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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Hamid Karzai; Interview With Hussein Shahristani

Aired June 25, 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 11:00 a.m. in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7 p.m. in Baghdad and 7:30 p.m. in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."

We'll talk with Senators Joe Biden and Chuck Hagel in just a moment. First, though, let's go to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN center for a quick check of what's in the news right now. Hi, Fred.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.

More now on that plan to try to unify Iraq. The plan is on the table. The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki outlined his reconciliation proposal earlier today. He insists that insurgent killers would be punished.

CNN's Arwa Damon is following the story. She's joining us now, live from Baghdad with more.

Arwa, sum it all up for us.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically, Wolf, in a nutshell, it was a plan, although it did not provide much detail. It did not provide much that the Iraqi people had not heard before.

It was a vow to put an end to violence, a promise to clamp down on terrorism. It was a statement that the militias would be disarmed but no details on exactly how that was going to happen.

There was no specific timetable that we were expecting for U.S. troop withdrawal but emphasis on training Iraqi security forces. There was talk of revisiting the de-Baathification law. There was talk of amnesty for detainees that did not have blood on their hands.

There was talk of providing, restoring basic services for Iraqis, but no specific details on how that was going to be accomplished; and also, displaced Iraqis being able to return to their homes under the protection of Iraqi security Iraqi forces but no details of that either; the prime minister laying out a plan in broad strokes, none of the specific details that Iraqis have been looking for, Wolf. BLITZER: Arwa, stand by for a moment. We're just getting this in from the Associated Press in Cairo. It's quoting an Al Qaida- linked group that's saying, today, that the four Russian hostages who have been held for some time in Iraq have been killed; God's verdict has been carried out on the Russian diplomats in revenge for the torture, killing and expulsion of our brothers and sisters by the infidel Russian government.

That's a statement put out by an Al Qaida-linked group. Is there any word that you're getting on the fate of these Russian diplomats in Baghdad?

DAMON: No, Wolf, we have not been able to look into that just yet. As you mentioned, it did just cross. However, Al Qaida in Iraq is expected to, and has in the past announced, that it will fight back, both in terms of returning the -- when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed back on June 7, it said that it would fight back.

And today, even after the announcement by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, of his plan, again, statements from senior Iraqi and U.S. officials that they fully expected Al Qaida and the terrorists to try to launch counter-attacks to derail this political process. Wolf?

BLITZER: Arwa Damon in Baghdad, we'll get back with you. And of course, if we get more information on the fate of these four Russian diplomats, we'll bring that to our viewers right away.

Joining us now, here in Washington to talk about Iraq, the latest on the war on terror and more are two top members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

First, in Las Vegas, the panel's ranking Democrat, Joe Biden of Delaware; here in Washington, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel in Nebraska. He also serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senators, thanks very much for joining us.

Let me get your quick reaction, if, in fact, it's true, Senator Biden, that these four Russian diplomats have been executed by Al Qaida in Iraq, what would that be mean?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Well, that would mean that the Russians would be as upset as we are. The question is whether Russia joins us, whether it's in trying to get some kind of agreement with their regional neighbors, putting pressure on the Iraqi government to purge their militia.

It's hard to tell, but it's not surprising, actually, unfortunately.

BLITZER: What about that? Let me bring Senator Hagel in. What do you think?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Well, I think Joe said it as well as you can say it. Obviously, this goes back to a central point here in Iraq. And that is this is a regional, international issue. And I think we are starting to focus, at least this administration, on the regionalization, the internationalization of what's going on here, whether it's Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, Iraq. It all consumes every one of us.

And the answer, the way forward is to work through alliances and our allies to get to the core issue here. And so, obviously, if this has happened, the Russians, I suspect, will respond in some way.

But just as Joe said, I don't think anyone is surprised or, unfortunately, it's not unpredictable.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, the New York Times has a major front page story today suggesting that General George Casey, the U.S. military commander in Baghdad, outlined a proposal for reducing U.S. troops in Iraq over the next year and a half or so, assuming that conditions on the ground -- the Iraqi government gets its act together, the Iraqi military and police force gets their act together -- it would reduce the number of brigades from 14, right now, combat brigades, down to five or six by the end of this year.

And starting in September, the reduction would begin in significant numbers. What do you make of this?

BIDEN: It's totally predictable. You may remember, wolf, a year ago on your program, I predicted to you there was no possibility we would have any more than 100,000 troops in Iraq by the end of this year and we draw down that significantly next.

And there's a reason for that. We have trouble sustaining these troop levels, number one. Number two, they've always planned on moving in this direction. And that's why this debate we've recently had where Chuck Hagel and Joe Biden, kind of, get caught in the middle of it here, on the floor was a lot of puffery, sometimes, on both sides here.

The plan put forward by Senator Levin and Senator Reed is exactly what Casey called for. I have the New York Times here. I read the article this morning.

I mean, so it's a reality. The reality is you cannot sustain 130,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely unless you break the volunteer army by having people go back four and five and six times. So it's inevitable

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, here's how General Casey put it on Thursday when he was briefing reporters. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, CMDR., MULTINATIONAL FORCES, IRAQ: I'm confident that we will be able to continue to take reductions over the course of this year. It's both a security situation and the progress of the Iraqi security forces.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: It looks like they've got a pretty good plan to reduce those troops, if, in fact, the Iraqi government can get its act together.

Do you have confidence in this new government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki?

HAGEL: Well, one of the things Senator Biden says exactly right, and I've been saying this, and others, the last three years. The forces of reality are determining the outcome in Iraq.

The fact is the Iraqi people will determine their own outcome. We can help. We can support. But just as the new Iraqi national security adviser noted in an op-ed in the Washington Post this week, the Iraqis, the Iraqi government, the Iraqi people want the United States out of Iraq.

They see us as oppressors, rather than liberators. That's just a fact of life. I think our leaders understand that. I think General Casey's doing the best he can to work our troops out. But yes, we're coming out. We should come out.

And let's not be unmindful of the fact that we are now in Iraq longer than the Korean war lasted. Another five months of the Iraqi war, we'll be in longer than World War II lasted. I was in Nebraska over the weekend, just came back last night. I had a man who, three years ago, was a very strong supporter of the war in Iraq, come up to me yesterday and say to me, Senator, we have National Guard troops from Nebraska going back to Iraq for the third and fourth time. How can that be? What's going on? We were not told that was going to be it.

Just as Senator Biden said, we're not going to be able to sustain it politically. But the fact is, the Iraqis want us out. We should be out. They need to govern and support themselves, and we can't be there forever.

BLITZER: I'll bring in Senator Biden in in a second. But why didn't you vote for that resolution, that non-binding resolution that Senator Reid, Senator Levin put forward on the Senate floor this week?

HAGEL: Well, I explained my position in a speech on the Senate floor, and I said I would not vote for it at this point because I felt it did crowd the president on taking some general options away from him. However, just as the new prime minister of Iraq said, just as our president and just as our U.S. ambassador to Iraq said, the next five to six months are going to be key.

We'll see where we are in the next five to six months. I may lead the charge next time if we've not seen some progress here. But I thought that the right thing to do was not put any limitations, perceptual limitations or real limitations on the president. And I stated that and I said some other things as well on the floor.

BLITZER: Here's what the vice president, Senator Biden, Dick Cheney told our John King earlier in the week about one of those Democratic proposals that was defeated in the Senate. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The worst possible thing we could do is what the Democrats are suggesting, and no matter how you carve it, you can call it anything you want, but basically, it is packing it in, going home, persuading and convincing and validating the theory that the Americans don't have the stomach for this fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You want to respond to the vice president, Senator Biden?

BIDEN: No, I don't want to respond to him. He's at 20 percent in the polls. No one listens to him. He has no credibility. It's ridiculous. If you look at the plan that Carl Levin put forward, it in fact called for a beginning of a transformation, not even as much as the administration is planning. And instead if conditions on the ground changed, you don't even change that.

Look, this is -- I am so saddened by the way in which the administration has pursued this. There's guys like me and a lot of others and on the Republican side, Chuck Hagel and Lindsey Graham, John McCain, across the board, who realize that this requires a political solution.

I wish the president -- and maybe he does. I wish the president had a plan, a plan along with the Iraqis how you're going to purge the militia out of the Iraqi military, making up the death squads. Number two, how are you going to get the Sunnis to buy in and give them a piece of the oil revenues in a constitutional amendment that our ambassador was able to carve out last December to get the Sunnis to vote? And how do you keep the neighbors out?

Therein lies the solution. As Chuck said, we're going to have to be leaving there anyway because of the Iraqi -- over time, because of the Iraqi people demanding it, and we can't sustain it. So, what's the political solution here? We should be working on that.

BLITZER: I want Senator Hagel to weigh in as well. Go ahead.

HAGEL: Just a brief comment on the vice president's comments. In a speech I gave on the Senate floor, I specifically targeted that kind of rhetoric. War is a serious business. War should never be held hostage to a political agenda. I think both sides do a great disservice, especially to the men and women doing the fighting and the dying.

Not the people in Washington who are so anxious to send these guys to die and fight, but to them. We do a great disservice, and to our country, when we make this a political issue to say the Democrats did this, the Republicans did this. War is far more serious than that. I complimented Senators Levin and Reid on the floor of the Senate for their amendment. I complimented them, Wolf, because they brought forward a responsible amendment to debate. We didn't do that in Vietnam. And consequently, it was a disastrous ending when, in 1975, and Joe was here and I was here, we just pulled the plug. And we grabbed a hold of a helicopter and got out of Vietnam any way we could. We don't want that kind of ending here. We need to be serious about it. The Congress needs to be part of this. We're not potted plants.

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second. When you hear Republicans saying the Democrats only want to cut and run, that irritates you?

HAGEL: Well, it's wrong. I said so on the Senate floor, by the way. And I said specifically that "cut and run" is political phraseology. And we debase our system. We defeat who we are and we misdefine who we are, and do a great disservice to our country when we do this. Serious things deserve serious debate and serious issues by serious leaders. That's what America wants. That's why we're all so low in the polls. We're not doing that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Senators, stand by for a moment. We're going to continue this conversation. Just ahead, we'll ask senators Hagel and Biden about Dick Cheney's other statement this week, causing some rankles, taking the offensive on the administration's handling of the war on terror.

Then, protecting Iraq's oil pipelines. The Iraqi oil minister, Hussein Shahristani, talks about his plans for protecting his country's most valuable assets from insurgent attacks.

And has the fight in Afghanistan become the forgotten war? In a "Late Edition" exclusive, we'll talk with the country's president, Hamid Karzai, about the troubling surge in violence in Afghanistan. "Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our "Late Edition" web question asked this: Do you think there's a significant number of al Qaida members in the United States? Cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. Straight ahead, though, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, Democratic Senator Joe Biden. More with them on U.S. tensions with Iran and North Korea and whether it's time to exercise a military option. You're watching "late edition, " the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're talking with two leading members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the ranking Democrat, Joe Biden of Delaware, and Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska.

I want to get to North Korea in a moment, but I just want to wrap up on Iraq. First, Senator Biden, do you have a clear understanding what the new Iraqi government is prepared to do as far as amnesty for insurgents and terrorists, Sunnis, Baathists, Saddam loyalists, specifically whether amnesty will be granted to those involved in killing Americans?

BIDEN: No, I don't have a clear understanding, but I have a general understanding. I've contacted the State Department, and Maliki's comments today are consistent with what they said. And that is, it will basically depend. It's important that they distinguish in giving amnesty -- and every government has given amnesty at some point -- between those who have committed acts of terror and outright murder and those who have engaged in a resistance that hasn't resulted in murder or the killing of innocent people and/or our military.

And so, I'm counting on Maliki meaning what he says. But the truth of the matter is, at the end of the day, every government in this kind of circumstance to get the warring factions in their own country in, ends up with some kind of plan. But the devil's in the details, and we'll be watching very closely what the details of such a plan are.

BLITZER: Let me let Senator Hagel weigh in.

HAGEL: Well, I think Joe framed it up exactly right. Knowing what we know, which we don't have all the facts, but to talk about amnesty blanket unconditional for everyone, I think, is premature. And this is going to be a difficult issue, because I think Maliki does need some options here and flexibility and options. And after all, they are a sovereign government now. And that's what we helped produce for them.

And that's what we said we believe in, is a democratic, constitutionally-based government that was freely elected. They'll have to make tough choices here. And we're going to have to help them as much as we can. But this is going to get, I think, a little complicated at some point. But my thought would be, I suspect this is where they are. Let's work it step by step and see if we can get some agreements, some foundational agreements first before we get into these tougher issues.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, as you know, the North Koreans have this missile, potentially an intercontinental ballistic missile, on a launch pad, ready to be test-fired. There was a provocative article in The Washington Post this week by a former Clinton defense secretary, Bill Perry, and one of his deputies, Ashton Carter.

Among other things, it said this: "If North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched. Diplomacy has failed and we cannot sit by and let this deadly threat mature." Is that wise?

BIDEN: Well, I think it's premature. Here's what I think. Look -- and I have great respect for Secretary Perry. He is the guy that did negotiate an agreement that, and I think we should have pursued, but that's another question. Having said that, what happens with regard to South Korea and Japan?

We cannot be on a different page than South Korea and Japan. If, in fact, we were to strike a missile and that resulted in artillery retaliation, killing thousands of people in South Korea, it would be a very big deal. Even if they didn't do that, if South Korea, as a consequence, expelled American forces from South Korea, we'd be much worse off.

I would want to know what the South Korean government and the Japanese government were prepared to do. This should not be taking place, in my view, unless there is a firm understanding among those three governments. But it's something -- the notion of use of military force with North Korea, which I think is the most serious danger we face in the world, should not be taken off the table. Although I think the call for a strike is premature. I think it is not, to me, based on what I know, it's not something I'd suggest being done now.

BLITZER: The former CIA director, James Woolsey, who's also served in the Clinton administration, I asked him about the possibility of this kind of preemptive strike against that missile, and he said this. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: It would be relatively easy to do. A few submarine-launched cruise missiles, not nuclear, high explosives could take this out very easily. It's a fully fueled thin- skinned missile sitting on a pad. It would be a very simple task.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, so, if it's that simple, why not just do it?

BIDEN: Well, by the way, he's correct...

HAGEL: Wolf...

BIDEN: Oh, I'm sorry.

BLITZER: Let me let Senator Hagel weigh in, and then I'll bring you back, Senator Biden.

BIDEN: That's all right.

HAGEL: Wolf, I heard that same kind of simple tactical commentary before we went to Iraq. And I think Mr. Woolsey was one of those with Mr. Perle and others, and Wolfowitz, who were so sure of themselves that this was going to be a fairly easy cakewalk, as some said in that crowd, in Iraq. And here we are in Iraq longer than we were in the Korean war and almost World War II.

The fact is, it is not easy. It is not simple. There are consequences. We are already engaged in two wars not going very well in the world, Wolf, right now. These guys want to put us in three and four wars now, Iran and North Korea. Of course, they have the luxury of not being responsible to anybody. They can talk and chatter and write all they want. Some of us do have some responsibility. And I hope all of us who do have responsibility understand what we're talking about here. We are not anywhere close to talking about attacking North Korea. We should shut up and stop it. We need to talk directly with North Korea. The sooner we do that, the sooner we're going to get this resolved, just like the president has turned a corner on Iran. That's the way to figure this out, with our allies, and especially our allies in North Asia.

BLITZER: I'm going to move on to the war on terror, but I want you to respond. Go ahead, Senator Biden.

BIDEN: I agree with Chuck. Nineteen-hundred and twenty days into this administration, no talking, no direct talk. Dick Lugar, Joe Biden, Chuck Hagel, many others call for direct talks. It may not work, but, my Lord, it sure in devil is a better way of approaching this and finding what the bottom line is than this brinksmanship.

BLITZER: Seven suspects were arrested in Miami this week, Senator Hagel, and the FBI director, Robert Mueller, made it clear this is part of a bigger war on terror, potentially. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: While we have made great strides in disabling traditional terrorist models like al Qaida, the convergence of globalization and technology has created a new brand of terrorism. Today, terrorist threats may come from smaller, more loosely defined individuals and cells who are not affiliated with al Qaida, but who are inspired by a violent jihadist message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The so-called homegrown terror threat. This Miami plot, alleged plot, is it a big deal or a little deal?

HAGEL: Well, I would quote one of the senior FBI officials on this. I think his quote was, these guys were aspirational rather than operational. They weren't close to anything serious. However, that said, the fact is the FBI deserves great credit here. Our intelligence communities deserve great credit. But the fact is, we are the most open, transparent society in the history of man.

Of course, we have to be aware and alert. Of course we have to do more within our own country. Of course there are cells that develop or potentially develop every day. So I don't think we should overstate this or scare the American people.

I think just as many in the FBI stated, this was a very significant accomplishment for the FBI. It should reassure the American people some things are working. But let's don't overstate it. But the fact is, we're going to be dealing with this kind of thing for years and years.

BLITZER: The other story that developed this week, Senator Biden, was a New York Times story matched by a lot of other newspapers and news organizations, very quickly, that the U.S. was engaged since 9/11 in a secret plan to monitor bank transactions to see if money was being wired from al Qaida to suspected terrorists.

Listen to what Peter King, Republican of New York, said earlier today on the -- what he believes The New York Times should face right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE PETER KING, R-NEW YORK: No one elected The New York Times to do anything. And The New York Times is putting its own arrogant elitist left-wing agenda before the interest of the American people. And I'm calling on the attorney general to begin a criminal investigation and prosecution of The New York Times.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think about that? Because there's a lot of people angry at The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today for reporting this kind of sensitive information, so much of it classified.

BIDEN: Look, there's a lot of things the newspapers do and sometimes you guys on television do that I don't like. I understand Senator Specter said something to the effect this morning, I believe Jefferson is right. If you give me a free press or a free government with no press, I'll take the free press.

The truth of the matter is, they've uncovered an awful lot of things that the government has been doing that doesn't make sense as well. I'd rather them not have published this story. And by the way, what is being done, I think, is very different than the broad eavesdropping proposal that was underway.

Which takes me to the 9-11 Commission. The 9-11 Commission gave the administration high marks in this area in terms of bank transfers, one of the only places they did. With regard to what was going on down in Florida, not only does the FBI deserves credit, they deserve 1,000 more agents, 1,000 more agents. We deserve to put more cops back on the street rather than cutting them.

There is homegrown, bush-league and minor terrorists, like what we got out of Oklahoma City. Only now they're jihadists. The truth of the matter is, we are letting the country down by not funding local law enforcement like we did and not giving the FBI all the tools it needs. And it all ties together here in terms of, are we doing all we can do?

Look at the 9-11 Commission report. This undertaking is basically a sound one. You referenced in terms of interception. What they're not doing, the administration, with regard to local law enforcement, I think, is close to criminal.

BLITZER: We're going to have to leave it right there. Unfortunately, we're all out of time, Senator Hagel and Senator Biden. Always good to have you on "Late Edition." HAGEL: Thanks, Wolf.

BIDEN: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Still ahead, tackling terror in Iraq. How close is the country's new government to taking control of security? We'll talk with the Iraqi oil minister, Hussein Shahristani.

But up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the reports that four Russian diplomats have been killed by al Qaida in Iraq.

And don't forget, for our North American viewers, 1 p.m. eastern, please be sure to join John Roberts for a CNN special report, "Iraq, a Week at War." CNN's team of correspondents and analysts from around the world will bring you the only in-depth look at the major events in the war in Iraq, the war on terror this past week. All that's coming up after "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The success of the new Iraqi government is vital to the security of all nations. And so it deserves the support of the international community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush, speaking during a trip to Europe this past week.

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

As Iraq's new government struggles to get a handle on security, one of the major challenges is to try to protect its most valuable material. That would be oil.

The attacks have severely oil production, leading to gas and electricity shortages.

Joining us now from Baghdad is Iraq's new oil minister, Dr. Hussein Shahristani.

Dr. Shahristani, welcome to "Late Edition." Thanks very much for joining us. I want to discuss all of the oil-related issues shortly.

But we're just getting this report that those four Russian diplomats were killed, brutally, by Al Qaida in Iraq, the Muhajadeen Shura Council making the announcement on a Web site.

What, if anything, can you tell us about this?

HUSSEIN SHAHRISTANI, IRAQ'S OIL MINISTER: Well, this is very tragic, indeed, for all Iraqis. The Iraqi people have been victims of this criminal, international terrorist group. They have been attacking innocent people in Iraq. And they have been attacking diplomats who are guests of our country and of our nation.

We are terribly sorry of what has happened today. And we do hope that this would not reduce the will of the international community to come and be with us in Baghdad and help to stabilize the country, fight terrorism. Quite frankly, Iraq is fighting on behalf of the international community. All these terrorist groups have been streaming into the country through our borders. They are mostly non- Iraqis.

Most of these people from Al Qaida are actually coming across the border into Iraq from other Arab countries, unfortunately.

BLITZER: Dr. Shahristani, does the Iraqi government, your new government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have a good relationship with the government of Russia?

SHAHRISTANI: Yes. As a matter of fact, the Iraqi government has a good relationship with all countries, including Russia, of course. The Russians have been here, working on the electrical power stations. They've been working in the oil fields, helping the Iraqi minister of oil.

And we have always been encouraged by their willingness to come and work. And this attack on the Russian diplomats is really a source of great grief for the Iraqi people.

BLITZER: Dr. Shahristani, there is confusion, here in the United States, as to how far the new Iraqi government of Prime Minister al- Maliki is willing to go in providing amnesty to insurgents, to terrorists, to those involved in the insurgency against Iraq.

Will those who directly participated in killings U.S. or other multinational force members in Iraq -- will they be eligible for amnesty?

SHAHRISTANI: Not at all. As a matter of fact, the prime minister, Mr. Maliki was very clear in the parliament this morning when he announced his plan, that this amnesty does not cover the terrorists, does not cover the Saddamists, does not cover anybody who has committed any crime against the Iraqi people or the Iraqi armed forces.

These people are not included in this amnesty. Their place is Iraqi prisons and not negotiating tables. Anybody who is carrying arms illegally and who is attacking the civilian population or the Iraqi armed forces is not included in this initiative.

The initiative, actually, is towards those who have not taken part in the political process, who have hesitated to be part of the government, who have not taken part in the previous election. This gesture is to show them the Iraqi government is extending its arms to all those Iraqis not carrying arms and who are willing to come into the political process and debate their point of view. Those who are carrying arms and fighting, they will be considered as criminals, and their place is in Iraqi prisons and not at negotiating tables.

BLITZER: Dr. Shahristani, the issue that is of great concern to the American public, as you well know, is the issue of U.S. troop levels in Iraq. Your national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, wrote an article in The Washington Post on Tuesday in which he said this: "Iraq's ambition is to have full control of the country by the end of 2008. In practice, this will mean a significant foreign troop reduction. We envisage the U.S. troop presence by year's end to be under 100,000, with most of the remaining troops to return home by the end of 2007."

And today, The New York Times is reporting a significant potential troop withdrawal plan by General George Casey, the overall U.S. military commander in Iraq. What's your understanding? How quickly do you want to see U.S. troops out of your country?

SHAHRISTANI: Well, this discussion has been going on between the Iraqi government and the U.S. government and also the commanders of the multinational forces. It is the common understanding that, as we build up the Iraqi forces, the multinational forces will stand down and will, hopefully, go home and safely to their families. This is what we are all aiming at.

We have announced plans to increase the Iraqi forces and, hopefully, we will be training them and equipping them as fast as we can. And there are large areas in Iraq, there is at least 10 provinces out of 18 where the conditions are quite calm and the multi- national forces can, by the end of this year, hand over the security responsibility to the Iraqi forces.

And, consequently, of course, they can reduce their own numbers. So they are working out a plan of handover these areas and reduction of the presence of the multi-national forces in Iraq and particularly the American troops.

BLITZER: General Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, had harsh words for Iraq's neighbor, Iran, a specific accusation that Iran is recklessly meddling in internal Iraqi affairs and promoting the insurgency. Listen to what General Casey said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CASEY: We are quite confident that the Iranians, through their covert special operations forces, are providing weapons, IED technology and training to Shia extremist groups in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you agree with General Casey, Dr. Shahristani?

SHAHRISTANI: Obviously, these are General Casey's views. As for the Iraqi government, Iraq wants a peaceful relationship with all its neighbors. Iraq also notes that most of Iraq's neighbors are not very helpful in helping to secure their borders to limit the access to the terroristic groups who are flooding into the country, mostly from the western borders. If there's any evidence that any of these neighbors is actually arming any militia in Iraq or interfering in any other way, this is condemned by the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government will use the diplomatic channels to suppress its views. But, as I mentioned earlier, Iraq has not received very clear cooperation from a number of its neighbors, not only Iran.

BLITZER: I assume you're referring to other countries, like Syria. But I want to move on to talk about oil, since you are, after all, the new oil minister of Iraq. Before the war, under Saddam Hussein, as you know, Iraq was exporting about 2.5 million barrels of oil a day. Immediately after the war, it went down to virtually nothing.

But in 2004, it went up to 1.9 billion barrels a day, in 2005 and so far in 2006 it's still at the same in 2.1 million barrels per day, which is less than the pre-war output. When do you think Iraq will be able to export oil, at least along the lines as it used to export oil under Saddam Hussein?

SHAHRISTANI: Well, it's only one month and three days that this government has taken charge. Even within this short period, we have been able to break record. Today's export was about -- sorry, today's oil production was in excess of 2.5 million barrel a day. And that's a record since the fall of Saddam's Regime in April 2003. And we hope to be able to maintain this production level.

Our plans is to increase it to, hopefully, 2.6 or 2.7 before this year ends. And to increase it further in 2007. Before the end of the term of this government by 2010, we hope to increase the production to more than four, perhaps up to 4.3 million barrels a day. And that will be a new record for Iraq. Has never achieved that level. The highest production was 3.5 million barrel a day in Iraq's history. So, we are confident we will be able to increase oil production and export. But our ultimate aim is to reach more than 6 million barrels a day, hopefully by 2012. And, needless to say, Iraq holds one of the largest reserves of oil and gas in the world, and we are determined to prove it has the largest world reserve.

With this potential, Iraq should be able to move into a major producing country by 2015 perhaps. And by that time, it will be very close competition between Iraq and Saudi Arabia as who is the largest producer.

BLITZER: A lot depends, of course, on the security and stability situation in Iraq. Dr. Shahristani, we're all out of time. Thanks very much for joining us. Good luck with those very, very ambitious plans for the Iraqi people.

And coming up, is the Taliban retaking key parts of Afghanistan? The country's president, Hamid Karzai, addresses that and more in an exclusive interview. Up next, in case you missed it, our highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States, all that coming up. But first, this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Art Buchwald, what's his story? Long known for his wit, the Washington Post columnist and humorist is generating smiles by defying a grim medical prognosis. Back in January, doctors told Buchwald he would soon die from kidney failure without dialysis. Buchwald chose not to undergo treatment and moved into a Washington hospice.

But six months later, Buchwald is very much still alive with working kidneys and scheduled to leave for Martha's Vineyard on July 1st. With a new lease on life, the Pulitzer Prize winner is writing a new book entitled, "Too Soon to Say Goodbye."

(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.

The debate over a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, the politics of the war, and the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al- Maliki's proposal for amnesty for insurgents were among the topics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R) CHMN. ARMED SERVICES CMTE: We will, our government, be in consultation, not dictating, but in consultation on the points, all 24 points, as well as the one questioning how you treat those who fought in various ways against the forces that we had when they came in and today, fighting the insurgency.

So, I think at this point, it wasn't clearly defined. And it will be. And we will have, I'm sure, in consultation, a voice in how that's defined.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA): Now we learn that Mr. Maliki is asking us to leave, showing us the door and, on the way out, by the way, saying that he's going to grant amnesty to the people who hurt our troops and we're going to have to pay compensation. This thing is a mess. It's a humiliation. It's a mess. And, in my opinion, we have lost control of an exit strategy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The whole point of defeating the withdrawal resolutions by overwhelming majorities is that the Congress ought not to be dictating to the generals what the tactics are. That was the point. We want the conditions on the ground and the decisions of our commanders, in conjunction with the new Iraqi democratic government, to dictate the process, not the Congress trying to act like armchair generals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D-WI): The White House has done a terrible job of running the fight against terrorism, a terrible job in Iraq. But they've done a brilliant job of intimidating Democrats.

Somehow Democrats are afraid to say, look, not only was this a mistake but it continues to be a mistake and it's being run in a mistaken way. And I cannot understand why the structure of the Democratic party, the consultants that are here in Washington constantly advise Democrats not to take a strong stand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

Don't forget our Web question of the week: "Do you think there's a significant number of Al Qaida members in the United States?" Log on to CNN.com/lateedition to cast your vote.

And this reminder for our north American viewers: right after "Late Edition, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, CNN's special report, "Iraq; a Week at War," hosted by John Roberts. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll get to my exclusive interview with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, in just a moment. First, though, let's go to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN center for a quick check of what's in the news right now. Hi, Fred.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.

Afghanistan is experiencing a huge surge in violence led by a regrouping of the Taliban. Hundreds of Afghans have died in the past few weeks. And the U.S. military says more than 100 Taliban fighters have been killed since Friday.

Just a little while ago, I spoke with the country's president, Hamid Karzai.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to "Late Edition."

Let's get to this alleged audiotape from Mullah Mohammed Omar that was played on this Pakistani TV station called GEO.

Is this the real thing, based on what you know?

PRES. HAMID KARZAI, AFGHANISTAN: Well, it's not the first time that some former Taliban figures, commanders, military men have appeared on GEO, but I believe it's the first time that we hear something from Mullah Mohammed Omar on GEO.

Now, I would tell Mullah Mohammed Omar that, if he is really in charge and if he is doing all of this, then he should show himself up and face the danger that he is causing to hundreds of people, young people in Afghanistan and in Pakistan and not hide the way he is hiding right now.

It needs guts to do what he is talking about. And he doesn't have that. He only goes about and sends young people to death.

BLITZER: He said in this audiotape -- purportedly, he said -- "They," referring to you and the Afghan government, "cannot solve the issue of Afghanistan based on their wisdom and thinking," clearly attacking you and predicting the Taliban will make a comeback.

KARZAI: Well, Wolf, he has no opinions on any issue, Mr. Blitzer. I know that. It's somebody else speaking for him.

BLITZER: Why do you say he has no opinions? Explain what you mean.

KARZAI: He has no opinions in the sense that I'm sure he is not even aware as to what's going on in Afghanistan. I'm sure he's hidden somewhere in a guest house, wherever he is, wherever the GEO television found him or took his statement. So he has no idea. He never had an idea when he was nominally in charge of the movement in Afghanistan. That I know for a fact.

BLITZER: When you say he doesn't have the courage or the guts to show up, what are you suggesting, that this man is a coward?

KARZAI: Definitely. A man that sends, through the instruction of other people, through the instruction of foreign enemies, to Afghanistan, young Afghans, out of desperation and ignorance, to death, and not show up himself, means he has no guts.

BLITZER: Here is what the president of Pakistan...

KARZAI: If he believes in what he's doing -- if he believes in what he's saying, then he should show up himself, the way I showed up when I was resisting them.

BLITZER: Here is what the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, told Al-Arabiyah on Wednesday.

He said, quote, "We are certain that Mullah Omar is in Afghanistan and has reorganized the Taliban. While in the past, Al Qaida was in the lead, now the Taliban are in the lead."

Do you agree with President Musharraf, that the Taliban is now in the lead in fighting you, as opposed to Al Qaida?

KARZAI: Definitely wrong. Terrorism is attacking us, Al Qaida or the Taliban, whoever they are. They are at times together, at times separate. It's terrorism attacking Afghanistan, period. And it is the same terrorism, also, that is attacking innocent people in Pakistan.

My advice would be to my brother, President Musharraf, that we should both join hands and fight the evil of terrorism wherever it may be, go to the roots of it, go to the source of it, and remove them so that this region, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and by consequence, the rest of the world, can be safe.

We cannot defeat terrorism by playing with one side and being with one side and going against the other side. That is not the right approach.

BLITZER: There was a serious rift between you and the president of Pakistan in March. On March 6, President Musharraf, you will remember, was on "Late Edition," this program, and he said this about you. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PRESIDENT, 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.

So therefore, I would say he should pull up his intelligence; he should pull up his Ministry of Defense; he should coordinate with our intelligence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I know you've met with President Musharraf since then. Have you patched up your relationship? Because it was very tense only a few months back.

KARZAI: I don't think we ever had a problem of tension between us. We have had issues of concern to both countries to discuss. I consider him a brother of mine and a neighbor of ours. I just met with him when we were in Shanghai.

We seek, in Afghanistan, cooperation from our brothers in Pakistan in fighting terrorism. And I have conveyed this many times to my brother, President Musharraf. He understands. We have discussed it with him.

We only need to coordinate it better and more effectively for the good of all of us. There is no tension and there will not be tension between us. There are issues that we have to get resolved.

BLITZER: What is the most important issue that separates your government from the government of President Musharraf? KARZAI: Everything is going on well between Afghanistan and Pakistan. At the time of the Taliban, Pakistan's exports to Afghanistan were $25 million, only, a year, annually.

Today, as you and I are speaking, Pakistan's exports to Afghanistan stand at $1.3 billion annually. It is because Afghanistan is prospering. It is because Afghanistan has, now, money to spend. It is because the international community, led by the United States, is helping Afghanistan with billions of dollars in reconstruction and institution-building in Afghanistan.

So what is happening in Afghanistan today is good for Pakistan, good for Pakistan's security, good for Pakistan's economy.

What we are seeking from Pakistan, from our brother, President Musharraf, is that we should recognize this reality and work together to remove a threat to mankind, to all of us, to his people, to his children, and to Afghan children, and to the children in the rest of the world; that is to go and fight terrorism more effectively and sincerely.

BLITZER: The New York Times on June 11th reported this. Let me read it to you, Mr. President. "For several years, the Taliban could only field a few hundred men in scattered groups in mountainous areas. Now, the Taliban claims to have 12,000 fighters. Even though several hundred insurgents may have been killed in fighting this year, the Taliban are recruiting ever greater numbers of local people."

Is the Taliban making a comeback, and does it represent a threat to your government in Kabul?

KARZAI: It does not. I would like to repeat myself, that the problem of Taliban as a movement that can cause danger to the Afghan government, that can cause danger to the coalition's effort for the long-term stability of Afghanistan does not exist.

They exist in the form of attacking schools, attacking children, killing innocent people, killing clergy, harassing road workers, engineers. They are no match for our power. They are no match for our fighting ability.

What we are seeking is a solution that would not take military -- that would not take use of a lot of firepower. We are trying to do this by negotiations with our brothers in Pakistan. We are trying to convince our brothers that you cannot be peaceful with a good future, prospering, if we continue instability in Afghanistan through the use of terrorism, through burning schools, through causing harm to innocent civilians. There is no way, Mr. Blitzer, that the Taliban can come back and take power in Afghanistan. The Afghan people will never, ever allow that.

BLITZER: The al Qaida...

KARZAI: (inaudible) I asked a few days ago.

BLITZER: Let me say this. KARZAI: Go ahead.

BLITZER: The al Qaida number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a tape this past week as well, directly speaking to the people of Afghanistan. Among other things, he said, "I am calling upon Muslims in Kabul in particular and in all Afghanistan in general, for the sake of God to stand up in an honest stand in the face of the infidel forces that are invading Muslim lands."

You are familiar with this Ayman al-Zawahiri tape. He's apparently on the loose someplace along the Afghan-Pakistan border, together with Osama bin Laden, perhaps together with Mullah Mohammed Omar. How credible of a threat is this from al Qaida's number two leader?

KARZAI: Not credible at all. As a matter of fact, he was the invader in Afghanistan. He had invaded Afghanistan, together with Osama, with people from Mullah Omar's organization and other foreign elements from the neighborhood in Afghanistan. And the coalition of the international forces and Afghan people removed him from power. He was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Afghans, for the destruction of our country.

He trained his guns on the lives of the Afghan people, on our children, on our mothers, on our schools, on our mosques. So I am seeking him more than you are seeking him in the United States. The Afghan people want to give him to justice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Coming up, more of my interview with President Karzai. He talks about the hunt for the world's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, and why he's so hard to find. Plus, is the U.S. taking the right approach towards a potentially nuclear Iran and an already nuclear North Korea? We'll get perspective from two former U.S. secretaries of state, Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright. They're standing by live. "Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's still time for you to weigh in on our web question of the week: Do you think there is a significant number of al Qaida members in the United States? You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition.

Coming up, more of my exclusive interview with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai. I'll ask him about a key source of terror funding. You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We return now to my exclusive interview with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We return now to my exclusive interview with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Are you making any progress in getting closer to Osama bin Laden, to Ayman al-Zawahiri, or to Mullah Mohammed Omar?

KARZAI: Well, we are looking for them constantly. We hope we'll get them sooner rather than later. They're absconders. They're running away from law. They've committed extreme atrocities on the Afghan people and the people around the world. There is no way that they can hide forever. We will have them one day, sooner or later, one way or the other...

BLITZER: Do you believe that all three of them are some place...

KARZAI: ... like we have Zarqawi.

BLITZER: ... in Afghanistan?

KARZAI: They are not in Afghanistan, none of them. They don't dare come to Afghanistan. I tell you this with a million percent confidence, Wolf, that they are not in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Where are they?

KARZAI: Well, I am not going to speculate, but I can tell you they're not in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Are they in Pakistan, the mountainous, tribal areas of Pakistan?

Is that what you're suggesting?

KARZAI: I am in negotiations with our brothers in Pakistan to get lots of things done for the good of both countries and the United States, the rest of the world, so let's just stop here and not say much more about that.

BLITZER: All right, I understand. It's a very sensitive issue.

Operation Mountain Thrust is now under way, a coalition force designed to try to crush the Taliban. It's going on. Here's what you said on Thursday.

I'm going to read back your own words: "There is a need to reassess the manner in which the war on terror is being conducted...It is not acceptable for us that in all this fighting, Afghans are dying. In the last three to four weeks, 500 to 600 Afghans were killed. Even if they are the Taliban, they are the sons of this land."

That implies criticism of the multinational force in -- the U.S.- led force in Afghanistan. Is it? KARZAI: I have been asking for a re-evaluation, or stop and look around to see whether everything is being done the way it should be done.

When I say we need a strategic look at the fight against terror, I meant that we should not wait for terrorists to train young people, desperate people, poverty-stricken people, and send them for a few dollars or a few rupees or a few afghanis and with some false, misled motivation, to Afghanistan, and then we go after them here and shoot them and kill them.

This will go on. And there will not be an end to the fight against terror or stability in Afghanistan unless we go to find the roots of them, the places of their training, of their motivation, of their financing.

When I say we need a strategic fight against terrorism, that is what I meant, for the good of the international coalition against terror, for the good of Afghanistan, for the good of the fight against terror.

Now, last year, we had more coalition soldiers killed in Afghanistan than in the whole of the years before that.

This year, we're having casualties suffered by the Americans, by the Canadians, by Brits, by the Netherlands, and very many by the Afghan people.

We are four years into this war against terror. The Afghan people have rebuilt many aspects of their lives. We have institutions now. We have democracy. We have an elected president. We have an elected parliament. The economy is moving forward. Afghanistan's income per capita in 2002 was $180. Today, the Afghan income per capital is $355.

So if everything else is going all right, if women are participating in life, if children are going to school, if children are able to go to school, if the Afghan people keep asking us for more education, universities and schools -- so who is it that's burning schools in Afghanistan?

Who is it that's destroying schools in Afghanistan?

Who is it that's causing harm to doctors and clinics and nurses?

And where are they coming from? Who are they, when they come and kill American soldiers or engineers or an Indian engineer or a Turkish driver or a British soldier?

We must find out, and go to the truth of it, and eliminate the source, wherever it may be.

BLITZER: There were some bitter anti-American riots in Kabul in the aftermath of that traffic accident in which a U.S. military vehicle ran into some Afghan civilians. And there were "down with America" signs. How worried are you that Afghans, in general, could turn against the United States?

KARZAI: Sir, that incident in Kabul was unfortunate, not so much for America, more for Afghanistan. Some people, some looters came out and looted Afghan shops and hotels, destroyed places.

Those that demonstrated immediately after the accident were the rightful people to demonstrate because they got hurt in the accident and they were demonstrating peacefully. Our sympathies are with them. But the others who emerged later on were thugs, who have been arrested and who are going to face trial.

The Afghan people very much understand the value of the presence of the United States in Afghanistan. That presence has liberated us from terrorism and has given us a lot of good things in our lives in the past four years.

I will go to a story. There was a bombing about a month and a half ago in Kandahar, in which 50 Taliban or terrorists, whatever you may call them, were killed. And I went to Kandahar, and I went to the hospital.

I saw some very trained people there. I saw foreigners there who were playing deaf and dumb in order not for us to identify them. And I asked the tribal chiefs as to what they felt.

They told me, Mr. President, don't criticize the bombing. I wanted to criticize the bombing, because I'd warned that we should be very careful. They said, don't criticize the bombing, because we need tough action to get rid of terrorism.

The Afghan people understand action when it is necessary. The Afghan people understand the need for the continuation of the international forces in Afghanistan. What the Afghan people want is a deeper look into the problem, asking the United States and the rest of the coalition forces to go to the source of terrorism, rather than going around in a circle in Afghanistan and waiting for them to come and be attacked.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, Mr. President. I am going to read to you from a recent issue of Newsweek magazine that portrays a vastly different picture of Afghanistan than what you've just portrayed.

Let me read it to you. "For most Kabul residents, electricity and running water are scarce, raw sewage runs in the streets, roads are broken, unemployment is high, especially among the young, and officials are corrupt."

Some complain that they have to pay the equivalent of a $15 bribe simply to get a mandatory national identity card in a country where the average annual income is less than $800.

Of roughly $10 billion in aid pledged by international donors since 2001, only half has actually been distributed.

And among all of this, there is the further problems of poppies and opium and illegal drugs making a huge comeback in recent years in Afghanistan," a vastly different picture than what you present.

KARZAI: Yes. Well, that picture depicted in Newsweek is very wrong. The people in Newsweek come here for a day and write a story and then go back and leave the consequences for all of us.

Look, Mr. Blitzer, four years ago, when we began, we were a poverty-stricken nation. Our foreign reserves stood at less than $200 million.

Today, our foreign reserves are more than $1.9 billion. Our trade with our neighbors has increased many, manifolds, in cases, more than 70 times higher.

The Afghan people are sending their children to school. We have a standing parliament elected by the Afghan people. We have women teaching, working, doing business.

I go on foreign trips. We have, now, large business delegations traveling with me on those trips. We sign contracts all over the world. We just signed contracts for business in China.

We have more than 1,800 kilometers of roads paved in Afghanistan. Several thousand kilometers are under construction. There are thousands of foreign workers in Afghanistan. There are more than 60,000 Pakistani workers alone in Afghanistan, because they get a higher pay.

Yes, Afghanistan is still a poor country. Yes, Afghanistan still has lots of problems. Yes, Afghanistan has corruption. But Afghanistan is mentioned by Transparent International as being better than 35 other countries in the world.

In our neighborhood, we are ranked better than all other neighbors other than Iran.

We have problems, but there is massive progress of which I'm very, very happy. And so are the Afghan people, when you find time to talk to them about it.

BLITZER: President Karzai, good luck to you. Good luck to the Afghan people. Thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

KARZAI: Welcome, sir.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And coming up, former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright. We'll get their assessments of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq, Iran, North Korea. They're standing by live. But up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the fate of four Russian diplomats kidnapped in Baghdad. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I fully understood that the longer we got away from September the 11th, more people would forget the lessons of September the 11th. But I'm not going to forget them. And therefore, I will be steadfast and diligent and strong in defending our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush talking about the impact of 9/11 earlier this week in Vienna, Austria. Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. The tensions with Iran and North Korea over nuclear weapons, in addition to the U.S. mission in Iraq, all of those issues pose some major diplomatic challenges for the Bush administration.

Joining us now with special insight are two top diplomats who have advised U.S. presidents. In Kent, Connecticut, the former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger. And in New Orleans, the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Dr. Kissinger, I'll start with you. We just heard from Hamid Karzai say things are bad in Afghanistan but not as bad as widely assessed. What's your sense? Are things moving in the right direction in Afghanistan or in the wrong direction?

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I really can't touch it very well. The Taliban seem to be gaining in strength. At the same time, the civil reconstruction is also moving forward. And a lot will depend on whether the forces that are there now, which are NATO forces led by the United States, are going to be able to deal with the Taliban.

BLITZER: Madam Secretary, what do you say about the current trends in Afghanistan?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, it was interesting to listen to Dr. Karzai. He obviously wants to paint a most positive picture. But there's no question that the Taliban are resurging. And this is an example of what has happened because this administration diverted attention from Afghanistan, and the president you quoted as saying that he hasn't forgotten 9/11.

Maybe he should remember that those who attacked the United States came from Afghanistan, not from Iraq. And I think the problems in Afghanistan have a great deal to do with the fact that we have diverted our attention and have united in the president's mind the fight against terror of Afghanistan and Iraq when they had nothing in common.

BLITZER: As we're speaking, Dr. Kissinger, more reports coming in that those four Russian diplomats in Iraq have been killed by insurgents. These are the pictures of those four diplomats. A Web site, al Qaida in Iraq Web site, suggesting that they were killed in a very, very brutal way. What do you make of this development that Russian diplomats now have been executed, apparently by al Qaida in Iraq?

KISSINGER: I have the impression that the al Qaida is trying to create a reign of terror in Iraq, to be so gruesome and brutal that the civilian population loses any hope of a normal life returning, and discouraging any foreign country from participating in the reconstruction of Iraq.

BLITZER: What about you, Madam Secretary? How is this going to play out if in fact these reports turn out to be true?

ALBRIGHT: I think it will have a very bad effect on the international community. I've just come back from Moscow, and I think that the Russians believe that they can play some kind of a mediating role in all of this. This clearly is going to stir up some of their population.

I think it's also an attempt by al Qaida to show that Zarqawi's death is not going to change the way they approach this. They are going to in fact be as murderous as ever, and it shows again the trauma and the terrific issues, problems in Iraq that are so far from being resolved.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, The New York Times has a front-page story outlining a purported plan by General George Casey, the U.S. Military commander in Iraq, for a troop withdrawal, significant troop withdrawal in September, starting this year but continuing in a much more massive way next year. This is precisely what a lot of Democrats suggested should be happening in Iraq right now. What do you make of this?

KISSINGER: Well, first let me say that neither of these issues should be a partisan issue. And both of the discussions of these issues should be focused on the future and not on the past. With respect to withdrawal, I believe that this discussion should be stopped. I don't see any point in putting forward theoretical plans of withdrawal.

We have a new government in Iraq. We are training new Iraqi forces. Nobody can know at this point how effective these forces will be until they are tested. And I think the debate about withdrawal should take place after we have seen how the new government functions and after these forces have been tested. To suggest these forces can replace one to one American forces seems to me totally unrealistic, and the withdrawal debate is not a debate that should take place this year or in relation to a political campaign.

BLITZER: Secretary Albright, John Kerry, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, Russ Feingold, another Democratic senator from Wisconsin, they both introduced legislation calling for a specific timetable, a complete withdrawal by the end -- by a year from now, by July of 2007. General Casey, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, doesn't like his hands tied like that. Listen to what he said earlier in the week here in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CASEY: I don't like it. I feel it would limit my flexibility. I think it would give the enemy a fixed timetable, and I think it would send a terrible signal to a new government of national unity in Iraq that's trying to stand up and get its legs underneath it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You want to comment on that, Madam Secretary?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that what has happened here is everybody, the American people and the Democratic leaders are frustrated by the fact that the administration doesn't seem to have any plan and that they're talking about staying the course without any explanations. I was very interested to read about General Casey's plan.

I wonder whether the Republicans in the Senate were kept in the dark when they were discussing things this week, whether it was just a kind of Karl Rove special that it was made into such a political argument. I totally agree with Dr. Kissinger about the fact that this should not be a partisan discussion.

But they were talking -- they have to vote on the defense authorization bill, and I think Congress has to fulfill its responsibility of asking the questions that this administration needs to respond to. We are all in this war. We need to know more about what's going on.

And I think a lot of the Democrats are speaking from frustration at the fact that the administration seems to live in some kind of parallel universe in terms of saying what's going on. And I think the American people want some answers and the Democrats are speaking on their behalf in so many issues.

BLITZER: Secretary Albright, Secretary Kissinger, please stand by, both of you. We have a lot more to talk about, including North Korea. Should the U.S. launch a preemptive strike against that missile, that intercontinental ballistic missile in North Korea? We'll talk about that and other issues. That's coming up right after a short break.

And also coming up at the top of the hour please join John Roberts for a comprehensive look at the week's developments in Iraq, the war on terror. Our special, "Iraq: a Week at War." That begins right at the top of the hour, 1 p.m. eastern. "Late Edition" will be right back. But first, this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Katharine Jefferts Schori, what's her story? Jefferts Schori is making history as the first woman to head the Episcopal Church USA. One of her main tasks will be to try and heal sharp divisions within the church over same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay bishops, both of which Jefferts Schori supports. She's a biologist and pilot, and was ordained a deaconate priest in 1994. She became bishop of the 6,000-member Nevada Diocese in 2001. Before her church career, Jefferts Schori was an oceanographer with the National Marine Fishery Service in Seattle.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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BLITZER: Welcome back. We're getting analysis on the world's hotspots from former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright. Madam secretary, your colleague from the Clinton administration, Bill Perry, a former secretary of defense, wrote this together with Ash Carter in The Washington Post on Thursday about North Korea and its intercontinental ballistic missile test: "If North Korea persists in its launch preparations the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched. Diplomacy has failed, and we cannot sit by and let this deadly threat mature."

Would it be a good idea simply to take out that missile before it can go up in the air?

ALBRIGHT: I think that it's very important to keep a military option on the table. But I believe that what we're seeing here is a complete failure in diplomacy. And as President Bush determined the axis of evil, each of those countries has gotten more dangerous.

I hold no brief for Kim Jong Il, but I think the fact that there have been very limited discussions with him in the last five years is a sign that this administration has not wanted to deal with the issue of very dangerous North Korea.

And I do think that it is absolutely necessary to revive diplomatic talks and keep a military option on the table.

BLITZER: Should there be direct talks with North Korea, U.S.- North Korea bilateral talks?

Secretary Kissinger?

KISSINGER: Well, let's understand what is going on. There are six-party talks that are taking place in Beijing which are supposed to deal with this issue.

North Korea has refused to return to these six-party talks in which we participate, as well as China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia, that is the nation that are bordering Korea and that are most immediately affected by these weapons.

I have no question that, if these six-party talks resume and, if even the slightest progress is made, that part of them will be bilateral talks with North Korea.

But for North Korea to have blocked these talks, now, for near nearly a year, to emerge out of them through a bilateral talk with the United States and thereby marginalize the other nations would be the wrong way to proceed.

I believe -- I agree with Madeleine on the proposition that we should force the diplomatic pace now. And I believe the six nations should make a proposal to North Korea, as they have made to Iran, with at least an implied time limit and move to severe sanctions if that proposal is rejected.

BLITZER: Are you suggesting, Madam Secretary, that there should be bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea right now? Because you just heard Dr. Kissinger say that would undermine the six-party talks.

ALBRIGHT: I think that it's very hard to have the bilateral talks right now, given the fact of the possibility of this Taepodong missile, because we don't want to move in that direction when the military threat has been increased.

I have been arguing, now, for a long time, five years, in fact, that there should have been bilateral talks.

The six-party talks are important. But having been the highest- level American official to ever meet with Kim Jong Il, while I was in office, I think that he believed that they had a missile moratorium, that we were in the middle of negotiations which were cut off by the Bush administration when they came into office.

As I said, I hold no grief for Kim Jong Il, but I think that the six-party talks were very slow in getting off the ground. And there was a time to have more direct bilateral talks.

I agree with Henry that it's important, now, to get the six-party talks going. And the bilateral talks will happen within that context.

But for me, the biggest problem here, Wolf, is that five years have been wasted. The North Koreans have become more dangerous. They have, now, the potential of having, we hear, six to eight or, now, eight to ten -- enough plutonium to make eight to ten weapons.

Where have we been for the last five years while North Korea has become a much more dangerous place?

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, listen to what Vice President Dick Cheney said this week in an interview with our John King, when he was asked specifically about a preemptive strike against that missile. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Obviously, if you're going to launch strikes at another nation, you'd better be prepared to not just fire one shot. And the fact of the matter is, I think, the issue is being addressed appropriately.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: If the U.S. were to accept the advice of former defense secretary, William Perry, and knock out that missile, which James Woolsey, the former CIA director, says would not be a difficult military operation in and of itself, what do you suspect the North Korean response would be?

KISSINGER: The issue, first of all, isn't the missile but the nuclear capability of North Korea. And if anything is to be knocked out, it should be the North Korean nuclear capability.

The capability that North Korea has always been assumed to have and has is the massive artillery that they have amassed north of the demilitarized zone, which could cause enormous destruction in Seoul among the civilian population.

And therefore, if we take any military action against North Korea, with which I agree with Madeleine, should not be excluded, it should be a more comprehensive one that is aimed at its nuclear capability and to knock out that artillery concentration north of Seoul.

But we cannot do this and we should not do this until we have gone through another intense diplomatic phase in which it is clearly understood what we have offered and what we are asking for and the time limit within which that should take place.

We're almost out of time, Madam Secretary. But is that at all realistic, the U.S. launching a preemptive strike against North Korea, including those military forces along the border with South Korea?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that the huge problem here is that, when we were in a similar situation in 1998 and very concerned about a test that the North Koreans had proposed, or did, we had a review of our North Korean policy. And we were prepared to use force, but we knew that millions of people would die.

I think this administration is in disarray over its North Korean policy. The Treasury Department has put on sanctions. There is some thought of six-party talks.

I think they need to get their act together so that we know what the policy of the United States is on North Korea and then proceed, I would believe, in a way to -- as Henry has suggested, while always keeping the military option on the table.

But I am totally confused about where this administration is, with Vice President Cheney saying one thing, the secretary of state occasionally saying something, and the Treasury Department with sanctions.

BLITZER: We have to leave it right there. Secretary Kissinger, Secretary Albright, thanks as usual for joining us here on "Late Edition."

Up next, the results of our Web question of the week: "Do you think there's a significant number of Al Qaida members in the United States?

And don't forget, coming up in a few moments, right at the top of the hour, CNN's special report, "Iraq: A Week at War," hosted by John Roberts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: That's it for this "Late Edition." Remember "Iraq: A Week at War," coming up.

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