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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Barham Salih; Interview With Zalmay Khalilzad

Aired December 3, 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. here in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4:00 p.m. in London and 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
We'll get to my conversation with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, in just a few minutes. First, though, let's go to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield for a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. The violence in Iraq seems relentless. And now we read this very gloomy memo written by Donald Rumsfeld only two days before his resignation.

Just a little while ago, I spoke about that and a lot more with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, at the U.S. embassy in the green zone in Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in. Welcome back to "Late Edition."

Now I want to get right to this story on the front page of the New York Times, this Donald Rumsfeld memo that he wrote just before the U.S. election on November 6.

Among other things, the outgoing defense secretary writes this: "In my view, it is time for a major adjustment. Clearly what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough."

That sounds like an admission of failure from someone who has been perhaps the leading proponent of this strategy. What is going on?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, of course, there has been, as you know, for some time the formation of this joint committee by Baker and Hamilton to look at the strategy. And that, in turn, has encouraged people in the administration also to start thinking about what adjustments might be needed.

And it's a good thing. It's energizing to review and adjust. And the secretary of defense was offering his own ideas. Others in the administration have also sent their ideas from consideration by the team that the president has assigned for reviewing and coming up with adjustments that he will announce in several weeks.

BLITZER: Well, you are the U.S. point man on the scene in Iraq. You have been there for some time.

Do you agree with Rumsfeld's bottom line conclusion, and I will read it again, that "what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough"?

Do you agree with that?

KHALILZAD: I believe that we will have liked to have seen more progress sooner, that there are areas in which changes are important to look at to see if we could do better.

Already one area where there is agreement on change is to accelerate the build-up of Iraqi forces, to accelerate the transfer of those forces to Iraqi control, and to transfer security responsibility to the Iraqis, and for the U.S. engagement to deepen in support of the Iraqis.

But there are other changes that also need to be considered. The president has said that he is looking to ideas not only from the Baker-Hamilton Commission but also from members of Congress, from people inside the administration, and from the military commanders.

So I think it's a good time to look at what we can do, especially in two areas, Wolf.

One, to increase incentives of Iraqis to do the right thing, to deal with the problems that they face.

And two, to incentivize the neighbors who are misbehaving with regard to Iraq, particularly Iran and Syria, to change their behavior.

I think it's a good time to look at where we have been and what adjustments need to be made.

BLITZER: Here is another proposal that Rumsfeld makes in this memo. This is perhaps his farewell memo as defense secretary: "Conduct an accelerated draw-down of U.S. military bases in Iraq. We have already reduced from 110 to 55 bases. Plan to get down to 10 to 15 bases by April, 2007; and to five bases by July 2007."

In other words, to reduce the U.S. military profile or footprint in Iraq right now, which has been a proposal that a lot of Democratic critics of the president have been making, including John Murtha, the congressman from Pennsylvania.

Is this a good idea, to significantly reduce the number of U.S. military bases in Iraq?

KHALILZAD: Well, strategically, over the long term, that is the right thing to do. The question is whether, in the current circumstances in the short term, that is the right thing to do to drastically reduce or significantly reduce the forces in the coming weeks and months.

And this is an idea that will have to be informed by the circumstances here, by the desires of the Iraqi government, by the questions that I asked before: What will incentivize the Iraqis to do the right thing?

What will incentivize the neighbors to do the right thing?

And also, what will be required by the military planners who are conducting the operations here?

So I think those are legitimate issues, questions that the secretary of defense raised for people to consider. But the consideration, the discussions about what to do are not over. And as I said, the president has said it will take a few weeks for him to make up his mind.

BLITZER: There was one shocking proposal he made in his memo, under -- perhaps the headline you could use, "Money Talks."

Here is what he said: "Provide money to key political and religious leaders, as Saddam Hussein did, to get them to help us get through this difficult period."

Is that a good idea, to put Iraqi political leaders on the U.S. government's payroll?

KHALILZAD: Well, I think I will put it in a different way, Wolf, which is that, in order for political forces that want a democratic order in Iraq, who want to do the right thing, they need support.

They need support from their own people. They need support from like-minded countries, such as the United States, for them, because their enemies, extremists are getting resources from abroad. And in order to level the playing field, there is a need to provide that help.

But how that help should come -- should it come from the U.S. government?

Should it come from foundations?

Should it come from international entities?

This is an issue, in the process of helping those who are moderate forces, who want to do the right thing for their people, for their position to be strengthened.

BLITZER: But you realize, Mr. Ambassador, how this sounds to average American. Putting Iraqi leaders -- giving them money, in effect. It sounds like we're bribing them.

KHALILZAD: Well, no, I -- of course, we do not support giving money to Iraqi leaders in exchange for them doing things. But if there are reasonable political forces who need assistance to do better in terms of organizing themselves, in terms of competing with extremists who are receiving help from abroad, that will be important.

As you know, the big struggle in this region, Wolf, is between extremists and moderates. And there are occasions where the extremists get a lot of help from countries like Iran or Syria, or from international networks such as al Qaida, or from extremist business people with resources.

And I believe sometimes I notice that those who want to do the right thing do not have as much support. And we need to think of how to help those moderate forces in the most effective way, for them to do what they want to be able to compete and to have a level playing field, if you like.

And that's an issue, I think, an important issue that the secretary of defense has raised. Although his remedy may not necessarily be the right one.

BLITZER: You went with the president to Amman, Jordan, this week to meet with the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. On the eve of that meeting, a memo was leaked also to The New York Times from the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, in which he raised serious questions about the current Iraqi prime minister:

"Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action." A lot of concern, as you know, about this Iraqi prime minister. What's your bottom line? Can this guy get the job done? Specifically, can he stand up to Muqtada al-Sadr, the Mehdi Army, the Shiite death squads, who with -- upon whom he seems to be so reliant politically in the Iraqi parliament?

KHALILZAD: Well, I think in order for Iraq to work, and the prime minister understands that, the Iraqi government's security institutions have to have the monopoly over use of force. And militias, death squads, other unauthorized groups with access to weapons have to be brought under control. And I believe he understands that. He has stated that to me and to the president. And I believe he has got the right ideas. He has complained that he doesn't have enough capability of his own there, the tools to do the job in confronting those who break the law.

And we are going to help him acquire those tools by accelerating the build-up of his forces and transferring those forces to him. He understands that reconciliation has to move forward and death squads and militias have to be brought under control.

BLITZER: The president will be meeting tomorrow at the White House with a major rival to Muqtada al-Sadr, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, another Shiite political leader, the leader of the Badr organization. Tell us what this is all about. What is the U.S. trying to do now?

KHALILZAD: Well, the president has been meeting with a number of Iraqi leaders and will meet with others. And Mr. Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim will be seeing the president tomorrow, as you said. He will be meeting Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni leader, next month. This will be an opportunity for the president to encourage Iraqis to come together, to unite, to reconcile, and to confront extremists. The Shia of Iraq need to confront and deal with their extremists. And the Sunnis of Iraq have to do the same.

I have to say, in the last several days, a number of key leaders of Iraq, including Mr. Barzani, have come down to Baghdad from Kurdistan to talk about forming a moderate front to unite against extremists, to come together on issues rather than only on the basis of identity dealing with each other.

This is a good thing, and this is something that needs to be supported and encouraged. And that's one of the reasons for why the president will be talking to Mr. Hakim today.

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go, because we are out of time, Mr. Ambassador. There's been a lot of speculation, as you know, here in Washington about you and what you are planning on doing.

Are you staying in Baghdad? Are you coming back here to Washington? Are you going someplace else? What's on your immediate agenda?

KHALILZAD: Well, my immediate agenda is to help Iraq succeed, to assist Iraqis, to come together against extremism, to strengthen the ties between the United States and Iraq for the long term. The future of Iraq is very important and I believe I can still help Iraqis. So my plans are to be right here and to do what I can to be helpful.

BLITZER: Well, good luck to you, Mr. Ambassador. Thanks very much for joining us.

KHALILZAD: Well, thank you. Have a good day, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And coming up later, how did President Bush's meeting with the Iraqi prime minister play on the Iraqi street? We'll get the inside story from two Iraqi cabinet ministers, Fawzi Hariri and Barham Salih.

But coming up next, is it time to start pulling U.S. troops out of harm's way? We'll discuss that and a lot more with Democratic Senator John Kerry. And for our North American viewers, much more coverage of Iraq coming up on "This Week at War" with John Roberts. That starts at 1 p.m. Eastern, right after "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. We're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done, so long as the government wants us there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush standing firm as he met with the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, this week in Amman, Jordan. Here in Washington, expectations are that the bipartisan Iraq study group will recommend a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The report will be released Wednesday.

Joining us now, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. The former Democratic nominee for president and influential member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks for coming in.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Glad to be with you.

BLITZER: Well, what do you think of what the president just said, that we're going to stay in Iraq to get the job done? There's not going to be, in his words, "a graceful exit" out of Iraq.

KERRY: Well, I think every American hopes that indeed there will be a graceful exit. And that's what this last election was about. It really was a resounding vote for change in our policy in Iraq.

And I think everything that you're seeing -- the Hadley memo that was leaked, now the Rumsfeld memo that was leaked -- they all indicate that in fact, there was very different thinking inside the administration than the administration has been sharing with the American public.

BLITZER: And you welcome that.

KERRY: Well, I welcome -- I mean, these are things -- look, everything in the Rumsfeld memo is a summary of things that I and others laid out three years ago. I mean, Wolf, this is rather extraordinary. We've had young Americans on the front lines losing lives and limbs for the last three years while many of us have been offering alternatives for a way to be successful, and the administration has consistently shut that down.

Now we see they're embracing the very things that we talked about. I'm glad. What's important now is not the leaks. What's important is the policy. We have to get this right, as a country. I think King Abdullah's warning...

BLITZER: King Abdullah of Jordan.

KERRY: ... that you could have three -- King Abdullah of Jordan -- and, you know, no one's covered the Middle East more than you. You understand this. The threat of three civil wars at the same time ought to bring all of us together with urgency.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to get to that. Let me read a little bit from this Rumsfeld memo. And it was pretty startling in terms of his acknowledgement of failure: "In my view, it is time for a major adjustment," he writes. "Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough." This he wrote the day before the election, two days before he stepped down.

KERRY: Understood.

BLITZER: It does seem to suggest that he himself was coming around to what you earlier and a lot of Democratic critics have been saying for some time.

KERRY: I think that's true, but here's the real bottom line. And I was listening to Ambassador Khalilzad, who's a good man and struggling under difficult circumstances. The bottom line is, there is no military solution. General Casey has accepted that. All of the military has accepted that. And in fact, the administration has.

If that's true, then you have to come back and say, all right, what are the dynamics of getting a solution? Well, the fundamental problem here is a problem between the stakeholders. The Sunni don't have oil revenues, don't have security with respect to Baghdad and the Sunni triangle, and don't have security with respect to the future and the kind of state that the Shia want to create.

The Shia, on the other hand, have won at the ballot box everything they've been denied for over 200 years, and they're not about to give it up easily, and they have oil. And they have...

BLITZER: The Sunni represent about 20 percent of the population.

KERRY: Correct. Sunni are 20 percent, the Kurds are 20 percent...

BLITZER: Between the Kurds and Shia...

KERRY: ... and the Shia represent about 60 percent.

BLITZER: So what about this 80 percent proposal? Forget about the Sunnis. Some suggesting the administration focus in on establishing a powerful Shia-Kurd alliance and let the Sunnis worry about (inaudible).

KERRY: Here's I think is a better approach. And certainly, anything that we do cannot be American-imposed. That is one of the lessons of the last several years. So any talk of saying, we're going to divide up the country or we're going to do this or that is a mistake.

BLITZER: So you would disagree with Senator Biden...

KERRY: It's not a question of, no, no...

BLITZER: ... who has called for a semi-official partition.

KERRY: What Senator Biden is doing is thoughtful. And I've always said that may be the ultimate place that they get to.

BLITZER: To have a Kurdish semi-autonomous area in the north, Shia in the south and a somewhat Sunni area in the central part of the country.

KERRY: First of all, Wolf, some of that is happening naturally right now because of refugees that are leaving because the middle class is moving out of the country, because people are seeking safety and there's been an automatic division. But secondly, we can't impose it. I've said since the first day that Peter Galbraith, Les Gelb, Joe Biden and others talked about this.

That represents something you may be able to achieve, but the question is, how do you get from here to there? The only way to get from here to there is by having the political stakeholders come to the table and resolve the differences. That requires a Dayton Accords- like summit. I've been calling for that for three years.

BLITZER: An international conference, if you will.

KERRY: Yes, sir. Absolutely.

BLITZER: And it looks like they're moving on that. It's probably going to be one of the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton bipartisan Iraq study group.

KERRY: It will take a lot of groundwork. You'll have to lay the groundwork. You can't just suddenly call a summit. You have to put the pieces together. But the bottom line is, the surrounding countries, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Gulf states, Egypt, et cetera, are Sunni.

They have an interest in not having an Iraq that comes apart. They have an interest in not having a regional civil war. They have an interest in not having Sunnis brothers and sisters murdered, killed in a genocide. So, those stakeholders have to be brought to the table.

BLITZER: But Iran and Syria may have different interests, as you well know.

KERRY: Of course they do. But there's a huge difference between Iran, which is Persian, and the rest of that world, which is Arab. And nobody has sort of given that its full historical measure.

BLITZER: But there's some sense that the Iranians would like to see this Shia, Iran being Shia, Shia arc created through Iraq, through Syria into Lebanon, which is scaring the majority Arab Sunnis, the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Egyptians. And there could be a stage set for that kind of Shia-Sunni broader battle in the Arab world.

KERRY: Which I don't believe will happen, but it is a fear, and I've heard that fear expressed from King Abdullah, from President Mubarak and others. It is a fear. But that is precisely one of the reasons why the absence of diplomacy looms as such an enormous deficit here.

BLITZER: So you want this international conference to include Iran and Syria?

KERRY: Absolutely. I think it is essential because nothing will hold unless you begin to resolve those differences, and I...

BLITZER: Here's another controversial proposal in this Rumsfeld memo. I asked Ambassador Khalilzad about it: Provide money to key political and religious leaders (as Saddam Hussein did), to get them to help us get through this difficult period." I think it sounds like he's recommending bribing these Iraqi leaders.

KERRY: I think what he's recommending is the upside of what Ambassador Khalilzad was talking about, which is that if there are forces there that have the ability to be able to move in the right direction, they do need support. That is exactly how we were successful in Afghanistan.

I mean, let's not kid ourselves. The CIA was out there with a lot of dollars. Those dollars went to the Northern Alliance. There are warlords who were frankly brought over to our side through that kind of effort, and it made for a better outcome.

The bottom line is this -- and again, I come to it. You're not going to buy anybody off in the long run here. You have to resolve the stakeholder differences. Now, if there's no military solution -- this is a moral issue at this point. I mean, this is a big deal.

You've got the entire Middle East that's a tinder box. You've got a major potential of, you know, a complete implosion with respect to the Mideast peace process itself. We have been absent. The traditional leverage of our great country has been absent from the kind of constructive diplomatic dynamic that produces results. We have to get back to that.

BLITZER: You have confidence in the prime minister, Nouri al Maliki?

KERRY: I don't have confidence in any Iraqi leader right now. And I think that's part of the problem, which is why I believe you have to set a date. And I argued that with the Baker commission. The setting of a date...

BLITZER: When you testified the other day.

KERRY: Correct. The setting of a date is -- incidentally, the plan I laid out allows the president the discretion to be able to finish the job of training. That is ostensibly the only reason that we're there. It allowed him to continue to chase al Qaida. But nobody can explain adequately why you need 140,000 troops for the entire country at this point if the military is not the solution.

BLITZER: Well, John McCain, I'll read to you what he says. In fact, I'll let you listen to what he says. You know John McCain quite well. He totally disagrees. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZONA: The number of attacks are up. The number of bodies found in the street in Baghdad is up. All the indicators are that it's going in the wrong direction. So to say that we have enough troops there simply does not comport with the facts on the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He wants, like Lindsey Graham...

KERRY: Well, let me...

BLITZER: ... like Senator Cornyn, he wants another 20, 40, 50,000 troops deployed.

KERRY: My friend John McCain has frankly said a lot of surprising things lately, but perhaps the most significant of them is the call for more troops to solve the problem in Iraq. The fact is that more troops in Iraq will not solve the problem. It will worsen the problem.

It will contort the United States of America itself. It will invite more attacks. And it simply won't get the job done. It will invite greater jihadism that will provide a larger target in the region, and it runs contrary to everything our own military folks have told us.

We put an additional 15,000 troops in Baghdad. And what happened? The violence went up. That mistake is to make the mistake of Vietnam all over again. It's to believe that somehow you can resolve through the military and a gun barrel what is ideologically and politically necessary to resolve.

And unless you get the stakeholders in Iraq to end this squabbling -- this is a struggle for power, Wolf. And unless the people involved in the struggle for power can be brought to resolve the difference, no number of American troops will resolve that.

We will make matters worse, and we will become even more embroiled in a worse situation. And I think, you know, this notion of more troops is a way to say, well, if we put more troops in, we would have won, and we won't have the argument over who lost China, who lost Vietnam, who lost Iraq. Iraq has to be involved politically, and that's what's absent.

BLITZER: We're out of time. But a quick yes or no or whatever you can say -- will you vote to confirm the nomination of Robert Gates as the next secretary?

KERRY: Yes, I will vote for Robert Gates. I think that, look, I had some differences with him a number of years ago. I voted against him in his prior nomination.

It's a long way since then. This is a critical moment. The president has chosen.

We need a new secretary of defense. We don't need a big fight here. We've got to move forward.

And what I think the American people voted for, above all, Wolf, is a big moment in American history where Democrats and Republicans come together in the interests of our country and solve this crisis.

I'm prepared to put everything I have on the line to do that. I hope we can get a solution. But you've got to get tough with Iraqi politicians who are using the cover of American presence to squabble among themselves. And our troops should not be asked to pay that price.

BLITZER: Senator Kerry, thanks for coming in.

KERRY: Thank you.

BLITZER: I appreciate it very much.

And coming up next: Is Iraq in the middle of a civil war? And what does the Iraqi government need to do to halt the violence? We'll go to Baghdad, speak with the Iraqi industry minister, Fawzi Hariri.

We're also following all the rest of the day's top news: reaction from around the world to the leaked Rumsfeld memo; the latest on the health of the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet. And as Venezuelan voters head to the polls, will they re-elect Hugo Chavez?

Stay for "Late Edition" for all the latest news. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. One man with a front row seat in the fight for Baghdad is the Iraqi industry minister, Fawzi Hariri, in Baghdad. I spoke to him just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Minister, welcome back to "Late Edition." Thanks very much for joining us. I want to read to you what your prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said on Thursday after his meeting in Amman, Jordan with President Bush. He said: "I can say that the Iraqi forces will be ready. And I can tell you that, by next June, our forces will take over the security of the country."

I have to tell you, a lot of U.S. military and political leaders here in Washington think that's unrealistic.

Is it realistic, do you believe, for Iraqi security forces, police and military, to be ready to take charge by June of next year?

FAWZI HARIRI, IRAQ'S MINISTER OF INDUSTRY: Yes, I am quite confident that the armed forces will be ready to take over security responsibilities in most of the country, or in the areas that, by discussions with our friends in the multinational forces, we'll deem areas that can be handed over.

With regards to the police, there is already a program going on, through the ministry of interior, to redesign or rebuild the police capabilities. The greatest difficulty our forces -- our security forces have had was lack of equipment and the ability for...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a moment...

HARIRI: ... a quick response...

BLITZER: Minister, let me interrupt for a moment.

HARIRI: Yes.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people see the greatest difficulty, especially with the police, the ministry of interior, and major elements of the Iraqi military, is the infiltration of these death squads, these Shiite militia, largely, that are controlling situation, and the inability of your government to deal with this head-on, the Muqtada al-Sadr militia first and foremost.

When are you going to take the action necessary?

HARIRI: I think the issues of the militias are both security issues as well as political issues. The forces that you are talking about are part of the political spectrum in Iraq. And they are also a part of the government.

There are clear objectives by the government to remove any influence that militias have, in both the armed forces and the police force. And there are plans within each ministry to work toward weeding out any elements that are deemed, or are seen to be damaging, and rebuild a force that represents Iraq as a whole.

BLITZER: Minister, a lot of people already think it's too little, too late, that your country has slipped into civil war.

Listen to what the United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, said this week. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KOFI ANNAN, SECRETARY-GENERAL, UNITED NATIONS: I think, given the developments on the ground, unless something is done to drastically and urgently arrest the deteriorating situation, we could be there, and in fact, we are almost there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He is saying civil war.

And the former U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell said: "I would call it a civil war, I have been using it because I like to face the reality."

The bloodshed, especially in Baghdad, in the Anbar province, where so much of the Iraqi population lives, seems to be getting out of control, spiraling out of control. Is it a civil war already?

HARIRI: Well, I wouldn't call it a civil war. The reason for that is because the government consists of all makes of the Iraqi society. Sunnis are in government. Shiites are in government. Kurds are in government.

There are, on the other hand, extremist elements on both sides, the Sunnis and Shias, that are working against the principles of which this government and this new constitution are based on.

Therefore, I wouldn't call it -- but, just for one second, let's just assume that a civil war is what we have. That means that we have a problem and that would still that we need to fix it.

Having a civil war or not really is not the issue. The issue is, how can we have the political will and the consensus to bring all parties together and come out with a solution that is satisfactory to all?

I think there is the will on all parts. And I think the support given by the administration to Maliki and his government will go a long way in bringing people together. And therefore we have the ingredients for a solution. It may be still vague, but I think elements of it are clearing up. And I am quite confident that we will see change in the coming weeks and months.

BLITZER: Minister Hariri, it was kind of you to spend some time with us. Thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

HARIRI: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just ahead: Last week the United States reached out to Saudi Arabia, but will the Saudis offer a helping hand in Iraq? I'll ask the Saudi ambassador to the United States. That's coming up next.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Will Saudi Arabia play more of a role to try to bring stability to Iraq?

To discuss that and more, I'm joined by Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to the United States.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to "Late Edition."

TURKI AL-FAISAL, SAUDI ARABIA'S AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Nice to be back, Wolf.

BLITZER: The vice president just went, a few days ago, to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdullah and other officials. Here's how The Washington Post reported this story.

"Saudi Arabia is so concerned about the damage that the conflict in Iraq is doing across the region that it basically summoned Vice President Cheney for talks over the weekend, according to U.S. officials and foreign diplomats." The visit was originally portrayed as U.S. outreach to its oil- rich Arab ally."

Did your government summon the vice president to Saudi Arabia out of concern over Iraq?

AL-FAISAL: Governments don't summon vice presidents to come to see them. King Abdullah has been in constant contact and cooperation with both President Bush and Vice President Cheney since they came into office.

And the vice president's visit was in line with the continuous cooperation and discussions that the king has had with American leaders.

BLITZER: How concerned are you, though, about what's happening in Iraq and the spill-over in the region?

AL-FAISAL: We have mutual concerns about Iraq, about Palestine, about all of the things that operate in the area, terrorism, instability, et cetera. And Iraq, obviously, is one of the top concerns that we have. And we share our views with your leadership on a continuous basis.

BLITZER: Whose idea was it for Cheney to go to Saudi Arabia, a Saudi idea or a U.S. idea?

AL-FAISAL: It was an invitation by King Abdullah, extended to Vice President Cheney to come and discuss matters, because they hadn't met for some time. The vice president was, last year -- or was it January? -- a long time ago, in Saudi Arabia.

BLITZER: So the Saudis invited him to come to discuss these issues.

Here's what Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, wrote earlier, in a November 8 memo that was leaked, this week, to the New York Times.

To the president, he wrote this. "Direct your cabinet to begin an intensive press on Saudi Arabia to play a leadership role on Iraq, connecting this role with other areas in which Saudi Arabia wants to see U.S. action."

You saw this memo?

AL-FAISAL: I saw this memo, and, frankly, we've been working with your government continuously to try to bring peace and stability in Iraq. There is no need to press Saudi Arabia to advance the prospects for peace.

BLITZER: Because what the U.S. would like to see you do, Mr. Ambassador, is use Saudi influence with Iraqi Sunnis to stop the sectarian violence.

AL-FAISAL: We've been using Saudi influence with all parties in Iraq. We are friends with everybody in Iraq. And if you saw the list of people who have visited Saudi Arabia from Iraq, it includes all parties, Sunni, Shia, Kurd, Christian. You name it, we've had it in Saudi Arabia.

BLITZER: Because there's a lot of people who think that Saudi Arabia, especially, is concerned that a Shiite-dominated Iraq, aligned with Iran, which is Shiite-led, of course, could represent a significant threat to Saudi Arabia.

AL-FAISAL: The Iraqi people will decide who leads them and who governs them, not the Saudi people. And so the Saudi Arabians' role is to come together with the Iraqi people and simply arrange for mutual respect and mutual acceptance.

We are neighbors of Iraq. And anything that happens in Iraq affects us. Iraq has had a long history of sectarian and ethnic tolerance and living together.

You know, the tribal confederations in Iraq -- and Iraq is a very tribal society. You were just discussing this earlier. In the North, in the Kurdish North...

BLITZER: Should it be partitioned, do you think?

AL-FAISAL: I don't think so. In the North, the Kurds have Sunni, Shia and even Christian Kurds there. In the Arabic part of Iraq, Sunni and Shia live side by side. They live in the same families. You have a Shia husband and...

BLITZER: So this notion of dividing up Iraq into three separate semi-autonomous zones -- you don't think that's a good idea?

AL-FAISAL: Well, I think it's going to lead to ethnic and sectarian cleansing on a massive scale.

BLITZER: Here's what Nawaf Obaid, who's described as an advisor to the Saudi government, wrote in The Washington Post this week: "The Saudi leadership is preparing to substantially revise its Iraq policy. Options now include providing Sunni military leaders (primarily ex- Baathist members of the former Iraqi officer corps who make up the backbone of the insurgency) with the same types of assistance -- funding, arms and logistical support -- that Iran has been giving to Shiite armed groups for years."

Is he right?

AL-FAISAL: Absolutely not. And there has been a statement that came out from my government negating these views of Mr. Obaid. Mr. Obaid did some consultancy work for the embassy. And in order to, as he explained in his article, that he was expressing his views on these issues and to make sure that nobody misunderstands where Saudi Arabia and the embassy stand on that issue, we terminated our consultancy work with him.

BLITZER: So he's no longer advising your government?

AL-FAISAL: So that his independence, as he expressed it the article, will remain 100 percent.

BLITZER: So there's no notion of Saudi Arabia doing in Iraq with the Sunnis what Iran is doing in Iraq with the Shia?

AL-FAISAL: We have called consistently for all of the contiguous states of Iraq to cooperate together to maintain the territorial integrity of Iraq and stability and security in Iraq. And there have been consistent meetings between the contiguous countries of Iraq, led by Saudi Arabia, for that purpose.

So it would be contradictory to think in terms of Sunni and Shia. And as I told you, we have received in Saudi Arabia all of the factions in Iraq. Most recently during the holy month of Ramadan, we hosted a conference between Sunni and Shia religious leaders to get them to agree together on what to do in Iraq.

BLITZER: Is it time for a big international conference, including all of the neighbors of Iraq, including Iran and Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, other countries, to get involved, to meet with the U.S., other members of the international community, to try to ease this crisis?

AL-FAISAL: If there is going to be a conference, it will have to be predicated on very specific targets. You simply can't just have a conference for the sake of having a conference.

There are three basic issues in Iraq today -- there's the militia issues. There is brigandage and disruption of daily life. And there is lack of provision of services by the government. The Maliki government is trying very hard to overcome all of these challenges. It is incumbent on us and other neighbors of Iraq and the world community to support the Maliki government in challenging these tremendous obstacles that they have in Iraq.

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go because you represent Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, at least exporter to much of the world. How's the price per barrel looking right now? Is it going to go up? Is it going to go down? What's your assessment?

AL-FAISAL: If I knew that, Wolf, I'd be making a lot of money. But I think the price of oil -- we're working for a stable and acceptable price of oil that will not only please the producers but be affordable to the consumer. And one point people tend to forget when they talk about the price of oil, they always mention what it means to America, what it means to Europe, what it means to Japan, what it means to the big countries.

Our added concern in Saudi Arabia is for the poor countries who cannot afford $70 a barrel for oil. Those are the countries that we would like to see benefit from price stability and an acceptable price range.

BLITZER: Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.

AL-FAISAL: Thank you, sir. BLITZER: We'll have you back soon. And coming up on "Late Edition," President Bush awaits recommendations from the bipartisan Iraq study group. A major question: Should the U.S. simply get out? We'll get insight from two key U.S. senators. We'll be right back.

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BLITZER: There's much more ahead on "Late Edition." We'll continue our coverage of the reaction to a startling memo from Donald Rumsfeld that leaked this weekend. We'll also get up-to-the-minute information on what's happening in Iraq right now. We'll speak to the deputy prime minister.

And we'll find out from two key U.S. senators what they think the U.S. should be doing about Iraq. All that coming up at the top of the hour.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We want him to be in the lead in taking the fight against the enemies of his own country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush says the United States is committed to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But the Baghdad government faces a political crisis. What's really going on? We'll get the story from Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Salih.

The bipartisan Iraq study group is set on Wednesday to release its recommendations. Will they fly? We'll talk to two key U.S. senators, Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona and Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the West Bank, in the occupied territories, a horrible example of apartheid is perpetrated against the Palestinians who live there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Former President Jimmy Carter with a very blunt assessment.

Welcome back. We'll get back to my interview with Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, in Baghdad in just a moment. First, let's check back with Fredricka Whitfield for a quick look at what's in the news right now. Fred?

(NEWS BREAK) BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. In Iraq, the drumbeat of deadly violence continues with no end in sight. The government there under enormous pressure, and hanging over it all an uneasy alliance right now with the United States. One man with a front-row seat is Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Salih. I spoke to him a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Minister, thanks very much for coming in. Let's talk about this Donald Rumsfeld memo that was written two days before his announced resignation, the day before the U.S. election.

Among other things, the outgoing defense secretary writes this: "Begin modest withdrawals of U.S. and coalition forces (start taking our hand off the bicycle seat), so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."

It looks like not only does he want you to be doing more, he's acknowledging that what the U.S. and Iraqi government have been doing all these years clearly has not worked. What's going on?

BARHAM SALIH, IRAQ'S DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I would say that we need to demonstrate progress at a much faster rate. That is necessary for our Iraqi constituency and understandably also is important for the United States too. I believe the mission here should be about Iraqi responsibility and transferring security responsibilities to the Iraqi side, because that is the fundamental solution to the issue of violence in this country.

BLITZER: Is it a good idea to start redeploying U.S. troops outside of Iraq? Here is another quote from the Rumsfeld memo: "Withdraw U.S. forces from vulnerable positions, cities, patrolling, et cetera, and move U.S. forces to a Quick Reaction Force status, operating from within Iraq and Kuwait, to be available when Iraqi security forces need assistance." In other words, to dramatically reduce the U.S. military footprint inside Iraq.

SALIH: I will not comment on the specifics of the memo, because at the end of the day, these are decisions that needs to be decided upon by military commanders here, together with the coalition. But definitely, I would agree with the premise that the security operation in Iraq must have an Iraqi face to it, and Iraqis must assume the lead and Iraqis must assume responsibility.

At the end of the day, we need the support of the United States in a strategic way. How to achieve that status and the timeline within which we can do that, that is a matter for military commanders to decide.

But the Iraqis and the Iraqi government have decided long ago that this is the way to go forward. And in our discussions with the United States, there is common ground, and the prime minister in his latest meeting with the president, President Bush, that issue was discussed, and they have agreed to expedite the transfer of security responsibility to the Iraqi side. In 2007, more and more Iraqi provinces will come under direct and full Iraqi security control. Yes, we will need the support of the United States in a more strategic sense, to be there in a supporting role.

BLITZER: When is the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, going to start getting tough with Muqtada al-Sadr and his Shiite militia? Because so many U.S. officials, the American public see him, Muqtada al-Sadr, as calling the shots as far as the Iraqi government is concerned, and he's seen as an enemy of the United States.

SALIH: The prime minister has said publicly and the government has announced on a number of occasions that militias operating outside the rule of the law and people and the armed gangs that are terrorizing the people of Iraq is an unacceptable situation.

There will be a law for demobilizing and disarming militias. Those who abide by the law will be welcomed and will have a road map to rehabilitate into public life. And those who do not will be dealt with in accordance with the law.

This is a major tough challenge for the government. The credibility of the government lies in its ability to assert the rule of law. The levels of violence in this country are just unacceptable, and there is no way that the Iraqi people, or for that matter our friends in the international community, can accept the present dynamic and accept the present levels of violence.

BLITZER: What's the timeline for that? When is that going to happen? Because as you know, a lot of critics have been saying they've heard these kinds of words from your government before, only to be so severely disappointed. When will the prime minister begin to take this action?

SALIH: We have had some very serious discussions about this over the last day or two. And the prime minister is aware of the significance of this issue, and we need to take action. And again, the levels of violence are just too grave to be sustained, and we need to move against those armed gangs that are terrorizing the people of Iraq and are creating the conditions for a sectarian strifes in this society.

Again, I agree with you that actions speak louder than words, and we need to deliver. We need to give a road map for rehabilitating those who want to be rehabilitated, and to live in a society ruled by law. But at the same time, we need to have the capability and the will to take on those elements that violate the law and terrorize the people.

BLITZER: Barham Salih, the deputy prime minister of Iraq, thanks for spending a few moments with us. Good luck to you.

SALIH: Thank you, sir.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And we're keeping tabs on what's happening right now in Iraq. Coming up, I'll be asking my next guest, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Jon Kyl when they think U.S. troops should start coming home.

And later, a candid conversation with former President Jimmy Carter. We'll find out why he calls the Iraq mission one of the greatest blunders ever for the United States.

And for our North American viewers, more on the upheaval this week in Iraq. In the next hour, John Roberts hosts "This Week at War." It's coming up right after "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: And the Maliki government expects us and wants us to provide that vital part of security. So we'll be in Iraq until the job is complete.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush standing with the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, this week in Amman, Jordan. But is Mr. Bush sending mixed signals?

He praised the Iraqi leader in public, but a secret administration memo called the prime minister ignorant or weak.

Mr. Bush says he's open to suggestions. But at the same time, he's pledging to stay put in Iraq.

Joining us now, two senior U.S. senators. In Phoenix, Republican senator Jon Kyl of Arizona and here in Washington, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein of California.

Senators, welcome back to both of you. And to both of you, congratulations on your re-election a few weeks ago.

Senator Kyl had a little bit rougher time than Senator Feinstein. But both have been re-elected. We're glad you're both here on "Late Edition" today.

Senator Kyl, let me start with you, with this Donald Rumsfeld memo, which a lot of us read in the New York Times today.

We're stunned by some of the statements because they seem to contradict what he had been saying publicly around the time.

Among other things, he wrote in this November 6 memo, two day before he stepped down, the day before the election, he wrote this.

"Conduct an accelerated draw-down of U.S. bases in Iraq. We have already reduced from 110 to 55 bases. Plan to get down to 10 to 15 bases by April 2007, and to five bases by July 2007."

It looks, Senator Kyl, like he's recommending what so many of his Democratic critics have been suggesting, including John Murtha of Pennsylvania, basically, putting this timeline in place.

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: With all due respect, I think you took that out of context. He had a menu of options that he said should be considered. These were not recommendations. And he didn't have a specific plan.

BLITZER: But let me interrupt for a second, Senator. Because he had above the line and below the line. Below the line were the ones he was rejecting. Above the line were recommendations he thought should be given serious consideration. This was above the line.

KYL: There were several ideas that he thought should be given consideration. That's different than a recommendation to the president about a specific course of action.

The key difference here between those who are trying to find a graceful exit and those who want to find a way to win is the president's view, and I think it's shared by Secretary Rumsfeld, that we need to figure out ways in which we can maximize our ability to support the Iraqis, get to a position where that country is safe and secure, that we can leave but do so under conditions in which we have defeated the terrorists and not enabled, or not left Iraq a failed state, which would be catastrophic not just to the Iraqis but to our policy and to everyone else in the region as well.

So the key point here is not wanting to find a graceful exit but, rather, a way to win.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Senator Feinstein, this proposal, this option that he says should be given serious consideration: Is this based on some sort of artificial timeline, April 2007, July 2007?

It sounds, at least to the casual observer like me, like he's making this kind of recommendation with a timeline in mind.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think, clearly there's a time line. I think what this memo...

BLITZER: Is this what he's rejected in the past, artificial timelines?

FEINSTEIN: Well, yes, it is, but a lot has happened. First of all, there has been an election. And all across the nation, I think the people have clearly said, "stay the course" is not what we support.

And the change of leadership in the House and the Senate, I think, demonstrates that very clearly.

I think the second thing is there really are no good options. This is a very difficult situation. I think the third thing is, what he is saying, at least as I read, and the leaks on the report about to come out would indicate that benchmarks are in order.

I mean, this is a war that has now gone on longer than World War II. The American people do want a timeline. I think they deserve a timeline.

And if military action could solve what is increasingly, if not already, a civil war, then we would all be for it. But none of us -- at least most of us believe military action cannot solve the problem.

BLITZER: All right...

FEINSTEIN: Therefore the benchmarks, I think, become more relevant and important.

BLITZER: And it sounds, Senator Kyl, as if this bipartisan Iraq study group report that's going to come out on Wednesday may have some of those benchmarks. But we'll wait and see precisely. It's 100-page document, we're told.

Here is another excerpt from this leaked Rumsfeld memo that appeared in the New York Times today.

"Withdraw U.S. forces from vulnerable positions -- cities, patrolling, et cetera -- and move U.S. forces to a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) status, operating within Iraq and Kuwait, to be available when Iraqi security forces need assistance."

Now, some are also suggesting that this option is similar to what Congressman Murtha and other Democratic critics have said: Reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq right now, which could be exacerbating the situation. What say you?

KYL: It does sound a bit like that. And it illustrates the point I was making before, which is, Secretary Rumsfeld was, in this memorandum, laying out an entire menu of things that might be considered. They are somewhat mutually exclusive.

So, you know, he did not say, I've reviewed the situation and here's my recommendation to you, Mr. President. But I go back to the point that I made before. I believe that Secretary Rumsfeld agrees with President Bush that the object here is not to leave Iraq a failed state but rather in a secure enough position that it cannot only defend itself but ensure it's not taken over by terrorists.

That would be inimical to its interests as well as to ours. And therefore, I think, you would find, if you asked Secretary Rumsfeld, that he would not be supportive of any kind of plan in which the object is to gracefully leave rather than to prevail.

And the timelines can get new trouble because they don't necessarily reflect the circumstances on the ground.

BLITZER: All right... KYL: And at the end of the day, the key is, what do we need to do to prevail and not leave Iraq a failed state?

BLITZER: Here's how the president, Senator Feinstein, summarized his bottom line this week. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We'll continue to be flexible. And we'll make the changes necessary to succeed. But there is one thing I'm not going to do. I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You have a problem with that bottom line?

FEINSTEIN: Yes, I have a problem with that. That's what he's been saying for all the time this war has gone on. Nothing has changed. He said he'll continue to be flexible. But he hasn't been flexible. He doesn't listen. And that's just a fact.

I don't think he listens to Republicans and he doesn't listen to Democrats. He listens only to the selected few around him who essentially cater to this "stay the course" theory.

And the American people have now spoken. And I think the White House should listen to that. I mean, the Iraqi government has no great strength, at least that I can see, at the present time.

The Iraqi government hasn't been able to provide the security, reach an accommodation with the Sunnis, really develop the concept of a unified Iraq. And you have, in all of this, a rising figure, possibly the most popular figure in the country. And that's Muqtada al-Sadr.

BLITZER: The young, radical Shiite cleric?

FEINSTEIN: That's correct.

BLITZER: Hold on one second. Because I want to get to that in a moment. But I want Senator Kyl to respond.

That's a damming indictment we just heard from Senator Feinstein, that this is a president who simply doesn't listen, except to a small group of advisers he's surrounded himself by.

KYL: Well, those people who are asking him to agree to a graceful exit are going to be disappointed because he is not willing to leave Iraq a failed state.

But I do think you'll see him listening to both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, reviewing the recommendations of the Baker commission.

He's talking to a lot of different Iraqis, as you know. The vice president, the secretary of state have been traveling around that part of the world talking to folks.

And obviously, he's going to be talking to his military advisers. And I believe that all of the news coming out of the White House, and you heard Steve Hadley say it this morning, is that, within the next several days or very small number of weeks, you're going to see several changes made.

Because I do agree that the president -- and Secretary Rumsfeld made the point here -- have come to the conclusion that what we're doing now isn't working.

But the object then is not to find a way to leave, but to find a way to win.

BLITZER: Senators, stand by for a moment, because we have a lot more to talk about. We'll continue our conversation with senators Kyl and Feinstein. We'll ask them whether the newly elected Congress will fix what some are calling the dysfunctional House and Senate intelligence committees.

And don't forget, you'll find the best political team on television right here on CNN for all that's happening on the way to the 2008 election. We're following all of today's top news, the latest reaction to Rumsfeld's leaked recommendations for Iraq, an update on the recovery efforts in the Philippines after a deadly typhoon, and the latest on the health of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Stay with "Late Edition" for all the latest news. We'll be right back.

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(NEWS BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: I don't have confidence in any Iraqi leader right now, and I think that's part of the problem, which is why I believe you have to set a date. And I argued that with the Baker commission.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senator John Kerry, speaking with me in the last hour, right here on "Late Edition." Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're talking with two veteran U.S. senators, Republican John Kyl and Democrat Dianne Feinstein.

Senator Kyl, you want to react to what Senator Kerry just said, that he really doesn't have any confidence in the current Iraqi government or any of those Iraqi politicians. They may be talking a good game. But they're clearly not delivering, especially when it comes to dealing with Muqtada al Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, and his death squads. KYL: They don't seem to be delivering, that's true. But it's, you know, until you've walked a mile in their shoes, be careful about criticizing. I think they've got an extraordinarily difficult situation.

We all know the different factions over there. Those factions have armies that fight each other and create problems. It's a very, very hard thing for them. And I think the object here is to try to work with them as the president and his national security team is trying to do to find that way to support them so that they can do the job that we want them to do.

BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, what do you make of this latest twist in the developments? Not only is there concern that the prime minister is not doing enough to deal with Muqtada al Sadr, but now the president invited Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, another radical Shiite leader with very close ties to Iran, to come to the White House tomorrow for a major meeting.

FEINSTEIN: Well, in my view, this may be the most interesting of all the meetings. You know, Mr. Hakim and Muqtada al Sadr are the two sides of the Shia question in Iraq. And I have very deep concern over Muqtada al Sadr. Because he looks like not only is he on the ascendancy, but he could well be the strongman in wait.

I know polls have been done, and they have found him to be the most popular of all leaders among the young people in Iraq. So in terms of the future, Muqtada al-Sadr is a real question mark. His control of anywhere from 5 to 30,000 militia, his control of certain ministries, his holding of 30 seats, the ability of Mr. Maliki not to be able to move him in any one direction seems to me to be a real problem.

Now, Hakim may offer a different edge on this, and that's what I think many of us will be waiting to see.

BLITZER: One thing is clear. They may be rivals, Senator Kyl, these two Shiite leaders, but they're both pretty much in bed, if you will, with a lot of Iranians. How worried are you about this push towards bringing Iran into this regional area and getting Iran directly involved in trying to help bail out the U.S. in Iraq?

KYL: Well, first of all, I agree with what Senator Feinstein just said. And it shows you how complicated things are, where you have two Shiite leaders opposed to each other, both to some extent supported by the Iranians, and you're trying to find a magic way to get the forces aligned in such a way that we can ultimately prevail in Iraq and enable us to leave it to them.

It, I don't think, though, represents an invitation to Iran to get involved. Visiting with Hakim may be more of a way to have a counter force to Sadr than it is an invitation to Iran to get involved. I think that would be the last thing that we would want to happen.

BLITZER: Do you want, Senator Kyl, the U.S. to participate in an international conference on Iraq that would include Iran and Syria?

KYL: No. The question there is if you're going to negotiate with Iran, what you are prepared to give Iran? Or to give Syria? And I think that that's the wrong way to approach the issue.

BLITZER: What do you think, Senator Feinstein?

FEINSTEIN: Oh, I'm for talking. I really am in this situation.

BLITZER: Even with a country like Iran, where you have a President Ahmadinejad, who wants Israel wiped off the face of the earth? Says there was no Holocaust and is bitterly anti-U.S.?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I don't believe he is representative of all of Iranian thought on this subject. I believe that, you know, the president is there to use diplomacy. This is a major tool in his toolbox. And to say I will not talk with Iran, I will not talk with Syria, I will not talk with North Korea, I will not talk with people that disagree with us or I with them, I don't think is using the presidency to its fullest extent.

And I think the time has come to begin some form of discussion. I've talked with some Iranians. I talked with the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations for about three hours. I think there are forces in the leadership of Iran that could be very helpful at this particular point in time. And I think it's up to us to, A, find out who they are and, B, begin some discussions.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Kyl, listen to what Lee Hamilton -- he's the co-chairman of this bipartisan Iraq study group, a former member of the House of Representatives -- said this past week as far as the House and Senate intelligence committees are concerned. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEE HAMILTON, CO-CHAIRMAN, BIPARTISAN IRAQ STUDY GROUP; The Congress does not do a good job on intelligence oversight. The word I kept hearing over and over and over again from the members of the authorizing committees, the intelligence committees, was dysfunctional.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, that's also a damming indictment of the House and Senate intelligence communities, especially in recent years when they were dominated by the Republican majority.

KYL: Well, I must say to some extent I agree with that. I served on the intelligence committee for eight years and Senator Feinstein serves on it now. And so I certainly want to say with due respect to Senator Feinstein, I find that what Lee Hamilton says, I'm not sure I'd use the word dysfunctional.

But I think both of the oversight committees have not done a very good job. They've allowed it to at least on the Senate side to become very politicized. And I'm very concerned that because the war against these terrorists relies so much on getting good intelligence that neither the reorganization of the U.S. intelligence nor the oversight by the committees has contributed very positively toward that end.

BLITZER: You're on the committee, the intelligence committee. Is he right, Lee Hamilton?

FEINSTEIN: I think he is to a great extent.

BLITZER: Dysfunctional?

FEINSTEIN: I think it -- I won't say dysfunctional, but we don't do our job properly. I think that's going to change. There will be new leadership on the intelligence committee. Senator Rockefeller, I believe, will change the way in which we work. There will be much more intelligence oversight. I think General Hayden is much freer, more willing to come up to the Hill to sit down and discuss with us critical matters. He has up to this point. It is very much appreciated.

I think there is some reorganization that is in need so that we can provide the oversight of the 15 agencies in a way that's really meaningful.

BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, thanks for coming in. Senator Kyl, thanks to you as well. And I'll end the way I started, congratulations to both of you on your re-election.

And CNN is following events of this day around the world, including reaction to that leaked memo from Donald Rumsfeld. A memo that presents a very gloomy picture of progress in Iraq. And the latest on today's protests and political upheaval in Beirut, Lebanon. The demonstrations there continuing.

Up next, though, very blunt talk from former President Jimmy Carter about the Middle East, Iraq and the present administration. "Late Edition" will be right back.

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BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. It's a very small, very distinguished club of former U.S. presidents, and usually, discretion is the rule. But not so this week with former President Jimmy Carter, who released his latest book, entitled "Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid," and in a wide-ranging interview about Iraq, the Middle East crisis, the current administration.

Earlier I asked him whether the United States should be talking directly to Iran to try to ease the crisis in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARTER: Well, you know, there is a difference between letting Iran play a role in the future of Israel on the one hand, which would be completely out of the question, and including Iran and Syria in a conference of all the surrounding nations, including those that are close to us, moderate Arabs like Egypt and Jordan and Saudi Arabia and some of the other Gulf states.

But I think, if they are included in a conference, that would reassure the Iraqi people that, some day in the near future, they're going to have complete control over their military and political and economic destiny, and Israeli and American occupation forces are going to be withdrawn.

I think that would be something that the president should accept.

BLITZER: You know a lot about Iran. You spent the last 444 days of your presidency focusing in on the American hostages.

CARTER: I remember that.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I know. I remember it very well. I think everyone who was alive remembers it as well.

This is a regime -- basically, the same people who were in charge then, who took over for the shah, are still in charge right now, led by a supreme ayatollah, who has been meeting, today, with Talabani -- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, met yesterday with Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq.

CARTER: Yes.

BLITZER: This is the same Iranian president who said last October, a year ago: "Israel must be wiped off the map of the world, and God willing, with the forces of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism."

CARTER: This is one of the most ridiculous and obnoxious statements that I've ever heard a public official -- certainly in a leadership capacity -- make. It's ridiculous and ought to be completely discounted.

However, you know, the Iranian people and the government, I think, collectively, would like to see a stable Iraq. And there may be a role for them to play in the conference that I think will be forthcoming, that I described earlier.

And I think this is going to be one of the key recommendations of the study commission that we've already discussed.

And so I think this is one that I would certainly approve, is a broad-based conference, maybe even including France and Russia and others who might help to reassure the Iraqi people that their nation is going to be, I'd say, reconstructed and given the proper element of freedom and independence.

BLITZER: I assume you believe that the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the removal of Saddam Hussein, was a huge -- with hindsight, was a huge blunder. CARTER: Well, when you throw in the removal of Saddam Hussein, I don't include that. But I think that the original invasion of Iraq, and all of its consequences, yes, were a blunder, including what happened with the leadership.

BLITZER: In the scheme of things, how big of a blunder was it, in terms of foreign policy blunders that American presidents have made?

CARTER: It's going to prove, I believe, to be one of the greatest blunders that American presidents have ever made.

BLITZER: Bigger than Vietnam?

CARTER: I think it's going to be a close call, but perhaps much more vividly known by the rest of the world than Vietnam was. And, of course, my answer is predicated on not knowing what's going to happen in the future.

I think that President Bush could still salvage, out of Iraq, a conclusion that he could identify as victory, if he would agree that this international conference would come in and help Iraq, and if there could be an orderly withdrawal of American troops and Iraq could be sustained, with the support of the rest of the world, as a viable democracy.

Then he could say, in retrospect, this was a success. And I think that's what he would like to see as an ultimate indication of a victory.

BLITZER: If you were president right now, what would you do, given the current situation as it exists on the ground?

CARTER: I would immediately convene an international conference and let it be known -- which is not known now -- that America has no desire to maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq.

Almost every Arab leader with whom I have discussed this issue in the last year or two believe that the current plan is, some day, 20 years from now, still to have a military presence of the United States inside Iraq.

I would make that clear. And I would involve as many of the neighbors and other leaders in the world along with us, not in the occupation of Iraq, but in the orderly withdrawal from Iraq of American troops and a reassurance to the Iraqi people that you can control your own affairs.

BLITZER: Let's talk about your new book, "Palestine Peace, Not Apartheid." The book jacket, the book cover, has a picture of you. It also has a picture of the wall that Israel has constructed...

CARTER: Yes.

BLITZER: ... along the West Bank to protect itself, presumably, from terrorists coming into major Israeli cities and towns. CARTER: Not along the West Bank, but inside the West Bank.

BLITZER: Inside the West Bank...

CARTER: OK.

BLITZER: ... to separate, if you will, the Palestinian territories from Israel, pre-'67 Israel...

CARTER: Well, as a matter of fact...

BLITZER: ... or close to those lines.

CARTER: As a matter of fact, that's not correct, Wolf.

What the wall does is separate Palestinians from other Palestinians. This wall is not built between Israel and Palestine. It's built between the Palestinians and other Palestinians.

BLITZER: In terms of going a little bit further than the pre-'67 lines...

CARTER: I wouldn't say a little bit...

BLITZER: You're right. It's all built on Palestinian-occupied territory.

CARTER: And in some places, it goes much further than a little bit.

BLITZER: You know you're going to be -- you're already being criticized for using the word "apartheid."

CARTER: Well, let me explain the title...

BLITZER: OK.

CARTER: ... because the title was very carefully...

BLITZER: Because that's such a provocative -- the impression that somebody gets -- and you can't judge a book by its cover...

(LAUGHTER)

... but the impression you get, looking at this cover -- it's "Palestine Peace, Not Apartheid." You see a wall and you say, is Israel creating an apartheid regime in the Palestinian territories?

CARTER: Let me answer the question. First of all, the entire title should be considered. First of all, it's Palestine and not Israel.

I have never insinuated, and do not think, at all, that Israel would perpetrate apartheid within their own nation. Because the Arabs that live in Israel -- and there's a lot of them -- have the full civil rights that other Israelis have, Jews or not. What I say is Palestine. And then peace is what I'm for, and not apartheid.

However, in the West Bank, in the occupied territories, a horrible example of apartheid is being perpetrated against the Palestinians who live there. Israel has penetrated and occupied, confiscated and colonized major portions of the territory belonging to the Palestinians.

In order to do that, they have now built roads between those isolated settlements, more than 200 of them. And those roads connect those settlements, but they are exclusively to be used by Israelis.

So the Palestinians are separated from their own land. And in order to keep the Palestinians from objecting to this, the Israelis have arrested and imprisoned about 9,000 Palestinians, including 300 children, some of them 12 years old, and others, women, about 100 women. And in the process, the Palestinians are completely treated as inferior citizens.

(CROSSTALK)

CARTER: This is not based on racism, is the last thing I want to say. It's based on a minority of Israelis -- and I say that very carefully -- a minority of Israelis who refuse to swap land for peace.

(CROSSTALK)

CARTER: They would rather have the land than peace.

BLITZER: But the government, the current government of Prime Minister Olmert...

CARTER: Yes.

BLITZER: ... the previous government of even Sharon and before that...

CARTER: Netanyahu.

BLITZER: Netanyahu, but Barak, Ehud Barak -- they offered, under the last days of the Bill Clinton administration, a deal which would give up most of the West Bank, including parts of Jerusalem itself. And Clinton said Arafat missed a major opportunity to resolve this crisis right then.

CARTER: That is not quite an accurate description of it, which the...

BLITZER: Well, let me read to you what...

CARTER: ... the accurate description...

BLITZER: Let me read to you what Bill Clinton wrote in his book, "My Life." He was the president who as negotiating at Camp David...

CARTER: OK.

BLITZER: ... and then at Taba, trying to resolve this. And Barak, the prime minister, who made some major concessions -- he said: "Right before I left office, Yasser Arafat thanked me for all my efforts and told me what a great man I was. 'Mr. Chairman,' I replied, 'I am not a great man. I am a failure and you have made me one.' Arafat's rejection of my proposal after Ehud Barak accepted it was an error of historic proportions."

CARTER: OK, well...

BLITZER: That's what the former president wrote in his book.

CARTER: All right. Well, in my book, which I think is accurate -- I hate to dispute Bill Clinton on your program because he did a great and heroic effort there.

He never made a proposal that was accepted by Barak or Arafat.

BLITZER: Why would he write that in his book if...

CARTER: I don't know.

BLITZER: ... if he said Barak accepted it?

CARTER: I don't know...

BLITZER: And Arafat rejected it.

CARTER: You could check with all the records. Barak never did accept it. And at Taba, for instance, which you've mentioned, not only were Americans excluded, but Barak subsequently said, I never authorized any Israeli to negotiate at Taba with any Palestinians. And they never did have any negotiations there.

What President Clinton proposed was never put in a map. But I've got, in this book, a map, as interpreted by the Palestinians, the enlightened Palestinians that want peace, and interpreted by the Israelis. It's completely different. And one major difference is who controls the entire Jordan River Valley.

The Jordan River Valley, as you know, is on the Jordan border, on the eastern side of the West Bank, and it is controlled by the Israelis. That completely excludes the Palestinians from having access to anything in the East, including Jordan.

And Gaza is now completely surrounded by a high wall with only two openings in it. And this wall is being built to confiscate even more land that's owned by the Palestinians.

BLITZER: But the Israelis did pull out of Gaza, only to find that these Katyusha rockets, these other rockets, had been launched from Gaza into the southern part of Israel.

CARTER: Israel withdrew from Gaza. And then the Palestinians -- what precipitated this was not the Katyusha rockets; it was the seizure of an Israeli soldier, which was probably a mistake on their side.

So the Palestinians do hold one Israeli soldier.

The Israelis hold 9,200 Palestinians, as I said earlier, including 300 children and about 100 women.

And as soon as the Palestinians took this soldier, immediately, they offered to swap this soldier to the Israelis for a limited number of women and children being held by the Israelis in prison.

The Israelis rejected that offer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Very, very blunt talk from former president Jimmy Carter, speaking with me earlier, here in "The Situation Room" on CNN.

We're watching all the news developments happening today. And up next, the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, on that leaked memo from Donald Rumsfeld.

We'll have that in our special "In Case You Missed It" wrap-up of the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

"Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check a couple of your e-mail coming in to "Late Edition." Judith from Las Vegas writes this: "The Republicans are willing to stop at nothing in order to ensure President Bush's positive place in history. they are willing to send more of our sons and daughters into danger not to make Iraq into a democracy, which is obviously a losing proposition."

Shawn, on the other hand, writes from Michigan: "Sending in more troops, as Senator McCain proposes, makes sense for increased security because of increased attacks on Iraqi police and recruits. More troops can also help the continuing training of the Iraqis, and with more proper screening we could offer and teach them techniques to do just that."

We always welcome your comments. Our e-mail address, lateedition@cnn.com.

Let's take a look at what's on the cover of this week's major newsmagazines in the United States. Coming out today, on the cover of Time magazine, "The Iraq study group says it's time for an exit strategy. Why Bush will listen." On the same subject, Newsweek asks, "Will Bush Listen?"

And on the cover of U.S. News and World Report, "The new face of Alzheimer's." We're keeping watch of all of the latest developments this Sunday, including what happened on the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. Our "In Case You Missed It" segment is coming up next. And in case you missed any of our program today, can you always download a video podcast of the entire two hours of "Late Edition." Just go to cnn.com/podcast and click on the link for "Late Edition."

And don't forget, for our North American viewers, coming up at the top of the hour, in a few moments, "This Week at War" with John Roberts.

(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. Everywhere, the Rumsfeld memo was the primary topic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN HADLEY, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: And what I think that Rumsfeld memo represents is kind of a laundry list of ideas that have been considered. It was a useful memo, and we used it in that way to trigger discussions. But this was not a game plan or a set of -- an effort to try to set out the way forward in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR JOE BIDEN, D-DELAWARE: The Rumsfeld memo makes it quite clear that one of the greatest concerns is the political fallout from changing course here in the United States politically, and how to deal with that. But the bottom line is, there is no one, including the former secretary, who thought the policy the president continues to pursue makes any sense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR CHUCK HAGEL, R-NEBRASKA: We have to have a reality check here, and memos being leaked and all that, that's interesting Shakespearian drama, but bottom line is, if for no other reason, we need a policy worthy of the young men and women serving in Iraq today, and we don't have one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On ABC, the conversation also turned to the 2008 presidential election. The first announced Democratic presidential candidate, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, brushed aside any questions that his run was a long shot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. TOM VILSACK (D), IOWA: I'm just going to focus on what I have to do today. And what I have to do today is meet as many people as I possibly can, and convince them that I'm authentic, that I'm genuine, that I'm passionate, and that I have a vision for the future of this country which is compelling. And I intend to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Highlights from some of the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk. And that's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, December 3rd. Please be sure to join us next Sunday and every Sunday, 11 a.m. Eastern, for the last word in Sunday talk.

We're in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday, 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern, another hour at 7 p.m. Eastern. Thanks very much for watching.

To our North American viewers, "This Week at War" with John Roberts starts right now.

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