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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Zalmay Khalilzad; Interview With Fouad Siniora

Aired April 23, 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." We'll speak live with the United States ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, in just a few minutes. But first let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now with Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Fred?
(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. We begin with that developing story, what's reported to be a new audiotape message from the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Joining us here in Washington, our CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen. Peter, let's play a little clip of this audiotape from Osama bin Laden as aired on al Jazeera.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSAMA BIN LADEN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Any war is the joint responsibility of the people and the government. While war continues, people renew their allegiance to politicians and continue to send their sons to our countries to fight us. They continue their financial and moral support while our countries are burned, our homes are bombed, and our people are killed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Peter, what's your assessment? What do you make of this latest audiotape? First of all, it sounds like bin Laden.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It sounds like him. And, you know, al Jazeera's never made a mistake about one of these tapes. And in my judgment, it's him.

BLITZER: The last one we got was back in January from Osama bin Laden. That was an audiotape as well. It's been a while since there's been a videotape of him. What should we make, if anything, that there's no video of him, only audio?

BERGEN: The last videotape we had from him was October 29, 2004, five days before the U.S. presidential election. In that videotape, he looked pretty well. His clothes are well pressed. He clearly wasn't living in a cave. Caves don't tend to have laundry facilities.

But I think he's avoiding videotapes because -- maybe for two reasons. One, maybe he doesn't have the technical capacity to produce one, a sign of weakness. Or two, videotapes just have more clues about his condition, his health, maybe even his whereabouts. They're more risky.

BLITZER: He seems to be poking his eye once again at the west, especially the United States.

BERGEN: Yeah, no change there. In this tape, by the way, one interesting thing is he's making less of a distinction between the American people and the American government, which could be troubling. He has in the past sometimes tried to sort of offer -- sort of directly speak to the American people and suggest there was some separation. The fact that he's not making that separation suggests that it's okay again to attack American civilians and might be a signal to al Qaida or its affiliates to go after American civilians again.

BLITZER: He goes after what he calls the Zionists and the crusaders, specifically condemning the stoppage of the aid to the new Hamas-led Palestinian government, positioning himself as a champion of the Palestinians.

BERGEN: Yes. No surprise there. Bin laden hated the PLO and Yasser Arafat, its leader. He thought they were secularists. He has always sort of embraced Hamas. Indeed, one of bin Laden's spiritual mentors, a guy called Abdullah Resam (ph), had some role in the founding of Hamas. So, sadly, Hamas as an organization is something that bin Laden has long had an admiration for.

BLITZER: The other subject that he seems to address at length is Sudan and Darfur, saying that Muslims there should oppose any international effort, western effort to go in and deal with this crisis there.

BERGEN: Yeah, of course, bin Laden lived in the Sudan from '92 to '96. It's a country that he knows pretty well. In his view efforts at peace agreement in Sudan are actually efforts by the west to carve up the country into different -- and part of a plan for the west to take over ever larger parts of the Muslim world.

BLITZER: Peter, we'll leave it right there. Peter Bergen, our terrorism analyst, thanks to you.

Let's turn now to the end of a political impasse in Iraq, at least seemingly. This weekend, Iraqi lawmakers voted to fill the top positions in that country, sparking some fresh hope for a stable future in the war-torn nation. Joining us now to discuss this potential breakthrough, the United States ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to "Late Edition." I want to get to all of the dramatic developments in Iraq in a moment, but what's your reading, first of all, if you've had a chance to assess this Osama bin Laden tape? You're an authority on the region. You spent time in Afghanistan before you were the ambassador in Iraq. What is your sense of this latest audiotape from bin Laden? ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, that he wants to be relevant to the situation, wants to get attention, that he still is a player and that this is unfinished business that we still have to deal with.

BLITZER: Should the U.S. and the West take his threats seriously? Can he, in other words, undertake another 9/11-type attack against the United States or worse?

KHALILZAD: Well, I don't know about his abilities right now. I'm not focused on that at the present time. My focus is on Iraq. But I believe that we need to take him seriously.

BLITZER: In Iraq, is al Qaida in effect the leader -- the leadership of the insurgency?

KHALILZAD: Well, there is terror, and Zarqawi that has ties to bin Laden is the leader of the Iraq al Qaida. And then there is different kinds of insurgencies, some with ties to al Qaida, some independent of, and some are turning against al Qaida. So it's a more complicated picture than Zarqawi, al Qaida being the leadership of the insurgency here.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, let's move on to the establishment potentially of a new government in Baghdad. Over the past few days we've heard a relatively new name, at least to many of us, including some of us who've spent a lot of time studying the situation in Iraq. Jawad al Maliki.

Someone we didn't -- at least I wasn't very familiar with. Have you had a chance to spend a lot of time with this new designated prime minister?

KHALILZAD: Yes. I have known him since I have been here. If you remember, when I came here in July, there was the constitution that we were working on, and he was one of the key people in the constitutional commission. And he has also been an important player in the assembly in the political debate.

And I have worked with him very closely in the course of the last few weeks since the results of the election became final on February the 10th to work out a program of national unity for the new government to work out new institutions and rules and procedures for this new government. He was always at the table negotiating with the other factions. So he's a well-known quantity to me.

BLITZER: Well, what do you think of him? Is he a moderate? Is he an Islamist? Give us a little bit of background on who this man is.

KHALILZAD: He is an Iraqi patriot. He opposed Saddam Hussein in the '80s, had to leave the country because of the threat against his life. Since the overthrow of Saddam he's been back.

Was in the same party as Prime Minister Jaafari. He has a reputation for being a strong leader, a patriotic leader, without being subordinate or having strong ties to any of the regional players. We look forward to working with him.

Yes, a number of very positive things since he was nominated, that he will work for all Iraqis.

He will put a competent, independent, strong team together, that he will deal with the issue of the militias and that he will also review the issue of how the de-Baathification has been carried out.

BLITZER: He's been described in various press reports over the past 48 hours as a hard-liner. We went back and we got this quote, what he said on September 27th, 2005, last year.

This is what he said: "The death penalty will be the fate of everyone who carries out bombings or plants explosive charges. This time the law will not only apply to terrorists who directly perpetrate the crime but also to all those who finance, propagate, cover up, support, or provide shelter for the terrorists, no matter how involved they are. Their penalty will be equal to that of the actual perpetrator."

It sounds as if he wanted to go after supporters of the terrorists, of the insurgents, including, potentially, family members who would support these individuals.

That resolution he proposed was turned down, but it does make him sound like he's a very tough guy.

KHALILZAD: He is a tough guy, tough-minded as well. He has been very tough on the issue of terrorism. However, his statements before he became the prime minister, or became the nominee -- it will be different once he's in office. There are rules and regulations and laws that govern these things.

To some extent, what he has said in the past is an indication of but not entirely indicative of what he will be as prime minister.

The responsibilities of the office are not the same as when you're campaigning against other opponents, as he was in the period prior to the December 15 elections.

But yes, he is a tough-minded, strong leader. And he has taken strong positions against the terrorists and the insurgency and on the Baathists as well.

BLITZER: Here's what the Los Angeles Times wrote on Saturday: "In terms of ideology and personal history, Maliki and Jaafari [the man who was supposed to be the prime minister, the current prime minister] appear to be carbon copies." Both men are in their 50s and hail from the Shiite shrine city of Karbala. Both were idealistic and devout Shiite opponents of Iraq's Sunni Arab rulers and the Baath party.

They became underground members of the Islamic Dawa party. Both fled into exile in Iran after Hussein came to power."

How concerned should the U.S. be that this new prime minister designate is so closely aligned to Iran?

KHALILZAD: Well, on Iran, there is good evidence that he is quite independent of Iran.

And with regard to the attributes that you mentioned, what Iraq, right now, needs is a person that can unify the country, is a unifier and is competent in terms of dealing with the problems of the country.

And the problem that Prime Minister Jaafari ran into was that the Kurds and the Sunni Arabs rejected him. These two groups welcomed Mr. Maliki.

And as I said before, with regard to his competence, he has a reputation for being a strong leader. We will have to wait and see how he does in office. But the indications are positive.

BLITZER: Here's what the president, President Bush said yesterday, reacting in part to the development, the dramatic developments in Iraq. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States and our coalition partners will work with the new Iraqi government to reassess our tactics, adjust our methods and strengthen our mutual efforts to achieve victory in this central front in the war on terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Among other things, he also suggested that, as Iraqi forces build themselves up, U.S. forces will be able to start leaving. The formation of this government, assuming it takes place over the next 30 days or so, the formal formation, what will that mean in terms of allowing U.S. troops to start coming home?

KHALILZAD: Well, the level of U.S. forces that we have here right now is not an end in itself for us. Neither is the composition of it it. Neither is the mission.

I think, as the circumstances change, the size, mission and composition will change.

The importance of the government, this government of national unity with a competent prime minister that can unify as well as good strong ministers, can be very helpful in terms of affecting the circumstances here. And therefore, it can assist in the adjustment, both in terms of size and in terms of the mission and the composition of the forces here.

BLITZER: Would you think that, by the end of this year, U.S. forces will be able to withdraw in significant numbers, assuming the political process in Iraq goes forward?

KHALILZAD: Well, I think the political process will have a very positive effect if it goes forward as I have described. And it could, as one of the factors -- the other factor being the training of the Iraqi forces, the level of the terrorist attacks, what happens to the insurgency and the regional environment -- but as one of the key factors, I think, I am optimistic that it will have a positive effect in terms of the requirements for the level of forces that we have right now.

BLITZER: Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, thanks very much for joining us. Always good to have you on "Late Edition." Be careful where you are.

We have to take a short break. Just ahead, what does the formation of this new Iraqi government potentially mean for American troops in Iraq? We'll get reaction from two key U.S. senators, Arlen Specter and Carl Levin. They're standing by live. Plus, this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, NEW YORK TIMES: As long as Don Rumsfeld is at the head of the Pentagon, we're going to have no allies at home and abroad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is it time for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to go? The New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman is standing by. He'll weigh in.

And please be sure to catch, in case you missed it, Late Edition's Sunday morning talk show roundup. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And joining us now with reaction to the new Iraqi government, the progress in the war in Iraq, the new Osama bin Laden tape, and more, two top members of the United States Senate.

In Philadelphia, the Republican Senator Arlen Specter. He's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And here in Washington, Democrat Carl Levin. He's the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He's also a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Let me start with Senator Levin on this intelligence-related matter. Listen to this Osama bin Laden clip. We haven't verified 100 percent that this is Osama bin Laden, but as of now, we have no reason to doubt it. Listen to what he said in this latest audiotape that Al Jazeera just aired.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

OSAMA BIN LADEN, AL QAIDA LEADER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Their opposition to the Hamas victory proves that this is a crusade against Islam.

This shows what Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri warned about before, not to enter into an infidel's council. The sanctions imposed by the West on the Hamas government prove more that there is a Zionist crusader war on Islam.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: How concerned should Americans be right now that he's speaking out once again on this audiotape, supposedly -- Osama bin Laden?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: We ought to be very concerned, continue to be concerned about his impact on us and on Islam and take, hopefully, actions that we can address both his threat but also the threat that he represents.

BLITZER: Senator Specter, it's almost five years since 9/11. A lot of people are really frustrated every time they hear Osama bin Laden or Ayman al Zawahiri, his number two, in these audiotapes or these videotapes.

Why can't the U.S. find these guys and bring them to justice? I wonder how you feel.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Because there are a lot of hiding places, Wolf. It's a tiny needle in a giant haystack. And very, very intensive efforts have been made.

But frankly, I'm very dissatisfied that we haven't brought him to justice and I think it has to be a top priority. But one day, we'll catch him.

BLITZER: Are you among those, Senator Specter, who believe that the war in Iraq has undermined that effort to go after and find Al Qaida and Osama bin Laden?

SPECTER: No, I believe that we have sufficient resources to undertake both activities. I think that Al Qaida and Osama bin Laden and terrorism continues to pose the number one threat to the United States.

And it would be a major accomplishment if we could find Osama bin Laden and put him out of operation. And I know that there are very strenuous efforts being made, continuously, to get that done.

BLITZER: Senator Levin, what do you think?

LEVIN: I think we took our eye off the ball when President Bush decided to go after Iraq instead of Al Qaida, the people who had attacked us on 9/11, and their leader bin Laden.

We had him pretty well holed up in Tora Bora and instead moved many of our forces and our energies to Iraq. And I think that was a fundamental strategic error.

And the way we fought the war, I think, has also played into the hands of bin Laden with much of the rhetoric which has accompanied this war.

BLITZER: Let's move to Iraq. Senator Specter, what do you make of this new designated prime minister in Iraq, Jawad al-Maliki?

What do you think of the possibility that this could lead to a stable government and that in turn could eventually, perhaps sooner rather than later, start allowing U.S. troops to withdraw?

SPECTER: Wolf, I think it's a significant step forward. I think it's indispensable to have a government in control of Iraq if we're to have any chance to have Iraq take over the policing of their own country and to deal with the insurgents and with the violence.

That has to be. Once you have a government, though, it's not a certainty that the government will succeed. But if you don't have a government, there's no possibility of a government succeeding.

We have to see now how well they do. And we're all looking forward to the day when we can start to bring back U.S. troops, but stability has to be established in Iraq before that can happen.

And I'm hopeful that, when you get the three factions, the Shiites, the Sunnis, and the Kurds together and you have a tough guy -- that statement you played of his about holding responsible people who aid the bombers and the killers is fundamental criminal law. That's what I used to do as district attorney.

But if you're an accessory before the fact, you help them plan it, carry it out, you're an accessory after the fact, you help conceal them and you talk about the death penalty, which, I think, is correct for those vicious terrorists, you ought to apply the death penalty to the people who are co-conspirators.

BLITZER: Here's what senator John Kerry said yesterday, Senator Levin. I want to see if you agree with your fellow Democrat. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D) MASSACHUSETTS: Iraqi leaders have responded only to deadlines, a deadline to transfer authority to provisional government, a deadline to hold each of their three elections. And it was the most intense eleventh-hour pressure that just pushed aside Prime Minister Jaafari.

So we must be tough and we must set another deadline to extricate our troops and get Iraq up on its own two feet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senator Levin, what do you think?

LEVIN: It's very important we put pressure on the Iraqis to meet the deadline that they have set for themselves that are now triggered by the appointment of Mr. Maliki.

For many, many months here now, including on this show, what I've been urging this administration to do is to tell the Iraqis that, unless they promptly got a government in place, that our continued presence could not be counted on.

They finally have started to give that message to the Iraqis. The old message was, for much too long, from this administration is, they can count on us as long as we're needed and that we should be patient.

Well, that was the wrong message. It's now changed, obviously, to a much tougher message.

Wolf, one of the key important parts of this decision yesterday to appoint Mr. Maliki as their prime minister is that this triggers two new specific deadlines in the Iraqi constitution: one, a three- day deadline to complete the appointment of a government.

Without a good minister of interior, you're not going to get the militias out of the police, for instance. Without an independent oil minister, you've got problems. Without an independent defense minister, you've got problems. This is a major channel.

They've also got a four-month deadline that's been triggered to amend their constitution or at least make recommendations to do so.

Our message to them must be that our continued presence depends upon their meeting those 30-day and four-month deadlines.

BLITZER: And if they don't meet those deadlines?

LEVIN: Then we have to remove our troops.

BLITZER: What do you think, Senator Specter? That's a pretty tough ultimatum that Senator Levin is giving the Iraqis.

SPECTER: I do not believe that you can put deadlines in concrete because there are factors which arise which make it an impossibility. But I think the pressure to maintain those deadlines is exactly right.

But I disagree with Senator Kerry when he talks about a deadline for withdrawal of our troops. Senator Kerry is not talking about the carefully calibrated deadlines which the Iraqis have imposed on themselves that Senator Levin has referred to.

Senator Kerry wants to put a deadline on troop withdrawal without respect to that. And if you tell the insurgents and you tell the killers that we're going to be out of there by a certain date, that just tells them what date they have to keep their strength up and we'll get out. But Senator Levin's right on the pressure.

BLITZER: We're going to take a break. But I want you to respond to Senator Kerry. By the end of this year, he wants U.S. troops out of Iraq. Is he going too far or is he just right on?

LEVIN: I think our goal should be that most of the troops be out of Iraq by the end of this year.

But Senator Specter just reinforced the two deadlines that I'm talking about that they must meet in order to ensure our continued presence are the deadlines that they have imposed on themselves in their constitution. That's what we must reinforce.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Levin, Senator Specter, we'll take a quick break. Much more ahead. Coming up -- by the way, our guests have just been named among Time Magazine's 10 best U.S. senators. We'll explain this unique distinction when we come back as well.

Up next, though, we'll have a quick check of what's in the news right now, including another bloody weekend in Iraq, despite the political progress. Stay with "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're continuing our discussion with two top U.S. senators, Republican Arlen Specter and Democrat Carl Levin.

Senator Specter, you're a good Republican, although maybe some Republicans on the far right might not necessarily agree with that statement. But let's go through some of these poll numbers that have come out. How is Bush handling his job as president? In this Gallup poll, 36 percent approve in that poll. That's a record low.

Do you approve the way the Congress is handling its job? The Republican-led House and Senate. Twenty-three percent approval record. Obviously pretty low. Perhaps most worrisome to Republicans and the president is this question: Are you satisfied with the way things are going in the United States? Only 27 percent, Senator Specter, say they're satisfied.

And I suspect, given the amazingly spiraling cost of gasoline on the streets of America right now, that number is probably going to go down. How worried should incumbent Republicans be right now looking toward the November election?

SPECTER: Well, I think candidates for elective office ought to always be worried. When you cite those statistics, Wolf, the corollaries are that when you ask people about their own United States senator or about their own representative, you get figures which are considerably higher. I think the public has an attitude of a plague on both their houses because of all the controversy and all the bickering in Washington.

But candidates for the Senate or candidates for the House really have visibility and recognition beyond the president's figures. But when you talk about being worried, it's a very tumultuous time, and I think anybody up for election this year ought to be working very hard, taking it very seriously.

BLITZER: What about the price of gasoline? We saw $75 per barrel this past week. That's a record high. Some are saying that the profits of Exxon Mobil, the major oil companies, are out of control, that their salaries are out of control, their benefits, and that the federal government should go ahead and slap a tax, a windfall profits tax on these oil companies. What do you think?

LEVIN: I think we definitely should. If the president would call the oil companies into the Oval Office and tell them he's going to support a windfall profits tax the way some of us have been urging, unless they bring the prices down given the excess profits that they've earned, the extreme obscene profits that they've gotten, I'll bet that the price of gasoline would come down within a matter of days.

But the president will not call the oil companies into his office because he's been too closely allied with those oil companies, and if he does it's going to be a window-dressing conversation. It'll be some rhetoric about you guys have got to check, make sure there's no gouging.

Wolf, it's not good enough. We need a windfall profits tax because these profits have been absolutely obscene. They're out of control, and I think I hear more about the price of gas from back home than just about any subject these days.

BLITZER: I suspect that Senator Specter, in Pennsylvania a lot of drivers are angry right now and they're focusing their anger on these oil companies. Do you agree with Senator Levin that the government should go ahead and slap a windfall profits tax on Exxon Mobil and the other companies?

SPECTER: Wolf, I think it's something worth considering among a number of options. I've introduced legislation after bringing in the chief executive officers of the major companies. I believe that we have allowed too many companies to get together to reduce competition.

You have Mobil Exxon, two big companies getting together. You have Conoco Phillips. And the hearing that we had got very deeply involved into the concentration. And one of the legislative points which I've been pushing and is in my bill, co- sponsored by Senator DeWine and Senator Feinstein and others, is to make the OPEC countries, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela and the other countries, subject to our antitrust laws.

They get together, reduce the supply of oil, and that drives up prices. There's no doubt about the seriousness of the issue. In the short run, it's hard to deal with it for tomorrow. But I think windfall profits, eliminating the antitrust exemption, considering the excessive concentration of power are all items we ought to be addressing.

BLITZER: Senator Specter, do you think it's possible to get an immigration reform bill through the Senate and the House, something the president could sign into law, anytime soon?

SPECTER: Yes, I do. I think the committee bill which got to the floor has the key ingredients of a successful bill. It includes border protection. It includes a realistic proposal on dealing with the 11 million undocumented immigrants.

It picks up on a guest-worker program, which the president wants and which Speaker Hastert has called for. I think that there has to be an agreement between Democrats and Republicans on a list of amendments. I think that most of them would be defeated where they seek to weaken the committee bill.

And it would be a tough conference, candidly, with the House, but we were able to work through the Patriot Act although there were big disagreements. This country needs immigration reform, and I think we can get it if we work at it.

BLITZER: What do you think, Senator Levin?

LEVIN: I think we can get it if we follow the lead of senators Specter and Leahy and if -- and this is a big if -- the administration will weigh in and the president will take a leadership role on this. So far, he's frankly been all over the place on immigration.

We need a bipartisan bill. We need a comprehensive bill. Senators Specter and Leahy have put together such a bill. And I think it's very possible we can get one, providing we address all of the problems and not just one or two of them, since it's obvious our system is now broken.

BLITZER: Time magazine cites Senator Carl Levin as one of America's ten best senators. They call him the bird-dogger. His carefully researched, thoughtful remarks carry great weight with his colleagues. Time magazine also cites Senator Arlen Specter as one of America's ten best senators. They call him the contrarian.

It takes a special talent to make it as a guy whom allies call abrasive, brutal, and prosecutorial. I think we saw some of those traits on "Late Edition" today. I want to thank both of you for joining us. And we'll have you back soon.

SPECTER: Thank you, wolf. Nice to be with you. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks to both of you. Still to come, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times. Also ahead, in case you missed it, "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show roundup. But first this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(UNKNOWN): Money magazine researchers checked out hundreds of jobs. They ranked each career based on categories including earning, flexibility, creativity, stress, and ease of entry. And this is what they found. Financial adviser scored a B average and ranked number three on money's list of best jobs in America. Money's Cybele Weisser said it's one of the most popular jobs today.

CYBELE WEISSER, MONEY MAGAZINE: With the diminishment of pensions and people trying to figure out what to do with their 401(k)s, Baby Boomers are retiring, there's so much need for financial advice.

(UNKNOWN): Education is often seen as the key to getting a good job, and believe it or not, the job of college professor ranked number two, mainly because the hours are so flexible. WEISSER: You can arrange a schedule where you're not in the office 9 to 5 every day. You might teach two courses a week, for example.

(UNKNOWN): And which position topped the list? According to Money magazine, if you are a software engineer, you have the best job in America.

WEISSER: There's such a huge need for software engineers right now. It's a job that has a lot of flexibility in that it's in every location including, of course, working from home. It's not too stressful, and it is a job where you can get into it with a bachelor's degree. It also pays very well.

(UNKNOWN): For a complete list of Money magazine's best jobs in America, visit www.money.com.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: 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 ABC's "This Week," former Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry reacts to the latest alleged audiotape from Osama bin Laden, and blames the Bush administration for failing to catch him back in 2001.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA): It underscores the failure of this administration to capture him. This is one of the reasons that Donald Rumsfeld should resign. Osama bin Laden is loose today because we allowed him to escape at Tora Bora. It's that simple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On "Fox News Sunday," the top members of the House intelligence committee, Democrat Jane Harman and Republican Peter Hoekstra, are encouraged by the new government in Iraq but admit there's still a lot of work ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JANE HARMAN (D-CA): Having two officials in this government is not a government. They have 30 days to pick the other cabinet officials, and then their cabinet has to govern. I think that if the lights don't go on by August when it's 130 degrees out there, which was the case last August as well, I don't know that they will make it.

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE PETER HOEKSTRA (R-MI): What we really need now is we need action. We need action on the security front, on the economic front, in the political front. Not any one of these steps is a magic silver bullet that says, OK, we're now successful in Iraq. Each one is one more step forward in a very difficult and what we're finding is a long process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On "Meet the Press" the senior senator from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, told NBC's Tim Russert there's good reason to think there could be a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA): I don't see any reason why you couldn't see the total withdrawal. We're running into months now, six or eight more months for the remainder of the year. But what we're talking about in Iraq is to convince the elements in Iraq that are going to be making decisions that they can no longer lean on the United States armed forces as a crutch.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And on CBS's "Face the Nation," retired U.S. Army Major General John Batiste, the former commander of the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, explains why he thinks Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should step down right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: We need to hold the current secretary of defense accountable for some very bad strategic decisions. Just around the corner, there are some huge decisions that this country will have to make. And we need senior leadership at the Department of Defense whose instinct and judgment we trust.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

Up next, something you'll see only here on CNN. We're going to go live to our Aneesh Raman. He's in Tehran, Iran, covering that country's nuclear ambitions. Aneesh standing by live on "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition."

Iran has said it will not abandon its work on uranium enrichment, and insists it's prepared to face the consequences. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is expected to speak about his country's nuclear ambitions and other subjects to a group of international journalists on Monday. CNN will be there. In fact, our Aneesh Raman is already in Tehran. He's joining us now live via videophone for a preview.

Aneesh, set the stage for us. What's going on? ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, good morning. It is only the second time since taking office that the Iranian president has allowed foreign journalists into a press conference. This situation will undoubtedly come up. Iran essentially faces a Friday deadline to decide whether or not the country will suspend the enrichment of uranium that it announced it began on April 11th. The country essentially says it is pursuing a peaceful, civilian nuclear program.

Today, a spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry said the country has no intention of suspending its enrichment activities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAMID REZA ASEFI, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY (through translator): We are determined to defend our rights. Nuclear research will continue, and suspension of nuclear activities is not in our agenda. The issue is irreversible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAMAN: Now, essentially what this is about, Wolf, is whether or not the world trusts Iran. Iran has said consistently it is pursuing a peaceful, civilian nuclear program, that it has every right to do so. The West, especially the U.S., has raised concerns if Iran has a nuclear program on Iranian soil, it could then lead eventually to Iran having a nuclear weapon. The government here has consistently denied any attempt to do that, and the Iranian people, who we spoke to today in the capital, largely support their president's call for a civilian nuclear program, not so much because of the defiance against the West but really because of an economic reality. This is a country that is desperately looking for economic development. President Ahmadinejad rallied support here by calling this a nationalist cause and also saying that a civilian nuclear program will help the economy of Iran. But this could be a big and pivotal week ahead in the standoff between Iran and the West -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there an explanation, Aneesh, why they've decided to let you and other Western journalists in this week? Take us a little bit behind the scenes.

RAMAN: Well, as you've mentioned, I mean, visas are incredibly difficult to get. We are coming in both given the news environment, but also there's a conference that begins tomorrow that is dealing both with Iran's nuclear program, civilian nuclear program, and also with the situation in Iraq. So we're able to cover both as we're here.

We have been out on the streets today. We've been given essentially complete freedom to talk to Iranians. But again, a big week ahead, and we'll continue to try and do that all week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll be joining you throughout the week here on CNN, including in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Aneesh Raman, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck over there in Tehran, Iran. There's much more ahead on "Late Edition." We'll speak with "New York Times" columnist and author Thomas Friedman about the war in Iraq. Is there an end in sight?

And later, Mideast turmoil. We'll get some special perspective from the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora. All that coming up in the next hour. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll get to my interview with New York Times columnist and author Tom Friedman in just a moment. First, though, let's go to Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center for a quick check of what's in the news right now. Fred?

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.

Let's get more insight into the purported Osama bin Laden audiotape that surfaced earlier today.

Joining us now from our London bureau, our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson.

Nic, you spent a lot of time studying Osama bin Laden. What's your bottom-line assessment of this audiotape?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: I think one thing is quite significant here, Wolf. For the first time, really, we've heard Osama bin Laden now saying that the people of the United States are responsible for what their government does -- in particular, the wars, they say.

Now, his last message three months ago was directed to the people of the United States, offering a sort of truce, if troops were pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now his message is very clear: it is the people and the government of the United States that are responsible for these attacks.

BLITZER: So what does that mean, that random terrorist attacks along the lines of 9/11 against average Americans, random Americans, that that's going forward?

ROBERTSON: You know, in the way that bin Laden thinks and often lays out, in his own sort of legalese, if you will, yes, this would seem to clear the way that Americans could now be legitimate targets of Al Qaida, once again.

And perhaps that's what this message is intended to say, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's listen to a clip, some of that audiotape that aired on Al Jazeera, purportedly from Osama bin Laden. Nic, listen to this. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

OSAMA BIN LADEN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Any war is the joint responsibility of the people and the government. While war continues, people renew their allegiance to their rulers and politicians and continue to send their sons to our countries to fight us.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

They continue their financial and moral support while our countries are burned, our homes are bombed and our people are killed.

BLITZER: There's no reason to doubt, Nic, that this is in fact Osama bin Laden -- is there?

ROBERTSON: It is still being checked technically by U.S. intelligence officials, but several people at CNN who speak Arabic, have listened to bin Laden on many occasions, believe it is him.

And again, one of the other, sort of, central themes that he's come back to is the main Al Qaida message. That is, the West is attacking Muslims around the world. And one case in point he points to is the U.S. opposition to the new Hamas government.

BLITZER: Let's listen to that tape right now.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BIN LADEN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Their opposition to the Hamas victory proves that this is a crusade against Islam. This shows what Sheikh Ayman Al-Zawahiri before, not to enter into an infidel's counsel.

The sanctions imposed by the West on the Hamas government prove more that there is a Zionist crusader war against Islam.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: I suspect, Nic, if there was any doubt that Osama bin Laden is still alive and if this is his voice, it's clear that he's referring to some very, very contemporaneous events, the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

Does the statement he made on Hamas seem to suggest he might be going directly -- Al Qaida might be going directly after Israeli targets?

ROBERTSON: Certainly, this is the theme that we've heard from bin Laden before. And certainly, this could be an indication of that.

I think what we're seeing here from bin Laden is, really, trying to broaden the message, Al Qaida's message to as many Muslims as possible, essentially saying that, you know, Hamas is under attack. They were legitimately elected and therefore, if they're under attack, then we're all under attack and trying to pull people all together. But it certainly does mean that he's focusing his thoughts on Hamas and Israel.

BLITZER: Nic, thank you very much. Nic Robertson in London.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was an early supporter of the war in Iraq. But more recently, he's been very critical of the Bush administration's management in Iraq and, overall, in the Middle East.

Earlier, I spoke with him about his thoughts on the war in Iraq, the potential nuclear threat from Iran and the expanded version of his best-selling book, "The World is Flat."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now is Tom Friedman of the New York Times, the author of the best seller, "The World is Flat."

Congratulations: 52 weeks and counting on the New York Times best seller's list. We're going to get to the book in a moment. Let's get to Iraq first.

As someone, going into the war, who supported the war, what's your assessment right now? Do you see any light at the end of this tunnel?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I think we're in the end game here, Wolf, in the sense that we've had an election in Iraq in January. We now have an attempt to forge a government of national unity, Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds.

And the question is: can Iraqis get this government together? If they do, I think the American public will continue to want to support the effort there to try to produce a decent, stable Iraq.

But if they don't, then I think the bottom is going to fall out of public support here for the whole Iraq endeavor.

So one way or another, I think we're in the end game in the sense it's going to be decided in the next weeks or months whether there's an Iraq there worth investing in. And that is something only Iraqis can tell us.

BLITZER: There's been a lot of speculation that this country, if not already in a civil war, is moving almost inevitably toward a civil war.

The defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld does not believe that. Listen to what he says. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: I don't think a full- fledged civil war will take hold of the country. The Iraqi people have voted with their hearts and their courage and their feet. And they've said they want to have that constitution and they want to have an elected government. And I think they're going to have one. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are you as upbeat as he is?

FRIEDMAN: We're going to know very soon whether they're going to produce this government. But I think the issue is not whether there's a civil war or not a civil war, Wolf.

The issue is, is there a government that really has control of the country or do we have a situation of so much of a security vacuum that you've got all of these militias and gangs now emerging, that people are basically clustering into their corners?

People know how to protect themselves. You know, and if I'm a Kurd or a Shiite or a Sunni and I think that national army or that national police is not going to protect me, I'm going to go for my local militia.

And the tragedy of Iraq today is that's what's happening. And these militias -- then they take on an interest of their own. You know, they take on a life of their own. And that becomes very hard, as we saw in Lebanon.

BLITZER: I don't see any attempt, at least right now, to break these militias, whether the Badr militia or any of the other militias -- the Peshmerga, the Kurdish militia in the North.

Do you see any serious effort to break these militias?

FRIEDMAN: No. And that, to me, is the point. So the debate is: Are we in a full-fledged civil war or not a civil war? That's really not the point.

Do we have a country where the people look on the national army and the national government as their national army or their national government? Today, Wolf, we do not. And that is a huge political and strategic dilemma.

BLITZER: The Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, John Kerry, says there should be a deadline, May 15. If there's no government, the U.S. pulls out; even if there is a government in Iraq, by the end of the year, the U.S. should basically redeploy.

Here's what Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in the Financial Times the other day.

He said: "The time is right to adopt a strategy for terminating the U.S. military presence in the country. The U.S. and Iraqi governments would jointly consult on a date for ending the occupation. I would think that within a year the U.S. should be able to complete an orderly disengagement." The commitment to a date would be extremely useful in concentrating Iraqi minds on what would follow and encourage them to assume responsibility."

Is that wise? FRIEDMAN: Well, I think that what all these people are suggesting, Wolf, is that we are not there to babysit a civil war. We are there to try to midwife a democracy.

We can only midwife a democracy if we have Iraqi partners in an Iraqi government. I would like to see, myself -- I would like to give a little more time for the effort by Iraqis to form this national unity government.

If a month, two months from now, we're still not there six months after the election, then it may be we do have to set a deadline.

Right now, I'm not there yet.

BLITZER: General George Casey, the U.S. military commander, was on "Late Edition" a few weeks ago on March 19, and he offered this relatively upbeat assessment. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. ARMY: In 15 of the 18 provinces, there are six or less attacks a day, across Iraq. That includes all of the sectarian strikes. 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Since then, violence has escalated, including against U.S. troops especially in this month, a lot more casualties than in March. You've written about this notion of happy talk from U.S. officials, whether political or military. What do you mean by that?

FRIEDMAN: Well, what I mean is it's great to say that 15 of the 18 provinces are peaceful. But if the three provinces that aren't peaceful are the center of the country, Baghdad, where the different communities meet and mix, where the government is based, where the economy is really run, if those three provinces are in turmoil and in the control of militias, then you don't have a country.

So to say that the other 15 are peaceful, to me, is really -- I have great respect for General Casey, but that one's pretty useless.

BLITZER: Here's the president on Donald Rumsfeld, who is coming under enormous fire, as you well know. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have strong confidence in Don Rumsfeld. I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation, but I'm the decider and I decide what is best, and what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, you totally disagree.

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. I believe that Don Rumsfeld's performance in Iraq has been utterly incompetent, and on a very specific metric. The role of any occupation army is to monopolize force, OK, to control a country, to truly occupy it. Don Rumsfeld seems to have gone into Iraq with the image, with the plan to basically smash Saddam's government, and leave.

He clearly had no idea what he was going to do afterwards, by evidence of what happened there, and clearly was unwilling to deploy the forces necessary to create a secure political context so Iraqis could make hopefully the right choices. Why are Iraqis running to their private militias?

Because they live in a completely violent and chaotic environment. We are in part responsible for that environment because of the decisions our Pentagon took about how to fight this war.

BLITZER: So if Rumsfeld were to be fired or resign, and somebody else comes in, would it make a difference?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I think it would make a difference, Wolf, in the sense that I think other people might be willing to look at cooperating with us a little bit more. How many people are ready to follow us in Iraq under the leadership of...

BLITZER: You're talking about other governments.

FRIEDMAN: Other allies. But also I think the American public. How many people are going to give this thing time, after being told by these people for two, three years, oh, it's just Henny Penny. It's, you know, the fighting there is dying down. It's in its last throes.

It's not. It's an uncontrolled environment right now at the center of the country because we never put the forces in there early on to stabilize it.

BLITZER: Some have suggested that the big winner in Iraq is Iran, its neighbor.

FRIEDMAN: Iran is the winner, Wolf, under one condition. That is, let me put it in the opposite. Iran loses if we pull out of Iraq because then Iran is going to be responsible for managing it, and then the historical antipathy between Iraqi Arabs and Iranian Shiites is going to come to the surface.

Iran also loses if we -- and I hope this is the outcome -- actually succeed in building a democratic Iraq, which would only be a critique of the really phony democracy in Iran. Where Iran wins is if we stay in Iraq bleeding. That's exactly what Iran wants.

BLITZER: Here's what the president said, referring to Iran's nuclear ambitions, about U.S. strategy. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: All options are on the table. We want to solve this issue diplomatically, and we're working hard to do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is there a diplomatic solution as far as you think?

FRIEDMAN: I think the only way we get a diplomatic solution with Iran, Wolf, is if we can have a united front at home and with our allies, that if Iran does not comply with the U.N. resolutions on its nuclear weapons and U.N. regulations and nonproliferation regime, then we will use force, OK? That, in other words, the only way Iran is going to negotiate seriously is if they think we have a real force option.

And by the way, I think as long as Don Rumsfeld is at the head of the Pentagon, we are going to have no allies at home and abroad using force against Iran. Because how many Americans are ready for a repeat performance like we saw in Iraq? I don't think too many.

BLITZER: And Iran is a much bigger country as well.

FRIEDMAN: Four times as big.

BLITZER: Right. But you wrote an intriguing column the other day suggesting that you would rather see Iran with a bomb, with a nuclear bomb than let the United States use military force under this administration, under this defense secretary, to go in there and deal with the situation militarily.

FRIEDMAN: My position, and that is my position, that I would rather deter Iran through conventional and strategic nuclear weapons, basically, conventional forces, strategic weapons as we did with the Soviet Union. To say to them, look, guys, you use a nuclear weapon or deploy it to a terrorist group and we will obliterate your nuclear arsenal, as we did with the Soviet Union.

I would rather do that, Wolf, than trust this administration with an offensive action against Iran, managing that and the incredible aftermath that we would have, uncontrolled aftermath. I would much rather deter Iran than trust these people. They have not proven ourselves competent with Iraq, and the Iran problem is hugely more difficult.

BLITZER: Here's what Seymour Hersh wrote in The New Yorker magazine: "A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb if it is not stopped. He said that the president believes that he must do what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do, and that saving Iran is going to be his legacy." Does that sound credible?

FRIEDMAN: It sounds credible to me. It sounds credible, and again, I am not against, in principle, a military solution against Iran, if it comes down to that. I think Iran getting nuclear weapons is a very dangerous thing. But under this Pentagon, I would never trust this group of people to manage something that complex. BLITZER: Here's what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, said on Tuesday, he said, "Iran has created a powerful army that can powerfully defend the political borders and the integrity of the Iranian nation and cut off the hand of any aggressor and place the sign of disgrace on their forehead."

Strong words. Is this bluster or do they have a retaliatory capability, whether conventional or organizing terrorist attacks against the United States around the world?

FRIEDMAN: This is a twisted group of people. They've been involved in some of the worst acts of terrorism around the world over the last, since the Iranian revolution in 1979. And what is so dangerous about Iran getting the bomb is the fact that, unlike the Soviet Union, unlike other powers in the world today, this is a country that supported suicide terrorism.

Can anyone be sure that a country that supported suicide terrorism would be deterrable through conventional means? I don't know. That worries me a lot, which is why, if I were looking at it from an American point of view, I would want at the Pentagon a consensus figure today managing this operation, not someone who has had a terrible record on Iraq and who has been a deeply polarizing figure internationally.

BLITZER: Here's what Ahmadinejad said the other day as far as Israel is concerned. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Whether you like it or not, the Zionist regime is approaching its end. The Zionist regime is a dying tree, and soon its branches will all be broken down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is he serious about trying to eliminate the state of Israel?

FRIEDMAN: I wouldn't rule anything out with this character. I think he's a really sick, bad guy. But let's remember one good thing, Wolf. This guy couldn't make a light bulb, OK? You're talking about a dying society? You know, Israel's a society of growth and innovation and entrepreneurship. All this guy can do is drill an oil well. So you talk about dying societies? I'll pick the people who can invent the future, not people who can't make a light bulb.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We have to take a short break. But coming up, more of my interview with Thomas Friedman. I'll ask him about his recently updated book, "The World is Flat." We'll also discuss President Bush's second term, the challenges facing him on the global stage.

Then, tension between Lebanon and Syria following last year's assassination of Lebanon's prime minister. Who killed Rafik Hariri? We'll ask his successor, the Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's still time for you to weigh in on our web question of the week: Which country will be the greatest threat to the United States in 10 years? North Korea, China, Iran, or none of the above? Cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition.

Straight ahead, more of my interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. He'll weigh in on immigration and his solution for the border battle. You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." More of my interview now with the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman on Middle East politics, immigration and the updated version of his bestseller, "The World is Flat."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: This past week we saw a suicide attack in Tel Aviv, and we saw something unusual, at a formal expression of support from the Palestinian Authority led by Hamas. Here's how Ismail Haniyeh, the new Palestinian prime minister, put it this week. Listen to this.

Well, let me read it to you: "The reason behind this cycle is the continuation of the occupation and by the continued Israeli assaults against our Palestinian people. We say that ending this cycle and achieving stability, security and calm in this region is dependent on ending the occupation and the achievement by our people of their full rights."

Is it possible that the Palestinian Authority now ruled by Hamas will eventually accept the terms that the U.S., the Europeans, the Israelis are putting down, that they accept Israel, end terrorism, accept the post-Oslo agreements? Is that at all doable?

FRIEDMAN: No, you can't rule it out, Wolf. You can't rule out that the laws of gravity will eventually force Hamas to change as they have to respond to just the daily needs, the aspirations of their people for a better life. But you also can't bet it on it. This is a really hard problem. On the one hand, I think it is not smart for Israel and the United States to create a situation where, if Hamas fails, they can blame the failure on Israel, the United States, on Europe. At the same time, a suicide bombing happens, and what does Hamas do? It basically applauds. And so, what do you deal when you're dealing with a democratically elected terrorist organization? This is a hard problem. I don't have a simple answer for it.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about "The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century." You have a new updated and expanded edition that has just come out a year after its publication. A lot deals with trade and competition around the world. The president received the president of China in Washington this week, Hu Jintao. Here's what he said in that arrival ceremony. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We welcome China's commitments to increased domestic demand to reform its pension system, to expand market access for U.S. goods and services, to improve enforcement of intellectual property rights and to move toward a flexible market-based exchange rate for its currency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You see China doing any of that in the short term?

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, what the president is really articulating is one-half of the grand bargain that we need with China in order to stabilize our economic relationship. Yes, China has to buy more from the world, from us. They have a 45 percent savings rate. They do have to make their currency more competitive in the world and increase its value, and they have to open their economy more.

But what about us, Wolf? We have a zero percent savings rate. They have a 45 percent savings rate. We have a massive government deficit. We have a huge trade deficit. So, what the president was talking about is what China needs to do, but he was silent on what we need to do in increasing our savings rate, in controlling our government spending.

BLITZER: One of the issues that comes up in the book, and it's a source of a lot of controversy now, is the whole issue of immigration and borders. I want you to listen to what our own Lou Dobbs, what he said April 17. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOU DOBBS, HOST, CNN'S "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": What I've advocated is border security, and what I've advocated is a complete end to illegal immigration in this country. Anybody's going to get a felony charge, I think it should be the employers of this country that are hiring illegal labor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, here's what you wrote in The New York Times in a column on April 5. You wrote: "Because I strongly favor immigration, I also favor a high fence. We will not sustain a majority in favor of flexible immigration if we can't control our borders. Good fences make good immigration policy. Fences make people more secure and able to think through this issue more calmly. Porous borders empower only anti-immigrant demagogues, like the shameful CNN, which dumbs down the whole debate."

The shameful CNN. I picked that up and I assume you were referring to what?

FRIEDMAN: I'm referring to Lou Dobbs and the fact that on his show -- the show doesn't seem to be a news show anymore. It seems to be one man's hour-long rant against globalization and immigration. And I'm all for, hey, I'm an opinionated guy, but my stuff goes under opinion. I turned to Lou Dobbs' show for many years to see news and what I get is an undigested, unmitigated, unbalanced rant against immigration.

I am for high walls with a big gate, OK? Yes, I am for some kind of border control. You don't control your border, you're never going to sustain a political consensus for immigration. But I am also deeply, Wolf, for a big gate in that fence because I believe immigrants have done so much to nourish our country, to put it forward into the 21st century.

And immigration, and a flow of immigration at all ends, high end and low end, Wolf, that's been so much of our advantage in the world. Have you ever tried to become a Japanese lately? Not so easy, Wolf. How about a Swiss? Not so easy. German, not so easy.

The fact that we can cream off the first-round intellectual draft choices, bring them to our country where they start new companies, drive our education forward. And just as importantly, the fact that we bring in and allow in some illegals, some more legal, lower-end immigrants who not only do the low-end jobs a lot of Americans don't want to do but bring that energy to our country and the sense of aspiration.

You go to India and China today. You want to know what India and China are like, Wolf? Shake a Champagne bottle for about 15 minutes and take off the cork. You don't want to get in the way of that cork. It's huge, exploding energy and aspirations, and those new immigrants, illegal and legal, which also bring that energy to our country, that allow us to compete with these high-aspiration countries today. So put me down for a high wall with a big gate.

BLITZER: In defense of Lou Dobbs, I will say at the beginning of his show every night, he talks about news and opinion. He does clearly label that that show includes opinion, and has some very strong opinions.

FRIEDMAN: The problem is, I can't tell where one stops and the other starts.

BLITZER: Well, he lets his opinions come out, and you let your opinions come out.

FRIEDMAN: I'm on the opinion pages as well.

BLITZER: The updated and expanded version of "The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century." Thomas L. Friedman is the author. Congratulations on the success. Thanks for coming in to do "Late Edition."

FRIEDMAN: Pleasure, Wolf. Thanks so much, pal. BLITZER: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And we have to take a quick break. Up next, it's been more than a year since the Cedar Revolution rocked Lebanon following the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. What's changed since then? We'll hear directly from Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. But first, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including results in yesterday's mayoral elections in New Orleans. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The United States strongly supports a free and independent and sovereign Lebanon. And we took great joy in seeing the Cedar Revolution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush speaking earlier this week with the Lebanese prime minister at the White House.

Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm wolf Blitzer in Washington. Shortly after his meeting with the president, I sat down with the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, to talk about the future of Lebanon, a potential peace agreement with Israel, and lots more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. Prime minister, welcome to Washington and welcome to "Late Edition."

FOUAD SINIORA, PRIME MINISTER, LEBANON: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: You met with the president of the United States this week.

SINIORA: Yes.

BLITZER: Afterward, Mr. Bush said this. So let's run a little clip. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We talked about the need to make sure that there is a full investigation on the death of former Prime Minister Hariri. And we'll work with the international community to see that justice is done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: "Justice is done." Who do you believe? Do you believe the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad had a hand in assassinating your predecessor, the former prime minister? SINIORA: Well, Wolf, actually, to be very fair and to be very, very correct in this, one should not really make any accusations before the end of the investigation.

We are giving all the necessary support to the international investigation commission. And we need to really get to know the facts, what really happened.

I am in no position to make any accusation to anybody.

BLITZER: The president of Syria told Charlie Rose, an American television anchorman, on March 27, "Nobody threatened him in Syria, me or anybody else," referring to Rafik Hariri.

And then President Assad last November -- he said "Lebanon has returned to being a passage and a center for all conspiracies against Syria...They accused Syria right away while acquitting Israel because they are trading with Hariri's blood."

Strong words from President Bashar al-Assad. There is a widespread belief, as you well know, in Lebanon that the Syrians didn't like Rafik Hariri and decided to kill him.

SINIORA: Well, let me tell you something in this regard very clearly, is that, after the meeting that Prime Minister Hariri had with President Assad, he called me over the telephone, just immediately, about one hour after he left, and he asked me to join him to a meet him in his house in the mountains.

And we met together. I took with me, at that time, my assistant, who is Dr. Basif Lehan (ph) who became, actually, a member of the parliament and a minister later on.

We went together -- we had lunch together with Prime Minister Hariri. And he told me, specifically, that President Assad told him that if he doesn't really abide by the election of or the extension of the term of President Lahoud, he will break the country on his head.

BLITZER: So he did make a direct threat, President Bashar al- Assad, to the late Prime Minister Hariri?

SINIORA: That's exactly what I've heard, verbatim from the Prime Minister Hariri, immediately after two hours of the meeting.

BLITZER: So your suspicion is that Syria had a role, not only in the assassination of Rafik Hariri but several other prominent Lebanese figures over the past year or so?

SINIORA: Well, knowing this and with other facts, now it's in the hands of the investigation commission to get to know.

Now, it's not only that we want to know who really did this crime to Prime Minister Hariri -- and there were other crimes that were committed before and other crimes that were committed later on -- and actually, Lebanon, throughout the past two decades, has been experiencing a great deal of political crimes. So it is very important to really get to know who has been behind this crime and the other crimes so that we can really give a lesson to others.

BLITZER: U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 calls for "the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias."

And only this week, the special United Nations envoy, Terje Roed Larsen, issued a report calling for the full implementation of 1559, in which he also wrote this: "Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias continue to exist and operate in Lebanon and challenge the government, which by definition is vested with a monopoly on the use of force throughout its territory."

The most significant Lebanese militia is Hezbollah... There has not yet been any noticeable change in the operational status and capabilities of Hezbollah."

SINIORA: Yes.

BLITZER: Are you taking any steps at all to disband these militias, especially Hezbollah?

SINIORA: See, Terje, in his report -- he tries to really put the picture that there is a great deal of similarities between the 1559 and the national reconciliation accord that was made by the Lebanese in 1950 and 1989, which is very important and known to be the Taif agreement.

We have always expressed our view regarding the 1559 that Lebanon respects the international resolutions. And we are, in fact, trying to look at how we can deal with this international resolution.

We said that there are certain methods that have been implemented and other methods that would need a national dialogue. And that's what has been going in Lebanon.

BLITZER: You're here in Washington. The State Department, the Bush administration, the U.S. government considers Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization with close ties to Syria and Iran.

What do you think Hezbollah is?

SINIORA: We see it, in Lebanon, differently, that Hezbollah is a Lebanese party, which was quite effective in empowering the Lebanese.

BLITZER: If it's a party, it's one thing. If it's a militia, it's another.

SINIORA: Yes. Let me say, that it has been effective in empowering Lebanon to get rid of the Israeli occupation.

Now, what do we really want to do in this respect? Finally, we want to liberate what's left of Lebanese territories that are still occupied. And we will have to really agree among ourselves as Lebanese, through the national dialogue, on a strategy how to really protect Lebanon.

And this will lead us into a situation where the government and the Lebanese army will be the sole authority in Lebanon. We believe in a monopoly.

BLITZER: Here's what General Michel Sleiman, the commander of the Lebanese army, was quoted in the Chicago Tribune this week as saying.

He said, referring to Hezbollah: "We need them. Israel is our enemy ... and [Hezbollah] provides specific operations and abilities that, in general [are] not provided by anyone in the army."

Is that an abdication that the Lebanese army simply can't get its own security done?

SINIORA: I don't know how this has been, really, put by Michel Sleiman, but the Lebanese government position is that this is a matter that has to be discussed among the Lebanese through the national dialogue. And we are achieving progress.

In fact, over the past few weeks, several of the most important issues, very delicate ones, we have already arrived at a consensus in the national dialogue.

And what remains is the arms, or the weapons of Hezbollah and this will have to be dealt with in the light of a national strategy, how to defend Lebanon, that will take us into a situation where we can have a full monopoly of the state.

You see, this is something that -- you can't just disarm Hezbollah in a manner like that. This is part of the Lebanese -- it's represented in the parliament and the government. And we are dealing with the situation in the best manner possible, leading toward the monopoly of the state, of its affairs and the country.

BLITZER: Here's what you know. The Israelis occupy a small sliver of land called the Shebaa Farms which Syria says is really Syria. The United Nations says it's Syria. The Israelis say it's Syria. You say it's Lebanon. It's a tiny little area. The Israelis withdrew from the rest of Lebanon several years back.

Here's what you were quoted, on January 16, as saying in As- Safir, which raised alarm bells here in Washington.

I'll read it to you and tell me if this is an accurate quote: "Lebanon will not sign any peace agreement with Israel even after the liberation of the Shebaa Farms from Israeli occupation and the release of our prisoners in Israel."

SINIORA: Yes.

BLITZER: So under no circumstances will you follow the lead of Egypt or Jordan and sign a peace treaty with Israel?

SINIORA: Let me tell you something, is that this area, which is about 40 square kilometers -- Lebanon has always been exercising its sovereignty over that part of land.

And Syrians -- they have saying that this is Lebanese, but they are short of signing all the necessary documentation as requested by the United Nations. And that's what we are going to talk with the United Nations and with the Syrians so that we can achieve a happy ending to this thing.

Now, as soon as something really happens regarding the withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms by the Israeli forces, we'll go back to the armistice agreement.

Now, why Lebanon cannot really go into a unilateral peace with Israel?

BLITZER: Why not? What's wrong with that?

SINIORA: Let me tell you.

BLITZER: Why could Jordan do it? Why could Egypt do it?

SINIORA: See, Lebanon is a country quite diverse, has about 18 confessional groups. Lebanon is committed to the agreement that was made by the Arab countries. And this has been expressed in the Arab summit that happened in Beirut.

Lebanon says that it is in the interests of the country to keep the country united, that it is the best thing to do is to stay united with all the Arab countries.

Once this is done by the Arab countries and Lebanon has really committed itself to the conclusions and the resolutions that were made in the Arab summit, once this is done, then Lebanon will sign a peace treaty, like all of the other Arab countries and following everybody that has done that. Lebanon believes in peace. We believe that the best road toward really resolving issues in the Middle East is through the peace process.

BLITZER: So you could see a day, down the road, at some point, where Lebanon will sign a peace treaty with Israel?

SINIORA: Yes, at the end when all the Arab countries do, Lebanon do that.

BLITZER: All right, so let's talk about Iran right now because we don't have a lot of time left.

Nasib Lahoud, a Lebanese parliament member said this on March 13. He said, "There is without any doubt a growing Iranian influence not only in Lebanon but in the whole region."

How worried are you that the Iranians, through Hezbollah, could dominate, could control your country?

SINIORA: Well, Iran is a fact of life. It's a fact of geography and it is neighboring the Arab world in Iraq. We are very sincere in having good relations with Iran, but on the basis of no intervention. And we want to discourage Iran from intervention.

BLITZER: Are they intervening, though?

SINIORA: Well, I think they have lots of connections. And the relationship that we are having with Hezbollah, members of the parliament and in the cabinet, they say they are friendly with Iran, but they are a Lebanese party.

And that's what really is to be proven, over time, that they are really behaving as a Lebanese party. And we want to encourage them to behave as a Lebanese party.

BLITZER: Mr. Prime minister, it's been nice of you to come to Washington, nice of to you join us here at "Late Edition." Thanks very much.

SINIORA: Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity.

BLITZER: And good luck to you and all of the people of Lebanon.

SINIORA: Thank you.

BLITZER: And up next, we'll check out our weekly feature, "What's her Story?" We'll introduce you to some interesting people in the news this week.

Also, the results of our Web question of the week: "Which country will be the greatest threat to the United States in 10 years?"

And coming up at the top of the hour for our North American viewers, CNN correspondents are on the story, including our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre. He covered Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's fiery response to critics calling for his resignation.

All that and lots more coming up on "On the Story." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Up next, the results of our web question of the week, which country will be the greatest threat to the United States in 10 years? We'll get to that. But first, this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Romano Prodi, what's his story? Italy's highest court confirmed Prodi's victory over current Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in that country's parliamentary election this is week. Prodi, a former president of the European Commission, previously served as Italy's prime minister from 1996 to 1998.

His current coalition ranges from pro-Vatican moderates to communists. Although Berlusconi is alleging voter fraud and demanding a recount, Prodi is expressing confidence that his victory will stand and has already begun selecting a cabinet. May Chidiac, what's her story? The Lebanese journalist is being recognized as a symbol of the freedom of speech with an award from the United Nations. Six months ago, Chidiac, known as the Barbara Walters of the Middle East, criticized Lebanon's neighbor, Syria, on her program. Later that day, a bomb ripped through her SUV and left her body in shreds. Now, recovering in France, she is literally learning to rewire herself with a prosthetic hand and vows the attack will not silence her when she marks her on-air return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are the results of our "Late Edition" web question of the week: Which country will be the greatest threat to the United States in ten years? North Korea 6, China 65 percent, Iran 14 percent, none of the above 14 percent. Remember, though, this is not a scientific poll. And that's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, April 23. Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'm in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday, 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern, back at 7 p.m. Eastern. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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

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