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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Anders Fogh Rasmussen; Interview With Ayad Allawi

Aired February 12, 2006 - 12:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11:00 a.m. in a snowy Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4:00 p.m. in London and 7:00 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 my exclusive interview with the Danish prime minister in just a few minutes. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fredricka.

In Iraq today, a key step in that country's effort to try to form a new government: the dominant political party selected its choice for prime minister. CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad.

He's joining us now live with details. Aneesh?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good morning.

A familiar face, the current prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari set to retain his top spot, that after a vote by, as you say, the governing Shia alliance who has a plurality of seats in the national assembly. He won that vote by one single vote, evidence clearly of what was a tight race.

You see Jaafari there on the left. To the right of the screen is the man he beat, Adel Abdul Mesi, the current vice president, who really was the odds-on favorite going into the December elections.

He's seen as a strong figure. Jaafari was criticized as being too weak, as not providing the basic needs that Iraqis now demand. This vote now sets in place what will happen between Ibrahim al- Jaafari, essentially as a prime minister designate, and Ayad Allawi's secular parties and the Kurds.

They clearly wanted Mesi in that top spot. They had said so prior. Today they are saying they will work with Ibrahim al-Jaafari to build a unity government, the Sunnis essentially waiting to see what happens. They have about 60 of the 275 seats in the national assembly. They are a political force.

They will want key ministerial positions. So, in terms of the timeline, the results were certified on Friday. Within 15 days the national assembly will meet.

But that's the only deadline this government faces. The talks could go on for weeks if not a month or so. No one is guessing the government will form until the end of march at the earliest.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman, reporting for us from Baghdad.

Aneesh, thanks very much. And in the next hour here on "Late Edition," I'll have an exclusive interview with one of the key players in all of this, the former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi. That's coming up here on "Late Edition."

This weekend Denmark pulled its diplomats out of Iran and Syria and urged all Danish citizens to leave Indonesia because of what was called a significant and imminent threat.

In addition, a boycott of Danish goods is taking hold across the Muslim world, all this because of the furious reaction by many Muslims to the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a Danish newspaper.

I spoke with the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, from Copenhagen, just a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Prime minister, thank you very much for joining us on LATE EDITION. It's been a very turbulent time for you, for the people of Denmark.

How worried are you about the safety of Danish citizens right now in the Muslim world?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, DENMARK'S PRIME MINISTER: Obviously, we pay a lot of attention to the security situation and the safety of Danish citizens and we are monitoring the situation closely. In one way or the other, Denmark has become a symbol of frustration for problems which go well beyond the original cause. So we are very much focused on that.

BLITZER: Are you telling your Danish citizens to avoid travel to certain countries, because there has been violent demonstrations in much of the Muslim world, as you know?

RASMUSSEN: Yes. We have warned them against travels to certain countries and yesterday we have evacuated our staff at embassies in Syria, Iran and Indonesia. I would like to stress that we have done so for security reasons. We have not cut the diplomatic relations, because my country believes in building bridges, not burning them.

BLITZER: How many Danish embassies so far have been attacked, burned, even destroyed?

RASMUSSEN: Well, three of our embassies have been attacked in Syria, in Lebanon and in Iran. And it is of course the host countries that are responsible for the protection of foreign diplomatic missions, so we have protested strongly against these attacks and we hold the governments in these countries responsible for the protection of our embassies.

BLITZER: The secretary of state of the United States, Condoleezza Rice, says that the governments of Iran and Syria, in her words, are inflaming sentiment, exploiting these cartoons to try to further drive a wedge with the West. Do you agree with her?

RASMUSSEN: I think she has a point. It's obvious to me that certain countries take advantage of this situation to distract attention from their own problems with the international community, including Syria and Iran.

BLITZER: Looking back on this crisis, it started back in September when this newspaper in Denmark published these 12 cartoons. Looking back, what would you have done differently as prime minister of Denmark, if anything?

RASMUSSEN: Well, I don't think we would have done anything differently.

I would like to remind you that the cartoons were published in a free and independent newspaper and, of course, neither the Danish government nor the Danish people can be held responsible for what is published in an independent newspaper.

But I would also like to remind you that the newspaper has apologized to the Muslim world for the events caused by the drawing.

BLITZER: What about the government of Denmark? Is an apology forthcoming? Should there be an apology by your government?

RASMUSSEN: As I said before, neither the government, nor the Danish people, can be held responsible for what is published in a free and independent newspaper.

However, I have made it clear that neither the Danish government, nor the Danish people have any intention whatsoever to insult Muslims or any other religious community in the world and I am also saying that I am deeply distressed that many Muslims have seen the cartoons and the defamation of the prophet Mohammed.

BLITZER: And you know there were suggestions after the cartoons were initially published for a meeting between you and some Muslim ambassadors in Copenhagen.

There was a story in the Washington Times that ran on November 18th. It said, "Eleven Muslim ambassadors to Denmark, including representatives from Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina, have tried unsuccessfully to meet with Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to protest the Mohammad cartoons, which they see, as they wrote in a letter to the prime minister, as a smear campaign against Islam."

At the time -- is that true? Did you refuse to meet with those ambassadors? RASMUSSEN: Well, the ambassadors had a meeting with the foreign minister, which is the normal way of doing this. It's correct they sent me a letter in which they asked me to take legal steps against the newspaper, to take punitive action against the newspaper.

I sent them a letter. I answered them politely and made it clear that according to the Danish constitution and Danish legislation, I have no means to take punitive action against a newspaper, which acts legally within the framework of Danish legislation.

And at the same time I stressed the need for positive dialogue and mutual understanding and respect for religious beliefs. And then afterwards they had a meeting with our foreign minister.

Of course, we want a positive dialogue with the Muslim world. And I can inform you that recently the foreign minister and I had a meeting with all foreign ambassadors in Copenhagen, including ambassadors from the Muslim countries. And after the meeting some of the ambassadors from the Muslim countries stated that they were satisfied with the reaction as far as the government is concerned. So I don't think we could have done anything differently.

BLITZER: The editor who was responsible for commissioning those cartoons and publishing those cartoons, Flemming Rose, he said on Tuesday -- he said, "I can tell you that my newspaper is trying to establish a contact with that Iranian newspaper, and we will run these cartoons the same day as they publish them." He was referring to some cartoons mocking the Holocaust in Iranian newspapers.

The editor in chief of the newspaper subsequently said, "Under no circumstances will we allow ourselves to be latched on to the tasteless media stunt of an Iranian newspaper."

Flemming Rose, that editor, is now on indefinite leave. Is that -- I wonder if you want to react to this latest twist in this whole story.

RASMUSSEN: Well, it's not my responsibility. It's a free and independent newspaper, and I have no comment on their actions. I'm not going to interfere with an independent newspaper.

But let me stress that freedom of expression and freedom of the press should always be combined with responsibility. And freedom of expression should always be combined with religious freedom and respect for all faiths. And I think this is the reason why the newspaper has apologized for the offense caused by the cartoons.

BLITZER: Mr. Prime Minister, a lot of people see this current crisis as underlining a bigger problem that exists in Europe, in western Europe right now, including in Denmark: the failure to adequately integrate Muslim immigrants in what is largely a Christian society. Is that a bigger problem that we're seeing explode right now?

RASMUSSEN: Well, I don't think it is a question of integration policies. Mainly I think it is a question of the interpretation of freedom of speech.

And I think we should do our utmost to improve intercultural understanding and mutual understanding in general.

And what is mutual understanding? On the one hand, we who are used to living in democracies based on freedom of expression should realize that members of religious societies may feel offended if we use our freedom of expression without sensitivity with regard to religious feelings and beliefs.

On the other hand, members of religious societies should realize that freedom of speech is the most precious civic right. Personally, I regard freedom of speech as a safeguard of all other freedoms.

However, freedom should always be combined with responsibility, including respect for all faiths. And I think we should do much more to improve such a mutual understanding.

BLITZER: The Danish People's Party, which is a small party in your parliament, has 24 of the 149 seats, says in its platform, "Denmark is not an immigrant country and has never been so. Therefore we will not accept the transformation to a multiethnic society."

And its spokesman, Martin Henriksen says, "I believe integrating a large number of Muslims can't be done. It's an illusion. They don't have the desire to blend in with other people."

Do you agree with him?

RASMUSSEN: First of all, I would like to stress that the Danish People's Party is not part of the Danish government. The Danish government consists of two political parties -- my party, the liberals, and the conservative coalition party -- and it is a center- oriented government. Next, I would like to stress that we welcome warmly immigrants who want to work in Denmark and make their positive contribution to the Danish society. And actually the number of work permits and the number of foreign students in Denmark have increased during my government's term.

So Denmark is an open society, a tolerant society. We welcome immigrants who want to work in Denmark. However...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: One final question, Mr. Prime Minister, before I let you go. Where do you go from here? What is the next step?

RASMUSSEN: Well, I'm afraid that I cannot go into details with regard to our diplomatic steps, but I can tell you that the E.U. foreign policy representative, Javier Solana, will go to the Middle East in the next week, and he will have meetings with governments in the Middle East, with Islamic organizations, and we do hope that this visit to the Middle East will provide a basis for resuming a positive dialogue.

BLITZER: Prime minister, thank you very much for joining us. RASMUSSEN: Thank you. You're welcome, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: What do you want from me? I'm asking you.

COLEMAN: Well, what I'm hearing...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The former FEMA director, Michael Brown, in the hot seat. We'll talk about the investigation into the government's early response to Hurricane Katrina with Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. They're standing by.

Then, no letup in the deadly days for Iraq. The country's former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi talks about the challenges of battling an insurgency and forming a new government.

Plus, more on those cartoons drawing outrage across the Muslim world. We'll talk about the impact on the Middle East with the three ambassadors from the region.

"Late Edition" continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our web question of the week asks this, "Should newspapers stop printing cartoons satirizing religious figures?" You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results at the end of this program.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our web question of the week asked this: Should newspapers stop printing cartoons satirizing religious figures? You can cast your vote. Go to CNN.com/lateedition. We'll have the results at the end of this program.

Straight ahead, though, straight talk from two senators not afraid to buck the party line. You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A beautiful but snowy day here in the nation's capital. Welcome back to "Late Edition." This was a typical week for my next two guests, neither one of whom is afraid to challenge his own party line when they believe that is the right thing to do.

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is a member of the Senate intelligence committee and the Foreign Relations Committee. Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman from Connecticut is on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee as well.

Senators, welcome to "Late Edition." Did I get all those committees right?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: You got them right.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: Right.

BLITZER: OK. Very good. We have a good staff over here.

Let me get your reaction, first, Senator Hagel, to this cartoon uproar that's really, really causing major problems in the Muslim world and Europe. What's your sense of what has happened?

HAGEL: Well, free press is a tremendous advantage and building block for any democracy in any society, but with that comes responsible judgment. And we've always got to factor that in when we make decisions like whether we should go forward with cartoons like the ones that we have seen that have now caused so much disruption around the world.

We are living at a very combustible time, and that combustible element between the East, West cultures, societies, Muslim versus Judaism, Christianity, should always be factored in, I think, when an op-ed page of a responsible newspaper or a cartoonist is going to project or say or write or draw whatever it is. That doesn't mean you censor the press. We can't have that.

I think the other thing, too, that we have to keep in mind what Secretary Rice has said and said again this morning. I believe she's right. You asked the prime minister this question, whether there are some using this, specifically the Iranians and the Syrians. I think they are. And that's very dangerous. That's very irresponsible. So I don't think there's a black or white in this. I would again defer to responsible judgment when we're dealing with these kind of things.

BLITZER: Are you concerned that some in the Muslim world and the Arab world are exploiting this to sort of underscore this tension, make matters worse between the Muslim world and the West?

LIEBERMAN: Wolf, there's no question about it. Look, the cartoon was offensive. My religion is important to me. I understand how Muslims would be offended by that cartoon. But the reaction to it was grossly overdone. And what it shows is that there are people, and I'd have to say they're the radical Islamist wing, who will take advantage of a moment like this.

This cartoon, incidentally, was published months ago. They'll take advantage of it to try to inflame the Muslim public, a lot of whom are detached from the countries in which they live, frustrated by a lack of economic and political freedom. And the reaction was extreme.

It should tell us a few things. One is that the war against terrorism is a world war, that the worldwide reaction stimulated by the extremists leading to a point of people shouting, "behead the cartoonist, death to America" -- America had nothing to do with it. In fact, our president and secretary of state condemned the cartoon as offensive -- reminds us this is a world war.

I want to say one other word. We have said, and I believe we're right, that this war against terrorism is mostly being fought out within the Muslim world. And the question is to strengthen the moderate voices. Where are the moderate voices?

So far I've heard from King Abdullah of Jordan, a hero, condemning the violence in response to the cartoons. Ayatollah Sistani, the Shia religious leader in Iraq, condemned the violence. And the Muslim-American community condemned it as well. And, you know, Muslim-Americans are our fellow Americans. They were offended by this, but they feel enough part of the American community, like Jewish Americans, Christian Americans.

They didn't go to the Danish embassy and set it on fire. They didn't commit acts of violence. They protested, and they condemned the acts of violence. And I think the challenge to us in countries around the world is to create that same sense of involvement and community among Muslims in the larger countries in which they live.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Iran for a moment because that's a key issue. The fear in the West, especially here in the United States and in Western Europe, that Iran is secretly trying to develop a nuclear bomb. Senator John McCain has said now repeatedly, a colleague of yours, that the only thing worse than using a military option against Iran would be Iran actually becoming a nuclear power, having a nuclear bomb. Is there realistically, though, based on what you know, Senator Hagel, a military option?

HAGEL: Well, military options are always options and possibilities and can never be discounted nor not planned for. But I think we are a long, long way -- I hope we are a long way from seriously considering a military option, not only because I don't think it would result in the objective here. What is the objective? The objective is to deal with the reality that Iran is moving closer to getting the capability to develop a nuclear weapon. And we don't want that. It's not only the United States but the states of the Middle East, the world.

But how we accomplish that is critically important here. And I think the direction that the administration has been taking, working with our allies, working within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N., is an appropriate direction. But two other things I would say. It may well be that the United States is going to have to find some way to engage the Iranians off channel. That doesn't mean negotiate. That doesn't mean diplomatically recognize them.

But if we are to get to the core of the issue here, the Iranians are surrounded by, in their minds -- reverse the optics for a minute. When you're talking with people you always have to -- Israel with nuclear capacity, the Paks, the Indians. And sure, they're going to have some sense of their own national security interest. I'm not defending that. And I found it very interesting today, too, and we need to be careful with this and work with those inside Iran on this issue.

Former President Rafsanjani, the former speaker of the parliament, said some things today -- yesterday about everybody calm down here, let's talk this through. That's the more responsible way to do it. And I think some incentives within the framework of how we deal with Iran is the way we will get to the objective.

BLITZER: The problem, though, with that, Senator Lieberman, is Rafsanjani wasn't elected. Ahmadinejad was elected. And some of the statements he's been making, certainly to the Western world, seem so outrageous.

LIEBERMAN: Well, you're absolutely right, Wolf. Look, Iran is a signer of the non-proliferation treaty. We support it. We don't like to see other nations becoming nuclear. But what really agitates us about Iran getting nuclear weapons now is that they have elected a leader who has threatened the existence of Israel, who has said to a mass audience, imagine a world without America; it is possible.

This is somebody in whose hands nuclear weapons could be devastating. And the fact is this: the Europeans have tried for more than two years, and we're grateful to them for it, Britain, France and Germany, to negotiate with the Iranian government. And all for the carrots and the sticks. And they basically broke their word. And the International Atomic Energy Agency has said that.

So I think the most important thing for us now, this is a threat. It's a serious threat. It's another front in our war against radical Islamist terrorism, because Ahmadinejad has proclaimed himself, in some sense, the leader of those forces.

Right now, the international community has forwarded this to the United Nations. I hope the U.N. acts to impose economic and perhaps diplomatic sanctions on Iran. If they don't, I hope the United States and our European allies will consider doing that, always giving the Iranians a chance to change.

And yes, I agree with John McCain, in the last analysis, if we're that serious about the danger that Iran with nuclear weapons poses to the rest of the world, and most particularly to us, the United States of America, we've got to leave the military option on the table.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. But quick, you're a member of the Intelligence Committee. A lot of people around the world here in the United States warning of Iran's nuclear ambitions and say, You know what? We heard the same warnings about Iraq, and it's now been proven the U.S. was wrong. How concerned are you that U.S. intelligence has it right now, if they do have it right?

HAGEL: Well, intelligence is always perfect. We -- Imperfect. We understand that. It's a mosaic of pieces, and it's judgment, and how you use those pieces coming together with some judgment that then will result in a policy.

I go back to the conversation we just had here, the three of us, over the last five minutes, about Iran. We must be very careful what we're doing here, because, in my opinion, three years in Iraq, things haven't gone the way the administration said, and others said, it was going to go. In fact, I think we're in more trouble today than we've ever been in Iraq, and that limits our options in Iran, it limits our foreign policy options everywhere.

We need to think through where we're going. We need to think through consequences. We talk about sanctions. Well, sanctions, that's fine. Where would that lead? Where would that go? We've got to bore down here a little bit more in our thoughtful analysis.

Intelligence is a very key part of that. But it's imperfect. We don't have all the pieces. One of the -- I think one of the results of us having no relationship with Iran, when all of our allies do, is that the intelligence we get pretty much is third-hand. We don't have any presence in Iran.

LIEBERMAN: All right. I just want to say a final quick word on this, Wolf. Our concerns about the nuclearization of Iran don't just come from American intelligence. They come from European intelligence, and, most significantly of all, the International Atomic Energy Agency reached a conclusion that Iran has broken its word and is moving toward a nuclear weapons program.

That's a broad consensus, and we should have learned the lesson now from Iraq, let's try to keep that international consensus against a nuclear Iran together.

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

Much more to talk about with Senators Hagel and Lieberman. When we return, we'll also get into the entire issue of spying, domestic spying, warrantless wiretaps, right here in the United States.

But up next, we'll have a quick check of what's in the news right now, including that winter storm that's bearing down on the northeastern parts of the United States.

Stay with "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hello, everyone. I'm meteorologist Bonnie Schneider in the CNN Weather Center.

We're looking at these heavy snow berms working their way across Long Island at this hour in Nassau County. The snowfall rate, two to three inches per hour. So we're still looking at more accumulating snow for Long Island and up towards Connecticut as well. And further to the north in Massachusetts, we're also seeing these snow bands work their way into western Massachusetts and then further off to the eastern area.

Look at the band that's sweeping its way up from the south to the north towards Boston. So some very heavy snow is still ahead for you up into New England. The big picture now shows the rotation, the rounding of the storm, as the winds wrap around it and bring out some of those heavy snow bands. I was mentioning the one in Long Island, it stretches far north into Connecticut and will really be just intensifying the amount of snow that we're seeing with this storm.

Naturally, we are getting some tremendous snowfall totals for you. The snow is blowing and drifting. But look at this new number just in. Central Park, 22.8 inches of snow. That is near the all- time record ever for the most snow ever in New York. And that would be on December 26 and 27 in 1947, when we received 26.4 inches of snow. Hopefully, we won't shatter that record, but it is possible, because we still have snow for New York.

Just to keep in mind, all of the airports in the New York City metropolitan area are now closed, JFK, La Guardia, and Newark. Unfortunately, this snow is really affecting U.S. travel.

Well, stay tuned to CNN. We will keep you up to date on the latest weather information.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Joining us once again, two senators with very independent viewpoints, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

Senator Hagel, we picked a good day to bring you on "Late Edition." You're on the cover of the "New York Times" Sunday magazine.

LIEBERMAN: Hey, magnificent picture, I must say.

BLITZER: Magnificent picture of you on the cover of the magazine.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: There's a line in there that sort of jumped out at me, and I want to read it to you. "Hagel's criticisms of the war in Iraq won him enemies on the right. In that brief period of easy triumphalist anticipation and its turbulent aftermath, "National Review" put Nebraska's senior senator down as 'Senator Hagel,'" parenthesis, "'R, France,'" which, from the "National Review," was a slap at you.

How does it feel to be often criticized by fellow Republicans because of the strong views you take which sometimes diverge from those of the president?

HAGEL: I'm a United States senator, Wolf. I'm not a surrogate for a president or a party. I vote with the party, with the president, most of the time. But I think my responsibility is to the people I serve and the nation I serve. And I take an oath of office, as Joe Lieberman does, as the president, as all our colleagues, to protect and defend the Constitution. I do that the best way I know how to do it. And I have always believed that's the approach one should take. And I try to be a practitioner of that theory of government.

And sometimes it puts you on the other side. Many times your motives are questioned. And I don't like that, but nonetheless, I am who I am. And as I said, and I think this story reflects this to some extent, I don't need to be a United States senator, but I need to be true to who I am and what I believe. And I think I fail my constituents, I fail my country, when I don't give them not just my industry, but my best judgment as well.

BLITZER: You angered, Senator Lieberman, a lot of your fellow Democrats, when you uttered these words in early December. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN: It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years, and that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What were you trying to say there? Because the criticisms that were leveled against you is that you were suggesting, seemingly, that Democrats should not criticize the commander in chief.

LIEBERMAN: No. You got to read the paragraph before and the paragraph after, and also what I said at the very beginning.

There's a debate in America about whether we should leave Iraq now, or stay until we finish our mission. That's an important debate. That's a debate that has to go on. That's why I say Jack Murtha, who says we should get out as quickly as possible, I respect him for saying that.

But my appeal to my fellow Democrats -- and then I made an appeal similar to Republicans -- is, Don't take a shot at our policy for partisan reasons, because when you do that, you run the risk of bringing the credibility of the whole operation down, endangering our forces, and compromising America's security.

And the point is this -- and I couldn't have said what Chuck said any better -- we're both proud to be members of our party. I'm loyal to the Democratic Party. But when that loyalty conflicts with what I think is right for America, I've got to go with the national interest. And I've got to remember, particularly in matters of foreign and defense policy, there's no room for partisanship. There's room for disagreement and debate. That's the way we get stronger.

But forget the partisanship, because we're in a war against an enemy that doesn't distinguish between Republicans and Democrats. They want to kill us all.

BLITZER: Let's talk about domestic spying, surveillance, warrantless wiretaps. I want you to listen to what the vice president, Dick Cheney, said this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are talking about communications, one end of which is outside the United States, and therefore international, and one end of which we have reason to believe is somehow tied to or related to al Qaeda. It's hard to think of any category of information that could be more important for the safety of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are you on board with the president's decision to go ahead and authorize these warrantless wiretaps without getting any congressional authority?

HAGEL: Quick answer is no. We have a law on the books. It has worked. But more to the point, we are a nation that not only respects our laws, but we are a nation rooted in law. And that foundation has been built by the Constitution of the United States.

For over 200 years, we've protected civil liberties of Americans and our national security interests. We can do both. We have done both.

I think we need to accommodate, at a time when technology has changed, threats have changed, a new way to respond to these threats.

But to have one branch of government -- and we've got to remember, we are a government that's co-equal, Article 1 of the Constitution is about the Congress, Article 2 is about the president, Article 3 is about our judiciary. We work together as partners. We must, the president, the Congress, working together.

And if we need to amend that 1978 law, if we need to change it, and I understand the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Specter, will be introducing legislation to address that on Tuesday, then we need to do it.

But any president can't just unilaterally, arbitrarily say, We believe we have the authority and the power, and you go around a law that has worked very well.

We're not trying to inhibit the president's ability to do what he needs to do constitutionally, and certainly as commander in chief. That's not the issue here. The issue is that we've got to do it in a way that's responsible, and I believe it needs some court oversight, some congressional oversight, and that's what the objective is.

BLITZER: Let's talk briefly about Katrina, the federal government's response. Story in today's front page of "The Washington Post" says a new House Republican report about to come out will show the secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, was "detached from events, switched on the government's emergency response system late, ineffectively, or not at all, delaying the flow of federal troops and material by as much as three days."

And the White House, it goes on to say, this report, "did not fully engage the president or substantiate, analyze, and act on the information at its disposal, failing to confirm the collapse of New Orleans's levee system."

This from Republicans who have been investigating. You've had your own investigation on the Senate side, where there's pretty much of a bipartisan agreement that the federal response was, shall we say, awful. What do you make of all of this?

LIEBERMAN: This is a bipartisan investigation on the Senate side. Chairman Senator Susan Collins of Maine and I are leading the investigation. We're heading to our final witness, Secretary Chertoff, on Tuesday morning.

And nothing -- everything that we have found, more than 200 interviews, 600,000 documents, 20 hearings, confirms exactly the indictment of the House Republicans.

It's shocking, and it is unsettling. This was a disaster, a hurricane that hit New Orleans that was anticipated. In fact, there was a mock exercise a year before, and everybody, state, federal, local, fell short.

They heard the warnings of the weather service in the weekend before. Michael Brown told the president twice in video conference calls in which the Homeland Security Department was on board over the weekend before, This is the big one, this is going to be a disaster.

Michael Brown knew on Monday that the levees were broken. He e- mailed the chief of staff and the deputy chief of staff with the president at Crawford. They said that they had told the president that night.

And yet the president and Michael Chertoff -- excuse me, Brown -- told the president's aides, I assume they would have told them that New Orleans was drowning, and yet no real response.

Chertoff and the president say they didn't know until Tuesday morning.

I'll tell you, the president ought to be outraged. This -- our whole apparatus failed to protect the people of New Orleans.

And next time, God forbid, it could be a terrorist attack, and there's not going to be a warning from the weather service.

We got a lot to do, and we better do it together and quickly.

BLITZER: Senator Lieberman, we got to leave it right there. Thanks very much. Senator Hagel, thanks to you as well. Good discussion here on LATE EDITION. Still ahead, he's trying to help forge a new course for Iraq. The former interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, talks about the security and political challenges facing his country.

Coming up next, in case you missed it, "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show roundup. If you missed the other shows, we're going to give you the highlights.

"Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

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

On CBS's "Face the Nation," the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, discussed the Muslim cartoon controversy, and what she said was Iran's role in fueling the unrest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FACE THE NATION," CBS)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Burning embassies and killing innocent people is totally unacceptable. And there are leaders in the Muslim world who have spoken out against that, like the Grand Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq. You got a different response in Iran, for instance, where they said, Well, all right, we'll just print anti-Holocaust (INAUDIBLE), we'll print Holocaust cartoons that are offensive to Jewish people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On NBC's "Meet the Press," the Senate Intelligence Committee's Republican chairman, Pat Roberts, and the former Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, sparred over the Bush administration's domestic spying program.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MEET THE PRESS," NBC)

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), CHAIR, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think you go at it very, very carefully, and that's been done by every president that I know of, and it's very important to point out, not only for this president but for the next one, because we have a different kind of war, a different kind of threat, a different kind of technology.

TOM DASCHLE (D), FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: It's a very valuable program. But again, as I said, it's a false choice, Tim, to say that you can either stop the program, or protect the rules of law. I think we've got to respect the rule of law, and that's really what this is about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And on ABC's "This Week," the Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate and pro football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann said minorities should rethink their allegiance to the Democratic Party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THIS WEEK," ABC)

LYNN SWANN (R), PENNSYLVANIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Minorities give their vote to the Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party has given them lip service in terms of influence and in terms of being involved in the party, in being major players.

On the other hand, President Bush was elected for two terms. You know, he wasn't talking about what he had to do or needed to do for the minority community, but for the whole country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. Those highlights on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

And don't forget our Web question of the week. Should newspapers stop printing cartoons satirizing religious figures? Cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results at the end of the program.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There is much more ahead on "Late Edition," including my exclusive interview with Iraq's former interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi. I'll ask him about the ongoing violence in Iraq and concerns his country could be on the verge of a civil war.

Then, did Hamas's election victory expose a deeper divide among the Palestinians? We'll get perspective from three top Middle Eastern diplomats.

"Late Edition" continues at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

The ballots are finally counted in Iraq. Now comes the task of creating a permanent government even as the violence rages. We'll talk with the former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi.

The angry demonstrations over the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed only increased uncertainty in a volatile Middle East. We'll talk about topics from Hamas'' political victory to Iran's possible nuclear ambitions with three seasoned diplomats from Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority.

Welcome back. We'll have my exclusive interview with the former Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, in a few minutes.

I'll also speak this hour with the CIA's former top point man on Middle Eastern intelligence, Paul Pillar, who says the Bush administration cherry-picked the intelligence it liked to justify an invasion of Iraq but ignored the intelligence it didn't like. That interview coming up this hour.

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

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks, Fred.

This week in Iraq the votes were counted and officially certified. The big winners were the largely religious Shiite Alliance. The secular party led by the former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, only received 8 percent of the vote, but still could play a an important role in determining Iraq's next government.

I spoke with Dr. Allawi just a little while ago at his home in Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dr. Allawi, thank you very much for joining us on this day that it looks like Ibrahim al-Jaafari will be the next prime minister of Iraq. Your reaction to this news?

AYAD ALLAWI, FORMER IRAQI PRIME MINISTER: Well, it is important for Iraq to resolve its differences and to move ahead in forming the government. Iraq is in a very critical junction in time. And we need to, collectively, all of us, to ensure that there is a government of national unity that can take Iraq forward toward civility, growth and security.

BLITZER: The president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, who is the leader of the Kurds, says he won't participate in this new government unless you, Ayad Allawi, are a member of the new government and your party is represented. Are you open to participating in this new government?

ALLAWI: Well, I thank, of course, Mr. Talabani for his comments. Indeed, we are part of the political process and will participate. And we are already into the participation and the political transformation which is happening in Iraq.

I believe very strongly in a government of national unity that will enable Iraq to play a constructive role in the region as well as internationally.

BLITZER: There's also suggestions, Dr. Allawi, that you would emerge as the interior minister of this new government, replacing Bayan Jabr, who is the current interior minister. Is that possible?

ALLAWI: Well, such details have not been discussed as yet. As you know, the Alliance have just today decided that their candidate for the prime -- premiership would be Mr. Jaafari. We have to discuss the parameters and the principles of the national unity government. Once we agree on those parameters and principles, then indeed we will go on to discussing the details of the various ministers and so on.

But what we have been advocating ourselves, that the minister of interior as well as the minister of defense should not be sectarian, should not go to people who are an extension of militias, people who are committed to all Iraq and who are committed to the unity of Iraq and nonsectarian officials should be (inaudible)...

BLITZER: As you know, a lot of Iraqi Sunnis -- and you're a secular Shiite -- but a lot of the Sunnis are very fearful of the interior ministry right now.

One Iraqi Islamic party official representing Iraqi Sunnis is quoted in the Washington Post the other day saying, "Forces of the Ministry of the Interior are making attacks in many districts of Baghdad and arrest people without any accusation, simply because they are Sunni people."

Are those allegations -- those suggestions that the interior ministry, Iraqi police are simply rounding up Iraqi Sunnis, very often for no reason. Are they accurate?

ALLAWI: Well, these accusations needs to be investigated, Wolf, and they need to be investigated carefully.

I think there are still areas of distrust within the Iraqi society. I think we are still in the process of transitioning into a stable, unified Iraq.

I think there are lots of inherited problems. I think there are lots of other problem that is have been caused by the war -- of liberation in Iraq.

And indeed that's why I believe that national unity is the way forward. Indeed, the Ministry of Interior should change its face, should be a ministry for all Iraqis, regardless whether they are Christians, Muslims, Sunni, Shiites, Kurds or Arabs.

That's why we believe -- I believe very strongly and I am committed really to having ministers and some ministers, including the minister of interior, as nonsectarian Iraqis who do not believe in militias. And the Ministry of Interior and defense should be open to the parliament, should be answerable to the constitution.

And this is, frankly, the only way that I see forward for these ministers.

BLITZER: One Iraqi Sunni leader the other day -- of The National Dialogue Council said, "The government is pushing hard toward a civil war. These actions are conducted by a government which cannot protect their people."

How worried are you, Dr. Allawi, about a civil war in Iraq? ALLAWI: I am, in fact, worried. Sectarianism in Iraq and the absence of institutions do indicate that if persist, things will go in the wrong direction.

That's why we have to work all of us, collectively, those who have major winnings and those who won and those who are even still outside the forthcoming parliament should work together in a spirit of national reconciliation and unity with firmness and dedication towards the country and towards the region to move it into the area of stability.

Otherwise, unfortunately, what -- the person that you have just mentioned, what I have said may come true.

Definitely there are a lot of strains in Iraq. There are a lot of areas of -- inflamed areas in Iraq that need to be addressed in a spirit of reconciliation and a spirit of trying to keep national unity afloat in this country.

BLITZER: You caused somewhat of an uproar in November when you told the Observer in London these words -- you said, "People are doing the same as in Saddam's time and worse."

You went on and said, "It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things."

Is that still your position?

ALLAWI: It is still my position. Unfortunately, there are lots of atrocities being committed and are happening, and if this is allowed to continue, then Iraq would be thrown back again to the darkness of the evil forces that Saddam led in Iraq.

I think I was raising the alarm, and I am still raising the alarm. That's why I come from a position that I believe very strongly in a national unity.

Hence, the president's statement today of Mr. Talabani, which echoed and enhances and strengthened the concept and idea of a national unity government for Iraq. This is the only way forward. And this is what will take us away completely from the atrocities that have been committed in the past and which are being committed now.

BLITZER: As you know, you are very highly regarded by top officials of the Bush administration, even though you've been critical of their policies from time to time. In July of last year you said this. You said, "The problem is that the Americans have no vision and no clear policy on how to go about in Iraq. We are practically in stage one of a civil war."

That's what you told the Sunday Times in London. What about the U.S. policy now? How do you feel about what the Bush administration is doing in Iraq, specifically, the United States ambassador there, Zalmay Khalilzad? ALLAWI: Well, the ambassador is doing a very good job, and he is really trying to solve many problems at the same time, and talking to people and reaching out and involved in constructive dialogue with a lot of people, which is extremely healthy. I think I believe in what the United States has done. I appreciate tremendously what the United States has done and is doing to Iraq. I definitely salute the leadership of the United States for the courageous decisions in supporting Iraq and supporting stability in the region.

However, among friends one should highlight the problems in honesty because you need to, one needs to be clear that there are mistakes that have been committed, and these mistakes need to be rectified. And this is really the spirit of friendship. I see the spirit of friendship should continue with the United States, and the United States should continue supporting.

But we should be talking very clearly and very objectively that there are problems. I am very pleased that the current ambassador of the United States is very actively engaged in trying to sort out problems in Iraq and, really, he has my heartiest support. And I am engaged with him and in constant dialogue on what should be done and what can be done in Iraq.

BLITZER: What about the trial of Saddam Hussein? You've been critical of the way it's been conducted. I believe at one point you called it almost a farce. I may be misquoting you. But where is that trial going, because it looks like a total mess.

ALLAWI: It is a total mess, Wolf. And it's a reflection, really, of two problems. One is the inability to reconstruct the institutions, the judicial institutions in this country. And this is when I refer to the dismantlement of the institution. One of such institutions that have been dismantled under the pretext of de- Baathification is the judicial institution.

The other area of this farce, this trial is really the inability to give the judicial -- whatever remained of the judicial system the power to go ahead on this trial, and the intervention and interferences, political interferences have rendered the trial a circus rather than a trial of a dictator who betrayed his people and betrayed the region, and betrayed the world.

And this is where I think the new government and the new national unity government should work on improving and reconstituting the judicial system, and, really, should take clear action on giving a fair but honest trial to -- immediate trial to Saddam.

BLITZER: Dr. Allawi, it has been a very busy day for you. It's been a very busy period in general. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the people of Iraq.

ALLAWI: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Thanks for joining us on "Late Edition."

ALLAWI: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you very much. BLITZER: And coming up, Muslim outrage over those controversial cartoons. Are some governments in the region encouraging the unrest? Plus, Hamas in power. What impact will the change in Palestinian leadership have on the peace process? And Israel's course after Ariel Sharon.

We'll get insight on all of these dramatic developments from the Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Nabil Fahmi, the Israeli ambassador, Daniel Ayalon, and the Palestinian representative, the new one here in Washington, Afif Safieh. "Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's still time for you to weigh in on our web question of the week: Should newspapers stop printing cartoons satirizing religious figures? You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results at the end of this program. Straight ahead, a special conversation about the highly uncertain future of the Middle East. I'll be joined by the Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian representatives here in Washington.

And later -- the case for war. Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence? My interview with the CIA's former top analyst, Paul Pillar. You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." It's never easy in the Middle East, but this week it's been more difficult than usual. In Israel, the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is gravely ill. In Gaza and the West Bank, the militant Islamists of Hamas are taking charge. And in Egypt and across the Muslim world, there's rising outrage against those cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed.

Joining us now here in Washington to discuss all of this and more, three guests. Daniel Ayalon is Israel's ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Nabil Fahmi of Egypt, and Afif Safieh, the Palestinian representative to the United States.

To all of you, thank you very much for coming in on this snowy day in Washington. Welcome to "Late Edition." And Ambassador Ayalon, I'll start with you. What is the latest on the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's health? Yesterday he had major surgery. He remains in a coma. What are you hearing?

DANIEL AYALON, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Well, Wolf, thank you for asking. He had some critical moments last night because of some intestine problems, but he's out of immediate danger. He's still hospitalized, still in a coma, serious condition. We are all praying for him.

BLITZER: The fact that the prime minister of Israel, Ambassador Safieh, Ariel Sharon, is in this very, very critical condition, there's an acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, from the Palestinian perspective, what if anything does that mean?

AFIF SAFIEH, PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO U.S.: For the human being, we wish him a speedy recovery.

In terms of politics, I think there was continuity. His second in command, Mr. Olmert, who is very experienced in Israeli politics. We have witnessed him being mayor of West Jerusalem for 10 years, has taken over and (inaudible) identical Knesset seats as Sharon would have done had he remained in power.

BLITZER: When the elections come up at the end of the month.

SAFIEH: At the end of the month.

BLITZER: Is there an impact on Egyptian-Israeli relations, the fact that Sharon is in the hospital, Ehud Olmert is the acting prime minister?

NABIL FAHMY, EGYPTIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Not really, a little bit but not really. Prime Minister Sharon and President Mubarak developed a very solid relationship over the last couple of years. Contacts have continued with Prime Minister -- Interim Prime Minister Olmert for the time being. But that relationship will also develop. It's about substance, and I think we can move forward.

BLITZER: What do you make of this invitation from the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to invite the delegation of Hamas Palestinian leaders to come to Moscow for talks?

AYALON: I'm quite pleasant, frankly. Russia, which is part of the quartet, participated in a meeting of this issue just last week in a very strong declaration whereby there was no contact with Hamas, no contacts with a terror organization...

BLITZER: I'm going to interrupt you, Mr. Ambassador, because we're having a little technical problem with your microphone. We're going to take a break, we're going to fix that problem, and then we're going to continue this conversation. So stand by for a moment. More of our conversation after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Russia is maintaining contacts with the Hamas organization and intends in the near future to invite the leadership of this organization to Moscow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, announcing that a Hamas/Palestinian delegation will come to Moscow.

Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're continuing our conversation with three important diplomats here in Washington: the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon; the Palestinian representative here in Washington, the new one, Afif Safieh; and Nabil Fahmy, the Egyptian ambassador to the United States.

What do you make, Mr. Ambassador, of the Russian decision to invite Hamas to Moscow?

AYALON: Well, Wolf, quite frankly, it's very puzzling, and I would say, troubling because the Russians were part of the quartet, which took a decision a week ago of no contacts with Hamas unless they change, unless they recognize Israel as a -- its rights to exist, unless they stop terror, dismantle terror organizations, accept all the political agreements which have been made.

But more importantly, by breaching the unified position of the international community against a terror organization, they compromise our intention to bring about a change. And if there's any chance of a change, it's only if we show a united front without legitimizing terrorists.

BLITZER: Ambassador Safieh, I assume you disagree on that.

SAFIEH: Of course. I'm a diplomat and I'm a man of dialogue, and I believe that the Russian president would be doing disservice to the international community by having this exchange of point of view with Hamas, and he will irrigate the international circuit with what he will have assembled after this discussion...

BLITZER: Well, is it realistic to assume that Putin and other Russians might be able to influence Hamas to accept those conditions that the Israelis, the U.S. and others have put forward, that they accept Israel and that they renounce terrorism.

SAFIEH: I believe that Hamas is going to behave with great responsibility, surprising many.

But first of all, sir, all the discussion about the Hamas victory stems as though with the premise that Israel is law abiding, Israel was compliant with the principles of the peace process. Israel has not annexed East Jerusalem since 1967 in defiance of international law and of the American position.

I believe that Israel also has been a misbehaving partner for the last 40 years. I don't think that it's wise to be now excessively demanding vis-a-vis Hamas when complacency was the name of the game for 40 years, vis-a-vis another misbehaving factor.

I personally believe that we should not speak as though the Hamas victory was a blow to the peace process because (inaudible). The last five years we didn't have a peace process at all. And in international relations, sir, there is a...

BLITZER: Hold on one second. What you're suggesting that you think that Hamas will come around to accept those conditions?

SAFIEH: I personally believe that Hamas will be reflecting Palestinian preferences for a convincing peace process, which was not the case for the last 15 years, and I believe everybody today should be doing a soul searching exercise, including the USA, the quartet, of why we have suffered of self-inflicted impotence by the international community in dealing with Israel-Palestine.

BLITZER: Egypt is the largest of all the Arab countries and has been at peace with Israel for many years, since Anwar Sadat, the late president, went to Jerusalem.

What's your take, Mr. Ambassador, on this development: the Hamas election and the conditions that the U.S. and other countries, including the Israelis, are imposing on how to engage in a dialogue with Hamas as long as they don't meet those conditions.

FAHMY: The Hamas election, without a doubt, put in a new element into the Palestinian body politic, per se, that was essentially focused on a Fatah prominence among the Palestinians. So you have a new element. There's no doubt about that.

By the way, we also have new elements on the Israeli side because of the establishment of a new party, Kadima, then, of course, the illness of Prime Minister Sharon. And we have an election coming up for both sides.

Palestinian side wants to establish the government and ultimately the newly established Israeli government.

What we are conveying to them, and we had Hamas in Cairo for a series of meetings. The peace process has to go on, and the peace process is based on a two-state solution, the Palestinian state besides that of Israel...

BLITZER: Are you encouraging Hamas to accept a two-state solution, a new state of Palestine living alongside Israel?

FAHMY: We have been very clear, very candid and very blunt: there's not going to be progress forward in the Middle East unless we move towards a two-state solution, Palestinians besides the Israelis. The best way to do that is to unify as Palestinians and to try to pursue it without engaging in a cycle of violence with the Israelis.

BLITZER: If the Hamas leadership were to accept a two-state solution, then, I assume, your government, Mr. Ambassador, would start a dialogue with Hamas?

AYALON: I think, Wolf, it's too early to preempt any decision or to speculate. I think we have to send a clear message to the Palestinian, to the Palestinian Authority because they are still in control. It was Abu Mazen, who was here, convinced that by elections he can then outlaw all the terror organizations, including Hamas. I think that he should be still the address...

BLITZER: Mahmoud Abbas, is the president of the Palestinian authority...

AYALON: Yes.

BLITZER: ... But if the parliament is dominated by Hamas, as the elections showed, it will be -- his authority has been greatly diminished? AYALON: Correct. And then we have to see what happens. If they do change by accepting Israel's right to exist, by changing the old attitude towards terrorism. That means they have to disarm, disband all their terror cells, stop terrorism, renounce terrorism and fight activity -- any terror activities that come out and accept all the agreements. Then, of course, it's time to reconsider.

BLITZER: I interviewed one of the co-founders of Hamas on this program two weeks ago, Mahmoud al-Zahar. And I asked them about the Palestine that he envisions developing one of these days and whether he thought that there should be a secular or Islamic state in Palestine. I want you to listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAHMOUD AL-ZAHAR, CO-FOUNDER, HAMAS: Do you think the secular system is serving any nation? Secular system allows homosexuality, allows corruption, allows the spread of the loss of natural immunity, like AIDS.

We are here living under Islamic control. Nothing will change. Islam is our constitution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, you are a Palestinian, you are a Christian Palestinian. When he says Islam is our constitution and there cannot be a secular state, there must be an Islamic state, how does that make you feel?

SAFIEH: I'm profoundly secular. And you should not be surprised that I totally disapprove and disagree with that statement. But he's entitled to his opinion just as I am entitled to my opinion.

But I believe that Hamas knows that they don't have a mandate to further Islamize society at the level of changing curriculum or imposing the veil.

Their mandate -- by the way, their victory was not as a landslide as it was projected to be. They had around 44 percent. And I'm in favor of losers and winners behaving gracefully.

They won the elections. But their parliamentary representation far exceeds and was magnified as to the percentage they got.

They are aware that they don't have a mandate, one, to go against the peace process which our people aspire for, but a convincing one this time, and that they don't have a mandate to do an upheaval in society and the values of society.

BLITZER: Ambassador...

(CROSSTALK)

SAFIEH: We are focusing on Hamas, and the statement of Olmert, the acting prime minister and probably the future prime minister, almost passed unnoticed. He spoke of his vision of the future, and he has amputated what remains of my West Bank of almost 40 percent, and showed great territorial appetite, contrary to international law which considers inadmissible...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We're going to get to that in a moment.

SAFIEH: I hope so.

BLITZER: We're going to get to that in a moment. But I just want you to weigh in. Are you concerned that Hamas would want to have an Islamic state, a Palestinian Islamic state as opposed to a secular state?

FAHMY: Well, the Palestinians have to decide for themselves what type of state they establish, in terms of what governs themselves. That's not an issue that we take a position on. We will determine what kind of state we want to have in Egypt, but we do not interfere in the choices of others. And I'm quite confident that given the environment of a pure state, the Palestinians will make the right choices, where they will preserve their heritage; at the same time they will be inclusive to all their people.

BLITZER: The Palestinian representative, Mr. Ambassador, makes the point that the acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, this week announced a disengagement plan, if you will, from the West Bank, which would Israel to keep major settlement blocks on the West Bank, including all of East Jerusalem. A unilateral decision, if you will...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: That's correct, and a rift -- a strip of land along the Jordan River valley as well. Where are the negotiations if Israel is unilaterally going to decide what its boundaries should be?

AYALON: Well, I would humbly suggest that the Palestinian representatives would just keep addressing what the Palestinian leaders are saying. Like we heard (inaudible). He will have his hands full anyway. I wouldn't go and interpret Israeli leaders. I would leave it for me and other Israelis.

Israel is committed to a two-state solution and the road map to peace. The road map, which is the structured way to achieve this way. We would like very much to find a credible, trustworthy, peace-seeking Palestinian partner with whom we can trade risks. And this is our position, and has been so far, and will keep being that.

Of course, we have to see now that things have taken a serious turn to the worse with the election of Hamas. At the same time, things, I believe, have become crystal clear. And we'll have to see now what's happening with the Palestinian Authority. If it becomes a terror entity, then of course, things look bleak. If they totally change, as they should, then everything is open.

BLITZER: But is Ehud Olmert drawing Israel's future boundaries now?

AYALON: Not at all. Not at all. First of all, we have to wait for the elections on the 28th of March. We will have to see the formation of the new government. Our government successively, as a democratic system, accept previous governments' agreements. The road map to peace is still on the table. This is what we would like to see go on.

BLITZER: I want to change the subject briefly and talk about the cartoon uprising. You are a Muslim. You understand, obviously, the anger that this has generated in the Muslim world. But we heard Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice say that Iran and Syria are fueling the fire, if you will. The Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen, I interviewed him here earlier, he agrees with her. What is the Egyptian's government's position on this cartoon controversy?

FAHMY: It is very straightforward. The cartoons were wrong, they were tolerant. What was requested at the very beginning was simply an apology, and there was no response to that request.

BLITZER: Why should the government apologize for an independent newspaper printing cartoons, as offensive as they were?

FAHMY: Because if the government thinks that the cartoons were wrong, even if they do defend freedom of speech, they should simply say, the cartoons were wrong and we apologize that you've been offended by them.

The lack of response to that point is, I think, what led to fueling this problem.

BLITZER: There's some reports that some of those cartoons were even published in Egyptian newspapers over the past few months?

FAHMY: I'm not sure they were published in Egyptian newspapers, but if they were -- I can't imagine that they were, frankly. I simply can't imagine that an Egyptian paper would reprint them.

But let's move on. Let's try to solve the problem. Freedom comes with responsibility. We live in a global society today, where all of our cultures intermingle. We need to get into a dialogue on how to deal with these issues in a positive sense, how to understand each other better. And I, frankly, don't like to have the situation politicized by either side.

BLITZER: Let me ask the Palestinian ambassador. What do you think?

SAFIEH: Well, I personally believe, and I speak here as an Arab but also as a Christian very familiar of Western society and its values. I believe today, we live in a worrying period, where Islamophobia has become a permitted, permissible form of racism. Those cartoons were unnecessary offense and deliberate offense.

By the way, do you know that the editor, the cultural editor of this Danish magazine... BLITZER: Flemming Rose.

SAFIEH: Yes. Is a fan and an admirer of Daniel Pipes, the person who here is terrorizing the university campuses asking students to become informer on their professors to see what they are teaching in class, if they show sympathy for Palestinians and Arabs.

Let me tell you, sir, I personally believe, knowing both societies, the Eastern one and the Western one, today the pro-Israeli Likud wing around the world wants to push -- to put on a collision course the Western, mainly Christian world.

BLITZER: Well, that's a serious...

SAFIEH: It is a serious...

BLITZER: It is a serious charge, and we're out of time, but I'll let the Israeli ambassador respond.

SAFIEH: It is an important opinion (ph).

AYALON: It's just nonsense. But I will say, I was very disturbed by the cartoons as much as I am disturbed by cartoons who are anti-Semitic appearing in Arab press. I'm just as disturbed, or even more so, by the response, of burning flags and hurting people and burning embassies. I didn't see this response coming when anti- Semitic cartoons were published or anti-Christians cartoons were published.

BLITZER: Daniel Ayalon, Afif Safieh, Nabil Fahmy, thanks to all three of you for coming, and we appreciate you joining us here on "Late Edition."

And just ahead, we'll have much more coming up, including a check of what's in the news right now. The winter storm in the northeastern part of the United States that's forcing thousands of flight cancellations.

Then, did the White House use or abuse prewar intelligence? Powerful charges from the CIA's former pointman for the Middle East. I'll speak with that man, Paul Pillar. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Did the Bush administration misuse intelligence to make its case for the war in Iraq? A former CIA analyst is saying that was, indeed, the case. Paul Pillar, was the CIA's point man for intelligence in Iraq until late last year. I spoke with him this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. Pillar, thanks very much for joining us.

PAUL PILLAR, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Thank you.

BLITZER: Why now? Why have you decided to come out publicly with these very serious charges?

PILLAR: Because I'm retired and I can speak more freely, is the main reason.

BLITZER: And you feel you have a responsibility to the American public? Is that what you're saying?

PILLAR: Yes. I think there is an important issue with regard to the whole relationship between intelligence and policy that hasn't been fully and freely debated indeed this country. I think it's had a greater airing, say, in great Britain than it has here.

I am the first to admit that I don't have a formula for changing this or that, reorganization. I've made a few suggestions. But mostly, we need to recognize that we've got a problem here. There's a lot of talk about fixing intelligence. But intelligence is only as good as it has an effect on policy. And so we have to look at that as well.

BLITZER: The most serious charge you make -- and I want you to explain this to our viewers -- is that the administration cherry- picked from the intelligence community. It highlighted what it wanted to hear to make the case for war, but it ignored other intelligence that undermined the case for war. And the charge you're making is that they already made up their mind long before they got any intelligence that they were going to try to remove Saddam Hussein.

PILLAR: Well, that refers to the public case. And there have been a few celebrated issues, like the uranium ore from Africa and so on. Any time you have a policymaker, no matter the issue, taking individual pieces of raw intelligence and putting it out for public consumption, without putting it in the context of a fully analyzed approach where you look at all of the reporting -- the reporting that goes one way and the reporting that goes another way -- you're inevitably going to have a bias.

And that's not, you know, unique to this administration or this issue. But it reverses the normal, proper role between intelligence and policy-making.

BLITZER: You felt they made up their mind before they got the full picture.

PILLAR: It was pretty clear to just about anyone working in the national security community in 2002, probably fairly early in 2002, that that's where we were headed.

BLITZER: Here's what the president said last year, February 13, almost exactly a year -- two years ago. He said -- 2004. He said, "I based my decision to go to war on the best intelligence possible, intelligence that had been gathered over the years, intelligence that not only our analysts thought was valid but analysts from other countries thought were valid. And I made a decision based upon that intelligence in the context of the war on terror." Was that an accurate statement? PILLAR: A lot of people thought it was valid. There was a strong consensus, not only here in the United States but overseas, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And that makes the point that the difference in the policy decision to go to war as opposed to doing sanctions, doing inspections and so on was not just based on the intelligence but based on other objectives and, quite clearly, one of the main objectives, which is, you know, another source of debate is using the toppling of Saddam Hussein to try to liberalize the Middle East.

BLITZER: That was one of the goals. But you were convinced, and you were responsible for putting the national intelligence estimate, the NIE, you were convinced Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction, stockpiles of chemical and biological agents.

PILLAR: That's right. And there were a number of analytic errors, procedurally and so on, that the Silberman-Robb Commission, which, overall, I believe did an excellent job, succeeded in describing very thoroughly in the report. Changes have been made. Changes were necessary. More changes need to be made following some of the suggestions of the Silberman-Robb report. So that's absolutely right.

BLITZER: But, so the intelligence was bad. You admit...

PILLAR: The intelligence was certainly flawed, yes.

BLITZER; Last year when I interviewed the Vice President Dick Cheney, we spoke about the intelligence. Listen to this little excerpt from that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've got a certain sympathy for the intelligence community. But they did -- their judgment was overwhelmingly that he did, in fact, have weapons of mass destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He is basically saying, look, you guys told me -- meaning the CIA, the U.S. intelligence community -- he had weapons of mass destruction.

PILLAR: With respect, all due respect to the vice president, on something as critical as, say, when Iraq would get nuclear weapons, the judgment of the intelligence community was, although we don't know for sure, probably several years away.

Mr. Cheney in one of his speeches, for example, voiced a contrary view, that he was very close to getting weapons.

BLITZER: And he based that on his experience as defense secretary in 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. At that time the assessment was the IAEA, as well as the U.S. assessment, he was years away from a nuclear weapon. But later, after the war, the U.S. intelligence community and he learned they were very close.

PILLAR: That's right, and the vice president is absolutely correct to point out the intelligence community underestimated back in 1991 how close Saddam was, and perhaps another one of those analytic errors that went into the faulty analysis over a decade later was a sort of overcompensation.

BLITZER: Because he been burned before.

PILLAR: That's right. But then the question arises, once you have this strong consensus that he had such weapons, the consensus that everyone seemed to share before 2003, how strongly do intelligence analysts challenge that consensus? What is the environment in which they operate? Do they have an incentive to challenge that consensus? And in this case the incentive really wasn't there.

BLITZER: Here's what the Senate Intelligence Committee, in their assessment, prewar intelligence assessments on Iraq concluded in 2004: "The Committee did not find any evidence that intelligence analysts changed their judgments as a result of political pressure, altered or produced intelligence products to conform with administration policy or that anyone even attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to do so."

You are the top analyst. Did anyone in the vice president's office, from the White House, from the Pentagon pressure you into coming up with intelligence, with analysis that you felt uncomfortable with?

PILLAR No, because that kind of question picks up only the most blatant and crudest forms of politicization, which are very rare, and when they do occur, they're usually not successful.

To the extent there was politicization in this case, it was far more subtle. You had dozens of analysts throughout the community making all kinds of judgments on the wording of all kinds of things, from aluminum tubes to uranium ore. Many of the things that the Senate Intelligence Committee, for example, justly criticized the community on had to do with matters of caveat, nuance, wording. So there were plenty of opportunities for more subtle kinds of bias to creep in as a result of the environment in which analysts operated.

But direct pressure, direct arm twisting, which is what the Committee's question had to do, no.

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go: why should anyone take the U.S. intelligence committee -- community's assessments now at face value, on Iran and nuclear weapons or North Korea, given this track record on Iraq?

PILLAR: That's a very good question. And with particular reference to, say, Iran, it is important to realize how much we basically don't know.

There seems to have grown up a major presumption about at least where Iran is heading with its nuclear weapons program, if it has one. But in the end we simply don't know. There are a lot of uncertainties.

BLITZER: Paul Pillar, I hope to have you back here in the Situation Room. Thanks very much for joining us.

PILLAR: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And up next, the results of our web question of the week, "Should newspapers stop printing cartoons satirizing religious figures?" Get to that, but first this.

Vanetta Flowers, what's her story? In 2002 she made history by becoming the first black athlete to win a gold medal in a Winter Olympics when she and her partner, Jill Bakken, won the inaugural women's event at Salt Lake City.

A former all-American in track and field at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Flowers gave bobsledding a try after failing to qualify for the 2000 Summer Olympic team.

Since her groundbreaking run, Flowers has given birth to twin sons with her husband and manager Johnny Flowers. The Alabama native whose motto is "doing it as a family," has a new goal for this Olympics: winning the gold with her husband and sons watching.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here are the results of our web question of the week. Take a look. Remember though, it's not a scientific poll.

That's your "Late Edition" for Sunday, February 12. Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday, 11:00 a.m. eastern.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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