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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With George Allen, Barbara Boxer; Interview With Norm Thagard, Buzz Aldrin

Aired August 7, 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, 7:00 p.m. in Jerusalem and 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll get to our interview with Senators Allen and Boxer shortly. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: We begin in Russia where a life-and-death drama has been playing over much of this past weekend. It now has a happy ending. Seven of that country's sailors are safe and back on dry land today after being trapped inside a submarine at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

CNN's Matthew Chance just filed this report from Moscow.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to Russian officials, they are now all exhausted, but at least these seven sailors that have been trapped for the past three days on a mini- submarine off Russia's remote far-eastern seaboard are now safe and well and back on dry land after a dramatic rescue operation by a British undersea robot, which freed their mini-submarine after it became marooned on the sea bed.

It was very much a race against time. Oxygen supplies in the Russian submarine running dangerously low, according to Russian officials, after some 75 hours on the ocean bed.

The sub becoming snagged on, first of all, old fishing nets and then apparently on a mesh of antenna used to monitor that very sensitive area of the Russian coastline.

Russian naval officials commending the international relief effort but also pointing out that the British were perhaps most responsible for bringing this episode to such a happy conclusion.

Viktor Fyrdorov is the commander of the Russian Pacific fleet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VIKTOR FYDOROV, COMMANDER, RUSSIAN PACIFIC FLEET (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I would like to stress that the help of the Royal Navy of Great Britain was crucial in this rescue operation. We admire their experience, highest professionalism and technical capability. Their apparatus placed a full stop in this story and released our mini-submarine from these shackles. An enormous job was done during that three and a half hours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHANCE: Well, it is an outcome few Russians had dared to hope for, remembering perhaps the Kursk tragedy in 2000, five years ago, when some 118 sailors lost their lives onboard a big Russian nuclear submarine, which was basically the result of a bungled rescue attempt by the Russian authorities. They, first of all, refused international assistance and then they only allowed it in when it was really too late to save those sailors' lives.

The policy on this submarine crisis very different from the outset. The Russians being much more open about the circumstances around the crisis itself, and the Russians pretty early on calling for international assistance, a strategy which seems to have obviously now paid off with those seven sailors trapped underneath the ocean surface for seven days now safe and well and back on dry land.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.

BLITZER: Let's head over to the Middle East now, where there's been a major development in Israel. The finance minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has just announced he's resigning from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet to protest Israel's planned pull-out from Gaza and a small part of the West Bank in only a week.

Let's go to Jerusalem. CNN's Paula Hancocks standing by live with details.

Paula?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf.

Well, Benjamin Netanyahu is the highest ranking minister so far to go in protest of that disengagement.

It's expected to start on the 15th of August. There will be a 48-hour grace period for those 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and then for in the West Bank.

But Benjamin Netanyahu, the finance minister, saying that his position was untenable. He did not agree with the government's position, even though initially he had supported Ariel Sharon and he'd also supported the pull-out of the settlements from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

But since then, he has been a very vocal opponent of Ariel Sharon's position. This is what he said a little earlier in his press conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI FINANCE MINISTER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): There is an automatic majority in the cabinet and in the Knesset which opposes -- which is opposed to the principles according to which we were elected, according to the -- this is not the government that I entered. It's a different government. It's against the principles of the Likud. This is not what the electorate elected us for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HANCOCKS: Netanyahu said that it comes a point in every leader's life where you have to stand up for what you believe in and you have a moment of truth. He said he had that moment of truth and realized that his position was untenable and he could not continue as the finance minister.

Now, some people are saying that this is a political move as well. One analyst telling me that obviously he is going to go for the leadership in the very near future and is going to try and dislodge Ariel Sharon from his position, be ahead of a next election.

Now, Ariel Sharon's office itself says this doesn't make any difference to the disengagement whatsoever. It will not delay the pull-out. It will not affect the pull-out in any way.

And Ariel Sharon is also saying that the economic reforms that Netanyahu has put forward to bring Israel out of recession will go ahead as planned.

The market's fairly shaken by this move. He was a very popular finance minister. And the markets dropped about 5 percent as soon as he resigned. But they said that his moves to cut taxes and pull Israel out of recession will go ahead as planned.

But this evacuation, the first phase of it, also went ahead today. A vote: 17 in favor, 5 against. So Netanyahu not really making that much different in the grand scheme of it.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Paula Hancocks in Jerusalem for us.

Thank you very much, Paula.

Much more on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process coming up here on "LATE EDITION."

But let's move over to the space shuttle Discovery. Less than 24 hours before its scheduled landing, the anticipation clearly building already.

Let's go to CNN's John Zarrella. He's standing by live at the Johnson Space Center near Houston, Texas.

Give us a sense of that anticipation, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's no question about it.

No anticipation right this minute from the crew because they've just entered their final sleep period right now. And when they get up, though, they will begin those final preparations for landing, hopefully at the Kennedy Space Center tomorrow in the very early hours of the morning.

At about 1:00 a.m. eastern time, they're going to close the cargo bay doors. An hour and 40 minutes later, they will get in their seats, strap themselves in, and then at 3:40 a.m. eastern time will begin the de-orbit burn.

You can see on that video there, that is the actual landing trajectory into the Kennedy Space Center. When they do approach the Kennedy Space Center, they're actually going to be flying over Central America, over Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and then due north over Havana, Cuba, pretty close to Havana, and then coming over Florida, near Naples-Fort Myers area, due north over Lake Okeechobee, and then that landing at the Kennedy Space Center at 4:47 a.m. eastern time. The weather looks like it's going to be good for a landing.

And earlier today, before they went to sleep, commander Eileen Collins talked about how they've had a great mission but that it's time to come home.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

EILEEN COLLINS, COMMANDER, SPACE SHUTTLE DISCOVERY: I think it's time for us to come home. But I'm having a great time up here. The Earth is absolutely beautiful. We're having a great time as a crew. We're really having the space experiences of a lifetime. For me, we've done a little bit of everything on this flight.

I'm so happy to have done it, but it's time to come home and keep working on getting the shuttle better and ready to fly in the future. And it's time to see our families again.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ZARRELLA: There's still quite a bit of work to do to get that next vehicle ready. Of course, Wolf, the problems with the external tank have to be solved, that being the shedding of the insulation material.

But once they get Discovery back on the background, they can certainly look at the flight of Discovery itself as having been a very, very successful mission from NASA's standpoint.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. John Zarrella with the latest from there.

Thanks, John, very much.

And to our viewers, stay with CNN for complete coverage of the return of the Discovery shuttle. Just ahead, the death toll for U.S. troops in Iraq mounting. Is it time for an exit strategy? We'll ask two key members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Republican George Allen and Democrat Barbara Boxer.

And later, in case you missed it, our highlights from the other major Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

"LATE EDITION" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Web question of the week asks this: How likely is it that a significant number of U.S. troops leave Iraq by the end of next year? Highly likely or unlikely?

Cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results later in the program.

Straight ahead, Senators George Allen and Barbara Boxer on the tough challenges facing the U.S. both domestically and internationally.

You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Despite the mounting death toll of U.S. troops -- 14 Marines just this past week from the state of Ohio -- President Bush is insisting it's important for the United States to stay the course in Iraq.

Joining us now to talk about that, the war on terror and much more, two key members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee: in San Francisco, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California; here in Washington, Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia.

Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." And let's get right to some of the issues at hand.

Senator Allen, I'll start with you.

A poll in Newsweek magazine just out this weekend: How is President Bush handling the situation in Iraq? Sixty-one percent disapprove of the way he's handling it; 34 percent approve.

The president's got a lot of work to do convincing the American public, based on this poll and many others, that he's on top of the situation.

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: Well, I think that the American people want to see progress, they want to see benchmarks. There will be certain things that I think will bolster our spirits.

And seeing progress, such as having a constitution drafted hopefully by the middle of this month and a constitution that includes freedom of religion, no matter what one's religion is, freedom of expression for men and women, private-property rights, the rule of law, those four pillars of a free and just society, and then the ratification months later by the people, that will be progress on the political front.

On the security front, we need to see more Iraqis standing up for their own security and their communities. And of course these terrorists, whether they are Al Qaida or whether they are remnants of Saddam's regime, their only motive is to wreak havoc. They are a hateful group of individuals. But we need to make sure that the Iraqis control their own destiny.

And I think as that happens, I think there will be more and more support, as there was more support after the Iraqis voted in late January.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that assessment, Senator Boxer?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: I think it's absolutely true that if the constitution goes well, and if everyone partakes in the government, and if the Iraqis step up to the plate, of course we'll all feel better about things.

But you know what? The fact is that since day one this administration has lacked credibility. They really have not taken responsibility for what is going on. They had no plan. They haven't been accountable.

So I think the American people in this poll are finally recognizing that this whole policy in Iraq has been a failure.

And therefore, I think it very important that there be a change. What we get from the president is, "Stay the course."

The course isn't working, Wolf. We are in a cycle of violence here...

BLITZER: Well, so, let me press you, Senator Boxer. What's the change? What do you want to see him do?

BOXER: Well, I have clearly outlined it. And I have to tell you something, the people are responding. If they go to barbaraboxer.com they'll get a whole way out of this mess.

We need a mission...

BLITZER: Give us one example. Give us one example, a specific.

BOXER: We need a mission that can be accomplished. And that mission is training the Iraqis now.

BLITZER: But they are doing, they are trying to do that...

BOXER: No, Wolf...

BLITZER: General Petraeus is trying to do that.

BOXER: Wolf, I was in Iraq four months ago. I met with General Petraeus. He's wonderful.

The fact of the matter is, out of all the battalions, there's only three that are ready. They say there are 178,000, but they're not ready.

You know, President Bush tries to compare the struggle that the Iraqis are going through for democracy to our struggle. But we were the ones that had the boots on the ground. Every country has to take care of its own security. We should help, but right now we are it, and it's not working.

BLITZER: Let me bring back Senator Allen. The same Newsweek poll asked this question: Is the U.S. making progress in Iraq? Fifty percent said the U.S. is losing ground. Forty percent said the U.S. is making progress.

So, once again, reinforcing this notion that things are not going in the direction that the U.S. would like it to go in Iraq.

ALLEN: It's understandable to some extent, because most of the news in Iraq is these terrorist bombings and so forth, and we all feel for those families in Ohio with the devastating loss this past week there.

And so, if all the stories are always negative -- and I am not going to blame the media, because naturally you are going to cover that -- but if they do get to this constitution and it does give all Iraqis equal rights regardless of their gender or their religion or their ethnicity, that will be progress.

As far as training is concerned, we are trying to train as quickly as we can. It is hard to constitute a legitimate, well- equipped, and also knowledgeable and capable security force in a country that has been under such repression for so many years.

There may be better ways, though, I will say that -- I've talked to Bill Cowan and others -- better ways of doing the training.

But believe me, that is part of the strategy. There's a political side, and then there's the security side. And the sooner that the Iraqis will stand up, we'll be able to stand down.

BLITZER: Senator Boxer, you say the U.S. should do a better job training the Iraqi military, security forces, the police. What else do you want the Bush administration, the U.S. to be doing differently?

BOXER: You know, it isn't all on our side.

I also met with the prime minister when I was there, and he was very lackadaisical at that point about taking over the security. So when you're there and you have no timetable or goal for leaving, people will certainly say, "Well, I can rely on you." So I think it's not just us, but it's also the leaders over there. They just have to do more to step up to the plate. We cannot do it for them.

BLITZER: Senator Allen?

ALLEN: Yes, I also met with Ibrahim al-Jaafari after the elections, and I do think he wants to control his own destiny of their country.

And he was very grateful for America and for the United States families that have lost their loved ones so that they could be free and have a just society.

And I think that the Iraqis definitely don't want the United States there forever. They're like all human beings; they like to control their own destiny, not rely on others.

BLITZER: Senator Allen, I don't know if you noticed this past week that the prime minister of Iraq, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, met with Muqtada al-Sadr in the southern part of Iraq. Muqtada al-Sadr, who only a year ago the U.S. military was branding terrorist number-one, wanted dead or alive, the radical Shiite cleric with blood on his hands -- U.S. military on his hands. And now he's meeting openly, sitting down with him in Iraq.

What does that say to you?

ALLEN: That says that they're trying to get him involved in the political process, to actually discuss how they want to govern the country, rather than resorting to violence and terrorism.

And the fact that the Iraqi leadership presently is doing that, that is their right. That is part of their gaining of independence.

BLITZER: But don't you have a problem with that?

ALLEN: Well, it is worrisome that they are countenancing, and it's worrisome that they, once in a while, will even be talking to Iran.

But ultimately, they are going to be a free and independent nation on their own feet, and we're not going to be able to tell them can exactly what to do.

Al-Sadr obviously has a great deal of influence over a lot of people, particularly the Shiites in Iraq. And to exclude him or try to marginalize him will only make them looking at their -- their only avenue is violence. And to the extent you can get him involved politically in discussions, rather than violence, I think that's positive, as aggravating as that may be because of his past actions.

BLITZER: Let me ask Senator Boxer.

It's one thing to meet with the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of the Shiites in Iraq, but is it another thing to meet with Muqtada al-Sadr, this radical cleric who was engaged in military actions, terrorism against U.S. military forces in Iraq?

BOXER: I agree with Senator Allen on this point. If there's going to be peace in that country, you need to change the mind of the militant to understand that if they sit down around a table, they can play a role.

It is, it's a horrible situation. We know that. We don't like it. But the fact is, if all the insurgents would come around the table, we'd be better off.

The problem I have is that our continued presence without any real plan for a timetable there is fueling the insurgency. And that's the problem. We cannot stay on top of it. As one military man told his family, you know, we go out, we go after the insurgents, we get them, and what happens? There are more just taking their place.

And that is this terrible cycle of violence that we have to change.

And the Bush administration, it's "stay the course." And that is only going to lead to more deaths.

You know, we've had 1,800-plus deaths, 13,000 terribly wounded soldiers. This is beginning to hit home. And, you know, in the beginning, when people said it reminds you of Vietnam, everyone said, "Oh, that's ridiculous." What you are seeing with that mom trying to meet with George Bush is echoes of Vietnam, because no one sees the light at the end of the tunnel for our people and our young men and women.

BLITZER: Well, let's listen to that mother, the anguished plea that she delivered, Senator Allen. I want you to listen to specifically what she said. A woman whose son was killed a year ago in Iraq, she went to Crawford, Texas, to the president's ranch, and she said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "I want to ask the president, why did he kill my son? What did my son die for? Last week, he said my son died in a noble cause, and I want to ask him what that noble cause is."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Well, what do you think? What do you say to this mother, Senator Allen?

ALLEN: I think the president ought to meet with his mother. Maybe not go out to the protest lines, but have her come in and have a heart-to-heart conversation with someone who's also made the ultimate sacrifice in losing her son in this war on terror.

I think what I would say to her is her son will always be remembered as a great hero and a patriot. He is one who has advanced, I think, freedom in Iraq and the Mideast. He has made this country more secure. Right now she has a lot of pain, a lot of anguish, and that will never go away until she passes away herself and joins him in heaven. But it is important for parents and families to understand how much we're grateful for the sacrifice they've made, for the loss of their loved ones.

But the cause here is for the security of the United States. We cannot just sit back. We have to take it to them. And while they die in these efforts, it's tragic, it's absolutely tragic, but still we look at them as heroes. And because of them, we are going to have greater security and there will be the advancement of freedom in the Middle East, which is good for their prosperity but also important for our safety.

BLITZER: You know the president's national security advisor, Steven Hadley, did meet with this woman yesterday, as well as another White House aide. But you're saying you think the president should invite her in.

ALLEN: I think he should. I don't control his schedule and I don't know what his schedule is today or tomorrow, but if possible, I think it would be good to have a heart-to-heart, a private thing, not a big, you know, press publicity deal, but have her come in and talk.

I'm not sure if she'll be convinced, but I think just as a matter of courtesy and decency and also appreciation for her hurt, and I think for many other families' as well.

BLITZER: Senator Boxer, we're going to take a break. And we're going to speak to this woman later on "LATE EDITION," but let me let you weigh in as well. Do you think the president should invite her in?

BOXER: I think it would be a very important thing to do. This country is so split on this war, and I think he should look in her eyes. He should understand that she doesn't know why her son died. And so I agree with George Allen on that.

Where I disagree is, if I were to meet with her and I would have the chance to talk to her, I would tell her to do everything she could to spare other families this grief, to get us off the cycle of violence, to make sure that we have a mission we can complete. Let the Iraqis defend their country -- we will always help them -- and let us spare our young men and women. Because this is no end in sight at this point.

BLITZER: All right, Senators, stand by. We're going to take a quick break.

Much more to talk about with Senators Boxer and Allen. That's coming up.

Also up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now.

Stay with "LATE EDITION."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California.

Senators, I just want to button up our discussion of Cindy Sheehan. She's the distraught mother whose son was killed in Iraq, has been protesting this weekend outside the Crawford Ranch.

I'm reminded by the White House -- the White House issued a statement over the weekend saying that last summer Mrs. Sheehan and President Bush met privately at one of the many sessions that the president has held with families of the fallen.

"Many of the hundreds of families," the statement goes on to say, "the president has met with know their loved ones die with a noble cause and that the best way to honor their sacrifice is to complete the mission."

So once again, they did meet last summer. She's seeking another meeting right now. We'll speak with Cindy Sheehan later on "LATE EDITION."

But let's move on and see what the war on Iraq is doing as far as the war on terrorism is concerned.

That new Newsweek poll out this weekend asks this question: "Has the Iraq war made Americans safer from terrorism?" Sixty-four percent said no; 28 percent said yes.

Also a disturbing number, Senator Allen, for the president.

ALLEN: You're asking me all these political science polling questions here.

The reality is, thank goodness -- and I think it's because of our actions -- we have not been hit on our homeland.

And I do think you have to take the offense, go on offense against the terrorists. You can't just sit back and try to flail away and hope they don't hit us. And I do think taking it to them, whether it's clearing them out in Afghanistan or obviously the regime in Iraq, has made us safer.

It is not going to be easy, but this is a multifront war. It's not just Afghanistan; it's not just Iraq. It's all over the world. And we've seen also in Great Britain that there may be those who are residents, indigenous groups or individuals who can somehow get motivated and incited into terrorist acts even though they're citizens and not coming in on passports.

BLITZER: The argument the administration makes, Senator Boxer, is it's better to fight the terrorists in Iraq than here in the United States.

BOXER: Well, I think that whole thing is a rationale for them. Let's face it, there wasn't one Al Qaida cell in Iraq prior to 9/11. That's from the Bush administration's own State Department documents that I have. And now what do we have? We have a hotbed of terrorism there.

And the American people are smart. They finally are getting it.

So this was a rationale, and it continues to be a rationale.

The fact is we see that our ally Britain is playing a huge role in Iraq, and they've been wonderful allies to us, and they got hit very hard.

We know what is happening as a result of our long-term presence without any plan of getting out, that the president refuses to go there. He says, "Stay the course."

We continue to fuel terrorism in Iraq, and all you need is a heart beat and a pulse to see it, and the American people see it. And I thank them for that, because maybe they will be able to change this president.

You know, I've served with so many different presidents of both parties. I have to tell you, I've never seen one as stubborn as this one. I've never seen one who just refuses to admit a mistake.

And I would hope maybe the American people, speaking out through the polling, through their letters, this woman begging to see the president yet again, would have an impact on him.

BLITZER: Well, let's bring back Senator Allen.

You want to respond to that?

ALLEN: This whole war on terror is going to take a lot of perseverance. It's not going to be won overnight. Setting arbitrary deadlines of we're going to move our troops out on December 31st or March 31st or whatever that date, is not the approach one should take.

You should see quantifiable, measurable benchmarks of success. And again, the key will be them politically setting up their own government with a free and just society and also, of course, getting the infrastructure in, whether it's water, sewer, electricity, get their oil up. I actually think they ought to make their oil a national asset and then do something similar to Alaska with the Alaska Permanent Fund, and every Iraqi citizen, regardless of where they are, gets a dividend every year. And then they'd care a whole heck of a lot more when these terrorists blow up the oil pipelines.

And obviously the key is standing up security forces.

But I don't think it does much good for us to be blaming America for these terrorists. These terrorists hate this country. They hate everything we stand for, our freedom of religion, our freedom of expression. All of that is what they despise. They are regressive, repressive individuals. BLITZER: Senator...

ALLEN: And thinking that you could mollify them...

BOXER: Wolf, could I comment?

ALLEN: ... is not going to do any good.

BLITZER: I want you, Senator Boxer...

ALLEN: And, Barbara, one thing, just remember before 9/11, you and I were united together in a resolution with sympathy to the people of Israel because they were getting hit with these suicide bombers and suicide murderers. And there you had Saddam Hussein giving families $35,000 if they'd send their son and daughter on one of these terror, murder missions into Israel.

So Saddam Hussein was a threat. He was supporting terrorism. Whether you want to get it specifically with Al Qaida or not, that's one thing, but he certainly was supporting and financing terrorist bombings in Israel.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Senator Boxer.

BOXER: Thank you very much.

You're a good senator, George. You can really go on and on.

Here's what I want to say: No one is blaming America for the terrorists.

After 9/11, this country was united. Every single senator said, "Go get them." I voted to use force. I voted to go get bin Laden. I said, "Go to Afghanistan. Get the Taliban." And we started on that road.

And unfortunately this thing took a turn. And as we're learning, as these documents were coming forward, this was the plan of the president always: to go into Iraq.

And what has happened is, at a time and place where you didn't have Al Qaida, who attacked us, by the way -- and they still haven't been brought to justice for that attack on 9/11 -- we have a situation where our long-term presence, without any way out of this thing, with missions that have changed no less than five times, we have created a situation where terrorism is being fueled by that policy.

And I do blame that policy.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but I just want to get through a couple issues quickly, if both of you will indulge me. Let me start with Senator Boxer, first of all.

Based on what you know right now, are you ready to vote to confirm the nomination of John Roberts as the next Supreme Court justice? BOXER: I don't know enough to say yes or no. I may well vote yes, I may vote no, I may even have other options that I look to. At this point, I don't have enough information.

And we're working on getting the information, posing the questions. I have tremendous faith in the Judiciary Committee. I will be watching those. I will be submitting questions.

As a matter of fact, the women Democratic senators are getting questions from all over the country to ask him. We need to know, because our freedoms hang in the balance, where is he on the important freedoms that we cherish so much.

BLITZER: Let me ask Senator Allen: On the embryonic stem-cell research, Senator Frist, the Senate majority leader, broke with the president, wants federal funding expanded on embryonic stem-cell research.

Where do you stand?

ALLEN: I am for stem-cell research, particularly stem-cell research that can get through three filters that I have: number one, the advancement of science; number two, proper federal funding; and third, trying to avoid the ethical controversy. In California, in Stanford University and elsewhere, they are getting stem cells that have the properties, the flexibility of embryonic stem cells without having to destroy an embryo. It seems to me that would be the appropriate funding from the federal government.

And it's not as if the federal government is the only ones who can fund it. California has passed a $3 billion initiative for embryonic stem-cell research, as well as other states and private funding.

So my view is let's do something positive, whether it's with adult stem cells or also getting these early embryonic-type stem cells without destroying an embryo. And that avoids the ethical controversy appropriate for federal funding, and also some of the breakthroughs in science.

BLITZER: So are you closer to Frist, or are you closer to the president?

ALLEN: I'm closer to -- my point of view is probably closest to -- Senator Johnny Isakson has this point of view and...

BLITZER: Will you support federal funding for expanding the embryonic stem-cell research, going beyond what the president has supported, going back to his earlier position?

ALLEN: I am going to support something that's a very positive -- maybe you may look at it as a third way, but it's a very positive, constructive approach. And that is getting the pluri-potency, as the term is, of embryonic stem cells without having to destroy an embryo for federal funding. As far as the states and private research on embryonic stem-cell research, I don't think they ought to create embryos to harvest them. And I don't think we ought to have human cloning. But beyond that, let them exist.

BLITZER: But the embryos that already exist, the ones that already exist that are going to be discarded, should they be used in research?

ALLEN: They can be used by the private sector or state funding, but the president's...

BLITZER: Should the federal government be funding them?

ALLEN: The 22 lines that are left that have some viability or usefulness can continue.

But I think what we ought to be looking at is advancements in some of the research. And there's at least half a dozen different approaches that I think would be appropriate for federal funding because it avoids the controversy of the ethics or the morals of destroying an embryo for these stem cells, but you can get the same almost in a synthetic manner without destroying embryos. We ought to go forward with that, because I think it does have a lot of promise, as does cord blood stem cells, adult stem cells which are presently, right now, actually treating 60 different diseases.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it, unfortunately, right there.

Senator Allen, thanks very much for joining us.

Senator Boxer, good of you to join us as well.

Lots of issues to discuss, a limited amount of time. I appreciate both of you joining us on "LATE EDITION."

Up next, we'll talk with Israeli housing minister Isaac Herzog about opposition from some Jewish settlers to Israel's planned pull- out from Gaza and the resignation of the Israeli finance minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that occurred just a couple of hours ago.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now from Tel Aviv with the Israeli perspective on next week's withdrawal from Gaza, the Israeli housing minister, Isaac Herzog.

Minister Herzog, welcome to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.

We'll get to that in a moment, but what do you make of this dramatic announcement today by the Israeli finance minister, the former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to resign from Ariel Sharon's cabinet?

ISAAC HERZOG, ISRAELI HOUSING MINISTER: Well, it's clearly a very dramatic event, and it is indeed a setback for Sharon, but nothing that would stop the disengagement in any form or manner.

I must say, it's a very cynical step. I think it only damages the good cause of Israel in the process. But I believe that the Israeli political system will overcome it in no time.

BLITZER: When you say cynical, why do you say cynical if he firmly believes as a matter of his own principles that withdrawing from Gaza is wrong?

HERZOG: Where was he for the past 12 months or more where the whole process evolved in front of our eyes, where we had many peaks of decisions taken. We, Labor, we joined the government in January in order to help Prime Minister Sharon in this Herculean endeavor.

And I want to add, furthermore, I mean, Prime Minister Netanyahu at the time was the one who pulled us out of Hebron, and when it comes up to pulling out of a tiny settlement called Netzarim, he's resigning on that? That's sounds very cynical and, in my mind, is only politically motivated.

BLITZER: So what is his goal, in your assessment? To run, to become the next prime minister of Israel? Is that his long-term strategic objective?

HERZOG: Clearly to challenge Sharon and Likud, to amass all of the right-wing followers in that camp before somebody else may take it away from him. And I believe, I assume this is one of the last chances he could to stage himself in front of Sharon.

It's clearly another challenge for Sharon. It doesn't make life easier. Netanyahu was a popular finance minister. He had some success in achieving many reforms and improvement of the economy. On the whole, while we not always agreed with him from the Labor Party, for example, we definitely appreciated his successes. And yet, now he's basically turned his back to all of this.

BLITZER: Let's talk about this horrible incident that occurred in Shfaram, this Israeli Arab town in northern Israel, this past week. An Israeli soldier, a deserter from the Israeli army, boarded a bus and started shooting. Killed four Israeli Arab citizens, wounded others, and he was eventually killed by a mob that gathered on the scene.

How concerned are you, Minister Herzog, about what Prime Minister Sharon himself has described as Jewish terrorism?

HERZOG: Clearly we are concerned.

We have to understand, and I think your viewers need to understand, I don't believe there is any other democracy in today's world that is facing such a huge challenge of pulling out of an area, coming to its brothers and sisters, fellow citizens, and telling them, "Now we are leaving. You are leaving your homes. We are doing this for future peace."

And it is a very complicated process. And we are reaching this peak within the next 10 days. And we have to arrange dozens and dozens of issues that deal with the nitty-gritty of life.

And therefore, clearly we have people who are unstable or lunatic or very extreme on the far right, who are willing to derail the whole process and do whatever it takes for it.

And the event in Shfaram, something which is very regrettable and was condemned throughout Israeli society, is only an example of what can develop.

And we are trying to make sure that it won't happen. The security forces, the secret service of course, the police, we are all trying to prevent these events from recurring. We will try our best, but we ought to understand that we are reaching something which is very dramatic and very unique.

BLITZER: Well, how worried are you that the withdrawal from Gaza, in only a week's time, and a small portion of the West Bank could result in Israeli Jew versus Israeli Jew? In other words, terrorist or violent actions against Israeli soldiers and police who are opposed by some of the settlers and their supporters who are opposed to this entire evacuation?

HERZOG: First of all, we ought to know that the rank and file of the opposers of the pull-out, most of them are responsible people who are objecting under the rights of any member of any democratic state to do whatever he wants under legal terms to prevent or oppose the disengagement.

But then again, we are worried and we are bothered by cells of extremists, who are somewhere out there. Israeli democracy has seen horrible scenes of such nature. We've seen the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin. And we've seen the Shfaram case as well.

So we know and we assume that there are people out there who will try to take horrendous steps to stop the pull-out.

Now, the pull-out will take -- will be there. We will make sure it happens. And it will be handled on time as planned with no -- this is an unequivocal and there will be no return on this decision.

But as you said, I am bothered, and we are all worried, and we discussed it today in the cabinet, and we are taking precautionary measures as well to make sure that it won't happen.

BLITZER: Do you have confidence that the new Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, the successor to Yasser Arafat, is firmly, 100 percent committed to peace with Israel?

HERZOG: When it comes to rhetoric, we accept that and we respect that. When it comes to deeds, we are bothered.

We want to make sure -- and I think this is the real key to the whole story. Had we known, and if we can be reassured that Gaza will not turn into Hamastan or a base of terror thereafter, this will make things much easier and much safer for all of us.

We are not sure. We have seen acts of terror in the last few months and weeks. We have seen casualties. We know that Abu Mazen, Prime Minister Abbas, President Abbas is interested and is eager to prevent terror, and he's trying to contain it in his own way by negotiating with the radicals.

But while he's negotiating with them, they are radicals. They are not controllable, and they can be loose cannons which can be very dangerous.

BLITZER: Minister Herzog, unfortunately we're out of time. We've got to go. Thanks very much for joining us.

In the next hour of "LATE EDITION," we'll hear from Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We'll go live to the West Bank, speak with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat in just moment.

But we're also standing by to speak with the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq who's been camping out outside the president's home in Crawford, Texas. We'll speak with her as well.

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

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: With just one week to go before Israel's historic withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's finance minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, suddenly has resigned over the planned pull-out.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is joining us now live from Jerusalem with details.

Paula?

HANCOCKS: Hello, Wolf.

Well, this is the highest-ranking minister to resign over the pull-out of all 21 of the settlements from Gaza and four of the settlements from the West Bank. Benjamin Netanyahu saying that his position in the cabinet is untenable, considering he does not agree with what Ariel Sharon is doing.

He gave a very passionate speech a couple of hours ago explaining his reasons for resigning, saying for every leader comes a moment of truth. For him, that moment of truth was now, and he decided his position was untenable, saying that it was crazy to even consider giving some of the Palestinians more arms and giving them more ammunition.

Now in order for them to keep control of Gaza once the settlements are pulled out, he says the way that Ariel Sharon is doing it is not correct. This is what he said a little earlier on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): There is an automatic majority in the cabinet and in the Knesset which opposes -- which is opposed to the principles according to which we were elected. According to the -- this is not the government that I entered. It's a different government. It's against the principles of the Likud. This is not what the electorate elected us for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HANCOCKS: But the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu has resigned really does make little difference to the disengagement itself. Sharon's office said there won't be any delay. It will go ahead as planned.

In just over a week's time, it will become illegal for settlers to be in Gaza. There will be a 48-hour grace period in which the settlers should leave. And then on August the 17th, then the forces go in and remove the rest of the settlers.

For Benjamin Netanyahu, some people are saying that this is more of a political move. He's been Ariel Sharons's biggest rival in Likud and is likely make a leadership battle.

BLITZER: Paula Hancocks reporting for us.

Thanks you very much, Paula.

Let's get some more perspective now on what all this means. Let's get some Palestinian perspective on Israel's pull-out. Joining us live, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat.

Mr. Erakat, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us. You're joining us today from Gaza.

Let's, first of all, talk about the resignation of Benjamin Netanyahu, a man you've dealt with over the years, over this planned pull-out. What's your reaction?

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Well, Wolf, I would refrain from commenting other than saying that this is an internal Israeli matter. I hope that the Israeli government will stay the course.

We are determined to continue doing whatever it takes to make Gaza disengagement an opportunity. It's time to revive hope in the minds of Palestinians and Israelis that peace is doable.

And this job -- we are being helped today by many in the international community, by the United States. General Ward is doing his best in terms of enabling us, helping us, and rebuilding our security forces.

Mr. Jim Wolfensohn, the representative of the Quartet, is doing a fantastic job as far as the economics and the economic sustainability and the movement of goods, free individuals or vehicles between the West Bank and Gaza, international passengers.

Mr. Jim Beaver, the USAID director, is doing a terrific job. So are the Europeans, Japanese.

We are engaged in maximum efforts in order to ensure that we have a peaceful and orderly disengagement.

Now, as far as the political maneuverability in Israel, as far as launching the Likud primaries that early, I hope that this will not affect our efforts to have a peaceful and orderly disengagement through cooperation and coordination with the international community, the Israelis and us.

BLITZER: Are you confident, Mr. Erakat, that the Palestinian Authority can control Gaza in the aftermath of the Israeli pull-out, and that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, other radical groups who are opposed to any co-existence with Israel, won't take charge and create their own entity there?

ERAKAT: No, Wolf, I don't think that they can take over and make their own entity. I think President Mahmoud Abbas will announce in the next few days a date for the Palestinian legislative elections. This presidential decree will be issued within the next few days. I believe Palestinians have chosen the way of democracy, ballots and not bullets.

And we want to differentiate, Wolf, to everyone the difference between political pluralism and authority pluralism. I admit we have an overloaded wagon of complexities. I admit that we have chaos, lawlessness here and there. I admit that we have certain phenomenons of parallel authority that should not be tolerated. Because at the end of the day, we need to establish the oneness of our authority, the oneness of our gun under the rule of law.

Every effort is being exerted at this moment to seize the opportunity of Gaza disengagement in order to revive hope in the minds of Palestinians that the peace process will continue. We will get our freedom and independence through negotiations, peaceful means, void of violence.

This is the message we're giving to our people. These are the efforts being exerted in order to succeed.

And at the end of the day, the more help we get from the international community, the more cooperation and coordination we get with the Israelis, the more chances we have to pass this critical juncture successfully.

BLITZER: Have you worked out all the technical arrangements with the Israelis on the withdrawal -- how they withdraw and how the Palestinian Authority then moves in to what, by then, will have been former Israeli settlements?

ERAKAT: Well, Wolf, you should keep in mind that this whole disengagement was not part of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. It wasn't the results of negotiations between us and the Israelis. This is something that the Israeli government called a unilateral decision. And they negotiated themselves, finalized themselves, approved in the Knesset.

Now, the coordination that is taking place between us and them is to make sure, number one, to have a peaceful and orderly disengagement to coordinate the Israeli withdrawal and the Palestinian security forces being handed over the responsibilities.

I think they made the decision to demolish the settlement household. And I think through Egypt we will get rid of the rubble. I think they made an agreement with the Egyptians to change the agreement on the 14-kilometer stretch between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

As far as the airport, we haven't reached an agreement yet that's going to, it's not going to be operational.

As far as the movement of goods, vehicles and individuals between the West Bank and Gaza, there are many efforts being exerted, and they will continue to the last minute in the next 10 days in order to have free movement in order not to turn Gaza into a big prison.

Because we want to assure, Wolf, that we have a soft landing for the Gaza disengagement. And we want the day after Gaza disengagement to be a day of hope and peace.

BLITZER: Well, the question, I guess, I was paraphrasing the concern that was expressed by the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she was recently in the region. She expressed concern that Gaza not be sealed off or isolated as a result of the Israeli withdrawal.

So the question to you is, do you have an agreement with Israel worked out that Gaza won't be sealed off from the West Bank, from the rest of the Palestinian community?

ERAKAT: No, not yet, Wolf. I think, as I told you, through the good offices of Mr. Jim Wolfensohn, through the good offices of General Ward, others, us meeting with our Israeli colleagues in many, many committees, the final details about not turning Gaza into a big prison is being probed now.

And I hope that we can succeed, because I think Secretary Rice put it right when she said the last thing that should happen is to turn Gaza into a big prison. Because we have to keep in mind, Wolf, here, what's happening in Gaza cannot we isolated from the bigger picture, from the whole region -- Iraq, Afghanistan, the whole fight against extremism. I think the battle here cannot be won by guns and ships and wars.

You need two things in this region, Wolf. One is peace between Palestinians and Israelis. And we don't need to reinvent the wheel for that. It's doable. It's a two-state solution (inaudible) borders. And I think Gaza disengagement can be an opportunity. We should make it a soft-landing approach.

And the second thing is democracy in the Arab world, because, in my opinion, anybody who says Arabs are not ready for democracy is a racist. And as Palestinians, we have chosen the battle for democracy. We are going to have elections. We are telling all Palestinian political parties, "Be a political party. Don't act like a parallel authority with parallel guns. And go to the ballots, and if the people choose you, you will be the leader of the Palestinians."

So I think every effort is being exerted, number one, not to turn Gaza into a big prison; number two is to revive hope and to keep a momentum on the day after, soft-landing approach; and number three, and that is the most important thing, is to be part of a democratic process to establish a Palestinian society of accountability, transparency and the rule of law.

BLITZER: Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

Let's hope there will be serious negotiations. Let's hope this peace process really gets off the ground.

Thanks very much for joining us from Gaza.

Stay with CNN, by the way, for complete coverage of the Israeli pull-out from Gaza over the next week. That's going to be a huge story.

Just ahead, we'll talk with the mother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq. She's now protesting the Bush administration's policies there. She's outside the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas. She's our guest when we come back.

And later, two top U.S. Army generals weigh in on the challenges still facing U.S. troops.

And later, lessons learned from Discovery's mission. Are future shuttle missions in jeopardy? We'll get insight from former astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Norman Thagard.

"LATE EDITION" continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

The war in Iraq has claimed more than 1,800 U.S. service men and women. One mother who lost her son in Iraq is protesting outside of the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Cindy Sheehan's son Casey was killed in Baghdad's Sadr City in April 2004. She's a founder of Gold Star Families, joining us now live from Crawford, Texas.

Our deepest condolences to you, Cindy Sheehan, on the loss of your son.

Talk a little bit about Casey and the circumstances surrounding his death.

CINDY SHEEHAN, FOUNDER, GOLD STAR FAMILIES: Casey was a very amazing, indispensable part of my family.

He got to Sadr City, Baghdad, we think about five days before he was killed. The command changed at 6:00 p.m. on April 4, 2004. By 6:54 Casey had been killed in an ambush.

BLITZER: And he was in the Army. His rank?

SHEEHAN: He was an Army specialist.

BLITZER: How long had he been in Iraq to begin with?

SHEEHAN: He had only -- from what we understand, he'd only been in Iraq about five days. He was in Kuwait for a couple weeks before they deployed to Iraq.

I only heard from him once when he was in Kuwait. I didn't hear from him again. That's the last time I spoke to him.

BLITZER: Was he onboard when he went there? In other words, was he fully committed to this war?

SHEEHAN: He was not committed to the war at all. He was committed to his buddies.

I begged him not to go because my family knew that the war was wrong. And he said, "Mom, I have to go because my buddies are going. If I don't go, someone else will have to do my job."

BLITZER: All right. So tell us a little bit about what you're doing now. You had a chance to meet with the president, we're told, last summer. Is that right?

SHEEHAN: I met with him, I think, about June 17th last year. It was about two and a half months after Casey had died. And it was me...

BLITZER: Was that a private meeting, just you and the president?

SHEEHAN: It was me and my family, my other three children and my husband.

BLITZER: What did you say... SHEEHAN: And we met with about 15 other -- about 15 other families were there also. But we got to -- he came in individually and met with each one of us individually.

BLITZER: And so, what did you say to him then?

SHEEHAN: It was -- you know, there was a lot of things said. We wanted to use the time for him to know that he killed an indispensable part of our family and humanity. And we wanted him to look at the pictures of Casey.

He wouldn't look at the pictures of Casey. He didn't even know Casey's name. He came in the room and the very first thing he said is, "So who are we honoring here?" He didn't even know Casey's name. He didn't want to hear it. He didn't want to hear anything about Casey. He wouldn't even call him "him" or "he." He called him "your loved one."

Every time we tried to talk about Casey and how much we missed him, he would change the subject. And he acted like it was a party.

BLITZER: Like a party? I mean...

SHEEHAN: Yes, he came in very jovial, and like we should be happy that he, our son, died for his misguided policies. He didn't even pretend like somebody...

BLITZER: So now you're trying to meet with him again. What's the point? What are you trying to achieve?

SHEEHAN: This week we had a terrible loss of life in Iraq. Everybody knows about the National Guard unit of Marines from Ohio. And that enough saddened me and broke my heart because I know what those families are going through. And it also broke my heart because I've been working very hard for a year to end the war in Iraq. And every day that another soldier, another Iraqi person gets killed just rips my heart open. But then George Bush, in a luncheon he was giving a talk at or something, he said that the families can rest assured that their children died for a noble cause. And he also said that we have to honor the sacrifices of the fallen soldiers by continuing the mission, by staying the mission in Iraq.

And I have said this so many times: I do not want him to use my son's name to continue the killing. It's bad enough that my son is dead, and I'm a mother whose heart was ripped out on April 4, 2004. Why would I want one more mother, either Iraqi or American, to go through what I'm going through?

I don't want him to justify my son's honorable sacrifice to continue his murderous killing policies.

BLITZER: The president did allow his national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, and other top White House aides to go out yesterday where you are, outside the ranch in Crawford, Texas, and meet with you.

How did that meeting go?

SHEEHAN: Well, they were very respectful.

And I don't think the White House even knew they ever met with me until I told Joe Hagan that I had already met with the president. Because Joe Hagan, the deputy chief of staff, said that, "I can tell you the president really cares." And I said, "You can't tell me that because I've met with him and I know that he doesn't care."

And I told them that, "I feel that my son didn't die for a noble cause." And they told me the party line of why we are in Iraq. And I don't believe that. And I told them that I don't believe that they believed that.

And I said, "Just because I'm grieving mother doesn't mean I'm stupid. I'm very well-informed of the facts that are going on here." And they said, "OK, we'll convey your concerns to the president."

BLITZER: Well, our condolences to you, Cindy Sheehan.

SHEEHAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: You've got a tough struggle that's never going to end, I'm sure. But we appreciate your spending a few moments with us.

Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Sadr City in Iraq a year ago.

I'll just read the statement the White House yesterday on behalf of the president. "Many of the hundreds of families the president has met with know their loved one died for a noble cause. And the best way to honor their sacrifice is to complete the mission."

The White House statement goes on to say it is a message the president has heard time and again from those he has met with and comforted. Like all Americans, President Bush wants the troops home as soon as possible, but the U.S. will not cut and run from terrorists.

That's the statement from the White House.

Cindy Sheehan, again, thank you very much.

Joining us here in Washington now to continue our conversation on the U.S. military presence in Iraq, what's going on, two experts: former supreme allied commander of NATO, retired U.S. Army General George Joulwan; and retired U.S. Army Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks. He's a CNN military analyst.

Thanks for joining us once again on "LATE EDITION."

General Joulwan, it's heart-breaking to hear these mothers of sons who have been killed in Iraq. You've had to comfort these families over the years.

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: It's very difficult. Probably the worst duty and the most difficult duty I've ever had has been what we call a "survivor assistance officer" and having to explain to a family that their son or daughter has been killed. It's very difficult. No words are sufficient at a time like that.

BLITZER: How do you do it, though? I mean, especially a mother, like in the case of Cindy Sheehan, who doesn't believe the whole war was worth it, that there was no noble cause, in her words, here, that she felt it was wrong from the beginning.

JOULWAN: It's very difficult. And as I say, no words are sufficient here. You can try to provide assistance, but when you lose a son or daughter, it is very difficult for a family.

What we need to make sure is that they did not die in vain, that there is some clarity here on the mission, what we're trying to do. And the outcome here is very important, that we have to see this through to achieve the end-state, not just an end-date when you bring people home, but an end-state that we set out for ourselves. That is extremely important for those that have given their lives for their country.

BLITZER: General Marks, you were there in Iraq at the beginning part of the war, deeply involved in the operation. And I'm sure you've spoken with families who've lost troops.

How do you do this? What do you say to these people, especially those who are questioning the entire venture?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Wolf, as General Joulwan indicated, there is no tougher mission, no tougher requirement.

I had to bury six soldiers as a result of their operations in Iraq. And I had to look those mothers and fathers and, in many cases, a wife, in the eye, with a young baby in her arms. And there are no words that can console that family.

It's a very tough requirement. And these families, at that moment, at that very moment, feel nothing but grief, you know, grief for their loss. And the thing you have to realize is it goes beyond the individual loss. The loss also affects the unit from where that young soldier came. And that unit -- first of all, you must grieve with the family. First of all, you must grieve with the family, and that's kind of mission number one. The second requirement is to grip hands within the unit so that that unit can stay focused on its mission. It still has missions to undertake.

MARKS: And then you've got to look at the circumstances that were involved to see if there is a lesson to be learned from that. Are there tactics, techniques or procedures that you can implement that will improve the likelihood of improving the defense of those soldiers and the application of force appropriately.

BLITZER: The comparisons to Vietnam -- you're old enough, I'm old enough to remember Vietnam. You served in Vietnam. Is it premature to start taking a look at what's happening in Iraq right now? Because, as you know, a lot of people out there, the critics of this war, are saying this is another Vietnam-like quagmire.

JOULWAN: We're hearing that more and more and more. And I think what would be tragic is if, like Vietnam, we did not finish what we set out to do. I think 50,000-plus that were killed in Vietnam, all those families are wondering also why. We cannot let that happen in this war.

And therefore, the political leadership needs to really be clear. And before we start talking pulling folks out, drawdowns, we'd better understand what it is we need to achieve there. What is that end- state that we're after? And then what is prudent risk in achieving that end-state, and what is unacceptable risk by pulling out prematurely?

BLITZER: This week, the Marines suffered horrendous losses in two separate incidents. Twenty Marines killed, some in battle, some in a crossfire; others killed in a huge improvised explosive device, a bomb that tore apart their transport vehicle.

And it's that kind of incident, as you well know, General Marks, that can have an enormous impact on public attitudes toward this war.

MARKS: Oh, absolutely. And the immediate result when you have an incident like that is to point fingers and to say the Marine Corps or the forces on the ground aren't doing enough, when it truly is more than just -- at the tactical lowest levels, it's more than just the amount of armament you can put on a piece of equipment to protect the crew that's inside.

It's a combination of great intelligence where you can get after that network that facilitates the emplacement -- you know, the building of that bomb, who's going to dig the hole? Who's going to put all the ingredients together? How does that come together? That enterprise, that network is very vulnerable. There's a lot of fingers involved in that.

So good intelligence, you disrupt that network, but you also adapt your tactics on the ground appropriately.

JOULWAN: One of the things we have to realize here is that this enemy is not taking us on head-on, as we have seen in conventional warfare. There is a similarity to Vietnam when you talk about this. These are IEDs, improvised explosive devices, where one device can cause a headline around the world that spreads this myth of terrorists that he wants to achieve: terror.

So we're going to have to live with this, and the troops on the ground, I think, understand that. And we have to know, what are the countermeasures to this? How can we have -- some have called it a Manhattan Project to go after these minds in a countermind way? How do we do that?

But we can't panic here. And I think it's very important that the clarity is there of what you want this force to do.

BLITZER: General Joulwan, I want you to listen to what General Peter Pace, who is the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, about to become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, what he said on Thursday about the training of Iraqi military personnel. Let me read to you what he said. He said, "Only a small number of Iraqi security forces are taking on the insurgents and terrorists by themselves."

This is pretty disturbing when you think of the enormous effort that General David Petraeus and other have put into training the Iraqis.

JOULWAN: But more importantly, Wolf, what this is an indicator of is that end-state that we talk about. Until you have a functioning Iraqi security force, police and military that can provide the security for their country, it is very difficult to say how you're going to pull -- immediate pull troops out.

You have to have that balance. And until you get the security forces trained where they can do the job, or at least to a much greater extent than they're doing it now, you run unacceptable risk in your mission in Iraq. And I think that's going to be clear.

BLITZER: We read in the New York Times today a classified briefing supposedly from General Abizaid, the overall commander in the region, telling other military personnel within the past month that the 138,000 U.S. level in Iraq right now is probably going to go up to about 160,000 in December when they've scheduled some elections, and then maybe by next spring they can reduce 30,000, perhaps 40,000.

And a lot of that is contingent on the Iraqis obviously being able to take over and the political process going forward smoothly.

MARKS: That's the metric, is, how prepared are the Iraqis to take over? And in full truth in lending is, a temporary increase is really an increase of forces overlaying with those forces that are ultimately going to come out, because they're at the end of their rotation. So you've got the period during the elections in December where you're going to have a plus-up.

The intent that General Casey wanted to get across is that beyond 130,000, 130,000-plus that you have right now, episodic increase for the elections, then back down to about 130,000, and then a further reduction as you move into the late spring and summer of '06. At least that's the intent.

And if I could follow up on what General Joulwan said about a Manhattan Project-like effort ongoing, you know, the Army and the Joint Staff has now adapted to this thing called an asymmetric warfare group, which is in fact the incipient stages of a Manhattan Project- like effort to determine all the forms of asymmetric attacks that are taking place right now and to technically get into some of the details to better prepare the force...

BLITZER: I know they've been making progress, but, General Joulwan, as you know, it's costing U.S. taxpayers in Iraq right now to maintain that military presence $5 billion a month just to maintain what the U.S. is up to in Iraq right now.

You've been around this situation for a long time. The argument that's being made is this is draining the conventional capabilities of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, because so much of this effort is devoted to this project in Iraq.

JOULWAN: Yes, and the challenge here is of a strategy that, when you have an operation like we just had along the Syrian border or Fallujah or anywhere else, it is not just good enough to complete that mission. You have to then occupy those areas. And that's going to take more men, more materiel, more technical means.

And so it is very difficult here, at least for me, to see the clarity of when you can start reducing the force. The metrics, at least that I'm looking at, really make that doubtful.

So it's going to cost more. We need to be upfront and say it's going to cost more. The American people are going to have to suffer. This is going to be a long struggle that I think is going to take 10, 15, 20 years.

BLITZER: And I don't think we should forget the 130,000, 140,000, whatever number of troops in Iraq, there's almost always another 10,000 or 15,000 in Kuwait that are standing by, who don't necessarily have it all that easy in the deserts of Kuwait either.

JOULWAN: And Afghanistan. You have a growing problem in Afghanistan. And NATO, by the way, is really looking at how to take that mission over.

So we need to get allies involved. This has to be a global effort on our part.

MARKS: And the boots on the ground are just not U.S. boots, and that's General Joulwan's point.

BLITZER: Well, in Iraq it's mostly U.S. boots.

MARKS: It is.

BLITZER: It's mostly U.S. boots. In Afghanistan, there is NATO involvement. There's extensive involvement from other countries, but in Iraq, it's still Britain, to a small degree, with the United States.

But let's leave it there, because we have a lot of other stuff we have to go through.

General Joulwan, as usual, appreciate it very much coming in.

And, General Marks, thanks to you as well.

Up ahead, two former astronauts: Buzz Aldrin, Norm Thagard. They're standing by to offer their insight into the shuttle Discovery's mission and the future of the shuttle program. It's going to be landing within 24 hours. What's going on? We'll also have a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The countdown is on for tomorrow morning's return of the space shuttle Discovery.

Joining us now with some perspective on the challenges of this mission and the future of the U.S. space program, two special guests, both former astronauts: in Los Angeles, former Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin. He's the author of the book, "Reaching for the Moon." And in Tallahassee, Florida, former shuttle astronaut Norm Thagard.

Gentlemen, thanks to both of you very much for joining us.

Buzz Aldrin, let me start with you. How nervous should all of us be in anticipation of this return very early tomorrow morning?

BUZZ ALDRIN, FORMER APOLLO 11 ASTRONAUT: Well, I'm very happy that there is so much focused attention on the space shuttle.

I don't think you ought to be worried at all. This is probably the most safest space shuttle that has ever been put into orbit.

Now, the process of putting it into orbit revealed some things that I think will cause us concern for the future. And we can talk about that later.

But I really do feel that all the cameras covering this vehicle, the space walk that looked at the underbelly and all the things we've done -- and we've done many of those things because of all the attention focused on this -- it's not a time to be underestimating or shortchanging any action we could have taken on this particular shuttle return.

And I'm very, very confident that this is evidence of everything that has been done by the new administrator. And NASA, I think, has indeed had a culture change.

BLITZER: Norm Thagard, I want you to listen to what the commander of the current shuttle mission, Eileen Collins, told our Tony Harris earlier this morning. Listen to this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

COLLINS: I think it's time for us to come home. But I'm having a great time up here. The Earth is absolutely beautiful.

We're having a great time as a crew. We're really having the space experiences of a lifetime for me. We've done a little bit of everything on this flight. I'm so happy to have done it.

But it's time to come home and keep working on getting the shuttle better and ready to fly in the future, and time to see our families again.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: Norm Thagard, are you a little jittery about this whole thing?

NORM THAGARD, FORMER SHUTTLE ASTRONAUT: No, I'm not jittery.

And I liked Eileen's comment, because my attitude always was one of mixed feelings. On the one hand, you are having a great time up there and you really believe in what you're doing. But on the other hand, it's fun to come home and tell everybody how it was.

BLITZER: But you can't blame the American public for being worried about what's going on. First of all, two and a half years ago with the Columbia, but when we've seen these images over the past week, they assured us that there wouldn't be the problems with the foam getting off and, perhaps, damaging the shuttle, and we've seen some of these images.

You've got to understand, the American public is going to be very nervous very early tomorrow morning.

THAGARD: Well, they may be nervous. But because of the great scrutiny that they had on this mission, which is beyond anything we ever had before in terms of the amount of data, it's pretty obvious that no serious damage was done. So I think we can probably feel more secure about this entry and landing than any of the ones in the past.

BLITZER: Buzz Aldrin, let's look ahead a little bit. We hope and pray everything goes very smoothly tomorrow morning and all the shuttle astronauts are back safe on the ground.

But what about next? What's the future of the whole shuttle program, based on the experiences of the past 10 days or so and the earlier experiences of the Columbia?

ALDRIN: Well, I've seen some of Mike Griffin's quotes. And he said that up to now the decisions have been pretty straightforward from his engineering background, and I certainly believe it.

But right now, because of the foam coming off, and after we spent time and money trying to assure ourselves that it didn't, I guess there is some concern as to just how long it may take to have a safe launch, and should we continue launching the shuttle?

My group of engineers, Starcraft, has looked at escapes from the shuttle with pods and developed alternative spacecraft. And I think we could come up with something that certainly could help the nation deal with the situation where we did have to not fly the shuttle again.

It's a traumatic decision faced with great political concerns in the states of Florida, Texas, Alabama, not to speak of just general American people saying, well, we just couldn't do this.

But there does come a time in transition when we have to refocus our ideas. And I think the president has done a marvelous job in enunciating his vision for space exploration. And now it's up to us to look at the decisions that face us and look at the future, not the past.

And I see a very rosy future for us. It's not going to be a clean bed. The Russians, working with the Europeans, are going to fly a spacecraft called Clipper. The Chinese are coming along with a Shenzu (ph) launch in just a month.

This is not just America in space. We have to look at the international aspects of it.

BLITZER: There's going to competition.

Norm Thagard, what do you think? Is it time to just put the whole shuttle program to bed, given some of these problems that have caused some of the tragedy that we've seen over the past few years?

THAGARD: Well, I certainly wouldn't do that until NASA has had a chance to thoroughly analyze all the data from this flight. It is worrisome that foam material came off from the tank in a location that could pose a hazard to the shuttle, but let's see what the engineers say.

If it turns out that they can fix that, then we certainly want to do it, and with the other information we have on the flight, I think continue to fly the shuttle.

If you elect not to fly it, you're probably on a hiatus of several years. Because right now, as I understand it, there's only a preliminary contracts let to study the next vehicle. So we're not going to have something to replace the shuttle right away.

BLITZER: I assume, Norm Thagard, you're going to be up very, very early tomorrow morning to watch the re-entry. Give us a little viewers' guide. What are you going to be looking for specifically, other than the big picture that everything is safe and sound?

THAGARD: Well, NASA, of course, can monitor all of the information from the shuttle -- all the sensor information. So they'll know all through the entry whether things are proceeding normally.

Typically, you slow the vehicle down. It enters the atmosphere. When you hit that atmosphere, things start heating up. Because you've got excess energy, you wind up doing some "S-turns" they call them, to kill off that energy.

About the only time I was ever nervous on entry was as flight engineer a couple times when it makes steep turn reversals and you get a little bit of buffet. As an old fighter-pilot, I don't like buffet because sometimes it signals a pre-stall condition.

But I think tomorrow everybody can relax a little bit because the odds are things are going to go fine.

BLITZER: Our coverage will be bright and early tomorrow morning here in the United States. Around the world, CNN will, of course, have extensive live coverage. Miles O'Brien live from the Kennedy Space Center. "American Morning," 4:00 a.m. eastern, our coverage begins with Carol Costello, as well. Return of the Discovery.

I want to thank Norm Thagard, Buzz Aldrin for your thoughts on this historic moment. I appreciate it very much.

Just ahead, "LATE EDITION's" Sunday morning talk show roundup. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

On "Fox News Sunday," Senators Richard Lugar and Joe Biden discussed the strategy of partial U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq slated for next spring.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I think we should be making clear to the Iraqi people what our objectives are. One is, we should state forthrightly, we have no desire to have a permanent base there. Two, we have no desire to deal with their oil.

We've mislead the American people; we have lost their confidence. And now there's this race against time.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: The discussion of our troop withdrawal, I believe, is calculated two ways, one of which is to assure us. Senator Biden has mentioned that the Iraqis know that we do not want a permanent presence. But secondly, we're prepared to stay the course, to provide security for this fledgling government and reassure the American people that we have a withdrawal strategy.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: On CBS's "Face the Nation," Senator Jack Reed and Representative Duncan Hunter talked about staying the course in the face of the Iraqi insurgency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: The insurgents are thinking in terms of years. It took 10 years in Afghanistan to evict the Soviets. We're thinking in terms of months. That causes problems. And my concern is that we will leave there early not because the situation on the ground dictates it but because of concern here.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: We should ensure that there are no political decisions that affect the substance of what we're doing. We should draw down at the right pace, and we should only follow the battlefield recommendations of our leaders who are on the field in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: On NBC's "Meet the Press," the former New York governor Mario Cuomo talked about the faith factor in the Supreme Court nominee Judge John Roberts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIO CUOMO, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK: The question for Judge Roberts is, are you going to impose a religious test on the Constitution? Are you going to say that because the Pope says this or the church says that, you will do it, no matter what, you will overturn Roe v. Wade?

Just tell us whether there's anything about you, your religion or anything else that will make you defy your oath to put the Constitution first. His answer is clear. He can only say one thing: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

Up next, the results of our Web question of the week. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our "LATE EDITION" Web question asks this: How likely is it that a significant number of U.S. troops leave Iraq by the end of next year?

Here is how you voted: 23 percent of you said highly likely; 77 percent of you said unlikely. Remember, though, this is not a scientific poll.

Let's look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States.

Newsweek delves into your baby's brain. Here it is.

Time magazine focuses in on the evolution wars.

And U.S. News and World Report has a double issue looking at how America eats.

That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, August 7th. Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

Don't forget my new show, "The Situation Room" starting tomorrow, 3-6 p.m. eastern. We're very excited about that. See you tomorrow.

Until then, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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