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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With George Casey; Interview With Ahmed Chalabi

Aired March 19, 2006 - 11:00   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 a.m. in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4 p.m. in London and 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." On this third anniversary of the start of the war, we'll get to my interview with the commander of multinational forces in Iraq, U.S. Army General George Casey, in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.
(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: It was three years ago today the U.S. military launched its shock and awe campaign to dismantle Saddam Hussein's regime. Just a short while ago, I spoke with the commander of multinational forces in Iraq, U.S. General George Casey, about the current situation in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: General Casey, thanks very much for joining us. Let's get to the immediate issue, at least one of the immediate issues, Operation Swarmer. It's been described as the largest air assault operation since the war started. Is it that big?

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. ARMY: Wolf, I think it might have got a little bit more hype than it truly deserved here because of the use of the helicopters to move the Iraqis and coalition forces out to a relatively uninhabited area just to the west of Samarra. But that's it. It's one of a series of operations that we will continue to execute with the Iraqi security forces to keep the pressure on the terrorists and foreign fighters that attempt to find safe haven and sanctuary in isolated parts of Iraq.

And they've had reasonable success out there over the last couple of days. They'll probably be at it for a few more days, but they found a series of weapons caches, picked up, probably, about 30 or 40 detainees, to include one or two of their high-value individuals that they were out there going after.

So again, one of a continuing series of operations to keep pressure on the terrorists and the foreign fighters.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what our reporter, Nic Robertson -- He was embedded at least for part of one of the days of this operation -- what he said when he was out there. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When we were choppered around, what did we see? Iraqi troops, better equipped than last year, armored Humvees in place of civilian pickups. Villagers apparently so relaxed about having their farms searched, they were cooking bread for troops and journalists alike.

But it's what we didn't see that is perhaps most revealing. We didn't see a raid actually taking place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You acknowledge that this operation may have been a little bit overly hyped. But the bottom line is, what did it accomplish?

CASEY: I think you ought to point out this operation took place in about a 10-mile-square area. And so there were raids that were a part of it, and obviously, the reporter there wasn't on one of those operations.

What it accomplished, again, it's part of our continuing efforts to deny the terrorists and the foreign fighters safe haven and sanctuary around the uninhabited areas of Iraq. And we've got a couple more days of it, and I'll have a better sense of it once they're finished. But my sense is they're -- they did accomplish what they set out to do.

BLITZER: Some of the critics of the war back here in the United States were charging there were political motives. This was overly hyped to try to score some political points in the battle over the justification for the war. I want to give you a chance to respond to those critics.

CASEY: Nothing could be further from the truth. This operation was planned with the Iraqi security forces as intelligence was available. I was up with the division last week. They gave me a broad overview of what they intended to accomplish. But it was an intelligence-based operation and had nothing to do with politics.

BLITZER: Let's talk about what's happening in Iraq in terms of a possible civil war. Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister, quoted today as saying this. Let me read it to you. "We are losing each day, as an average, 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

Is a civil war raging already in Iraq?

CASEY: No, it's not, Wolf. And I haven't talked to the prime minister about the security situation here in quite awhile. He's been out of the country. But what I can tell you and what I've said previously is I do not believe that civil war in Iraq, one, has started, and then two, nor is it imminent or inevitable.

There is -- is there terrorist violence in Iraq? Yes, there is. Is there terrorist violence in Iraq designed to foment sectarian strife? Yes, there is. But we're a long way from civil war.

Let me give you an example. In 15 of the 18 provinces, there are six or less attacks a day across Iraq. That includes all the sectarian strife. That's an average. In 12 of the provinces, there's two or less attacks a day. So violence is not raging rampantly across Iraq. That's, frankly, what the terrorists and the insurgents want you to believe.

Last week I spent about three hours driving around Baghdad. I wanted to get my own sense of what the Baghdadis were feeling. I must tell you, there's a lot of bustle out there, Wolf. Lots of economic activity. You see goods stacked up on the sidewalk there in front of the stores. And the traffic police are wearing white shirts and ties, not armored vests.

So we're a long way from there, from what I would characterize as a -- as a broad civil war here. But I don't want to sugarcoat it, either. This is a very fragile time, and there are people getting killed. And it is my belief that the terrorists and the foreign fighters and the insurgents are attempting, yet again, to unrail this political process they have failed to stop in the January '05 elections, in the October referendum and in the December '05 elections.

BLITZER: When I met with...

CASEY: They have one more go at it, and they're not succeeding.

BLITZER: General, when we met a year ago, almost exactly, in Baghdad, I asked you and I asked a lot of U.S. troops in Iraq when they might be able to simply get in the car, leave a base outside of Baghdad at the airport, simply drive downtown, go to a coffee shop, go to a movie theater, have dinner. That will be a sign, as Senator John McCain has said, that things were moving in the right direction.

Are you suggesting now that U.S. troops can leave the base where you operate and simply get into a car and drive around Baghdad?

CASEY: Not at all, Wolf, and I never said anything like that. I said I went out and drove around Baghdad for three hours. I was not stopping for coffee.

BLITZER: You were in a heavily armored vehicle, I assume?

CASEY: Yeah, of course. Again, I'm not trying to present a rosier picture.

I'm just telling you, I went out and looked around and what I saw actually gave me some confidence in the progress that can be made here.

BLITZER: Let me read to you from the intelligence assessment that Lieutenant General Michael Maples, the director of the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, offered Congress on February 28th.

I cited this, only a part of it last week. I want to give our viewers the entire gist of what he said on this sensitive issue. "Absent an effective engagement strategy designed to foster comprehensive reconciliation, Sunni Arab elites have little cause to support the rebuilding of Iraq.

"Many Sunni Arab leaders view the current political solutions as predicated on perpetual minority status in a Shia-Kurd dominated government. So long as Sunni Arabs are denied access to resources and lack a meaningful presence in government they will continue to resort to violence."

Are Sunni Arabs, Sunni Iraqis, ready to participate fully based on everything you know, and you've been there for a long time, you're going to be staying there at least for the foreseeable future. Are they ready to cooperate with Shia and with Kurd to form a national unity government?

CASEY: Everything I'm seeing, Wolf, tells me that they are. And it's interesting.

We're coming up on the third anniversary of the start of the war here. And three years ago Saddam Hussein was still in charge of Iraq, and today the leaders of Iraq, the political leaders of Iraq, are from all the different ethnic and sectarian groups, are sitting around a table working out how to form a government that will represent the rights and the interests of all the different ethnic and sectarian groups of Iraq.

And I think they all understand that this is a very critical period for Iraq, and I believe that they, as -- to answer your question directly, I believe that the Sunni leaders of the country are committed to this government of national unity and to the overall political process.

BLITZER: And just ahead, more of my interview with General Casey. He'll weigh in on the question of a troop timetable: when are U.S. Forces able to start leaving Iraq? Then, the doctrine of preemptive war. Is the right global strategy for the United States to preempt if necessary? We'll talk with the two top members of the Senate foreign relations committee, Republican Chairman Richard Lugar and Democrat Joe Biden.

And later, the return of the Taliban. We'll discuss the re- emerging threat with Afghanistan's foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

"Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Web question of the week asks this: "Is Iraq closer to democracy or to civil war three years after the war began?" You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition.

Straight ahead, the view from Iraq. The top U.S. commander there, General George Casey, assesses where things stand, tells us when U.S. troops might start to be able to head home. You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday Talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By removing Saddam Hussein from power, America is safer and the world is better off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush calling for patience and optimism as he marks this third anniversary of the war in Iraq. Welcome back to "Late Edition."

Now more of my interview with the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General George Casey.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the insurgency. Based on all the intelligence you have, how many insurgents are there?

CASEY: Well, Wolf, that's a tough one. You know that.

The -- it is very, very difficult to estimate insurgents' numbers. We've been -- we've been through this. There's several different methodologies.

But broadly, I think it's interesting. Even by our most pessimistic estimates, we think the insurgency is less than one -- one/tenth of one percent of the population of Iraq. So 99.9 percent of the Iraqis want something better and want to move forward.

BLITZER: So are you talking 10,000, 20,000? How many people, approximately, would you describe as this core of the violence that we see unfold on our T.V. screens on a nearly daily basis?

CASEY: It's -- again, Wolf, it's very, very difficult to put a number on. It ebbs and flows.

There are -- the core, as you call it, that actually goes out and conducts the operation. There's a -- there's some number of supporters that support those folks that aren't actually parts of the insurgency. And there's really no good way to give you a finite number that I could be confident in.

BLITZER: Can you give me a percentage? How many are Iraqis, and how many are what they call foreign fighters?

CASEY: The -- the numbers -- we believe that the numbers of foreign fighters are a relatively small percentage of the overall insurgency.

BLITZER: What about the equipment and the money that they're getting? Where do they get that from?

CASEY: It varies. The -- as I said, while the foreign fighters are a relatively small percentage, they are -- they do have a great impact on it because of the financial resources that they bring to the insurgency and the experience.

As you know, I think, that Iraq is awash with ammunition. And there's ammunition buried all around the country. And we continually go out and try to pick that -- you know, pick that up. They hide it -- they hide it all over the place here in weapons caches that they can go and visit and continue to reuse. It will be awhile before they run out of ammunition.

The equipment, the military equipment is also here. A lot of what was in the former army is -- has gone over to the insurgents. So they don't really want for that.

And -- but the interesting thing is, there's not a huge effort, external effort, that is supporting this insurgency. You don't have truckloads of weapons and ammunition being smuggled across the borders at night. You do have some level of support coming, but it's certainly -- this is -- insurgency is primarily resourced internally.

BLITZER: What about Iran? Is Iran helping the insurgents? Are they providing equipment, money, troops, whatever, to try to keep this insurgency going?

CASEY: We have very good information that improvised explosive device technology is coming from the country of Iran into Iraq, destined for Shia insurgent extremist groups.

I do not have intelligence that will allow me to say that someone within the Iranian government is specifically doing that or supporting that operation.

I suspect that's the case, but I cannot document it.

BLITZER: From your perspective as a military man, is it a good idea for the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, to have direct talks with Iranian diplomats in Baghdad to discuss this and other Iraq-related issues?

CASEY: That's a very political question, Tim -- I mean Wolf. And I really don't think it would be appropriate for me to take that one on here.

BLITZER: Here's a question, based on a statement that was issued by this insurgent group, as published in a Lebanese magazine. It says, "We have succeeded in placing them" -- meaning the U.S. -- "in a prison like in the Green Zone. Even that is not safe anymore and is bombed every day."

There were reports earlier in the week that the Iraqis uncovered a massive plot to blow up the U.S. embassy, the British embassy, to destroy the Green Zone, kill a lot of Americans. Others have suggested that those reports were widely exaggerated and there's nothing to back those reports up. I wonder if you've gotten to the bottom of these reports.

CASEY: I wouldn't say we've gotten to the bottom of it, but we do agree that they are widely exaggerated. And we think they relate back to a group of people who were to be recruited into the Iraqi army but that effort never materialized.

BLITZER: We're almost...

CASEY: So we do think it is widely exaggerated.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time. On this third anniversary, today of the war, the U.S.-launched invasion, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, how much longer do you believe, General Casey, U.S. troops will have to remain in Iraq in significant numbers -- about 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq right now?

What are the prospects of a draw-down this year and in the year to come?

CASEY: Wolf, that's -- our strategy has been that, as we move Iraqi security forces increasingly into the lead that we will gradually reduce our presence here. As you know, the Iraqis are continuing to step forward and to assume the lead in conducting counter-insurgency operations across Iraq.

Today there are two Iraqi divisions, 13 Iraqi brigades, and almost 60 army and special police battalions that are out there in the lead right now.

As a result of that, I think you'll recall, right before Christmas, I said I don't want you to send two brigades that were destined to come here.

And so we've already begun a gradual reduction in the coalition presence here.

And, you know, when you talk about the future you always go back to assumptions. And with an assumption that the political process continues on the track that it's on and we continue to have the success that we're having with the development of the Iraqi security forces, I would expect that process of gradual coalition reductions to continue through 2006 and 2007.

BLITZER: So by the end of this year, how many U.S. troops, all things being -- moving in the right direction, would you expect to remain in Iraq?

CASEY: I wouldn't -- you know, I've continually not wanted to put numbers on it, Wolf.

All these reductions are conditions-based. We're at war. And in war, things change. But I will just reiterate that we are executing a strategy that the president has articulated. As Iraqi security forces stand up, we'll start -- we'll stand ourselves down.

But we'll do it in a gradual, not a precipitous way, so that we maintain the appropriate level of support here for the Iraqi security forces.

BLITZER: One final question and I'll let you go, General. On January 26, you were quoted as saying, and I'll read it to you, "The forces are stretched... and I don't think there's any question of that."

What did you mean?

CASEY: I was talking to a reporter about the forces, the Army forces and the Marine forces that are supporting the operations here. And the forces that are coming over here, some of them are coming back for the second time.

And so, having just come from the position of vice chief of staff of the Army, I understand the impact that that has on the services. So I was talking about the overall utilization of the Army and Marine forces that are supporting this mission.

BLITZER: General Casey, good luck to you. Good luck to all the men and women you command in Iraq. And hopefully, we'll be talking again soon.

Thanks very much for joining us on this third anniversary of the start of the war.

CASEY: Thank you very much, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And after the interview, a spokesman for General Casey called me to reiterate that the general meant that, while U.S. forces overall worldwide are indeed stretched, there are, he says, enough troops in Iraq for the mission there.

Up next, Iran's influence in Iraq and the volatile Middle East situation in general. We're going to assess the potential danger for the United States with the two top members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Senator Richard Lugar and Democratic Senator Joe Biden.

Up next, though, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest moves for the new Palestinian government. Stay with "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Joining us now to gauge where things stand in Iraq on this, the third anniversary of the war, the two top members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In his home state of Delaware, the committee's ranking Democrat, Joe Biden, and in his home state of Indiana, the Republican chairman, Richard Lugar. Senators, welcome back to "Late Edition."

And Senator Lugar, let me start with you and read to you a quote from what the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote in today's Washington Post. He said this, referring to the situation in Iraq: "If we retreat now, there is every reason to believe Saddamists and terrorists will fill the vacuum -- and the free world might not have the will to face them again. Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis."

Is he right?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: Well, he clearly is correct, and I would say that that is the issue. I think Republicans and Democrats, at least in Congress, a large majority, believe that it would be unthinkable for Iraq to be turned back to the Saddamists and to chaos, and an incubator for terrorism.

BLITZER: What do you think, Senator Biden?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Well, I think that's correct, but the problem is, what's the president's plan to see that doesn't happen? By any measure, Wolf, in my view, we're worse off in Iraq today than we were a year ago.

BLITZER: Explain why you say that. I mean, in the past...

BIDEN: Well, I say that because...

BLITZER: Let me give you the argument that the administration makes. In the past year we've seen Democratic elections. People showed up, including Iraqi Sunnis, in big numbers. They're in the process now of putting together a government of national unity. Why do you say that the U.S. is in worse shape in Iraq today?

BIDEN: More killing, number one. Number two, by every indicia of from water to sewage to electricity to oil there's less production, there's less available in Iraq than there was a year ago. In addition to that, there is nowhere near close to getting a consensus government that I can see so far.

Number three, the president, instead of making speeches at home, should be literally on a plane doing what Bush did, what Reagan did, what Carter did in similar places, putting his prestige on the line to try to get a conference not unlike Dayton or not unlike happened in those other circumstances to get all those folks in one room and say it's time, fellas, get yourself a coalition government, or we've got a problem.

And lastly, does anybody think things have gotten better on the ground since the election? And if the troop levels on the ground are conditioned upon conditions on the ground, how do we explain drawing down 30,000 troops, by every measure things on the street are worse off than the day the election took place.

BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, Senator Lugar, what do you say about that?

LUGAR: I agree with Secretary Rumsfeld. It would be unthinkable to simply cut and run, but I agree with my colleague Joe Biden that materially things have worsened and the oil situation and the electricity situation for ordinary Iraqis. Certainly more Iraqi civilians are being killed, substantially more, and the government is not yet in operation.

Now, whether in fact Zal Khalilzad, our great ambassador out there, is able to move these folks on to democracy or not, it's probably a good idea to begin to summon the rest of the world and say this is an urgent problem for you, too.

I was heartened at least by the thought that we were going to have colloquy with Iran, even though we're arguing over what we're going to talk about. It's very important at this point that we understand the neighborhood, we refurbish the alliance, we really move into a different situation.

BLITZER: Let me just press you on that point, Senator Lugar, on the situation in Iran, since you raised it. This is a country that the U.S. government, the Bush administration, says supports terrorists, funds terrorists, whether Hezbollah or Hamas or other terrorist groups. Why do you say it's a good idea to talk to a group that funds and supports terrorists?

LUGAR: Well, because we are talking to them now through our European allies and now at the United Nations. We are talking, it doesn't matter, to the North Koreans similarly in a six-power talk. We have discovered diplomacy really since Iraq, and we've decided that's pretty important to bring a lot of other players into it.

Now that doesn't mean that we're necessarily going to be successful in any of these respects, but clearly we're not only sharing the burden but probably bringing some sense of urgency to the world in a way in which we are not perceived as doing in Iraq. And therefore, it seems to me that perhaps there is an entree here for substantially more diplomacy involving the world.

BLITZER: I'm going to just press you on one more point, Senator Lugar. Then I'll bring Senator Biden back in. If, as the president says, there's no difference between the terrorists and those who sponsor or fund the terrorists, what's the difference between talking directly with Iranian officials as opposed to talking with al Qaida or Hamas or Hezbollah?

LUGAR: Well, for that matter, we have had talks, I suspect, at some time or another with all of the above. I'm not opposed to talking to anybody, as a matter of fact, if it will further American interest and further peace in the world. I think we have to understand that we are talking frequently to people with whom we have severe disagreement, whom we dislike, whom we may feel really are terrorists, but those are the folks that are in the world that we're going to have to influence. They have to hear from us, have to know of our strength of conviction.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, do you agree with Senator Lugar?

BIDEN: I agree with Dick Lugar. I'd like to point one thing out. The fact of the matter is it's in the mutual interest of Iran and the United States for there not to be a civil war, all-out civil war in Iraq. Iran because they don't want 17 million Shia on their border learning how to make a rebellion and war and becoming very expert at that as they morph into the Iranian space.

Seventy-five percent of the Iranians or more hate their leadership, and the last thing they need is 50 million Shia on the other side learning from their Shia brethren how to wage a war. Secondly, our present ambassador is the guy who in fact did negotiate with and talk with the Iranians to produce a guy named Karzai in Afghanistan. That's exactly what happened.

We sat down with the six parties surrounding Afghanistan including -- it was called six plus two. You covered it heavily, Wolf. The two were the United States and Russia. The six were the neighbors including Iran. I suggested we start talking to Iran in March of '02 before we went in. Here we are now, four years later, just beginning to understand that it's in our mutual interest.

We don't have to make any agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons, on terror, or anything else. If there's a mutuality of interest as there is here, we should pursue it to determine whether or not it's in our interest.

BLITZER: Let's reflect a little bit on this third anniversary, Senator Lugar, on the war, some of the mistakes that may have been made. I'm going to play for you a sound bite of what the then-Army chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, told the Congress before the U.S. went into Iraq, and what the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said two days later. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL ERIC SHINSEKI, ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: Something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Any idea that it's several hundred thousand over any sustained period is simply not the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Did the U.S. go into Iraq, Senator Lugar, on the cheap, with about 150,000 to 200,000 troops, remembering that it took half a million U.S. forces to liberate Kuwait, a much smaller country?

LUGAR: Yes, we had too few forces and our analysis of what was going to happen after our forces were successful was inadequate.

And I would just say, Wolf, we've been over that territory both before the war in hearings that Joe Biden conducted and those I conducted as chairman. And I wouldn't say that we shouldn't continue to struggle with all the mistakes we've made, but they've occurred.

Our problem now, however, is having said all of that we have to pick things up where they are, and we're talking today about forward motion, in terms of American diplomacy, the use of our troops more effectively, some sense of how many other dangers there are in the world we have to face simultaneously. In essence, we have an opportunity here, it seems to me, to turn things around even at this late date.

BLITZER: I raise that issue on this third anniversary, Senator Biden, I'll bring you in, because there are still many military analysts who believe the 132,000 or 133,000 troops the U.S. has in Iraq right now, that's not enough to get the job done.

BIDEN: Well, look, right now we've pass the point where I think adding more troops is going to become a positive influence.

Look, back in -- before we went to war Dick Lugar and I issued a report. If anybody thinks we're Monday morning quarterbacking, go on to my Web site, uniteourstates.com. We issued a report out of the foreign relations committee saying -- entitled "The Decade After," pointing out all of these things. We weren't alone in this. We got in serious experts, left, right, and center, made it clear there wasn't going to be enough oil, there weren't enough troops, we didn't have an infrastructure to put in place, etc.

But Dick is right. Where do we go from here? You have a guest coming on immediately after us, I'm told, one of the most well-known and esteemed secretaries of state in our history, Henry Kissinger. He called for last year with George Schultz something that I called for and Dick has called for two years ago, calling for there to be a contact group, bringing in the rest of the world to put incredible pressure upon all of the parties in Iraq to reach a political agreement.

Absent that, all the king's horses and all the king's men are not going to hold this country together. That's the critical decision that has to be made and accomplished now.

BLITZER: All right, senators. We have to take a quick break, but we have lots more to discuss. We'll assess President Bush's preemptive strike strategy that was reaffirmed this week.

We'll continue our conversation with Senators Lugar and Biden. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're talking with the two top members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Republican Chairman, Richard Lugar of Indiana, and the ranking Democrat, Joe Biden of Delaware.

Let's button up, Senator Biden, this whole issue of Iran. On Friday I interviewed Colin Powell's former chief of staff, U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who said this. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: First of all, the number one winner in the region is not the United States nor Israel. The number one winner is Iran because Iran is in the catbird's seat. Iran has gained enormous strategic flexibility by the fact that we are beleaguered in Iraq, our ground forces are more or less committed in Iraq, our ground forces are committed to a struggle that looks interminable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I want you to respond to that. You just suggested that Iran would not like to see a civil war. There are many analysts who say Iran would like to see a civil war in Iraq because that means the U.S. would flee and then they could further consolidate their influence over their neighbor.

BIDEN: I don't think there's anything inconsistent with what was just said by the former chief of staff and what I'm saying. It is true. They have gained considerable influence.

But I think it is also true that in fact -- if in fact chaos breaks out in the region you'll not only have Iran in the deal, you'll have Turkey in the deal, you'll have a very different strategic situation.

Iran would like it like it is as long as there was no possibility of a civil war because the truth is all the threats about the use of military force, and we have 10 divisions coming or going in Iraq, makes it less credible that we're going to use force against Iran.

So I think that's what the secretary -- that's what the former chief of staff of Colin Powell was talking about.

BLITZER: Senator Lugar, the retired U.S. Army Major General Paul Eaton is writing a piece in the "New York Times" today. He trained Iraqi troops in 2003 and 2004. A bitter denunciation of the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, for the strategy that he says was flawed from day one. In it he writes this -- he says, "In sum, he," referring to Rumsfeld, "has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically, and is far more than anyone else responsible for what has happened to our important mission in Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld must step down."

Do you think it's time for the defense secretary to step down?

LUGAR: I'm not going to make a public statement with regard to an appointee of the president. If President Bush ever wants to visit with me privately about my counsel on his cabinet, I'm sure he'll ask me. But it appears to me it would not be helpful for me to make a comment.

BLITZER: You want to make a comment on that issue, Senator Biden?

BIDEN: Let me comment this way: imagine what would happen if it were announced tomorrow in the headlines of the papers of in America and throughout the world that Rumsfeld was fired.

It would energize, energize the rest of the world. They'd be willing to help us. It would energize American forces. It would energize the political environment.

Yes, he should step down. I agree with every single statement made by the former general training Iraqi forces in Iraq.

BLITZER: What about the preemptive strategy, Senator Lugar, that was reaffirmed by the Bush administration this week, if necessary the United States should launch preemptive strikes? And that was seen as a thinly veiled warning to Iran.

LUGAR: Most historians implicitly believe that the United States has always retained an inherent strategy that we would attack before we were attacked if we were in critical danger.

It was made explicit a little while back and now has been made explicit again.

And in the context, as you say, leaves people to wonder in terms of Iran or North Korea what this means when we say that military option is still on the table.

Let me just say that it appears to me that the predicament here in which you suggested, Iran may be a winner in this business, comes less from chaos in Iraq than from the fact that oil is $60 a barrel to $70 a barrel, that Iran has ties with India, with China, with a whole lot of European countries, in which it has a bank account and the ability to withstand a lot of abuse.

We have created a situation because of our dependency, what the president's called an addiction to Middle Eastern oil, which has not informed this conversation this morning but is clearly the big gorilla in the office here. And let me just say that the preemptive argument is an interesting one because some will say, well, this simply -- there we go again.

I don't think we're going to go again in that same way at all, and this is why I appreciate this opportunity to discuss diplomacy this morning with my colleague, Joe Biden, and with you.

BLITZER: We appreciate your being on this program, Senator Lugar, Senator Biden, always good to have both of you on "Late Edition."

Thanks very much for joining us and have a good weekend.

Don't forget our Web question of the week: "Is Iraq closer to democracy or civil war three years after the war began?" We'll have the answers to that question, to that poll. That's coming up in the next hour.

Up next, in case you missed it, highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. "Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: 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 this, the third anniversary of the war in Iraq, Iraq certainly dominated the conversation.

On CBS's "Face the Nation," the vice president, Dick Cheney, said, despite some setbacks, there's reason for optimism about Iraq's future.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a constant sort of perception, if you will, that's created because what's newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad; it's not all the work that went on that day in 15 other provinces in terms of making progress toward rebuilding Iraq.

The facts are pretty straightforward. The Iraqis have met every single political deadline that's been set for them. They haven't missed a single one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On NBC's "Meet the Press," Democratic Congressman John Murtha, who's calling for a start of a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, suggested no one in the Bush administration has been held accountable for the missteps in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REP. JOHN MURTHA (D-PA): Certainly, the vice president has been the primary force in running this war and many of the mischaracterizations that have come about.

You and I talked before the show about some of the things he said on your show right before the war started. None of them turned out to be true. This is why the American public is so upset. OK, I say, fire some people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On ABC's "This Week," Republican Senator Chuck Hagel addressed what determines victory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) U.S. SENATOR CHARLES HAGEL (R-NE): We achieved victory. Saddam's gone. The Iraqis have a constitution. They had an election. It's now up to them.

If you define victory by what nebulous measure here, we'll never be out of there and you put yourself in a corner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On "Fox News Sunday," the Senate's second-ranking Democrat, Dick Durbin, offered this assessment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): I think that the political leaders in Washington have failed when it comes to our policy in Iraq. They misled us into believing there were weapons of mass destruction, connections between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. None of that existed.

They did not provide the necessary troops, the necessary equipment, and the necessary leadership at a time when we needed it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

And there's much more ahead on "Late Edition," including Iraq's deputy prime minister, Ahmed Chalabi. I'll ask him about fears, his country now on the brink of civil war.

Then, a diplomatic dialogue with former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger and former national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski. They're standing by live to weigh in on Iraq, Iran and lots more.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: They can't beat us on the battlefield, but they have the capacity and the willingness to kill innocent lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Three years after shock and awe, Iraq struggles to build a stable democracy. But is the country teetering on the brink of civil war? We'll talk with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Iran is a challenge because it is seeking to have a nuclear program that would allow it to develop a nuclear weapon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Iran remains defiant over nuclear weapons. Is a U.S. military strike against Iraq's influential neighbor an appropriate option? Insight from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

It was the flashpoint in the war on terror after 9/11. But is the Taliban making a comeback in Afghanistan? And where is Osama bin Laden? We'll talk to the country's foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

Welcome back on this, the third anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. We'll have my interview with the man some say was at least in part responsible for convincing the Bush administration to go to war against Saddam Hussein, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi.

That interview in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. Critics charge the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq was built in part on information it received from then-Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi. Three years later, Chalabi is now Iraq's deputy prime minister. I spoke with him a short while ago in Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Ahmed Chalabi, thanks very much for joining us on this third anniversary of the start of the war. Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister, is quoted today as saying this. I'll read it to you: "We are losing each day, as an average, 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

Has your country already gone into civil war?

AHMED CHALABI, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ: Emphatically no. We are -- there is no civil war here. There is some sectarian violence because of the tensions that have been built up under both the CPA and the interim government. You must remember that there are -- under the interim government and the CPA, there were major military operations involving the use of aircraft bombarding Fallujah and Najaf. Najaf twice.

And that exasperated sectarian tensions, and they are reaping what they sowed. And we are dealing with the consequences of that action then. There is no civil war. People are ready to talk. We have an elected parliament, and there is a political process.

BLITZER: Who is your candidate to become the next prime minister of Iraq? Because as you know, there's a lot of opposition to the current interim prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Who do you want to be the next prime minister?

CHALABI: Mr. Jaafari is the candidate of the largest bloc in the parliament, the United Iraqi Alliance, and there is a lot of support for him. Also, he's currently the only candidate that is out there. And he should be given a chance to form a government.

BLITZER: A lot of the Sunni leaders and a lot of the Kurdish leaders are disenchanted. Even some Shia are disenchanted with Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Adnan Pachachi, of the former -- one of the top, most respected Sunni leaders in Iraq, told me a couple weeks ago he didn't think Ibrahim al-Jaafari was the man for the job. Is there someone else that the Shia list could put forward who might be more acceptable to create this broad-based national unity government?

CHALABI: There is now -- the United Iraqi Alliance has a candidate. And that is Dr. Ibrahim Jaafari. Now the point is, the parliament, we can give a vote of confidence to the prime minister of the cabinet. Let him -- give him a chance to form a cabinet, and then let him go to parliament and get voted yes or no.

So we must not try to undermine the democratic process at the beginning. The United Iraqi Alliance is being pressured to produce another candidate, and they haven't done so, and they're not likely to do so. So why quibble about that? It's not about people. It's about programs.

BLITZER: Listen to what the U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the other day on this very sensitive issue. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: An important point from our point of view is that the prime minister should be someone who can unify Iraq, the various ethnic and sectarian groups, because the problem is of polarization.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, he didn't say that Ibrahim al-Jaafari was not the man, but there are a lot of Sunnis and Kurds, let me repeat, who think he is not the man. He cannot unify this country. He would polarize the country, given some of his positions, especially his relationship with Iran.

CHALABI: Our people who are saying that he's not the man, they don't have a candidate who they put forward as a person who can unify the country, who can gain the confidence of the United Iraqi Alliance.

Of course, there is polarization in the country. And of course, there is an issue of difficulty between the various communities. However, there is no candidate that is now on offer that has -- is acceptable to the United Iraqi Alliance, whom they think they can -- who the other side thinks he can unify the country.

So we're wasting time. Precious time is being wasted. And I think that we need to move forward on cabinet formation, agreement on programs. And of course, the parliament over time has the option of taking away the confidence they give to the prime minister and the government. So let us proceed with the formation of the cabinet.

BLITZER: On this third anniversary of the war, as you know, a lot of your critics say that you were very much responsible for convincing the so-called neoconservatives in the Bush administration to launch this war three years ago, based on faulty intelligence that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I want to give you a chance to respond to that criticism, which you hear all the time, as you well know, coming forward. Specifically, your role in convincing the Bush administration to launch this war against Saddam Hussein.

CHALABI: I thought this bug has been put to sleep. The issue of what my role in the -- in persuading the Bush administration to go to war has been greatly exaggerated. I refer you to the Senate reports on this and the Robb-Silberman report that came out on this issue. And it showed that the influence of any information that was provided by the Iraqi National Congress to the Bush administration played, and I quote, "a minimal role" in persuading the Bush administration.

I think that these charges are losing luster, because they have been -- were rejected categorically and emphatically by both the Senate Intelligence Committee report and by the Robb-Silberman Commission.

BLITZER: Did you ever imagine three years ago, when you were flown into southern Iraq by U.S. forces as this invasion was moving towards Baghdad, did you ever imagine that three years later the situation would be as apparently dire as it is right now?

CHALABI: Well, I entered Iraq in January of 2003 on foot. Then we went to Nasiriyah with the help of the U.S. Air Force, from Kurdistan, and we were then moved to Baghdad.

However, I should remind you that I -- on one of your programs, even, in May of 2003, I said that Saddam did not have a strategy to win the war. He had a post-defeat strategy and had put it into effect. I said it many times.

And the point is that the Saddamists and the Ba'athists whom we are now currently fighting, including the Zarqawi and the jihadists who now, it is becoming clear from the documents, at least, by the Pentagon captured in Iraq, are -- had strong links at the time, were moving to fight the U.S. forces and to fight the new Iraqi government.

It is not a shock to me that this is happening now, because it became clear as soon as we entered Iraq that they were preparing for a counter-attack. And I believe not enough was done to anticipate what they were doing, and not enough was done to foil their plans.

But now that the Iraqi people are moving towards a permanent government.

I believe that all the Iraqi communities, especially including the Sunni community of Iraq, have a vested interest now in defeating the Zarqawi jihadists who are coming from outside the country and the remnants of the Baath Party, who are trying to reverse history.

All Iraqis can unite to defeat terrorism and can unite to rebuild the country.

BLITZER: One final question because we're almost out of time. Who specifically, and I want you to name names, if you don't mind, is responsible for the blunders, the failures to anticipate this insurgency developing as it did?

CHALABI: I will give you a name. I would not have given the name if he had not published a book. Ambassador Jerry Bremer.

BLITZER: You blame the former U.S. administrator there for what, specifically?

CHALABI: For not appreciating the situation, appreciating the size of the threat. He kept for months and months on end to say those are die-hards who have no coordination and no plan to move forward. They are just people who have -- are doing isolated incidents all over the country.

He refused to accept the obvious. He refused to believe what was right in front of him. And he acted in a way and focused on threats which later proved to be illusionary.

He, for example, focused on Muqtada al-Sadr as being more of a threat than the terrorists. And in general, this is largely responsible to -- for what you have seen now.

BLITZER: But what he...

CHALABI: You should read his book. It's great fiction.

BLITZER: I read his book. But a lot of what he said and a lot of what he did was directly aligned with what the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was promoting at the time, as well.

CHALABI: I do not agree with that assessment.

BLITZER: You blame Bremer but not Rumsfeld?

CHALABI: Yes.

BLITZER: Ahmed Chalabi, thanks very much for joining us on this -- this third anniversary of the war.

CHALABI: Thank you.

BLITZER: And coming up, U.S. and Iraqi forces are fighting together in what's called "Operation Swarmer," but do the insurgents have the upper hand? We're going to get perspective from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Then, Afghanistan finds itself facing a new kind of insurgency. We'll speak live with that country's foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

Stay with "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's still time to weigh in on our web question of the week, "Is Iraq closer to democracy or civil war three years after the war began?" You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have results later this hour.

Straight ahead -- former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, they're standing by live with special insight on Iraq, Iran and other global hot spots.

You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The only way that Iraq will not become a democracy is if we lose our nerve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush promising to stay the course in Iraq.

Welcome back to "Late Edition."

For some perspective on this, the third anniversary of the war in Iraq and the overall U.S. mission there, we're joined by two men who have advised U.S. presidents: in Connecticut, the former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, and here in Washington, the former national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Welcome back, both of you, to "Late Edition."

I want to get your quick reaction because I know both of you know Ambassador Bremer well.

First to you, Dr. Kissinger. You worked with Paul Bremer when you were secretary of state. You've known him over all of these years. You just heard Ahmed Chalabi, the deputy prime minister of Iraq, blame him for so many of the problems that have developed in Iraq over the past three years, the insurgency, which he says Bremer did not deal with properly.

What's your response?

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Jerry Bremer is a friend and a longtime associate. He will never operate on his own, and he would always carry out his understanding of what the orders are from Washington, and the idea of Bremer operating as an independent force in Iraq is inconceivable to me.

BLITZER: What about you Dr. Brzezinski, what do you think of that?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, I have read his book, and his conclusion is that what's going on in Iraq is a failed occupation. That's a quote/unquote, "a failed occupation."

The question arises, who is responsible for that? And I think the book makes it quite clear that the administration is responsible and so is he. He has detailed transcripts of NSA meetings, and it's quite clear that the errors, the misjudgments were made collectively.

BLITZER: It was a joint effort.

On this third anniversary, Dr. Kissinger, in recent days there have been some upbeat assessments offered by the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense. We've put together a few clips. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The situation in Iraq is still tense, and we're still seeing acts of sectarian violence and reprisal. Yet, out of this crisis we've also seen signs of a hopeful future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Progress has not come easily, but it has been steady and we can be confident going forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If you put up a scoreboard, and you said, "Gee, how's it going for the last year?" They tried to stop the January election and they failed. They tried to stop the October referendum and they failed. They tried to stop the December election and the terrorists failed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, is that optimism justified based on your historic analysis of what's going on?

KISSINGER: The description of where we are of the administration in terms of what has been achieved against opposition is -- I agree with.

The question is where do we go from here, and is it possible to achieve a national government that is considered legitimate by the population and a national army that is not considered a sectarian arm of one of the contending groups. That is the big challenge which we still face, but I think the administration is basically now on the only course that can be adopted.

BLITZER: So you say -- so there's no other strategy that you would justify other than what the administration is trying to do?

KISSINGER: I would -- you have to compare the options that are available to us against the option of unilateral withdrawal, which is what many of the opponents recommend.

And I think that the administration course is safer for America, defined as creating a military force that can quell or at least can create or support a legitimate government.

Somewhere along the road, if that does not work, we will have to involve the international community.

And I think there should be more consultation with the international community about the political outcome in Iraq because the consequences for the world of a debacle in Iraq and of the creation there of Taliban-type fundamentalist structures would be very grave.

BLITZER: What about that, Dr. Brzezinski? Do you agree with Dr. Kissinger?

BRZEZINSKI: Not really. Three years ago come May, the president said, "Mission accomplished."

BLITZER: He didn't say that. There was a banner that said "mission accomplished." He said major operations -- combat operations are...

BRZEZINSKI: Three years later, we're talking about the possibility of a debacle. Henry just used that word.

Something has gone wrong. Eighty-seven percent of the Iraqi people want us to leave. We're saying we're going to stay there indefinitely until there is a democracy or, as the president has put it, complete victory.

That's a kind of a colonialist attitude: we're going to teach the Iraqis democracy; we're going to create a government of national unity; we're going to stay until we have a complete victory.

That's not a policy. That's plundering -- blundering in a future that's uncertain but increasingly difficult.

BLITZER: So what should they be doing?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think we ought to disengage, but we ought to disengage in an intelligent fashion. We have to recognize the fact that we are facing a war of attrition and a war of attrition which we are not winning.

Henry once said, and I thought, very correctly, that in a guerrilla war, if the guerrillas are not losing, they're winning. This is a war of attrition. And we're not winning. It's getting worse. More and more Iraqis want us to get out. What I would like to see us do is the following three or four steps.

One, ask the Iraqi leadership to ask us to leave. There will be Iraqi leaders who ask us to leave, maybe not all. Those who don't want us to leave are the ones who will leave when we leave. So first of all, ask us to leave.

Secondly, once they have publicly asked us to leave, set a date. I think a year or so would be reasonable.

Third, get the Iraqis to announce publicly, as their initiative, the convening of a conference of all of Iraq's neighbors to deal with the problem of stability and stabilization in Iraq because they all have a stake in stability in the region.

And then, last, we could then convene an external conference, modeled on the one that we had regarding Afghanistan, regarding help from the major potential donor countries.

BLITZER: All right.

BRZEZINSKI: Then we would have a program. Right now, all we have is slogans about staying on course or vague, vague threats that if we leave, it will be a debacle. We're stuck.

BLITZER: What do you make of those steps proposed by Dr. Brzezinski, Secretary Kissinger?

KISSINGER: Part of them I agree with.

I do not think that setting a deadline is a useful strategy because then everything is working in the expectation of a fixed deadline in which the insurgents can simply wait us out.

I do agree that the political future of Iraq should -- and I've been arguing that for many months and years, actually -- should be put under some kind of international political discretion because the political future of Iraq affects the whole region, I would say, from the borders of India to deep into Europe.

Thirdly, I think we should make a distinction between having a perfect democracy and having a government that carries out essential human rights requirements and helps the Iraqi people to develop their own future.

Even in Germany and Japan, which are often used as an example of American democratization, it took ten years before a fully functioning democratic government was established. So I would make some (inaudible). But part of what Zbig says I agree with.

BLITZER: I want to take a quick break. But I want you to respond to the specific point that Secretary Rumsfeld wrote in the Washington Post today in that op-ed piece. He said, if the U.S. were to leave, in effect, to accept the challenge that you're putting forward right now, it would, sort of, be like handing Germany back to the Nazis after World War II.

BRZEZINSKI: You know, that is really absolutely crazy to anyone who knows history. When we occupied Germany in '45, there was no alternative to our presence. There was no resistance. The Germans were totally crushed. There was no resistance.

And a great many Germans realized that they had to go back to the democracy that they had before Hitler came to power. And many people don't know that Germany was a thriving democracy for decades before Hitler came to power.

The situation in Iraq is totally different. And for Secretary Rumsfeld to be talking this way suggests either he doesn't know history or he's simply demagoguing.

BLITZER: Well, you were there, Dr. Kissinger, in Germany, with the U.S. military, when the World War II ended.

Did this analogy put forward by Rumsfeld in the Washington Post today -- is it justified?

KISSINGER: In Germany, the opposition was completely crushed. There was no significance resistance movement.

But as I understand, what Secretary Rumsfeld is saying is this, that if we withdraw unilaterally from Iraq, it will start at least two kinds of conflict.

One is that the insurgents that are now attacking us will be dominant, at least in some of the areas and that, secondly, a civil war will start or may start between the various sectarian groups and that, therefore, these ideas of unilateral withdrawal, without leaving a political framework are extremely dangerous.

Now, whether that political framework can be the ideal democracy that is often described or whether there have to be some intermediary steps, that is a subject about which we should discuss, but a simple unilateral withdrawal and to gear their whole policy (ph) to a schedule for withdrawing American forces and leaving a vacuum is much too dangerous.

BLITZER: All right, gentlemen, we're going to take a quick break.

We have much more to talk about with Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Among other things, I'll also ask them about Hamas, in charge of the Palestinians right now in the West Bank and Gaza. What's the impact on U.S. policy in the region?

First though, we'll have a quick check of what's in the news right now, including fears that the bird flu may now be in Israel. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Jefferson memorial. Want to bring our viewers up to speed. We've just been told by the White House the president will make a statement upon his return from Camp David on the south lawn of the White House momentarily. We're going to be going to the White House to hear what the president is saying. The White House not saying what the subject of his remarks are.

I can only assume it might be on this, the third anniversary of the war in Iraq, but we'll stand by and hear what the president has to say. We'll bring you his remarks live once he starts to speak.

Welcome back to "Late Edition."

We're discussing U.S. policy in world hot spots with the former national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger.

Dr. Brzezinski, you've been quite critical of your fellow Democrats for not being vociferous enough, tough enough on the president's Iraq policy. This week you made some headlines on that front.

What's your basic complaint about the Democratic political establishment?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, actually I haven't been critical of them for being too critical or not critical -- sorry, not critical enough of the Bush administration. I think they have been critical...

BLITZER: Let me read to you what you wrote...

BRZEZINSKI: What I'm talking of is something else. Namely, they haven't offered any alternative in addition to the criticisms...

BLITZER: Because here's what you said, "Democrat leaders have been silent or evasive, but they haven't offered an alternative...

BRZEZINSKI: Exactly.

BLITZER: ... "Also they have not seriously challenged the view of the world that is being propagated from the top. At a time of a deepening and widening crisis in Iraq, that to me is a form of political desertion."

That sounds pretty critical to me.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, it's critical of them, I don't deny that at all.

But I'm emphasizing the notion that they should be offering an alternative in addition to the criticism, which I share. My sense is that they have been criticizing the war in Iraq. That criticism I agree with, but they haven't really stood up with the exception of Congressman Murtha and argued for an alternative.

One of the things I'm trying to do is to crystallize an alternative. And incidentally, I'm not advocating we just pack up and leave. I'm saying let's concert with the Iraqi government an arrangement for them to ask us to leave, then we concert with them a date, then they create an international environment, a conference, then we leave and help from the outside. That is a plan.

One may disagree with it or not, but it's an alternative.

BLITZER: It looks, Dr. Kissinger, as if Hamas is putting a new government together for the Palestinian Authority. The perspective prime minister Ismail Haniyeh making a statement on Friday saying, "The change in the Palestinian government is not an excuse to cut off aid to the Palestinian people and to pressurize the Palestinian people. The threats to cut off the aid means punishing a free people for exercising their right and democracy."

Should the U.S. cut off aid to the Palestinians if this new Hamas government takes effect?

KISSINGER: Could I just make one point about the idea of asking the Iraqi government to ask us to leave? That will just be sort of a cop out. That will not solve the problem.

We need an Iraqi government that wants to be independent and then whatever they want to do, we should consider.

Now, with respect to Hamas, to ask Israel to negotiate with a group whose program asks for their -- the overthrow of the state and not about disagreements with respect to borders, that is going too far.

And all that people who are dubious about giving aid are saying is that we should give it to a government that is dedicated to building a Palestinian society and is prepared to talk without preconditions on either side about the future of relationships between Israel and the Palestinians. Those seem to me essential preconditions for a negotiation.

BLITZER: What about that...

KISSINGER: Later on...

BLITZER: ... Let me let Dr. Brzezinski weigh in as well because he's work on this issue for many, many years himself.

BRZEZINSKI: I think it's perfectly legitimate to insist on the Hamas emphasizing that they're willing to maintain stability and refrain from terrorism in the relations with Israel. That is to say, they abstain from the use of force.

That's a perfectly legitimate request, which they have to, I think, acknowledge.

To insist that they, so to speak, recognize the state of Israel, that they, in effect, endorse the arrangements that have been so far contrived, I think, is an attempt to make them eat crow knowing full well that they cannot do that without in effect negating what they are and thereby precipitate an internal crisis within their own structure and probably in effect the isolation of the Palestinian Authority, thereby plunging the Palestinians into chaos because of poverty, funds and so forth.

I think we have to bear in mind that the Likud government, for example, evolved over time. The Likud government initially was arguing that all of Palestine should be part of Israel, and yet no one put pressure on it through economic sanctions to change its position, and in time it did. So we have to bear that in mind.

BLITZER: We have to unfortunately leave it there, but we'll continue this conversation down the road.

Dr. Brzezinski, Dr. Kissinger, always good to have both of you on "Late Edition."

And a reminder that coming up on "Late Edition" for our North American viewers right at the top of the hour CNN reporters are on the story, including our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, takes a closer look at where things stand in Iraq today three years after the start of the war. All that coming up at the top of the hour on "On the Story."

Just ahead, my special conversation with Afghanistan's foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. I'll ask him about the hunt for Osama bin Laden and more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): First this: Carla Martin, what's her story? The transportation security administration lawyer is at the center of a controversy that temporarily jeopardized the federal government's death penalty case against admitted Al Qaida member, Zacarias Moussaoui.

Martin served as the liaison between the government and its witnesses in the Moussaoui case. But Moussaoui's sentencing hearing was interrupted this week when the judge learned that Martin violated court rules by e-mailing transcripts of previous testimony to potential witnesses. The judge eventually ruled that the government could present additional witnesses that were not contacted by Martin.

Now on paid administrative leave, Martin could be in legal hot water herself, facing potential contempt of court or witness tampering charges.

(UNKNOWN): What did you do? Why did you do it, ma'am?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Looking at a live picture of the White House. Momentarily, we expect the president of the United States to be making a statement upon his return from Camp David. We'll go there live as soon as the president starts speaking.

The president has praised Afghanistan's democratically elected government, but there is concern the Taliban may be reconsolidating power in that country, as well as in neighboring Pakistan. Joining us now to talk about that and more, Afghanistan's foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

Foreign Minister, welcome back to "Late Edition." Always good to have you here in Washington and on "Late Edition." The president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, caused worldwide headlines two weeks ago on "Late Edition" when he said this about Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PRESIDENT OF PAKISTAN: I am totally disappointed with their intelligence, and I feel there is a very, very deliberate attempt to malign Pakistan by some agents, and President Karzai is totally oblivious of what is happening in his own country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Those were not very diplomatic words. Karzai totally oblivious to what's happening in his own country. I wonder if you'd like to respond to President Musharraf.

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, AFGHANISTAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER: On the issue of Afghanistan and Pakistan's relation, one issue which we need to work it out, that's the cooperation in security beat (ph). I mean, Taliban and al Qaida and their bases inside Pakistan, and that's what was discussed during our visit to Pakistan.

BLITZER: But what he is suggesting, President Musharraf, is that the information that President Karzai supposedly said he gave to Pakistan was old, was outdated, was useless as far as Taliban forces moving from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

ABDULLAH: The issue is that when we talk about the presence of training camps in Pakistan, they admit, and in fact, they admit this in negotiations in meetings as well as publicly that there are some training camps in Pakistan. When we talk about the presence of the Taliban leaders there and those who are active, they say that, yes, they might be here and they are there. And then they ask for intelligence.

When this intelligence was provided to them, unfortunately we have this reaction as you mentioned that it was outdated and a waste of time and so on and so forth. We know that this is a big challenge for Pakistan. We appreciate the efforts that they have made so far in that respect. But we also... BLITZER: Are you suggesting that they're not doing enough, the Pakistanis, to deal with Taliban elements who have moved from Afghanistan into these tribal areas of Pakistan?

ABDULLAH: Yes, of course, they know about it and they are well establishing intelligence, the eyesight, which had worked earlier with these elements. They know where those people are and who they are and what are they up to.

BLITZER: So what is your complaint?

ABDULLAH: Our point is that it is a common enemy. It is a common threat. It will not do any good to Pakistan. It is not doing any good to Afghanistan. Let's work together rather than putting the blame on another side.

BLITZER: But are you suggesting that the Pakistanis are deliberately not doing enough to up root these Taliban elements in Pakistan?

ABDULLAH: I think more effort and maximal effort is needed and consistent policy of carrying out those efforts is needed, and a sincere move in that direction is needed. And the name of the game is cooperation rather than blaming us for what is happening there.

BLITZER: The New York Times recently wrote this: "Four years after the Taliban were ousted from power by the American military, their presence is bigger and more menacing than ever, say police and government officials, village elders, farmers and aid workers across southern Afghanistan ... Despite its evident military supremacy, the American-led alliance has not been able to root out the insurgency. And the Taliban's tactics have succeeded in sowing fear."

Is the Taliban in your country, Afghanistan, now making a comeback?

ABDULLAH: I should say that as far as the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan is concerned, the people have rejected the agenda of Taliban, and they have rejected it long before. When it comes to their activities, the main issue is that most of these activities are linked one way or another to what is happening in the other side of the border. It's there that we are working.

We are talking with our neighboring country Pakistan. It's there that we are working with the coalition forces to work together with Pakistan to stop those people from coming. I'm sure that in the past four years, which was the critical moment in point to deal with Taliban outside Afghanistan, as well, some opportunity was messed. But it is not too late if we do cooperate sincerely with one another it can -- the trend can reverse, but I would not...

BLITZER: It sounds -- excuse me for interrupting, foreign minister. But it sounds like the recriminations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are getting pretty serious. The Pakistani president being very blunt in criticizing Hamid Karzai. Today you're saying it's Pakistan's fault that they're not really uprooting the Taliban, and this is causing problems for you inside Afghanistan. How bad is this relationship now between Afghanistan and Pakistan?

ABDULLAH: There is an atmosphere today which we hope we will put it behind us as soon as possible. And this shouldn't detract us from the same business of dealing outright in a straightforward and directly against the threat, which we consider it a common threat.

They have done a lot in terms of dealing with the al Qaida. They have arrested a few hundred of al Qaida members. There shouldn't be any distinction between al Qaida and Taliban. They are of the same view, on the same coast, in the same agenda. It's there that we need more work and more cooperation.

BLITZER: Do you have any idea where Osama bin Laden is?

ABDULLAH: To the best of our intelligence, to the best of my knowledge, he is outside Afghanistan. And he might be in the same place where all those other members of Al Qaida have been arrested. So that's as far as I can say.

BLITZER: Do you have any idea where his number two, Ayman Al- Zawahiri is?

ABDULLAH: That as well, there is quite confidence in our intelligence as well as, I should say, among the coalition forces which are helping us, that he's also outside Afghanistan.

BLITZER: And you think he's in Pakistan?

ABDULLAH: That's the main likelihood.

BLITZER: You think both bin Laden and Zawahiri are in Pakistan?

ABDULLAH: They are not in Afghanistan. I hope they will be able to find those people the same way that they have found all the other members of Al Qaida, in the same places.

BLITZER: And one final question: Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban -- he's still missing. Where is he?

ABDULLAH: Friends should be found together, those friends, close friends, in the same vicinity.

BLITZER: So you think all of them, all three of them are together or near each other in Pakistan?

ABDULLAH: That's our intelligence, that they are among their friends. Their supporters are in Pakistan. And Pakistan has been dealing with those -- have been fighting against the terrorist camps in Pakistan, but that has not resulted to the arrest of these people.

BLITZER: We, unfortunately, Foreign Minister, have to leave it there. We're standing by for the president to be making a statement at the White House.

We're going to take a quick break, go to the president, but we'll continue our conversation on your next visit here. Thanks very much for joining us.

ABDULLAH: You're welcome. Thank you.

BLITZER: And we're standing by for the president. We'll go to the White House momentarily, the president expected to make a statement as Marine One begins the touchdown on the South Lawn. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: From Camp David where they had been spending the weekend, the president about to make a statement to the microphone here. We were alerted that he wants to make a statement to reporters. And he will be doing that right now.

Elaine Quijano is watching this from the White House, together with all of us. We'll bring her in in a moment. Here's the president of the United States.

BUSH: This morning, I had a phone call with our ambassador to Iraq. And the ambassador informed me of the progress that the Iraqis are making toward forming a unity government.

I encouraged the Iraqi leaders to continue to work hard to get this government up and running. The Iraqi people voted for democracy last December. About 75 percent of the eligible citizens went to the polls to vote.

And now the Iraqi leaders are working together to enact a government that reflects the will of the people. And so I'm encouraged by the progress. The ambassador was encouraged by it.

Today, as well, marks the third anniversary of the beginning of the liberation of Iraq. And it's a time to reflect. And this morning my reflections were upon the sacrifices of the men and women who wear our uniform.

Ours is an amazing nation where thousands have volunteered to serve our country. They volunteered to -- many volunteered after 9/11, knowing full well that their time in the military could put them in harm's way.

And so, on this third anniversary, the beginning of the liberation of Iraq, I think all Americans should offer thanks to the men and women who wear the uniform and their families who support them.

We are implementing a strategy that will lead to victory in Iraq. And a victory in Iraq will make this country more secure and will help lay the foundation of peace for generations to come.

May God continue to bless our troops in harm's way. Thank you.

BLITZER: A short statement from the president of the United States on this, the third anniversary of the war. Elaine Quijano, he praised the troops; he said he got a report from Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, saying things were moving in the right direction.

I guess he just wanted to be on the record on this day and make that statement, Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. And, right now, the White House is in the midst of a renewed campaign, if you will, to try to turn around public opinion on the Iraq war.

Of course, that is the singular issue that has weighed down his approval ratings. And officials here at the White House understand full well that it is difficult for Americans to continue to see the images of violence, sectarian violence and also violence against U.S. troops in Iraq.

So we heard that brief statement from the president today. We're also, tomorrow, in Cleveland, going to be hearing the president give a speech.

He'll be more specific, we're told, providing some concrete examples of what the administration views as progress in Iraq.

We already heard some of that from the president's radio address this weekend, the president essentially saying, despite what he called the horrific images of sectarian violence coming out of Iraq, that he is, in fact, encouraged, as we heard him say today, that Iraq's leaders are responding in a way that will ultimately allow Iraq to establish a democracy.

So, Wolf, we can expect the president to continue with that theme when he delivers that speech tomorrow in Cleveland.

BLITZER: And the vice president will be delivering a speech on Tuesday in Illinois. Dr. Brzezinski is still with us, the former national security adviser. He says he's encouraged by the progress. Are you?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I'm pleased to hear that the Iraqi leaders may be getting together. But the test of the pudding is in the eating. That is to say, can they govern?

And we don't know they can govern because there's a war of attrition going on. And they're not able to respond to it effectively on their own.

This is why I still feel that, the sooner we end our colonialist attitude toward Iraq, stop treating them as if they were a colony of ours, the sooner we'll find out who really can govern Iraq.

And I happen to think that authentic Shiite and Kurdish leaders can do so. And they'll find some formula of co-existence with the Sunnis.

BLITZER: Henry Kissinger is still with us, as well. Your brief reaction to what we just heard from the president, Dr. Kissinger?

KISSINGER: My heart goes out to the president because I've served in an administration that faced a very divided country in a very difficult set of circumstances. The president is trying to head out in a direction that avoids civil war in Iraq and that prevents the insurgents from dominating and establishing some sort of fundamentalist regime.

I think we should attempt to work together on this. I would support the objectives. And I think we -- I hope that the president is correct in his assumption. And nobody has yet put forward a better program.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, Dr. Brzezinski, Elaine Quijano, we'll leave it there.

But stay with CNN for complete coverage of all the events around this, the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

That's it for this "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. For our North American viewers, "On the Story" is coming up next.

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