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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Ayad Allawi; Interview With Mike Huckabee

Aired November 25, 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: It's 11:00 a.m. here in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
We'll get to my interview with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee in just a moment. But first, some other stories we're following right now. Fredricka Whitfield is over at "Late Edition" update desk with details. Fred, what's going on.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.

The first official contest of the U.S. presidential campaign, the Iowa Caucuses, are only about five weeks away. They are taking place on January 3. On the Republican side, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has enjoyed a comfortable lead in that state, at least until now.

A new poll, this past week, showed one of his rivals, the former Arkansas governor mike Huckabee, closing in dramatically. I spoke with Governor Huckabee just a short while ago. He joined me from the campaign trail in South Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

MIKE HUCKABEE, FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: Thanks, Wolf. Great to be back with you.

BLITZER: You're really moving up in the polls, especially in Iowa, right now. This latest Washington Post/ABC News poll has you at second, almost statistically tied with the frontrunner, Mitt Romney, in Iowa. He's at 28; you're at 24; Fred Thompson, 15, Giuliani, 13, McCain, everybody else, down in single digits.

What do you attribute this surge in recent weeks to?

HUCKABEE: I think it's a number of things, Wolf. First of all, it's the fact that people are paying attention to the message and not just to what the national media might be saying about who the frontrunner is. People in Iowa have been through this process before. This isn't their first rodeo. They're looking at candidates as to what the substance of the campaign is about. And when they hear me talk about things like the fair tax, getting rid of the IRS, and taking away the taxes and penalties on productivity, they respond to that.

And they like the fact that I'm talking about the issues that touch people where they live. They're not sure that a lot of people running for president understand what it's like to just live out there in the real world, and they see a lot of Washington insiders. They know that's not what they need.

They need change. They want someone who is coming from the perspective of getting it done. I think that's what's happening.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about some of the issues -- foreign policy issues, domestic issues. We'll begin with Pakistan, right now, arguably the most serious crisis facing the United States, a nuclear-armed Muslim country. The ramifications could be enormous, given the huge Taliban, Al Qaida presence in parts of Pakistan right now.

Here is what President Bush said the other day about General Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistan president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: He's been a loyal ally in fighting terrorists. He's also advanced democracy in Pakistan. So far I have found him to be a man of his word.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you agree with the president that the U.S. should stick by President Musharraf?

HUCKABEE: Well, only to the degree to which he sticks by the constitution. When the president said that he's a big believer in democracy, I'd have to wonder about suspending the constitution and declaring martial law.

There are some concerns that I think we need to have about Pakistan. We need to make it very clear that we do expect, for the kind of money we've poured into Pakistan since September 11 -- some $10 billion -- we expect a greater accountability for that money actually going to find, locate, and destroy terrorists.

BLITZER: So what would you do differently than President Bush is doing right now?

HUCKABEE: Well, the main thing I would do is to make sure that we demand greater accountability, not only for the funding that we have put in, but we also get a greater level of cooperation and commitment that, when we find actionable targets in Pakistan, dealing with Al Qaida, that we have the green light to go after those targets, that we don't do as we did a couple of years ago, and that is actually have people in the air on their way to take out a target and then to be called back because we had not yet obtained full permission from the Pakistani government.

BLITZER: So you would send U.S. troops, Special Operations Forces, others, directly into Pakistan if there were what you call actionable intelligence?

HUCKABEE: I think we have to always remember that the first job of the American president is to protect the American people. If we know and we have clear indication that there are those plotting to destroy Americans and American security, then that has to be first and foremost in our plans.

And we need to make sure that the Musharraf government recognizes that part of what we have done with that $10 billion is to, sort of, earn the right of passage to take those targets out.

BLITZER: Do you think it's a good idea for the Bush administration, this week, to convene Israelis and Palestinians and a lot of other countries and institutions in Annapolis, Maryland, to try to jump start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

HUCKABEE: Well, I don't think it's ever a bad idea to try to get parties to discuss the ramifications of a world that continues to spiral out of control. Whether or not there is going to be a resolution, at least there is some conversation taking place, and that's -- that's healthy.

BLITZER: Should Israel give up the West Bank?

HUCKABEE: No, I don't think so. I have been to Israel nine times. I have been all throughout the Middle East, to Lebanon, to Syria, to Jordan, to Egypt. Anyone who goes to Israel, and if you just understand the unique geography and the unique tension that surrounds that area, it would be very problematic for Israel to give up the West Bank, from their own standpoint of security.

The same thing with the Golan Heights -- giving up the Golan Heights makes most of Galilee a sitting target. And it would be a very problematic concern for Israeli security. Now it's their government. They'll make that decision, not me.

But I certainly could not encourage them to give up the West Bank.

BLITZER: Well, if they're not going to give up the West Bank or with Syria, the Golan Heights, or at least parts of the Golan Heights, what are they going to negotiate about, from the Arab perspective, or the Palestinian or the Syrian perspective if Israel shouldn't give up the West Bank or the Golan Heights?

HUCKABEE: Well, there are a lot of options that involve other territory that doesn't have to include the West Bank or the Golan Heights. There is an enormous amount of land in Arab control all over the Middle East. And to say that it has to be on the West Bank or that it has to be in the Golan Heights, I think, limits the capacity to bring some type of resolution.

But let's be honest, there is not going to be some instant kumbaya moment where everybody builds the campfire, toasts marshmallows, and sings, holding hands.

This conflict isn't new. It has been going on since all the way to the time of Abraham. And it's not going to be resolved any time in the immediate future.

The best we can hope for is that there will be some level of loosening of the hostilities. But that everybody is going to just get along merrily is probably not something that's likely to take place any time, at least, in the immediate future.

BLITZER: Well, I guess the question, though, is, do you support what's called a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine side by side, as President Bush says he supports?

HUCKABEE: Well, I would want to see where that side-by-side exists, Wolf, because if you do something that puts the Israelis in a position of ultimate vulnerability, that may not be a healthy solution.

You've got to realize that there are people in that region who have stated that their primary purpose is to annihilate Israel, to do away with them. And if you surround them by hostility and give them very little room in which to maneuver, you may not have created anything other than a very, very temporary peace, but for a long-term disaster.

BLITZER: So I guess you're not ready to endorse what is called a two-state solution yet?

HUCKABEE: Not until you see where those two states are going to be located and whether or not there is going to be some guarantee of security and concessions on the part of the nations that would surround Israel. And the Israelis would have to be comfortable with it, otherwise it's not going to be something that I think they could live with.

BLITZER: There has been a lot of outrage here in the United States, indeed, around the world in recent days to this judicial ruling in Saudi Arabia that a woman -- a 19-year-old woman who was gang-raped, was herself sentenced to 200 lashes, six months in prison for even speaking out about this.

How would you as president, Governor, go ahead and balance U.S. strategic, national interests, working with Saudi Arabia, while at the same time they have these policies towards their own -- half of their population, namely women?

HUCKABEE: Well, I've been very outspoken about some of the dissatisfaction I have toward the House of Saud. I think that our country, the United States, has been far too involved in sort of looking the other way, not only at the atrocities of human rights and violation of women.

But, look, we have allowed ourselves to become so completely attached to Saudi oil, it essentially is now where Americans are financing both sides of the war on terror. Our tax dollars pay for the military side. Every time we put our credit card in the gas pump, we're paying so that the Saudis get rich -- filthy, obscenely rich, and that money then ends up going to funding madrassas...

BLITZER: Well, what would you do about...

HUCKABEE: ... that train the terrorists.

BLITZER: What would you do about that -- Governor, excuse me for interrupting, what would you do about...

HUCKABEE: Yes.

BLITZER: ... their religious edicts involving the way they treat women while at the same time U.S. dependence on Saudi oil and U.S. hope that the Saudis will cooperate in the war on terror?

HUCKABEE: I would make the United States energy independent within 10 years and tell the Saudis they can keep their oil just like they can keep their sand, that we won't need either one of them.

America has allowed itself to become enslaved to Saudi oil. It's absurd. It's embarrassing. Since 1973, we keep talking about project independence. We never have the political will to do it.

It is high time that we stop this sense of almost being subordinated by the Saudis as well as the rest of the Middle East, particularly countries who do not like us, who do not have our best interests at heart.

We need a self-sustaining, environmentally friendly energy source or energy sources. And that's no longer a matter of just environmental concern and our economic interest, it is now really a matter of utmost national security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And coming up, more with Mike Huckabee. He strongly defends his conservative credentials and hits back hard at Mitt Romney. You're going to be surprised to hear what he has to say.

Also, a dramatic drop in violent attacks in Iraq. But are the country's political leaders making any progress? You'll hear what former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi has to say in an exclusive interview. Lots more coming up, right here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up in our next hour, we'll talk with top Israeli and Palestinian representatives about Tuesday's Middle East conference in Annapolis, Maryland, but right now, here's part two of my interview with Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about this race for the White House. You and Mitt Romney, as we showed earlier, really in a dead heat in Iowa right now. And he's going after you in major ways. He said last weekend -- he said: "Republican voters are looking for a conservative and he," meaning Mike Huckabee, "is a liberal. I'm a conservative."

I wonder if you want to respond to what Governor Romney is suggesting, that you're not really a conservative, you are a liberal.

HUCKABEE: That would be such a surprise to all of the people in my state who attacked me all of the years I was lieutenant governor and governor for being too conservative. But I won because I was a conservative.

And you know what, Mitt -- or, Wolf? Mitt's changed his position. He's been all over the board. But my conservatism has been consistent. When he was pro-abortion, I was still pro-life and always have been.

When he was for gun control, I was against it. When he was against the Bush tax cuts, I was for them. When he was against Ronald Reagan's legacy and said he wasn't a part of that Bush-Reagan thing, I was a part of that Bush-Reagan thing.

And when Mitt was saying that he was OK with same-sex relationships and would do more for same-sex couples than Teddy Kennedy, I was taking the completely different position that same-sex marriages are not the appropriate thing.

So it's not just about where we are now, it is where we have been and where we can be predicted to be if we're elected president. People are looking for not just authenticity, but consistency.

And that is one of the reasons that my numbers are surging, not only in Iowa, but in the other states as well.

BLITZER: He specifically is going after you for being what he would call a liberal on illegal immigration. He says you and Mayor Giuliani, for that matter, supported tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants. Did you support tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants when you were governor of Arkansas?

HUCKABEE: It wasn't a break. What I supported, and I still do, was the idea that you don't punish a child for the crime of a parent. I still don't believe that. Maybe Mitt Romney does believe that. Maybe he believes that when a parent commits a crime, you go after the child as well.

But here's the difference. I never had illegals working on my lawn. I don't believe in sanctuary cities. I don't believe in amnesty. And I do believe in having a secure, fenced border.

But I don't believe that this country has surely reduced itself to the point that when a parent commits a crime and breaks the law, that you grind your heel in the face of 6-year-old.

What I did support was when a child had been in our schools all his or her academic career and wanted to go to college, if that student would apply for citizenship, which is what I thought we wanted, then they would be able, if they had obtained the same academic level.

And that's the whole point. It was a meritorious scholarship. They would be able to acquire that scholarship because, quite frankly, I would rather have them college-educated, I'd have those folks become citizens, college-educated, paying taxes, rather than being in a position where their income was so low they ended up becoming tax- takers.

That seems a far more reasonable approach. And frankly, Wolf, you know, if that's a deal-breaker for people, well, they've got other choices for picking a president. But this is a better country than that.

We punish people who break the law. We don't punish the children of those who break the law.

BLITZER: When you were talking about illegal immigrants mowing someone's lawn, you were referring to Mitt Romney, in a widely publicized case.

Do you believe he personally knew that those individuals, those gardeners who were cutting his lawn, doing his lawn maintenance -- did he know that they were illegal immigrants? Is that what you believe?

HUCKABEE: I don't know, Wolf. You'll have to ask him. But the point is, he makes it so that he says, you know, everybody involved in this is wrong. He criticizes Rudy Giuliani, criticizes John McCain.

But, you know, at some point we just have to accept that this is a very complicated problem. I think most -- all of us agree, secure the border, stop amnesty, stop sanctuary cities, fix the problem by dealing with the employers, so if you touch the demand, you touch the supply. Those are reasonable ways in which we can deal with this crisis.

The problem is a dysfunctional government in Washington that has done nothing. That's why I think people are looking for somebody who doesn't have a Washington address. That's why my numbers are surging.

But I do have the most executive experience of anybody running for president, Democrat or Republican. And people want to know that you've actually gotten something done when you were governing, that you take the tough challenges and you fix problems. That's what being president is all about.

BLITZER: Jonah Goldberg, a conservative writer -- a conservative columnist, wrote in The Los Angeles Times this week this about you.

He said: "Huckabee is a populist on economics, a fad follower on the environment, and an all-around do-gooder who believes that the biblical obligation to do good works extends to using government and your tax dollars to bring us closer to the kingdom of heaven on earth."

Is he right?

HUCKABEE: No, I don't think so. You know, over the 10 1/2 years that I was a governor, Arkansas taxes increased by one penny, but our schools improved so much that the CARET Foundation said we had done more to reform education in five years than had been done in the previous 50.

We went from a road system that was deemed the worst in the country, by Truckers Magazine, to the most improved. I changed the way to get a driver's license so that, instead of it taking seven hours, all day, it took four minutes on the Internet.

Brown University said we had done more in technology to make our state accessible online and to do more electronic services than any other state in the country.

So what we did, we modernized Arkansas. We rebuilt its education system.

The things that were done were done to make government functional. People don't hate government. They just want it to work. And that's what we did in my state, and that's what I would do as president.

BLITZER: I'll leave you, because we are out of time, Governor, with Chuck Norris, the actor who is now one of your big supporters. You've got an ad running. I'll play a little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: An important policy message from Governor Mike Huckabee.

HUCKABEE: My plan to secure the border, two words: Chuck Norris.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I guess that ad shows you still have a sense of humor, Governor. But you're lucky to have Chuck Norris in your corner.

HUCKABEE: Well, I think so, too. Chuck's a great guy. We're having fun with it. You know, the issues we deal with are serious. But quite frankly, I think one of the problems in American politics is that the people who run take themselves way too seriously.

We need to take the issues seriously, but we also need to realize that the greatest thing about America is we're still a nation where our freedom gives us the opportunity to wake up, even laugh at ourselves and our politicians and not be shot for it.

That's something great about this country. And I'll always enjoy and celebrate the terrific freedoms we have and enjoy that Chuck is on my side, rather than against me.

BLITZER: I think everybody wants Chuck on his or her side.

(LAUGHTER)

Hey, Governor, thanks very much for joining us.

HUCKABEE: Thank you, Wolf. It's always a pleasure.

BLITZER: And this important programming note. Tomorrow, in "The Situation Room," we'll hear from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He'll be among my guests. The "Situation Room" airs from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern, weekdays.

Just coming up here on "Late Edition," some positive trends occurring in Iraq, but is the Iraqi government actually capable of uniting that country?

We'll get an assessment from the former Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi. "Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. For a change, there's been some good news coming out of Iraq in recent weeks.

Violent attacks against U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians is down to levels not seen since February of 2006. But there's deep concern that the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's government is either unable or unwilling to use the positive trends on the military front to make any serious political progress.

Just a short while ago, I spoke with Iraq's former prime minister Ayad Allawi. He joined me from Amman, Jordan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Prime Minister Allawi, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to "Late Edition."

Let's talk a little bit about what's happening in Iraq right now, and I'll put some numbers up on the screen. In terms of Iraqi civilian deaths, it looks like the trend is positive. Back in June, more than 1,100 civilians were killed. In October, it went down to 565; in November, so far, 324, a dramatic decrease.

As far as U.S. military troop casualties, deaths back in June, it was over 100; in October, it went down to 38; in November so far, 31.

It looks like these trends are positive. Is the so-called military surge now working? AYAD ALLAWI, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ: Well, indeed, these figures do indicate a positive trend, but it's still early to judge what is going to happen. We need to wait and see, in the coming months and weeks ahead, and see whether the trend is going to continue to stay down or will increase.

We hope, definitely, the trend will improve, the positiveness will improve, will continue. But I think we're still lacking on the political side.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I want to talk about that, but I also want to play for you what President Bush said about this current situation, as it's unfolding in Iraq right now. Listen to President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Since the surge of operations began in June, the number of IED attacks per week has declined by half. U.S. military deaths have fallen to their lowest level in 19 months. Iraqi forces have now assumed responsibility for security in eight of Iraq's 18 provinces. Across this country, brave Iraqis are increasingly taking more responsibility for their own security and safety.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that right, that the Iraqis themselves are beginning to take charge throughout the country, leaving less of a responsibility to U.S. military forces?

ALLAWI: I think still the Iraqi forces are not ready yet to take the full responsibility. I think especially the police forces are still definitely not ready yet. I think there is an improvement in the army, but we want to observe the trends of how militias are being dealt with and how militias will be purged in the various security institutions. These are items still waiting to be observed, and we hope that ultimately, the Iraqi forces will be able, but I can't see this happening yet.

BLITZER: You've suggested that while there might be progress on the military front, there's dramatic lack of progress on the political front, that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is not stepping up and doing what it should be doing. The last time we spoke, you had lost almost all confidence in Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki. Where do you stand on that point now?

ALLAWI: Well, absolutely, Wolf, the aspect of political solutions in Iraq and reconciliation is still far away. We haven't achieved this. We are not even closer to achieving this than we were a few months ago.

And in fact, we are witnessing more and more problems within the partners in the political process. We also, I would like to mention, that the so-called awakening (inaudible), in the various provinces and various parts of Iraq is not part and parcel of the government. It's independent groups in various provinces who are cooperating with the American forces and with the multinational forces, and that's why we see a reverse pattern in Anbar and Mosul and Diyala and Kut. And maybe we'll see this in Karbala.

BLITZER: So what you're...

ALLAWI: But this does not...

BLITZER: What you're suggesting -- excuse me for interrupting, Prime Minister -- what you're suggesting is that the progress in the al Anbar and some of the other provinces is not because of the Iraqi government's policies, but despite the Iraqi government's policies, is that right?

ALLAWI: Indeed. This was an agreement between the people of Anbar, between the various factions and tribes in Anbar and between the multinational forces, the American forces. The government, in fact, of Baghdad have declared some time ago that they are against the so-called awakening in Anbar. And I think unless we integrate what is happening in Anbar into the system, into the government, into the political process, then we'll end up in having various militias running the various provinces throughout the country, unfortunately. That's why we need to see an integration of this process.

I explained this to Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad a few weeks in Baghdad over dinner at my house, and said that unless these people are integrated, the government would remain outside this process and the result will be in producing more militias and warlords.

BLITZER: The spokesman for Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, Ali Al-Dabbagh, he said this this past week. He said, "Certainly, we still have more to do. But no one can deny that we have passed the difficult stage in Baghdad, that stage that we had all feared of sliding to a civil war."

Is he right that fear of a civil war has now passed, that Iraq is beyond that?

ALLAWI: I don't think so at all, Wolf. I think it's still very early days. We know that a third of the population of Baghdad have left Baghdad. If not more than a third.

We know that cement blocks are separating various districts in Baghdad. We know that there is a very strong presence of the multinational forces in Baghdad. God knows what will happen once these forces will withdraw, when the drawdown starts.

That's why I think these are early days, very early days. And I think this is really to avoid addressing the political issues and addressing the reconciliation and taking courageous steps in favor of reconciliation in the country.

BLITZER: Here is what Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, told me when I interviewed him recently about the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JALAL TALABANI, PRESIDENT OF IRAQ: I don't agree with my friend, Dr. Ayad Allawi. I think Maliki is now, in this moment, the best man to be prime minister of Iraq. He is a clean man. Corruption have been done before. He is seizing the power, and there are corruptions, it's true. But that was in the government before him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Do you want to respond to what Jalal Talabani says, that he has confidence in Nouri al-Maliki. Yes, there was corruption, but that corruption, he says, began before Nouri al- Maliki became prime minister.

ALLAWI: Well, the corruption is not the only issue in Iraq. It is not Maliki himself, it's the system, the current system in Iraq and the political process.

We see an unbalanced political process. We see that there are still significant portion of the population is outside this political process. We still see the millions of Iraqis displaced both inside Iraq and outside Iraq. I think the whole political process needs to be addressed. I think the issue of reconciliation is a must and it's very important if we want Iraq to recover from its current problems.

Corruption would fall in one of the corners, definitely, to be addressed in the near future but I think we shouldn't mask the reality, the reality is still harsh. We are still far away from reconciliation. End the killings in Iraq and the violence and the various abrupt confrontations in Diwaniyah and Basra and Karbala and elsewhere.

I think we are still in the early days and I believe very strongly that we are still a fair bit away from reconciliation, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, Dr. Allawi, but would you like to be the leader of Iraq, the prime minister down the road?

ALLAWI: Well, I'd like to see Iraqi stabilize itself. I would like to see definitely Iraq play a significant role, positive role on the world stage. I would like to see Iraq as part of a healthy Middle East, with -- performing its duties and securing the people of the Middle East. This is the most important thing that I would like to see.

I would like to see a non-sectarian government. I would like to see militias end and finish. I would like to see a modern, democratic, federal state in Iraq. This is what I am looking forward.

BLITZER: So does that mean that you'd like...

ALLAWI: Being the prime minister or not is...

BLITZER: Would you like to be the prime minister again in order to try to achieve those goals? ALLAWI: Well, we have to achieve it, whether I'm the prime minister or I'm not the prime minister. these are the objectives that the Iraqis need to achieve, and this is what we have to fulfill in Iraq. Otherwise, the problem will reappear again, once the drawdown will start.

BLITZER: Ayad Allawi is the former prime minister, the interim prime minister of Iraq. Prime Minister, thanks very much for joining us.

ALLAWI: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And coming up next, the race to 2008. The political analyst Ron Brownstein gives us his take on an already heated U.S. presidential campaign and why the United States has become so polarized. Ron Brownstein walking in right now. Welcome, Ron. We'll talk to you in just a moment. You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition."

Take an unpopular president, a more unpopular Congress and a bitterly fought presidential race before the first primary votes are even cast, and it makes for a contentious political atmosphere here in Washington and across the United States.

So what will it take to turn things around?

Joining us now is Ron Brownstein. He's the political director of the Atlantic Media Company, which publishes the National Journal, the Atlantic Monthly Magazine. He's also the author of an important, brand new book, entitled "The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America."

Ron, thanks for coming in.

RON BROWNSTEIN, AUTHOR: Good to be here, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll talk about the book in a second, but you heard our interview with Mike Huckabee, the Republican presidential candidate, the former governor of Arkansas. He's doing well in Iowa, in these polls, but does he really have a shot at getting the Republican nomination?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, he is another wild card and source of uncertainty in a Republican presidential race that increasingly seems to be defined by exactly that.

I mean, you have a race that is moving toward greater fragmentation, it seems, with each passing week. Mitt Romney thought he had a clear path to a victory in Iowa, where none of the other major-funded candidates have been mounting full-scale efforts. And then here comes Huckabee, drawing on the strong religious conservative segment of the electorate out there.

Now, for Huckabee, the question will be two things. Does he have the organizational heft to turn the interest in him into actual votes, when the caucus comes in January?

And secondly, even if he does get a good showing there, where can he then -- what can he parlay that into down the road?

New Hampshire very tough for him. It's been very tough for southern candidates for a long time. You don't have that religious conservative presence in the Republican Party.

But he could take this if he does well into South Carolina, and cause headaches for Fred Thompson, who is planning that to be his, kind of, unveiling, where he enters the race in a big way.

So it's just one more factor in a Republican race in which no one really seems to be able to take charge and move this forward toward a clear path to the nomination.

BLITZER: And the gloves are coming off among a lot of these Republican candidates. I want you to listen to what Mitt Romney said, earlier this month, referring to Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS: I don't think the Republican Party is going to choose a pro-choice, pro-gay civil union candidate to lead our party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Well, what do you think? Is Mitt Romney -- as a pundit, is he right?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, Romney has had the advantage of a clear strategy, in two respects. He's wanted to win Iowa and New Hampshire to give him momentum, moving down the road. That has been, you know, the traditional way people have approached this.

And secondly, he's trying to consolidate conservatives. He wants to be the conservative candidate against Giuliani or McCain, John McCain, who would presumably have more strength in the moderate wing of the party.

What's complicated the situation enormously for Romney is, first, the emergence of Fred Thompson as a competitor for conservative votes, especially in the South, in southern states where Giuliani's social positions, theoretically, would be the biggest obstacle for him -- and now Huckabee.

So you have the possibility of that conservative vote being fragmented, down the line, and not allowing any one candidate to unify it and consolidate it and thus increasing the chance for one of the moderate candidates, more moderate candidates, McCain and Giuliani, to squeeze through.

So his strategy has been clear. Executing the strategy is getting tougher, as we get closer to actual voting.

BLITZER: Fred Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee, the movie star, star -- a star of "Law and Order" -- he came into this contest with really high expectations, some suggesting he's another Ronald Reagan movie star turned politician.

Here's what he said last month. Listen to Thompson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Some people think, seemingly, that we need to defeat the Democrats next year by becoming more like them. My friends, I suggest that it's not time for philosophical flexibility in terms of our principles. That is a sure- fire way of making sure we don't win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That sounds like a jab at Giuliani as well.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, and it's language almost identical to what Mitt Romney has used, earlier in the year, to underscore the point I made before, that they're competing for the same space.

There are a lot of Republicans who came out of -- look, in the 2006 election, Republicans lost the center of the electorate. Independents moved decisively against them in both House races and in all of the key Senate races.

But by and large, the dominant interpretation, among Republicans leaders, coming out of that election, was they lost the center because they had been insufficiently conservative on issues like immigration and especially spending.

And you had a variety of conservative leaders, after the election, saying we had to get back to basics to position ourselves for 2008. It's a debatable proposition, but it is one in which you see several of the Republican presidential candidates signing on to.

And in that language, Thompson, like Romney before him, is very much making that case.

BLITZER: Your new book, "The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America," talks about this deep rift that has developed, here, between conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans.

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, though, are pledging to bring the country together. I want you to hear these little clips from both of these Democratic presidential candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, D-N.Y.: We've got to begin to work together. That's what I've tried to do in the Senate, working across party lines, trying to find common ground. That's the kind of president I will be. And I will spend a lot of my time working with not just Republicans but people who aren't in public life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: What I want to do, in this campaign, is make certain that we are breaking out of the gridlock and partisanship and the standard practices of Washington and actually start listening to the American people, to get things done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. It looks like they were reading your book...

(LAUGHTER)

... and responding to one of your major criticisms. But are they too polarizing, especially Hillary Clinton, to do what you're recommending needs to be done to try to bring this country together?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I would say, Wolf, that it's going to be very difficult for any candidate, during the election, to fundamentally transcend the divisions in the country.

It's going to be very hard, in a perspective way, to convince voters who have been dubious of one party or the other that they are in fact something different.

But I do believe the opportunity is there for a president of either party, once they are sworn in, in 2009, to begin to at least move us back from the precipice that we're at here, in terms of hyperpartisanship.

Look, as I talk about in the book, the forces that have driven us to this period of extreme partisanship are structural. They are beyond the decisions by any individual politician. We could talk about some of them in a minute.

But that doesn't mean we are doomed to be quite as divided as we are now. And I think the opportunity is there and the audience is there.

When you look at approval ratings for the president and the Congress today, the sense of America is that we are on the wrong track. And it is very hard to believe, for anyone, I think, to draw the conclusion that people are looking at the way Washington works today and saying, yes, let's have four more years of this.

I think there is an audience out there in the country for a different kind of leadership that would ask for sacrifice from your own coalition as the leverage to demand it from the other side, and try to build reasonable consensus around compromise that will allow us to move forward on issues that we are not dealing with now.

And that really is one of my major points. It is not just simply a question of politicians being nasty to each other or yelling or a, kind of, Crossfire-ization of American politics.

It is that we are not moving forward on the things that we care about: health care, immigration, energy, entitlements, building a sustainable bipartisan strategy in the war on terror. We are not dealing with these problems because we are gridlocked.

BLITZER: Well, if the Democrats and the Republicans won't do it, here's the question. Could a third party presidential candidate, perhaps Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, do it?

He may be reading your book as well. Listen to what he told me the other day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Why can't they stop this partisan bickering in Washington?

Why can't they address the issues?

You who are running, tell us what you'll do.

And how do you stop this constant fighting that has immobilized Congress, both parties, and, incidentally, both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is there room for a third-party presidential candidate?

If Michael Bloomberg wanted that, how would he do?

BROWNSTEIN: Here's the paradox. I believe that the political system today is more divided than the country itself. I believe there is still a majority in the country that is open to reasonable, centrist, by and large, compromises that will allow us to move forward.

So, in that sense, yes, there is an audience for a third party.

Because both parties -- one of the central things I talk about in the book is this idea of the great sorting out. Each party's coalition has become more homogeneous. Democrats are more uniformly liberal. Republicans especially are more uniformly conservative. There is a lot of room there in the middle.

The problem is for the third party, when things are this divided, voters on each side are reluctant to cast a ballot for a candidate that might inadvertently help the side they like least to win. After Ralph Nader's experience in 2000 that many liberal voters voted for Nader as a Green Party candidate get George Bush, will moderate conservatives vote for Bloomberg if it increases the odds of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? Will moderate liberals vote for Bloomberg if it increases odds of Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson. I think that is a real challenge. The polarization creates the opportunity for a third party, but it also puts a restraint on willingness of the voters to take that opportunity.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, as I said, has written an important new book, "The Second Civil War." I think a lot of our viewers will enjoy reading this. They'll learn something from it as well. Thanks for coming in.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up next, the popular evangelical leader Joel Osteen explains why he's not mixing religion with politics. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Time now for your e-mail. Many of you wrote to us about your expectations for our Republican presidential debate that's coming up in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Wednesday. Andy in Florida, for example, wrote this: "I would like to hear details when it comes to securing our borders, not the sound bytes, 'I will secure our borders.' Details, details, details."

David in North Carolina wrote us: "I want to know what the candidates stand for and how their positions and their track records on the key issues contrast with each other, not just propaganda put out by the campaigns."

We always welcome your comments. Our e-mail address is lateedition@cnn.com. And you did it once, now it's time for history to repeat itself. Go to cnn.com/youtube debates and post your questions for the Republican presidential candidates. The deadline for your submissions is midnight tonight. The debate Wednesday, November 28th, that's this coming Wednesday, 8 p.m. Eastern. Only here on CNN. Much more "Late Edition" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We'll hear from Israeli and Palestinian representatives at the top of the hour on the peace conference in Annapolis. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Hopes for peace.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: ... new vision for the future. Two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We'll look ahead to this week's U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference and assess the stakes for all sides with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin.

Then, we'll size up the presidential candidates in a hard-fought race for the White House and preview the CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate with three of the best political team on television. "Late Edition's" second hour begins right now.

Welcome back. A fresh effort to try to jump-start the long- stalled Middle East peace process. The United States sponsoring a conference on Tuesday, not far from here in Washington over at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Israeli and Arab leaders will be there, but what are the expectations for all sides? Here with the Israeli view is the Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin. Welcome to "Late Edition," Colonel.

MIRI EISIN, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: It's wonderful to be here.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Syria's decision to send their deputy foreign minister, not their foreign minister, to Annapolis. Is that good or bad?

EISIN: It's positive that Syria chose to send anybody. We weren't sure they would. The fact that they are choosing to send somebody who is openly Syrian at a delegation, at a conference which is all about the Israeli-Palestinian track is an important one.

BLITZER: Would you hope that the foreign minister would come as opposed to the deputy foreign minister? Is that important?

EISIN: It was a question if they were going to come at all. They've made a very open choice here. They are coming, and it doesn't matter at what level. This is somebody official from the Syrians.

BLITZER: Are you ready to negotiate the future of the Golan Heights with the Syrians?

EISIN: Right now, we're talking about the Israeli-Palestinian track. That's what Annapolis is all about. It's about jump-starting. It's about going forward.

BLITZER: But in principle, if this comprehensive peace involving Syria is to be included, in principle, are you ready to negotiate the Golan Heights?

EISIN: The prime minister has stated clearly that we want peace with Syria. We have not seen any steps that have shown that Syria is ready for peace with us. Let's take it one step at a time, because this week is about the core issue of the Israeli-Palestinian issues. BLITZER: But if they are ready to negotiate a comprehensive peace with Israel, is Israel ready to withdraw at least from some of the Golan Heights?

EISIN: It's one of those questions, Wolf, that I'm not sure that I'm ready to answer right now. We have stated clearly that we are for peace, not just with the Syrians, but with the Palestinians, that we understand that peace comes with difficult compromises on both sides.

BLITZER: The Saudis will be sending their foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal. He said this on Friday: "It is no secret to say that Saudi position has been hesitant until today. And if it were not for the Arab consensus we witnessed today for attending the conference, we would not attend. But Saudi Arabia has never defied any Arab consensus; as long as there is such an Arab consensus, then Saudi Arabia will go along with her brothers in unity."

He also said he wouldn't shake hands with any Israeli. Is this important that Saudi Arabia will be present?

EISIN: Yes, it is important. If we look at where we are right now, openly, the Arabs who do not have diplomatic relations with Israel are all coming to join. They're coming to be part of the process, not to stand on the outside. They're going to be both at Annapolis and hopefully -- hopefully -- involved afterwards in supporting the Palestinians in giving us the credibility and the capability to go forward together.

The Saudis are in. And that's an important part.

BLITZER: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this on Wednesday. She's the host, if you will, of this conference in Annapolis: "The parties have said that they are going to make efforts to conclude it in this president's term," referring to the Bush administration. "And you know, it's no secret that means about a year."

Do you believe, as the spokeswoman for the Israeli government, that within a year all of these so-called final status issues, Jerusalem, the settlements, borders, all these things can be resolved?

EISIN: I think that we need to be hopeful. Right now, we have leadership on both sides that's willing to talk. Wolf, they've been talking for the last year. They've been meeting on a regular basis, talking about different things. If we don't have hope, we're not going to be able to go forward.

Let's address them. Prime Minister Olmert has said clearly, time is not on our side. Let's dig in, get into the business of making peace, and go forward.

BLITZER: Because the prime minister, as you know, is incredibly weak, according to all the Israeli public opinion polls right now. Does he have the capability of making the kind of tough decisions that clearly would be needed if there were going to be an Israeli- Palestinian peace? EISIN: This prime minister has one of the strongest coalition governments that Israel has had for many years. He stands at the front of a broad coalition that are there for the issues of peace. They have spoken about the ideas of going forward. His party was voted in on that platform. So the fact that the polls may say one thing, Israel is ready to go forward. We're at a stage where our good will and our hope give us the idea that we can go forward.

BLITZER: There's been some concern that going into this summit, you and the Palestinians have not yet agreed on some sort of statement, that given the Palestinian position, the Israeli position, you can't even come up with some sort of draft statement. Is that true? Do you have a statement yet?

EISIN: There will be a statement, hopefully. And if there isn't, that's not the issue right now. What we want to try and do is continue the dialogue. We want to start addressing the core issues. The biggest statement that's being made this week in Annapolis is the launching of full-scale negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

BLITZER: But if you can't even reach some sort of statement on the principles of where you want to go, isn't that a sign that this thing may be fruitless?

EISIN: The principles are clear to all of us. We're talking about a two-state vision for the two peoples. Whether you get into the nitty gritty, yes, there are not just little details. There are difficulties. We're trying to address them. We're trying to go forward.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some of these so-called final status issues like Jerusalem, the future of Jerusalem. Is the Israeli government prepared to cede sovereignty, at least in parts of east Jerusalem, to a future Palestinian state?

EISIN: The Israeli government, the prime minister have stated clearly that they are ready to get into the business of peace. That means compromises on both sides. I don't know that we know right now what exactly that will entail. But we want to go forward. The prime minister stated openly that he saw hard compromises for Israel along the way. These compromises are mutual. They have to come from both sides.

BLITZER: Would those hard compromises include giving up at least part of Jerusalem?

EISIN: At this stage, we're not talking about any of what the negotiations will entail. That's what we're hoping start in the coming weeks to try and get together and do something.

BLITZER: Because as you know, the Palestinians would like their capital to be in east Jerusalem.

EISIN: Nobody said that any of these issues are simple, Wolf. If they were, we probably would have resolved them a long time ago. Obviously, at the front, we do have issues, with Jerusalem being one of the most difficult ones. But we can go forward together in a dialogue as long as both sides, the Israeli and Palestinian, are open to compromise.

BLITZER: Now, there's been some suggestion you've agreed to free settlement activity on the West Bank. What exactly does that mean? Will Israel stop expanding existing settlements on the West Bank?

EISIN: Israel has stated very clearly that we will do everything under our obligations in the road map, and the issue of the settlements is one of them. Also the removal of illegal outposts. Israel is not just committed, we are obligated to fulfill all of our obligations. We want to hope again that in this case, it's not just Israel. Both sides have obligations. They both need to be addressed.

BLITZER: So does that mean that settlement activity has been frozen at least for now as these negotiations are about to get off the ground?

EISIN: The prime minister announced with the government last week already that there will be no new settlement construction, that we will remove the illegal outposts. These are issues which are at the heart of Israeli politics, and these are issues that are being addressed. But what's most important is that he's stated clearly that we will fulfill all of our obligations.

BLITZER: I interviewed the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, a couple -- few weeks ago here on "Late Edition." And he said Israel should have gone to the IAEA before bombing some sort of suspected nuclear facility in Syria if it had concerns. I want you to listen to what Mohamed ElBaradei told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY: To bomb first and then ask questions later, I think it undermines the system and it doesn't lead to any solution to any suspicion. Because we are the eyes and ears of the international community. It's only the agencies and inspectors who can go and verify the information.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, you want to respond? Because why didn't you go to the IAEA instead of launching an air strike?

EISIN: Wolf, we haven't in any way talked about these things that we've heard about in international publications, so we have no response.

BLITZER: So you don't want to respond to the director general?

EISIN: No, not right now. On the issues that we're talking about when it comes to nuclear, we're talking about nuclear Iran, about the problems that we addressed there. BLITZER: Because he also told me, and I'll play this little clip for you, he said that these fears that Iran is developing a nuclear bomb right now may be exaggerated. Listen to what Mohamed ElBaradei said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELBARADEI: We haven't seen any concrete evidence to that effect, Wolf.

We haven't received any information that there is a parallel ongoing active nuclear weapon program.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You want to respond to him on that front?

EISIN: There's no question, whatsoever, that, if you ask the international community today, the United States of America, the leading members of the E.U., the leader of Great Britain, the leader of France or the leader of Germany, I don't think that they would be giving the same answer as the director general of the IAEA.

BLITZER: What's the Israeli assessment?

How much time is there before you believe that Iran will have a nuclear bomb?

EISIN: The issue itself is not about Israel. It's about Iran...

(CROSSTALK)

EISIN: ... and the fact that they threaten the world.

BLITZER: But what is your assessment, though?

EISIN: What we're talking about, in general, is that they're not as close as they would like the world to believe, but they're not as far away as would make us comfortable.

BLITZER: Miri Eisin is a spokeswoman for the Israeli prime minister, for the Israeli government. She's a colonel in the Israeli army. Thanks very much for joining us.

EISIN: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good luck at the negotiations this week.

And just ahead, we'll get a different perspective, the Palestinian perspective. We'll talk with the Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat. That's coming up, right here on "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're joined now by Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator. He's here in Washington, getting ready for these talks on Tuesday at Annapolis. Welcome.

SAEB EREKAT, PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Well, I think it's a good opportunity, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask you this question. We'll start off with -- do you believe that a deal can be done, within a year, by the end of President Bush's term in office, January 2009, a comprehensive peace between Israel and Palestine can be achieved, resolving all of the so-called final status issues?

EREKAT: Yes, I believe it's doable, Wolf. And I think it's up to us. It's up to us and the Israelis. I really believe it's time for it.

BLITZER: Is there enough good will, right now, to make the kind of tough decisions that need to be made in order to come up with a compromise?

EREKAT: I think of it as a genuine need, on the Israeli side and the Palestinian side. You know, agreements reflect the need. And I think Palestinians and Israelis need to make the historic decisions, as far as the end game on...

BLITZER: And do you believe those historical decisions have been made on the part of the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government?

EREKAT: What I believe -- what people don't know is that, for the last four months, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas sat together, four eyes, and they went through the issues alone, no records no, briefings, nothing, just to see where they stand with each other.

And I think the minute they found that there may be a chance, they formed a negotiating team. And I really believe we don't need to reinvent the wheel. We don't need to create (inaudible) from the start. I think it's time for decisions and not negotiations.

BLITZER: I pointed out to Miri Eisin, the spokeswoman for the Israeli government, that the polls in Israel show Prime Minister Olmert incredibly weak, although she says the government itself, the coalition that's been assembled, is pretty strong.

You've got your own problems, the Palestinians. You've got President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, but he doesn't control Gaza. There are a lot of Palestinians who support Hamas.

Listen to what the Hamas leader, Ismail Haniya, said on Thursday. He said, "We believe that this" -- Annapolis -- "conference is stillborn and will not realize any of the political aspirations, rights, and ambitions of the Palestinian people."

Hamas does control a lot of influence among the Palestinian people. EREKAT: They do indeed control Gaza, after their bloody coup d'etat in Gaza. But I don't think Hamas or anybody else would be allowed to sabotage this historic opportunity being offered to us by President Bush, which, I think, is the last thing that President Bush could be doing.

I'm not saying that Annapolis, in the 24 hours, would produce the magic stick that would deliver. But I think the most important thing is that we start, the day after we start the negotiations on the permanent status issues and the end game.

The day after, we need to start limiting inhabiting (ph) settlements, removing roadblocks, doing our obligations in security as Palestinians.

And I believe, if you say Mr. Olmert is weak and Mr. Abu Mazen is weak, that's my point. I think, if these two persons can deliver an agreement, in the end game, they will be the most important two persons, since Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, for Jerusalem.

BLITZER: Abu Mazen being the other name for Mahmoud Abbas...

EREKAT: That's right.

BLITZER: ... the president of the Palestinian Authority. But if he doesn't control Gaza, I mean, what happens if you have a million and a half Palestinians who, presumably, are loyal to Hamas, at least in Gaza?

That sounds like a serious problem.

EREKAT: It is a serious problem, Wolf. I'm not denying that we have a real, real serious internal Palestinian problem. But I don't think Gaza will have a military solution.

I think the only solution for Gaza is the ability of President Abbas to stand up and tell his people, I have the end game; I'm going to deliver you toward freedom and independence; this is your road, within this period. Before President Bush's term is over, you're going to have a Palestinian state.

If he can do that, I don't think Hamas stands a chance to survive Gaza.

Look, last week, there were 700,000 people in the streets of Gaza, saying what? Saying they want to turn a new page. They want a new chapter. People want to see hope. People want to live. People want to go the extra mile toward peace.

BLITZER; Do you believe the Palestinian negotiators -- and you're one of the chief negotiators -- will be willing to compromise with the Israelis, in terms of a final border between Israel and Palestine; in other words, not necessarily going completely back to the pre-'67 lines.

EREKAT: I don't think it's about the so-called bizarre mentality between Palestinians and Israelis. The end game is a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security. This is done: '67 borders -- and nations do agree, you know, they want to have swaps, minor swaps, agreed-upon swaps, so on and so on.

I believe it's doable. I don't want to go into the details of how Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security, and other issues will be done. But we all know -- we all know, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators know that it's doable.

BLITZER: So, in other words, you're open to some sort of compromise, some sort of modification in the pre-'67 lines?

EREKAT: Wolf, I think the size of the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem, on the eve of June 4, 1967, stood at 6,205 square kilometers. That's the size of a Palestinian state. So we're open to the swaps of land, in equal...

BLITZER: So, in other words, if parts of the West Bank become Israel, parts of pre-'67 Israel, presumably, could be part of a future Palestinian state? Is that what you're suggesting?

EREKAT: You've got it, absolutely, like what happened, like what happened between many nations.

BLITZER: And is the issue of Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, or at least parts of East Jerusalem, as the capital of a Palestinian state, is that negotiable, from your perspective?

EREKAT: Well, Jerusalem is (inaudible). There is an east Jerusalem that is the capital for Palestinians, west Jerusalem for the Israelis. And then you need to maintain the concept of an open city. You need to maintain a body over the two municipal capitals, because you're not going to go out and take the water infrastructure, or this infrastructure because this is Jewish and this is Palestinian.

That's what I'm telling you. Today, what we need to do, the most important thing that's happening today is that after seven years of total stalemate, President Bush is providing -- with Dr. Rice -- are providing an opportunity for us and the Israelis to resume the negotiations. The different thing that's different from any other conferences throughout our conflict. You have the Arab world coming in force.

BLITZER: You have Saudi Arabia coming. The foreign minister, Prince Saud...

EREKAT: Syria's coming. Saudi Arabia is coming, Jordan's coming, Egypt's coming, the Gulf is coming, North Africa's coming. All the Arabs are coming on a ministerial level. Islamic countries. Indonesia, Malaysia are coming, India, Africa, the whole world is coming to tell Palestinians and Israelis, we are standing shoulder to shoulder with you, we know the endgame, we know it's going to be a two-state solution, we know there's going to be a Palestine living side by side the state of Israel. This is significant. BLITZER: And with hindsight, that was the big blunder at the end of the Clinton administration at the Camp David negotiations. It was just U.S., Israel, and Palestine. You didn't have the rest of the Arab world helping you support you in terms of the difficult concessions that you might have to make.

EREKAT: I think Camp David brought us a long, long, long way. We don't undermine the efforts of President Clinton and the others. Today, I think we learned the mistakes of what went wrong at Camp David. The absence of the Arabs, the absence of the international community, the support system that should be provided by many parties. This is what's being done today.

BLITZER: What's the problem in coming up with a joint declaration statement, an Israeli-Palestinian statement that would be released at the end of this Annapolis conference? I take it you're going to be meeting with Israelis later today. You're still working on the language. What's the sticking point?

EREKAT: I think the most important thing today is -- comes 28th of November, the day after Annapolis, is that Palestinians and Israelis will stand next to each other and announce that they are launching the permanent status negotiations, deciding to put a work plan for the negotiations, and to carry out their obligations emanating from the road map.

See, the Israelis want us to carry out our obligations from the road map before we go into implementing any treaty, even if we reach a treaty. And I think they mean Gaza, they mean that -- we are willing to carry out our obligations.

I'm not saying that we did everything. We have a lot of security responsibilities, but they have. They have a lot of responsibilities of their own, like freezing settlements, stopping the wall, you know, moving roadblocks, opening offices, closing east Jerusalem. So let us do it in good faith.

BLITZER: So, you're saying a joint statement that you've been working feverishly on with the Israelis, with the help of the U.S., that it's not necessarily all that important to even have some sort of joint declaration?

EREKAT: Well, it can be done. But I think the most important thing is that we have received the invitation. The most important thing is that the conference will take place on Tuesday. The most important thing is that the Arab world is here, the Islamic world is here. The world is here, Europe is here, everyone on earth is here to tell us we're with you, do it.

And the most important thing is that we and the Israelis must realize one thing. With the whole world standing shoulder to shoulder for us, nobody will make the decisions required but Palestinians and Israelis.

BLITZER: Saeb Erekat is one of the top negotiators for the Palestinians. Welcome to Washington. Good luck in Annapolis. Let's hope this conference does lead to real peace negotiations.

EREKAT: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, stunning allegations about President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney from a former White House press secretary. We'll discuss the political fallout with some of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television. "Late Edition" continues, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Even though it was Thanksgiving here in the United States this past week, politics didn't take a holiday. Here to talk about that and a lot more, CNN's senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, and "Hotline" editor in chief and CNN contributor Amy Walter. Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Is the Bush administration, and you cover the White House, do they really believe that in the next year before the president leaves office they can wrap up a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal?

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not necessarily. They're optimistic, but cautiously optimistic, and they're trying to keep expectations on the ground for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, expectations when they're low, you can surprise everyone. You can come up with something that is not a major deal, but you could bill it as a major deal if it's better than nothing.

But also, I think they want to keep them low because they realize this could fall apart at any point. I mean, this was sort of almost thrown together. They were getting the invitations out just last week, and it's ironic in a way that when you think back to 2001, this White House was very outspoken about saying they thought Bill Clinton had pushed the process backward by having such a high-stakes game at the end of his tenure in office, and now nearing his own end in office, President Bush appears to be trying to save his legacy somewhat as well.

BLITZER: And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who's invested a great deal of time since becoming the secretary to try to get this peace process off the ground, she's going to be chairing this event, I assume, in Annapolis on Tuesday. And she's been ridiculed because she's failed to close the deal on this and other issues of the past. Donald Trump told me this a few months ago. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MAGNATE: And Condoleezza Rice, who's a lovely woman, but she never makes a deal. She doesn't make deals. She waves. She gets off the plane. She waves. She sits down with some dictator, 45-degree angle, they do the camera shot. She waves again. She gets back on the plane. She waves. No deal ever happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right. But she's got a lot of -- you're waving now, too. She's got a lot riding on this Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think Trump is a little extreme, as hard to believe as that may be, in describing Condi Rice. But I do think she has a lot riding on this. And the problem, of course, is that they could come to some agreements here, and that could well occur, although the White House won't say it.

But then the real question is whether these leaders can go back and have the strength in their own countries to implement any kind of deal. And that's something that Condi Rice has got to be nervous about, too. But yes, it's her legacy also.

BLITZER: The Wall Street Journal, Amy, writing this on November 20th in an article entitled, "The Annapolis Fiasco": Henry Kissinger once observed that when enough prestige has been invested in a policy, it is easier to see it fail than abandon it. At the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, next week, the current secretary of state will illustrate her predecessor's point."

What do you think about this, coming in the midst of this political process that's clearly under way here in the United States?

AMY WALTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, and the fact that the president doesn't have a whole lot of political capital left. I mean, if we talk about where President Clinton was in 2000, in the waning moments of his presidency, trying to put something together.

He was working with a great deal more political capital.

For voters, I think, especially, they're watching this election and they're not focusing at all on this current president.

I mean, I've said that they're trying to basically TiVo their way through the rest of the Bush administration -- you know, the time that Bush is spending in the White House, and move on to see what the next president will do about this.

HENRY: Well, you're seeing that some of the Republican presidential candidates, like Mike Huckabee, right here on "Late Edition," were almost talking this down a little bit, saying they -- they're, you know, almost pessimistic of any sort of a major breakthrough.

They said, obviously, hope springs eternal. There's always something possible. Fred Thompson said something similar this morning. John McCain was, sort of, mixed on it. But even Republican presidential candidates, in part because they're trying to reach out to conservatives in America, are saying that we're not expecting a major deal here.

BLITZER: And, interestingly, you've got a weak American president. You've got a weak Israeli prime minister. And you've got a weak Palestinian Authority president... (CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... and they're trying to make historic concessions, historic deal-making, which, even if they were all strong, would be very, very difficult.

BORGER: Yes, but, maybe, because they're weak, they need it so much more, that they might actually be able to get something done.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see. Obviously, it will take a year or so. But we'll see if they even get off the ground at this historic conference on Tuesday.

Scott McClellan was the White House press secretary. He was forced to go out and insist, during the Valerie Plame Wilson unveiling, if you will, as a CIA covert officer, that he was misled. And he writes in his new book -- and they've released a little paragraph from it -- he said, "I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the president's chief of staff and the president himself."

On the surface -- he doesn't give a lot more details, doesn't give the context of what he's saying. On the surface, this is explosive, that these five top officials, including the president and the vice president, knew they were giving him a lie to tell the American people.

HENRY: Well, it's tantalizing on its face, you're right. But when you look at the details, he's not saying directly, at least in that passage, that President Bush knowingly lied to him.

He's saying -- what he said on Larry King Live, Scott McClellan, after he left the White House, which is that he believed that the president unknowingly passed this on, that President Bush, as we've known for a long time, was assured by key advisers like Karl Rove, "I was not involved here," and you know, you have to determine whether we can believe that or not.

But that's been their story consistently, that President Bush was assured by his top aides -- he didn't know that they had been involved in this leak. And that's pretty much what McClellan is still saying.

BORGER: You know, I think the big question is whether he's calling the president and the vice president a liar. That would be huge news if that were indeed the case.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: That would be a bombshell.

BORGER: That would be a bombshell. But the words you keep on using is the right word, "knowingly," "knowingly," "unknowingly." "Did he knowingly" -- if you pass along a lie that was told to you and you believed the person who was telling you, i.e., the vice president or Karl or whoever it was, are you a liar? Well...

HENRY: Well, it's a pretty good way to sell books as well, let's not forget. I mean, to leak it out, you know, right on the eve of a Thanksgiving break, when there's not a lot going on; the president's at Camp David; Congress is out of town, it got a lot of attention.

BLITZER: It creates the buzz. The book isn't out yet. The book's not going to be out until the spring.

WALTER: Yes, I don't get that.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Usually, they want to wait. They would wait until then. But what do you think?

WALTER: And the buzz -- very quickly, I think, peters out. I mean, for most folks, they've pretty much made up their mind about how they feel about this situation.

Either they're following it pretty closely and they've determined that the president and the vice president were already involved and there's nothing that you can do to convince them that they weren't, or you've determined that it was not really -- it's a story that, kind of, has, sort of, spun its way out and, again, ready to move beyond it.

I don't think many folks are all that interested in reopening that again.

BORGER: Except for Scott McClellan, who, by the way, took the bullet with you guys in the White House press corps who were hammering him, day after day after day, for that statement that he said, that "I've been reassured about this." And he wanted to clear his name, clearly.

BLITZER: And he might get some pre-orders for the publishers, as opposed to the actual book.

(LAUGHTER)

So stand by. We're just beginning our political roundtable.

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson had a message for his campaign rivals today. We're going to tell you what he had to say. That's coming up in our "In Case You Missed It" segment. And a CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate, this Wednesday, November 28, 8 p.m. Eastern.

You have until midnight tonight to post your questions for the candidates at CNN.com/youtubedebate. "Late Edition" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday talk shows here in the United States.

ON CBS, the former head of the U.S. military Central Command, Retired General Anthony Zinni, addressed the prospects for Tuesday's Middle East peace summit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RET. GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI: Everybody's weak, so they are coming to the table, really seeking to have some resolution. I think the danger here is not in that you might not get an agreement. You could paper the walls with the agreements we've had so far. It's implementation. I would worry about a couple of things; one, that the preparation for this, maybe, wasn't done. We could get an agreement, but the implementation is going to be extremely difficult. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On ABC, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson urged his rivals to refrain from personal attacks on each other.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, D-N.M.: But for us Democrats to tear each other down, talk about issues like trust, like are we controlled by special interests, like other personal attacks, I don't believe we should be doing that. This is a Democratic primary. There should be an ample discussion of policy differences but not personal attacks. We're going to get attacked by the Republicans in the general election. Let's get ready for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And on Fox, Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson took issue with his rival Rudy Giuliani's suggestion that Thompson is running on a lackluster record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: My experience has had to do with matters on the federal level, national level. I was on the Intelligence Committee. I chaired a committee dealing with nuclear proliferation. I was the Republican floor leader for the homeland security bill. I could go on and on and on.

I have dealt with those issues for almost a decade, both in and out of government. And of course, Rudy has not, you know, five minutes of experience with regard to things of those natures.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

Up next, more with our political panel. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back. We're talking with three of the best political team on television: our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, and "Hotline" editor in chief and CNN contributor Amy Walter. Mike Huckabee was here on "Late Edition" in our first hour. I want to play this little clip of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mitt's changed his position. He's been all over the board. But my conservatism has been consistent. When he was pro-abortion, I was still pro-life and always have been. When he was for gun control, I was against it. When he was against the Bush tax cuts, I was for them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Amy, getting personal out there between Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.

WALTER: Yeah, and for Rudy Giuliani there and Fred Thompson, they're all in New Hampshire right now, saying things about each other left and right. Look, this thing is still as wide open as it was a month ago, two months ago, six months ago.

Yes, Mitt Romney, his lead, his once what we thought formidable lead in Iowa no longer there. Huckabee obviously the guy nipping at his heels. So, that's a good reason why you're going to see him engage directly with Romney. Romney, his lead in New Hampshire looking strong, but as we know, so much of it has been built up by his heavy spending. Once these other guys start spending, Giuliani's up on TV. Hey, Ron Paul's up on TV. Who knew...

BLITZER: He's got a lot of money, Ron Paul. Here the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, Gloria. Romney's at 28, Huckabee's at 24, Fred Thompson 15, Giuliani 13, McCain at 6, everybody else in single digits. It's very close in Iowa, and what happens in Iowa could have a spillover effect in New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond.

BORGER: What's happening to Huckabee is sort of the revolt of the evangelical Christians. They don't have any real candidate in this race. They expected Thompson to be their man, except guess what? He's not their man. And so they have decided to move towards Huckabee, and in a way, this is going to hurt Romney. But oddly enough, this is good for Giuliani because if Huckabee does well, that's the story we're going to pay attention to. We're not going to pay attention to the story that Giuliani tanked in Iowa, which could well happen.

HENRY: Rudy hopes to clean up in some of the later states like a Florida, where it's winner take all and he's got high name ID. You have a lot of New Yorkers who moved to Florida. And he thinks he can weather those early losses, maybe.

WALTER: Yeah. But I really don't think -- he still can't afford to lose or not at least come close in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. He has to have a win in one of those. I think New Hampshire is the most obvious place for him right now.

BORGER: He's Romney's nightmare.

BLITZER: I think that's fair to say. All right, let's talk about the Democratic side as well. And the pundit in chief, he hates to be called that, that would be the president of the United States. He weighed in this week as well in an interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson. Listen to what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I think she's a very formidable candidate, and one of the interesting things that she brings is she has been under pressure. She understands the kleig lights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, so the president thinking that Hillary Clinton, she's probably going to get that Democratic nomination. He went on to predict she would lose a general election. But what do you think?

HENRY: There are conspiracy theorists who have been thinking for a long time that the president, Karl Rove and others are trying to prop Hillary Clinton up against Obama, because they think in a general election they can beat her. I'm not so sure.

People very close to the president think he is genuinely of the belief that what he said in that interview is what he really believes deep down, which is that, just like him, given his political family, that Hillary Clinton has been tested, and that's going to go a long way for her. Maybe not all the way to the White House, but he thinks she's going to get the nomination.

WALTER: Yeah, I think that's a fair point. And then the other piece I think if you're Republicans is, we may not be able to beat her to win back the White House, but if she does drag down some of those lower ballot races, Democrats running for the House, running for the Senate, maybe that helps us temper what could be a big -- you know, big wins for Democrats in the House and the Senate this year.

HENRY: Instead of a blowout, it could be a mix.

BLITZER: And you know, in Iowa, we were talking about Iowa on the Republican side, look at this in that same ABC News/Washington Post poll, Obama is now at 30 percent, Clinton at 26, Edwards at 22, Richardson at 11. Everybody else way, way down. She's got to be worried about what happens in Iowa.

BORGER: Yeah. You know, remember, early on in this campaign, Wolf, there was some discussion that she wasn't even going to compete in Iowa seriously, and of course, now she is. And by looking at those numbers, it's sort of a statistical dead heat. Now, there's a caveat here. Iowa is a caucus. It's notoriously difficult to predict what's going to happen in caucuses. And also, Iowa caucus-goers decide very late what they're going to do. So we've got a bunch of debates coming up this month, and I think that caucus- goers are going to be looking at those debates very, very closely.

HENRY: If she were to lose Iowa, she would put President Bush's theory to the test right away. I mean, think back to 2000, he lost New Hampshire to McCain, and the president believes the reason why he won is that he didn't just take it lying down. He fought back, he came back hard, and he beat McCain.

So, then you would see the mettle. Could Hillary Clinton come back? All of a sudden, all of the pundits would be saying Clinton's down, Obama's up. If she loses Iowa, can she come back?

BLITZER: But there's one interesting phenomenon. This year, it's only five days apart. January 3rd is Iowa, January 8th is New Hampshire. And in this latest CNN/WMUR New Hampshire presidential primary poll, Clinton's at 36 percent, Obama's at 22 percent, Edwards at 13, Richardson at 12.

WALTER: And this goes back to Gloria's point earlier, which is what is the story that's going to be written out of Iowa? Now you could think there could be two tracks, right, that we could write a Republican and Democratic story.

But there's going to be the story that captures the imagination. Is it going to be the focus much more on Huckabee, what if he upsets Mitt Romney? Is that a much more interesting story than how close? Maybe Obama and Hillary Clinton are one or two points behind. So that's going to determine just how far this story gets spun into New Hampshire.

BLITZER: And we'll be talking about it every step of the way. Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Up next, the popular television minister Joel Osteen on why he's steering clear of politics.

And if you'd like a recap of today's "Late Edition," you can get a highlight on our new and improved "Late Edition" podcast. Simply go to cnn.com/podcast.

This important note. Coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week at War" with host Tom Foreman. Here's a preview. TOM FOREMAN, HOST, CNN'S "THIS WEEK AT WAR": Thanks, Wolf. Coming up on "This Week at War," significant improvements on the ground in Iraq. But is this positive trend merely a pause in the violence there?

What tactical lessons can be drawn from Iraq in fighting the war on terror in Pakistan? And we'll look at how countries like Venezuela and Iran are using oil as an economic weapon. All of that and more ahead on "This Week at War."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He's one of the most popular evangelical leaders here in the United States, but, unlike some of his fellow pastors, Joel Osteen is staying on the sidelines it comes to politics.

I spoke with him in "The Situation Room."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: There are some evangelical pastors, leaders out there, who get deeply involved in politics. Others, like you, try to stay out of politics.

Is there a right or a wrong course for an evangelical leader?

JOEL OSTEEN, EVANGELICAL LEADER: You know what, I don't think it's right or wrong. I think it's what God has put in your heart to do. And I just have never had any desire in that area.

I have good friends that are very strong -- they can get on there and debate, and they're much more political. So I don't know if it's right or wrong.

I believe, you know, for me, what's right is to not get on the political side. Sometimes I believe that divides the very audience I'm trying to reach.

And Wolf, in a church like ours, our congregation has many thousands. And they're Democrats, Republicans, independents, people that are for the war and not for the war. And I believe I have to take the high road and say, let me help you in your spiritual walk.

BLITZER: All right. What about on some of the -- you know, what many evangelicals would call the moral issues, whether abortion or gay rights?

Do you get involved in trying to express your opinions on those sensitive issues?

OSTEEN: You know what? I would say this, Wolf. I don't crusade against them or crusade to make my opinion known. I just -- again, I feel like my calling is to bring hope and encouragement, teach people how to live their everyday lives.

But I'm not for abortion and, you know, I don't think homosexuality is God's best, but I just try to stay in my calling. And our main thing is we're for everybody, to bring them hope and encouragement, and not to exclude a certain group from our following.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joel Osteen, speaking with me in "The Situation Room."

Coming up next...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your one greatest strength and your one greatest weakness?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The CNN YouTube Republican presidential debate this Wednesday. We're going to go to the scene of the action in St. Petersburg, Florida, our Bill Schneider, standing by live. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It happened with the Democrats. Now it's the Republicans turn. CNN and YouTube are teaming up for a Republican presidential debate this Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The candidates will be taking questions from you. Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is already on the scene in St. Petersburg.

Bill, it comes at a time when these Republican candidates -- and the race is very close -- are beginning take the gloves off and they're beginning to go after each other in a much more robust, aggressive way.

SCHNEIDER: That's exactly right. Because the Republican race, even more than the Democratic race, is wide open. And they're going to have to be very sensitive to the issue of illegal immigration.

That's become the hottest issue in the Republican race. It matters a lot to the Republican Caucus participants in Iowa. But they're here in Florida, which has a huge minority population, a lot of immigrants, legal immigrants, some illegal immigrants here in Florida; a lot of the voters very sensitive to any display of insensitivity by these Republican candidates.

BLITZER: And they're going after each other on their previous statements, their supposed flip-flops. I suspect that's going to be a feature at the YouTube debate.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. They will be called to attention for things they've said in the past.

You know, the voters here -- they're interested in what you're going to do in the future. And they want to hear what these Republican candidates have to say.

It's interesting. The debate is being held here in Florida. Florida is holding an early primary. The Democrats are refusing to campaign here. At some risk, the Republicans are depriving Florida of half their delegates, at the convention.

But you know what? The Florida voters are saying, we dare you to ignore Florida. And they're not.

BLITZER: We'll see you in St. Petersburg. Thanks very much. Bill Schneider on the scene for us. And that is your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, November 25. Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. Remember, we're in "The Situation Room," Monday through Friday, from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Until tomorrow, thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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