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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Zalmay Khalilzad; Hurricane Katrina Threatens New Orleans

Aired August 28, 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, 11 a.m. in New Orleans, 5 p.m. in London, and 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll have the very latest on where Hurricane Katrina is heading. It's now an extremely dangerous category five storm with winds of nearly 175 miles per hour. There have been only three previous category five hurricanes since the U.S. government began recording these storms here in America.

And we're also standing by this hour for President Bush's remarks from Crawford, Texas. We expect him to speak about the hurricane, also the new draft Iraqi constitution. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's happening right now in the gulf coast of the United States.

RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Randi Kaye at CNN Center in Atlanta.

Now in the news, coastal Louisiana and Mississippi brace for the worst. Hurricane Katrina, now a Category Five storm, is expected to slam into the region tomorrow. Catastrophic damage is expected. Just a short time ago, mandatory evacuations were ordered in New Orleans.

Even before the mandatory evacuations in New Orleans, the threat from Hurricane Katrina sent tens of thousands of people in Louisiana and Mississippi fleeing to higher ground. Major interstates are now northbound, but it's slow going, with traffic backups across the region.

Three days after Katrina slammed into south Florida, that region is still coping with some serious problems. Hundreds of thousands of people are still without power. And storm victims are still lining up for gas, drinking water, and ice. Those are the headlines. I'm Randi Kaye in Atlanta. Stay with CNN for the very latest on Hurricane Katrina.

Now back to CNN's "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Randi.

More now on that very dangerous storm we're following here in the United States, Hurricane Katrina. It's now a Category Five with winds as high as 175 miles an hour. Meteorologist Brad Huffines is joining us from the CNN Weather Center. He's tracking this powerful storm. What is the latest, Brad? We're having trouble hearing Brad. Brad, I don't know if you can hear me. Can you hear me now, Brad?

BRAD HUFFINES, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, I can hear you clearly.

BLITZER: All right. Why don't you start from the beginning. We missed the top of your presentation.

HUFFINES: All right. The hurricane continues with 175-mile-per- hour winds moving north toward New Orleans right now, Wolf. And as this storm continues its track, it's basically staying right along the forecast path, and that is good news for the forecasters, bad news for people that live in places like New Orleans.

In fact, right now showing live radar. We're seeing these bands of rain showers coming in. First band of rain already brushing southern portions of Louisiana and toward New Orleans. Second band of rain is setting up offshore. Third band of rain is already developing with heavy amounts of rainfall in these local areas.

Now, remember, as you are trying to evacuate and these rain bands come by, you will see some very gusty winds. Winds could gust in these individual bands as these heavier cells come through above tropical storm-force wind gusts with torrential rains. So as we're watching this hurricane continue to move to the northwest, hurricane warnings not just for the shoreline but inland hurricane warnings in southeastern parishes of Louisiana, as well as southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, with hurricane warnings as far east as the Alabama- Florida border, just to the west of Pensacola.

Here's the latest on Hurricane Katrina with 175-mile-an-hour winds. The storm continues to move on a west-northwest track expected to turn more northwest, then eventually north later today, making it for a timing at least for a landfall of around 7 to 8 o'clock in the morning along the shoreline. Into and through New Orleans sometime late morning or early afternoon as what could be as strong as a Category Five hurricane with winds blowing toward the shoreline causing up to a 25-foot storm surge in southeast Louisiana, up to a 15- to 20-foot storm surge for Gulfport and Biloxi, and up to a 10- foot storm surge in Mobile.

And, Wolf, as you know, that storm surge means you take the level of the salt water and add that many feet to it. That means that if you live in a flood-prone area or you live in New Orleans especially or around there, 25 feet above sea level or below, you need to find higher ground. Those residents who have to stay in New Orleans, especially those in some of the downtown hotels, are being asked to find refuge on the third floor or higher. Wolf, this is one of those situations where it is not the worst-case scenario yet, but if it tracks the way it's forecast to be, it could very well be for the city of New Orleans.

BLITZER: A city of a half a million people. Another million people in the suburbs. All of them potentially in danger. We'll watch this together with you, Brad. Thanks very much for that update. And stay with CNN, your hurricane headquarters, for all of the latest developments on Hurricane Katrina.

We're also standing by, we'll be getting the president's remarks from Crawford, Texas. That's coming up shortly this hour. The president expected to speak not only on Hurricane Katrina but also the situation in Iraq, where in just the past few hours a draft constitution was presented to the country's national assembly.

But many of the Iraqi Sunni negotiators say they are not on board. Just a short while ago I spoke with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, about the next steps in Iraq's political process and deep concerns about the ongoing insurgency.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to CNN. Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Let's get right to the immediate issue at hand, the draft constitution. The Shia are on board, the Kurds are on board, but it looks like Iraq's Sunni minority remains opposed, at least many of the leaders who were involved in this. Is that your assessment?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: I think it's a good day for Iraq, Wolf, that they have a draft constitution, that has been arrived at through conversation and discussion among Iraqis.

With regard to the Sunnis, I think what you will see is some leaders will support it. Others will say that there are positive aspects to the constitution, but there are some items that they have difficulties. They will consult and discuss and debate it among themselves.

I don't think we will know the Sunni reaction authoritatively for a few more days and weeks perhaps. If we get Sunni buy-in to the draft, then this would become a national compact, and the draft will be very helpful in moving Iraq forward.

The draft is a compromise between various concerns that different communities here have. None of the communities are 100 percent happy with the draft. I hope that the Sunni Arabs will find this draft supportable, and that this can be helpful to them and to Iraq, and turning a new page, a positive page for the future of this country.

BLITZER: One of the Sunni negotiators, a man, Hussein Al- Falluji, is quoted as saying that "we have not agreed on this constitution. We have objections, which are the same as we had from day one." And he said he would urge a campaign in October, when the referendum takes place, to oppose this constitution.

The Sunnis are a majority in three of Iraq's 18 provinces, as you know, maybe even a fourth. Do you think, though, they will have the two-thirds majority necessary in three provinces to defeat, to derail this constitution? KHALILZAD: First, Wolf, it is not correct to say that their concerns were not taken into account, or their objections were not dealt with. Several of their key objections were dealt with, perhaps not all of theirs. One was that on federalism, they wanted it delayed until the next parliament, and they got that.

They wanted a reference to the Shia majority in the constitution removed. That was done.

They wanted oil and gas resources to be controlled in the lead by the government, the center, with cooperation with other regional players in the country.

They got that. And they got a few other things that they were concerned about, on de-Baathification and on the role of religious -- Shiite religious leaders.

But they didn't get everything. It's fair to say none of the other communities got everything either. A constitution is not a party platform; it's a common road map, a compact where points of agreement is emphasized.

With regard to your second question, it requires two-thirds vote, as you said, in three provinces. We will have to see if the Shias or Sunnis or Kurds debate this, and at the end of the day, they will decide to vote against it -- that's, of course, a democratic right that they have.

But talking to various Iraqis, it doesn't seem that there will be enough votes to get two-thirds against the constitutional draft based on their assessment in three provinces.

BLITZER: Another Sunni negotiator, Saleh Mutlag, is quoted as saying -- and let me read it to you -- he says: "The chances of bringing Sunni Arabs to the political process are almost lost. The Sunni Arabs will suffer a lot, unfortunately. Everybody in Iraq is going to suffer from this. The violence will go up. The hope among the people will go down, and the extremists will be the ones who are in control of the country."

When we spoke the last time, you yourself expressed fear that if there is division, the insurgency, especially since it's led largely by Iraqi Sunnis, could actually be strengthened if the Sunnis feel this constitution effectively leaves them out.

How concerned are you that this constitution could escalate the immediate insurgency, as opposed to reducing it?

KHALILZAD: Well, that's where the real struggle is, Wolf, and the real struggle will be -- it's for the hearts and minds of the Sunni population. The insurgents would like the Sunni population to reject the constitution.

They're intimidating people, saying participating in the political process is a criminal act, is an act against Islam, so it takes a lot of courage by the Sunni population, given that the conflict is mostly in their area, to stand up and support a constitution or participate in the political process.

I urge the Sunni Arabs to take a look at the final draft, to consider the protections that this draft provides for Iraqi citizens. The checks and balances that are inherent in the constitution, that protect minorities against a government that may be dominated by one faction because of the numbers that they have.

If the Sunnis do not buy into this draft, after looking at it, then it would be a problem. It could assist the insurgency. But if they do buy into it, or if they don't buy into it, and then participate in the next elections and become better represented in the next assembly, that will be positive as well. So the jury is out on this. We will have to wait and see.

I believe, so far, the discussions that you have seen on behalf of the Sunnis -- these discussions have not been based on looking at the final document because the last couple of days have been the days where Sunni concerns have been addressed. So we will have to wait and see how they react.

BLITZER: Let's go through some of the draft language, and there may have been some revisions overnight, but in the earlier translation that I have, one of the articles says this: "Islam is the official religion of the state, and is a basic source of legislation: No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam."

Does that language remain in the final version of this draft constitution?

KHALILZAD: Yes, it did. But as you know, Wolf, the very next couple of sentences say that no law can be against the principles of democracy. And the following sentence says "no law can be against the human rights as enshrined in this constitution."

This constitution, this draft synthesizes the universal principles of democracy and human rights, with local traditions and Islamic influences that are present in Iraq and are represented in the Iraqi assembly, which has the responsibility to write the draft.

BLITZER: But there is a further concern, that's in one of the other articles, article 90, unless this has been changed. Let me read that to you: "The supreme federal court of Iraq will be made up of a number of judges and experts in sharia, Islamic law, and law, whose number and manner of selection will be defined by a law that should be passed by two-thirds of the parliament members."

Does that remain in the final draft version, that there will be experts on sharia watching over the supreme court, to make sure that nothing is passed that contradicts or violates the sharia or Islamic law?

KHALILZAD: There have been two changes since that draft, Wolf. One is that there will be no right of prior review of laws by the supreme court, that, of course, the legislature will pass laws. If they are contested, then they will come through the normal legal process until it gets to the supreme court. That was a very vital change that took place in the last three days.

The second thing is there is no reference to the sharia. There have to be experts in Islamic law and other laws present in order to be able to evaluate whether laws are -- if they are contested -- are against the proven or agreed upon provisions of Islam, or whether laws are against the principles of democracy, or whether a particular law is against or in violation of the human rights enshrined in this constitution.

So there will have to be expertise added to the court in all three areas, not in one, and there are two for democracy and human rights, and one for Islamic law.

BLITZER: Because many women and women's groups, at least over here, and I believe also in Iraq, based on the reporting that we've gotten, are expressing concern that issues involving marriage, divorce, inheritance, effectively -- effectively -- could be in the hands of Islamic clerics, as opposed to secular judges. Is that true?

KHALILZAD: That is not true. What the constitution draft does, Wolf, is says that it recognizes the freedom of choice. That individuals can choose, and leaves it to the next legislature to regulate that. There have been concerns here in my discussions with the Iraqis that people who will want to go to a religious authority to regulate their private affairs have not been allowed to do so. They want to have that choice.

As you know, in Israel, that is the case, and what they want here is no different than what is the practice in Israel. And obviously, the secular choice, the civil court option, will be there. And how exactly they will do it will be regulated in the next assembly. So I urge the people in Iraq who are concerned about this to support candidates who favor the option that they favor.

We believe that at the present time, given the forces that we have to work with, recognizing choice was the best possible outcome that we could arrive at.

With regard to women issues, generally, Wolf, this is a very enlightened constitution. Twenty-five percent of the seats in the assembly are assigned to women. Equality of men and women before the law is explicitly recognized. Discrimination is disallowed. Violence against women in family is disallowed. The encouragement of women's participation is very much there.

I think -- as I said before, it is an appropriate synthesis for this time, given the forces that are operational in Iraq, and it's a balanced document. It's a step forward. It could be a model for how others in this region could move forward, embracing democratic principles without abandoning completely their own traditions and their own religious beliefs.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, we're almost out of time, but one final question. Will this draft constitution, assuming it's ratified in October and there are new parliamentary elections in December, set the stage for a significant withdrawal of U.S. forcers from Iraq?

KHALILZAD: Well, of course, if this constitution passes and gains Sunni support, it will help in the war against insurgents. And if we succeed in training more and more Iraqis to higher and higher standard with an institution that's trusted by all Iraqis, and if there is reduction in support of the insurgency from abroad -- because what we have here is a huge struggle going on for the future of Iraq, which is not only among the Iraqis, but also by the regional powers as well, because they see in the decision about Iraq, a decision about the future of this region.

With those preconditions, I think we can substantially reduce our forces, and we can begin to reduce them significantly starting next year.

BLITZER: Early next year, mid-next year? When next year?

KHALILZAD: Well, I would like to leave that to the military folks to advise. But I think that with good political progress, with reduction in support by regional powers, we can make substantial progress in Iraq, and we can reduce substantially our forces beginning next year.

BLITZER: All right, we'll leave it over there. Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck over there. Please be careful.

KHALILZAD: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just ahead, we'll have the very latest on Hurricane Katrina. It's extremely dangerous. It's a category five storm, winds approaching 175 miles-per-hour. We're watching it very closely. The president expected to talk about that and the Iraqi constitution in about 15 minutes. We'll stand by for that.

Stay with CNN, your hurricane headquarters.

Plus, debating the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. Is it time for an exit strategy? We'll speak live with the Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts and one of the panel's key Democrats, Ron Wyden.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Hurricane Katrina, it's moving toward New Orleans, toward Louisiana, Mississippi. Winds right now about 175 miles-per- hour. It's clearly a category five. We're watching this very dangerous hurricane. We'll have a complete update momentarily.

We're also standing by to hear from President Bush about the approaching storm. He's in Crawford, Texas. We'll bring you his remarks once he makes them. He's also expected to speak about the Iraqi draft constitution. In the meantime, joining us here in Washington, the Republican Chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts of Kansas. He's also a member of the Armed Services Committee. And in New York, one of the Intelligence Committee's top Democrats, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Senators, thanks very much for joining use.

Senator Roberts, let me begin with you and get your quick reaction to this draft Iraqi constitution. Are you satisfied in what the Iraqis have done, mostly the Kurds and Shia? It looks like most of the Sunni negotiators are not necessarily on board.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: Well, I expected to hear that from the Sunnis. I know they've had some spokesmen there that are very fervent in their position.

But I have the draft right here. I'm rather amazed at the effort toward consensus. I think there has been a lot of give on the part of the Shias and the Kurds.

I think it's a pretty good document once you really read through it.

Some of the concerns I had were certainly addressed. Of course, I'm not the one to be making that decision, but I don't think we'll know. I think the ambassador was right. You just had him on the program. It's going to take several days and two weeks and a real campaign up to October 15 to prove to the people of Iraq that this is a good constitution and they should pass it.

BLITZER: What do you think Senator Wyden? You've had reports about what's included, what's not included.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Well, I heard our ambassador, Wolf, talk about if the Sunnis buy into this document. This is a big "if" because there are outstanding questions that go to the heart of their concerns, particularly regional autonomy, oil revenue.

You need a constitution there that's based on sound policy and not Scotch tape.

Based on the reports that I have heard, I remain concerned particularly about the rights of women. We're going to want to continue to pursue democracy there, but if you leave women behind it's pretty hard to do that.

BLITZER: It does have all of the earmarks potentially, Senator Roberts, of some problems for women if in fact Islamic law, the sharia, rules the day as opposed to the more secular laws.

ROBERTS: Well, there is no sharia here in this document. And there's 25 percent of the parliament is being held for women representatives.

In addition, they can have a choice between if they have a problem with marriage or divorce or say inheritance, you can go either to civil law, or you can go to religious law. So I don't see some of the concerns that both Ron and I were concerned about.

And then I know you have Islamic law what as...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A primary source.

ROBERTS: Yes, a primary source. But you have two others enshrined right on top of it. And that's basically a bill of rights, including women and also enshrining democracy. So I think it is a (inaudible) kind of thing, if I can use that term.

BLITZER: Here's, Senator Wyden, I want to get your reaction to what your colleague -- you Democratic colleague, Senator Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said earlier today on ABC. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: What the bottom line is, at the end of the day, if the Sunnis and that entire portion of the country opts out of this process, that's a formula for civil war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you agree with Senator Biden that if the Sunnis are not on board, the Sunnis largely dominate insurgency, that this insurgency could spill out and become a full-scale civil war?

WYDEN: I hope Senator Biden isn't right, but it ought to be a concern.

Look, Iraq of late, parts of it looked like train wreck. And maybe that's a step up in characterizing it that way. We've got barbers with their throats slit, death squads.

The administration, Wolf, tries to portray this as just one of two approaches. You can either stay the course with them, or in effect cut and run.

I think there are other alternatives that ought to be pursued. For example, one that I'll be exploring in our intelligence committee is we've set deadlines for the Iraqi's on a constitution. We set deadlines with respect to elections. I think we ought to be asking about setting a deadline with respect to training their security forces. That is a prerequisite to being able to bring our troops home. I think -- I want to be constructive. I think that's the kind of issue we ought to be looking at.

BLITZER: I want to just alert our viewers and the senators, our guests, that the president will be speaking momentarily. We're going listen in to what he says both about Hurricane Katrina as well as the draft constitution. Then we'll resume our discussion.

Senator Russ Feingold, your Democratic colleague, Senator Roberts, said, "there's a deepening feeling of dismay in the country about the way things are going in Iraq. I think not talking about end games is playing into our enemies' hands."

And he has proposed by the end of next year a full withdraw of U.S. troops, just give notice to everybody to the Iraqis, you have next year basically to get the job done.

ROBERTS: I think that would be a very bad mistake. I think that goes right to our troops. I think they scratch their head and say do we have the resolve and commitment to really see this through?

I had a staff sergeant come up to me as well as the top brass and the other people that we met with last Sunday when I was in Baghdad and also in Iraq and other areas, and basically he said tell the Congress, Senator, don't rush to failure.

And I think now is the time for resolve and commitment. A very critical juncture. I understand what he is saying, but that message not only goes to our troops, it goes to the Iraqis who have to scratch their heads as well.

It also goes to the terrorists.

And if you did that, and just simply left, I think probably Senator Biden's comment would evolve. You would have civil war, and you'd have a real crisis, and you'd have Iran dominating the area, and whatever progress we've made in the Middle East would be on hold.

And our resolve and our commitment, whether it would be Russia or China or North Korea or any other of the hot spots around the world, I think we'd be in a lot of trouble. Plus, I think we would embolden the terrorists.

BLITZER: Senator Wyden, I want you to respond to that, and as you do, I may have to interrupt you if we hear from the president, but go ahead.

WYDEN: I'm suggesting an alternative, Wolf.

It's one thing to talk about an immediate troop withdrawal. I've said deadlines can be useful. We set them for the constitution. We set them for the elections. Why not say in an area where we don't seem to be making a lot of progress in terms of training the Iraqis for their own security, let's set a deadline there. You've got to get them trained to get to the question Russ Feingold wants to explore.

I think there are constructive alternatives in between what the administration is saying, just stay the course, continue to accept their assessment of what's going on, and in effect what they try to say is a cut and run strategy. I've suggested an alternative.

BLITZER: Do you want to respond to that, Senator?

ROBERTS: Well, I wanted to respond in talking to General Petraeus and General Casey and the people who are in charge of the retraining. We have 180,000 out there now in terms of security forces and police. There are about 36 battalions in the fight. They're in the Anbar Province. They are not only helping the Marines, they're not only in the fight, they are leading the fight.

And we have an area of Baghdad in the Sunni Triangle that the police have made safe, and we have probably about ten battalions of them that are actually working. Now, we're not there yet. But to say you're going to set a deadline for training, people have to be trained.

BLITZER: Hold on one second. I think the president is about to speak in Crawford, Texas. Are we getting that video? Are we getting that picture from Crawford, Texas? Let's listen to the president. We're getting his audio.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... federal level and state level and the local level who have taken this storm seriously.

I appreciate the efforts of the governors to prepare their citizenry for this upcoming storm.

Yesterday, I signed a disaster declaration for the state of Louisiana. And this morning, I signed a disaster declaration for the state of Mississippi.

These declarations will allow federal agencies to coordinate all disaster relief efforts with state and local officials. We will do everything in our power to help the people and the communities affected by this storm.

Hurricane Katrina is now designed a category five hurricane. We cannot stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to Gulf Coast communities.

I urge all citizens to put their own safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground. Please listen carefully to instructions provided by state and local officials.

On another matter, today Iraqi political leaders completed the process for drafting a permanent constitution. Their example is an inspiration to all who share the universal values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

The negotiators and drafters of this document braved the intimidation of terrorists, and they mourn of the cowardly assassination of friends and colleagues involved in the process of drafting the constitution.

Their efforts follow the bravery of the Iraqis who voted by the millions to elect a transitional government in January. The example of those voters remains a humbling testament to the power of free people to shape and define their own destiny.

We honor their courage and sacrifice.

And we are determined to see the Iraqis fully secure their democratic gains. The Iraqi people have once again demonstrated to the world that they are up to the historic challenges before them. The document they have produced contains far-reaching protections for fundamental human freedoms, including religion, assembly, conscience and expression.

(Inaudible) in the people to be expressed by (inaudible) in regular elections. It declares that all Iraqis are equal before the law without regard to gender, ethnicity and religion.

This is a document of which the Iraqis and the rest of the world can be proud. The political process now advances to another important stage for a new and free Iraq.

In coming months, Iraqis will discuss and debate the draft constitution. On October 15th, they will vote on a national referendum to decide whether to ratify the constitution and set the foundation for a permanent Iraqi government.

If the referendum succeeds, Iraqis will elect a new government to serve under the new constitution on December 15th, and that government will take office before the end of the year.

This course is going to be difficult, largely because the terrorists have chosen to wage war against a future of freedom. They are waging war against peace in Iraq.

As democracy in Iraq takes root, the enemies of freedom, the terrorists will become more desperate, more despicable and more vicious. Just last week, terrorists called for the death of anybody, including women and the elderly, who supports the democratic process in Iraq.

They have deliberately targeted children receiving candy from soldiers. They have targeted election workers registering Iraqis to vote. They have targeted hospital workers who are caring for the wounded.

We can expect such atrocities to increase in the coming months because the enemy knows that its greatest defeat lies in the expression of free people and (inaudible) laws and at the ballot box.

We will stand with the Iraqi people. It's in our interest to stand with the Iraqi people. It's in our interest to lay the foundation of peace.

We'll help them confront this barbarism and we will triumph over the terrorists' stark ideology of hatred and fear.

There have been disagreements amongst Iraqis about this particular constitution. Of course, there's disagreement. We're watching a political process unfold, a process that has encouraged debate and compromise -- a constitution that was written in a society in which people recognize that there had to be give and take.

I want our folks to remember our own Constitution was not unanimously received. Some delegates at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 refused to sign it. And the draft was vigorously debated in every state and the outcome was not assured until all the votes were counted.

We recognize that there is a split amongst the Sunnis, for example, in Iraq. And I suspect that when you get down to it, you'll find a Shia in disagreement with a Shia who supports the constitution, and perhaps some Kurds are concerned about the constitution.

We're watching a political process unfold.

Some Sunnis have expressed reservations about various provisions of the constitution. And that's their right as free individuals living in a free society.

There are strong beliefs among other Sunnis that this constitution is good for all Iraqis, and that it adequately reflects compromises suitable to all groups.

It's important that all Iraqis now actively engage in the constitutional process by debating the merits of this important document and making an informed decision on October 15th.

On behalf of the American people, I congratulate the people of Iraq on completing the next step in their transition from dictatorship to democracy.

And I want to remind the American people, as a democracy unfolds in Iraq, not only will it help make America more secure, but it will affect the broader Middle East. Democracy (inaudible). Democracy doesn't become a safe haven for terrorists who want to destroy innocent life.

We have hard work ahead of us, but we're making good progress toward making sure this world of ours is more peaceful for generations to come.

Thank you very much.

BLITZER: So there it is. The president of the United States speaking live in Crawford, Texas, before reporters. There will be videotape of that that will be made available to us, but it's going to take some time to get that videotape from the president's ranch out to our transmission location.

That's why we heard that audio -- the, shall we say, not so great audio quality, the result of the White House making that audio available. But we'll get the actual videotape probably in a half hour or so from now.

The president urging everyone to get out of the way of Hurricane Katrina, to move very, very quickly out of harm's path. This is a category five hurricane, as we know, approaching Louisiana and Mississippi.

And the president praising the draft Iraqi constitution, calling it an inspiration, saying Iraqis and the rest of the world can be proud of what they have achieved.

We'll have much more coverage on both of these stories.

Our senators are standing by as well.

We'll take a quick break. Much more "LATE EDITION" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

We're continuing our conversation with Senator Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat of Oregon, a member of that committee.

Senator Roberts, we heard the president call this draft Iraqi constitution an inspiration -- the Iraqis can be very proud of it.

Do you think those are words he might come to regret in the next six to 12 months if, in fact, civil war erupts, if Shiites declare, in effect, an Islamic state -- a fundamentalist Islamic state -- create an autonomous region in the south with links to Iran?

Those are some of the worst-case fears that clearly could emerge.

ROBERTS: Well, that's a result of it.

I know it's described by the State Department here as some of the most far-reaching democratic and human rights commitments that exist in any constitution in this part of the world. That's true.

BLITZER: That's on paper, though, but in practical terms...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: I don't know if the Sunnis are going to buy this.

He made two good points, I think. One is the fear of the spike of terrorist attacks, which I think we are preparing for.

And then, the difficulty in getting the vote. There are 18 provinces there in Iraq. Fifteen are doing OK in terms of safety. It's the three on the Anbar Province and then in the Sunni Triangle that are not.

But only 51 percent of three provinces have to vote against this and it goes down.

BLITZER: No, two thirds.

ROBERTS: No, it's 51 percent.

BLITZER: Oh, really?

Because I was told it was two thirds in three provinces -- if two thirds majority vote against the constitution...

ROBERTS: No, that was one of the consensus things. Only 51 percent now.

BLITZER: All right, well, maybe that has changed.

ROBERTS: And so consequently, now you get 51 percent to say no, the whole thing goes down. I don't know who put that together, but it should have been six of 18 or four of 18 instead of three.

BLITZER: Well, that was originally -- the three was to give the Kurds, in effect, veto power, because they have three provinces in the north.

ROBERTS: I understand that, but it's going to be a major public relations effort and that's the nicest way I can put it -- or campaign -- to sell this.

Although, once the Sunnis really take a look at this and say, all right, there have been some concessions here and they punted on the federalism, either this, or civil war? My word, I would think they would take this.

BLITZER: Let's let Senator Wyden button this up for us because we're almost out of time.

WYDEN: Well, I wish I could be as optimistic as the president.

I hope events unfold as he suggests, but I'm not yet there. I heard the president, for example, say that some Sunnis were in support of this.

My sense is that there is a lot of opposition among Sunnis, that this is going to be a very heavy lift to bring them on board.

And at the end of the day, Wolf, the real question is: We have so many young men and women in harm's way; we've lost so many American lives already. I think Americans will be very troubled that after deposing Saddam Hussein -- we're all glad he's behind bars -- that we could end up with the Islamic clerics in the driver's seat. That's very troubling.

BLITZER: Senator Wyden, unfortunately, we're going to have to leave it right there.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, Senator Pat Roberts, joining us from Kansas. A good discussion on an important issue. We'll have to wait and see what happens on the ground.

We're also watching a potentially catastrophic storm right here in the United States, Hurricane Katrina. This is a category five storm, with winds moving up to 175 miles an hour, moving toward the Gulf Coast, specifically New Orleans, a major U.S. city. Half a million people live there -- another million in the suburbs.

Joining us now is Ed Rappaport, the deputy director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

You're tracking this storm.

Ed, what is the latest?

ED RAPPAPORT, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: The hurricane is potentially catastrophic, as you said. It's category five. It's very rare to have a hurricane of this intensity make landfall in the United States. If it stayed at this intensity, it would be one of the two or three strongest to ever hit our country.

And on top of that, of course, we have this special concern for the area that includes New Orleans, that's below sea level. So not only will we have problems from the winds, but the storm surge that will drive inland could be as much as 20 or even 25 feet near -- just to the east of where the center comes ashore.

BLITZER: So explain what that means for people in New Orleans, because it is, as you point out, below sea level?

RAPPAPORT: As they're well aware, the issue is that they have levees that protect them from a rise in the water, but they only protect to a certain level. And if the center goes close enough that they get a 20- or 25-foot storm surge in New Orleans, that will overtop the levees and flood the city.

This is why there is a mandatory evacuation that's been called for. And I can't emphasize enough the need to follow close attention to the recommendations -- pay attention to the recommendations and follow them --from the local officials.

BLITZER: Does it look like New Orleans is going to be sort of dead center, right on the path of this hurricane?

RAPPAPORT: That's our forecast at the moment, but everybody knows that we don't make perfect forecasts. And even a wall of 20 or 30 miles one way or the other will have a major impact. Now, overall, this is a large hurricane, very large, 175 miles across -- basically this white area has hurricane-force winds. But the core of the hurricane is very near the center, right around the eye here.

We can't tell you now and probably won't be able to tell you even until the last minute, when it's too late to do anything about it -- which county, which parish, which town will have the worst of the weather. Clearly, New Orleans is going to have bad weather, perhaps record conditions in their area in terms of winds and damaging storm surge in the vicinity.

We can't tell you if it's going to be them or the town to the east or the town to the west that'll have the worst of it.

BLITZER: Ed Rappaport, we'll be checking back with you. Thank you very much.

Ed Rappaport of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, tracking Hurricane Katrina. It's a category five. That's the highest level hurricane -- only three in recorded U.S. history, the most recent, Hurricane Andrew in Florida in 1992. That caused about $20 billion worth of damage.

We'll watch this hurricane throughout these coming hours.

We'll take a quick break.

Much more "LATE EDITION" after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: We are facing a storm that most of us have feared. I do not want to create panic, but I do want the citizens to understand that this is very serious.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The mayor of New Orleans, a major city, ordering an immediate evacuation of all residents with the exception of emergency personnel, an immediate evacuation of everyone from this major U.S. city on the Gulf Coast.

Hurricane Katrina heading toward New Orleans. Right now it has winds of about 175 miles-per-hour. It is a category five hurricane. Only three category five hurricanes in recorded U.S. history.

You see these shots. These are live pictures we're showing our viewers. They're moving in one direction: away from the Gulf coast as quickly as possible to try to get out of harm's way.

This hurricane could be catastrophic, almost certainly will be. We'll have extensive coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're watching Hurricane Katrina moving closer and closer toward the Gulf Coast, expected to hit sometime overnight, perhaps early tomorrow morning.

New Orleans right in the path of this category five hurricane. Already extreme preparations are underway, mandatory evacuations from the city of New Orleans.

Just a little a while ago, the FEMA director, the federal emergency management agency director, Michael Brown, spoke to CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of people think back to Camille in 1969 where it killed some 256 people. Do you see this storm as being just as dangerous, if not more?

MICHAEL BROWN, FEMA DIRECTOR: I see it just as dangerous. You have the additional factor of the new population that has moved in. During Camille there were approximately 60,000 people left homeless, so we can easily see those kinds of numbers again.

That's why FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security and President Bush are taking this storm so very seriously. This is exactly the kind, as I called it yesterday, a nightmare scenario that we've been planning for and anticipating.

NGUYEN: You mentioned a nightmare scenario. Hopefully that won't come to fruition, but the reality is the category five storm is headed in that path of New Orleans and those coastline cities there in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Are your team -- is FEMA ready for this because you guys have been pretty taxed lately with all of the hurricanes of last year and this year's busy hurricane season.

BROWN: Well, we have been taxed. Right now we're still doing recovery operations in Florida, and I've got a long-term recovery office down there.

And some people have been trying to second-guess how FEMA responded and recovered in Florida. Well, let me say to all those critics, we are ready, we're going to respond, and we're going to do exactly what we did in Florida and Alabama and the other places. We're going to do whatever it takes to help victims.

That's why we've already declared an emergency. President Bush had no reservations about doing that. We're going to lean forward as possible and do everything we can to help those folks in Louisiana or Alabama or Mississippi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The FEMA director, Michael Brown, speaking to our Betty Nguyen just a little while ago.

The president also speaking only a few minutes ago saying get out of the way. Move away from the path of this hurricane.

Also saying the United States government, federal government, will do everything possible to move forward.

We cannot stress enough, the president said, the danger this hurricane poses to the Gulf Coast communities.

We'll continue our special coverage. We're standing by for more at the top of the hour.

BLITZER: "LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We've lost 1,864 members of our armed forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Staying the course in Iraq. But at what cost? And when will Iraqis be able to protect their country from the insurgents?

We'll get perspective on the war and the exit strategy from former U.S. senator and Vietnam War veteran Max Cleland.

Plus, Republican Senator Trent Lott weighs in on the war in Iraq, the war against terror, and he'll talk about his new book, "Herding Cats: A Life in Politics."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZHOU WENZHONG, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: The goal of China's foreign policy is to maintain growth, peace, and seek common development.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The China factor.

We'll ask the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Zhou Wenzhong, about trade deficits, a nuclear North Korea, U.S.-Chinese relations, and more.

Plus, a category five hurricane is bearing down on the Gulf Coast of the United States. Massive evacuations are under way.

CNN is your hurricane headquarters, and we'll have the very latest.

Welcome back.

We'll have extensive coverage of Hurricane Katrina this hour. Remember, CNN is your hurricane headquarters. We'll bring you the latest developments this hour.

We'll also speak with Mississippi Senator Trent Lott. His state in harm's way right now. We'll also speak with him about some other issues as well.

And also standing by, former U.S. senator Max Cleland. He'll be joining us as well.

All of that coming up.

First, though, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now on the Gulf Coast of the United States.

HUFFINES: I'm meteorologist Brad Huffines from the CNN Center in Atlanta.

What we're looking at, Wolf, is this area of rain showers. That's the first part of the hurricane. The rain bands are moving ashore now in southern Louisiana, with the center of the storm expected to move inland sometime around 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.

But let me show you some of the new imagery we have. You'll only see this on CNN, right now what you're seeing, and the storm surge graphic. Look at the key down here. Hard to see, but the areas in purple, those are storm surge areas between 25 and 28 feet above sea level from Metairie to west.

You look toward New Orleans, the city of New Orleans, the city that is 70 percent below sea level. Strong surge expectations are anywhere from 15 to 25 feet. In this area, Lake Pontchartrain to the north, and as you get even closer, a storm surge possible again. And the New Orleans area, between 20 to 25 feet. Wolf, we're watching this storm. We'll have updates consistently through the 2:00 hour.

BLITZER: Brad, give me a little history. When was New Orleans endangered like this ever before?

HUFFINES: I'm sorry. Would you ask that question again? I don't have...

BLITZER: When was New Orleans endangered like this by a hurricane before?

HUFFINES: Wolf, I hate to say it. I can't hear you because my IFB, the ear piece is not made over to where I can hear you asking the question. So I don't necessarily know what you're saying. I'm sorry.

BLITZER: We'll work it out next time.

Brad Huffines watching this very, very dangerous Hurricane Katrina for us. And we'll have coverage of its path. That's coming up this hour.

We're also watching other stories, including Iraq. Some critics of the president's handling of Iraq are expressing deep concern the mission there is turning into a situation similar to what happened during the Vietnam War.

Joining us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta to talk about that and more is our guest, a veteran of the Vietnam War, the former U.S. senator from Georgia, Democrat Max Cleland.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

MAX CLELAND, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do you make of this war in Iraq right now? Are you among those who fear it is already become another Vietnam-like quagmire?

CLELAND: I do. The president counseled patients this week. Patients for what? Sounds like Lyndon Johnson, 1967. Stay the course. Stay the course for what? More and more, I agree more with Senator Chuck Hagel who says this is looking more and more like Vietnam. My fellow Vietnam veteran Chuck and I have a similar view of this thing. We're in the third year, here. We lost almost 2,000 men there, some 17,000 wounded. And a quarter of a million young Iraqi veterans back in this country seeking help from their government. And their government will not provide really what they need, which is about $3.5 billion more than the V.A. is budgeted for. So we're in a deep, deep quagmire here in Iraq.

As I think about Iraq, I not only think about Vietnam, but I think about the line by W.C. Fields, the great American humorist, who says we must take the bull by the tail and face the situation. I think it's time to face the situation and face the truth.

What we went in for, into Iraq, was weapons of mass destruction. They're not there. What we went into Iraq for was any ties to Al Qaida and the attack on September 11th. That's not there. What we went into Iraq was nuclear weapons material coming up from Africa. That's not so.

So now we're down to this constitution. We're not writing the constitution. The Iraqis are writing the constitution. Properly so. But we're the ones taking the casualties -- 76 Americans killed this month alone. It is time to win or get out. And that is exactly the way I feel about it.

BLITZER: Let's talk about getting out and the win strategy, what you're talking about. In fairness to the Iraqis, a lot more Iraqis have died since the U.S. moved into Iraq than Americans.

CLELAND: About 30,000, as a matter of fact.

BLITZER: So they're clearly taking a lot more casualties than the United States.

CLELAND: Yes, and we killed a lot of them, too. The point being, is our presence there helping our national security and their national security or is it compromising it? We're creating terrorists for Osama bin Laden. He is using recruits in Iraq...

BLITZER: All right, so let's talk about...

CLELAND: ... for his efforts in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Let's talk specifics, Senator. And before we do, I want to read to you what your former colleague Gary Hart wrote in the Washington Post this past week.

He wrote, "What will history say about an opposition party," referring to Democrats, "that stands silent while all this goes on? My generation of Democrats jumped on the hot stove of Vietnam and now, with its members in positions of responsibility, it is afraid of jumping at any political stove. To stay silent during such a crisis and particularly to harbor the thought that the administration's misfortune is the Democrat's fortune is cowardly."

Let's talk about specifics. What do you want the United States government to do right now in Iraq? CLELAND: First of all, in terms of Gary Hart's comments, this is not about parties, not about party politics. I was in Vietnam in '67, wounded in '68, lay there in Walter Reed, seeing my country come apart. I never want to see that again. Which is why it's time now for us to ask as a country of our government, what are you going to do?

We can't just stay the course and be patient. Our young men and women are getting killed and blown up. And at the same time we're evacuating Walter Reed and the government says close Walter Reed. That doesn't make any sense at all. So what do we have to do?

First of all, we should have taken the advice of the top brass in the military like General Rick Shinseki, the chief of staff in the Army, and put in the 500,000 troops that the Pentagon plan called for in terms of securing Iraq. Iraq is not secure. And it is so difficult that to operate with 130,000 troops there. That's one reason why the Pentagon has gone up to 160,000. We're going the wrong way.

We need to have an exit strategy that we control, not one that's forced upon us. I went to Vietnam, I saw that exit strategy. It was forced upon us. We can't allow that to happen again. We need to control this situation, which is why we need an exit strategy now.

BLITZER: I'm going to continue this conversation with you, Senator Cleland, but we're getting the videotape in now from the president when he made that statement. We had the audio in the past hour here on "LATE EDITION."

I want our viewers just to hear what he has to say about this hurricane, Hurricane Katrina, because he is urging everyone to get out of the way. This is a category five storm. It's moving closer and closer toward the Gulf Coast, including New Orleans, a major U.S. city. Let's get ready to listen to what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: ... but at the state level, about the Hurricane Katrina. I've also spoken to Governor Blanco of Louisiana, Governor Barbour of Mississippi, Governor Bush of Florida, and Governor Riley of Alabama.

I want to thank all the folks at the federal level and the state level and local level who have taken this storm seriously. I appreciate the efforts of the governors to prepare their citizenry for this upcoming storm. Yesterday, I signed a disaster declaration for the state of Louisiana.

This morning, I signed a disaster declaration for the state of Mississippi. These declarations will allow federal agencies to coordinate all disaster relief efforts with state and local officials. We will do everything in our power to help the people in the communities affected by this storm.

Hurricane Katrina is now designated a category five hurricane. We cannot stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to gulf coast communities. I urge all citizens to put their own safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground. Please listen carefully to instructions provided by state and local officials.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president, speaking about Hurricane Katrina, just a little while ago. He goes on and speaks extensively about the new draft Iraqi constitution, which he hails as an inspiration. He says Iraqis and the rest of the world can be proud of that. We heard his comments just a little while ago here on CNN.

Let's get back to Senator Max Cleland, the former U.S. senator from Georgia. The president says, as far as this draft constitution is concerned, it's an important step in the right direction. Is it perfect? No. But it does show that the Iraqis themselves are trying to get democracy on board. What do you make of this?

CLELAND: Well, pen on paper. It does not change the ground truth. The ground truth is that the Kurds and the Shiites and the Sunnis, the basic tribal elements that make up Iraq, have been at each other's throat, fighting each other like banshee chickens for a thousand years. This constitution is not going to change that.

So when we leave, ultimately, and we will leave, that will continue. One party will triumph over the other. And so it looks like now the Shiites who are kissing cousins to their mullah friends in Iran are going to triumph. And ultimately, Iran will be the big winner here.

So in many ways, we have to decide as a nation, are we going to win this thing? Are we going to put in enough troops to secure Iraq and isolate the terrorists there? Or are we going to adopt an exit strategy that we control on a timetable we control and take care of our forces.

BLITZER: So are you suggesting, Senator Cleland, that the U.S. should beef up the presence, send another 100,000 or 200,000 troops into Iraq? Is that what you're calling for?

CLELAND: No. What I'm suggesting is that this administration ignored the advice of top leaders like the chief of staff of the Army.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But what do you do now? What specifically...

CLELAND: You either do that, or if you're not going to do that, if you're not going to go ahead and win and do that, then you have to come up with an exit strategy. You have to come up with strategic thinking that says we will withdraw our forces.

Because pretty soon, Tony Blair's going to get his forces out of there next year. We will really be the lone ranger without even a Tonto. So we're in deep trouble. We're bearing the brunt of this and it is not ours to bear. It is up to the Iraqis. And we need a timetable for withdrawal. And that is the true story about Iraq.

BLITZER: What kind of timetable? Senator Russ Feingold says by the end of next year. Is that adequate for you?

CLELAND: I don't know. I'm not talking about a date. I am talking about strategic thinking that says this is the Iraqi people's business. It is not our business. And the longer we stay there, the more terrorists we create for Osama bin Laden. That is our business, to go after him and kill and capture him and his terrorist cadre. They're the ones that came after us.

BLITZER: One final question. Senator Joe Biden says it's time for the president to fire the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. What do you say about that?

CLELAND: Well, it is my business to comment on that. I just say that I think they made a strategic error in not going in with enough troops to secure Iraq. If you're not going to put in enough troops to secure Iraq today, then you have to come up with an exit strategy, because more of the same will lead to disaster for our nation.

BLITZER: Senator Cleland, thanks for spending some time with us here on "LATE EDITION."

CLELAND: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're keeping our eye on a very powerful, very dangerous hurricane, Hurricane Katrina, a category five, that's the highest category. The storm forcing massive evacuations along the gulf coast.

Up next, Republican Senator Trent Lott. He's from Mississippi, his home state in the path of the storm right now.

BLITZER: We'll speak with Senator Lott right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOVERNOR KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: It's a real threat. It's very serious. We want them to get out of town. The storm surge could bring in 15 to 20 feet of water. They will not survive that if, indeed, that happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The governor of Louisiana speaking this morning about Hurricane Katrina. It's a category five storm moving toward New Orleans, Louisiana, as well as Mississippi.

Coming up, we'll speak with Republican senator, the former majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. I'll ask him how his state is preparing for this hurricane.

"LATE EDITION" will continue after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

You're looking at these live pictures. People continuing to leave New Orleans, other major U.S. cities along the Gulf Coast, trying to get out of harm's way as Hurricane Katrina moves ominously close toward the gulf shore. This is a category five storm. Winds now approaching 175 miles an hour. This is a very, very deadly storm.

Joining us now to talk about this more is U.S. Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi.

Your state, Senator Lott, directly in harm's way right now. What are you hearing from local authorities?

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: Well, first, Wolf, let me just say that this is a very serious hurricane. And the path that it's on will get that northeast quadrant on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. And that's the most dangerous side of it. You know, I live in Pascagoula, Mississippi, right on the water. All of us, all the people on the coast, take it seriously and evacuate. I did talk to the Governor Haley Barbour this morning. He's been on the phone with local officials, FEMA officials already have been involved. We've already gotten word that 11 counties have been designated as eligible for disaster assistance, those 11 southernmost and southwest counties.

And the people are, I believe, now taking it seriously. We're a little bit jaded down there. We've been warned and we've boarded up, and we've unboarded, we've left, we've come back. I think people hesitated a little bit. But I urge people the people on the Gulf Coast to go as far east as they can get or as far north. If they're not under way now, they need to get started right away.

BLITZER: Because in the next several hours, this hurricane is going to really -- the outer banks of this hurricane probably are going to be affecting residents very, very soon.

LOTT: That's right. And of course, we had high tide not too long ago. Water was already rising. It will go down, but it looks like the high tide may come again on Monday morning when it comes ashore. All those factors do come into play when you're dealing with a hurricane and all of its aftereffects.

But I believe the people are now taking it seriously. We're getting prepared, and we'll have assistance come in immediately after the hurricane comes ashore, certainly in Louisiana and Mississippi. Local officials will get disaster assistance. We'll make sure that the people are protected. We'll have National Guardsmen come in to Mississippi and Louisiana. So it's serious and very stressful thing to deal with, Wolf.

BLITZER: On a personal level, you've already boarded up your house in Pascagoula?

LOTT: Right. I had to call and get it boarded up. That's the second time this year we've had to do that. And my brother-in-law went over and moved furniture out of the dangerous corners and moved my vehicle. So we're trying to get prepared.

BLITZER: All right, well let's hope for the best.

Good luck to you and good luck to everyone in Mississippi, Louisiana, along that Gulf Coast. This is a powerful, powerful, potentially catastrophic storm. Haven't had a hurricane five category like this since 1992, Hurricane Andrew. And we remember in south Florida the destruction that, that caused.

LOTT: And of course, we remember Hurricane Camille in 1969, also a category five. And it was very devastating on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Took us years to recover.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk a little bit about Iraq before we move on to your new book, "Herding Cats: A Life in Politics." And you'll explain the name for that book as well.

I want you to listen to what your Republican colleague from Nebraska, Senator Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran, told me earlier.

I'll read it to you and you'll tell me what you think about this. Making the comparisons between what's happening in Iraq right now to what's happening -- what happened in Vietnam. "The longer we stay in Iraq," he said, "the more similarities will start to develop," meaning essentially that we are getting more and more bogged down, taking more and more casualties, more and more heated dissension and debate in the United States as evidenced by the situation in Crawford.

How worried are you that this is turning out to be another Vietnam?

LOTT: I don't agree with Chuck Hagel on that. I know he's very serious about it, very thoughtful and involved in foreign policy, a Vietnam veteran that was decorated. I agree more with Senator John McCain, actually, that they're very dissimilar. Every conflict, every war is different.

In this case, you do have a fledgling government. The people, they did have that vote back in January. They're working on a constitution. We do have some almost 180,000 Iraqi now that are trained as policemen and military people. They are more engaged.

The conditions are just so different and I think one of the points that was made when we left Vietnam, they didn't follow us. If we left precipitously, cut and run, as the saying goes, out of Iraq, those terrorists that have been frankly drawn in there from Syria and Saudi Arabia and Jordan and all over the world, will move to other places. This is very serious business.

BLITZER: So when it comes to Iraq, you support the president's posture?

LOTT: I do support the president's posture. And that's not to say that we shouldn't always be prepared to address the situation, ask a question. Are our tactics doing the right thing? Are these the right people? Do we need more special forces in there? Do we need to move a division north? I think you've got to be flexible.

Whenever you're attacking the middle of a line in a battle and it's not going well, you don't retreat. You exercise a lateral movement. You envelope them, you move to the right or the left. And we have to be prepared to be flexible here. And war is never exactly as you planned it.

Have we made some mistakes? Certainly. But there's a lot at stake here. And the idea that Iraq would be able to have democracy and freedom, the impact that it'll have on the greater Middle East, what's going on now in Israel and Palestine, these are huge issues. And we must stay with the courage and resolve.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about your new book, "Herding Cats: A Life in Politics." And after the end of the interview, you'll explain how you came up with the title.

One of the more, I guess, seminal moments in your life is when you had to step down as the leader of the United States Senate. This followed these comments. I'll play them for our viewers. Listen to what you said in 2002.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOTT: I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was on December 5, 2002. On December 12, only a few days later, the president responded directly to what you said. He said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive, and it is wrong. Recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I guess that set the stage for your decision to step down. And you write very openly in your book what happened. You felt betrayed at several points. But give us your, looking back at what happened, your bottom line.

LOTT: First, I think I should acknowledge that the remarks were insensitive or hurtful to a lot of people. Even though they may have been innocent, all I was really trying to do is make a 100-year-old man at his birthday party feel good about his life in politics.

When I got to the Senate, I saw an elderly man who was very strong on national defense, that very strong on the budget, very strong on fighting crime, and reconciled with people in South Carolina, including minorities. A guy that was the leader on aid to colleges, universities that are historically black. So that's what I had seen. And when he ran for president, I was 6 years old. And I lived in a part of Mississippi that did not go through the throes.

BLITZER: You apologized several times.

LOTT: I did. But I didn't do it, you know, maybe quick enough or adequately enough. There's no use reliving that. I knew what the president was going to say. In fact, his planned remarks were read over the phone by Andy Card. I thought they sounded OK. I think it was the setting and maybe how it played out or was played that caused concern. But a lot of the book is not about this.

BLITZER: But this is what's going to generate the most commotion, especially the very blunt words you write in the book about Senator Frist, now the majority leader.

Let me read a couple lines from the book. "I considered Frist's power grab a personal betrayal. I felt and still feel that he was one of the main manipulators of the whole scenario. No other senior senator with stature would have run against me. In fact, they all took themselves out of the running because of close relationships to me. If Frist did not announce exactly when he did as the fire was about to burn out, I would still be majority leader of the Senate today." Those are powerful words against the current Senate majority leader.

LOTT: Well, when you write a book or when you make a statement, you've got to lay things out as you understood them and tell the truth. But I want to emphasize, while I obviously was hurt by that and disappointed and can't back away particular my impressions of it, we have come together, we've talked that through. He is the majority leader. I'm a senator.

We've got to work together for the good of our country. And we do that. He's given me a lot of opportunities to be involved. And I'm going to continue to be involved to try to help him, because most of the time, what he is trying to do is what I agree with, in terms of supporting the Bush administration and beyond that, even, doing the right thing for our country.

BLITZER: But I'm sure it's hard to talk to him and be civil with him after you feel he stabbed you in the back?

LOTT: Actually not. I'm really not that kind of personality, Wolf. I believe you have to confront things, admit mistakes, come to terms with it, and move on, or it'll be a problem for you. Some people say, "Well, why did you write this book? You know they were going to seize on it." Well, yes. But some people actually read the book.

It's really about 37 years in Washington, working as a staff member, a congressman, a senator in leadership. I talk about the good, bad, and the ugly, how we did things in the Reagan years. How I worked with Bill Clinton, how we did the impeachment trial. Anybody that watches politics in Washington, I think, will find some things of interest here.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but Senator John Warner, your Republican colleague from Virginia, quoted in today's New York Times as saying "I think Senator Lott has made a remarkable comeback from the serious situation in which he found himself. And I am just perplexed why he felt the need to do this book."

LOTT: Well, because I'd actually been thinking about it for a long time. It sort of is a freeing experience. I hope that people find some things in there of interest, and will be pleased with the epilogue, what I have done since that unfortunate incident. We named the book "Herding Cats" because, actually, the term was used originally, as it applies to the Senate, I think, by Howard Baker. And he was talking about how trying to run the Senate is like trying to herd cats, that it's just very hard to get in a bunch and head in a straight line. The rules are very loose.

And also, I think that in the Senate and in politics a little tongue- and-cheek humor is worthwhile, and that's why I used the term "Herding Cats: Politics in the Senate." That's really what it's all about and what it's like.

BLITZER: Senator Lott, thanks for joining us and congratulations on the new book.

LOTT: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Appreciate you joining us and good luck with every one in Mississippi and Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast.

When we come back, we'll have an update on Hurricane Katrina. We'll go to our meteorologist, Brad Huffines, at the CNN Center. We'll get the very latest on where this category five story is moving.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Watching Hurricane Katrina, a powerful category five storm. Winds right now approaching 175 miles-per-hour.

Let's get the latest on this deadly -- potentially very deadly storm.

Brad Huffines, our meteorologist joining us from the CNN Center.

Brad, what is the latest forecast?

HUFFINES: What we're seeing right now, Wolf, first off, the bands of rain are now coming and brushing the shoreline, southern Louisiana here.

You notice the bands of rain are really now starting to line up offshore. And the clouds are moving in. Rains are about to start. Some of these bands, some of these downpours can be very heavy and some of the winds can be extremely gusty for those already leaving New Orleans and the other areas of southern Louisiana as well as southern Alabama and Mississippi. Rain showers are just about to start.

So here's what the TrueView traffic shows us. Of course, with the hurricane evacuations being made mandatory, I-55, all northbound, both lanes of traffic. I-59, all northbound, both lanes of traffic and of course, I-10 being used both ways because people are trying to leave the New Orleans metropolitan area.

The storm continues to have 175 mile-per-hour winds, Wolf. The storm continues to look like on a bee line toward New Orleans right now.

We're watching the storm very carefully. We'll have a full weather update coming up at 2:00.

BLITZER: We had the mayor earlier, his news conference from New Orleans ordering a mandatory evacuation of everyone from that city, population about half a million, another million people in the suburbs.

Describe a little bit -- given the fact that New Orleans, 70 percent of it, is below sea level, what the dangers are to this community.

HUFFINES: One of the dangers, Wolf, in a situation like this, the storm surge can be as high as 25 to 28 feet above sea level.

The average elevation in New Orleans 6 feet below sea level. So that is the possibility of water up to 34 feet above ground level in some of New Orleans. Again, if the storm does take a the worst case scenario.

Most intense hurricanes on record to make landfall: Number 1 was an unnamed storm, Labor Day 1935; Number 2 was Camille. If this storm continues on its present track and intensity, Hurricane Katrina will likely slide in here right behind the unnamed storm of 1935. Of course, Wolf, this could also intensify.

BLITZER: Brad Huffines, we'll be watching, and we'll be standing by for the latest official forecast from the National Hurricane Center coming up at the top of the hour.

Brad, thank you very much. We'll check back with you.

Our Jeanne Meserve is in New Orleans, and she filed this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: My indicator is just going downtown last night and talking to some of the restaurant owners who said they were seeing about a quarter of their usual business.

And also the traffic we've been seeing this morning. It's early here in New Orleans, but there's been a steady flow of traffic onto the evacuation routes to take people out of town.

Katrina is a big, whopper of a hurricane, as you've heard, moved up to a category five. A lot of people do not want to meet her face to face. They are trying to get out of dodge. As I mentioned, evacuations which started yesterday continued this morning and are likely to get even more powerful and large as the day goes on, right along with that hurricane.

Traffic patterns have been changed a little bit to create more outbound lanes. That system appears to be working fairly well, although gasoline is at a premium. A lot of stations have simply been pumped dry.

Rental cars also very hard to come by. I know we had a wait of about an hour at the counter yesterday to get our vehicles.

The airport is still open at this point in time. However, some flights are being canceled and overbooking has become a problem. We talked to one traveler.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I'm trying to keep myself from going crazy. It's been a long road traveled. My daughter was supposed to start college at Loyala University and we were called and told we had to get her out and evacuate the premises immediately, which we did. We had a 4:10 flight out. That flight left us. They overbooked the flight. We were not able to get on. They put us on another evening flight, which was overbooked as well, and now they've told us we cannot get back home until Monday, which we just found out five minutes ago was canceled as well. So we have nowhere to go. I'm not well. I'm sick and my daughter is not feeling too good herself.

MESERVE: Flooding, of course, a real worry here because this is such a low-lying area. FEMA, the federal emergency management agency, has moved teams into place in Louisiana and Mississippi.

We've seen some National Guard troops moving around, and I'm sure that all these preparations are intensifying this morning right along with that hurricane.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve reporting for us just a little while ago. She's on the scene in New Orleans. This hurricane, category five, moving toward the city, a city much of which is below sea level.

What are the dangers for New Orleans? CNN's John Zarrella takes a closer look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: New Orleans is all about attitude. From its music to its street cars and river boats, it oozes charm. It's a city that moves a bit slower, saving its energy to party a little harder.

It is also a city that flirts with disaster nearly every hurricane season.

WALTER MAESTRI, JEFFERSON PARISH EMERGENCY MANAGER: It's gonna happen. We can't continue to beat the odds. We've beaten the odds for a long, long time now.

ZARRELLA: Walter Maestri is the Jefferson Parish emergency manager. Of the 1.3 million people living in metropolitan New Orleans, he is responsible for nearly half a million, which during hurricane season leaves him with many sleepless nights.

Maestri is keenly aware there is little he can do to keep people from falling victim to a natural disaster or to save his city. The possibilities play out in his mind over and over again.

MAESTRI: Very, very rapidly within a 10-hour period the metropolitan New Orleans area is totally devastated, gone.

ZARRELLA: Several expert studies and computer models show New Orleans even more vulnerable than anyone previously thought. Maestri says levees and flood walls designed to protect the city from moderately intense hurricanes might be overtopped and fail in just such storms.

MAESTRI: The way it's described -- we describe it here is Lake Pontchartrain has now become Lake New Orleans.

ZARRELLA: In 1988 Hurricane George brushed New Orleans going inland to the east in Mississippi. A fairly powerful storm, it was not on the order of Betsy, which in 1965 killed 61 people in New Orleans, flooded the city and led to the construction of the flood walls. But had it struck, the death toll from George might have been horrific.

MAESTRI: Stop for a second. The greatest disaster that any of us have looked at in the United States was 9/11, 2001.

About 3,000 people died. Forty-four thousand if George makes the direct hit on New Orleans.

ZARRELLA: Maestri estimates most of the dead would be people who, for whatever reason, did not or could not evacuate, left trapped in the city as the water rises. The problem is, population has mushroomed. Evacuation routes are limited. And New Orleans is like a bowl. The city sits below sea level.

On three sides there's water, the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Pontchartrain, and the Mississippi River. Jackson Square, the cathedral, and just about everything else in New Orleans would be under water, 12 to 15 feet of it. In the storm's aftermath, water would sit in the city for an estimated six months.

Pumps needed to get the water out would be, themselves, under water. And it would take up to 120 days to rebuild them. In this worst-case scenario, Maestri's vision is chilling.

MAESTRI: While we're rebuilding the pumps, we're getting everybody who's still in here and who's alive out. And we're gathering the casualties, we're gathering the fatalities and getting them out of here.

ZARRELLA: Every building in the city, having been submerged to one degree or another, would have to be structurally analyzed. For months, no drinking water, no secure system, no electricity. There are ideas and some plans to save New Orleans from this doomsday vision.

The levies and flood walls surrounding the city can be raised higher. That would cost billions of dollars and take years to complete. Another thought, wall off a portion of New Orleans. The area behind the barrier would include the government center and the French Quarter.

For now, the only hope is to escape the city. Given the new studies, the evacuation order may come even for moderate hurricanes. It will take 72 hours to get 65 to 70 percent of the people out if everything goes smoothly.

MAESTRI: This is the one agency in government that not only is allowed to pray, it's demanded. We've got callouses on our knees in this business.

ZARRELLA: Divine intervention, good fortune, the whims of nature. Whatever it is, it is all that separates this city on the Mississippi from Walter Maestri's nightmare.

John Zarrella, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Much more coverage of Hurricane Katrina, a category five storm, coming up here on "LATE EDITION." We're tracking this storm as it moves toward Louisiana and Mississippi.

Coming up, we'll speak with the mayor of one city in harm's way. The mayor of Biloxi, Mississippi standing by to speak with us right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Joining us on the phone is the mayor of Biloxi, Mississippi, A.J. Holloway.

You're watching this as closely as anyone, Mr. Mayor. What's it like in Biloxi, Mississippi, where you are?

A.J. HOLLOWAY, MAYOR, BILOXI, MS: Well, it's very calm right now. But we're ready. We've been preparing for this for a couple days now. And all we can do now is just sit back and wait anxiously.

BLITZER: Have people left your community?

HOLLOWAY: People have left our community, yes. They've (inaudible) out of here. I-110 is jam-packed right now from what I can hear.

BLITZER: Did you order a mandatory evacuation?

HOLLOWAY: There is a mandatory evacuation on the low-lying areas, the flood zone plains of, plans of A and B. But we want everybody to move that's able to go, to get somewhere that they can. If not, we have those that cannot go anywhere will have shelters throughout the city.

BLITZER: We know that there's been a mandatory evacuation in New Orleans for half a million people there, another million or so plus in the suburbs. How many are affected along the Mississippi gulf coast?

HOLLOWAY: Well, Biloxi is a city of 55,000 people. So, you know, the Mississippi gulf coast is about 260, 280,000 people. We've had a lot of people move here in the past five years or so that have never experienced a hurricane of this magnitude. So those people in particular need to pay attention and heed the advice they're getting over the radios and televisions.

BLITZER: And I'm sure there's a lot of tourists who normally would be there this time of the year as well. I assume all of them or at least many of them have left.

HOLLOWAY: Yes. We have ten gambling casinos in the city of Biloxi, billions of dollars investment on our waterfront there. And of course, we've closed all those down, and we have about 15,000 hotel rooms that was just about all booked up with conventions and tourists. So they're all -- have left the hotel rooms. That's just the casinos. We have about 20,000 rooms, hotel rooms, motel rooms in the city of Biloxi.

BLITZER: Can the buildings there, the structures deal with a category five hurricane, 150, 160, 170 miles an hour? Are they built to sustain those kinds of powerful winds?

HOLLOWAY: Well, they're built to -- our code is built to handle 150 mile-an-hour winds. That's what our code says. Now, whether they can do that or not, we'll see. But we're looking at probably forecast a 15- to 20-foot tidal surge. So this will be a real test on our infrastructure here for those casinos and hotels.

BLITZER: A.J. Holloway is the mayor of Biloxi, Mississippi. He's directly in harm's way. Are you going to be staying yourself, Mr. Mayor? What are you going to do?

HOLLOWAY: Yes. I will be staying. I'll be here at city hall and at the EOC headquarters most of the time.

BLITZER: Good luck to you...

HOLLOWAY: But I'll be staying in during the hurricane. I was in my 20s when Camille came through here, so I know what it is about.

BLITZER: Yeah, well, good luck to you. Be careful over there. Good luck to everyone in Mississippi and Louisiana, along the gulf coast. This is a powerful, very dangerous, potentially catastrophic storm moving closer and closer in the coming hours towards Mississippi and Louisiana.

Just ahead, we'll track Hurricane Katrina. We'll go to the National Hurricane Center for a live update on where the storm is heading.

More "LATE EDITION" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're watching a potentially catastrophic storm here in the United States, Hurricane Katrina. This is a category five storm.

Joining us now from the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Ed Rappaport, the deputy director.

What is the latest, Ed?

RAPPAPORT: The only change of significance now is that the storm has drawn closer. At two o'clock Eastern time, the center of the hurricane is estimated about 180 miles off the southeast coast of Louisiana, and that's still the general direction that we think the hurricane will continue to move in, make landfall there during the early hours tomorrow.

BLITZER: So what time do you think will be the maximum damage potentially for the people along the coast?

RAPPAPORT: We expect the conditions will deteriorate today.

In fact, tropical storm force winds will be arriving by sunset along the coast. The landfall with the strongest winds and highest surge is likely to be near sunrise tomorrow and then spreading northward to New Orleans or near New Orleans by mid-day tomorrow.

BLITZER: And then what happens? This hurricane continues to move inland, and as it does, I assume its strength will go down.

RAPPAPORT: That's right.

Of course, we have great fear for what's going to happen along the coast -- potentially catastrophic conditions because of the winds and the storm surge. But once it moves inland, because it's so strong, it will take a while for it to weaken. We think hurricane force winds will extend inland perhaps as much as 150 miles along the track.

BLITZER: Well, we'll be watching it together with you: a category five storm. Only three such storms so far in recorded U.S. history.

Ed Rappaport with the National Hurricane Center is going to be very, very busy.

We'll take a quick break. Much more coverage of Hurricane Katrina right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We will do everything in our power to help the people and the communities affected by this storm. Hurricane Katrina is now designated a category five hurricane. We cannot stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to Gulf Coast communities.

I urge all citizens to put their own safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president speaking just a little while ago -- the president speaking on Hurricane Katrina, a category five storm.

Stay with CNN for continuing coverage in the coming hours.

Because of the hurricane and our coverage of Hurricane Katrina, we were unable, here on "LATE EDITION," to bring you our interview with China's ambassador to the United States, Zhou Wenzhong. We'll bring you that interview on "LATE EDITION" next Sunday.

That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, August 28.

Thanks very much for watching. 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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