: Well, I have noticed that. And in three conspicuous cities of Iraq that apparently is the case. That is, the authorities of the government now have enlisted some other folks that certainly do not like us -- try to keep the peace there.

Now, usually the rationalization is that they have not had an opportunity -- that is, the government, to train enough people yet -- that they are too short and that failure to make some accommodations with these other folks would lead to chaos in the city. There may be some truth to this.

On the other hand, it is a part of a process that we're all going to have to witness. And that is: How do the Sunnis become integrated, how do even the forces of Sadr and Shiite community come into it? And they are jockeying for position within Iraq.

They want to show this new government they are still there and they have to be accommodated. Fortunately, American forces have not moved out of harm's way, but much of the fighting right now really comes down to Iraqis shooting at Iraqis. And likewise, criticisms of the justice system are coming to Iraqis.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. But I want Senator Biden to wrap up this part of the discussion on Iraq. I sense, Senator Biden, and I have been listening closely to you for years on this subject, that you are a little bit more hopeful today than you were, shall we say, a year ago as far as the trends that we're seeing unfold in Iraq right now.

BIDEN: I am, Wolf. And the key here, though, I still think we should be forming a contact group where we get the EU and NATO and some of the G-8 heads of state to begin to sit down literally as an adviser group to the Iraqi government.

There's a lot of people willing to train Iraqis which could obviate some of the problems Dick was talking about. We have not taken advantage of that. The French offered to train a 1,500-officer corps. The Germans offered. The Egyptian offer, et cetera.

There is no rationalization of these outstanding offers that would, I think, if done together and in conjunction with a new Iraqi government so it's not just the U.S., would obviate some of the more obvious and extreme possibilities in terms of divisions within the Iraqi government as it relates to security.

The Peshmerga in the north, the Badr Brigade in the south, keeping those both alive, I'm not sure it's such a good idea. There has got to be an outside collective force here that helps them rationalize their security positions.

BLITZER: All right, Senators.

Stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We have much more to talk about including the hearings that you will have tomorrow on John Bolton to become the next U.N. ambassador.

And later, The New York Times columnist and author Tom Friedman. He joins me. We'll talk about why his trip to India not all that long ago made him believe the world is flat.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, and the committee's top democrat, Joe Biden.

Tomorrow, Senator Biden, you start hearings on the confirmation of John Bolton to be the next U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

Listen to what The New York Times wrote in an editorial on Friday.

"Mr. Bolton stands out because he is not only bad in a policy sense but also unqualified for the post to which he's been named. At a minimum, the United States representative to the United Nations should be a person who believes it is a good idea. Mr. Bolton has never made secret his disdain for the United Nations, for multilateralism, and for consensus-seeking diplomacy in general."

Will you vote to confirm him?

BIDEN: No.

BLITZER: No? Why? BIDEN: Three reasons. One, I think that we'll find out that there seems to be that he apparently put some pressure on some analysts who did not like what he -- intelligence analysts that he sought to get fired for refusing to go along with his version of things as stated with regard to Cuba. He took out the offending comments but still seemed to pursue their being fired. In the post- 9/11 environment, that's a very bad idea.

Number two, I think that at the very time the president of the United States is relying more on the United Nations with regard to our efforts in the Sudan, with regard to our efforts in the Middle East, I think it's a bad idea to have a man there who doesn't have much regard for the U.N.

And lastly, he hasn't done a very good job where he has been, which is in charge of arms control and proliferation issues. Korea and Libya: The policies he suggested, I think, have been a failure. And so for all those reasons, I'm not going to vote for him.

But I'm going to give him a chance. We're all going to give him a chance to determine the first issue, which is whether or not he really did attempt to pressure the firing of two analysts who disagreed with what he wanted to say about Cuba.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let's talk a little bit about that.

Senator Lugar, you're going to chair the hearing tomorrow. At this point, I assume you'll vote to confirm it.

LUGAR: Yes, that is correct.

BLITZER: Well, what about the arguments that Senator Biden just made?

LUGAR: Well, I think they are important. But let me just say that the president of the United States was only fairly recently re- elected. He believes that the United Nations needs to have reform. So does the secretary-general, Kofi Annan. Secretary Rice believes strongly that reform should occur.

And they have nominated John Bolton to be the instrument of reform. It is their strong choice. They've made that very clear.

I certainly take seriously that nomination. We've tried to move ahead with the cooperation of Senator Biden to have the proper hearings, to have a United Nations representative very soon.

Specifically on the issues of whether persons were pressured or intimidated, Senator Biden and Democratic staff have asked for five interviews to be conducted. And they have been conducted on Thursday and Friday with relevant personnel.

BLITZER: If you discover that John Bolton tried to get fired two intelligence analysts, careerists, not political appointees, but careerists, CIA, or other intelligence agencies, would you then reconsider your support for his nomination? LUGAR: I might. But I've seen the transcripts of the interviews, gone carefully over all of this. And I do not see evidence that that occurred. Now, I appreciate that many people have views about John Bolton's personality, his bluntness, the way that he handles himself. I think this is their legion of situations. But these are not, in my judgment, disqualifiers for a presidential nominee who is going to the U.N. to create reform.

BLITZER: Have you seen these interviews yet, Senator Biden?

BIDEN: Some of them, not all of them. My staff was conducting some as recently as, I believe Dick, yesterday. And I was at the pope's funeral in Rome and just got back yesterday. And I have not had a chance. I will be doing that today with my staff.

BLITZER: Speaking of the pope's funeral, Senator Biden, I know you were obviously, like the rest of the world, deeply moved by what you saw. But given the fact that you were there at the funeral, did you return to the United States with a new appreciation of the challenges facing the Catholic church right now?

BIDEN: Well, as a practicing Catholic, I have appreciated the challenges facing my church and internally for some time now, Wolf. But the next pope is going to have an awesome responsibility. This is the first time -- I found it absolutely amazing is I sat there, Wolf, to be tapped on the shoulder of the man sitting behind me, to be the governor for northern Ireland. And he was there saying the mass in Latin with me. That was sort of an epiphany.

In front of me, there were three people wearing fezes. They turned out to be Muslims from Morocco. I found it absolutely astounding that so many people of varying faiths were there to pay the respects to Pope John Paul.

BLITZER: You have the last words, Senator Lugar. And you can talk about Pope John Paul II. Or if you can want to talk about the summit tomorrow between President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon, I'll give you an opportunity to assess the prospects for peace in the Middle East.

LUGAR: Well, Pope John Paul was a great champion of liberty. And that has been recognized worldwide and treasured during these last few days.

I think in the next day, specifically tomorrow, the need for peace is at hand with regard to the Palestinian and Israelis. A very tough set of talks in which our president will affirm support for Prime Minister Sharon as he tries to move ahead with settlements being removed from Gaza.

At the same time, we will affirm our need to proceed on the road map and not to stop at step two, which is the Gaza removal, to move on, to give confidence to the new Palestinian government that's going to have more elections and must have successful ones.

So our involvement there with the president tomorrow is extremely important. I hope there's follow-through now of really very successful intensive United States diplomacy to help both parties.

BLITZER: I suspect there will be. We'll see what happens. Senator Lugar, thanks as usual. Senator Biden, thanks to you, as well. Always good to have both of you on our program.

And don't forget our "Web Question of the Week:" The next pope will be from what part of the world: Europe, Latin America, Africa, or the United States? You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results later on "LATE EDITION."

Coming up next. This spotlight will soon be on an ancient process of the Catholic church. Choosing a new pope. We'll get special insight into that very serious process. Once again, send us your Email questions to "LATE EDITION" at cnn.com. We'll try to read some of them on the air. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: After bidding farewell to Pope John Paul II, 115 cardinals prepare to choose a new Holy Father. We'll get insight into the conclave tradition and the challenges facing the Catholic Church.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, NEW YORK TIMES: Do not go on any victory lap yet. This is the Middle East.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: New York Times columnist Tom Friedman gives his take on the new Iraqi government, the Middle East peace process, and his new book, "The World is Flat."

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll take a closer look to the task of choosing a new pope in just a few minutes.

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

GERRY WILLIS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Gerry Willis in Atlanta.

Now in the news, funerals for three teenaged Palestinians were held in Gaza today. Thousands of people turned out for the funeral procession. Palestinians say the three boys were playing soccer when they were killed by Israeli troops. The Israeli army says the three were involved in border smuggling. And Indonesia's northern island of Sumatra was hit by an earthquake this morning. A series of smaller quakes followed the first, measuring 6.8 magnitude by the U.S. Geological Survey.

There was panic and worries about a possible tsunami, but there have been no reports of deaths or injuries from tsunamis.

Prince Charles and his new wife Camilla the Duchess of Cornwall are now on their honeymoon at Charles' Balmoral estate. The royal couple greeted villagers after attending a church service this morning. They're expected to spend about 10 days in Scotland.

Those are the headlines. Now back to "LATE EDITION".

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Gerry.

At the Vatican, an intense period of silence and prayer has begun for the cardinals who will elect the next pope.

CNN's Chris Burns is in Rome. He's joining us with details.

Chris?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the line that you used, "intense period of silence and prayer," is exactly the quote from Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who's the spokesman for the Vatican, and who used that to describe this period, essentially a press blackout, among these 117 bishops, or at least 115 of them, who will assemble on April 18th, beginning April 18th, to vote for a new pope.

So until then, they're being told that they cannot speak to the press. So the silence is deafening, and that is inviting all kinds of speculations in the newspapers here, many of them contradicting each other.

Who is papabile? Or who is popable, in the Italian words? And that is the big question.

Could it be somebody from Italy, going back to Italy, after Pope John Paul II was the first in more than 450 years to become the first non-Italian pope? Could he be African? Could he be South American? Could he be Asian?

It's all up to all kinds of speculation, and there are indications, though -- you can read between the lines -- during the homilies over the next few days, and today there was one by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who is seen as one of the kingmakers in this conclave that's starting April 18th, and he said something interesting.

If you look at the bold print in the handout of his speech, it refers to the funeral of Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square as being an exhibition of a great family of nations, not a culture clash of civilizations, but a great family of nations.

And this is where perhaps some analysts are saying, well, if it is an Italian who becomes pope, that person would have to have some kind of experience in other cultures. So that's part of the speculation today, Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of speculation is going to continue. In fact, we're going to have some more speculation...

BURNS: Yes.

BLITZER: ... right on this program.

Chris Burns, reporting for us.

So, one week from tomorrow, 115 of the Roman Catholic Church's cardinals will go into seclusion at the Vatican to begin selecting a new pope.

Here to help us better understand that process, as well as discuss who could emerge as John Paul II's successor, are three prominent priests.

In Chicago, Father David O'Connell: He's the president of the Catholic University of America here in Washington. And in New York, Father Donald Harrington: He's the president of St. John's University, which is in New York. And in Rome is Father Andrew Greeley: He's a professor at the University of Chicago.

Thanks to all three of you for joining us.

I'll begin with you, Father O'Connell in Chicago. Any inside word, any sense that you have -- and obviously it's speculative -- who might emerge as the next pope?

FATHER DAVID O'CONNELL, PRES., CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: Well, Wolf, this morning I was talking with one of the cardinals over there, and he said there is a strange feeling -- that's the word he used -- a strange feeling in the air. I think it's starting to sink in with the cardinals that there is a vacancy, that there's an absence there, and a profound absence. But also a sense of the enormity of the task that lies ahead of them.

BLITZER: But no names, any names that you'd want to suggest that could emerge? Because a lot of our viewers around the world, Father O'Connell, certainly not familiar with all the names, the 115 cardinals?

There were 117 under the age of 80 that were eligible, but two of those cardinals, as you know, are sick and can't participate in this election process.

O'CONNELL: Yes, I haven't heard any of the cardinals or the people that are closest to the potential conclave mentioning any names. And of course it would be unseemly and inappropriate for them to do that.

But we have all kinds of speculation going on. You know the names that are appearing in all the newspapers, that it's going to be a cardinal from this area or a cardinal from that area. What is interesting is, this is a conclave where the cardinals have had more of a chance to get to know one another before the actual conclave, even before the funeral of the pope began, because of technology, electronic media and, in more recent years, the number of meetings that have been called in Rome where the cardinals have been together to discuss various issues of importance to the church.

BLITZER: All right, let's go to Rome. Father Greeley is standing by there. I know that no one knows who's going to be the next pope. But you've been studying the list. You've been studying the various front-runners out there.

What goes through your mind, Father Greeley?

FATHER ANDREW GREELEY, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: Well, if I'm a Chicago Democrat, as I am, then I would think Cardinal Ratzinger really controls the mechanisms. He is the dean. He gave the sermon at the pope's funeral. He's the one that recommended silence to the press -- which, by the way, I think it was a terrible mistake. And he's also the one that's picked the people that are going to say the Mass and preach the sermon. So he controls the mechanism. Maybe he's going to be the next pope.

BLITZER: He's 76 years old...

GREELEY: But I wouldn't...

BLITZER: ... almost 77 years old.

GREELEY: That's not old...

BLITZER: Pope John Paul II was, what, 58 when he became pope. Is that, isn't that a little old at this point?

GREELEY: And John the 23rd was 77. Seventy-six isn't old. Cardinal Ratzinger is not in good health. That's another matter. The one I'd like to have is somebody from the Third World, particularly from South America.

Half the Catholics in the world are in South America. A quarter of the Catholics in the world are in Brazil. I mean, if the church should choose a pope from there, it would kind of be like Branch Ricky bringing Jackie Robinson into baseball. It would be a shattering and powerful experience.

BLITZER: Is there a name from South America, from Latin America that jumps out at you, Father Greeley?

GREELEY: Well, the name frequently mentioned, of course, is Cardinal Hummes from Sao Paolo, a small city of 20 million people. That's Chicago and Los Angeles and New York and Detroit all combined. And two percent of the Catholics in the world are in his diocese. So he might make a good pope. I don't know. I'm not voting.

BLITZER: I know you're not voting, and Father Donald Harrington of St. John's University in New York isn't voting as well. But you've been thinking about this, Father Harrington. And what goes through your mind?

FATHER DONALD HARRINGTON, PRESIDENT, ST. JOHN'S UNIVERSITY: Well, Wolf, as you know I just returned from Rome a week ago. I happened to be there at the time the Holy Father passed away.

And standing in St. Peter's Square, actually the afternoon that he died, that evening, I was very taken by the outpouring of love and affection on the part of people from all around the world who had gathered there.

And so very simply I would say this: We know because of the enormity of the task that we need someone who would have great gifts of head, great gifts of intellect. But having been there myself and later watched the funeral, we also need someone with great gifts of heart.

And I believe, for that reason, most probably there will be a compromise in a very good sense. I believe the cardinals will look for the best person who can balance wonderful gifts of intellect and wonderful gifts of heart. And that's what I believe we need.

BLITZER: If we take a look at the breakdown of these 115 cardinal electors, 28 are from Europe, 21 from Latin America. The 28 from Europe does not include Italy. Italy alone has 20 of these cardinal electors. Fourteen from the U.S. and Canada, 11 from the U.S., three from Canada. Eleven from Africa, 11 from Asia -- One- hundred fifteen total. Father O'Connell, what does that say to you, if anything, that breakdown of these 115 cardinals?

O'CONNELL: You know, Wolf, I don't think the focus will be necessarily regional. I think the focus will be on what is needed in the person who assumes the papacy. I think in these days the conversation has been on the issues and needs that the church confronts.

But once those men walk in that door, once they lock in the door in the conclave, they're going to be looking for a man, a person who embodies, as Father Harrington noted, certain gifts and talents.

You know, John Paul has set the bar very high. The person has got to be a great communicator. The person has got to be able to reach out to people, not only within the Catholic Church, but also the people of other religions. The person has got to be someone who is able to heal at times, some of the rifts and the divisions. And you can only do that by reaching out.

And also as bishop of Rome, someone who is going to be conscious of the situation in Europe: This is a situation where we have a church that -- history was built around the Catholic Church in Europe. And now the culture there is rather secular. And that's going to be a concern to the next pope as well, I think.

BLITZER: Father Harrington, let me pick up on a point that Father Greeley made and put some numbers up on the screen of where Catholics are right now around the world. North America has around 80 million Catholics; Latin America, 483 million, almost 500 million Catholics; Europe 277 million; Africa, 147 million; Asia, 124 million; another 9 million around the world elsewhere.

It looks, as Father Greeley said, a huge number in South America alone and Latin America. Does that suggest it's time right now for the Vatican to break away from the Europeans and move elsewhere to get a non-European pontiff?

HARRINGTON: I would say, Wolf, that when John Paul II was elected, no one expected someone from Poland. And again, I believe the cardinals looked for special talents and gifts.

I think right now they will be looking for someone who can win the hearts of the young people, the future of the church and the world, and can walk with credibility among the leaders of the world.

And I honestly do not believe that geographics will play as big a role as some do. I believe that the -- clearly that's a consideration but not the major consideration.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to pick up that thought in a moment. We have to take a quick break, though. We're going to ask our panel to stand by. When we come back, we'll continue our discussion about whether the next pontiff can fill John Paul II's shoes, and what the Catholic church needs to do to keep faith with its followers. And later, with U.S. gas prices at record highs, the New York Times columnist and author Tom Friedman, he'll join us. He'll tell us why he thinks Americans should be paying more and not less at the pump.

"LATE EDITION" continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush is the first sitting U.S. president to attend the funeral of a pope. But this show of U.S. support for the institution of the Catholic Church does not mean an American is any closer to capturing the papacy.

While 11 of the 115 cardinal electors are from the U.S., the second largest national group after Italy, the attention is focusing in on the southern hemisphere.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY: I think the Holy Father himself sensed that the new, vibrant churches, lively, dynamic churches in the southern hemisphere might be a good place for the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Latin American Catholics make up 43 percent of the world's total, versus Europe at 25 percent and North America at less than 10 percent. Claudio Hummes of Brazil and Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras are often mentioned as possible successors to John Paul.

And there's speculation that the next pope could be the first African one: Francis Arinze of Nigeria.

Why is the U.S. been left off the short list?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARDINAL THEODORE MCCARRICK: I think it's since our nation is really the super power of the world that it might be off-putting to have the bishop of Rome also a member of that nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In recent years, the Vatican has been at odds with the U.S. government.

Pope John Paul II voiced opposition to the war in Iraq and castigated the U.S. for prisoner abuse. At the same time, this church has been rocked by sex scandals. While the U.S. has a growing Catholic population now numbered at some 64 million, Mass attendance, according to surveys, has fallen steadily. And there's a priest shortage. More than 3,000 parishes have no resident priest.

Whatever country the next pope does come from, he'll have a hard time filling Pope John Paul II's shoes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We're continuing our conversation with Father Andrew Greeley. He's professor at the University of Chicago. He's in Rome today. Father David O'Connell, he's president of the Catholic University. He's in Chicago. And Father Donald Harrington, he's president of St. John's University. He's in New York.

Father Greeley, that last line I said in that set-up piece, "The next pope will have a hard time filling Pope John Paul II's shoes," do you agree with that?

GREELEY: Well, I think it would be a mistake for anyone to try. You have a charismatic leader like him once in a millennium. And we can't expect another one, and the poor man who is elected shouldn't try to be a clone. He should be himself.

I would note, by the way, that the description of the crisis of the church in the United States is not unique to the United States. The problem exists everywhere in the world. In the research we've done, there is failing of credibility in almost every Catholic country in the world with regard to the Vatican.

So there's a big problem of bringing people together and bringing them together gently, not brutally.

I once wrote a job description for the papacy and said the pope should be a hopeful, holy man who smiles. I'd be delighted with a pope like that: a man who radiated hope, who could laugh, who could smile and was deeply holy.

BLITZER: Would you say that's the same challenges that face other countries as in here in the United States, the sexual abuse scandal that all of us are familiar with that emerged over these past several years? Is that true elsewhere around the world as well?

GREELEY: Well, it's certainly true in any place where you have the Anglo-Saxon legal system that people can go to court. It's true in Ireland. It's true in England.

We recently had a cardinal and a bishop in Austria and also an archbishop in Poland. So, yes, it exists all over the world.

The difference in the United States is it's out in the open. The American hierarchy (UNINTELLIGIBLE) have responded to it finally with intelligence and vigor.

BLITZER: And you're saying they're not responding elsewhere around the world? Is that what you're saying?

GREELEY: Well, it isn't a public problem yet in the rest of the world like it is in the United States.

BLITZER: Father O'Connell, do you agree with that assessment?

O'CONNELL: No, I don't agree with it exactly. I think the situation in Ireland, for example, has received a great deal of attention in recent months. Also even within the Greek Orthodox Church.

So the situation does exist in other places.

But as many people have indicated in recent days in media contacts and interviews, that for the 1 billion Catholics throughout the world, this is not the most important issue. That's not to minimize the significance of it, especially here in the United States with the issue of credibility and accountability as something that's very important for us, but it is not the most pressing issue faced by the church throughout the entire world and among its 1 billion Catholics.

BLITZER: I'll let Father Harrington weigh in as well on this sensitive subject.

Go ahead.

HARRINGTON: I very much agree with Father O'Connell, Wolf. This is an enormously serious problem. There has been horrendous behavior, inexcusable, et cetera. We all agree on that. But if that were truly the one issue, I don't think St. Peter's Square would have been full, quite honestly.

I think the world is looking for a spiritual leader who can reach out, preach the gospel to them, have credibility. And unfortunately things like the sexual abuse crisis -- which are terribly serious and embarrassing and we wish they never would have happened. Nonetheless, that square was full. And I think that says a great deal about the church.

BLITZER: During the funeral, Father Greeley, what surprised you the most as you watched it unfold?

GREELEY: What surprised me the most through the wake and the funeral was the wonderful and delightful Polish young people that were here. They were respectful. They were on a holiday, so to speak, so they were having a bit of a good time. But they weren't drinking, they weren't rowdies, they were marvelous ladies and gentlemen that were a credit to their country and to their faith and to their parents. They really surprised me. They were wonderful.

BLITZER: Same question to you, Father O'Connell. What surprised you, if anything?

O'CONNELL: I was surprised by the tremendous display of affection and emotion by the leaders of the world, and also by the diversity of religions represented as official delegations to the funeral. It was something very beautiful.

And I might say, Wolf, I think something very hopeful as we look toward peace in the future of our world.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope your hope is well-justified.

I really appreciate all three of you joining us today on this Sunday. We'll be watching the conclave unfold as best as we can. It starts a week from tomorrow.

Up next, we'll get a quick check of what's making news right now, including huge demonstrations in China against Japan. We'll tell you what's going on.

Then we'll be joined by New York Times columnist and author Tom Friedman. We'll talk about his new book and what he thinks is Osama bin Laden's and Al Qaida's big advantage that's unfolding right now.

More "LATE EDITION" straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Magnificent cherry blossoms here in the nation's capital. If you have a chance, come to Washington now. Good time to see the cherry blossoms. Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

If you're looking for some insightful thought-provoking commentary on world affairs, you don't have to go farther than New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. The three-time Pulitzer Prize winner has written extensively about the situation in Iraq and across the Middle East. I had a chance to speak with Tom Friedman about the new Iraq, prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace and his new book.

Tom Friedman, thanks very much for joining us. Congratulations on the new book, "The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century." We're going to get to that in just a few moments. I want to pick your brain on some other issues of the day first. Let's talk about this new Iraqi government. What do you make of this?

FRIEDMAN: I think it's a big deal, Wolf. For two reasons. First, this is the first Arab government in the history of the modern Arab world that's ever been produced by a horizontal conversation among the people in the country itself.

We've had generations of Arab governments produced by top down, by military coups, by foreign powers. For the first time, a group of Arab citizens in an Arab country in a horizontal discussion have produced their own government with a president who is not an Arab, a Kurd.

BLITZER: It's not even a completely Arab government. The Kurds, we have to remind our viewers, are not Arabs.

FRIEDMAN: They're not Arabs. So for the first time, we have a non-Arab as the president of an Arab country, as the product of a horizontal discussion among the people themselves. That's a big, big deal.

BLITZER: What do you think of the decision to make, in effect, Saddam Hussein and his henchmen watch the inauguration of Jalal Talabani and these others, his enemies, make him watch it in his cell on television.

FRIEDMAN: I rather like that. Saddam, this Bud's for you, OK. You told us all along that your people could never do this, OK, that they were incapable of a horizontal dialogue. All that would bring them together was an iron fist. Well, you're wrong, bud. This Bud's for you.

BLITZER: They were also trying to drive home to Saddam, who's still in prison. He still thinks he's the supreme leader of Iraq. And saying to him, you know what? Saddam Hussein, you're no longer the president of Iraq.

FRIEDMAN: Yes, and the guy whose people you tried to gas and to basically wipe out the Kurdish people, their leading representative is going to be the president of Iraq.

BLITZER: You wrote a column in The New York Times on March 20. Let me read to you from that. "We tend to talk about Iraq as if it is all about us and what we do. If some kind of democracy takes root there, it will also be due in large measure to the instincts and directives of the dominant Iraqi Shiite communal leader Ayatollah Sistani.

The chances for success are immeasurably improved when we have partners from within the region who are legitimate but have progressive instincts. That is Mr. Sistani. May he live to be 120 and give that man a Nobel prize."

Now, I read that. And I said to myself, "I hope you're right." Certainly everybody hopes you're right. But are you a little bit nervous that the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other Shiites in Iraq may not necessarily turn out to be Nobel peace prize winners?

FRIEDMAN: You have to be worried about that, obviously Wolf. You know, you don't go from Saddam to Jefferson without going through a little bit of Khomeini. I mean I wish we could but you don't. But the fact that the bridge right now, that religious bridge, is being held up by Sistani -- a Shiite spiritual leader who has used his influence to say to his Shiite community, "Do not let these Sunni insurgents, these jihadists, drag you into a civil war."

Imagine if we had had Yasser Arafat there rather than Ali Sistani. Because what the insurgents have been trying to do by murdering Shiites by the tens and twenties at mosques, OK, in armored uniforms at police barracks is ignite a civil war. And the person who's had the most impact in preventing that is Sistani. Do I think he's going to be great on women's issues? No, I probably not. You know, and will he be a perfect Jeffersonian Democrat? Probably not. But he is the Mandela, the Gorbachev of this story that has enabled us maybe, maybe -- we're not there yet -- but to bring this in for a peaceful resolution.

BLITZER: You were among those columnists before the war who thought it was a good idea to go get rid of Saddam Hussein. I know you've been criticized since then by many of your readers who have said, "Why did Tom Friedman get sucked into this notion, as well. Especially now that we all know there were no weapons of mass destruction. Looking back on the whole process, was it worth it?

FRIEDMAN: You know, from my point of view, remember my argument, Wolf, was that I didn't think there were weapons of mass destruction to begin with. I didn't think that was a reason to go to war. I thought whatever Saddam had didn't threaten us. For me it was always about democracy.

Look, we've paid a huge price for this, Wolf. We've paid a huge price in dollars and in the lives of Americans and Iraqis and our allies. But I believe tilting the Middle East from the track it was on, a downward track of authoritarianism and backward economics to maybe an upward track of more open pluralistic government and more open economies, that's a big deal. And I believe that we have a chance to pull it off. And if we do, this is going to be remembered as a historic turning point.

So, no, Wolf, I don't want my money back. I was part of a small group of liberal hawks. The group got smaller as the last two years went on. But I stuck with it. I'm still sticking with it.

BLITZER: Long before you wrote "The World is Flat," you wrote, "Between Beirut and Jerusalem." Let's pick your brain a little bit on the opportunity that so many now believe is there between Israelis and Palestinians and the aftermath of Yasser Arafat's death. You have also written many times that when it comes to looking down the road in the Middle East, pessimism pays.

FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. BLITZER: That, as good as it looks right now, this whole thing could collapse mighty quickly.

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know with all of these theaters, actually, Wolf: Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, the movements forward in Egypt, you could say in all of them we've done kind of some of the necessary things, elections in Iraq, elections in Palestine, the beginning of an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, but we've done the sufficient thing.

And what is the sufficient thing in all these? We create self- sustaining democracy in Iraq -- not democracy that needs to be fed and protected by 100,000 American troops -- that we create self-sustaining peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

I think that's the challenge for Condoleezza Rice, that's the challenge for this administration. They're only halfway home. Way too soon for any victory lap.

BLITZER: So you think that there's a moment there, but it could quickly end?

FRIEDMAN: It could quickly end. It could be reversed. Do not go on any victory lap yet. This is the Middle East.

BLITZER: Now, let's talk about oil, and, on this, you wrote on March 27th -- and we're all, in the United States everybody's freaking out because of the record oil prices,...

FRIEDMAN: Right.

BLITZER: ... the gasoline prices at the pump: "By doing nothing to lower U.S. oil consumption, we are financing both sides in the war on terrorism and strengthening the worst governments in the world. That is, we are financing the U.S. military with our tax dollars, and we are financing the jihadists and the Saudi, Sudanese and Iranian mosques and charities that support them through our gasoline purchases. We need a gasoline tax that would keep pump prices fixed at $4 a gallon, even if crude oil prices go down."

A lot of Americans are worried about $2.20 a gallon. You want Americans to spend $4 a gallon for gas.

FRIEDMAN: Absolutely, because, if we had $4-a-gallon gasoline, Wolf, that would truly change the buying behavior of the American public. We'd have hybrid cars and hybrid trucks. We would have nowhere near the effect on the climate that we're having now; it'd be great for the climate. It'd be great for Europe.

We'd use that money to pay down the deficit. We'd use that money, basically, to fund our own schools, our own roads.

Oh, we've got a gas tax now. Gas was $1.25 when 9/11 happened. Now it's 2.5 bucks. Where did that extra $1.25 go? It went to Saudi schools, Saudi madrassas, Saudi mosques.

We've had a gas tax. Have a nice day. All that money went to their schools instead of ours.

So let's put ourselves in a position where we can capture the money, use it to solve our problems and be better global citizens at the same time.

BLITZER: But even if we were to go to $4 a gallon, and use that as taxes, or whatever, given the weakening dollar, it becomes much more expensive to import oil to the United States. That's such a huge factor in this spiraling cost for Americans.

FRIEDMAN: Well, no, no, the taxes on what you pay at the pump here, that doesn't affect the dollar at all. Just the opposite. It will strengthen the dollar, by reducing our oil imports.

BLITZER: But the supply and demand. Given the demand for oil in India, in China,...

FRIEDMAN: Right.

BLITZER: ... that price is going to go up, but it's going to especially go up for Americans, because the dollar is so weak.

FRIEDMAN: It's going to go up for Americans, Wolf, because the world is flat, and what's happened, when the world gets flattened, is that three billion people called India, China, and the former Soviet Union are walking onto the global playing field with the American dream: a house, a car, a toaster and a microwave.

If we don't find an alternative source of energy, and a way to reduce our consumption, we are going to -- one of two things are going to happen, Wolf, we're either going to burn up the planet, or we're going to be in a global war with China over oil.

BLITZER: Here's what you write in the book "The World is Flat": "If President Bush made energy independence his moon shot, in one fell swoop he would dry up revenue for terrorism, force Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia onto the path of reform, strengthen the dollar, and improve his own standing in Europe by doing something huge to reduce global warming."

Is the president, in your opinion, doing enough? Is this his moon shot?

FRIEDMAN: Oh, this is his moon shot. This would be, I think, the greatest...

BLITZER: But is he doing it?

FRIEDMAN: He's not doing it at all. We have a president who's focused on taking apart the New Deal, privatizing Social Security, when what America needs now to prepare it for the flat world is a new New Deal.

You know, President Johnson, that was the Great Society. This administration is turning out to be the Great Waste of Time. I wish the president would do this. I would love to praise him for it. I think this is his legacy project.

Privatizing Social Security, which isn't even going to work, is going to take him and us into a blind alley.

BLITZER: And opening up the oil fields in Alaska and the ANWR and the Alaska Natural Wildlife Refuge?

FRIEDMAN: A drop in the bucket, Wolf, that will probably benefit China more than anything else.

BLITZER: And just ahead, more of my conversation with Tom Friedman. We'll talk about the provocative title of his new book.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Here's part two of my interview with The New York Times columnist and author Tom Friedman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Now, let's talk about the other controversial points of this new book, "The World Is Flat." And the general notion the world is flat, what do you mean when you say the world is flat? Because this is the theme of this entire book.

FRIEDMAN: What I mean, Wolf, is at the end of the 1990s, a set of -- the Berlin Wall came down, and then a set of technologies converged, the Internet, the massive overwiring of the world with fiber cable and software that could connect everyone's applications to everyone else's applications.

Which basically created a global platform for multiple forms of sharing of knowledge and work. So more people around the world today can plug and play. More directly with your daughter and mine, they never before in the history of the planet. That is the flattening of the world. We've created a flattened global playing field where more people can compete and collaborate.

BLITZER: And you believe that this is good. This is good for the world in the sense -- even if the United States loses jobs to India or China, outsourcing is a controversial concept as you well know. You think when all is said and done, if the U.S. learns to live with this, learns to deal with it, this will be good for America. But that's not accepted by a lot of Americans.

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. Well, there was a lot of Americans who wouldn't have like when we opened up our economy with Western Europe. OK? And after World War II, we stood astride the world with total domination. But then we basically opened up with, more or less, free trade with Europe.

Well, what happened? OK, you could have said 50 years ago, my God, all our jobs are going to go to Europe. What happened instead is our level of, our standard of living rose for six straight decades. I believe as the world flattens, what we're doing, the exciting part is we're connecting all the knowledge pools in the world together.

The next great breakthrough in bioscience could come from a 15- year-old in Romania who downloads the human genome. That's the exciting part. The challenging part is you're only going to be able to enjoy the benefits of this world if you keep your education moving forward. That's the challenge for us.

And when Bill Gates comes out and tells the national governor's conference our high school education in this country is obsolete, that's something we better pay attention to.

BLITZER: You write in the book, "At the precise moment the world was flattened, requiring some important adjustments in our society and that of many other Western developed nations, American politicians not only were not educating the American public. They were actively working to make it stupid." What do you mean by that?

FRIEDMAN: I mean that right at the moment of the flattening of the world, we just had an election campaign where the Democrats were debating whether NAFTA was a good idea, and the Republicans put duct tape over the mouth of chief White House economist Greg Mankiw when he said outsourcing made sense, and stashed him in Dick Cheney's basement.

So right at the moment, you know, when we are at this critical time of both challenge and opportunity, what is this administration focused on? The old deal trying to take apart the old New Deal.

BLITZER: Politically, it's hard to explain to the American public that losing jobs in North Carolina, whether they are manufacturing jobs or service sector jobs, telecommunications jobs to India or China or Ireland, it's hard to explain that's good for America.

FRIEDMAN: Well, it's called creative destruction, Wolf. And 90 percent of jobs are not outsourced to India. They are outsourced to the past. There was someone who used to work as an airline counter executive. Their job got outsourced to an e-ticket machine. There's people who worked as secretaries. Their jobs got outsourced to a voicemail chip in your telephone.

This is going on all the time. The great strength of our economy is that we are flexible, that we allow this competition to happen, and, as a result, our standard of living as a country goes steadily up. The dumbest thing we can do is put up walls against this.

BLITZER: The trade barriers.

FRIEDMAN: The trade barriers and to stop this. The smartest thing we can do is look to strengthen our people to make them smarter and more employable.

BLITZER: Here is a downside of the flattening of the world as you would say it. And I'll read again from the book. "It's not only the software writers and computer geeks whose get empowered to collaborate on work in a flat world. It's also Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks. The playing field is not being leveled only in ways that draw in and superempower," that's a new word, "a whole new group of innovators. It's being leveled in a way that draws in and superempowers a group of angry, frustrated, and humiliated men and women."

In other words, what you're saying is that the terrorist threat becomes more dangerous because the world is getting flatter?

FRIEDMAN: Unfortunately, Wolf, we're not only connecting the knowledge pools together about science and engineering all over the world. We're also connecting the terrorist knowledge pools together. That's what the flat world does. Unfortunately, the flat world is a friend of IBM and of Al Qaeda.

And that's the danger of the flat world. And that's why at the end of the book I really talk about what we need to do, how do we think about how to meet that challenge. Most importantly, my message is to my daughters.

Girls, when I was growing up, my parents used to say to me, finish your dinner, Tom. People in China and India are starving. And I tell my girls, girls, finish your homework because people in China and India are starving for your job.

BLITZER: We'll leave it right there. Thomas Friedman is the author of "The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century." Congratulations, Tom.

FRIEDMAN: Great to be here, Wolf. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And up next, the results of our Web question of the week: The next pope will be from what part of the world? You can still vote. We'll have the results when we come back.

Plus, "LATE EDITION" Sunday morning talk show round-up. In case you missed the other shows, we'll give you some highlights. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

On ABC's "This Week" Republican Senator Rick Santorum and Chris Dodd weighed in on Tom DeLay's tactics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: When you have a leader of Tom DeLay's passion and Tom DeLay's effectiveness, you have a media that's very much going after him and tracking him and dogging him and trying to find what they can about him.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: This is not going to go away. He becomes the poster child for a lot of things the Democrats think are wrong about Republican leadership. And as long as he's there, he's going to become a pretty good target.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On NBC's "Meet the Press," the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee had some very different views about last week's Presidential Commission's's report on pre-war intelligence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: We learned our lesson. Our committee has now determined that we're not going to take any intelligence at face value. We're going to be proactive and very preemptive to look at the capabilities of the intelligence community on the tough threats that face our national security. It was a good report.

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: This commission, for example, did not have the authority to look into the use of intelligence, the hyping of intelligence, the misuse of intelligence. And, thus, half the report really has been left out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On "Fox News Sunday," Democratic Senator Charles Schumer and Republican Senator John Cornyn squared off over the so- called nuclear option, a move that would make Senate debate rules favorable, at least for now, to the GOP majority.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The nuclear option is really like making the Senate a Banana Republic. The Senate has had rules that have gone on for hundreds of years. And if you can't get your way, you've just exercise from the chair. We will change the rules in midstream.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: The fact is what's nuclear is when Harry Reid has suggested that if Democrats don't get their way, then they're going to shut down the U.S. government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And on CBS's "Face the Nation," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and Republican Senator John McCain talked about the souring political climate right here in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: We back here now work three days a week: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. When I came here we worked five, six days a week. We worked at night. Not anymore. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Already, recently, the approval rating of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, has declined rather sharply. I think we ought to understand that if we can fully comprehend -- the people that I talk to in Arizona, they say, "Why are you guys always fighting?"

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Some highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on CNN's "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

Our "LATE EDITION" Web question asked, "The next pope will be from what part of the world?"

Here's how you voted: 45 percent of you said Europe, 32 percent said Latin America, 20 percent said Africa and 3 percent the U.S. Remember, this is not a scientific poll.

Let's take a look now at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines here in the United States. "Time" features this year's so-called "100 Most Influential People." "Newsweek" says "Go with God" in remembrance of Pope John Paul II. And "U.S. News & World Report" looks at royals in love.

That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, April 10th. Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at noon eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. I'm here Monday through Friday twice a day at noon and 5 p.m. Eastern. 'Til tomorrow, thanks for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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