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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Mohamed ElBaradei; Interview With Mikhail Saakashvili

Aired May 8, 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, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5:00 p.m. in London, and 8:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll get to my interview with the head of the world's nuclear watchdog agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, in just a moment.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks a lot, Wolf. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. This breaking story out of Iraq. A significant capture of an Al Qaida operative. Let's go to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon with more on that.

Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, hello to you. U.S. officials just now confirming to CNN that three days ago they did capture a key associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the insurgent terrorist leader in Iraq. This man was captured in Baghdad three days ago. His name is Abu Abbas.

They say he was responsible for the April attack against the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and this associate of Zarqawi was also responsible for many of the recent deadly suicide car bombs. U.S. officials describing this now as a very significant development in their effort to continue to take down the structure and the associates surrounding Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

One indication, Fredricka, of how concerned the military is about the latest violence in Iraq, they now estimate that in the last nine days nearly 300 Iraqis have been killed in insurgent attacks.

Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: And, Barbara, of course, a difficult part of this investigation is going to be getting Abu Abbas to talk. Did officials say anything about whether they also apprehended any kind of hardware, any kind of notes like they have in other recent apprehensions?

STARR: That information has not come out yet, what other material they may have gotten when they captured this man, but what they are telling us is that they are getting what they call "perishable human intelligence," tips about where people are like this man, and, as soon as they get them, they move against where they believe these people are.

This take-down, they tell us, was done mainly by U.S. military forces, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Barbara Starr, thanks so much from Washington. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Now back to Wolf Blitzer and "LATE EDITION."

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.

President Bush and the Russian president Vladimir Putin are holding talks this hour in Moscow. Today's meeting taking place amid some serious strains over U.S. concerns that Russia may be back- tracking on democratic reforms.

Let's go to CNN's Jill Dougherty, she's in Moscow, she's joining us now live with the latest.

Jill?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, we're not expecting that this is going to be any, you know, major news conference with breaking news about some developments. This is a sit- down. There are going to be the two leaders sitting down for about an hour at the country residence of President Putin, and then they're going to have a dinner.

But you can bet that on that agenda will definitely be this issue of democracy. It's been a hot topic between the two leaders for several months, and they essentially have agreed to disagree. Remember back in Bratislava, Slovakia not so long ago, back in February, where they had a very uncomfortable news conference talking about this very subject, and just this afternoon President Putin in an interview with French TV said rumors of the death of democracy in Russia are greatly exaggerated, so he is not accepting the criticism from George Bush.

Tomorrow will be now the core of what's going to be happening, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. A major celebration, the leaders of 53 different nations will be on Red Square along with thousands of Russian veterans who will be going across Red Square.

They'll be carried in trucks kind of like World War II trucks.

And then one last thing, Wolf, President Bush after this setting off for Georgia, another destination that is guaranteed to annoy the Russians. After all, that is where the Rose Revolution took place, something that Vladimir Putin seems to think is illegal.

Wolf? BLITZER: And later this hour, Jill, we'll have our exclusive interview with the president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili. That's coming up later on "LATE EDITION."

Jill Dougherty in Red Square for us in Moscow.

We'll be checking back with you, Jill. Thanks very much.

As the United States and its European allies push ahead with efforts to get Iran to suspend its nuclear program, there is considerable concern right now North Korea may be on the brink of actually testing a nuclear weapon.

I recently spoke about that and more with Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dr. ElBaradei, thanks very much for joining us once again on "LATE EDITION."

And let's get to an immediate concern. So many are worried about North Korea going forward with an actual nuclear test, something they so far have not done. How concerned are you about this?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IAEA: Well, I am very, very concerned about that possible development. When I read that story Friday morning, I really got quite worried about it.

It would have disastrous political repercussions. I'm not sure how much environmental impact it could have in terms of radiological fallout.

So I do hope that the North Koreans would absolutely reconsider such a reckless, reckless step.

BLITZER: Is the U.S. government sharing intelligence information with the IAEA -- satellite, reconnaissance photography -- that would suggest perhaps a test like that could occur?

ELBARADEI: I haven't gotten any satellite information on this, Wolf, other than what I read in the papers.

BLITZER: Is that unusual, because we are getting indications the U.S. is sharing its concerns, its information, its intelligence, its photographs with some of its allies.

ELBARADEI: Well, maybe they will share it with us in the next few days. But frankly, it is not IAEA's specific concern. I understand they are sharing it with Japan, with South Korea because of the political fallout.

We cannot do very much as an international institution right now on this issue other than to express concern. And should we need to visit the area afterwards to assess environmental impact, we'll obviously be happy to do it. But I'm afraid that this will throw back the whole North Korean side into again yet another worse situation than what we had in the last few years.

It is getting from bad to worse, Wolf. And the earlier we intervene to engage the North Koreans, the earlier we try to find a comprehensive solution, the better for everybody.

BLITZER: The fallout -- literally, in many respects -- could be huge. David Ignatius, the foreign affairs columnist for the Washington Post, wrote on Friday about a scenario, literally a nightmare scenario -- a small amount of radioactive fallout will leak from the test site and drift toward Japan. This according to a scenario from a former CIA official. Financial markets in Tokyo and Seoul will be rocked by the news.

"Foreign companies in South Korea," he writes, "will weigh whether to pull out dependents or reduce their operations. And Washington will debate whether to impose a blockade or other tough measures to contain the North Korean nuclear breakout."

Is that too far-fetched, that nightmare scenario the David Ignatius writes about?

ELBARADEI: I'm not sure it is very far-fetched, Wolf.

I think that test could open a Pandora's Box, frankly. I do not know what will happen afterwards. I do not know how sophisticated the North Koreans are with regard to conducting a test without radiological fallout. But clearly there would be a lot of insecurity fallout.

The impact on the whole East Asia and Japan, South Korea is tremendous. I mean, to have North Korea testing a nuclear weapon, basically defying the whole international community who have been asking them for many years to roll back that program, I think there will be a lot of fallout.

And I hope that that will not take place, that test. I hope that all North Korean friends, people who have influence, governments who have influence will prevail on them not to go ahead with such a reckless move.

BLITZER: Is it the assessment of the IAEA that the North Koreans already do have perhaps as many as six nuclear bombs?

ELBARADEI: I think that would be close to our estimation, Wolf. We knew they had the plutonium that could be converted into five or six North Korea weapons. We know that they had the industrial infrastructure to weaponize this plutonium. We have read also that they have the delivery system.

So I'm not sure they will gain anything by testing other than provoking every member of the international community and playing a brinkmanship policy, which nobody will benefit. I think everybody would lose if they were to do that. BLITZER: There's some suggestion that -- some people say, well, maybe the North Koreans are simply bluffing. They're pretending to build this tunnel, pretending to establish a reviewing stand for which dignitaries would be invited to observe a nuclear test, precisely because Kim Jong-Il wants to engage in brinksmanship, wants the U.S., Japan, others, South Korea, to provide him with greater economic assistance in order to step back. Is that some scenario that's realistic?

ELBARADEI: I think implicitly, to me at least, it involves crying for help, frankly. North Korea, I think, has been seeking a dialogue with the United States, with the rest of the international community, and this possibly could be again, through their usual policy of nuclear blackmail, nuclear brinkmanship, to force the other parties to engage them.

But that's not the way to do it. The way to do it is to try to talk to the United States, to the other parties, try to sit around the negotiating table. There's no other solution to the North Korean issue, except through negotiation.

North Korea has certain concerns -- security concerns, economic, humanitarian concerns -- but the international community has a good deal of concern about their nuclear development. And a nuclear weapon in North Korea will set absolutely a very bad precedent for the whole nonproliferation regime, which is already under a good deal of stress.

BLITZER: So do you have any bottom-line recommendations on what the international community should be doing right now to try to encourage Kim Jong-Il not to go forward with a nuclear test?

ELBARADEI: I think everybody today should be calling Pyongyang trying to persuade Kim Jong-Il not to go ahead with such a test.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Iran right now. The assessment is Iran does not -- does not -- have a nuclear bomb, but a lot of people suspect, especially here in Washington, that they're working toward that. What is the latest assessment that you have, as director general of the IAEA, about Iran's nuclear weapons program?

ELBARADEI: My latest assessment, Wolf, is that Iran is very much work in progress. We know that Iran have all the capabilities, the know-how that could enable Iran to enrich uranium. We know that if you have the capability to enrich uranium, you are not very far from the capability to develop a nuclear weapon, should you decide to do so.

It becomes a matter of intention. And that's, I think, part of the concern of the international community -- not only about Iran, but about every country that's developing that capability.

I have not seen any nuclear material in Iran diverted to a nuclear weapon. We have not seen, as part of our inspection, any indications that there is an ongoing weapon program.

But it's a work in progress. The jury's still out. Iran has to do a lot more to satisfy our need to be able to provide assurance that their program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

There's a lot of outstanding issues still, which has to do with the enrichment program, Wolf, which I would call on them, and I have been calling on them, to show transparency in term of access to documentation, access to people, to be able to say that this program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

I am happy, however, to see the estimation coming from Washington that even if Iran would like to have a nuclear weapon, they are at least five, six years away from that. So there is a good room for diplomacy and verification, but Iran also should understand that the international community is very nervous about their program.

BLITZER: The president of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, spoke out on this specific issue on Wednesday. Let me read to you what he said.

He said, "We have a legitimate right and a legitimate demand which should become practical. We will never stop uranium enrichment or suspend it for a long period of time. We have stressed this from the very beginning of negotiations. We will continue negotiations understanding the fact that there are some pressures from big powers in international society trying to keep Iran away from its rights."

Under its Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments, does Iran have the right to enrich uranium?

ELBARADEI: Yes. Iran, under international law, Wolf, has the right to enrich uranium, so as every other party to the Non- Proliferation Treaty.

But that's really not the point. The point is that if every country continues to exercise that right, we are going in the next 10 or 20 years to have 30 or 40 countries, in my estimation, who are virtual nuclear weapon states, because if you have the fissile material, you are a few months away from the ability to develop a nuclear weapon, should you decide to do that. And that margin of security is very, very close for comfort.

What I am saying is that the Iranian issue brought to the surface a very serious loophole, if you like, in the non-proliferation regime. And the solution should not just be Iran-specific, but should be a global solution that every country, including Iran, should have the right to have reactor technology to have the electricity, but not necessarily to sit on that part of the fence with technology, because then we are proliferating in a very sophisticated way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: More of my interview coming up. Just ahead, I'll ask Mohamed ElBaradei about the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's decision to skip this week's gathering of the world foreign ministers at the United Nations.

Then, another top Al Qaida lieutenant captured. We'll talk with two top U.S. senators about whether the terrorist group is starting to lose strength. And later, a day before he meets with President Bush, the president of the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, tells us about his concerns about a post-Cold War Russia. "LATE EDITION" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our "Web Question of the Week" asks this: Which country do you believe is a larger threat to world security, Iran or North Korea? You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition.

Straight ahead, more of my interview with the head of the world's nuclear watchdog agency, Mohamed ElBaradei. That's coming up. Are he and President Bush on the same page when it comes to dealing with so- called rogue nations? I'll ask him. 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 director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The U.S., the Bush administration continues to insist that Iran is not cooperating with the international community, despite its earlier commitments.

Listen to what the U.S. representative said this week at the U.N. on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Conference that's been going on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN RADEMAKER, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: After 2 1/2 years of investigation by the IAEA and adoption of no fewer than seven decisions by the IAEA Board of Governors calling on Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA in resolving outstanding issues with its nuclear program, many questions remain unanswered.

Even today, Iran persists in not cooperating fully.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you agree with that U.S. assessment that Iran is not cooperating fully?

ELBARADEI: Well, I think Iran is cooperating in terms of giving us access to locations we want to visit.

I think Iran is cooperating with us in providing information. But Iran is not cooperating with the speed that we would like to have.

It's really a rather complex issue. We have done a lot of work. We have made a lot of progress in understanding the Iranian program in the last year and a half. A year and a half ago it was like the North Korean situation is today; it was a black hole. Now we know the extent, the nature of the Iranian program.

True, we still have a number of outstanding issues. True that Iran should accelerate its cooperation, should demonstrate more openness. But we should not forget that the whole enrichment program in Iran is currently suspended, which is a good move.

That I am able to go to every location we would like to go to.

So it is not as black or white a picture, but I have been telling our Iranian colleagues that the more openness you show, the quicker we will be able to resolve the issues.

There is clearly a distrust on the part of the international community as a result of the undeclared nature of that program over many years, and to overcome that distrust you need to go out of your way and show openness through active transparency, and that's what I hope they will do in the next few weeks.

BLITZER: Foreign ministers from around the world have gathered at the United Nations in New York to deal with the question of nuclear proliferation.

The Washington Post noted the absence of the U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice -- the U.S. delegation being led by an assistant secretary of state.

In an editorial on Wednesday, The Washington Post wrote, "It thereby signals" -- referring to the Bush administration -- "that it will not make a serious effort during the month-long forum to build an international consensus behind desperately needed reforms.

"Once again, the administration's distaste for arms control and international treaties appears to have won out over diplomatic common sense."

Are you disappointed that Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, did not come to New York for this conference?

ELBARADEI: It is really for the Bush administration to decide who would represent them at that conference. But the conference is just one opportunity.

I mean, some of the issues will not go away by the end of the month, Wolf. We are having a major threat to our very survival right now.

There are a lot of loopholes that are embedded in that non- proliferation arms control regime. I think many of these issues will have to be dealt with at the very highest level in every single country.

People are looking to the U.S. for leadership. President Bush spoke last year very forcefully on some of these loopholes. And I very much hope that the U.S. will continue to have as much focus on this issue as possible because we simply cannot afford not to protect ourselves.

Most, if not all, of these issues, also, cannot be resolved without the cooperation of every other state. Again, as I mentioned recently, it's like multilateral diplomacy on these issues is a luxury we cannot ignore -- or it's an essential element of how we can protect ourselves.

It is slow. It's frustrating, but there is no other way. You cannot address arms control issues, or any other issue for that matter -- environment, fighting AIDS -- without working with others.

So I would hope and trust that the U.S. and everybody else will continue to work together to protect ourself against nuclear terrorism, against the spread of nuclear weapons.

We have seen North Korea, in the last couple of days again taking one risky move after the other. We have seen Al Qaida and other extremist groups continue to look with interest into nuclear weapons.

The writing is all over the place. And we just cannot sit on our laurels. I think we would be doing tremendous, tremendous disservice to our society.

BLITZER: One name that continues to surface that may have a common thread as far as the nuclear programs in North Korea, Iran, elsewhere is concerned is A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist who has been arrested by his own government.

Has the Pakistani government allowed the IAEA, you specifically and your representatives, to question him?

ELBARADEI: No, Wolf. I'd like at one point obviously to have direct access to A.Q. Khan.

But I should say at the same time that the Pakistani government has been providing good cooperation to us in resolving some of the outstanding issues in Iran and in Libya.

But naturally, at the end of the day, it would be good to interview Mr. A.Q. Khan personally.

Mr. A.Q. Khan, however, was not the only -- he is the CEO of that illicit, sophisticated network. We have been interviewing a lot of his associates.

And we have been getting very good valuable information on how this network was operating or continues to be operating. And I would hope in the next few months, we will be able to see the full extent of that network and to dry up that absolutely dangerous source of supply.

BLITZER: You're presumably getting ready for a third term of the IAEA. I want you to listen to what the State Department spokesman Richard Boucher really said about your serving a third term. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD BOUCHER, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Our view has always been that two terms is enough. The Geneva Group -- that's an informal group of 14 largest donors to the U.N. system -- has a policy that heads of U.N. organizations should serve no more than two terms. That has been our view. That remains our view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was Richard Boucher back in December. Everybody else seems to want you to stay on as director general of the IAEA with the exception of the United States, the Bush administration. How do you feel about that?

ELBARADEI: Well, again, I've said that I'm ready to serve, Wolf, because everybody -- just about everybody -- has asked me to continue to serve simply because we are in the middle of a war and it would be dangerous in member states' views to change horses at that stage.

I accepted to serve because I believe strongly that I need to make some progress on some of the issues we discussed: Iran, North Korea, the fight against nuclear terrorism. I'll be very happy to serve, you know, and to continue public service. And I would hope that the U.S. will be in a position to join the consensus with other countries.

I don't think the issue -- it's simply a luxury we cannot afford right now to disagree who is to head the IAEA. We have much more important issues ahead of us and we need to work together. We share the same objectives and we just need to put whatever differences we have behind us and move forward.

BLITZER: Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, you have an enormous responsibility on your shoulders. Good luck to you. The world clearly is watching. So much at stake. We appreciate your joining us on "LATE EDITION."

ELBARADEI: It's a pleasure to be with you, Wolf, and best of luck.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And coming up, insurgents stepping up attacks in Iraq. Which side is winning the war?

We'll talk with the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, and one of the panel's top Democrats, Dianne Feinstein. But up next, we'll have a quick check of what's in the news right now including today's action by Iraq's new national assembly. Stay with "LATE EDITION."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A beautiful Mothers' Day here in Washington, D.C., the nation's capital. Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

It's been a week of both success and setbacks in the war on terror.

Joining us now to talk about that and much more, two guests, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts of Kansas; and in San Francisco, one of the committee's key Democrats, Dianne Feinstein of California.

Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Senator Roberts, I'll begin with you. We have a lot of material we want to get through.

Let's start off with the nomination of John Bolton, the president's nominee to become the next U.S. ambassador to the U.N. You're going to support this nomination. I'm sure almost all the Republicans are. But with hindsight, should the president have come up with somebody who is less divisive?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: Well, it's the president's call. I don't know whether you say someone is decisive or bold or candid or not candid.

It's the president's call. He nominated John. He's been confirmed by the Senate twice.

Obviously it has become a controversy. I hope we can get past that.

We are assisting the Foreign Relations Committee and Senator Lugar in taking a look at some intelligence matters. We hope to do that at the first of this next week, so I hope we can get a vote and I hope we can get past it.

BLITZER: You're chairman of the Intelligence Committee. You've heard intelligence, career professionals say they've never seen an official try to get someone, an analyst, fired because they disagreed with what Bolton wanted...

ROBERTS: I think there is a quarrel as to whether or not he wanted to get him fired or not. And I think there's been goodness knows how much talk about all of the issues.

I think it's time to vote. I think we ought to get past this.

But as I've indicated, you have the U.N. with 183 nations. We have just seen Zimbabwe appointed to the human rights committee. We have a Security Council that basically is almost incapable of making a major decision.

I'm not saying someone like John Bolton can fix all that. And then you have the scandals. And so you need strong U.S. leadership at the U.N., so I would agree with the president's decision, and I hope we can vote on it and I hope we can get past it. BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, you agree. You've been a critic of the U.N. from time to time, that it needs some shaking up. Maybe this is the man, as the president wants, to shake things up at the U.N.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I don't share that point of view, Wolf.

When we received a letter signed by 60 former ambassadors -- that's 6-0; 60 -- I began to pause and think about it. And they made the contention in their letter that here's a man you're appointing to an international organization who is essentially opposed to virtually every international treaty and institution.

Now, if you want to appoint somebody there that's going to have a negative image, to me that's John Bolton.

Then you combine that with the personal characteristics: certainly the abruptness, certainly the bombastic nature, certainly some misuse of authority in terms of how he treats people below him.

And I think it puts together a package of somebody who is the wrong person at the wrong time.

BLITZER: So you'll vote against him if it gets out of committee?

FEINSTEIN: Yes, I will. Yes, I will.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on to North Korea.

Senator Roberts, the suspicion is that the North Koreans -- at least the evidence of the satellite reconnaissance photography -- seems to show movement consistent with their going ahead with some sort of nuclear test, which they haven't done yet.

Is that the evidence that you as the chairman of the committee are beginning to get?

ROBERTS: I think you've summed it up very well. And I would not be surprised if in fact they did not conduct a nuclear test.

This is the only card they have to play, Wolf. I mean, you have a devastated country. I've been to Pyongyang. I've spent some time. It's absolutely a surreal experience. I think that basically Kim Jong-Il believes that this is his card to play to stay on the world stage to make demands. We hope with the six-party talks -- more especially with China -- we can make some in- roads.

BLITZER: But what's the incentive for him, Kim Jong-Il, ever to give up his nuclear card, if you will, assuming he does have at least six nuclear bombs? Is that the assessment the intelligence community has?

ROBERTS: I can't get into specifics, but there is an assumption, of course. There's a range starting from 1998 to the current time.

And again I wouldn't be surprised if had a nuclear test. But what's to be gained by that?

I mean, we just had the director general of the IAEA say that that would be a real strong negative. Now if in fact -- I'm getting some interference here. Yes. OK.

BLITZER: Yes. We were showing some video.

ROBERTS: Must be the North Koreans.

BLITZER: If in fact he goes forward with that nuclear test, that would be a severe setback.

But let me bring Senator Feinstein in. What would be the problem if he does go forward with a nuclear test?

FEINSTEIN: Well, the problem I think is two-fold. The first is the kind and type of test and whether in fact it does spew radiation or leak radiation and what damage that does.

And the second part of that is that it is overt defiance to the region and to the world.

Now some think this is a cry for attention. Others think it's simply the ribald of an isolated leader.

I'm one that generally believes it doesn't make a lot of sense to isolate leaders. It makes much more sense to involve them, to sit down with them, to work with them, to push them toward change...

BLITZER: Because the argument has been, Senator Feinstein, that Kim Jong-Il wants a bilateral discussion, dialogue with the Bush administration.

The Bush administration says, "Let's do it within the framework of these six-party talks." What you're saying is you would like to see a U.S. dialogue, a direct bilateral relationship emerge?

FEINSTEIN: Yes, of course. I can't support this idea: We're not going to sit down with this man. I think that's the wrong thing. What one should do is meet with everyone and try to see if we can't change his views and change where he's going. And we ought to do that at the highest levels.

BLITZER: When you say the highest levels, you don't mean a summit between President Bush and Kim Jong-Il?

FEINSTEIN: No, I don't mean. But certainly I think our secretary of state should be involved. I have great faith in her. I think it would be very useful. I think it would give Kim Jong-Il some kind of face. I think it could perhaps move him out of this point of isolation and defiance into a more malleable posture. We're not getting anywhere, and we haven't been for the past three years with the way these things are going in these six-party talks.

BLITZER: You want us... FEINSTEIN: Some have chosen to criticize China and say China isn't doing enough. But I think the big banana, so to speak, in this group is really the United States. I think Kim Jong-Il wants this dialogue. I see no reason, I see no harm in sitting down the table with him and seeing if we can't change his direction.

BLITZER: What do you think, Senator Roberts?

ROBERTS: Well, I've been there. I'm not a high-level ranking person to talk to Kim. We tried to talk to Kim five years ago when the country was going through a famine. And we spent the better part of two days and all we got was rhetoric.

Let's go back to the Clinton administration. We made an arrangement with him and indicated we would help on the light-water reactor to supply a better energy source for his people who, by the way, are absolutely destitute. This is not a regular government. This is not a leader that you would normally expect. It's a theocracy. And it's absolutely surreal. Well, they broke that promise. They went ahead with their covert plans anyway. He's going to continue this.

BLITZER: So you would oppose a bilateral relationship?

ROBERTS: Well, I don't know what can be gained from it. I suppose that there's some kind of entree during the six-party talks. But the reason we are relying on China is that they supply the food and the oil. And obviously, they don't want any more refugees over in their country. And I think that people who are affected in the region, i.e., Japan and South Korea and, yes, even Russia, were trying to do that.

But he's trying to play the nuclear card to get the United States in a position to say we will never invade and we have no intention of invading. So that's a phony. And then on the other side of the fact, some kind of a trade deal that would simply work to his benefit like he did before, and he lied before and he'll lie again.

BLITZER: Well, let's pick up this. We have to take a quick break, though. First, Senators, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. Much more to talk about including the war on terror and the capture of a top Al Qaida leader.

What does it all mean? More with Senators Pat Roberts and Dianne Feinstein right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're talking with the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, and the Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein, also a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Senator Roberts, capture this by the Pakistanis, presumably with U.S. assistance, of someone purported to be the number three man in the Al Qaida movement, Abu Faraj al-Libbi. There's some suggestion that the Pakistanis have been very helpful in this war on terror, but now a former CIA top officer, Gary Schroen, is telling people and writing about this, suggesting that, yes, the Pakistanis will be helpful. But up to a point they won't be helpful when it comes to actually capturing Osama bin Laden. Listen to what he said on "Meet the Press" just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARY SCHROEN: To take on bin Laden there would be an uproar within that country and around the Islamic world that would really cause the foundations of the Pakistani government to be shaken.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that the assessment you've received as chairman of the Intelligence Committee?

ROBERTS: Well, I don't intend to discuss it, you know, fully in terms of the specifics. I think in regards to al-Libbi, that's a tremendous victory. And the Pakistanis have come a long way. Of course, this is the fella who tried to assassinate President Musharraf twice. I don't know about Osama bin Laden.

I'm not aware of any reverberations all throughout the Arab world. Albeit, you know, his supporters would be upset over that, but I think that would be a good thing, not a bad thing. I think the thing to point out is that the lash-up with the intelligence committee in the U.S. and the partnership we have with the Pakistanis, and now a better situation in regards to, say, Iraq, I think that's good news. And slowly but surely we're taking down the leadership of Al Qaida.

BLITZER: Are you upbeat, Senator Feinstein, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, that things are moving in the right direction, the net is being closed in, if you will?

FEINSTEIN: I don't know that. I don't think there's any more information that I know about Osama bin Laden that I can share. I do think that every time you arrest or take down one of these leaders, it does disrupt command and control. I think that's good.

Secondly, I think it has a big psychological effect. I think this has been a very difficult week in Iraq and this and the filling of the additional cabinet positions are just about the only good news coming out of that country. I think the concern, the deep concern that many of us have about Al Qaida is its metastasis and its merging with other entities and its spread around the world.

Right now it seems to be concentrated on the insurgency in Iraq, but no one knows what they're planning for tomorrow or six months down the pike. So I think every time you can take a leader out, it is good news.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Roberts? is the U.S. and its allies getting closer to finding Osama bin Laden? ROBERTS: Well, Osama bin Laden is one thing. He's the nominal head. He's the figurehead. And so it would be a tremendous psychological victory. But you got to realize if he were captured, you're going to have others that will take his place. It's like, oh, the recent takedown of the individual that's very close to Abu Zarqawi, who we really need to get in regards to...

BLITZER: The terrorist in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

ROBERTS: ... say, Iraq. And it's strangely a paradox of enormous tragedy and irony that in the last nine days we've had 300 people killed and many more wounded, but also seeing people in Iraq -- and God bless the heroes who want to take on the responsibility in regards to the ministers and the government there.

And as Dianne has so properly pointed out, we finally saw President Jafari appoint the six ministers he needs to appoint: minister of oil, minister of defense, who's a Sunni, by the way. So that's the good news. And also, I think that most Iraqis are getting more than a little tired -- and that's the nicest way I can put it -- with jihadists basically coming in, some with Al Qaida, Ansar al- Islam, other jihadists, through Syria, through Iran and they're not even local citizenry.

And so consequently, when you see that happen, we're getting more walk-in intelligence and we're getting more cooperation from people who say: Enough is enough. You know, we had an election. We had this new government. Let's at least simply give it a try.

But the Baathist party is the one that's the real problem. They won in '63, won in '68 and they won in '91. So they think they can do it again and they can regain control. And they're working with the jihadist groups, as Dianne has indicated, who are coming in from other countries, more especially Syria. Syria's a big problem.

BLITZER: Unfortunately we're out of time.

FEINSTEIN: Can I say one other thing?

BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, we are totally out of time, but we'll continue this discussion down the road. So much to talk about. The time just simply zips by, Senator Roberts...

ROBERTS: Happy Mothers' Day, Dianne.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: And a happy Mothers' Day from me as well. Thanks to both of you joining us.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, Senator Roberts, always good to have you on the program.

ROBERTS: Thank you. BLITZER: We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All the nations that border Russia will benefit from the spread of democratic values. And so will Russia itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Allies mark the end of World War II. Why are some of the former Soviet Republics boycotting the anniversary? An exclusive interview with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who meets with President Bush tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think everybody today should be calling Pyongyang trying to persuade Kim Jong-Il not to go ahead with such a test.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is North Korea on the brink of testing a nuclear bomb? Perspective on the world's flash points from former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and former Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin.

Targeting Iraq's new government. Is the insurgency gaining ground? Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General George Joulwan and CNN military analyst, retired Brigadier General James Marks, weigh in.

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

BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll speak with Madeleine Albright and John Mclaughlin in just a minute. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Joining us now, some special insight into the diplomatic and security challenges posed by Iraq, Iran, North Korea and much more. Two special guests: the former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, She now heads the Albright group here in Washington; and the former CIA Acting Director John Mclaughlin, he's a CNN national security adviser.

Welcome to "LATE EDITION" both of you. And let's get right to the issue. The top story today: President Bush meeting with President Putin in Moscow. Secretary Albright, you've devoted a career to studying U.S.- Soviet, now U.S.-Russian relations. Are you among those concerned that Russia, under Putin, is backsliding away from democracy, back to the bad old days of the Cold War?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I'm definitely concerned about the backsliding. I think there is evidence that President Putin is recentralizing the Russian government. He certainly doesn't like free elections in Ukraine and in Georgia.

I do not think, however, it's going back to the Cold War. It should not. And that would be a huge mistake if we recreate Russia as an enemy. I do think it's very important for President Bush to tell President Putin what he thinks and, at the same time, make sure that we continue to have positive relations with Russia.

BLITZER: John McLaughlin, what's your assessment? You have spent 30 years studying this relationship as well.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER ACTING CIA DIRECTOR: Well, I agree with Secretary Albright here. There has been some backsliding. We shouldn't interpret this yet as moving toward enemy status or hostile status. Particularly concerning is the degree to which Putin has clamped down on an independent media. There really isn't any independent media left in Russia at this point.

At the same time, just for perspective, I think we need to remember that Russians have a different spectrum they look at here. We tend to have a spectrum that runs from democracy to authoritarianism. And their spectrum runs a little bit more from anarchy to order. So they're still in the transition here out of a very tumultuous period -- not to excuse them from the steps they've taken, but just to give a little perspective here.

BLITZER: There is a lot of concern, though, still about the nuclear arsenal of Russia, which is still pretty enormous -- just as the U.S. nuclear arsenal is pretty enormous.

How concerned are you about what they call those "loose nukes," perhaps in Russia or the other former republics of the Soviet Union?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I would be less concerned about their actual nuclear weapons, which are well secured.

But when it comes to official material, nuclear weapons capable material, they haven't yet gotten to the point where that is adequately secured across the country. And there have been some evidence of leaks in recent months and years, and that is a concern, particularly since terrorists are looking for this material.

BLITZER: You're not surprised, Secretary Albright, that some of those former republics -- whether in the Baltics or Georgia or elsewhere -- even if they don't say it publicly, are becoming increasingly concerned about the attitudes emanating from Moscow? And as a result, they're trying to shore up their relationship with the west, especially the U.S. and NATO. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think they have good reason to be nervous, especially after the kind of very unorthodox methods that President Putin got involved in in declaring the election in Ukraine over before it was over.

And I think what is a tragedy is that President Putin considers the fact that independent republics around it are a threat. They should not be a threat. President Putin should be glad to see independent republics around.

And I must say the most ridiculous and really worrisome statement that was made was by President Putin who said that the disintegration of the Soviet Union was the biggest disaster of the 20th century. I think that is a most unfortunate statement.

BLITZER: He also says in an interview that will air tonight on "60 Minutes," an interview that he gave and that excerpts were released, among other things, Putin says this, "Democracy cannot be exported to some other place. Democracy must be a product of internal domestic development in a society."

What do you make of that?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I agree with that, but in that case what he has to do is allow that development to take place internally.

And from my trips to Russia and my meeting with a variety of people it's evident to me that there are those who are concerned about overall control by President Putin and his government.

And as Mr. McLaughlin said, the fact they have stopped the evolution of an independent press, that they are very worried about any kind of independent activity means they are not allowing for the evolution of democracy within Russia itself.

BLITZER: From Russia, let's move to North Korea.

John McLaughlin, what do you make of what Kim Jong-Il is up to now? The fear that a lot of U.S. analysts, apparently have, is that he might actually go forward with a nuclear test.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the North Koreans, to put this in perspective, have been on a escalatory ladder here since roughly the fall of 2002 when U.S. intelligence discovered that they had a covertly concealed uranium enrichment program.

They've thrown out inspectors. They've declared themselves pulling out of the NPT and so forth.

So this would be, in a sense, the logical next step on that escalatory ladder were they to take it. So that's the perspective on it...

BLITZER: So you wouldn't be surprised if they actually conducted a test? MCLAUGHLIN: I wouldn't be surprised, but I think the more alarming development here, as alarming as that would be, would be if they were to couple that with the next step on that escalatory ladder still open to them, and that would be to test one of their longer- range missiles.

This is one of the few countries in the world that is hostile to the United States and developing and has in its possession missiles that have an intercontinental capability.

BLITZER: Based on what you know, if they did engage in an underground test, would it be safe in the sense that no radiation would emerge that winds could carry across South Korea or Japan or elsewhere?

MCLAUGHLIN: I actually can't say, Wolf, because I don't know enough about the conditions under which they would test. I think that would have to be a concern, and I think U.S. intelligence and other scientific enterprises would be able to detect that.

BLITZER: You're one of the few people, leaders, that actually has met with this man, King Jong-Il. When you were secretary of state, you went to Pyongyang. He had a dinner for you with 100,000 entertainers and another 200,000 people that he gathered there.

What's your assessment of what he's up to right now?

ALBRIGHT: Well, what was more serious when I was there, Wolf, we were in the middle of negotiations with him in order to get control over his missile technology, and we were operating under the agreed framework.

We were afraid when we took office that, in fact, North Korea was the most dangerous place in the world. And we were in the process of trying to come to some arrangement with them, which would not leave us in a situation where now we believe that they may have enough nuclear material to make six to eight nuclear weapons.

So I would say the that real issue here is a complete failure in Bush administration policy toward North Korea that has now put us in a very, very serious situation where they might test and, in fact, do the testing of the missiles.

So I'm very concerned about the box that we are now in with North Korea.

BLITZER: Well, what do you make of the accusations that Bush administration officials and other critics of the Clinton administration have made that when you were in office you were snookered, that he made these promises but even as he made these promises he was covertly continuing his nuclear weapons program?

ALBRIGHT: First of all, the nuclear program in North Korea began a long time ago and was quite active under the first President Bush.

We were very concerned about what they did in 1993 when they broke out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and through the agreed framework managed to freeze their nuclear program. And had that been able to proceed for eight years, there are those who think that there might have been 50 to 100 weapons produced.

So I think we did the right thing. You make arms control agreements with your enemies not with your friends. And the process established by a regime would allow us to call them on cheating which, frankly, does happen even with other countries.

BLITZER: Why should anyone believe Kim Jong-Il right now? He has a nuclear bomb or two or six, whatever he has got, but that's really the only that card he has.

If he didn't have that, why would anyone even take that whole country seriously given the enormous poverty, the famine that occurs there?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you're right, Wolf. I mean, globally this country would have the political (inaudible) it didn't have these weapons.

And so this is his whole strategy, of course, is to signal to the world that you have to take me seriously.

He's thinking of countries like Pakistan and India, who at one time were censored for pursuing nuclear technology but now are generally accepted as nuclear states.

BLITZER: So he thinks he can follow in those footsteps?

MCLAUGHLIN: He's trying to get into that club because he sees that as the way to get into the big leagues, and I think it's very unlikely that he's going to bargain away these weapons.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break because we have to, but we're going to continue this conversation on the other side.

When we come back, we'll continue with Madeline Albright, John McLaughlin. We'll talk about world hot spots elsewhere, the impact of the Bush foreign policy.

Then, is Moscow still meddling in the affairs of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia as some are suggesting? In an exclusive interview, we'll hear from the president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, on the eve of his meeting tomorrow with President Bush.

And later: Deadly days in Iraq. Can the insurgency be stopped? We'll get an assessment from two retired U.S. army generals.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The World War II Memorial here in Washington. Tomorrow, 60 years to the day since the end of World War Two in Europe. We'll be watching all of that.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

For the meantime, though, we're continuing our conversation with our guests: the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, and the former acting CIA director, John McLaughlin. He's now our CNN national security adviser.

John McLaughlin, a lot has been written over the past several days, weeks about John Bolton, the president's nominee to become the next United States ambassador to the United Nations. A vote expected this coming Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I want you to listen to what Senator Charles Schumer of New York, a Democrat, an opponent of Bolton's nomination, said earlier today on "Fox News Sunday." Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): And then you have major Republican figures like Colin Powell, a team player if there ever was one, not endorsing Bolton, John McLaughlin, number two guy until recently at the CIA, known as a nonconfrontational person, saying that he doesn't deserve to be there. This goes way beyond Democrats and partisan issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You were a career professional at the CIA for more than three decades, working your way up to become deputy director, acting director at the very end.

Did John Bolton try to get one of your analysts fired, fired because he disagreed with an assessment that he had made on Cuba and weapons of mass destruction in Cuba?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the New York Times has accurately reported my reaction to a report along those lines. A subordinate came to me and said that Mr. Bolton was seeking transfer of one of our employees, and I objected to that, and said that we wouldn't do it, that it was not on, no way, end of story. And that's essentially the report that was in the paper and that is accurate.

BLITZER: So he did try to get somebody removed because he disagreed with the assessment, and you said, that's not going to happen?

MCLAUGHLIN: Correct.

BLITZER: Had you ever in your...?

(CROSSTALK)

MCLAUGHLIN: Now, I will say, Mr. Bolton did not raise that directly with me.

BLITZER: But it came up to you?

MCLAUGHLIN: It came up to me.

BLITZER: And you said: It's not going to happen.

Had you ever heard of a policymaker in the government trying to get an analyst, an intelligence analyst fired because he disagreed with the assessment?

MCLAUGHLIN: Not in my personal experience.

BLITZER: So, does that mean, as Senator Schumer suggests, that you would oppose John Bolton becoming the next U.S. ambassador to the U.N.?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I don't want to take a position on that particular issue. That's a position for the Senate to decide. I've given my testimony and expressed my view.

BLITZER: And did you express your view behind the scenes to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on whether you felt he's appropriate to become the U.S. ambassador?

MCLAUGHLIN: That's not a question they asked me.

BLITZER: They just asked you on the facts of the matter?

MCLAUGHLIN: Correct.

BLITZER: I assume you don't think that John Bolton -- you're a good Democrat -- should be the next U.S. ambassador to the U.N. You're a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

ALBRIGHT: The only time I met Mr. Bolton was when he debriefed me as I was about to become ambassador to the United Nations, and he was so negative about the U.N. that I wondered why I would ever want to go there.

So, I'm trying to figure out what signal President Bush is trying to send with this nomination, and...

BLITZER: What he says, the president and his top advisers, including Condoleezza Rice, is, the U.N. is in desperate need of reform, you need to send someone up there who can shake things up and not just go along with the business as usual, given the scandals and the other problems that have developed at the U.N.

ALBRIGHT: Well, the U.N. definitely needs reform, but I don't think it has to be done in a way where you hammer other people into the ground. And I'm concerned about his style, and I just think that it's basically a slap in the face of the United Nations. As Mr. McLaughlin said, it's up to the Senate to decide whether he should be confirmed or not. But he certainly is no friend of the U.N., and I think you have to at least have a sense about the importance of the organization in order to do the job about helping to reform it. BLITZER: You spent a lot of years looking for terrorists, Osama bin Laden, among other. Abu Farraj al-Libbi was captured in recent days by the Pakistanis, presumably with U.S. help. There's been some debate how big of a fish this guy really was.

In your assessment, John McLaughlin, how big of a fish is he?

MCLAUGHLIN: Big fish.

Before I left the CIA, this guy would have been, apart from bin Laden himself, my number-one target in Pakistan.

BLITZER: Why?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we're confident that -- it's hard to impose an American organizational structure on something like Al Qaida, but he comes as close to being number three in the organization as anyone I know.

He is someone who ought to have knowledge of Al Qaida attack planning in the United States.

A key factor, you recall last summer, I think it was August, we came upon very impressive and sophisticated casing reports for financial institutions in New York City and Washington. We found those on a computer in Pakistan, in another capture. This guy, Abu Farraj al-Libbi, is very closely linked to the people who had those casing reports.

So, in all likelihood, he has some knowledge of their intended use.

BLITZER: Do you suspect that his arrest will help find Osama bin Laden?

MCLAUGHLIN: It's hard to say. You know, we will know more as a result of all that we learn from him and documents about bin Laden's practices and location and so forth.

But he also will be on the move. He knows this fellow's been captured, and he will be elusive. That said, it's good to have him on the move, if that's what he's doing. It's good to stir him up.

BLITZER: John McLaughlin, unfortunately we have to leave it right there.

Thanks very much for joining us.

Madeleine Albright, happy Mother's Day to you. Always good to have you on "LATE EDITION."

ALBRIGHT: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you. Up next, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including a key Al Qaida figure suspected of masterminding attacks on Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. Just captured. A different Al Qaida operative.

Then, my special conversation, exclusive, with the president of the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili. I'll ask him why he's boycotting tomorrow's anniversary celebration in Moscow marking the end of World War Two.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Here's a look at our top stories.

The U.S. military says Iraqi security forces have napped a key Al Qaida operative in Iraq suspecting of planning an April attack on the Abu Ghraib prison. Dozens of U.S. troops and detainees were wounded. The military says Amar Al Zubaidi was captured Thursday in Baghdad.

A warm welcome today in Moscow for President Bush at Russian President Vladimir Putin's residence. The leaders then sat down for talks on issues that have placed them at odds, including Russia's sale of missiles to Syria and Putin's nostalgia for the Soviet Union. Mr. Bush is in Moscow for festivities marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I am looking forward to the celebration tomorrow. It is a moment where the world will recognize the great bravery and sacrifice the Russian people made in the defeat of Nazism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: More ceremonies are expected to take place tomorrow. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. More of "LATE EDITION" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Tomorrow, President Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin and many other leaders from around the world will be gathering in Moscow to mark the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

But the president of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili won't attend. I spoke with President Saakashvili just a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Let's get to an issue at hand: your decision to boycott the commemorative events in Moscow today and tomorrow because of what you regard as continued Soviet or Russian -- let me phrase it like that -- Russian military occupation of some bases in Georgia.

How severely strained is your relationship with President Putin?

PRES. MIKHAIL SAAKASHVILI, GEORGIA: Well, Wolf, first of all, I did not boycott the Moscow meetings. I mean where I've made it very clear from the very beginning that my traveling to Moscow would depend on the progress during this base negotiation. And for a while, it really looked that we would have some progress.

However, at the later stage, the talks got stuck. And, of course, in such a situation, where we still have Russian, former Soviet bases here in Georgia, of course against the will of the people. And it remains one of the last legacies of the old Soviet totalitarian regime.

It didn't make too much sense for my people here, for me to go and celebrate this in Moscow. It doesn't mean I don't respect Russian people. In fact, Georgia lost 300,000 people in the war. That's how many Georgians were killed during World War II. We fully empathize with the Russian people and other peoples who took part there.

But we have ongoing political issues and we hope to resolve them. Indeed, I had a very good conversation yesterday with President Putin. And this was one of the best conversations I've ever had with him over the phone. I think he understood why I didn't go to Moscow. We both expressed our wish to continue these talks and to find sensible solutions. It's clear that every country should be free of foreign presence if that country does not want that foreign presence. It's also clear we need much more modern forms of relations rather than just military presence. You know, we are a country that has a terrific economy. We are a country that has, you know, other priorities rather than just the presence of troops from neighboring countries. And I hope we will resolve it in the nearest future. This is a very important message.

BLITZER: What did he say, Mr. President, about getting those Russian troops out of Georgia? My understanding is that the Russian position is they need another four years to do so. The Georgian position is it can be done more quickly, in three years. It doesn't seem like it's an insurmountable obstacle to sort of split the difference.

SAAKASHVILI: You have the point. And I believe that there are no insurmountable differences. In fact, we've been quite patient. You know, Syrian troops left Lebanon and the Syrian troops have three or four more times troops that Syria had in Lebanon with similar to the Russians' equipment. And they left Lebanon within two weeks' time.

And we are not asking for this time terms. We are asking for sensible time terms. We understand that this is part of the Soviet legacy. Those troops are stationed in the region of Abkhazia, in the region of Ajaria and in southern Georgia. These are very sensitive parts of our territory where they did take part in stirring up some trouble in the past. So we don't want to take risks right now. I think President Putin fully understands that. And I think there are no insurmountable differences. I think we can find solutions. Simply we could not find solutions until the summit. And our people feel very strongly about it. You know, I live in a democratic country. I mean, I have to take into consideration the opinion of my people. Our parliament here is also pressing the government very hard to be tough on those issues. However, we also understand Russian concerns and I think we can find solutions that would be dignified solutions from both sides.

But we are very firm and let's not have any second-guess about that. We don't want foreign troops in our territory. We certainly are determined to get rid of their presence. We are willing to do it in a civilized way, but within a sensible time framework. And I'm sure we are in a position to find this kind of frequent solution.

BLITZER: Mr. President, what about your meetings tomorrow with President Bush? He's visiting Tblisi. He'll be in your country. Will you press ahead to become a full member of NATO?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, you know, Georgia has been doing very well in terms of the reforms, and these are not only military reforms and modernizing our military. This is only small part of it.

I think NATO commitment is primarily a political commitment, and I think Georgia has been advancing on its routes towards democracy. We still have to go for very important, significant reforms right now in this country, but I think President Bush's visit will help to advance the reform agenda.

I think what this visit indicates and what President Bush said himself is he wants to support very radical, very fundamental reforms that are going, taking part in this part of the world. We want to prove that countries in this region can succeed within the democratic government and within the framework of rule of law, and I think Georgia provides a vivid example of such a country.

And in a way, it also shows Georgia as a role model for the others. And I think the intensified dialogue with NATO and the future membership of Georgia in NATO, like that of Ukraine, is an important signal to everybody else, that on the way toward the reforms, there also come at certain point appreciation and reward for those reforms.

BLITZER: The president said on Saturday, he said the captivity -- the president of the United States -- the captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history. Do you agree with President Bush, that the Soviet occupation of the Baltics, of other republics of the former Soviet Union represents one of the greatest wrongs of history?

SAAKASHVILI: I cannot agree with him more. And it was very important quote of the President Bush, when he spoke about Yalta and when he spoke about inadmissibility of the (inaudible) the results of Yalta. It was one of the most immoral deals in the history of mankind.

And keeping those nations captive, keeping small nations enslaved because of the deals between the great nations or because of any pragmatic considerations that might have been there are totally unacceptable. We feel very strongly about these words.

You know, after all, President Bush's visit as well as our inspirations, this is not about only geopolitics, not about only our oil pipelines or not so much about oil pipelines and not so much about economic or military interests. This is primarily about values, and the primary value is freedom. And all countries here are entitled to be free.

What Yalta meant to those people and what the Second World War's end meant to many of them was continuation of slavery. I mean, many peoples here did not free themselves as a result of the war, so you can understand also mixed feelings that people might have here.

On the one hand, we knew what evil was in fascism, and we respect the people who defeated that, who took part in defeating fascism. But on the other hand, we have Soviet totalitarian regimes that kept all those people in Eastern Europe and especially in the former Soviet Union, because these republics were also countries on their own terms, on their own right.

And they felt that we were kept enslaved, so of course we feel very strongly about what President Bush said. And I think that's what he said, this agenda is still important.

We are now witnessing the second wave of liberation of Europe. The first one was the Velvet Revolutions -- basically, the third one. The first one was Second World War, I mean, defeat of fascists. France, Germany, Netherlands, all the great European nations freed. Second one were all those velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe.

But now the third one. Georgia started it. Ukraine followed. Then Kyrgyzstan. So you are seeing that the results of Yalta are still there, but they are rapidly destroyed, and President Bush is a strong supporter and ally in that kind of, you know, destruction of those results.

BLITZER: President Saakashvili, good luck with your talks with President Bush tomorrow. Thanks very much for joining us.

SAAKASHVILI: I appreciate that. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just ahead with forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the U.S. now spread too thin when it comes to the military? We'll get special insight from the former NATO supreme allied commander, General George Joulwan, and retired U.S. Army Brigadier General James Marks. "LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I swear by God Almighty that I will fulfill my duties and responsibilities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A new government was sworn in this week and with it a new wave of deadly violence swept through Iraq.

Laith Kubba is an adviser to Prime Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari and says the insurgents have one goal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAITH KUBBA, ADVISER TO IRAQI PRIME MINISTER: The message is loud and clear: We want to terrorize you and we want to instill fear in you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The insurgents targeted the Kurds on Wednesday. Sixty people were killed and 150 injured in an attack on police recruits in Irbil.

Thursday, 23 were people killed in two suicide bombings and an ambush in Western Baghdad.

Friday, another 23 Iraqis were killed in attacks north and south of the capital. Fourteen men also were found dead, killed execution- style in Baghdad.

More than 250 people have been killed since the cabinet was announced.

Is the insurgency is succeeding in its attempt to disrupt the government and prevent the creation of Iraqi constitution? The deputy chief of staff of the Iraqi armed forces, Nasir Abadi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NASIR ABADI, DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF OF IRAQI ARMED FORCES: They're just trying to bring the attention, get the attention of the media that they're winning. And I don't think they are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And just this weekend alone an additional 24 people have been killed. Dozens of insurgents, though, have been detained.

For special insight into what all this means, we're joined by two guests. Retired U.S. Army General George Joulwan is the former NATO supreme allied commander in Europe. And retired Brigadier General James Marks, he's a CNN military analyst.

Generals, thanks very much for joining us.

General Joulwan, this insurgency, at least on the surface, seems to be getting more deadly, seems to be getting worse by the day. But that's just one assessment. What's yours?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, I think there is a degree of initiative here on the part of insurgents.

I think in many respects it's an attack on the new government, trying to test them as they try to establish a new constitution and new government.

I'm not sure whether it will have the effect that the insurgents plan. It may backfire in the long term.

Our job, I think, on the United States' side is to continue to provide as secure an environment as possible for the Iraqi military and police to develop so they could provide for their own security. In the long run, that's going to determine the success or failure in Iraq.

BLITZER: In the long run, they -- the Iraqi military, the Iraqi police -- given the fact they know the country, they know the language, arguably they could do a better job than the U.S. military in terms of fighting fellow Iraqis or foreign fighters who are coming into Iraq.

JOULWAN: And I think we're going to see signs of that.

Most important, we're starting to see intelligence come from the people themselves. And that, to me, is a turning point in this war. And when the people themselves, the Iraqis, have a vested interest in the outcome, that's when we've turned the corner. I'm not sure we're totally there yet, but we're seeing signs of it.

BLITZER: What's your assessment, General Marks?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Wolf, if I can comment on what General Joulwan just said, the sharing of intelligence at the lower levels where the forces on the ground -- coalition and U.S. forces on the ground -- getting what's called "actionable intelligence" from local Iraqis is on the rise.

The Iraqis have a tremendous desire to not have the violence occur. And in many cases these are external foreign fighters that are coming in to cause these problems. So the jihadist is what you see and in some cases the former Baathists coming together with this rather odd marriage of means to try to cause disruption.

And what you see them going after is these soft targets. They're not attacking the U.S. or the coalition forces right now.

BLITZER: Is it a matter, General Joulwan, of the number of U.S. troops in Iraq -- about 140,000 now right now -- are there not enough to do this? Or are there too many in the sense that they become targets, if you will?

JOULWAN: Well, the challenge here is: How do you provide this environment for these fledgling Iraqi police and military units to mature, to have confidence in themselves?

And this is a trade-off. I think numbers do matter here, particularly the tasks that we have. We have an influx of foreign fighters coming into this country. How do you try to secure the borders or at least patrol the borders to prevent that?

And numbers do matter. At some point I think we're going to see a drawdown of U.S. forces as the Iraqi forces gain maturity and gain confidence in doing this for themselves.

BLITZER: You've spent a lot of time during the war, after the war, dealing with intelligence inside Iraq.

I was there a little bit more than a month or so ago, and I came away with the impression -- I had done a lot of these military briefings -- with a sense as good as the U.S. military is there, they're still not good enough information on the nature of the insurgency; where they're getting the weapons; where they're getting the explosives; where they're coming from, where they're getting their money; the command and control of this insurgency. But what's your assessment?

JOULWAN: Let's walk it from -- your comments, let's walk them back. In terms of the command and control, I think what you see with the insurgency (inaudible) and these acts of terrorism is very little control, a little bit of command in terms of what's called "commanders intent."

BLITZER: But somebody is ordering these guys to go out and blow themselves up, if you will?

JOULWAN: Oh, sure, but in many cases they're not. All they do is they come across. They're recruited. They gather in Syria. They get some training. They come across the border. They move into the Sunni Triangle, and then they hole up with someone; they go to a safe house, and it's just a matter of time before the various ingredients come together so you can have a suicide bomber doing his thing. Or the Baathists, which are really secular, are not into having suicide bombers, but they'll have that marriage, if you will, to achieve violence.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the U.S. military, the big picture. There was some suggestion from the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Myers, that maybe the U.S. military is stretched too thin right now at the levels that they have.

Although he did say this publicly on Tuesday. I want you to listen to what General Myers said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: The United States military can fulfill its task under the national security strategy, national defense strategy, national military strategy. And we will be successful and prevail in anything that our nation asks us to do under those strategies.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: What's your assessment, General Joulwan?

JOULWAN: Well, having been involved in many of these discussions in the past, what you need to measure here, Wolf -- and I think what Dick Myers is talking about -- you have to measure risk. And since we're committed as we are in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, the risk to American forces for another engagement, we may prevail but at greater risk.

And I think that's the message he's given. And I agree with that. We have cut our Army that was in the first Gulf War at about 950,000; today, it's half of that.

BLITZER: Active duty.

JOULWAN: Active duty Army. And that, to me, is a concern when you're faced with the strategic sort of effort we're going to make globally here. Numbers do matter.

BLITZER: And recruitment goals are not being met right now, given the severity of the obligation, if you will, which raises the question: Is a draft going to be revived?

JOULWAN: I don't think so. I think what we need to understand in today's military, particularly even in the Army with infantrymen, you have to get a high-caliber high school graduate to handle the technology that we have today, to make it effective.

So we have to compete in recruiting with corporations and everyone else. We must appeal to patriotism and we must appeal to this idea that we are on the watchmen on the gates of freedom and get that class of Americans to volunteer to serve and serve their nation. And that's going to be a challenge.

BLITZER: General Marks, what's your assessment?

MARKS: The Army in particular will meet its recruiting goals. What we have done most recently is we've started to put a comb through the numbers, look at it very granularly. And we're looking at it in terms of month. In terms of our ability to reach the target by the end of the fiscal year, the end of September, I've just spoken to the leadership in Recruiting Command and that's going to happen. They are not concerned that they're not going to make their numbers.

BLITZER: And so you don't think that those of our viewers who are worried about a new draft, they should be worried. You don't think the military's going to...

MARKS: Let's stop asking that question.

BLITZER: Because you would oppose it. You would oppose it. I haven't spoken to one military officer who wants to see the draft come back. There are some civilians, some political types, who do.

JOULWAN: We have a magnificent military right now. And we need to match the courage and bravery, I think, on the military side with the political leadership and both our Congress and our elected leadership to match that same courage and bravery and accountability we have.

BLITZER: General Joulwan, thanks very much for joining us. General Marks, thanks to you, as well.

MARKS: Thanks.

BLITZER: Up next, the results of our "Web Question of the Week: Which country do you believe is a larger threat to world security, Iran or North Korea? Plus, "LATE EDITION" Sunday morning talk show round-up. If you miss the other shows, we'll give you some of the highlights.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

On NBC's "Meet the Press," a former top CIA officer offered a very graphic description of what the agency's chief of counterintelligence wanted him to do immediately after the 9/11 attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHROEN: He did ask that we, once we got bin Laden and killed him, that we bring his head, send his head back in a cardboard box on dry ice so that he could take it down and show the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On "Fox News Sunday," the actor turned California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger said making adjustments in politics is a lot like working in entertainment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOVERNOR ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R-CA): Exactly the way you rewrite your script, exactly the way you kind of retape a show, if the answer doesn't work, or your performance doesn't work, the same as we do in movies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On ABC's "This Week," former General Electric CEO Jack Welch said concerns about the U.S. economy are unfounded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACK WELCH: This economy is, in general, in great shape. Unemployment's under control. We just created more jobs. I've just come back from visiting 23 schools. People are starting out in new businesses everywhere.

This glass is more than half full.

Stop wringing hands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And on CBS's "Face the Nation," the Republican chairman and the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee weighed in on the possibility that North Korea may be on the verge of testing a nuclear weapon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR RICHARD LUGAR (R-IN): We and the world are saying, including Mr. ElBaradei, at the United Nations: Don't do it. This would be cataclysmic. This really is over the top.

U.S. SENATOR JOE BIDEN (D-DE): I think we made a fundamental mistake four years ago not having direct talks with the North Koreans, not negotiations, laying out, as we did with Libya, what the upside of a relationship is and what the downside is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

Our "LATE EDITION" Web question asked: Which country do you believe is a larger threat to world security? Would it be Iran or North Korea? Take a look, and see how you voted: 19 percent of you said Iran; 81 percent said North Korea.

Remember, though, this is not a scientific poll. Let's take a quick look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines right here in the United States.

Newsweek has America's Best High Schools. You want to know what they are? Read Newsweek.

Time magazine asks if there's a female midlife crisis. I'm not going to tell you what the answer is.

And U.S. News & World Report features escapes from the White House, a history of presidential hideaways.

Those the covers of the major news magazines.

That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, May 8th.

To all the mothers out there, especially my mother, and to my wife, happy Mothers' Day.

And please be sure to join me every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. I'm here Monday through Friday, 5 p.m. Eastern, as well as noon. Until then, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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


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