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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Jalal Talabani; Interview With Hamid Karzai

Aired September 24, 2006 - 11:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, GUEST HOST: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We would take the action necessary to bring him to justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A new vow from President Bush to get Osama bin Laden. We'll bring you Wolf Blitzer's exclusive interview with the president. Then, terror on trial. Senate Republicans reach a deal with the White House on treatment of terror suspects. We'll get perspective on this and much more from two key members of Congress, Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, and the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, Democrat Jane Harman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. HAMID KARZAI, AFGHANISTAN: Terrorists have infiltrated our borders to step up their murderous campaign against our people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: As violence rebounds in Afghanistan, can the government assert control? Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, is our guest.

Anti-American sentiment reaches a new high. Is the United States loosing luster on the global stage? We'll get expert insight from two key statesmen, former Secretary of State Alexander Haig and former ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. JALAL TALABANI, IRAQ (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Although the new Iraq has passed through crucial stages in an incredibly short period of time, the political process has been strengthened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With all the trials and tribulations in Iraq, can the new government improve security to prevent a civil war? We'll talk to Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, about the rising insurgency and his country's next steps. Plus, only 44 days left until the midterm elections. We'll talk party politics with two top strategists, Republican Matthew Dowd and Democrat Stan Greenberg.

"Late Edition's" lineup begins right now.

It's 11 a.m. in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7:30 p.m. in Afghanistan, and 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from, thanks for joining us for "Late Edition." Wolf Blitzer is away this weekend. I'm John King.

Today, we'll bring you three special interviews with three presidents. Iraq's Jalal Talabani and Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai will join me live right here. We'll also be bringing you Wolf Blitzer's exclusive interview this past week with President Bush. All that in just a few minutes. But first, let's go to Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta for a quick check of what's in the news right now. Hi, Fred.

(NEWSBREAK)

KING: Thank you, Fred.

The war on terror higher on everyone's radar this week, from debates over treatment of terror suspects to reports that Osama bin Laden is either dead or perhaps sick. Here to help us make sense of all this are two key U.S. lawmakers. Republican Senator Arlen Specter joins us from his home state of Pennsylvania. He is, of course, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. And joining me here in Washington is Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman. She's the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Thank you both for joining us on "Late Edition." Congresswoman Harman, I want to go straight to you. You're the ranking Democrat on intelligence. There is this French document suggesting Osama bin Laden perhaps might be dead. Have you seen any credible intelligence that he's dead or that he's sick?

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: No. Neither. And this news is not confirmed. If it were confirmed, I'm sure I'd know about it. I'm sure we'd all know that it was true. It would be a good thing. I would prefer us to capture him, and then using some appropriate legal tools, debrief him and find out what he knows about future attacks against America.

KING: We're going to have what I assume will be a spirited discussion about what those appropriate legal tools might be. Senator Specter, I want to bring you into the conversation with this question. Five-plus years after 9/11, we're debating whether or not there's some Saudi document that suggests he might be dead, he might be sick. Why is it that we don't know where he is? Why has he not been captured or killed along with his deputy, Mr. al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban? Whose responsibility, whose fault is that?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: It's like looking for a needle in haystack. I don't think you can say that it's anybody's fault. It's a big world. There are lots of places for him to hide. He made a lot of precautions. I had a chance to talk to General Tommy Franks recently about the question as to whether they had him spotted and could have found him at one point. And General Franks said that that was not true. He's a hard man to find, but I think one day we will find him.

KING: I want to move on. But Congresswoman Harman, you're shaking your head at that statement.

HARMAN: We missed a chance. We had him cornered at Tora Bora in Afghanistan. And under this administration, no action was taken. We also know, I think for a fair certainty, that he's in the tribal area of Pakistan. I don't believe he's in Afghanistan. Resources were not focused on this problem as we got bogged down in Iraq. Now we have more resources on the problem. But we should have been able to capture him within the last five years.

KING: Let's come back, Senator...

SPECTER: John, Congresswoman Harman may be right or she may be wrong, but General Franks said that he wasn't isolated in Tora Bora. I don't think we ought to make a political issue. Everybody wants to capture Osama bin Laden, and one day we will.

KING: Let's move on to something that is a major policy issue, but also I suspect will be a major political issue between now and the fast-approaching November midterm elections. And that is, pick up your Sunday newspaper today or talk to sources, and you see what has to be a troubling statement.

The national intelligence estimate saying the war in Iraq has not, as the president often asserts publicly, made the United States safer but is in fact contributing to the spread of radical Islamicism around the world. I want to read you a quote from this NIE that's in The New York Times today. It says this national intelligence estimate says this: "It asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe, and cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology." You agree with that, Congresswoman?

HARMAN: I do. And I'm not going to comment on the document because it's a classified document. But every intelligence analyst I speak to confirms that. And that is why, although I hope we will do something appropriate this week with legislation on military commissions, put into context, the best military commission proposal in the world and even capturing the remaining top al Qaida leadership isn't going to prevent copycat cells, and it isn't going to change a failed policy in Iraq. This administration is trying to change the subject. I don't think voters are going to buy that.

KING: Senator Specter, I want to talk about the detainee issue as we move on. But I want to talk specifically about this for a second in the sense that the NIE is the same document the president used to say Saddam Hussein, based on the best consensus of the intelligence community, had weapons of mass destruction. It is the document the president used to justify going into Iraq. If he now has a document that says the Iraq war is making the problem worse, not better, should he be campaigning in the last month of his campaign telling the American people that we are safer today, five years after 9/11?

SPECTER: I think the president ought to say whatever he thinks is true. But I'm very concerned about the intelligence report that I read about in The New York Times this morning. And I'm even most concerned about the part which said that the administration had intelligence briefings in early 2003 before the war in Iraq was started.

And my feel is that the war in Iraq has intensified Islam fundamentalism and radicalism. And I think it is a bigger problem. And I think that the military commissions have to be taken up and we ought to be dealing fairly with the people who are detained.

But I think there is a much more fundamental issue as to how we respond. And that is what we do with the Iraq war itself. That's the focal point for inspiring more radical Islam fundamentalism, and that's a problem that nobody seems to have an answer to.

KING: Well, Senator, you say you're troubled about briefings the administration had back in 2003. Are you troubled to point that you think this was the wrong war, the wrong decision?

SPECTER: By hindsight, we operated on faulty intelligence. And I think, had we known that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction before the war was started, I think the odds are very strong that it wouldn't have been started.

But when you deal with Islam and you deal with fundamentalism, you're dealing with a culture which is very alien to us. And to figure how they're going to respond is very, very complex. And if we had an intelligence report that the likelihood was that it would augment terrorism and augment fundamentalism, I think that would have to be taken very much into account. Well, we know today it's a published report. We really ought to make a determination as to the details of it, whether it's accurate, and try to figure out a sensible response now.

KING: Congresswoman Harman, your committee, the House Intelligence Committee, had its own report this past Wednesday that says this: "The threat of terrorism is very real and in many ways more alarming than the threat that existed prior to September 11, 2001. There are a growing number of groups building the capability to attack the United States, our allies and our interests abroad."

More groups capable of attacks bigger than 9/11?

HARMAN: Well, I don't know that. And that report, by the way, was issued on a party-line vote. The Democrats on the committee voted against it because we felt that both the methodology and the conclusions were hyped.

And I want to make that point. Arlen Specter is right when he says we should understand accurately what the intelligence is. Once we do that, the administration, which makes statements based on intelligence, should also be accurate.

On a talk show, on "Meet the Press," about a week ago, the vice president said, we still don't know whether there were pre-war contacts between Al Qaida and Iraq.

And we do know there weren't. The intelligence is absolutely clear, both the classified and unclassified intelligence. And he should correct the record.

And again, here, if it is believed -- and I think it is widely believed, not just this NIE, which remains a classified document -- that Iraq is making the world less safe, we should -- the president should not be saying we're turning the corner in Iraq.

KING: Senator Specter, Congresswoman Harman, I ask you both, please stay with us. Much more to discuss about the war on terror.

Also, coming up later this hour, are Iraqis ready to stand up and take charge? We'll ask that country's president, Jalal Talabani. Then we'll bring you Wolf Blitzer's exclusive interview with the president of the United States.

And coming up at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, "This Week at War" looks at both Iraq and Iran. Don't miss it. And stay here, "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This is "Late Edition." I'm John King, in for Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington.

We're continuing our conversation with Republican senator Arlen Specter and Democratic congresswoman Jane Harman.

Senator Specter, to you first: You will hold hearings this week on a deal hatched in the Congress last week on how to deal with the terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, whether there are fair rules to hold them, to interrogate them, and then ultimately, to bring them to trial.

You obviously have concerns about this agreement. Senator McCain is among those who brokered this deal. He was the one who stood up to the president and said, what you're doing now is wrong.

I want you to listen to Senator McCain here. He thinks this is a good deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): And there is no doubt that the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But pick up the Los Angeles Times yesterday and you see this, from Major Michael Mori, who is a Marine Defense lawyer. He says of this deal, "It is worse than the system that was in place before. It is not going to ensure there is a fair trial."

Senator Specter, you're the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. You want to look into this issue.

Does the deal, as it now stands, give terror suspects a fair trial?

SPECTER: Most of it is a big improvement. I think Senator McCain, Senator Warner and Senator Graham did a good job in preserving the Geneva Convention -- indispensable that those standards be maintained.

They did a good job, too, on having classified information made available to the defendant on a reasonable basis.

But there's one part that I vigorously disagree with, and that is taking away the jurisdiction of the federal courts on what we call habeas corpus, which is the great writ that goes all the way back to 1215.

And tomorrow, the Judiciary Committee, at 9:30, is going to have hearings on that point.

KING: What's wrong with it, Senator?

SPECTER: Well, what is wrong with it is that the federal courts have been the only instrumentality to deal with the problem. Congress has a constitutional responsibility to deal with it, and Congress punts it. It was too hot to handle.

And in June of 2005, the Supreme Court came down with three opinions; last June, another opinion. And the federal courts just have to be open.

This legislation is very complicated. As a matter of fact, so far, there have been many conflicting reports about what the legislation does.

And the courts have traditionally been open to make sure that individual rights are protected. And that is fundamental.

And the Constitution says when you can suspend the writ of habeas corpus, in time of rebellion or invasion. And we don't have either. So that has to be changed, in my opinion.

KING: Thank you, Senator.

Congresswoman, a good deal, bad deal, what's wrong with it?

HARMAN: Well, it's better than where we were. I want to commend Arlen Specter. He's a careful, thoughtful lawyer. I'm glad he's holding hearings tomorrow.

I hope that the intelligence committees will also hold hearings because there's a carve-out for a so-called CIA program which could be different interrogation practices.

Now is the time when Congress has to exercise oversight. This will never be a good deal unless Congress, at least with respect to the CIA program, demands to be fully briefed, demands to understand what the legal justification is for any different techniques for people held by the CIA and demands to know whether those separate techniques are necessary, whether they're effective.

And we can't just hear, one more time from this White House, trust us. That won't cut it. And they're here, finally, only because the Supreme Court has forced them to be in Congress.

KING: The Supreme Court has forced them on this issue. But the detainee issue is just one of several issues in which Congress is trying to reassert itself, if you will, in its oversight role in the war on terror.

Another one is the whole National Security Agency domestic eavesdropping program...

HARMAN: Right.

KING: ... terrorist surveillance program, in the president's words. Senator Specter cut a deal with the White House on this, negotiated with the White House on this. You think he sold out?

HARMAN: Well, Senator Specter and I have had long conversations, sort of like law school master classes, about what the steel seizure cases meant.

And I think they meant that the law Congress passed, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, controls here. There is no inherent authority for this White House to operate a program outside the law.

And some of us are pushing a bill that says that and we're having a little bit of a fight. What I worry about, John, is that, at 3:00 a.m. on Friday morning, this Friday, the last week that Congress is in before the election, there will be a take it or leave it program with lots of poison pills in it. And Democrats and some conscientious Republicans are going to be put in a box: If you oppose this, you're soft on terror.

I hope that all the people in Congress, in both parties, push back this week and make sure that any package is a responsible package, and also make the point that Iraq is getting more dangerous. And whatever we do on this legislation, we shouldn't be changing the subject.

The administration is accountable for a major foreign policy failure here. And it's time for them to change course.

KING: Senator Specter, do you feel put in a box by this White House, with the time clock ticking toward the election?

SPECTER: No, no, I don't feel put in a box, and I'm not puttable in a box. (LAUGHTER)

I haven't sold out. I'm not for sale. The legislation that I have proposed is very fundamental to bring this eavesdropping, surveillance, wiretapping under judicial review.

The tradition is to have court approval before it's done. Now, the legislation which we are working on, I think, will even satisfy Congresswoman Harman.

But she'll have to say that for herself. We have made fundamental changes. We have taken out the phrase that nothing in the bill impairs the president's Article II power. That was surplusage. There's nothing in legislation that can affect the constitutional power of the president. That is fundamental.

We've also added considerable resources to the NSA, and we are now going to be able to have individualized warrants for calls originating in the United States. And we're also opening up the foreign intelligence surveillance appellate court to make it public with a mandate that the case goes to the Supreme Court of the United States.

We've been working very hard with the Democrats in the Senate, with a number of Republicans who had questions about the bill, and with the White House. And I think we'll come up with a bill which will be generally satisfactory.

KING: It is a complicated policy issue, a very divisive political debate as well. I'm sure there are people all over the world right now, Senator Specter, studying Article II of the U.S. Constitution. We thank you both for joining us. Senator Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, in Philadelphia this morning. Congresswoman Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, here with us in Washington. Thank you both.

And stay with us because, still ahead, we'll bring you our three special interviews with three presidents. First, is Iraq on the brink of civil war, and can the battle for Baghdad be won? My interview with the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani.

But up next, a check of what's in the news right now. And coming up at 1 p.m. Eastern, "This Week at War." Stay with us. You're watching "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

KING: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm John King, filling in for Wolf Blitzer. Just ahead, my interview with the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, on the challenges facing his country and when it might be possible for U.S. troops to start coming home.

First, earlier this week, Wolf Blitzer sat down with the president of the United States, George W. Bush, and asked him, among other things, about the current situation in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "LATE EDITION": Let's talk a little bit about Iraq.

BUSH: Sure.

BLITZER: Because this is a huge, huge issue, as you know, for the American public, a lot of concern that perhaps they are on the verge of a civil war, if not already a civil war.

BUSH: Yeah.

BLITZER: I'll read to you what Kofi Annan said on Monday. He said, "If current patterns of alienation and violence persist much further, there is a grave danger the Iraqi state will break down, possibly in the midst of a full-scale civil war." Is this what the American people bought in to?

BUSH: You know, it's interesting you quoted Kofi. I'd rather quote the people on the ground who are very close to the situation, and who live it day by day, our ambassador or General Casey. I ask this question all the time, tell me what it's like there, and this notion that we're in civil war is just not true, according to them. These are the people that live the issue.

BLITZER: We see these horrible bodies showing up ...

BUSH: Of course you do.

BLITZER: ...tortured, mutilation. The Shia and the Sunni, the Iranians apparently having a negative role. Of course, Al-Qaida in Iraq's still operating.

BUSH: Yes, you see -- you see it on TV, and that's the power of an enemy that is willing to kill innocent people. But there's also an unbelievable will and resiliency by the Iraqi people. Twelve million people voted last December.

Admittedly, it seems like a decade ago. I like to tell people when the final history is written on Iraq, it will look like just a comma because there is -- my point is, there's a strong will for democracy.

These people want a unity government. The unity government is functioning. I'm impressed by President Maliki.

I've talked to him. I've seen the decision-making process that he's put in place. The Iraqi army is still recruiting and training.

BLITZER: You weren't upset when he went to Tehran and gave a big hug and a kiss to Ahmadinejad?

BUSH: Excuse me for a minute. I was on a brilliant point, as you know. (LAUGHTER)

The Iraqi government and the Iraqi military is committed to keeping this country together. And so therefore, I reject the notion that this country is in civil war based upon experts, not based upon people who are speculating.

I fully recognize it's still dangerous and there's more work to do. The enemy has got the capacity to get on your TV screens by killing innocent people, and that should speak volumes to the American people about the nature of these people...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The visit from Nouri al-Maliki to Iran...

BUSH: To Iran.

BLITZER: ... that was a picture that -- a lot of Americans saw that picture, big hug, big kiss, and they said, hey, what's going on here?

BUSH: What's going on here is you've got the president of a sovereign nation going to a neighbor, making it clear to the neighbor to stop meddling with their new democracy, that he would expect there to be support of this new government and not undermining the new government.

This is a man who is dedicated and committed to a unity government. He has taken great risks to advance the cause of peace and unity is his country, and so...

BLITZER: So the bottom line, you have confidence in him, because a lot of other people are beginning to lose confidence.

BUSH: Yes. I don't only have confidence in him, but General Casey and, again, our ambassador. That's how I learn it. I can't learn it -- I frankly can't learn it from your newscasts. What I've got to learn it from is people who are there on the ground.

And so I ask them all the time, how are things going? Give me the decision-making process of Prime Minister Maliki. Is he growing in the job?

The guy's been there for about 100 days, and I am impressed by his strength of character.

BLITZER: I woke up in New York like you did this morning. I read...

BUSH: What are you reading now?

BLITZER: ... the "New York Times." There's a paragraph in here -- I'll read it to you -- about your dad's former secretary of state, James Baker: "In his 1995 memoir, Mr. Baker said he opposed ousting Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf war in 1991 because he feared that such action might lead to an Iraqi civil war, to criticism from many of our allies, and to an eventual loss of American support for an occupation."

BUSH: He was writing before September the 11th, 2001, and the world changed that day, Wolf.

BLITZER: But Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

BUSH: Excuse me for a minute, please. The world changed that day because we had to deal with threats. No question, Saddam Hussein did not order the attacks.

On the other hand, Saddam Hussein was viewed as a threat by the Congress, by the United Nations, and by the United States administration. And so James Baker was writing before the world changed.

And we took out Saddam Hussein because he was viewed as a threat. He was a state sponsor of terror. He had used weapons of mass destruction. He had invaded his neighbors. The decision was the right decision, and now the question is, will this country and our coalition partners have the will to support this new government, a democracy in the heart of the Middle East.

BLITZER: You know, you were thinking of dealing with Saddam Hussein long before 9/11.

BUSH: I wasn't in office long before 9/11.

BLITZER: Well, let me remind you ...

BUSH: I wasn't in office that much longer.

BLITZER: I'm going to remind you of an interview you and I did ...

BUSH: 9/11, 2001 and I swore in, in January of 2001.

BLITZER: But when you were a candidate for president, you were still the governor of Texas, you and I sat down in Iowa...

BUSH: Right.

BLITZER: ... just before the Iowa caucus, and we had this exchange. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We shouldn't be sending mixed signals. And, if at any time I found that the Iraqis were developing weapons of mass destruction, they wouldn't exist anymore.

BLITZER: Who wouldn't exist anymore, the weapons?

BUSH: The weapons of mass destruction, yes. I'm not going to -- they just need to hear that from a potential president, that if we catch them in violation of the agreement, if we in any way, shape, or form find out that their developing weapons of mass destruction, that there will be action taken. And they can just guess what that action might be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The point, though, being that, at least to my mind, the weapons of mass destruction issue, in your mind, even as a candidate running for president, was a trigger potentially that could lead to war.

BUSH: Well, of course, Saddam -- I've used Saddam Hussein for what he was, a threat. He was declared a state sponsor of terror, Wolf, by previous administrations.

BLITZER: But there are other countries that have been declared state sponsors of terror, like North Korea, like Syria, Cuba. You don't go to war against them.

BUSH: Well, North Korea hadn't invaded its neighbors. North Korea hadn't made declarations of intent. North Korea's relatively isolated compared to Iraq.

Every threat must be taken seriously. And every threat must be dealt with in a different fashion. I strongly stand by my decision to remove Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: And you don't look back with any regrets?

BUSH: I regret when people lose lives. But presidents don't get to do do-overs. But I believe that the decision was the right decision. And now we've got to help this young democracy survive.

And what's interesting is extremists and radicals aim to destroy young democracies, whether it be Hezbollah, or whether it be Al Qaida, who you mentioned, in Iraq. And, that's the real challenge of this century. It's a challenge between moderation and reform versus extremism and radicalism. Those extremists and radicals are willing to use terror and murder as a weapon to achieve their objectives.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Here on "Late Edition," more of Wolf's interview with the president, George W. Bush, and my live interview with Iraq's president Jalal Talabani.

And coming up at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, John Roberts hosts "This Week at War." Don't go away. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You're watching "Late Edition." I'm John King, in for Wolf Blitzer, live from Washington. In a moment, Iraq's president Jalal Talabani joins us live right here on "Late Edition."

But first, another excerpt from Wolf's interview With President George W. Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: You're here in New York. The president of Iran is here in New York. You have a chance -- I don't know if you still have a chance -- but you had a chance to meet with him.

Given the stakes involved, a nuclear confrontation, what do you have to lose by sitting down with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

BUSH: Our position is very clear to the Iranians, that if they want to sit down with American officials, that they first must verifiably suspend their enrichment program. They know our position. The world knows our position. And I clarified it at the United Nations over the past couple of days.

BLITZER: But if it would help to sit down, talk to them, and try to convince them -- you know, there have been other moments when great leaders have made that major decision to have a breakthrough -- you know, Nixon going to China, Sadat going to Jerusalem.

What would be wrong to just sit down with him and tell him, you know what, here are the options before you?

BUSH: Yes, well, he knows the options before him. I've made that very clear.

Secondly, Wolf, in order for there to be effective diplomacy, you can't keep changing your word. At an important moment in these negotiations with the E.U.-3 and Iran, we made it clear we would come to the table, but we would come to the table only if they verifiably suspended their enrichment program.

And the reason that's important, that they verifiably suspend, is because we don't want them to have the technologies necessary to be able to build a nuclear weapon. A nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran in the middle of the Middle East would be a very destabilizing and a troubling occurrence.

BLITZER: India and Pakistan already have a nuclear weapon. Israel has a nuclear weapon. Why would it be so bad if this Iranian regime had a nuclear weapon?

BUSH: This Iranian regime is -- promotes militias like Hezbollah to create instability. This Iranian regime has made it abundantly clear that they would like to destroy Israel, who is our ally.

BLITZER: Do you think they would drop a bomb or launch a missile on Israel?

BUSH: Wolf, my judgment is you've got to take everybody's word seriously in this world. Again, you can't just hope for the best. You've got to assume that the leader, when he says that he would like to destroy Israel, means what he says. If you take -- if you say, well, gosh, maybe he doesn't mean it, and you turn out to be wrong, you have not done your duty as a world leader. BLITZER: So you take him seriously at that?

BUSH: Absolutely, I take him seriously, just like I take Al Qaida seriously when they say they're going to attack us again, just like I take these extremists seriously when they say they're trying to disrupt democracy.

BLITZER: George Voinovich, the Republican senator from Ohio, has compared him to Hitler.

BUSH: Yes, you know, I mean, people have got strong opinions about him, and I can understand why. He's a -- look, Olmert -- Prime Minister Olmert of Israel reaches out to President Abbas of the Palestinian territories to try to help establish a democracy, and there's an unprovoked attack by Hezbollah on Israel.

Hezbollah's funded and armed by Iran. Iran wants to stop the advance of democracy and peace.

And I can understand why people have strong opinions about the Iranian regime. Our goal is to have a diplomatic solution, starting with convincing the Iranians that they either face isolation and possible sanctions if they don't give up their weapons programs.

BLITZER: The foreign minister of Israel told me the other day that they believe -- the Israelis -- there's only a few months left, a few months of a window before they get to a point where there's literally a point of no return and they've learned how to enrich uranium, and effectively could go forward and build a bomb.

How much time does the world have to resolve this?

BUSH: First, if I were the Israeli foreign minister, I'd be deeply concerned about somebody in my neighborhood whose stated objective was the destruction of my country, and the desire of that country to end up with the capacity to do so. And so I can understand her concerns.

I'm not going to discuss with you our intelligence on the subject, but time is of the essence, in my opinion.

BLITZER: Is it a few months, though?

BUSH: Well, time is of the essence, and that's why here at the United Nations, I spoke with our allies. Condi Rice met last night with foreign ministers of the EU3 and Russia, and I think China was there as well, urging them to follow through on the resolution we got passed at the United Nations Security Council.

I'm concerned that Iran is trying to stall and to try to buy time, and therefore it seems like a smart policy is to push this issue along as hard as we can, and we are.

BLITZER: Because a lot of experts say short of regime change in Iran, or military action, there's no way this leader in Tehran is going to give up that nuclear ambition. BUSH: We'll find out. The country can face isolation. They could face, you know, sanctions, or they can choose a better course.

The choice is the Iranian leader's choice. I spoke yesterday at the U.N. and I spoke directly to the Iranian people. It's important for the Iranian people to know this, that we respect their heritage, we respect their history, we respect their tradition. We believe this can be a great nation if the government, you know, relies upon the talents of its people and encourages and nurtures those talents.

BLITZER: Is there anything you heard from him in his address last night or your analysts that was encouraging?

BUSH: Not really.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Coming up next here, two conversations with two presidents. I'll talk to Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, about the future of his country and when perhaps U.S. troops might be able to come home. Then, I'll speak with the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, about the search for Osama bin Laden and much more. And this programming reminder: Coming up at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, "This Week At War." Stay with us. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm John King, in this week for Wolf Blitzer.

It was another deadly week in the battle for Baghdad, raising new questions of if and when the Iraqi government can take control of its future.

Joining me now to discuss these challenges here in Washington is the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani.

Mr. President, thank you very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

I want to begin with something that I think many Americans found troubling this past week. I want you to listen here to Major General James Thurman. He's the commander of the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq, and he's talking about the violence in Baghdad and how he needs more Iraqi troops to come help him try to quell the violence. Let's listen to General Thurman. Let's listen to the general for just a minute.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. JAMES THURMAN, U.S. ARMY: What I've asked for is those additional Iraqi army units to come in to bolster the security inside of Baghdad city.

What I still need in here in terms of battalions from the Iraqi army that I would like to see is approximately six battalions. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He says, President Talabani, that he needs about 3,000 more troops, but U.S. officials tell us he's having trouble getting those troops, because the Iraqi troops sign up and they want to be stationed in their home province, and they don't want to come into Baghdad.

How can you answer here to an American who has sent a son or a daughter into Iraq, perhaps to a war that they didn't even support, (inaudible)?

TALABANI: No, we are ready to send as much as is necessary forces to Baghdad from various parts of Iraq, if the joint commandership of Iraq and United States asks. In Kurdistan, for example, we are ready to send as much as necessary forces. It became the part of Iraqi army, and commander in chief of Iraqi army can move the units of Iraqi army from different parts of Iraq to Baghdad, because Baghdad is our capital, and we are much invested to secure Baghdad.

KING: But, obviously, you have a dire problem in Baghdad and across much of the country. I want to, again, bring in another one of the U.S. generals over there. Major General William Caldwell is the spokesman for the U.S. coalition. I want you to listen to his assessment of how the violence within Iraq is not getting better, but in fact is getting worse. Let's listen to General Caldwell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. ARMY SPOKESPERSON: This past week, there was a spike in execution-style murders in Baghdad. Many bodies found had clear signs of being bound, tortured and executed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And a United Nations official Manfred Nowak says this, sir. He's the U.N. special investigator on torture, and he says, "The situation, as far as torture is concerned, in Iraq is now completely out of hand. The situation is so bad that many people say it is worse than in the times of Saddam Hussein."

Is the situation in Iraq worse than in the times of Saddam Hussein?

TALABANI: In the times of Saddam Hussein, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi innocent people were buried in mass graves which we've discovered, and the Iraqi people were deprived from all kinds of democratic rights and free economy and everything.

Now we have in Iraq only one problem, which is the problem of security. But if you look to other side of Iraqi people's life, you'll see much progress and development. But the problem of, the issue of terrorism, which is concentrating on Iraq, is one of the problems that Iraqi people facing. But it's not worse than the past. Months ago, you had daily in Baghdad about between 10 to 15 car bombs. Now you have two to three to four. Still, though, there are assassinations still continuing. But less than it was months ago.

KING: You say less than it was months ago. Many of the American people who have now 140,000 troops in Iraq, who are now more than three and a half years, more than $300 billion into the commitment to Iraq, many Americans thought U.S. troops would be coming home this year in sizable numbers.

General John Abizaid, the U.S. commander, says not. He says this this past week: "I think that this level," meaning 140,000 U.S. troops, "will probably have be to sustained through the spring. The secular tensions, if left unchecked, could be fatal to Iraq. And the center of the problem is Baghdad. It's the area where we have to spend the most military effort."

He says could be fatal to Iraq. Three and a half years, more than $300 billion later, about 3,000 U.S. lives lost in this war, and still a question of whether Iraq will come out intact from this. What is the problem?

Is it that the Sunnis and the Shia simply hate each other and can't get along? Did the United States not do it right when it came to training the Iraqi military forces? And some Americans, sir, are beginning to ask, will the Iraqis step up and fight for their country?

TALABANI: Well, as Sunni and Shias, now we are going to see that the national reconciliation is going forward. Yes, there are Sunnis and Shias which argument about forming a committee to amend mandate of constitution, about discussing the issue of federation in the south jointly and national unity government headed by Nouri al-Maliki is going well, which is representing all Iraqi people.

The American government is very important historical achievement for Iraqi people when they liberated Iraq from the worst kind of dictatorship, which was threatening the peace and stability not of the Iraqi people only but of the Middle East. And I think this is true that we are very sorry for sacrifices American forces had in Iraq, but I think that was a price of liberating Iraq, and 27 million Iraqis were liberated. And this is a great nation in the world. You have a responsibility. You have sacrificed hundreds of thousands of your sons in the second and first world war to liberate Europe from dictatorship, from Nazism. And now, this is the -- I can say it is similar to what you have done in the history. Although I am very sorry for any bloodshed from the American forces. Iraqi people is going to train its army, and we are preparing to replace American forces each month in one province of Iraq. And we are preparing to be ready for next year when we are continuing the training of our forces to talk to our American allies and friends about the timetable for when they can remove their forces.

KING: When this all began three and a half years ago, no one in the United States imagined it would be this ugly so far down the road. I assume you didn't imagine it would be such a difficult challenge. What is the single biggest miscalculation of the U.S. administration? Not enough troops? Not a quick enough emphasis on sealing the border? What is it? TALABANI: Not forming an interim government. In the beginning, when General Garner and Ambassador Khalilzad were there, they were planning to form an interim government for Iraqi people. That government was able to secure the area and rule the country. Then there was 1483 resolution of the Security Council of the United Nations, which changed (ph) liberation to occupation. This was the biggest mistake.

KING: Give me your assessment of the neighborhood. Your prime minister recently went to Iran to meet with Mr. Ahmadinejad. The president of the United States clearly thinks Mr. Ahmadinejad is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Is that Iraq's assessment? You have had tensions with Iran throughout your history, more under the regime of Saddam Hussein, of course. But is Iran a good neighbor or is Iran a threat trying to develop nuclear weapons and endanger peace and security in the world?

TALABANI: Now Iraqi new government is trying to normalize the relation with all our neighbors, including Iran. And the visit of our prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to Iran was successful. Iranians promised him to help the security in Iraq, to give us 1,000 -- $1 million as loan for reconstructing the country, to help us with our neighbors to solve the problems of security, and let us see what will be the result of this visit. I hope -- actually...

KING: Is it your assessment, sir, they want nuclear weapons?

TALABANI: As the nuclear weapon, we are for cleaning the area from nuclear weapon. We are against any kind of nuclear weapon by any country of the Middle East. I called in my speech in the United Nations to make the Middle East like Latin America, clean from all kind of mass destruction arms. Iran is claiming that they are only looking for having nuclear technology, not the bomb.

KING: But do you believed -- the question comes down to credibility and trust. Mr. Bush says this is a man who says Israel should be wiped off the map. This is a man who questions whether the Holocaust even occurred. The president of the United States says he does not trust him and thinks he wants a nuclear weapon. Do you trust President Ahmadinejad?

TALABANI: Well, we had good relation with Iran, and at the same time with the United States of America. We are thinking that as much as we can we must struggle, we must try to improve relation between United States of America and Iran. And this is the way which we can achieve our goals and protect our national interests in the area.

KING: Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, joining us at a very difficult time for your country. Sir, we wish you the best of luck. And stay with us. There's much more ahead on "Late Edition," including my interview with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai. What will it take for the United States and Afghan forces to tackle the resurging Taliban?

Then, is the United States losing global standing in the world? That and much more coming up on "Late Edition." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARZAI: Our efforts to build Afghanistan into a stable, prosperous and democratic polity have also encountered setbacks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Violence on the rise in Afghanistan five years after the U.S. invasion. Why are the Taliban and terrorists gaining ground? We'll talk to the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, about the rise of the Taliban, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the drug trade and more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The world is engaged in a great ideological struggle between extremists who use terror as a weapon to create fear, and moderate people who work for peace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: President Bush rallies support for the war on terror at the United Nations, but is the U.S. approach losing allies and inciting enemies? We'll talk to former secretary of state, Alexander Haig, and former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

Six weeks until midterm elections in the United States. How will Iraq, terrorism and the economy impact the balance of power in Congress? We'll hear from two party strategists, Democrat Stan Greenberg and Republican Matthew Dowd.

Welcome back. I'm John King, filling in this week for Wolf Blitzer.

We'll get to my interview with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, in just a few minutes, but first let's go to Fredricka Whitfield at CNN Center in Atlanta to get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

KING: Thank you, Fred. And turning now to Afghanistan. Five years ago, nearly unanimous world agreement on toppling the Taliban. Today, the Taliban is regaining ground, and NATO is begging for men and machines to continue the fight.

Joining me now, the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai.

Mr. President, thank you very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

As you know, this weekend there's been a great discussion about this report, could Osama bin Laden be dead? Could he be sick? You see intelligence about him all the time. When was the last time you saw credible information about his whereabouts and the state of his health?

KARZAI: We really did not have accurate information as to the precise location of Osama bin Laden in the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan or his exact movements, but we knew all along generally where he was.

KING: Generally where he was. Is he in your country from time to time, do you think?

KARZAI: No, he has never been in our country after September 11, after the strikes against him, after we chased his organization out of Afghanistan. There were reports from time to time, but generally he's been outside of Afghanistan.

KING: Outside of Afghanistan. I assume that means in Pakistan. And yet we saw at the White House just this past week, President Bush standing shoulder to shoulder with President Musharraf, saying he trusts President Musharraf as an ally in the war on terrorism, saying President Musharraf is making tough decisions to stand with the United States.

I don't think you do trust President Musharraf, do you, sir?

KARZAI: President Musharraf is a friend and a brother of mine. We meet very, very often. I do have confidence that we can move further in the war against terror with a more stronger, sincere cooperation.

KING: You're being very diplomatic. I want you to listen to something President Musharraf said just this past week. There is obviously world concern about where is Osama bin Laden, is anyone helping the Taliban in its resurgence, are they helping Mr. bin Laden, al-Zawahiri hide out somewhere? There are many who say he's in Pakistan, as you just said. Others say no, he's in Afghanistan. Mr. Musharraf says he's not the problem. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTAN: I'm already doing a lot in Pakistan. They need to be doing more in Afghanistan. He must realize what is the correct environment, and take action accordingly in Afghanistan. The problem lies in Afghanistan, and that is creating problem in Pakistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: President Karzai, President Musharraf, your neighbor, says you're the problem. You think he's the problem. You're meeting with the president of the United States this week for dinner at the White House. He's trying to bring about a reconciliation. You're being very diplomatic here, but this is for the world trying to combat terrorism.

KARZAI: Yes.

KING: It is a huge problem if the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot agree...

KARZAI: Yes.

KING: ... never mind where Osama bin Laden is. But he says you're at fault; you say he's at fault.

KARZAI: Yes. I don't say he's at fault. I'm simply seeking cooperation on terror, on removing the sanctuaries for terrorism.

KING: Forgive me for interrupting, forgive me for interrupting...

KARZAI: Please.

KING: You're seeking cooperation, which means you're not getting it, in your view.

KARZAI: Not getting...

KING: You get information from time to time about where you think Mullah Omar is, where you think Taliban people who are trying to topple your government, in fact trying to kill you...

KARZAI: Yes.

KING: ... where they're moving back -- you say they are moving back and forth across the border, and you call the Pakistani authorities and say, they're here in your country, and they say what?

KARZAI: They deny that. They say they are not there. But they don't say that there is no cross-border activity taking from Pakistan into Afghanistan.

President Musharraf told me when I met with him in Kabul that their intentions should not be doubted. Their capabilities should be doubted, that sometimes they don't have the capability.

Whether it's lack of capability or anything else, what we need -- all of us, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, the rest of the world -- to be sure that we are doing the right thing to defeat terrorism, to be sure that we go after their sources of supply of money, of equipment, of training, and of motivation, and of deployment in Afghanistan or elsewhere. It's a fight for all of us.

Therefore, neither I nor President Musharraf, nor any other government in the world can afford to let ourselves down in this. We have to struggle, and we have to do it correctly and together. That's the answer.

KING: President Musharraf recently signed an agreement with the tribal -- the tribes up in the region, Waziristan region. President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld, I'm told by a senior official, were very skeptical that this was a good deal, but they say -- and the president said publicly, President Bush did, that President Musharraf assured him that this is a deal that will help the fight against Al Qaida, that will help the fight against the Taliban. But you are clearly skeptical, and U.S. commanders on the ground say since he signed this agreement, the attacks on your country have increased. What is wrong with this deal, in your view?

KARZAI: They have. President Musharraf assured me too in Kabul, he came just a day after they had signed the agreement in their part of Waziristan province, the tribal territories.

We are waiting to see more about that agreement. The initial reaction that we received was perhaps that this was an agreement signed with the Taliban. Later on, the government of Pakistan said that this was an agreement signed with the tribal chieftains there, with the tribes.

Now, if this is an agreement with the tribes, and the agreement says, do not allow terrorism, do not allow the Taliban sanctuaries and do not allow people to cross into Afghanistan, it will surely have a binding and the tribes will honor it, and we would like that.

Unfortunately, since the agreement was signed, we saw more violence in Afghanistan exactly at the border areas with north Waziristan of Pakistan. Our governor, a very prominent Afghan, was assassinated with a suicide bombing. Other attacks took place in the area.

So we would have to really see as we go ahead into the future whether the agreement will hold as it has been signed.

KING: So when you sit down with President Musharraf and President Bush for dinner Wednesday night here in Washington, will you tell President Bush, I know my friend here told you this is a good deal, but I'm here to tell you, sir, it's a bad deal and it is making the terrorism problem worse?

KARZAI: I wouldn't say it like that. We will be meeting, the three of us, to find better ways of defeating terrorism completely -- we have defeated them -- to defeat them completely, to take them off the agenda for us. That is the purpose. And if we cooperate, especially between Afghanistan and Pakistan, more effectively, more sincerely, more broadly, with a focus on the places where they get trained, with a focus on the places that use the name of madrassas, religious schools, but are not madrassas, are not religious schools; they're actually places where they teach hatred, preach hatred against all of us -- if you go there and stop them there and remove those places, it will be much safer for all of us, and that is focus for our meeting as we go into it in a few days.

KING: In some ways, as you well know, that's a generational problem, speaking to young people, trying to raise a new generation that doesn't have the hatred that you speak of.

KARZAI: Exactly.

KING: You were recently in Canada, during your trip to the West. You were at the United Nations. You also went to Canada, which has NATO troops as part of the deployment in Afghanistan.

Public opinion in Canada is running against this because they recently had a tragedy, some troops killed while giving candy to children. A suicide bomber came in.

Do you worry, sir, that the West is losing its stomach for this fight?

KARZAI: No, I am not worried about that. I think the West has stood with Afghanistan quite steadfastly so far. And they will stay with us because this is not only a fight for Afghanistan.

The West's arrival in Afghanistan was after September 11, after the tragedy that struck here in America. And it came from Afghanistan because Afghanistan was taken by the Al Qaida, the Taliban and their foreign sponsors.

Now Afghanistan and the rest of the world join hands to defeat them. That defeat has to be completed. And until we do, that we will have to be together. And I'm sure we will be.

KING: You mention -- you say the West has the stomach for the fight and you mentioned in the days after 9/11, the world, then, was unified.

There was worldwide, unanimous opinion that the United States was right. There was an outpouring of support for the United States and then an outpouring of support, militarily, financially and spiritually for your country, as you tried to put it back together.

Pick up a newspaper in the United States today, and you see this, an assessment by the U.S. intelligence community that the war in Iraq is actually making the terrorism problem worse.

Was the war in Iraq a mistake?

When you had world unity to deal with the Taliban, deal with Al Qaida, help Afghanistan back on its feet -- the world was together then. Then came this war in Iraq that President Bush launched, which has splintered world opinion, and to hear you, distracted from the bigger fight in your country. Was it a mistake?

KARZAI: The world may have a difference of opinion over Iraq, but the world is united on Afghanistan.

KING: But do you lose precious resources because of that?

KARZAI: And the United States is right to get Afghanistan together with the rest of the world. We were given all the resources that were pledged to us by the United States and by other donor countries to Afghanistan.

Now, if we are given more resources, we will be grateful even further. So the resources promised to us arrived in Afghanistan, were spent in Afghanistan.

Does Afghanistan need more resources? Yes.

Does Afghanistan need more assistance? Yes.

If it is given, will we be happy? Of course.

KING: Now, we're talking about the terrorism problem. And obviously, it is the biggest problem along the border. But there are other questions: About five years later, what is the performance of your government?

And one of the issues is, not only the resurgence of the Taliban but the resurgence of the opium trade around the world, which is heroin, that ends up killing children around the world, including here in the United States.

This is from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, back in September.

Antonio Maria Costa says, "The news is very bad. On the opium front today, in some of the provinces of Afghanistan, we face a state of emergency. In the southern provinces, the situation is out of control. This year's harvest will be around 6,100 metric tons of opium, a staggering 92 percent of the total world supply."

Are you failing that challenge, sir?

KARZAI: We are facing a difficulty, but we are not failing the challenge. When I was inaugurated as the elected president two years ago, I called on the Afghan people to do away with poppies.

Some of them responded very well. And then we moved into some of the provinces that were the biggest growers of poppies with the implementation, the implementation of a good alternative livelihood.

In that province of the country, which is called Nangarhar, which was among the biggest growers, we have reduced poppies by 95 percent.

In other provinces where we perhaps did not work as dedicatedly and with a proper alternative livelihood, we still have the problem.

But we have to take a minute and think, how come Afghanistan is growing poppies? What caused Afghanistan to grow poppies?

What caused the country to grow poppies that was among the biggest exporters of raisins to the world 30 years ago, that was among the best producers of fruits in the world 30 years ago?

War, destruction, desperation, droughts, where families were not sure if they were going to have their house the next day, where fathers and mothers were not sure if they were going to have their children the next day, and where they were not sure if they were going to have their country the next day.

That forced people to destroy vineyards, replace them with poppy fields, to destroy pomegranate orchards and replace them with poppy fields. So it has become a grim reality but a reality, an embarrassment to Afghanistan but a reality.

How do we fight it is -- let me go a little back. Four years ago, I was quite naive about this. I thought we were going to destroy poppies in a year, but I was wrong.

KING: You admit you were wrong. We're almost out of time, so let me ask you, as you finish your answer, reflect on your critics who say this is a man who took on a remarkable challenge, perhaps one of the biggest challenges in the world, and he's too nice. He's too weak for this job.

KARZAI: I am too nice and I will remain to be too nice. That's how I carry the country along, and I'm proud that I'm too nice.

But the poppy problem will not go away just by talking about this. It will have to be taken care of by dedication from the Afghan government and eradication and the arrest of drug lords and fighting corruption and by the rest of the world, with us, by providing to us in Afghanistan good alternative livelihood and economic development and over a period of from five to 10 years.

KING: Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today on "Late Edition." Thank you very much, sir.

And coming up, how will the war in Iraq hit home at the November ballot box? We'll ask our political panel, Matthew Dowd and Stanley Greenberg.

And then (inaudible) were showboating at the United Nations. I'll talk to former secretary of state Alexander Haig and the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke.

And coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week at War" and what Iran and Venezuela gained. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I'm looking forward to the campaign. I'm looking forward to reminding the American people there are significant differences in between what our party believes and what the other party believes, that there's -- it's easy to tell us apart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: President Bush, speaking there in Tampa, Florida, on Thursday, in his campaigner-in-chief mode, you might say.

This is "late Edition." I'm John King, filling in for Wolf Blitzer.

And joining me now from Austin, Texas, Matthew Dowd. He was the chief campaign strategist for the Bush-Cheney re-election back in 2004. He's also one of the authors of "Applebee's America: How Successful Political, Business and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community."

And joining me from New Haven, Connecticut, Stan Greenberg, former campaign adviser to President Clinton and other Democrats. Gentlemen, welcome to "Late Edition."

Let us start right there. The president says it's easy to tell them apart. One of the big issues in the news on this Sunday morning is an issue that the Republicans believe is their trump card in this election, as it was back in 2004 and 2002, and that is national security. The president goes around the country saying he has made America safer.

But pick up your New York Times, your Washington Post, listen to CNN reporting this morning. There's a new national intelligence assessment that says the war in Iraq is making the global terrorism problem worse in some ways. I want you to listen to the president, and then I want to ask you about this issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We have put in place the institutions needed to win this war. Five years after September the 11th, 2001, America is safer. And America is winning the war on terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Matthew Dowd, is it a problem for Republicans that they have put so much, invested so much in this issue and this theme that the Republicans and the Bush White House will keep you safer than the Democrats to have every American now hearing today -- and I assume from the newspapers and then from the Democrats in the echo chamber over the next week or so -- look, the Iraq war we told you was a bad deal. Not only is the Iraq war a bad deal, the president's own intelligence agency says it's contributing to the terrorism problem.

MATTHEW DOWD, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think the situation is that if you ask the Democrats and ask the Republicans if they wanted to run on a certain issue and the issue is the war on terror, Republicans would prefer that even with current events or whatever. I don't think Democrats want to run in an election based on the war on terror. The Republicans have an inherent advantage on it and trust in American people.

Democrats have an advantage on some other issues. It's not the war on terror, and I think if you had an election that was decided on that, which I don't think this election is only going to be decided on the war on terror, Republicans have an advantage on that.

KING: Stan Greenberg, you agree? Should the Democrats maybe not invest too much in this?

STAN GREENBERG, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think we should invest entirely in it. I'm finding myself in a situation where I'm agreeing with the president almost too much. He says there's a big difference between the parties, and it's on this issue. I think what this report does this morning says that the country indeed is less secure as the consequence of Iraq.

And the main take-away in our research and others, the main take- away from the last month of the president's campaign to say this election's on the war on terror, is for people to say, but this is about the war in Iraq. And the war in Iraq, they see a country bogged down, less secure, diverting us from making the country less safe in so many ways.

So Democrats have many issues, the financial pressures on people, but they want to engage the security issue. They want to engage the Iraq issue. And that's why this report this morning, where the president did not release this information to the American people on our security as a result of the Iraq war, is very important to how we go into this final phase for the election.

KING: I want both of your thoughts on some of those specific issues. But first, I want to try to set the table, if you will, and ask this basic question. Is 2006, 1994, 1994 of course the year when Republicans stormed to control of Congress, Newt Gingrich and the Contract of America out there for the Republican Party. But more important, I think both of you would agree in that campaign you had profound disappointment with President Clinton, the health-care plan, a sense he was not as president what he had promised to be as a candidate.

As you give me your thoughts, look at -- here's the Gallup Poll numbers from a bit earlier this month. How is the president handling his job? President Bush at this moment in time, 39 percent. President Clinton heading into the 1994 elections, 39 percent. Matthew Dowd, if you're a Republican and you look at those numbers, do you think, oh, boy, the way it's coming against us this time?

DOWD: Oh, yeah, I mean, this is definitely a change election. Like '94, it's a change election, so people are -- have an incentive to vote incumbents out of office. The difference between '94 and 2006, though, I think Republicans will lose seats in the House. I think they'll probably lose seats in the Senate, and they will probably lose some governor's races.

The difference is the Republicans have an inherent home-field advantage in this election. There's more safe House seats for Republicans. There's more safe Senate seats for Republicans. I think the question we have today is, how big is the wave, and can that wave overcome the home-field advantage that Republicans have. It is a change election, and I think that's where we sit today. I think the question still is is how big is that wave, and can it overcome Republicans' advantage.

KING: Can it, Stan Greenberg? Can it overcome the Republican advantage, both, as Matthew said, the seats are different, the playing field is different and we had the Republican National Committee chairman in here last week, and he said he's got a lot of money to unleash on Democrats. GREENBERG: Well, look, the playing -- look, there's no doubt that the playing field is a more difficult one for Democrats to have that big an election. But on the other hand, the Democrats need to pick up 15 seats. This is many fewer seats than they needed to pick up in 1994.

And in terms of the mood, I mean, I was in the White House in that election, and know what it feels like when those things are turning against you. There are so many things here that have that kind of power: You know, the 60 percent-plus who want to go in a new direction, the low approval rating for the president.

But even more than that, the low approval rating for the Congress, which, the Congress' rating has been dropping even as the president's numbers have edged up, and the numbers wanting to vote for Democrats for Congress have held up during this period. And so it's a very big number we're looking at and will take us, I think...

DOWD: John, one thing to say though, the interesting going on is Democrats have not exhibited any advantage in perception of them as a party or them in Congress. As the numbers in Congress have fallen, which Stan is right, Republicans and Democrats have fallen simultaneously. There's no inverse relationship to a fall in Republicans and a rise in Democrats, and I think that's basically because the American public has not seen the Democratic Party or Democratic candidates offer an alternative.

That's a problem. Maybe they could solve it in the next six weeks. That's still a problem for them to be successful in the elections.

KING: Do you agree with that, Stan?

GREENBERG: Well, I mean, it's a problem in that -- I mean, it's true in comparison to '94. Both parties are in a spiral downward. The Republicans are falling much more sharply, and it's a very big gap, and there's a lot of alienation, which is leading a vote for change.

But it's also the Republicans have governed differently. They have governed as a polarizing party in control of all the institutions. They're going into an election where they have said to the American people, we control this place. They own it. And so as voters vote for change it's very hard for the Republicans to get out of the way.

KING: I'm going to ask both of you to stand by while we take a quick break. We'll be back to Stanley Greenberg and Matthew Dowd in just a moment. And we'll ask our political strategists more questions about the upcoming election. So please stay with us. And this quick note as we do head to break and into the future, midterm election season and prepare for 2008 of course, CNN is launching a new news service on cnn.com, the CNN Political Ticker, as we call it. We'll give you an unprecedented look into the day's political stories just as they are happening. Starts tomorrow morning, so get up early. Be sure to go to cnn.com/ticker. And coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week at War," the only comprehensive look at Iraq and the war on terror. But up next, we'll get a check of what's in the news right now. Stay right here with "Late Edition."

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This is "Late Edition," and I'm John King, filling in for Wolf Blitzer. We're continuing our conversation, now, with Republican strategist Matthew Dowd and Democratic strategist Stan Greenberg.

Stan, I want to bring in a bit from a memo you wrote this past Friday, with some of your partners, about the election, the tide you see right now.

And it says this: "The president's strategy is backfiring because it is driving independents to the Democrats... The strategy also seems to be energizing Democrats and de-energizing Republicans, giving Democrats a growing edge in enthusiasm for the election."

Stan Greenberg, you say Democrats have a growing sense of enthusiasm, but what about Matthew's point that he made before the break that maybe they haven't done a good enough job, in his view, of giving the voters an alternative.

Absent laying out a detailed proposal about what the Democrats would do, are they not more vulnerable, if you will, when the Republicans unleash all their money on these ads, saying if you have a Chairman Rangel, you will have higher taxes; if you have a Speaker Pelosi, you will have a weaker front on the war on terrorism?

GREENBERG: Look, I take that critique seriously and I have made that critique, actually, during the course of the election cycle about Democrats need to be talking about what they're going to do. People want a new direction.

And they are hearing that from the candidates. We shouldn't just take what Matthew and I battle over on this show.

When you go into the individual races, candidates are saying on the air that they want clean energy -- you know, no pay raise until you get a raise in minimum wage; give the government the ability to negotiate lower drug prices.

So you've got candidates on the air, saying what they're going to do.

But look, I don't doubt the power of money. They have the micro- targeting systems that are much more developed. Their party, at an organizational level, is very strong.

But the enthusiasm -- very, very strongly on the turnout side for Democrats, and also in the desire to change the direction of the bush administration. KING: And Matthew, let's talk a bit about your party. What makes this campaign interesting is it's not just the Democrats who are a bit anxious going into it but the Republicans, who are generally the confident party, the unified message, they seem anxious as well. And it's because of some divisions within the party.

Pick up today's Sunday New York Times Magazine and you can read this: "These days, of course, talk of a Republican realignment has given way to simple survival this November. Now the lofty ideals and the bold ambitions of Mehlman and Rove often seem in direct conflict with the short-term survival instincts of Republicans who want nothing more than to get past the next election."

The immigration issue, Matthew, would be one there, Republicans going out of their way to pick a fight with the president. There are others as well.

What is the state of the Republican Party right now?

And are you worried about that intensity, when it comes to voting day?

DOWD: Well, you know, candidates from both parties -- as you get closer to an election, one common thing is anxiety. So whatever election you're in, they're anxious. candidates are always anxious.

I think you have to look at state by state and see what the enthusiasm is for a candidate in California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The enthusiasm is great. And there's not a lot for his Democratic opponent Phil Angelides. That just happens to be the case in California.

I think it's state to state. One thing, I think, that we ought to note about turnout is Democrats have not turned out this year in their primaries. It's almost some of the lowest turnout you've seen.

And so I think one of the points that I made earlier and, I think, Stan agreed with, you have to offer an alternative.

One of the things John Kerry, I think, was faulted for in 2004 is, though he had a vote against, vote against George Bush, he never had a vote for, and here's why you ought to vote for me.

And I think Republicans should be worried. It's a "change" election. They have become the party of power in Washington. People want a change. And so they're going to have to present how they would change things or do reforms in Washington.

But I think Democrats, in order to compete, in order to overcome some of the inherent advantages that Republicans have, are going to have to offer an alternative that allows the American public to vote for them as opposed to just against the Republicans.

KING: I'd like each of you, in closing, your thoughts on this issue. Why are the parties different when it comes to such an environment? And by that I mean, we see Lincoln Chafee, a liberal Republican senator in Rhode Island who has disagreed with the president, didn't even vote for the president in the last presidential election and Lincoln Chafee faces a conservative primary challenge. And what happens? Laura Bush comes up and campaigns for him. The Republican Party throws in all sort of money, all sorts of get-out-the-vote resources to help Lincoln Chafee, to try to save that seat, keep it in Republican hands.

Joe Lieberman, in your home state, Stan, of Connecticut votes against the Iraq war and what you have is this amazing dynamic with a man who was your vice presidential nominee just a few years back is now considered a pariah in the party and the Democrats are supporting his opponent Ned Lamont.

Why is it that the Republicans can forgive and forget, if you will, and the Democrats seemingly can't?

GREENBERG: Well, look, a very important part of the dynamic of this year is the very intense feelings about the present desire for change and that's what, I think, is playing out and will unite the Democrats in Connecticut, will unite the Democrats nationally.

What's interesting about it, on the Republican side, is that you find the national Republican Party trying to push candidates to the center or liberal records. So they don't want to run on a conservative record.

I think that is the challenge there. Conservatives are on the defensive and that's part of the reason why they're demoralized and part of why they have to try to achieve unity on the Republican side.

KING: Matthew?

DOWD: Well, Stan's right. Conservatives are on the defensive, especially on the defensive in the Democratic party. You can't be a conservative, it doesn't seem like, or a moderate in the Democratic Party and get elected or be even supported by the institution of your party. At least we have a party, now...

GREENBERG: I would look to Virginia and our candidate there. I would look to our governor's candidate in Ohio. Look, across the country, you've got moderates; you have a range of Democrats running across the country.

DOWD: I think...

GREENBERG: Colorado...

DOWD: I think Senator Lieberman could go on this show and probably tell us all what it means to run as a conservative in the Democratic party.

KING: Matthew Dowd in Austin, Texas, Stan Greenberg in New Haven, Connecticut, gentlemen, I wish we had more time. Thank you both for joining us on "Late Edition." DOWD: Thank you.

GREENBERG: Thank you.

KING: Good luck in the weeks ahead. That's good luck to both of you.

Coming up here on "Late Edition," did the president of Iran win any friends and gain any influence at the United Nations?

I'll talk to the former secretary of state Alexander Haig and the former ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

And coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week at War," with more on what we heard in New York and this week, of course, the latest from Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Anousheh Ansari, what's her story? The Iranian American telecommunications entrepreneur made history this week, becoming the first female tourist to travel to outer space. Flying with a joint U.S. and Russian crew, Ansari became the fourth tourist in space.

She had to endure six months of training in Russia, which included numerous spins on the centrifuge. It's estimated she paid around $20 million for the flight. Ansari's expedition also makes her the first Muslim woman and the first Iranian in space. She will return to Earth later this week.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And coming up on "Late Edition" next, the battle for world opinion. Alexander Haig and Richard Holbrooke talk about what's at stake for the United States and the world.

And coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week at War" with our reporters in Baghdad, the Pentagon and at the White House.

And if you missed any of our show today, you can download a video podcast of the whole two hours. Just go to cnn.com/podcast and click on the link for "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Joining me now, two veterans of the diplomatic wars. The former secretary of state, Alexander Haig, is here with me in Washington, and in New York, the former ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke. Gentlemen, welcome to "Late Edition."

I want to begin with the big news in this morning's newspapers, confirmed by CNN, that there is a national intelligence estimate, the consensus view of this administration's intelligence agencies, that says the Iraq war is contributing to the problem of radical Islamism, Islamic terrorism, call it what you will.

Secretary Haig, very troubling for this administration from a policy standpoint, at a time when they say the American people are safer and Iraq is the central front in the war on terror to have their own agencies saying it could be making the problem worse. Is it not?

ALEXANDER HAIG, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I'll tell you, what I saw today was The Washington Post's silly season oxymoron of the year, because anybody who knows what's going on in Iraq knows that whether you agree with being in there or how it was done and the manner in which it was conducted, today it is a key, key influencer of global terrorism. And its outcome is going to have a major impact. So, it's an oxymoron written especially for the Democratic Party, which is not unusual for The Washington Post.

KING: Ambassador Holbrooke, I'm going to guess you disagree with that assessment.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Well, I'm a little puzzled by what Al Haig just said. This is a report, which everyone confirms, of the national intelligence community. I take it that General Haig is suggesting that the intelligence community works for the Democrats. I think that's a really bizarre...

HAIG: No, no.

HOLBROOKE: ... Al, let me finish. This is a strange comment.

HAIG: That's a big job to let you finish. (LAUGHTER)

HOLBROOKE: What the report said very clearly is what every journalist has said for a long time, that Iraq was not originally where the terrorists were. The 9/11 terrorists didn't come from Iraq, but Iraq has become a breeding ground for terrorists. It's increased anti-Americanism around the world. It's contributed to other crises. It's strengthened Iran.

Those are simple facts, and I'm glad that the national intelligence estimate system, which you used to be very involved in, as was I, has come around to making it official. Let's deal with the crisis in Iraq and the challenges in Afghanistan. The war in Iran -- I mean the war in Afghanistan -- and the crisis in Iraq...

HAIG: Is this a filibuster again? (LAUGHTER)

HOLBROOKE: ... (inaudible) from facts. This isn't a filibuster, Al. You're the one who filibusters.

HAIG: No, it isn't a filibuster.

KING: Let me referee for just a minute. We're going to disagree on this point, so let's move on to another point. And that is what we saw, the world stage comes to New York, if you will, for the United Nations General Assembly. In The New York Times, today, another one of those papers Secretary Haig might have issues with, but David Brooks, a conservative columnist, writes this: "One of the lessons of this past week is that the international system is broken. When it comes to actually uniting to take action, words and resolutions lead nowhere. Thanks to a combination of American errors, European escapism, and Russian and Chinese greed, the worst people in the world now drive events while the best people do nothing." He is referring, of course, to the debate at the General Assembly. I want to ask specifically about one issue, and that is an issue the president of the United States chastised the United Nations for, and that is Sudan and Darfur. Ambassador Holbrooke, you spent a lot of time there. You went through some of these issues yourself with the Clinton administration when it came to Kosovo. Why can the United Nations, and why is the United Nations willing to watch as people die?

HOLBROOKE: First of all, I'm rather struck that David Brooks' column is a faint echo of William Butler Yates' famous poem, "The Center Cannot Hold." But on Darfur, I was puzzled by the president's remarks for this reason: The Security Council passed by a vote of 14 to nothing, China abstaining, a resolution to get the U.N. into Darfur. Now it's up to the powers that voted that and particularly the permanent members, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, to implement it.

For the president to say it's the U.N.'s responsibility when the U.N. is just the building on the East River here in New York where they voted that resolution doesn't make sense to me. The challenges to the great powers, if they do nothing, as happened in Rwanda 11 years ago, the tragedy will only get worse.

KING: Secretary Haig, the United States is the greatest of those great powers Ambassador Holbrooke just mentioned. What should the bush administration do about Darfur?

HAIG: Well, I think they're going to have to talk very frankly to the secretary-general, and they're going to have to have our weight felt to the degree it can be felt. But this is becoming a very different United Nations, and in that respect, I am sympathetic with the observation of the critic you mentioned.

On the other hand, I also agree with Dick's comment about the United States and the major powers have to do something. And they haven't thus far been doing very much.

KING: We had some issues this past week that some would call sideshows but others would call quite significant. One, Hugo Chavez stands at the podium at the General Assembly and says the devil was here. I can still smell the sulfur, insulting the president of the United States while on international territory, I guess the United Nations, but still in the United States.

The other issue, I think the bigger issue from a strategic security standpoint is the visit by the president of Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad, who not only spoke to the United Nations but was given a platform at the Council on Foreign Relations. I want both of your thoughts on this. Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor, a great articulate voice for human rights in this world, spoke out. He condemned the Council on Foreign Relations for giving Mr. Ahmadinejad a platform.

He said, quote, " 'Civilization means setting limits,' and Mr. Ahmadinejad had stepped beyond all limits with his calls for Israel to be wiped off the map and his questioning of whether the Holocaust occurred."

Ambassador Holbrooke, should the Council on Foreign Relations, as interesting and as fascinating as Iran might be right now, as important as it might be, given its president a platform?

HOLBROOKE: Well, John, I'm a director of the Council on Foreign Relations, and I'd rather not second-guess or comment on the decisions that its president, Richard Haass, made. They made their decision, and I don't think it's a long-term issue.

What really is interesting here is why Ahmadinejad outcommunicated the world's leading communications nation, and why a year ago when he came, no one paid any attention, why CNN and its colleagues Fox, MSNBC, the networks gave him so much air time when all he did was repeat what he said over and over again. There was nothing new in it and in a sense -- and as you know, all U.N. General Assembly speeches in the fall are just for domestic consumption...

KING: Well, let me jump in.

HOLBROOKE: ... And there's no...

KING: Let me jump in, Ambassador Holbrooke. Let me jump in on that point. Because you're willing to criticize us in the news industry for giving you a platform but took a pass, diplomatic or otherwise, on criticizing your own organization. I want to give Secretary Haig a chance to answer that specific question before we move on. Shut they have given the man who says, "I want to wipe Israel off the map, the Holocaust didn't happen" a platform?

HAIG: Well, I think, given the circumstances, it probably isn't too bad that we did give him a platform, because as Dick said, he just repeated himself. Everybody knows where he stands. I would rather take Chavez as an issue. Now, here's a fellow that stole the show.

And back in Watergate, I can remember the president of a neighboring southern country who came into California and started criticizing the president. I called him on the phone and I said, you know, one more speech like that and I'm going to have you escorted to the border, and I think we should have taken some action instead of getting patted on the back by the liberals of America for turning the other cheek.

We should have told that fellow, we are his host, and you make another comment like that, and actually the secretary-general should have done that rather than encourage it, and tell him that one more pop like that, instead of bringing him up before a church group in New York, and we would have thrown him out of the country.

KING: Gentlemen, we're short on time. I want to ask both of you in closing for your observations as briefly as possible on this point. The president of the United States will have the president of Pakistan and the president of Afghanistan over to the White House for dinner on Wednesday.

These are two neighbors who are critical to the war on terrorism, the resurgence of the Taliban, the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida. And they simply keep finger-pointing and blaming each other for what is wrong. What must the president of the United States get from them this week, Richard Holbrooke?

HOLBROOKE: I listened to your interview with Karzai carefully. It's an important interview. Having been in Afghanistan a few months ago, I just want to say very clearly that what he said in answer to your last question on drugs is simply wrong and made no sense. Last year the United States spent $1 billion on drug eradication, $1 billion. Drug trafficking, drug production went up.

They're not going after the big guys. They're going after the farmers, crop destruction, which drives them into the hands of the Taliban. As for the meeting, I'm glad President Bush is bringing them together. He must use all his persuasive powers to get them to do more. And I'm very concerned about the deal Musharraf made on the border in Waziristan with the tribes, but I'm also concerned...

KING: I need to jump in. We're going to run out of time. We're going to run out of time. I want to give Secretary Haig the last word. I'm very sorry we're short on time today. You get just a few seconds, sir.

HAIG: You know, I'm not too -- I'm not alienated by what Dick just said. I think the president is right to get them together. I also think it's important to look back at the history of our relations with Pakistan, and we could ask ourselves as Republicans why we embargoed them for doing what their neighbor did, and that is develop nuclear weapons.

We should have gone into a regional ban rather than bilateral tensions, which have really cost us the kind of support from Pakistan we will need and continue to need. They've been our friend. And we haven't treated them that way.

KING: Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Gentlemen, I'm sorry we did not have more time. Thank you both for joining us here on "Late Edition" today.

And up next, in case you missed it, "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show roundup. And coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week at War."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the Sunday morning talk shows. On "Fox News Sunday," former President Clinton answers the question of whether he did enough to find Osama bin Laden while he was in office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: No, because I didn't get him.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Right.

CLINTON: But at least I tried. That's the difference in me and some, including all of the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridicule me for trying. They had eight months to try. They did not try. I tried. So I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country, Dick Clarke, who got demoted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Covered Bill Clinton a long time. I've seen that testy Bill Clinton before. And on CBS' "Face the Nation," Senator John McCain defends the agreement with the White House over detainee rights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: We couldn't outline everything that should be done. We tried to outline what couldn't be done under the War Times Act, leaving the Geneva Conventions alone, which was our first and utmost priority. Look, ACLU and The New York Times don't like the agreement, but we think this will recognize, people will recognize that it defends both our values and our security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

And that's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, September 24th. Be sure to join Wolf Blitzer next Sunday and every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. Thanks very much for watching us on this Sunday. I'm John King in Washington.

For our North American viewers, "This Week at War" is just ahead, right after a check of what's in the news right now.

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