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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interviews With Robert Gates, Benazir Bhutto, Hamid Karzai

Aired August 5, 2007 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 11 a.m. here in Washington, 10 a.m. in Minneapolis, 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." The death toll in this week's Minnesota bridge collapse stands at five. But at least eight people are still missing, and as divers search for bodies, the big unanswered question remains this: What went so horribly wrong?
Joining us now from Minneapolis is the man leading the investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board chairman, Mark Rosenker. Thanks so much for coming in. And let me get right to the issue. Are you narrowing in on what went so poshly wrong, the cause of this collapse?

MARK ROSENKER, NTSB CHAIRMAN: Every day, Wolf, we make progress. It's going to be a slow, tedious investigation. It's going to be thorough, and it's going to be comprehensive, and we will ultimately, I really believe, understand what happened here, provide a probable cause and make recommendations to prevent it from happening anywhere else in the United States.

But before I go any further, if you don't mind, Wolf, I want to thank Governor Pawlenty, and I want to thank Mayor Rybak, all of the local officials that have been working with us. I can tell you this is a textbook effort of federal, state and local agencies coming together in a very, very tragic situation to help the people of Minneapolis get back on their feet and get the Mississippi River open.

And this has been an outstanding effort from all involved, and particularly want to applaud all of those first responders and volunteers that came to help the victims that came into the water and were on that ramp. Lives were saved because of their heroic efforts.

BLITZER: You've suggested that the south side of this I-35W bridge, based on that video that we've all seen by now of the bridge going down, that that collapsed in a different way than the rest of the bridge and is giving you potentially a really significant clue. I wonder if you could explain why you think that shift on the south side of the bridge is so significant.

ROSENKER: Well, it's an interesting collapse pattern. It actually shifted to the east about 81 feet. Now, we examined as much as we possibly can, and we have not found anything. We have found a lot of what we would call the stress cracks. These are cracks as a result of the collapse, not an initiation, if you will, of the accident. So we are continuing to look there. We are also looking at the north and we are going to get, we believe, significantly more clues when MNDOT begins to bring up the deck and also the superstructure, which is in the water. That, we believe, is going to show us some significant interest.

BLITZER: MNDOT is the Minnesota Department of Transportation. You've also created a computerized model of this entire bridge. Actually, a professor there in Minnesota did that.

And what you're going to do, I suspect, at least this is what you've suggested, is you're going to go through the potential weak spots, because some have described this bridge, this steel truss bridge as basically a house of cards. If one part goes down the rest of it is simply going to collapse.

ROSENKER: Well, there's no redundancy built into this bridge. That was the design that came back in 1967, when it was originally built. But we've got a wonderful advanced model, a computer model which is going to help us significantly understand what happened.

But it's going to take us some time. We're actually going to begin doing some failure analysis even as early as tomorrow, but the more data we are able to put into it, the more accurate picture we get. So it's going to be a number of months before we get all of our data.

The FBI has been extremely helpful and been one of our partners in doing all of our documentation for us. They have a very advanced 3-D camera that was able to get all the mapping done on the center section of the bridge within a less than a 24-hour period.

That data has been presented to us. We're bringing it back to Washington. Other data is going to be continued as we bring up more of the bridge structure itself. MNDOT has been given permission by the NTSB to start that removal process, and they're doing it. They've got a meeting with their contractor today. And within a day or two, they'll actually begin recovering that activity.

BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, as you know, some 760 of these bridges of a similar design to the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis were built around that same period. And 264 of them are deemed by the Department of Transportation as structurally deficient.

What are you doing right now to make sure that one or two or three or more of those bridges similar in design to this one that collapsed, don't cause a similar kind of catastrophe elsewhere around the country?

ROSENKER: Well, we're investigating the bridge accident that happened here in Minneapolis. Other federal agencies, like the Federal Highway Administration, has taken action to take a more rigorous investigation of those kinds of bridges. The secretary of transportation called for the inspector general at the D.O.T. to do an overall investigation of the actual policies and procedures of the national bridge inspection program. So, we're looking forward to seeing what they are doing, as well.

BLITZER: Are you also looking at the investigations themselves, the inspections of these various bridges? Because the bridge in Minneapolis, while deemed structurally deficient, was still deemed safe. And as a result, 100,000 cars a day, if not more, crossed that bridge through the city of Minneapolis. Are you taking a look at how the specialists go out there and inspect, investigate, to see if there are significant structural damaged parts?

ROSENKER: MNDOT has been extremely cooperative with this investigation. They're a party to our investigation. They provided us with all the documentation we have asked for. We've got the last three investigative reports from the past seven years. We've asked for ten years preceding that.

We're going through those reports line by line to understand exactly where the various weaknesses are, and then program those weaknesses into the computer. We're also going to be taking that, those diagrams, the actual reports translating the weaknesses into the bridge diagram, taking that diagram and going and finding the actual parts and the superstructure and actually doing a visible check of something that we can actually look at.

And then if in fact we really believe it's necessary, cut it and take the part which we are interested in back to Washington for a metallurgical survey.

BLITZER: One final question, Mr. Chairman. Is there any evidence you've come across so far pointing to some sort of criminal neglect?

ROSENKER: No, sir. Right now we are treating this as a catastrophic accident. And we're going to continue to do that unless there's anything that shouts out at us. And at this point, it appears to be a catastrophic accident.

BLITZER: Mark Rosenker is the lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. Good luck to you and all the men and women who are involved in this investigation. We're counting on to you come up with the answer to make sure we don't suffer a similar problem down the road.

ROSENKER: We'll do that.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Coming up, the defense secretary of the United States, Robert Gates. He's just back from the Middle East. We'll profile the man shaking up the face of the war over at the Pentagon. And then we'll speak with him right here on "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. In our next hour, we'll get more on the latest recovery efforts in Minnesota. The state's governor, Tim Pawlenty, will be joining us live.

But first, the defense secretary, Robert Gates. He spent the week meeting with U.S. allies in the Middle East. Gates' performance is generating a lot less criticism than that of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. Here's some background from our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After more than seven months in office, Defense Secretary Robert Gates appears determined to not be Donald Rumsfeld when it comes to the war in Iraq.

GATES: I think that there is a great reluctance to engage in happy talk about this.

STARR: He says he's discouraged about the lack of political progress in Iraq, telling reporters, "We probably all underestimated the depth of the mistrust and how difficult it would be. Gates is implementing an Iraq policy put in place before he came, but if the Iraqi government doesn't get its act together, he may find himself in the crosshairs.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: He may need to play a much more forceful role and he'll be ready when that time is appropriate.

STARR: For now, Gates' main appeal? Cooling off the Rumsfeld era of Pentagon drama.

O'HANLON: He's not a person who needs his fix of public visibility every week.

STARR: He has good relations with Congress and he says he likes the press.

GATES: The press is not the enemy.

STARR: But recently, a very unexpected moment.

GATES: Every evening, I write notes to the families of young Americans like Doug Zembiec. For you and for me, they are not names on a press release or numbers updated on a Web site. They are our country's sons and daughters.

STARR (on camera): And that's what people are watching for. When will this secretary of defense have another unexpected moment when he may have to be the one who tells the president that the latest Iraq plan may not be working?

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just a few moments ago I spoke with the Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He just returned from meeting with U.S. allies in the Middle East.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. Defense Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the U.S. military strategy in Iraq right now, what you call this surge. Is it working?

GATES: Yes, I think the effort underway to dampen the violence, particularly, and that caused by the Baathists and by Al Qaida, is working as well as we would have hoped, both in Anbar province and now in the belts around Baghdad, where we now have the sufficient force that these groups in the past would squirt out when we would move in, and now we have the force to attack all of their primary havens simultaneously.

BLITZER: So militarily, you're making progress, and I assume that will come out in General Petraeus' report in mid-September. What about politically? What about the overall political goals that you and the Iraqi government have put forward?

GATES: I would say there the picture is quite mixed. On the positive side, we've had some very interesting developments in Anbar province and Diyala and some of the other provinces and local areas.

BLITZER: Working with local officials?

GATES: Working with local officials, who have flipped, who are enlisting their young men in the police, who are cooperating. They're helping us find IEDs. It's really been quite a remarkable evolution over the past several months.

BLITZER: But what about the national government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki?

GATES: The disappointing part of this, of course, is the lack of significant progress at the national level and the Sunni withdrawal from the government -- although individual ministers remain in place, Sunni ministers, like the minister of defense is still in place.

BLITZER: He's a Sunni.

GATES: He's a Sunni. But their difficulty in coming to grips and getting this legislation passed is clearly a concern. We've been working with them on this for months.

I think we may all months ago have underestimated the degree of deep mistrust that underpins these differences and their inability to come to closure on some of these legislative packages that are important.

The other side of that is, though, that in many ways, the legislation that we want to see them pass are almost like our constitutional convention, in that they will shape the country for decades to come. And so I guess if you look at it from a longer perspective, it's not surprising that they are having trouble getting them over the finish line.

BLITZER: Here's a concern that a lot of experts are suggesting, is that militarily, General Petraeus, the 160,000 U.S. troops, are making progress in the Al Anbar province, Diyala province. They're making it a little bit more secure.

But politically, this government of Nouri al-Maliki not stepping up to the plate. They haven't been able to get these de- Baathification laws in place, oil sharing agreement. They haven't been able to disarm the militias. They haven't been able to come forward with provincial elections. And the question is this: Will they ever be able to do any of that?

GATES: Oh, I think that they will. The question is how long it will take them to do it. And what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are going to have to weigh in their report is the balance of the progress on the military side and the local political achievements with the difficulties that are continuing at the national level.

BLITZER: Has Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki expressed concern to the U.S. government about the strategy that General Petraeus is undertaking, for example, in the Al Anbar province, trying to work with some of the Sunni leaders, arming them in going forward in the hunt for Al Qaida?

GATES: I don't know that the prime minister personally has said anything, but there clearly are some misgivings in the Shia part of the government with our reaching out to some of the Sunni tribes.

BLITZER: Because some of his aides -- some of Prime Minister al- Maliki's aides have suggested they'd like the U.S. military commander, General Petraeus, to leave, because they hate what he's doing working with these Sunni tribal leaders.

GATES: Well, and -- but the interesting thing is, I think the prime minister, a few weeks ago, had talked about wanting to get rid of all U.S. troops and then I guess in the last day or two, has had another press conference where he says, "Well, really, we don't want that to happen."

So I think that there's a lot of maneuvering going on in the government. But I think on the whole, there probably is some unease with our reaching out to the Sunnis and the tribal leaders.

BLITZER: Are you nervous about that? Because the fear is that the training, the equipment the U.S. is providing them now eventually will either be used as part of the civil war against the Shia, or will be turned against and used against the United States itself.

GATES: Well, we aren't arming them. There is no need to do that. Everybody in Iraq has several weapons, it looks like. We are providing them with some training and with some money.

But the reality is, if Iraq is to reconcile, if Iraq is to stabilize, it's going to involve people who have been in opposition deciding not to be in opposition anymore and joining up with the government.

And so, we have to -- I think there is a need to take some risk, some measured risk and, frankly, I'd defer to the judgment of the commanders in the field on that risk.

BLITZER: Here is what the number one U.S. commander, General Raymond Odierno, said on Wednesday. He said, "We think that based on the campaign plan, that we need forces here for a few more years. We need to have forces here on a deliberate fashion in order to accomplish what our goals are, which are a stable Iraq, able to operate in a regional construct that will not provide a safe haven for terror."

Is that your assessment as well, that U.S. forces will be needed in Iraq for what he says is a few more years?

GATES: One of the messages on my trip to the Middle East this last week was that we anticipate trying to work out with the Iraqi government an arrangement whereby there would be a residual presence of U.S. forces at some fraction of the current level that would be a stabilizing and supporting force in Iraq for some protracted period of time. So, I think that that's generally the view of almost anybody who is looking at this, that some kind of residual force for some period of time will be required beyond when we begin a drawdown.

BLITZER: But realistically, that 160,000 troops -- it was 130, you raised it by about 30,000 as part of this strategy, 160. When do you think you'll be able to start drawing that number down?

GATES: Well, I think we'll have to wait for the evaluation from Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus and their recommendation on that score before we're in a position to say.

BLITZER: So you're not working under any assumptions right now? You're just going to hold off making those decisions?

GATES: We're doing contingency planning on a lot of different possibilities. We intend to be in a position to execute whatever decisions the president makes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And when we come back, part two of my interview with the defense secretary, Robert Gates. Is he ready to bomb Al Qaida targets in Pakistan? "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Here's part two of my interview with the secretary of defense, Robert Gates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Here's what the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador in Iraq, told me on this program last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries are not doing all they can to help us in Iraq. Some of them are not only not helping, are doing things that are undermining the effort.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, you just came back from Saudi Arabia. Did you convey that message to the Saudis, what Ambassador Khalilzad said, that they're not doing what they should be doing in Iraq?

GATES: Well, actually, the Saudis conveyed their message to us about what the ambassador had to say. The reality is, I'm sure there's more that they could be doing. And one of the things that they've talked about at the end of Secretary Rice's and my visit was to take the next steps toward establishing an embassy in Baghdad.

BLITZER: Are they going to do it?

GATES: They are moving in that direction. They have given a significant amount of debt forgiveness. They are working with us overall in security in the region.

So I could say of every ally that we have, could they be doing more? Yes. That's true of our European allies in Afghanistan...

BLITZER: But a lot of the...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... al-Maliki -- and you know this -- is nothing more than an agent of Iran.

GATES: Well, one of the messages that we had for all of the governments that we met with in the Middle East is that this may be as good a government as you're going to get in Iraq, and if you reach out to that government, if you support that government, if you make them feel less nervous that you're trying to undermine them, then maybe you can draw them more into the Arab camp and keep them away from the Persian camp.

So you have a role in this, in terms of allaying their concerns, and you should begin there supporting them more aggressively.

BLITZER: Is Nouri al-Maliki, from the U.S. perspective, too close to the Iranians?

GATES: Actually, Maliki has taken a number of decisions that are very tough against the Iranians. He has authorized the operations where we have seized -- gone after the Iranian Quds Force people in Iraq trying to kill our soldiers. He has resisted Iranian requests to do certain things. He has made several decisions that were in Iraqi national interest and not in Iranian national interest. So I think he has actually established more independence from the Iranians than the popular perception is.

BLITZER: Later today and tomorrow, President Bush is going to be meeting with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. I spoke with him yesterday, and I asked him specifically what he thought of Iran's involvement in Afghanistan, and he surprised me by his answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. HAMID KARZAI, AFGHANISTAN: So far Iran has been a helper and a solution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that your assessment, that Iran has been helping the situation in Afghanistan?

GATES: I think Iran is playing both sides of the street in Afghanistan. I think they're doing some things to help the Afghan government. I think they're also doing things to help the Taliban, including providing weapons.

BLITZER: What about Pakistan and this notion that if you, the Bush administration, the U.S. government, had actionable intelligence to go in to Pakistan and capture or kill Osama bin Laden or his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, you would do that?

GATES: I think that our relationship with the Pakistanis is such that we would share that information with Musharraf, and he would be delighted to work with us in making that kind of an operation work.

BLITZER: Would he let the U.S. get the job done?

GATES: I think he would work with us to get the job done.

BLITZER: Would he...

GATES: And it may involve us. It may involve the Paks. It may involve both.

BLITZER: It sounds like you've been reassured that President Musharraf is now doing the right thing as far as Taliban and Al Qaida remnants along the border with Afghanistan, that that deal that he had worked out with the tribal leaders, that that's simply gone away and now he's going to get tough. Is that right?

GATES: I think he's realized that the deal with Waziristan didn't work, and he's sent a couple of divisions of troops up in there. The question is whether there will be a sustained campaign in those areas where the Taliban and Al Qaida have been hiding. At any event, what he already has done has began to flush some of them and get them on the move, so that's a very constructive thing from our standpoint. BLITZER: Is the U.S. any closer to finding Osama bin Laden today?

GATES: We're working the problem.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

GATES: That means we're working the problem.

BLITZER: But you can't tell us if you feel that you're getting closer and closer? I say this on a day when a new Al Qaida videotape has just been released, making all sorts of threats against the United States and U.S. interests around the world.

GATES: We are dedicating significant resources to trying to find him.

BLITZER: Secretary Gates, thanks for coming in. We hope you will be a more frequent visitor here on "Late Edition."

GATES: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And up next, we'll get a different point of view on the Iraq war strategy from the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin. He's here live. He's next, right here on "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We just heard from the defense secretary, Robert Gates. Let's get a different perspective on the war in Iraq right now from the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan.

And, Chairman, thanks for coming in.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do you think of his assessment that on the military front things are moving in the right direction. On the political front, as far as the national Iraqi government is concerned, he's not thrilled.

LEVIN: I don't disagree with him on the military. Although I think there will be ups and downs on the military, on the political failures of the Iraqi leadership, he is clearly right.

And since the whole purpose of the surge was to give the Iraqi political leaders the breathing space to reach a political settlement, the surge has not succeeded in its purpose, even if there are advances militarily since it is the political space which was the purpose of it is to be given to the Iraqi leaders. BLITZER: But he's still holding out hope that as the military front makes some progress, as there is progress with some of the local leaders, the tribal leaders in the various provinces, that the national government, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could still get its act together and do the right thing.

LEVIN: I didn't hear much hope about that. I thought he was very, very cautious about any political progress at the national level at all. And the progress at the local level is also military progress. That is not political progress.

BLITZER: But there is some political progress in working with these Sunni tribal leaders in the Al Anbar province or the Diyala province. I think that's what he was referring to.

LEVIN: Well, the political progress that are in the benchmarks, which have been adapted by the Iraqis for themselves, are political progress between the Iraqis, not between us and the sheikhs. And there's not only been a failure of political progress among the Iraqis, it's been going in the wrong direction when those Sunni leaders left the government, which many of them have. That is a move in the wrong direction. When the legislative body there took August off while our troops are dying in 130 degrees temperature, that is the wrong direction politically.

So it seems to me that the chances of political progress by mid- September are just about nil, and that's what the administration is going to have to finally recognize. How do you produce political progress?

There's only two ways. Force the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own country by telling them, "We're going to begin to reduce our presence" as a way of focusing their mind or a change in the Iraqi government to get a less sectarian government, one good candidate political progress.

BLITZER: Are you ready, though, to hold your fire until General Petraeus and the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, come up with their formal report mid-September -- it's only a few weeks away -- and see what they have to say before deciding?

Because you guys have already basically decided you would like a timeline for with drawing U.S. troops. But what if they come up with an assessment that gives you a different bottom line?

LEVIN: It's clear us to there is not going to be political progress by the middle of September and I think it's clear to the administration. This Iraqi government is unable to reconcile, to meet their own benchmarks. It's not our benchmarks that have been forced upon them. It's their own benchmarks that they have not met.

BLITZER: The oil sharing deal, whether disarming the militias, constitutional reform, local elections.

LEVIN: Exactly.

BLITZER: All these things that have been put forward, none which have yet been met.

LEVIN: And the only way they will make progress, the only hope is if they take the responsibility unto themselves and we end the open-ended military commitment so we are not going to give up on that as being the action-forcing mechanism representing the only hope of forcing the Iraqis.

BLITZER: Because the argument that's been made -- and I want to play a clip from the vice president, Dick Cheney. He was on Larry King's program earlier this week. Let me play this clip and then we'll talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I think it's going to show that we will have made significant progress. The reports I'm hearing from people whose views I respect indicate that, indeed, the Petraeus plan is, in fact, producing results.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's the vice president speaking. What do you say to the vice president?

LEVIN: He's been totally wrong, consistently wrong. He's misrepresented everything along the way. And even those words don't hit the point, which is it's the political progress which is the purpose of this surge. And that is what the measure must be in. He just said progress. He could be referring to some mixed, nonetheless, military progress, which is, I think, true.

BLITZER: Because I guess the argument that they make is there may be some hope for political progress right now, but if the military -- the U.S. military -- begins to withdraw from Iraq, then all hell breaks out in Iraq and any hope of political progress goes away.

LEVIN: They've been arguing that for years. What they need to do is put the pressure on the Iraqi government to solve their own problems. They won't do it with an open-ended military commitment on the part of the Americans.

They must take the responsibility politically. That means they must take some risks. Our men and women are taking all the risks in Iraq now. The politicians in Iraq are not taking the risk.

BLITZER: You saw that piece in The New York Times this week by these two Brookings Institution scholars, Michael O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack. "A War We Just Might Win" -- that was the headline.

Among other things, they said this: "We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily victory, but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with." I assume you read that.

LEVIN: I did.

BLITZER: What did you think?

LEVIN: Well, I think they're accurate in terms of there being some evidence of some military progress. But what they also point out is what every military commander and everybody who has any knowledge of the situation believes, which is that there's no hope of a military victory in Iraq. The only way to end the violence in Iraq is through a political settlement. They acknowledge that.

BLITZER: Here is what John McCain said earlier today at a Republican presidential debate on ABC. Listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: They are making progress and we are winning on the ground. And there are political solutions being arrived at all over Iraq today, not at the national level.

I'm disappointed, of course, that the Maliki government has not done what they need to do. But I'll tell you, it's not only in the national interest of the Iraqis, it's an American national interest. We are winning. We must win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that doable? Can the U.S. still win in Iraq?

LEVIN: Only the Iraqis can win. The only way to win it is through a political surge. The military surge's point and purpose and goal is to give the Iraqis the opportunity to work out a political reconciliation. They have not only failed to do that, they are moving in the wrong direction.

So it's very -- I think that Senator McCain is right in terms of the military side. There is some evidence there, but he's wrong in terms of any evidence of the political reconciliation making progress.

BLITZER: You worked with Senator McCain for many years on the Armed Services Committee, on other panels in the U.S. Senate. Are you disappointed with his firm stance when it comes to maintaining his support for the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq?

LEVIN: No, I just disagree with him on that issue. We work very, very closely on a host of issues, and we're good personal friends. I just think he's fundamentally wrong and has been wrong from the beginning in terms of Iraq.

BLITZER: Let me get you involved into the Saudi arms sale. There's about a $20 billion U.S. arms sale that's been put on the table to Saudi Arabia, including some very sophisticated weaponry. Do you support that?

LEVIN: If it does not have precision-guided munitions and doesn't have any other equipment in there which would give them an advantage over their neighbors, including Israel, then we could support it. But I'd have to study that a lot longer, and I have not had that opportunity.

BLITZER: As chairman of the Armed Services Committee, you haven't gone through the list of all the weaponry?

LEVIN: I have not, because it goes to the Foreign Relations Committee.

BLITZER: But in principle, you see the Saudis as an ally worried deeply, obviously, about Iran, which is a country you worry about, as well.

LEVIN: I view them with very mixed feelings. Sometimes they're an ally in some ways, other times they feed the enemy. When they support some of the madrassas in Pakistan and some of the really extreme religious groups that they send money to, they are not an ally at all. Quite the opposite. They are supporting terrorists in that process. Fundamentalist fanatics who are the ones that are doing the most damage.

BLITZER: Do you think Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, the junior senator from Illinois, is ready to be president of the United States? I ask the question because Senator Clinton has criticized his stance on several issues as naive, irresponsible. We don't have to go into the specifics, but in principle is he ready?

LEVIN: I think all our candidates are far more ready than any of the Republicans. Not just in terms of the key issue as to how win back the support of the world in order to defeat the terrorists, and not only to use our military in a sound and sensible way to go after the real enemy here, which is Al Qaida, instead of keep this military presence in Iraq in an open-ended way, but on a whole hoist of domestic issues, I think they are all superior to the Republican alternatives.

BLITZER: Superior, but is he ready himself?

LEVIN: I think they're all ready.

BLITZER: OK. Thanks very much, Senator Levin, for coming in. Carl Levin's the chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

Coming up, with pressure from both inside and outside Pakistan threatening his government, is President Pervez Pervez Musharraf forming an alliance with an old rival? My exclusive interview with the former Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, that's next, right here on "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Islamic extremists and a pro-democracy movement are posing very difficult challenges for Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf. There's also deep concern here in the United States that his government isn't necessarily doing enough to crack down on Al Qaida and Taliban forces operating along the Pakistani-Afghan border. All this comes amid speculation that President Musharraf may, repeat, may be prepared to form an alliance with his longtime political rival, Benazir Bhutto. I spoke with the former Pakistani prime minister just a short while ago from New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Benazir Bhutto, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

BENAZIAR BHUTTO, FORMER PAKISTANI PRIME MINISTER: It's very nice to be with you, Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: Thank you. How did your meeting -- or meetings, shall I say, with the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, go?

BHUTTO: Well, Mr. Blitzer, the presidency has said that there are no direct contacts, and we haven't officially admitted such contacts. But on the other level, we have admitted negotiations with the present regime to find a way to get Pakistan onto the democratic track through the holding of fair, free and impartial elections open to all political parties.

We're still working some of the issues. And the time is running out. So I hope that we can make the deadline.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, it's been so widely reported around the world, including in Pakistan, that you had at least one, maybe two meetings with President Musharraf in Abu Dhabi, perhaps, or other places. Are you not prepared to confirm that at this point?

BHUTTO: Well, you know, there are certain issues which under the code under which they take place are deemed to be private. So, I would like to just confine myself to saying that there have been contacts between the military regime and the Pakistan People's Party, including myself, and that we have been trying to search for a solution that could take Pakistan peacefully towards a democratic setup.

My concern is that if the elections are rigged, there will public protests, and certainly the extremists will try to take advantage by creating anarchy and chaos. And Pakistan can't afford that, not with the threat within and the threat the extremists are using our territory, imposing on Afghanistan.

So I think it's important that the talks succeed. But we haven't reached there just yet.

BLITZER: So just to be precise, and then I'm going to move on, you're not prepared to either confirm nor deny that you actually met face to face with President Musharraf, although you are confirming you've met with people in his government.

BHUTTO: That's right.

BLITZER: All right. So let's talk about something that was written in The Washington Post at the end of July: "The talks carry considerable risk for both leaders. Each has a party whose members may revolt at the prospect of an agreement. And it is unclear how a Musharraf-Bhutto government would function given the bad blood between them."

Could a new government that included President Musharraf as president and you as prime minister, could that government function given the history of bad blood between the two of you?

BHUTTO: Well, actually, it's mutual interests that bring people together. And I think that while General Musharraf and I have been on opposite sides of the pole where issues of dictatorship and democracy are concerned, we have both stated our determination to move Pakistan onto the path of moderation.

And we have worked together on issues such as women's rights. But I do agree with you that it does carry risks. It carries risks because at the moment, independent surveys showed that two-thirds of Pakistanis are unhappy with General Musharraf.

But I still believe that if we can get an agreement for a smooth transfer of power and we can get a balance of power between the presidency and the parliament, we'd be able to come up with a situation where we can undermine terrorism and address the real needs of the people, which I believe are now being neglected.

BLITZER: So clearly you feel that under the right circumstances, you could work together with President Musharraf in the same government.

BHUTTO: Well, if the people of Pakistan gave me a mandate, yes. But there would need to be a balance between the powers of the presidency and the powers of the parliament. And as I said, there are many issues to be discussed: whether the elections are going to be fair, whether the reforms are going to be implemented, whether restrictive bans on a twice-elected prime minister being elected a third time are going to be lifted.

So, there are still issues that are outstanding. And while theoretically it is possible for the elections to throw up such a combination, until we actually get an agreement, it's a little premature to say.

BLITZER: Is it possible that as part of an agreement, President Musharraf not only stays on as president of Pakistan, but also stays on as the military leader, the commander of the Pakistani military? In other words, wears both a civilian suit as well as a military uniform?

BHUTTO: I don't think that realistic because you -- when the president of a country also wears a uniform, it blurs the distinction between democracy and military rule. So I think it's very important for General Musharraf to take off the uniform.

And I would also point out, Mr. Blitzer, that our supreme court has recently become more independent, and issues pertaining to General Musharraf's reelection from the present assemblies are bound to be challenged.

General Musharraf's side has told the Pakistan People's Party that he doesn't need our votes for president. He has told our party that he is going to get elected on his own steam and on his own back through the present assemblies.

Now, we have our reservations on that, because we think there are other parties involved like the law. And we feel that this issue is going to land up in the supreme court, and it could cause yet another crisis and yet another round of legal protests. But that's a decision that General Musharraf must make.

BLITZER: You've been living in exile these many years. At the end of May I interviewed the current prime minister of Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz, here on "Late Edition." I want you to listen to what he told us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHAUKAT AZIZ, PRIME MINISTER OF PAKISTAN: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What are the legal issues right now that have to be settled before you could return to Pakistan?

BHUTTO: Well, one of the legal issues is a petition that I filed five years ago against an absentee decision against me. Under that absentee decision, I cannot participate in a parliamentary election.

Now, that decision was arbitrary, and it was illegal. I challenged it. But the government of Pakistan has refused to allow my petition to come up for a hearing by pressuring the judiciary.

So I am pressing for this matter even now, that justice delayed is justice denied. And I waited five years, and this petition should come up. I'm more hopeful that our courts are asserting their independence that this petition of mine will be heard, set aside and pave the way for my participation.

There are no criminal convictions against me, and this arbitrary absentee decision, which I'm hopeful will be removed, is the only one barring me from contesting the elections.

BLITZER: Would it be OK for the U.S., if it had actionable intelligence on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden or Ayman al- Zawahiri in Pakistan, to go in and kill or capture him and violate, in effect, Pakistani sovereignty?

BHUTTO: I don't think it would be right to violate Pakistan's sovereignty by unauthorized military action. But I do believe that Pakistan and the United States and NATO and Afghanistan must work very closely together in restoring law and order to the tribal badlands in Pakistan, which are undermining Pakistan's standing in the international community, giving rise to a threat to Pakistan's internal well-being as well as aggravating our relations with nearby Afghanistan.

We cannot tolerate people using our soil to mount attacks on NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Benazir Bhutto, speaking with us here on "Late Edition." Benazir Bhutto, thanks very much for coming in.

BHUTTO: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Blitzer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And still ahead, another "Late Edition" exclusive, my interview with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai. He's set to meet with President Bush at Camp David in a few hours. We'll speak with him. That interview coming up, right here on "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Coming at the top of the hour, we'll go back to Minnesota. We'll speak live with the governor, Tim Pawlenty. Plus, some of the best political team on television getting ready to weigh in on this morning's Republican presidential debate in Iowa and much more.

"Late Edition" continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk. President Bush tours the Minneapolis bridge collapse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We have an amazing country, where people's instinct, first instinct is to help save lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We'll talk with Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. We'll get the latest on the investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARZAI: Terrorists have killed our schoolchildren. They've burned our schools.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In a "Late Edition" exclusive, Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, talks about the fight against the Taliban and the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

The Republican presidential candidates face off in Iowa while the Democratic front-runners spar over terrorism and national security. Analysis on the race for the White House and more from three of the best political team on television.

The second hour of "Late Edition" starts right now.

Welcome back to "Late Edition." Yesterday, President Bush toured the wreckage where the I-35W bridge once spanned the Mississippi. He promised to cut through all the paperwork and get the bridge rebuilt quickly. With him was the governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty.

And the governor is joining us now from the disaster site in Minneapolis. Governor, thank you very much for joining us. First of all, our deepest condolences to everyone who has suffered so deeply as a result of the collapse of this bridge.

GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R), MINNESOTA: Thank you, Wolf. And I know your viewers have been so wonderful with their prayers and thoughts for the victims and their families and the others who have suffered through this trauma and also have been grateful, as we all have here in Minnesota for the amazing response of heroism and running towards the danger to be helpful. So, thank you for those comments.

BLITZER: Governor, what are the latest numbers? How many confirmed dead?

PAWLENTY: We have five fatalities confirmed and up to -- or at least eight missing. And that number on the missing may change after they get into the debris, the heavier debris that is going to now starting to be lifted from the river today and in the coming days.

BLITZER: There are at least eight missing, but could be more than that. Is that what you're saying?

PAWLENTY: Correct.

BLITZER: And how high of a number, potentially, is out there? Earlier in the week, we heard as many, perhaps, as 30.

PAWLENTY: Well, the number has shrunk, obviously. And there's a little bit of an unknown, still. They've used sonar and drivers and other technology to try to figure out and done some deductive reasoning based on how many cars were on the bridge and accounted for.

But the best we can say now is at least eight. And that number may change a little bit. It may not change dramatically.

BLITZER: The eight that are still missing, is their status at this point presumed dead? Is that what we can conclude?

PAWLENTY: Well, we really don't want to speculate because we've had some instances where people who were thought to be missing have shown up in comas in hospitals or in medical conditions, other people who were unaccounted for for other reasons. Certainly, I think the loved ones are aware of the situation, but I don't think we want to say for sure what's happened to these folks until we know for sure.

BLITZER: Are you narrowing down the possible cause of this collapse?

PAWLENTY: It's very important that everybody be careful and cautious about not reaching judgments until the investigation is done, but the scope of it is narrowing down, I suppose, according to the NTSB. However, we don't know how and why this happened.

There's theories about the original design. There's theories about the construction work that was being done on the bridge at the time. And of course, there's theories about other aspects of the bridge. The key thing is, we rely on the experts in Minnesota.

They've got a good system compared to the rest of the nation. They certified this bridge fit for service, and we have to rely on those experts. We now know there was a problem, and we have to ask the tough questions to get to the bottom of it. And believe me, we will.

BLITZER: A lot of experts, engineers have pointed to this old design. This bridge was completed back in 1967. This steel truss design as flawed because if one thing goes, the whole thing goes, almost like a deck of cards collapsing. How many other bridges of a similar design are in your state right now?

PAWLENTY: Five. And we are in the process of inspecting all of them. And the ones we've inspected so far, which I think is three -- and we'll get the others that are under way -- there isn't a problem in terms of being fit for service according to our inspectors and experts.

BLITZER: But this bridge also was inspected a couple of years ago. And while it was deemed deficient, it was also deemed safe, safe enough for 100,000 cars a day, if not more, to go over. I wonder if you're taking a closer look at the inspection process to make sure that what they're looking for, whether it's the steel or the concrete or whatever, that that is really a good inspection process worthy of the kind of conclusions that you're coming up with.

PAWLENTY: That's exactly right. This bridge has been expected regularly since the 1990s, including inspections in 2005, 2006 and 2007. There were concerns about the bridge, many of which were addressed. But at no point did anyone say the bridge should be closed or that it wasn't fit for service. In fact, they said it was fit for service.

So, I've ordered a top-to-bottom review of our inspections, the inspection process, the technology used by an outside firm. And we're going to make sure that we do it right here in Minnesota. By the way, we have one of the better bridge inspection programs in the country. But obviously, even our system needs to be reviewed to make sure it is doing its best job possible.

BLITZER: Was there anyone who warned you or any other authorities in advance that maybe these bridges aren't safe in recent years?

PAWLENTY: There's a bunch of concerns that were raised about this bridge. But at no point did anyone tell me or anyone else that I'm aware of that this bridge should be closed or was in imminent danger of failure. In fact, they deemed it fit for service and that the concerns could otherwise be addressed through other means.

BLITZER: The American Society of Civil Engineers, back in 2005, reviewed the nation's infrastructure all over the country, not only in Minnesota, but everywhere. They came up with these grades: C for bridges, D for roads, D -minus for navigable waterways. D for national power grid. D for dams. C-minus for rail capacity.

Do those grades, which are pretty pitiful, sound similar to what's going on in Minnesota right now?

PAWLENTY: Well, compared to the rest of the country -- and again, this is no consolation in the wake of this tragedy -- Minnesota has one of the better systems or programs. We've actually lowered the number of bridges in these problematic categories over the last ten years, but we still have many -- much more work to do.

But everybody knows the country's infrastructure is flawed. Nobody disagrees with that -- or is in need of repair or modernization, I should say. We all agree that it needs to be done. There's been disagreements about how to do it.

But my attitude is, I'm going to do whatever it takes to make sure that the problems and challenges highlighted by this tragedy are addressed aggressively. And we are willing to consider all options, and we'll get a marriage of ideas from Democrats, Republicans. And we're going to address this and, believe me, make sure that we move forward and make sure the public in Minnesota and hopefully across the country is safe.

BLITZER: How long do you think it's going to take to rebuild that bridge, and how much is it going to cost?

PAWLENTY: The rebuilding process is under way already in the form of reaching out to contractors who can move forward with this. We will build it as quickly as possible. It's going to take probably between a year to two years. We may be able to do it faster. And I think it's going to cost, rough estimate, somewhere between $150 and $350 million, according to certain experts that have been talking about it.

BLITZER: And who will come up with that money, $150 to $300 million?

PAWLENTY: Federal government has passed legislation for $250 million and indicated that they're willing to do more. The state obviously is in a position and will be in a position to help with that as well. It will get done. Money will not be a problem.

BLITZER: How are the people in Minneapolis and Minnesota doing right now as a result of this horrible disaster?

PAWLENTY: Well, it's just a horrific tragedy, Wolf. And the people of Minnesota, first of all, I think are in shock over seeing this, experiencing this.

But we're very, very mindful of the trauma and the hurt and the grief that the families who lost loved ones or have loved ones missing are experiencing, and we continue to try to provide comfort, prayer and support to them. We're so proud of our first responders and the everyday citizens who ran -- not away from the danger, but toward the danger to be helpful.

So, the goodness of Minnesota shined through. And now we've got to roll up our sleeves and get to the bottom of why this happened and make sure it doesn't happen again, and then rebuild that bridge as aggressively as possible and heal this state.

BLITZER: Governor Tim Pawlenty, good luck to you, Governor. Good luck to everyone in Minnesota. We're watching closely. And our hearts and our prayers are with all of you. Thank you very much.

PAWLENTY: Thank you. We appreciate that.

BLITZER: And in just a moment, my exclusive interview with the man who will be President Bush's guest at Camp David in Maryland later today, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai. My exclusive interview with President Karzai, that's coming up here on "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition."

In just a few hours, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, will arrive at Camp David in Maryland for talks with President Bush.

I spoke to President Karzai yesterday, shortly before he departed Kabul for the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: President Karzai, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to "Late Edition." I want to get immediately to your upcoming visit. You are about to meet with President Bush at Camp David. If you could narrow down the number one issue on your agenda when you meet with President Bush, what is it?

KARZAI: Well, mostly the issues that we have been discussing in the past five years, with special reference to more urgency and more importance given to the fight against terrorism, radicalism, issues of concern to Afghanistan, with reconstruction, with the fight against narcotics, civilian casualties, the strengthening of the Afghan security forces, raising capacity, all these issues.

BLITZER: These are all major issues on your agenda. The hunt for Osama bin Laden, do you feel that you and your allies, including the U.S., are any closer to finding Osama bin Laden?

KARZAI: The information that we have in Afghan system, we are not closer, we are not further away from it. We are where we were a few years ago. BLITZER: And where do you believe Osama bin Laden is hiding out?

KARZAI: I can't say exactly where he is hiding. But I'm almost certain he is in this part of the world.

BLITZER: Is he in Afghanistan or is he in Pakistan?

KARZAI: Well, I can't talk about that, whether he is in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but I definitely know that he cannot be in Afghanistan. Where he is is a question that I cannot answer at this point.

BLITZER: Are you satisfied at this point that the Pakistanis...

KARZAI: Meaning I don't have the answer.

BLITZER: Are you satisfied at this point that the Pakistanis, now that their agreement with the tribal leaders in Waziristan and elsewhere along the border with Afghanistan has collapsed, that the Pakistani government of Pervez Musharraf is doing everything it can to clamp down on Al Qaida and the Taliban?

KARZAI: Well, Wolf, recent events in Pakistan and the situation in Afghanistan are a very clear indication to all of us in this region and the rest of the world that the fight against terror has to be real, meaningful and effective.

I'm looking forward, together with President Musharraf, to a grand meeting, a grand convention of the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the representatives of both countries to be held soon after my return from Camp David around the end of the first week of August. So that is a very important event and I hope good will come out of it.

BLITZER: So you think President Musharraf and his government are doing everything they can to help in the struggle against the Taliban and Al Qaida?

KARZAI: I would believe as the situation demands, all of us should be doing everything we can.

BLITZER: Are you satisfied yet with the stance of President Musharraf or you do you feel they still are lacking?

KARZAI: Well, they have taken some very strong measures in Pakistan against extremism. The Red Mosque example is one. There are other examples. I hope we can all speed up, increase and bring more effectiveness into this fight in this whole broader region, not in selective areas. If that happens, then we are on a good track.

BLITZER: Here is what U.S. Major General David Rodriguez -- he is the commander of the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan -- said at the end of July. He said that -- referring to foreign fighters coming into Afghanistan from Pakistan, he says: "It's increased probably 50 to 60 percent over what it was last year. Most of them come across the border through Pakistan," the foreign fighters.

Is that your assessment as well?

KARZAI: That is our assessment. That is exactly true. That is one of the concerns. And these are the issues that we will be discussing when President Musharraf and I meet in a few days' time. And this will also definitely be an issue discussed in the fight against terror meeting that we will have between the people of the two countries in a few days. Yes, that is true.

BLITZER: All right. You said when you meet with President Bush at Camp David, one of the issues on your agenda will be the civilian Afghan casualties that are caused as a result of coalition, NATO, or U.S. bombs, if you will. On May 2nd you said: "We can no longer accept the civilian casualties the way they are occurring. It is not understandable anymore."

Has that situation gotten better or worse from the Afghan perspective?

KARZAI: We would like that situation to get much, much better. The Afghan people have been steadfast helpers, providing assistance to the international coalition against terror. The Afghan people have suffered as a result of terrorist activities in Afghanistan.

And also as a result of the fight against terror, we have to do everything -- everything -- that we can to reduce civilian casualties. They are allies in the fight against terror and allies have to be protected.

BLITZER: Do you feel the NATO allies, including the U.S., are too trigger-happy right now and, as a result, innocent Afghan civilians are killed?

KARZAI: I wouldn't term it as such. I would say that mistakes are made and we must try our best to reduce the number of mistakes and cut them off completely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And coming up, the second half of my exclusive interview with President Karzai. That's coming up in just a moment. You might be surprised to hear what he has to say about Iran's role in Afghanistan.

And later, we'll get analysis of this weekend's Democratic and Republican presidential forums and debates with some of the best political team on television. "Late Edition" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition."

Here's the second part of my exclusive interview with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: I'm going to give some statistics that seem to suggest the security situation in Afghanistan in recent years has deteriorated. For example, the number of coalition troops killed back in 2004, that year 58. In 2005 it went up to 130; 2006, 191. This year so far halfway into the year, already 130 coalition troops have been killed.

As far as suicide attacks within Afghanistan, back in 2003, there were two. In 2004, there were six; in 2005, 21; and last year, 136 suicide attacks. This year the number is expected to perhaps double given the current rate so far.

Is it a fair assessment that the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating?

KARZAI: The security situation in Afghanistan over the past two years has definitely deteriorated. There is no doubt about that. The incidents of terrorism affecting Afghanistan have increased. The Afghan people have suffered.

Terrorists have killed our school children. They have burned our schools. They have killed international helpers of Afghanistan, aid workers, they have kidnapped people. They have right now kidnapped Korean citizens. They have killed international security forces.

That is exactly what we are trying to prevent. That is exactly what we are trying to do together with Pakistan, to reduce so that ultimately we have a complete defeat of terrorism in this part of the world.

BLITZER: The U.S. ambassador in Kabul, William Wood, suggested in June...

KARZAI: Wolf, Wolf...

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.

KARZAI: Wolf, as a matter of fact, it goes back to the statement of General Rodriguez, that there are more foreign terrorist elements entering Afghanistan and causing all sorts of trouble.

So it is a bigger issue. It is a more complicated issue. It is not only the security of Afghanistan, it is how we deal with the international terrorism all together.

BLITZER: The U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, William Wood, suggested in June that Iran is playing a significant role in the security situation in Afghanistan as well. "There is no question," he said, that weaponry of Iranian types has been entering Afghanistan for some time in amounts that make it hard to imagine that the Iranian government is not aware that this is happening."

Is Iran directly involved in the security situation -- the deteriorating security situation -- in Afghanistan?

KARZAI: We have had reports of the kind you just mentioned. We are looking into these reports. Iran has been a supporter of Afghanistan in the peace process that we have and the fight against terror, and the fight against narcotics in Afghanistan.

Iran has been a participant in the Bonn process. It then has contributed steadily to Afghanistan. We have had very, very good, very, very close relations, thanks in part also to an understanding of the United States in this regard, and an environment of understanding between the two, the Iranian government and the United States government, in Afghanistan.

We will continue to have good relations with Iran. We will continue to resolve issues, if there are any, to arise.

BLITZER: Well, is Iran a problem or a solution as far as you are concerned? Are they helping you or hurting you?

KARZAI: Well, so far Iran has been a helper and a solution.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the Korean Christian missionaries who are being held hostage in your country right now. The U.S. is not necessarily ruling out military action to try to free those Korean missionaries.

What is your stance?

KARZAI: We want the safe release of the Koreans taken hostage by terrorists in Afghanistan. These terrorists, as you know, mostly have a foreign origin, foreign backing. But since the hostage-taking took place in Afghanistan, it brings us a bad name.

We are very sorry about that. We will trying everything to have them released safely and in security. That's why we have been extremely careful not to do anything that may jeopardize an ongoing effort.

BLITZER: As we are speaking right now, two of them have already been killed. Are you ready to negotiate directly with the Taliban who are holding these Christian missionaries from South Korea in order to secure their release?

KARZAI: We will do everything other than encouraging hostage- taking and terrorism to have them released.

BLITZER: That sounds like you are not prepared to make any concessions because, presumably, that would encourage further hostage- taking.

KARZAI: We will not do anything that will encourage hostage- taking, that will encourage terrorism. But we will do everything else to have them released.

BLITZER: Do you have any indication, anything you can say to their families, to the people in South Korea, that gives you hope that they are about to be released?

KARZAI: We are working very, very hard on this question. I have been personally involved in giving calls to my officials on an hourly basis. We are working very, very hard. Let's hope that they will be released.

It is a shame, a tremendous shame, Wolf, in any society, particularly as the Afghan traditions are concerned, to take hostages, and especially women.

In Afghanistan, I remember not so long ago when I was a younger person, say, when I was in my teens, that thieves, robbers, when they would go into a bus and see women in the bus, they would get out and not do their robbery and release the bus.

Now there are people in the name of the Taliban who take women hostages while they claim to be Muslims, while they claim to be Afghans. That is not true. They are neither Muslims nor Afghans, these hostage-takers...

BLITZER: And of the 21...

KARZAI: ... by the way they behave.

BLITZER: Of the 21 hostages, 18 of them of are Korean women. We have to leave it there, President Karzai. Have a safe trip.

KARZAI: Exactly.

BLITZER: Have a safe journey here to the United States. We will hopefully see you when you are here. Thank you very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

KARZAI: Good to talk to you, as always, Wolf. Good to talk to you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And up next on "Late Edition," we'll give you the latest on this weekend's presidential debates with three of the best political team on television. That's coming up in a moment. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. The Democratic presidential candidates were debating yesterday, the Republicans earlier today. A lot of talk going on.

Joining us now to talk about all of that, three of the best political team on television: our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, Joe Johns, who keeps politicians honest for "Anderson Cooper 360" and CNN Radio Congressional correspondent Lisa Goddard.

Guys, thanks for coming in. ABC hosted their own Republican presidential debate earlier today. Let me give you a little gist of what's going on. Here is Rudy Giuliani, arguably the Republican presidential front-runner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In four Democratic debates, not a single candidate said the word "Islamic terrorism." Now that is taking political correctness to extremes. Weakness and appeasement should not be a policy of the American government. We should seek a victory in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, this is bread and butter, Joe, for Rudy Giuliani. He goes back to the issue of terrorism. He made his mark after 9/11 as mayor of New York, and he knows this certainly resonates with a lot of Republican voters, a lot of voters in general.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does. And if you talk to his campaign, as I have over the past couple of days, they say this is the issue that overrides everything else. This is the issue that he might even be able to carry a state like South Carolina on, even though he is not necessarily, and by any means, as conservative as some of the other candidates.

So, Rudy Giuliani is going to push this issue and push this issue again and hope that people won't talk so much about abortion and those other things that divide the social conservatives in the party.

BLITZER: It certainly, so far, seems to be working, because the polls show he's doing remarkably well.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is doing remarkably well, even though Romney, we see, is still the front-runner in this pack here. Obviously, these are issues that seem to ring true with the voters here in Iowa. People think this is something that they can really hold on to.

And we've seen a little bit of frustration with some of the other candidates, the Fred Thompsons of the world. People are waiting for him to officially jump in, kind of getting frustrated with him. Very little appeal for Newt Gingrich at this point. So, they're looking at those two, Romney as well as Giuliani.

BLITZER: And here's John McCain, Lisa. I want to play a little clip of what he had to say today when he was asked whether his vice president -- assuming he became president of the United States -- would have as much power as Dick Cheney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Look, I would be very careful that everybody understood that there's only one president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Why is his campaign, Lisa, in so much trouble right now?

LISA GODDARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think there are many reasons for that. One is, when you compare him to the pack he's against now as opposed to the pack he was up against in 2000, it's a radical difference. He was the maverick. Everyone talks about this. He was the maverick in 2000. He's not now.

And I think those folks who gave him a chance, especially those workers I saw stuffing envelopes in South Carolina in 2000, they've given up. They just don't think this is the man that they're going to spend their Sunday afternoon for. They think he's like everybody else now.

BLITZER: Was it his stance on immigration reform, aligning himself with the president and Ted Kennedy? Was it his stance supporting the war in Iraq? What else?

JOHNS: Well, I think you hit the nail on the head with immigration. That was a huge problem for John McCain. And polls show a lot of people just didn't buy it.

And the Congress eventually said no way on immigration, at least the form of immigration he was talking about. You know, there's some talk right now on the Hill, Democrats suggesting that you won't see another immigration bill even if a Democratic president is elected. You won't see it in his first term, because Democrats are so concerned that this thing divides them.

So, it's a problem for Dems as well as Republicans, and John McCain, basically, really got hit with it right in the face.

BLITZER: He was hammered right at the beginning of the debate today, Mitt Romney, by Sam Brownback, who says this guy, you can't believe him when it comes to abortion, because Brownback is very much opposed to abortion. Romney came back, and he fought back on this sensitive issue. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When the first time a bill came to my desk that related to the life of an unborn child, I came down on the side of life, and I put that in the Boston Globe and explained why. And I get tired of people who are holier than thou because they have been pro-life longer than I have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: This is a sensitive issue, especially with a lot of conservative Republican voters out there, whether in Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina or elsewhere. Romney's got a problem.

MALVEAUX: He does have a problem. And this is something that, of course, is going to come up in the primary. All these people are looking at him for -- to see if he is really the true voice of conservatism or if in fact it's a Fred Thompson character.

I wanted to pick up on something that Joe said about McCain, which he may actually redeem himself in some way when it comes to the Iraq war. Immigration is over, but the Iraq war, we are hearing people talk about, at least some progress that's on the ground, whether it's just military progress, not necessarily political progress. But that there are some good things that are happening now, which may actually warm people up just a little bit more to McCain's pro-Iraq war message.

BLITZER: We have some poll numbers. I want to put them up. Actually, this is from July 18th through 21st. But we have some new ones that just came out from July 26th through the 31st.

Republicans' choice for nominee in Iowa. But let's go to the national ones first: Giuliani nationally, 34 percent, McCain 16. Fred Thompson, who's not an official candidate yet, 14. Mitt Romney 8. Newt Gingrich, not a candidate yet, 7.

But let's go to Iowa and take a look at this. In Iowa, Romney comes out atop at 26 percent, Giuliani's at 14, Fred Thompson at 13, Huckabee 8. McCain is only at 8 percent.

If you look at these numbers, Lisa, nationally a lot of people suggesting throw away those numbers right now. Simply focus in on Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. That's where the early action is going to be and could make or break some of these candidates.

GODDARD: And this goes back to what you were saying and what Joe was saying about immigration. If you look at McCain's numbers, he was doing great in Iowa, or a lot better than now, until May. And that's when all the immigration stuff really hit the fence. Bad pun, I guess. But he started going down, Romney started pouring money in Iowa. He started going straight up. And I have to say I disagree a little bit about abortion. I don't think abortion is going to be the decider for this Republican crew.

I think you see that with Romney leading in two states, Giuliani leading in the south, in South Carolina. I think the basic cares about abortion is just not fired up this year. And you see that in polls saying, do you strongly like your field of Republican candidates, very few, maybe 19 percent, say they do.

BLITZER: We have this Washington Post/ABC News poll. Choice of candidates for the Republican nomination, only 19 percent, Joe, said they were very satisfied. Fifty-five percent said they were somewhat satisfied. Twenty-five percent said they were dissatisfied. I don't know if they were including Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich as potential candidates out there.

JOHNS: Well, the Thompson phenomenon is fascinating, because there are a lot of people out there suggesting that a lot of his support is because he's not any of the other Republicans that are currently in the race. And the question is, how does he stand on his own?

The only way you really get to answer that is when he gets out into the debates and people see how he does, stacked up against these other people. He's not in the race yet. When he does presumably get into the race, then we'll know a little bit more about Fred Thompson. BLITZER: And I assume that Republican field, Suzanne, will narrow next week when they have that Ames, Iowa, straw poll. And some of the candidates are probably going to get 0 or 1 or 2 percent, and they may decide, you know what, it's not worth it.

MALVEAUX: It's about time. And then also, too, just to piggyback from what Joe was saying, it's interesting that Thompson, most of the attention has been given to his wife this week. We've seen front page articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times talking about whether the controversy helps, that she's really at the center of his campaign, being a former Republican operative as she was.

So he's getting a lot of attention there and she's gone from being kind of what was called this trophy wife to now really a force in his campaign.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by because we have a lot more politics to talk about. The Democratic side -- what's happening among the Democratic presidential candidates, that's coming up.

Also coming up, the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- she was on some of the Sunday talk shows today. We're going to bring you what she had to say, "In Case You Missed It."

"Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More of our political panel coming up 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 CBS and Fox, the talk was about signs of progress in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: What is going on now in Iraq is that the political leadership of these very powerful parties, which really are the key to getting legislation that can be passed, are working. It's not inconsequential that these Sunni sheikhs and local leaders are taking back their streets from Al Qaida and doing so in cooperation with us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNETH POLLACK, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, which at one point in time had required tens of thousands of troops just to keep the place from flying apart, was now mostly being handled by Iraqi security forces with only a very small American presence up there.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: We don't have a solution yet. That has to come, to some extent, from the politicians in Baghdad, also from the ground up. That part is suppressed by a lot of American forces, a lot of concrete barriers, and a lot of checkpoints. We don't yet have the end game on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And on ABC, the Republican presidential front-runners talked about what they would bring to the Oval Office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I am fully prepared -- fully prepared -- more than anyone else running on either side, to fight the transcendent challenge of this nation, which will be all of the 21st century, and that is the struggle against radical Islamic extremism.

FORMER MAYOR RUDOLPH W. GIULIANI, R-NEW YORK CITY: I would do the same thing that I did as mayor of New York City, and that is I would restore hope, but for the people of the entire country.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS.: I would strengthen America's military, make sure that we could be safe here at home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

Up next, Barack Obama takes on terrorism in Pakistan. John Edwards takes on Fox News. We're going to tell you what the Democratic presidential race is up to when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're talking about some of the hot political topics of the week with three of the best political team on television: our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux; CNN radio congressional correspondent, Lisa Goddard; and the man who keeps all politicians honest for "A.C. 360," Joe Johns.

Joe, look at these poll numbers -- national poll numbers, NBC News/Wall Street Journal. Democrats' choice for president, for the nominee, Clinton -- Senator Clinton gets 43 percent; Senator Obama, 22 percent; Senator Edwards, 13; Governor Richardson, 6 percent. That's nationally among registered Democrats or those leaning Democrat.

But you go to Iowa, the home of the first caucus, look at how close it is: Senator Clinton gets 27 percent, Senator -- excuse me. Senator Obama gets 27 percent. Clinton and Edwards both get 26 percent. Richardson has 11 percent. This is a fierce battle out there in Iowa.

JOHNS: It certainly is a fierce battle and you have, on the one hand, Senator Clinton who is sort of this known commodity, seen by a lot of people as tough and decisive, but she also has very, very high negatives and that's all over the country.

Then senator Obama, being this fresh, new face, there's obviously that question of him being untested and these questions of him being naive, certainly, that have been thrown out and there and debated very much over the past several days. So people are unsure about these candidates and it's still a horse race.

BLITZER: She's really going after Obama, Senator Clinton, suggesting he's naive and irresponsible in his willingness to meet with dictators in his first year as president and talking about the use of nuclear weapons, going after terrorists in Pakistan, whether or not the Pakistani government wants the U.S. to do so. For example, I'll give you a little sound bite from what Senator Clinton said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: I don't believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is there a sense out there that Senator Barack Obama may have stumbled?

MALVEAUX: A lot of people looked at it and thought there are a lot of conflicting messages. One that's happening, though, is that a lot of people waiting for Obama to really fight back. You heard and you read these columns from Maureen Dowd, who basically was teasing him about being Obambi. You know, when is he going to actually fight back?

A lot of people were really smarting for this this week, this back and forth. It is fair to say, though, that there were some slip- ups and that people saw some of the things that he was saying.

He was compared with Tom Tancredo for both of them remarking about Pakistan, whether or not they would go after Pakistan in some sort of unilateral fashion. So I think both of them got slapped down a bit here. But people have been waiting for him to emerge and make very strong, strong statements.

BLITZER: How do you see this Democratic presidential race shaping up, Lisa?

GODDARD: Well, it's tricky. You look at fund raising, still very tight. You look at the early states, still very tight. Honestly now, I work there, so I'm a little biassed. I think South Carolina is going to be key. I think you're going to have -- it's possible that Hillary Clinton could run away with Iowa. She's got a great campaign there. I don't know.

You've got three Edwards, who's been working there for years. I think it's going to come down to South Carolina. And to show you how tight it is, key figures there like Jim Clyburn, a Democratic Congressman who is number three in the House, he's not endorsing anyone. And he may not endorse anyone this entire time, he told me last week.

So I think it's a toss-up right now. I think we might know not until February 6th.

BLITZER: And John Edwards is really going after Rupert Murdoch and the purchase by News Corporation, which he controls, of the Dow Jones Company, which obviously includes the Wall Street Journal. I want you to listen to what he told me on Friday, John Edwards.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS: I don't want to see Rupert Murdoch or anybody else for that matter owning every newspaper in America. What we've seen with a consolidation of the media is not healthy for this country. It stifles dissent. It stifles grassroots voices.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Joe, he's really trying to position himself as a populist out there among the Democratic field.

JOHNS: Yeah, and populist has a flipside too. Dick Gephardt tried to run as a populist back a few years ago. And we saw where it got him. John Edwards has a lot of different issues as he takes this course, one of those being the fact that he has made so much money as a trial lawyer. And a lot of people hark back to his haircuts and things, the 200 or whatever it was, $400 hair cut.

It makes it difficult for Edwards to actually get a lot of traction on this. Still, people listen to what he has to say, and that's why he still hangs in there, in the polls.

BLITZER: I want to just switch subjects with Suzanne for a moment. She's our White House correspondent. The president got what he wanted from the House and the Senate the last 48 hours or so when it comes to the terrorist surveillance legislation. He managed to get it through.

MALVEAUX: It was a strategy that really worked for him. I mean, the president came out very aggressive here, put a lot of pressure on the Democrats in the House. They got it in the Senate first, essentially revised a law here that allows them to listen in to foreign telephone calls that actually go through the United States, some sort of switching or circuit. That was not legal, and a court said that was not legal, what this administration was doing.

They convinced members of Congress that this was something that they need, and they needed it right away because of the terrorist threat over the summer. So, a big victory for the president.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, Lisa Goddard, Joe Johns, three of the best political team here on television. Guys, thanks very much.

And coming up, Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron's home run record last night. Bob Costas had some strong words on Barry Bonds. We're going to hear what he had to say. That's coming up in a moment.

And if you'd like a recap of today's program, you can get highlights on our new and improved "Late Edition" podcast. Simply go to cnn.com/podcast. Coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week at War" with host Tom Foreman.

TOM FOREMAN, HOST, "THIS WEEK AT WAR": Thanks, Wolf. There are reports of positive changes in Iraq. Are we really looking at a turning point or is all of this just a snow job? Certainly, little is changing for the estimated 8 million Iraqis the war has made hungry, homeless or unemployed.

So, is the U.S. creating an angry and resentful generation, perfect recruits for Al Qaida? From war in Iraq to peace in the Middle East, a clear and concise view coming up on "This Week at War."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. The San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds is now only one home run away from breaking one of the most hallowed records in sports, Hank Aaron's record of 755 home runs.

But there are some who are saying that Bonds's record will always be something less than Aaron's because of deep suspicions he had the help of steroids. I spoke to one of those critics, sports broadcaster Bob Costas, earlier this week in "The Situation Room."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: What about the argument that he has made that, you know, he doesn't know -- he may have inadvertently taken some steroids, but he never deliberately took steroids.

BOB COSTAS, SPORTS BROADCASTER: Yeah, that's what he told the grand jury. And even if you leave that aside, as has been detailed elsewhere, there were other performance-enhancing drugs that there is credible evidence that he used.

Plus, it is incredible to believe that someone who is as meticulous as Barry Bonds is known to be about his workouts and about every aspect of nutrition would just blithely take something, put it under his tongue, rub it on his body, and not know what it was.

BLITZER: So, if he breaks -- let me rephrase it. When he breaks Hank Aaron's home run record, does he deserve to have an asterisk after his name?

COSTAS: Well, I don't know that you can put an asterisk in the record book. Because other players who were not as great and did not accomplish as much as Barry Bonds were also users, and I don't know how many of the home runs exactly could be discounted. But I think there is a figurative asterisk in the minds of knowledgeable and fair- minded baseball fans.

Barry Bonds was, through the late 90s, a great, great player, should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I would still vote for him if I had a vote. Broadcasters don't, it's only baseball writers.

I would still vote for him because before there was any credible evidence that he used performance-enhancing drugs, he was a truly great player. But he went from a great player to a superhuman player.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Bob Costas speaking with me Friday in "The Situation Room." And that's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, August 5th. Please be sure to join us next Sunday and every Sunday for two hours, 11 a.m. Eastern, for the last word in Sunday talk.

We're in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern, another hour at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. For our international viewers, world news is next. For those of you in North America, "This Week at War" with Tom Foreman. Tom?

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