Skip to main content
Search
Services


 

Return to Transcripts main page

CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With William Caldwell; Interview With Shaukat Aziz

Aired May 27, 2007 - 11:00   ET

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


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

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We can expect more American and Iraqi casualties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Insight from the war zone from the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Major General William Caldwell.

After the vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF.: I would have hoped for more, but it does represent a change in direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush gets the war funding bill he wants, but is the push for troop timelines really over? Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel and Republican Congressman and presidential candidate Duncan Hunter weigh in.

Plus, Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Joe Biden on Iraq, Iran, and his own run for the White House.

Then, from Congress to the campaign trail, we'll assess the fallout from the war funding vote with three of the best political team on television.

Growing turmoil in Pakistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden -- we'll talk about it with the country's prime minister, Shaukat Aziz.

And it's the number one selling book in the United States -- a special conversation with the author of "Einstein," Walter Isaacson.

"Late Edition's" lineup begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: 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."

On this Memorial Day weekend, we're reminded that the list of those remembered continues to increase, with almost 1,000 American troops killed in Iraq since last Memorial Day. The Pentagon just announced eight more fatalities, bringing the total killed to 3,452 American troops, and making May already one of the bloodiest months of the war.

And there will certainly, tragically, be more as U.S. forces prepare for what's being described as a long, hot summer, battling Al Qaida and Iraqi insurgents.

And it's all been deeply complicated by the reemergence of the Shiite cleric who heads the Mahdi Army. To get an overview of the situation on the ground, I spoke with a top U.S. general on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now in Baghdad, Major General William Caldwell, U.S. Army, the chief spokesman for the Multi-National Forces in Iraq.

General, as usual, thanks very much for coming in.

Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical, anti-American Shiite leader, he shows up in Iraq, makes a fiery anti-American speech today. Has he returned from Iran, or has he been in Iraq all this time?

CALDWELL: From what we can tell right now, he came back a couple of days ago, and obviously he went down to the Najaf area where he's been until his speech today when he came out publicly. But we've been tracking and we'll monitor what's going on, and obviously hope that his return will contribute to the ongoing dialogue that we've already established and had going on now for several months with the Shia groups here in Iraq.

BLITZER: You want to have a dialogue with Muqtada al-Sadr, is that what you're saying?

CALDWELL: Well, we are hoping that the dialogue we have established with the Shia people here in Iraq that has been going on now for several months that has been proving very positive will continue, and that if he is going to come back, that he's coming back to help facilitate that and enhance that further.

BLITZER: Because at one point -- and you well remember this early on -- he was a wanted man. He was accused of having ordered the killing of American soldiers in Iraq. But that has changed. I wonder what his status is right now?

CALDWELL: Right now, he is considered like any other Iraqi citizen here in Iraq, and is back in the country, and amongst his people, and we're just hoping that he helps facilitate and continues his open discussion we have had with the Shia and doesn't hinder that. BLITZER: It's because, when he cries out as he did today, "Death to America," that sounds like someone who is not necessarily willing to have a dialogue with the U.S.

CALDWELL: And, Wolf, that's disappointing when you hear that thing, because everybody here wants to see this country unified and moving forward. All of the Iraqi people do. And when they have somebody that tries to use a position of influence to deter that from occurring, it's just a disappointment for the Iraqi people.

BLITZER: Do you have evidence that Muqtada al-Sadr and his various militias are getting direct aid, military assistance, financial assistance from the government of Iran?

CALDWELL: What we do know, Wolf, is that the Iranian intelligence services, the Quds Force, is, in fact, both training, equipping, and funding Shia extremist groups, extremist elements of JAM here, both in Iraq and also in Iran.

BLITZER: Including Muqtada al-Sadr's militia?

CALDWELL: There is extremist elements within that, rogue elements within JAM that, in fact, are receiving that same kind of funding, training, and equipping.

BLITZER: Was there any effort to prevent him from returning from Iran into Iraq or was he free to go across that border?

CALDWELL: There was no attempt on our part to interfere with the movement of Iraqis back and forth across that border.

BLITZER: What can you tell us about the Iranian funding of what's called the secret cells of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army?

CALDWELL: Well, what we do know is that these secret cells have been receiving a considerable amount of money -- I mean, literally in the hundreds of thousands of dollars on a regular basis -- to fund their efforts both to work the kidnappings, the assassinations, and some mass murders that have gone on here in Iraq.

BLITZER: General Petraeus, the overall commander of the Multi- National Force in Iraq, has suggested that the Sadr special operations forces are getting this direct funding, the direct training from Iranians. Can you elaborate on what's going on?

CALDWELL: Yes. What we do know is that the Quds Force elements, the intelligence services over there in Iran, are, in fact, providing this funding directly to these extremist elements.

I mean, they have gone so far and their overall training, Wolf, that they have helped, like the -- a raid that occurred on the governor's position down in Karbala, back in January, we know that they had built a mock facility in Iran. And, in fact, it helped conduct the training and planning over there before they came back and executed that here in Iraq. BLITZER: Do you know that -- if the Ayatollah himself, the supreme leader of Iran, personally has authorized the Quds Force in Iran to provide this kind of training and funding to these militias in Iraq?

CALDWELL: Wolf, I wouldn't venture to say whether he is or is not. I mean, what I can tell you is that we know that the Iranian intelligence services, the Quds Force, are, in fact, doing this though.

BLITZER: And what about Muqtada al-Sadr himself? Do you know if he personally authorized his militias to go ahead and undertake these kinds of operations in which not only Iraqis, but also Americans were killed?

CALDWELL: I do not know that for sure, Wolf. I can tell you, though, that we hope that he will use his influence to try to stop those rogue elements that are associated with his organization from conducting these activities against the Iraqi people.

BLITZER: We've spoken in the past about the Iranians also funding, supporting various Sunni militias, not only Shia militias. What else can you tell us about some specific evidence to back that up?

CALDWELL: The evidence that we have is that, in fact, we have in detention now people that we have captured that, in fact, are Sunni extremist-related that have, in fact, received both some funding and training from the Iranian intelligence service, the Quds Force.

BLITZER: How many Iranians is the U.S. military now holding?

CALDWELL: We currently have seven Iranian intelligence services personnel in our custody.

BLITZER: And what's their status?

CALDWELL: They are being detained just like anybody else who has broken the law here in Iraq. That's why they were picked up, for breaking the law. They are afforded the same rights as anybody else with the International Committee of the Red Cross, so they are treated in the detention status.

BLITZER: Because I assume if this meeting takes place in Baghdad Monday between U.S. and Iranian diplomats, that that subject will be high on the Iranian agenda. Am I right?

CALDWELL: Well, I haven't seen the agenda, Wolf, but one might assume that that could be an item that will be brought up by them.

BLITZER: Because I assume the U.S. side would bring up the fact that the Iranians are now holding several American Iranians in their custody, and I'm wondering if there's some sort of swap or deal that might be in the works?

CALDWELL: Wolf, there is nothing of that nature that I would know about that might be taking place. I wouldn't even make a conjecture as to whether or not that's happening. What I can tell you, though, is that we are open for dialogue. We want to discuss the situation here in Iraq and ask the Iranians to stop their outside interference in the affairs of the Iraqi people.

BLITZER: I want to play a little clip from what the president said yesterday about what he anticipates happening on the battlefield in Iraq over the next few weeks and months. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We're going to expect heavy fighting in the weeks and months. We can expect more American and Iraqi casualties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It was a pretty dire assessment that the president gave in advance of September, when General Petraeus is supposed to file his initial report on how this new strategy is working.

What's the U.S. military doing to get ready for what some are calling a summer offensive by Al Qaida and other insurgents in Iraq?

CALDWELL: Wolf, first, let me tell you, when you start taking more troops, putting them onto more places we've never been before, we're going to have more confrontations, which, in fact, are going to lead to greater military engagements.

And so I think that's where the president is coming from, when he talks about the fact that you should expect things to get harder before they're going to get easier.

But what we are doing is we know Al Qaida's influencing things. We know they're continuing to attack against the Iraqi people. And we've got very focused, specialized operations continuing on a daily basis against them, too.

BLITZER: And so you're working against, not only Al Qaida, but obviously, Sunni and Shia insurgents. You've got a multi-pronged front that you're facing.

CALDWELL: Wolf, it is a complex situation here. And there's nothing easy about it. But it's one that we are determined to see through.

Just this past week alone, we conducted over 63 specialized missions against Al Qaida elements, resulting in 26 killed and another 141 that we captured.

And we're going through that process of taking these people away from the Iraqi people so they don't continue bringing out the car bombs and killing them, like they did just yesterday in a funeral procession, or first responders who were answering to an ambush site and they set off an IED and killed the first responders who were coming to help the Iraqi people.

BLITZER: General Caldwell, we've got to leave it there. Good luck to you. Be careful. Thanks very much.

CALDWELL: Thank you, Wolf. (END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And coming up, with the Iraq war funding fight over for now, what happens next?

We'll talk about it with two veteran lawmakers who are also military veterans, Democrat Charlie Rangel and Republican Duncan Hunter.

And later, the White House reportedly considering cutting the number of troops in Iraq, just as the 2008 presidential race heats up. We'll hear what Democrat senator and presidential candidate Joe Biden has to say about that.

And several presidential candidates put their political futures on the line with this week's war funding vote in Congress. We'll assess the fallout with the best political team on television.

Stay with us. You're watching "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Failure in Iraq affects the security of this country. And it's hard for some Americans to see that. I fully understand it. I see it clearly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush speaking only hours before Congress approved the war funding bill he sought.

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

Joining us, now, on this Memorial Day weekend, here in the United States, two top members of the Congress, as well as war veterans.

In New York, Democrat Congressman Charlie Rangel. He chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. He voted against the war funding bill. He fought for the United States during the Korean War.

And in Orlando, Republican congressman and presidential candidate Duncan Hunter of California. He's the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. He voted for the war funding bill. He fought for the United States during the Vietnam War.

Congressmen, welcome to "Late Edition." Let me thank you both for your service to the United States, as veterans, on this Memorial Day weekend.

And Congressman Rangel, I'll start with you. The president says failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States in that part of the world, with enormous ramifications.

What do you say to the president? RANGEL: I say, Mr. President, you gave us information that wasn't true to get us there in the first place. There is absolutely no connection with the security of the United States and the chaos and the civil war that existed for centuries in that part of the world.

Bring the troops home, Mr. President.

BLITZER: But what about the Al Qaida operation that has developed inside Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Congressman Rangel?

The U.S. has an interest in dealing with that, doesn't it?

RANGEL: Not the U.S. -- every civilized country in the world should have an interest in dealing with it, including Egypt and Syria and Iran and Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

It shouldn't be American troops being exposed to the terrorists that's over there. And even if we did have a concern in that part of the world, it doesn't make America more secure.

BLITZER: Congressman Hunter, what do you say to the congressman from New York?

HUNTER: Well, first, I want to thank Charlie for his service in Korea, and thank all American veterans on this great day.

We do have an interest there. And we're, right now, in the second phase of basically a three-phase blueprint we've followed for 60 years, Wolf.

And that, is we've stood up a free government. We are, right now, standing up a military capable of protecting that free government. And the last phase is the Americans leave.

And I think that the key here is 129 Iraqi battalions that we have trained and equipped.

And the key is to make sure that they all get a three or four- month combat tour in a contentious zone, over the next four or five to six months, so they can start rotating into the battlefield and displacing American heavy combat forces, which can then come back to the United States...

BLITZER: But Congressman...

HUNTER: ... or go elsewhere in CentCom.

BLITZER: ... even as the Iraqis prepare to get themselves ready for combat, that's going to take a long time. Because, so far, they haven't necessarily stepped up to the plate.

Listen to what the president himself said the other day about what the American public can anticipate this summer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: We're going to expect heavy fighting in the weeks and months. We can expect more American and Iraqi casualties.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Congressman Hunter, you know the American public is anxious, according to all the polls, to get out of there as quickly as possible.

HUNTER: Well, Wolf, let me tell what you I've seen, the last time I was in Iraq about a month ago. The Iraqi forces who turned and ran when we moved them onto Fallujah, when they were green troops two years ago, are now standing and fighting.

The last communique that I saw, from a senior Marine commander in Anbar province -- that's the western area where Fallujah and Ramadi are located -- said in his e-mail, quote, "We are crushing Al Qaida. The Iraqi people in Anbar are on our side for the first time."

You now have about a 3-1 ratio of Iraqi troops, in the front, in the 10 Baghdad sectors, along with the Americans who comprise about one-third of those forces.

So the Iraqi army is standing up. It takes a while to stand up a military. The best way to stand them up is to get them into the fight.

HUNTER: And so my recommendation to the president, which I made the other day, is to make sure that all 129 battalions of the Iraqi army, which we have now trained and equipped, that every one of them is moved into the combat zone.

Even if they're in quiet areas in Iraq, move them into the combat zone, get them a three or four month combat operational experience.

Then, when they're reliable, we move them in; we rotate them into the battlefield, displace America's heavy combat forces, and our guys come home. I think that's doable.

BLITZER: What about that, Congressman Rangel, that proposal put forward by Congressman Hunter?

RANGEL: That was great if we were talking about the 51st state of the United States. We haven't supported a democracy in the Middle East in ages. We supported the shah. We supported Saddam Hussein. And those countries that are so-called friends are no democracy.

As a matter of fact, the only democracy in the Middle East is in Israel.

And the way he's talking about replacing American troops with Iraqi troops -- we shouldn't be there in the first place. If you want to put some troops there, put in the Egyptians and the Saudi Arabians and the Jordanians and the Syrians and let them bring some peace to that complicated situation.

Congressman Hunter?

HUNTER: Yes, let me just say this, wolf. Right now, you've got Iran walking down the path to develop nuclear weapons. They now have 1,000 centrifuges, according to the IAEA. If you had Saddam Hussein in power right now in Iraq, he would not watch his arch-enemies in Iran developing nuclear systems without pursuing that trail itself. And we would, right now, have a parallel track of development that we would have to monitor, and at some point interdict.

BLITZER: But Congressman Hunter, let me just question you on this point. Because a lot of analysts...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Hold on one second. I just want to press you on the Iran thing because, as you know, Saddam Hussein and the ayatollahs, the leadership in Iran -- they were bitter enemies. And there's a lot of experts that believed that Iran was weaker with e a powerful Saddam Hussein than it's been over the past four years, with Saddam Hussein removed, that Iran, in other words, has been a big winner in all of this.

HUNTER: I think -- well, obviously, Saddam hasn't been a big winner in this.

But I think that, Wolf, that's a policy of tragedy. I think of the hundreds of Kurdish women whose bodies were strewn across those hillsides, holding their babies where they were killed in place by poison gas. If that's the status quo that the West should encourage or want to maintain, I disagree with that.

RANGEL: But on this memorial day, I'm thinking about the 3,500 men and women, Americans, who have died. Of course, all of these horrific things are terrible, but we shouldn't have Americans dying in order to stop it.

Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis have been killed. And we are not doing anything -- as a matter of fact...

(CROSSTALK)

... when you listen to General Petraeus, if you go further, more people are going to die. Why are we going further into Iraq?

HUNTER: Here's what I think we can achieve, Charlie.

RANGEL: And why is the president looking forward to seeing more Americans die -- because it's going to be August, and we should be out of there.

HUNTER: Charlie, here's what I think we can achieve. I think we can have a state in Iraq which has a representative government -- it's an inept government, but most new governments are -- a government which will not be a state sponsor of terrorism for the next five to 10 to 20 years, a government which has a modicum of freedom for its people and is a friend, not an enemy of the United States.

That's hard to achieve anywhere in the Middle East. If we achieve that with Iraq, that will be a successful mission.

RANGEL: If we do it in Iraq... HUNTER: And I think, historically, this will be a successful mission that we'll look back on as one of the most important missions in the last 40 years.

RANGEL: So what have we got to do about Egypt and Iran and Syria and Jordan and Saudi Arabia?

Since when are we dying all over the world for little democracies to be established?

This is absolutely ridiculous. I'm surprised that Americans are not screaming, on this Memorial Day, "Bring our troops home!"

Of course, we should want peace and democracy, but it shouldn't be the United States. It should be Europe; it should be Africa; it should be South America. It should be our friends in the Middle East, who aren't even holding our coats in this fight.

And so all the things that you want are great and they should be admired, but we should not be shedding our blood for it.

BLITZER: All right, hold on, Congressman.

I want to just play, Congressman Hunter, a sound bite from the president, what he said on Friday. I want you to listen to this, and I'm going to ask you if you agree with him. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. It's their government's choice. If they were to say leave...

(END VIDEO CLIP) --

BLITZER: He was about to say, "If they were to say leave, we would leave."

The question to you, Congressman Hunter, is this. Already a majority of members of the Iraqi parliament have signed a resolution saying the United States should have a timeline for withdrawal.

If the government of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad says leave, should the United States immediately pick up and get out of there?

HUNTER: Well, absolutely. You should leave, of course, in a manner that attends security.

But Wolf, this is exactly the signs of a government which is maturing. They are a free government. And I think that the politics in the oil division and the conciliation and the deBaathification are less important than the stand-up of the Iraqi military.

Once the Iraqi military is capable of protecting that government, I think the government holds, Wolf. I think, if you had elections five months from now, you'd elect the same Shiite majority that you've got right now. It's (inaudible) point, but I think it holds.

BLITZER: On that point, Congressman, we've got a different assessment from the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell. He says he's very frustrated, right now, by the behavior of the Iraqi government.

Listen to what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: I'm particularly frustrated with the Iraqi government. So far, they've not been able to do anything they promised on the political side. The oil revenue bill, not passed; local elections, not passed; the deBaathification effort, not passed. There is a growing frustration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You clearly disagree with Senator McConnell.

HUNTER: No, I don't disagree with him that they're having problems in the political process. We're having problems in our political process.

How I'm disagreeing with Senator McConnell is, in my estimation, the political process is not as critical as having a military apparatus; that is, having an Iraqi military that is reliable enough to stand up and displace American units on the battlefield.

Once we come home, you're going to have political fights for ages. That is a trademark of free countries, having political fights, Wolf.

So whether or not they make a division with respect to oil, whether they bring about this conciliation and the deBaathification programs are put in place, I think, are not as important as having an Iraqi security apparatus that stands up.

Look at Korea. They had problems for years. All these new countries go through contortions as they come into a representative form. Let them do that. The important thing is standing up the Iraqi military. And that's the 129 battalions in the Iraqi army.

BLITZER: All right.

RANGEL: Please don't bring up Korea. The 2nd Infantry Division went in there in 1950...

HUNTER: I knew that would get you, Charlie.

RANGEL: ... And they're still over there. I hope you're not saying we should expect to do the same thing in Iraq.

HUNTER: Well, Charlie, no. But, you know, you've now got over 21 heavy armored divisions, or heavy divisions in the Korean army which themselves are capable of stopping a North Korean invasion coming down through those passes.

And I knew that that would get a response from the great soldier from the 2nd Division.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Congressmen... HUNTER: Happy Memorial day, Charlie.

BLITZER: We're not done yet, Congressmen. Stand by for a moment. We're going to have a lot more to talk about. We'll take a quick break.

When we come back, there's a long way to go before President Bush signs an immigration reform bill onto law. What needs to be put in or taken out to reach a compromise? I'll ask these two congressman.

Then, he was Time Magazine's person of the 20th century. What made Albert Einstein tick? We'll talk with Walter Isaacson. He's the author of the number one best-selling book, "Einstein." That's coming up as well.

Stay with "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're talking with two leading members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Charlie Rangel is a Democrat of New York. Duncan Hunter is a Republican of California.

Congressman Hunter, the New York Times/CBS polls this week on immigration reform, the compromise package worked out by Senator Kennedy, Senator Kyl, the president likes it, the American people seem to like a lot of it, as well.

On the guest worker program, according to this poll, 66 percent say they support it, 30 percent say they oppose it. And on the question, "Should illegal immigrants be allowed to apply for visas," 67 percent say they support it, 28 percent say they oppose it. You hate this compromise, don't you?

HUNTER: Well, I think it's a disaster for this reason, Wolf. First, you know, I wrote the bill that mandates the border fence, the San Diego double border fence that reduced illegal alien smuggling and the smuggling of narcotics by more than 90 percent in San Diego. I wrote the bill that extends that fence 854 miles across the smuggling routes of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The Senate bill virtually cuts it in half.

But beyond that, the 12 million or so people that are here illegally who came in after the first amnesty in 1986, came because they didn't believe the United States when we wrote in the fine print, "Now, this is it, nobody else come in."

If we sign a second amnesty into place, you will have a wave of people, a stampede of people, from every country in the world coming into the United States illegally thinking they're going to catch the third amnesty. BLITZER: All right.

HUNTER: So this is a bill which is an absolute disaster from a national security standpoint because border enforcement is a national security issue, but also in terms of the future.

BLITZER: Let me ask Charlie Rangel to respond.

Go ahead, Congressman. RANGEL: Well, it just seems to me that these so-called people that came into the United States illegally were lured into the United States by employers whose wanted to pay them low wages. They've been here for years. They've lived here in a decent, honest way. They've raised their family here.

And there's no question that there's no way to arrest them and deport them, so I don't know why this word amnesty is such a terrible word. I think these people would make good citizens. We ought to give them amnesty. And if you really want to cut out illegal aliens from coming in, then penalize the employers that invite them to come in.

So all I'm saying is that the farm industry, the recreation industry, hotels, restaurant, have been dependent on the hard work of these people. They should be given a break and given a chance to become citizens.

BLITZER: Congressman Hunter, last week here on "Late Edition," the secretary of Homeland Security took issue with your arguments on these border fences, these walls or whatever you want to call it. I want you to listen to what Michael Chertoff said and then we'll get your response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY MICHAEL CHERTOFF: He's not right. Basically, we will have 150 miles of fence built by the end of September. What Congressman Hunter is not telling the public is, the way you build fences, you don't build one mile and then build another mile.

You survey the entire area. You bring your engineers in, in order to level the ground. You make whatever legal arrangements you need to buy the land or acquire the land, and then the fence goes up virtually simultaneously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, what do you say to Michael Chertoff, the secretary of Homeland Security?

HUNTER: Yes, I would say Secretary Chertoff is absolutely wrong, Wolf. It's been six months since I passed that legislation. It passed the Senate 80-19. The president signed it last October 26th.

That's about six months ago and, to date -- I checked the other day -- you have a grand total of 11 miles of a single layer. They haven't even built the second layer. Now, if you work that out, that means it will be 20 years before we finish the border fence.

And Secretary Chertoff's own undersecretary said they were going to build a little bit of fence, and then wait and watch it. You've got individual ranchers in Texas who have built more fence than the federal government. And the idea that it takes six months to survey a piece of land or to prepare it by grading it for the fence to be constructed is absolutely being naive. What you do is you take multiple contractors, you start them at multiple points across the fence.

And I will tell you this: When I'm elected president, I will finish the border fence from start to finish in six months. It's very easy. It can be done.

And in reality, the administration held the border fence back and didn't construct it because they wanted to pair part of it -- that is, the 370 miles they now propose that is proposed in the Senate amnesty bill, they wanted to couple that with the amnesty so they would have both enforcement and amnesty walking forward at the same time.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Congressman Rangel, he's the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Is this American taxpayer money well-spent to go ahead and spend hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more, on a new fence, a border fence, between the United States and Mexico?

RANGEL: The problem that Duncan Hunter has when he's president is whether or not he's going to use illegal immigrants to build the fence because there is a shortage of labor. No, they say that the American Ladder, since he's built the fence, has really had 100 percent in profits. They got these 50-foot fences and 55-foot ladders.

It's absolutely ridiculous in a great democracy like the United States of America should be known like Germany was when the Russians put up a fence to keep people out. Let the people come in, put them to work and if you want to make certain they don't have jobs here, you don't go after them in the middle of the night.

Go after those people in California, Texas and the border states that hire these people. They would not be risking their lives in the desert if they did not know that American employers would hire them. It's simple as that, Mr. President.

HUNTER: Well, Charlie, let me just respond to you. We have 250,000 criminal aliens who didn't come in for a good life. They didn't come into work. They came across the southern border to hurt Americans. They've murdered in many cases. They have robbed. They've committed crimes against property.

Those 250,000 criminal aliens -- in fact, when we built the border fence in San Diego, by FBI statistic, the crime rate in the city of San Diego dropped by 53 percent.

RANGEL: Duncan, you know that's not the issue.

HUNTER: If we build the border fence...

RANGEL: If we've got criminals here...

HUNTER: If we build the border fence, you're going to have the crime rate go down in every state in the nation, Charlie. That's an important thing.

RANGEL: Duncan, if we've got criminals here, whether they're illegal aliens or not, we should ride them out. But you know, for the 12 million people that you and I are talking about this morning, for the most part they are hardworking people. If they were to get up and walk away from the United States, industries would collapse. And so all this business about being against amnesty is ridiculous.

BLITZER: All right, guys, we've got to leave...

HUNTER: I disagree, Charlie, but happy Memorial Day.

RANGEL: The best to you, Duncan.

BLITZER: Happy Memorial day to both of you.

HUNTER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: A good discussion on Iraq and immigration, arguably two of the big issues -- the big issues that will be affecting the American political system in the coming weeks and months. Guys, thanks very much for joining us.

HUNTER: Thanks, Wolf.

RANGEL: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. We'll be back. We'll speak with Walter Isaacson about his new biography of Albert Einstein. It's number one on the New York Times best-sellers list.

Also, a reminder: Congressman Hunter will be among the presidential candidates debating in New Hampshire right here on CNN. The Democrats battle Sunday, June 3. The Republicans go at it Tuesday, June 5. You're going to want to see it.

And at the top of the hour, Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Joe Biden explains his vote in favor of the war funding bill.

"Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: His name is synonymous with genius, but there was much more to Albert Einstein than his brilliance and theory of relativity. A new number one best-selling book, "Einstein" explores the renowned physicists life. Joining us now is the book's author, Walter Isaacson. He's a former Time magazine managing editor, former president of CNN, and he now heads the Aspen Institute. Walter, thanks very much for coming in. Congratulations, It's number one on the New York Times best-seller list, a powerful, powerful book.

Let's talk a little bit about Einstein and what made Einstein, Einstein. You write this. You say, "Throughout his life, Albert Einstein would retain the intuition and the awe of a child. He never lost his sense of wonder of the magic of nature's phenomena which grown-ups find so commonplace."

Help us understand why that childlike intuition created this genius.

ISAACSON: I think his sense of wonder. You know, when he was a kid he wonders what it's like to ride alongside a light wave? When he gets a compass and he worries for days on end, what are the hidden forces that make that needle point north? And then things you and I probably wondered, like why is the sky blue?

Throughout his life, Einstein was dealing with those things. And I think it's the mark of a great scientist or the mark of anybody with great curiosity. And that's what I hope people will regain, maybe even by reading the book, people will regain that sense of wonder that we all can feel about the beauty of nature's laws.

BLITZER: Because there are plenty of people who are geniuses out there, but if they don't have that unique intuition, that genius is not necessarily translated into great moments whether in art or science or whatever.

ISAACSON: I think imagination and creativity are the marks of somebody like Einstein. There were a lot more knowledgeable people in 1905 when he couldn't get even a job in a university and he was working in a patent office in Switzerland. You had people like Max Planck and Lorentz and (inaudible) who were really knowledgeable.

But as Einstein said, you know, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." And I think that's what elevates him.

BLITZER: Here you write this, on page 550: "Perhaps the most important aspect of Einstein's personality was his willingness to be a nonconformist."

ISAACSON: You know, you see that in his personal life, of course. You see it in his political life. He is a pacifist when Germany enters World War I. There he is, finally working in Berlin, and he's the only one at the University of Berlin to be a pacifist.

And, of course, you see it in his science. He is a person who says, "Wait a minute, just because Newton says that time passes absolutely the same for everybody no matter how we observe it," Einstein is a nonconformist. He says, "How do we know that?"

BLITZER: And speaking of nonconformists, we're going to get to the pacifism in a moment, but his relationship with god -- because this is a genius, a scientist who believed in god. "I cannot conceive of a personal god who would directly influence the actions of individuals," he says in your book. "My religiosity consist the of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little we can comprehend about the knowable world."

What was his relationship with god?

ISAACSON: Well, one of the great things -- and I think we could all use a little more of that -- is the humility that even an Albert Einstein used when he approached such eternal questions such as religion and god.

So many people seem to be such strong advocates on things that, perhaps, if you are an Einstein, causes you a bit of humility. As Einstein said, he didn't believe in personal god, not a god you could pray to that would make the Redskins win or that sort of thing, but the type of god whose spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe.

But as he said, it was a question far too vast for his limited imagination. So we should all just try to intimate what we feel about things and not be so sure and maybe use it as a cause for a bit of humility.

BLITZER: I was fascinated. When he was a little boy, at one point, even though his parents weren't observant Jews, he did become himself practicing in some of the religious rituals, but then he abandoned that, but he clearly saw himself as a very, very identifiable Jew throughout his whole life.

ISAACSON: Absolutely. I mean, what happens is, as you say, he is a nonconformist. For awhile, he practices his Judaism but drifts away from it once he gets more involved with science and things.

But as anti-Semitism arises in Europe, he becomes more identifiable with what he calls his "tribal kinship," not necessarily with the dictates and dogmas of the Jewish theology, but at least with the notion of identity with the Jewish people because he doesn't want to try to conform. He doesn't mind being an outsider and he hates it when people are oppressed.

BLITZER: "Like a good scientist," you write, "Einstein could change his attitudes when confronted with new evidence. Among his deepest personal principles was pacifism. But in early 1933, with Hitler's ascension, the facts had changed."

In World War I he was a pacifist, but then, all of a sudden, Hitler comes to power and he's no longer a pacifist.

ISAACSON: Absolutely. I mean, one of the things a good scientist does is looks at the evidence and has the general theories that they have correlate with the evidence. And with Einstein, once Hitler came to power, he said, "Well, if I were a young man I would join the army, because I believe sometimes you have to use force and you have to use the military to resist evil like this." On the other hand, even though he helps promote the building of the atom bomb by writing a letter to Franklin Roosevelt with some of his friends...

BLITZER: After he came to the United States in 1933.

ISAACSON: ... after came to the United States. He comes to the United States in 1933 when Hitler takes power, and a few years later writes a very famous letter to Roosevelt talking about the possibility of building an atom bomb. But after the war is over he, again, dedicates himself not to pacifism, but to arms control and the notion that we have to have some organization of world peace in a nuclear age.

BLITZER: You write this, "Einstein" -- you cite the Newsweek article or interview he gave on March 10, 1947. "Had I known the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I never would have lifted a finger."

ISAACSON: Yes, I think he said that -- like a lot of people, you say a few different things. I don't think he was ever guilt-ridden about having written a letter about the bomb, but he does feel -- he thought Heisenberg -- you know, one of his great rivals in science and stuff -- was there in Germany building a bomb.

And after the war, he is kind of surprised that Heisenberg hasn't come up with the notion of a nuclear chain reaction. Some of us have seen the play "Copenhagen" where that's discussed. Anyway, I think at that moment Einstein realizes that the use of the atom bomb causes him to rethink what should he dedicate himself to? And that becomes arms control.

BLITZER: And one of the most fascinating, if not the most fascinating, thing about this book, "Einstein," was the portrait you paint of this individual. "Throughout his life, Einstein would sometimes appear aloof toward his two sons. One of his strengths as a thinker, if not as a parent, was that he had the ability and the inclination to tune out all distractions, a category that to him sometimes included his children and family." You really -- I mean, he's a human being, this guy.

ISAACSON: Well, he does turn out to be made of flesh and blood. Some people say, "Well, the way he treated his first wife or the way he treated his kids, doesn't that diminish him?" You know, as a biographer, part of what you do is just follow the facts. And it reminds you that even a great genius is actually a flesh and blood human being.

Certainly, after he finishes his great scientific advances, he forms a much closer relationship with his family. And I hate to say it, Wolf, but you and I probably know people who get a little bit immersed in their work, get cold towards their family and then regret it. It happens even to an Einstein.

BLITZER: The book is entitled, "Einstein: His Life and Universe." Walter Isaacson is the author. Walter, thanks very much for coming in, but more importantly, thanks for writing this book.

ISAACSON: Hey, thank you, Wolf. Good to see you.

BLITZER: And still ahead, the Big Apple is turning green. If you don't understand what that means, don't worry. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he'll explain what he's doing in New York in just a moment.

And for our North American viewers, right after "Late Edition" at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, Tom Foreman hosts "This Week at War." The key question today, why is the United States once again becoming involved in Lebanon?

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

In this week's "Best of the Situation Room," New York City's famous yellow cabs are turning green.

The mayor, Michael Bloomberg, says the city's 13,000 taxis will be replaced with more environmentally friendly hybrid cars.

I spoke with the mayor earlier this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: What does it say, Mr. Mayor, when a mayor like you or a governor like Arnold Schwarzenegger, that you have to make these kinds of decisions within your own communities, as opposed to the federal government making these kinds of decisions that could impact global warming, the environment?

What does it say to you as a politician?

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY: I think what you're seeing is that, at the local level, the people and their representatives are tired of the inaction in Washington.

And we're just not going to wait around anymore for Washington to try to do something about the air we breathe or about stopping global warming.

We're not going to sit around and let them play pork barrel politics with homeland security funds. We're not going to sit around and let them have all this inaction on immigration.

There are major issues facing the people that we represent as mayors or as governors. And we've got to go and do some things -- because what we do is on the streets the next day. We can't just sit around and be on both sides of every issue and talk about it forever. We've got to do something.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking with me from New York in "The Situation Room" earlier in the week. Still to come here on "Late Edition," is Pakistan knowingly hiding Osama bin Laden in the unpoliced areas near the Afghanistan border?

I'll ask the Pakistani prime minister, Shaukat Aziz. It's a Sunday exclusive.

And you can catch highlights from today's show on our new and improved "Late Edition" podcast. Just log in to cnn.com\podcast. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

(voice over): Democrats blink in the war funding standoff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: This effort shows what can happen when people work together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We'll talk with Democratic presidential candidate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joe Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AZIZ: We allow people to disagree with the government. I think that's healthy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are tensions in Pakistan threatening the presidency of Pervez Musharraf? And what does that mean for the war on terror and the hunt for Osama bin Laden?

A conversation with the country's prime minister, Shaukat Aziz.

And from the debate over war funding to immigration reform, a dramatic week on Capitol Hill and the campaign trail. Insight from CNN's Candy Crowley, Ed Henry, and Elaine Quijano, all part of the best political team on television.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

BLITZER: Welcome back. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, will be joining us momentarily. He's out on the campaign trail in Iowa.

First, though, the intense search for those two missing servicemen still going on in Iraq. For the latest on that, let's go to live to CNN's Arwa Damon. She's embedded with members of the 10th Mountain Division in the so- called "triangle of death" south of Baghdad.

What is the latest, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the search is still ongoing in all of its intensity. We were out this morning with a scouts platoon. And what they were doing, is searching an island in the middle of the Euphrates River.

They conducted a boat assault. This island is, in fact, just across the river the same village where the attack took place. And they have received intelligence that it could have been used as a potential crossing point to move those kidnapped soldiers.

And the U.S. military is still continuing to follow any sort of lead that it has been able to obtain to try to find its missing men.

We have seen countless operations over the last 16 days, including air assaults, boat assaults like the ones that we were just out on, the troops here really combing through the fields and farmlands, some missions that they're conducting, intelligence-driven.

Now, the military's telling us that, at this point, they have at least 16 individuals in their custody that were somehow related to the attack. They have four individuals whom they believe were directly responsible for the attack.

The troops here say that they are systemically trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle to figure out what happened that Saturday morning and where their missing troops are right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon on the scene for us. Arwa, please thank those members of the 10th Mountain Division, on behalf of all of our viewers, for the work they're doing now, searching for those two missing Americans.

We'll check back with Arwa later.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. He's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.

And speaking of the presidential race, the senator is campaigning in Iowa this week. And he's joining us from Des Moines.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

BIDEN: Hey, Wolf. How are you, man?

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Let's talk a little bit about your vote. It's controversial, especially among Democrats. The other Democratic senators who are running for president, Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, Senator Dodd -- they voted against the war funding bill. You voted in favor of it. Tell our viewers why you think you're right and they were wrong? BIDEN: Well, I'll tell you why I think I'm right. I'm not going to use the troops as a pawn in this game. The most strident voices against this war in the Senate -- I've been among them -- Carl Levin, Jack Murtha in the House -- we all voted for this because this is for four months' funding.

And I've worked very hard -- and you've reported, Wolf, on the last month -- of getting these new mine-resistant vehicles into the field, which will cut casualties by two-thirds.

Seventy percent of all our injured, 70 percent of all the dead, because of these mines. We delay this funding, it kicks down the road another two to three months before these vehicles get on the road.

And for what purpose? It's not going to end the war. It's not going to end the funding. It's not going to end the president's -- it's not going to change the president's mind.

The president may be willing to use them as pawns. I'm not willing to do that. I think the vote was the only vote I could possibly cast. And here we are on Memorial Day, talking about the need to take care of and protect those we put in the field and take care of those we bring home. I couldn't vote to cut off the funding for them.

BLITZER: Here's what Senator Clinton said, in explaining her vote against the war funding bill: "I've been in favor of redeploying our troops out of Iraq for more than two years. I've been trying to get the administration to change course and engage in what I believe would be more effective actions in Iraq and they haven't done it. You know, at some point, you don't want to keep going on with it."

Senator Barack Obama said this: "We must fund our troops, but we owe them something more. We owe them a clear, prudent plan to relieve them of the burden of policing someone else's civil war."

You want to respond directly to those points they made?

BIDEN: Sure. I'm the only one that's offered a clear, prudent plan. The Biden-Gelb plan, which is being considered by most experts to be the only way out, a political solution for Iraq.

The very language the president vetoed was a clear plan. It was the Biden-Levin language in the first veto, the president made. And it said, take them out of harm's way; do not have American troops policing and being involved in the civil war; use them to train Iraqi forces; get them out of this civil war.

I've laid out an absolutely clear plan. And we have to keep laying that plan out, keep coming back, not that it's going to change the president's mind, Wolf, but it's going to change the votes of Republicans as pressure builds on them.

None of this matter until 17 senators, who are Republicans, start voting with us, with the troops and not with the president. Until that day, all the rest is just rhetoric. All the rest doesn't mean anything. Votes matter. I'm the only one who's offered a clear, precise, political solution to get our troops out of Iraq.

BLITZER: Here's what Senator John Edwards, himself a Democratic presidential candidate, told me in "The Situation Room" earlier in the week. I want you to listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president's not going to negotiate about this, Wolf.

How clear could anything be? He will not negotiate. He will not compromise. He does not think he's capable of doing anything wrong. He has to be stopped. And the power that the Congress has is its constitutional power to fund. And they need to use that power to force this president down a different course. It's that simple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You want to respond to Senator Edwards?

BIDEN: No.

BLITZER: All right. You don't have to respond to him if you don't want to. But what about the argument that this is...

BIDEN: I mean, look, Wolf...

BLITZER: Go ahead.

BIDEN: This gets down to how do you change this war, Wolf?

Do you think the president of the United States, over the next four months -- this is only a four-month funding bill, for four months -- do you think, by us cutting off funding, he's going to withdraw troops?

And what do you think is going to happen to those troops in the field, as they run out of money?

Do you think this guy's going to pull them out? I'm not about to do that.

And the second point I'd make is, the president's not likely to change his mind. I've never made that argument. From the very beginning, since I offered the nonbinding resolution to the binding resolution, the president vetoed.

The only point about all of this is you've got to change the minds of 17 Republican votes, 17. And look what's happening, Wolf. Twenty-some Republican House members get in an automobile and drive down to see the president a couple weeks ago -- you reported on it -- telling him, Mr. President, your time is running out. You had Trent Lott, the number two leader, from Mississippi, in the Republican Party, saying, it's going to be over by September. You had the present minority leader of the United States Senate, the senator from Kentucky, talking about benchmarks.

There's not 12 Republican senators who think what this president is doing makes any sense. And my job as the leader of the Democrats on foreign policy, is to continue to push and push and push and push -- not that I'm going to change the president's mind. We're going to change the mind of 17 senators.

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: And look what's happening...

BLITZER: I was going to say -- let me interrupt for a second, though, Senator Biden.

In addition to being the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, you also want to get the Democratic presidential nomination.

How worried are you that, politically, this vote is going to cost you with Democrats who oppose the war?

BIDEN: Look, I know -- I know what the right political vote was. But some things just aren't worth it, Wolf. I'm not running for president to get the nomination by any cost.

I think it would have been wrong to cut the funding off, number one. Number two, the Democrats are a lot smarter than everybody thinks they are. They're not -- everybody is not moveon.org. And I respect them. I respect their frustration.

But the vast majority of people out here in Iowa -- I did five town meetings yesterday on Iraq. No one criticized my vote. They're a lot more sophisticated, Wolf. They understand that it's about who can end this war.

Does anybody -- do you think any Democrat thinks that, if we cut off the funding, this war would have ended tomorrow?

Do you think that was going to happen, and you think the president then vetoes it, and we need 67 votes?

I mean, it's about time we tell -- you know, that old phrase everybody loves to use, "speak truth to power" -- we have not been telling the American people the truth about this war from day one.

We're not telling the truth now about how to end the war. It requires a specific proposal, a plan whereby you are going to find a political solution, while beginning, immediately, to draw down American forces. We need 67 votes to get that done.

BLITZER: OK. The president says the stakes are simply enormous, the stakes if the U.S. were to be defeated in Iraq. Listen to what he said this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: David Petraeus called Al Qaida public enemy number one in Iraq. I agree with him. And Al Qaida is public enemy number one in America. Seems like to me that if they're public enemy number one here, we want to help defeat them in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think of the president's logic?

BIDEN: Malarkey. Malarkey. My seventh trip back to Iraq, I went to be debriefed by the president of the United States in the Roosevelt Room with his war cabinet -- secretary of state, secretary of defense, national security adviser, the head of our command in Iraq, as well as our ambassador to Iraq on a television screen.

The president said essentially the same thing, and I said, "Mr. President, if the lord almighty came down and sat in the middle of this table and looked at you and said, 'Mr. President, I guarantee you every single solitary jihadi, every single solitary Al Qaida person is dead, you still have a major war on your hands, killing thousands of Americans, Mr. President, in Iraq. You've got to get them out of there. You've got to get them out of there.'"

Iraq and Al Qaida have become a Bush-fulfilling prophecy. Al Qaida was not there when we went. It is there now. But it's a major -- it's a minor part of the problem. It is a civil war. The president knows where Al Qaida is. The president knows where bin Laden probably is. It's in western Pakistan. What are we doing there? What are we doing to deal really with protecting the homeland here, with the 9/11 Commission recommendations, none of which has he funded?

This is a red herring. This is, again, reaching down to appeal to fear -- incite fear in the American people, to keep an absolutely,, devastatingly mishandled war, going. And I find it -- I'm tired of it. I'm must tell you, I'm tired of it.

BLITZER: My interview is coming up with the prime minister of Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz. Are you confident that the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, is doing everything, he and his military and his government, his intelligence service, can be doing right now, to fight Al Qaida, to find Osama bin Laden, along that border between Pakistan and Afghanistan? BIDEN: No, and I'll tell you why, Wolf. The same reason why India and the rest of that part of the world looks at us. They see us not having a sound policy in Afghanistan. If we were as robustly involved in Afghanistan, which is a legitimate war, a war we must win, you would find Musharraf much more emboldened to take on the extremists within his government, including his own ISI, his secret service in Pakistan.

But they look at Afghanistan, they wonder whether or not we have the plan and we're going to be able to generate the kind of stability there we need. And they're already starting to cut their losses. Look at the deal Musharraf made with the tribal chiefs along that no man's land, that is very, very much against the position United States has in Afghanistan. What happens, Wolf, is when big nations seem not to be for backing up commitments they made about stabilizing Afghanistan, it changes the calculus of Musharraf. The best way to get Musharraf to do a lot more is to demonstrate that we are able to bring stability to Afghanistan.

The way to do that is to end this war in Iraq, redirect our resources, bring in more NATO forces into Afghanistan, stabilize that country and you'll see the backbone of Musharraf increase considerably.

BLITZER: Senator Joe Biden is a Democratic presidential candidate, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

BIDEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks for coming in this holiday weekend.

BIDEN: Thanks an awful lot, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, remember, to our viewers, you can see Senator Biden and all the presidential candidates when they debate live from New Hampshire on CNN. The Democrats battle on Sunday, June 3rd. The Republicans go at it Tuesday, June 5th, only here on CNN.

And coming up on "Late Edition," the GOP presidential candidates united in criticizing the Democrats this week over funding the Iraq war. More on that and everything else political with the best political team on television.

But straight ahead, is Pakistan knowingly hiding Osama bin Laden? I'll ask the Pakistani prime minister in an exclusive Sunday interview.

That's coming up next on "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Pakistan is a nuclear power, a crucial ally of the United States in the war on terror, and a nation now facing some serious political turmoil. All of that, a very, very dangerous combination, with the stakes enormous. Can the government of President Pervez Musharraf maintain control and continue to fight Al Qaida and the Taliban in the face of street protests in major Pakistani cities?

To answer these questions and more, I had an exclusive Sunday interview with the Pakistani prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, in Islamabad, just a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Prime Minister, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to "Late Edition." I want to get right to the issue of immediate concern, the situation along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. I want to play for you what President Pervez Musharraf said here in Washington last September when he visited with President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PRESIDENT OF PAKISTAN: There will be no Al Qaida activity in our tribal agencies or across the border in Afghanistan. There will be no Taliban activity in our tribal agencies or across in Afghanistan. There will be no Talibanization.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Prime Minister, those were very strong words. I remember them vividly. But by almost all accounts, the situation has gotten increasingly worse and more dangerous with the apparent activity of Taliban and Al Qaida forces in Pakistan in those tribal areas. What is going on?

AZIZ: Yes, Wolf. First of all, what the president said at the time is very valid and very true. As you know, at that time people were talking about the spring offensive.

And spring, as you know, has come and gone and there was no evidence of any spring offensive. The reason for that is better patrolling, better policing on our side, and more activity on the Afghan side.

Obviously, Pakistan can influence any activity where there is cross-border movement. But the real issue is what happens in Afghanistan where also the forces -- allied forces and the Afghan forces are making progress.

So we have seen, by and large, a reduction in activity across the border. We have now more troops than ever before. We have fencing in selective areas and we are doing more fencing to prevent movement of unnecessary and elements who will create issues of security in both sides.

BLITZER: But it seems...

AZIZ: May I also say, Wolf, that we have three million...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a moment, Prime Minister. Excuse me for interrupting. But it seems like in those tribal areas, Al Qaida and Taliban forces have almost free reign right now.

Listen to what President Bush said in February, listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Taliban and Al Qaida fighters do hide in remote regions of Pakistan. This is wild country. This is wilder than the Wild West. And these folks hide and recruit and launch attacks.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: And as you know, Prime Minister, there were reports that when the vice president, Dick Cheney, visited with President Musharraf not that long ago, he urged the president to get tough, to go in there and deal with this problem, presumably because Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number one and number two of Al Qaida, are still at large and believed to be in that area.

AZIZ: Well, let me say, Wolf, as I was trying to say earlier, that we have three million-plus refugees in camps in Pakistan. And these camps serve as a safe have for elements crossing back and forth. That is why we are fencing. That is why we are increasing troops on the Pakistani side, to prevent people from coming.

May I also say that in Pakistan, we have caught more terrorists than anybody else. Also, Pakistan -- the government of Pakistan, the people of Pakistan are committed to opposing terrorism in all of its forms. The solution to the Afghan situation lies in Afghanistan. That battle has to be won in Afghanistan.

And because of our proximity and 1,700-mile porous border with Afghanistan, we have paid a huge price. But we are committed to fighting terrorism. We are committed to working with the rest of the world, including the United States, to reduce the risk of terrorism to the world. Because terrorism is no solution to any problem. Terrorism has to be fought.

And the battle in Afghanistan, Wolf, is the battle to win the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan. This is an indigenous movement, supported by many elements. But the battle has to be won in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Here is the way The New York Times reported the situation on May 20th. In their lead sentence, the story said this: "The United States is continuing to make large payments of roughly $1 billion a year to Pakistan for what it calls reimbursements for the country's military for conducting counterterrorism efforts along the border with Afghanistan, even though Pakistan's president decided eight months ago to slash patrols through the area where Al Qaida and Taliban fighters are most active."

As you know, you are facing a serious problem, Prime Minister, here in Washington. American politicians are getting anxious about whether or not Pakistan is doing what it said it would be doing and all of this money going for this effort.

AZIZ: Wolf, may I take you back to what was being said about the spring offensive? As I just mentioned to you, the spring -- spring has come and gone. We are in the midst of summer, and there was no spring offensive.

We are totally committed, and your government knows it, to fighting terrorism. We want to use all our resources because it is in our national interest to prevent terrorism from spreading anywhere. We will continue this.

BLITZER: Excuse me for interrupting, Prime Minister, but why not simply go into those areas? You have got the military capability. You have got a major military, a major army, go in there and root out the terrorists?

AZIZ: But, Wolf, that is exactly what we are doing -- 80,000- plus troops, several hundred border posts, a lot of paramilitary forces, they are engaged every day. And if you look at the reports from that area, we engage and we confront and there are casualties on both sides.

That is why the spring offensive did not occur, because Pakistan took measures. Also there were measures on the Afghan side by the forces which are there. So we -- both sides have to work together.

I think we have to make sure we understand that a blame game will not help. Our commitment is very, very clear because we believe it is in our national interests. Terrorism is no friend of anybody. If Pakistan ends up with more such people coming from the Afghan side, it will disturb our security.

BLITZER: All right.

AZIZ: And that is why we are taking all of the measures to prevent this from happening. And may I say that the cooperation between the U.S., the NATO and allied troops in Afghanistan, and the Pakistani forces, is very, very intense. And that is why we have been able to contain the situation.

May I say, however, that the hearts and minds of the Afghan people have to be won. They need development. They need more income. They need to stop production of drugs. The drug money is creating a big challenge for the world.

And if there is a nexus between drug money and global terrorism, these are concerns Pakistan has expressed and we are working with all of our friends, including the United States, to tackle this issue effectively.

BLITZER: Here is what the director of national intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell, testified before the U.S. Congress back in -- at the end of February. I want to play it for you and you tell me if you agree with him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADM. MIKE MCCONNELL, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The best of our knowledge is the senior leadership, number one and number two, are there, and they are attempting to reestablish and rebuild and to establish training camps. My belief is the attack most likely would be planned and come out of the leadership in Pakistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And he is referring to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two, and Osama bin Laden. The best U.S. intelligence assessment is they are there hiding along the border in Pakistan right now. And if there is another major attack at the United States, it could be organized from there. Do you agree with that assessment?

AZIZ: We don't agree with the assessment. And may I say that we cannot respond to, obviously, general statements. What we have always said, if there is tangible evidence, please tell us.

We have troops there, as I just said. We have paramilitary forces. We believe that we don't have these people in our territory. And frankly, if they have a choice, they would much rather be in a territory which is totally free for everybody.

In Pakistan's case, with the fencing, with the troops, with all of the other paramilitary forces we have there, there is no incentive for them to come there. We have no tangible evidence to corroborate what was just said.

BLITZER: How worried should Americans be, Prime Minister, about the political stability in Pakistan? It is a nuclear country, as you know, and President Musharraf is facing some serious opposition.

We have seen some violence on the streets of various Pakistani cities, especially following the resignation -- the forced resignation of the Pakistani Supreme Court chief justice, Chief Justice Chaudhry, who said this: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The courts must be independent. Courts should remain free from the pressure of the executive."

How worried should Americans be about President Musharraf's grip on power given the stakes involved?

AZIZ: Let me say that our government believes in an independent judiciary, and we have always promoted that. The matter regarding the chief justice is sub judice, so I can't go into the details except I would say that whatever the government did was in line with our constitution and our laws.

And now the matter is before the Supreme Court and the Supreme Judicial Council. They will rule on it and will express their judgment whenever they have completed their deliberations.

May I say that in the case of your comments on the stability in the country, the country is as stable as ever. The economy is growing. The people are going about their lives. There is, from the legal community, a reaction. And they come out and express their views.

Pakistan is a country where the media and the people are free to express their views. Parliament is free with an active opposition. They express their views. And this is part of any emerging democracy.

So my view and our collective view is that we have an environment which is healthy, where we are encouraging different points of view to come across. And the country is going about.

If you look at some of the indicators, Wolf, the stock market, in the last two weeks, has touched the highest level ever in the history of the country. The foreign investment and domestic investment is at peak levels.

The exchange rate is stable. The reserves are the highest. So all indicators of any uneasiness are going -- heading in the right direction.

BLITZER: All right.

AZIZ: But if you see a few thousand people protesting in the streets, Pakistan is a country of 165 million people. And we allow people to go and express their views. We allow people to disagree with the government.

I think that is healthy, because that is the sign of an open society, a tolerant society, and a country which is following democratic principles.

BLITZER: We are almost out of time, but a quick question. Will you allow Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister, to come back to Pakistan to stand for the elections that are scheduled in the coming months?

AZIZ: Well, Wolf, that is a legal issue.

AZIZ: And I believe there are a lot of cases which are pending. In her situation, she has to decide and get a legal answer as to what will happen. But we have said publicly that she will not be able to participate in the elections because of her own legal complications, which she has to settle with the courts.

BLITZER: And other politicians who are in exile who would like to come back, will they be allowed to come back?

AZIZ: There are only -- there are two main parties who are there. And they all have to consult their legal advisers to see whether they are technically allowed under our statutes and our laws. The election laws are there. And they have to get legal advice to decide what they have to do.

But having said that, their parties are active in parliament. Their parties are participating in every facet of activity. And they form an active part of the opposition in the parliament.

BLITZER: Prime Minister, we have to leave it right there. Thanks very much for joining us. And good luck.

AZIZ: It was a pleasure, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Shaukat Aziz, the prime minister of Pakistan.

And coming up on "Late Edition," Democrats in Congress gave the president what he wanted, an Iraq war funding bill without timelines. But what price will they pay for their votes?

I'll discuss that and much more with the best political team on television. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We just received more tragic news on this Memorial Day weekend here in the United States. The U.S. military now reporting two more American soldiers were kill by an IED, an improvise explosive device, as they patrolled in Baghdad. Four soldiers were wounded.

And that brings the total U.S. military deaths in May, so far, to 103, only one less than in April, which was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq in a long time.

Our thoughts go out to the families of all those, as we remember them on this Memorial Day weekend here in the United States.

And this weekend also, you can turn frequent flier miles into hero miles. Fisher House will use those miles to transport service men and women wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families to treatment centers around the country. Go to fisherhouse.org now and you can donate your frequent flier miles this weekend and participating airlines will match your contribution.

Coming up at the top of the hour, right after "Late Edition", "This Week at War" with Tom Foreman.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. It's been a very busy week in Washington and out on the campaign trail.

So let's get right to our discussion of all things political with our White House correspondents, Ed Henry and Elaine Quijano, and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Candy, you heard Joe Biden here on "Late Edition," just a little while ago, defend his vote in favor of the war funding bill for Iraq. I want to play a little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: I think the vote was the only vote I could possibly cast. And here we are on Memorial Day, talking about the need to take care of and protect those we put in the field and take care of those we bring home. I couldn't, in good conscience, vote to cut off the funding for them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Political fallout: how much is that going to hurt him within the Democratic primary?

CROWLEY: Well, the Democratic primary voters are very anti-war. So this could hurt him. But you know, what we're looking at is so many votes down the line, before we get to January, that there are equal opportunities coming up for Joe Biden to vote against it.

And as he said on your show, look, we need 17 more Republicans. Who knows? By January, they may have it. So it's not the last vote.

But does it hurt him? Yes, of course, it hurts him. There is a very active wing of the Democratic party which is very anti-war.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, there was a serious little squabble between John McCain and Barack Obama over this whole vote, John McCain strongly supporting the war funding bill, Barack Obama opposing it; McCain saying this, "I was very disappointed to see Senator Obama and Senator Clinton embrace the policy of surrender by voting against funds to support our brave men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. This vote may win favor with MoveOn and liberal primary voters, but it's the equivalent of white flag to Al Qaida.

To which Barack Obama replied, "Governor Romney and Senator McCain clearly believe the course we are on in Iraq is working, but I do not.

BLITZER: "And if there was ever a reflection of that, it's the fact that Senator McCain required a flack jacket, 10 armored Humvees, two Apache attack helicopters and 100 soldiers with rifles by his side to stroll through a market in Baghdad just a few weeks ago."

It's getting pretty rough out there, Ed.

HENRY: That's right. And John McCain has a clear political purpose to be jumping on Senators Obama and Clinton because he's in very deep, obviously, in terms of advocating for a long time this increase of U.S. troops on the ground. The verdict still out on whether or not it's working.

But let's face it. He's also putting his finger, John McCain is, on a real potential problem down the road for Senators Obama and Clinton. As Candy was saying, in the short-term, this could be really good for Obama and Clinton. The left is very angry about the war.

But as Joe Biden and John McCain are putting their finger on, down the road, in a potential general election, this would hurt Obama or Clinton, if they're the nominee, in terms of their commander in chief credentials, in terms of cutting off funding for troops, at least politically looking that way. That could be very difficult to explain to the American people down the road.

BLITZER: Elaine, you cover the White House. And this week, we heard the president, effectively, praising the Iraq Study Group, something he hasn't necessarily done that much in recent weeks and months. Let me play a little clip for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The recommendations of Baker-Hamilton appeal to me. And that is to be embedded and to train and to guard the territorial integrity of the country and to special forces to chase down Al Qaida. But I didn't think we could get there unless we increased the troop levels to secure the capital.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What's behind this effusive praise, now, all of a sudden, from the White House, including the president, for the Iraq Study Group?

QUIJANO: Well, when you hear officials privately talk about this, they say, "Look, the president, while they may not have done a good job initially when the report came out, talking about what they did agree with, and talking about commonalities, they say that look, these ideas are ideas that the president has sort of supported all along, but this idea of adding more U.S. forces to try to stabilize the situation first is something that the right in line with some of these recommendations."

They say, "Look, all of this talk about whether or not there was a plan B," they say, "look, there has been a plan B. Do not mistake the absence of a public discussion of a plan B for the absence of a plan B." They say, "Of course we're not going to talk about contingencies. Why? Because that would undermine the commanders. It wouldn't be good strategy."

So when you hear people talk behind the scenes about embracing some of these recommendations, they say, "It's not so far off the mark from what the president all along had been thinking."

BLITZER: You know, Candy, there are all these reports now coming out, that maybe coincidentally, maybe not, that in 2008, there's going to be a dramatic decrease in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

CROWLEY: Exactly. I mean, it's -- first of all, love to know who leaked it. I mean, I think it is indicative of a struggle within the White House as to what's going to go on next. I mean, this report we saw in The New York times yesterday about there would be a major deescalation, a major troop withdrawal.

Look, you know, even if there are not '08 intentions in things that people do, there are '08 implications. And certainly, the number of troops on the ground has enormous '08 implications.

BLITZER: Well, how about that, Ed Henry? You cover the White House, like Elaine. How concerned are officials at the White House about what the president does in Iraq could have an enormous spillover on Republicans running for other office, including for president of the United States? This president, obviously, can't get himself reelected.

HENRY: Well, they insist that they're not really worried about the political implications. But let's face it. This president is facing enormous heat already from Republicans. They're worried, and that's why we saw those moderates a few weeks ago, go to the White House. They weren't just talking about the war itself. They were talking about the political ramifications for Republicans.

You've got every single House member up. You've got a couple dozen Republican senators facing reelection. And the ones that are facing reelection, is Senate moderates, if you will, like Susan Collins, they're up and they're going to face the voters. You're right. The president won't.

And they're the ones who are really speaking out saying, "Boy, if we don't see a lot of progress by September when General Petraeus reports, we're really going to need a course correction." And so as much as the White House wants to say, "Oh, we're not looking at 2008," it's the elephant in the room. And the fact of the matter is, whoever the Republican nominee is, say next summer, in 2008, they're going to be pressuring this White House to get more troops -- publicly, privately, get more troops out of Iraq.

No matter what they're saying now the fact is, the Republican nominee is not going to want to be facing the voters with the same kind of U.S. troop foot imprint that there is right now. That's just a fact.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by for a moment. We have a lot more to talk about including John Edwards versus Rudy Giuliani on the war on terror. The rhetoric, heating up, big-time.

Also, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson was on "Meet The Press" today. Hear what he had to say on our "In Case You Missed it" segment. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More of our political panel in just a moment, but now, "In Case You Missed It." Let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

On NBC and CBS, the discussion focused on Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-ALA.: I think most of the people in Congress believe, unless something extraordinary occurs, that we should be on a move to draw that surge number down. I don't believe we need a soldier in Iraq a single day longer than is necessary to serve our national interest.

SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-MICH.: Unless the Iraqi political leaders make the political compromises which are essential to end the violence, that there will be a consequence in the reduction of American support, militarily, politically, and economically. There must be no ambiguity.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, D-N.M.: The Iraqis are not necessarily, today, helpless. They have 300,000 security forces. They have 150 billion in oil reserves. They've had three elections, so, they have a constitution. They have democratic institutions. It is time for them to take over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Looks like Bill Richardson got a haircut for "Meet the Press."

Much more of our coverage, our political panel, right after a short break. And also, you can catch highlights from today's show on our new and improved "Late Edition" podcast. Just log on to cnn.com/podcast. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Once again, I'm joined by three of the best political team on television. Our White House correspondents Ed Henry and Elaine Quijano, and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Elaine, Andy Card, the former White House chief of staff, goes back to is home state of Massachusetts, gets an honorary degree this weekend at the University of Massachusetts. And watch what happens. He gets roundly booed, placards that come up, "honor grads dis-card."

I guess this is indicative of the mood out there, at least on some college campuses.

QUIJANO: Well, certainly, the passions on the war run deep, and the Bush administration has said in the past when it comes to demonstrations, they've turned it to say, you know, it's a good expression of democracy at work, a vibrant, thriving democracy.

What's interesting about this is a lot of times, of course, when the president speaks, a lot of the audiences are friendly audiences. It's not often that you see this. And of course, Andy Card, no longer in the West Wing, but still, to see this, an indication of the depth of passion out there.

BLITZER: You can see him to the left of the screen, trying to put up a smile, at least, under difficult circumstances.

Candy, this new "Des Moines Register" poll that came out this week. In Iowa, among caucus goers, likely Democratic caucus goers, Edwards, John Edwards comes in with 29 percent; Barack Obama, 23 percent; Hillary Clinton third, 21 percent. But there's almost a five-point margin of error.

This notion of Hillary Clinton not going to Iowa, not competing there was floated this week. What do you make of it?

CROWLEY: Well, I make of it that somebody interesting leaked that. Leaked that memo. Because it was an internal memo from the deputy campaign manager, saying, here's my proposal. Because all of these big states are now coming in early, let's skip Iowa.

Well, as you know, that gets out, and it immediately causes quite a stir in Iowa.

Look, they say she's in it to stay. That was just a suggestion from the campaign.

Obviously, you could look at it and say, well, it's a good excuse if she should lose Iowa. The poll numbers I think indicate what's going on there, which is that in fact, John Edwards has spent a lot of time and a lot of money in Iowa. If he doesn't win Iowa, he's gone.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, speaking of Hillary Clinton, how worried should she and her campaign be about these new books, one by Carl Bernstein, another by a pair of New York Times reporters, coming out in the next few days on her life?

HENRY: Well, on one hand, any time there are fresh questions raised about a candidate this much in the spotlight, they have to be at least a little bit nervous. But I thought the reaction from her spokesman, Philippe Reines, when he said that previous books were, in his eyes, cash for trash. This time, it's really cash for rehash. It was kind of a good line, because when you look at it, a lot of this stuff has been out there. Maybe there are some new details here and there, but the notion that Hillary Clinton is very ambitious, the notion that both she and Bill Clinton had this grand plan for both of them to get power -- I mean, that's been out there before. It's not a big shock that she's very ambitious.

Some of the details may get messy. Whether she was covering for some of her husband's alleged infidelities -- that certainly can hurt her. And so, they have to be a little bit nervous, but I think the idea that a lot of this is rehash in the end could end up helping them, that it's not really a lot new.

BLITZER: Candy, you agree?

CROWLEY: I do. I think anytime it comes up, it's a problem, but it's coming up, first of all, pretty early in the cycle -- although it seems late to all of us -- and there isn't anything new.

I think what it does is solidify opinions about Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: Over at the White House, looking ahead this week, Elaine, what do we expect the president to be doing? It's sort of starts off with a holiday on Monday.

QUIJANO: Yes, but then Tuesday, he's going to Georgia. He's going to be going to a law enforcement training center, and the picture of the day there really is him talking about comprehensive immigration, but really hitting the message of security first, because of course, the conservative elements of the party, the Republican Party, are up in arms over this immigration bill. They see it as amnesty. So he's going to enforce -- reinforce that message of security and try to get that message out there.

BLITZER: Elaine, Candy and Ed Henry, three of the best here on "Late Edition." Thanks very much, guys, for coming in.

And that is your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, May 27th. For our international viewers, stand by for world news. And for those of you in North America, "This Week at War" starts right now with Tom Foreman -- Tom.

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

Search
© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines