Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer
Interview With Vicente Fox; Interview With Hoshyar Zebari
Aired April 02, 2006 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11:00 a.m. in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 10:00 a.m. in Mexico City, 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 our guests in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Sophia.
We begin in Iraq where the U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and her British counterpart, the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, made a surprise visit today.
Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is following the story. He's joining us live from Baghdad. Nic?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's been a round of meetings with top politicians here. They met first with Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq. The meeting there, congratulating him on all his efforts to get a new government formed in Iraq.
They said, and they stressed, both Jack Straw and Condoleezza Rice stressed that a new Iraqi leader must be somebody who can bring all Iraqis into the fold.
They went on to meetings then with the current prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Now, Mr. Jaafari is widely viewed as the principal stumbling block in forming that new government. His United Iraqi Alliance, the big Shia coalition, has nominated him. There are objections from Sunni politicians, from secular politicians and from the Kurds. They didn't directly tell him that he needs to step down. Diplomacy doesn't allow for that. But the message was there that Iraqis -- Iraq's politicians need now to form a new government very quickly for the sake of their people and for the sake of stopping the violence here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic, there have been a bunch of incidents, more incidents today in Iraq even as these desperate efforts to form a new government of national unity continue with direct intervention now of the British and U.S. foreign ministers in effect.
What happened with that U.S. Military helicopter that apparently went down?
ROBERTSON: An Apache Longbow helicopter operating south of Baghdad about 5:30 in the evening yesterday, about 15 miles south of Baghdad. It went down in combat operations, we're told. At the moment the two pilots are missing. It's not clear exactly what has happened to them, but they were shot down in combat operations. And the investigation, the search for them and to find out exactly what happened, is still ongoing, Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic Robertson reporting for us in Baghdad. Nic, thanks very much.
And as we now know, the American journalist, Jill Carroll, is about to land back in the United States. Her plane scheduled to land soon in Boston, having survived a three-month hostage ordeal in Iraq.
But the deadly insurgency, the sectarian violence, continues. There's still no new Iraqi government. Just a short while ago I spoke with Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, in Baghdad.
BLITZER: Foreign Minister, thank you very much for joining us. Welcome back to "Late Edition."
You had two surprise visitors today, at least surprise to the rest of the world, maybe not to you, the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
What was their basic message to the government of Iraq?
HOSHYAR ZEBARI, IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you, Wolf.
In fact, I've just come from meeting out two guests in Baghdad: Dr. Rice and Mr. Straw, Secretary Straw. And the message they are bringing is of two parts. One, there is a sense of urgency to form this new Iraqi national unity government. And second is, there is a sense of impatience back in Washington and London about the delay in the formation of this government. And they were urging us and all the other Iraqi leaders to accelerate efforts to form this government.
BLITZER: What about Ibrahim al-Jaafari? Is he the man that you have confidence in, who should be the next prime minister of Iraq?
ZEBARI: Well, this is one of the challenges, actually, to form this new government. There are a number of parliamentary blocs who raised questions about him leading the next full-term government for four years.
And all the main parliamentary blocs have written to the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shia bloc, to reconsider his nomination. But still, there is a deadlock on this, and the only way to break that stalemate, in my view, is to go to the parliament, to convene the House of Representatives of 275 persons, and then to resolve this issue, whether it would be him or somebody else, or to nominate some other people from the United Iraqi Alliance. I think this is how the thinking is about resolving this issue of the nomination of the prime minister.
BLITZER: Even one of the Shiite leaders yesterday, Qasim Dawood, said, "I call on Jaafari to take a courageous step and set a fine example by stepping down. We have stood behind him for 50 days, and today we have reached the conclusion that there should be a prime minister for all Iraqis, not just one group."
Is that the Kurdish position as well? You're a leading Kurdish political figure.
ZEBARI: Well, the Kurdish Alliance also has written to the Shia bloc, or the United Iraqi Alliance bloc, to reconsider the nomination of Dr. Jaafari, and to give more than one option, or one candidate. What Mr. Qasim Dawood said, actually, he's a member of the alliance, he's a new joiner, and that was his personal -- his view, actually, about Jaafari's nomination.
But I think this issue, Wolf, to be honest and frank, is not an easy one. Up to now, the Shia, or the United Iraqi Alliance still support Jaafari as their main candidate, and they haven't changed views and opinion on him, and they believe that if Jaafari goes, they go. That's why it's not an easy issue, this.
We tried over the last few weeks to resolve this issue amicably, by consensus, but it seems that the issue will not be resolved, and it will go to the parliament to be settled there.
BLITZER: This is what Ibrahim al-Jaafari was quoted in "The New York Times" as saying on Friday. He said: "There's concern among the Iraqi people that the democratic process is being threatened. The source of this is that some American figures have made statements that interfere with the results of the democratic process."
There seems to be growing unease, at least among some of the Iraqi Shiite leaders, as far as the U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad in Baghdad, is concerned.
Do you see him as a source of a solution to this crisis or a source of the problem?
ZEBARI: Well, the U.S. ambassador, Dr. Khalilzad, has played a very important, prominent role since his appointment here, and we've been working very closely with him. And really, he's admired, he's respected by all the communities.
But because of the sensitivity of this situation, you will hear some criticism from this side or the other side. I think the main criticism is -- from the Shia bloc has been really, you should not be too upfront.
The United States has a great deal of influence to exercise on all the political leaders. There are different ways to use that.
But I think he still enjoys the respect and the -- of all the Iraqi leaders, including Shia leaders from the United Iraqi Alliance. And I think Iraq is blessed to have such an ambassador with such political skills, to help all the parties to reach consensus.
BLITZER: One quote that stuck out from Ambassador Khalilzad recently -- he said this. He said: "More Iraqis in Baghdad are dying if you look at the recent period of two, three weeks from the militia attacks than from the terrorist car bombings."
These militias seem to be out of control right now in terms of the revenge, the killings that are going on. How bad is the situation?
ZEBARI: Well, I don't want to underestimate the seriousness or the gravity of the situation, but really, it's not a situation close or near to sectarian war, an all-out sectarian war, or civil war, as some of the commentators have indicated.
The country is not dragging into a civil war, or even a sectarian war. There are violence, but this violence is localized in certain areas. It's not nationwide.
Secondly, the political will of the Iraqi leaders had not been shaken. They stood against that scenario. The presence of the multinational force on the ground also serves as a deterrent against the breakout of an all-out sectarian war, as well as we have a political process.
We are making some modest achievements, but everybody is on track; everybody is talking; everybody is compromising.
The main problem is one of time. We are losing a great deal of time. And unless this government is formed to be up and running definitely, I believe, seriously, that there would be more killing and more Iraqi blood shed in vain.
BLITZER: Foreign Minister, it was kind of you to spend some time with us here on "Late Edition" during this hectic schedule you have. Thanks very much.
ZEBARI: My pleasure. My pleasure.
BLITZER: And just ahead, the immigration battle here in the United States.
We're going to go live to Mexico, talk with that country's president, Vicente Fox. This is an exclusive interview that you will see only here on CNN.
Then we'll get the view on this heated debate from two key U.S. senators, Chuck Hagel and Evan Bayh. They're standing by live.
Plus, the nuclear standoff with Iran. Will that country's government reconsider its position? My exclusive interview with the top Iranian nuclear official. Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back. This week's summit in Mexico on illegal immigration ended with promises of greater cooperation from all parties. But the issue remains a volatile one, especially here in the United States.
Joining us now from Mexico with his perspective is the country's president, Vicente Fox.
Mr. President, welcome back to "Late Edition." Thanks very much for joining us.
Help us understand what, if anything, was accomplished in Cancun on this very sensitive subject of illegal immigration into the United States.
PRES. VICENTE FOX, MEXICO: Wolf, how are you? Good to be in your program.
This meeting in Cancun was extraordinary. It held a lot of accomplishments; to begin with, to get the friendship and the personal relationship stronger, especially with the visit of the prime minister from Canada, Stephen, because at Chichen Itza and the meetings gave us the opportunity to really exchange about different subjects.
On the subject of migration, a bilateral subject among United States and Mexico, we had the opportunity to review where is the issue right now, where is the debate.
And it's clear that the issue is on U.S. Congress, so the ball now is there. And we fully respect the sovereignty of the U.S. Congress. And I know they will take the most appropriate decision for both, for the betterment of the United States and for Mexico.
We understand the issue of migration as a responsibility that we share, both countries, but we have to deal with it until we can have a flow of migrants or the situation of migration in United States handled with an orderly manner, with a legal manner, secure manner.
And we are here to cooperate and do our part of the job and exercise our clear responsibilities that we have on the issue, which is building up opportunities for our people in Mexico.
That is what we want at the very end. And we're trying hard. We're working on this, bringing in new jobs, granting new opportunities to people in their communities. So this is the situation right now.
BLITZER: Listen to what the president said because he clearly wants your government to do a lot more to stop some of the migrants from coming into the United States. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Border security is not just one country's prerogative. It's the prerogative and duty of both countries. And we spent time talking about how to work together to continue to strengthen that cooperation necessary to do our duty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president, Mr. President, the president of the United States -- he wants you to take more aggressive steps to stop the illegal immigration into the United States.
Are you planning on taking any steps along your northern border with the United States to do that?
FOX: Absolutely, yes. Number one, by creating opportunities in Mexico. Right now, on the border there's 100,000 spaces available for jobs on the Mexican side. So we work hard on the opportunities.
Number two, we work hard on the enforcement of the law and the security on the border. We work very closely together, associated with the Homeland Security Department in the States, with Mr. Chertoff.
We work on an everyday basis to make that border secure, to make sure that we comply with human rights respect, and we're doing the same actions and programs on the southern border. Because today, we have a strong migration coming from Central America into Mexico illegally, and then trying to move up to the United States.
Now, for instance, last year we withheld 240,000 Central Americans, and we sent them back to their communities, to their nations. So we're working on all aspects. First, our obligation is to grant opportunities to our people in Mexico. Number two is to do our part of the responsibility in complying with the law and yes, trying to retain our people here in Mexico.
BLITZER: The legislation that passed the House of Representatives, and now different legislation is being considered in the U.S. Senate. The House version would make the illegal immigration a felony, would require employers to verify workers' status.
It would place serious fines for hiring illegal immigrants. It would build a 700-mile fence along part of the U.S.-Mexican border. It would not allow any guest worker program. The president of the United States wants a guest worker program. What do you think of this 700- mile fence that so many members of the U.S. House of Representatives and some in the Senate would like to build?
FOX: Wolf, the specifics are hard to meet at this point of time. But let me tell you that I fully agree that it has to be a comprehensive resolution that, first of all, has to do with security, has to do with a border that really is sufficient but also has to do with the jobs that these people is doing in United States.
They are being hired by somebody. U.S. economy needs this energy, needs this working force. At the same time, we know that we have to do the part of our responsibility that has to do with building up opportunities in Mexico. Now, how we manage the border, it has to be number one with security. And migration should be under the rules of a legal situation, has to be with order the flow of migrants and has to be secure, respecting their human rights.
And if we reach that situation, that desired situation, then there's no need for walls or there's no need for other actions now.
We are not just going to sit down here in Mexico and say, oh, very good, we have now the opportunity to send people there. No way. We understand our responsibility. And our responsibility is to work...
BLITZER: Unfortunately, it looks like we just lost our transmission from Mexico. We're going to try to repair that and get back to the president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, in a moment. The satellite just went down. We'll take a quick break.
Much more of my conversation with the president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, right after this. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're joined once again, live, by the president of Mexico, Vicente Fox.
Mr. President, did you know there's serious criticism that elements of your government have actually encouraged illegal immigration from Mexico into the southern part of the United States for whatever economic or social reasons?
What do you say to those critics?
FOX: I deny that. That's not true. We work hard on the opposite, in trying to build up opportunities here in Mexico.
As a matter of fact, our people don't want to be there as long as they have opportunities here. And so basically, that had...
BLITZER: Well, that's unfortunate. We just had another satellite collapse there. We apologize to the President of Mexico, Vicente Fox. We'll try to regroup. We'll try to fix that.
In the meantime we'll take another break.
We'll stand by and speak with two U.S. senators, Republican Chuck Hagel, Democrat Evan Bayh. They're standing by. We'll get to them right after this short break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I expect the debate to bring dignity to America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Welcome back. President Bush at this week's summit in Cancun, Mexico, talking about the hot-button issue of immigration reform.
Welcome back to "Late Edition."
Here to talk about that and more two guests, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. He's a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee as well as the Foreign Relations Committee.
And Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana. He also serves on the Intelligence Committee as well as the Armed Services Committee.
Senators, welcome back to "Late Edition."
We're going to speak hopefully with President Vicente Fox. We'll bring him into this conversation as soon as we get that technical problem resolved.
But let's talk a little bit about this whole immigration battle.
Do you agree with the president, Senator Hagel, that there must be a guest worker program that would put these illegal immigrants right now on a track over many years toward citizenship?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Yes, I do agree with the president. I think immigration reform is just as President Fox and President Bush have said, is more than just border security. That's an element, of course.
But we have today 11 million, 12 million illegal immigrants in this country. That's not in our interest national security wise, economically, socially.
And I think any type of immigration reform we pass must include some pathway to a legal status.
Now, different ways to do that. And there are other dynamics here too. We've got visa issues and -- so I would hope and expect that the United States Senate is going to have a legitimate debate on this. I hope that we can pass a bill that in fact addresses these issues. So I think the president's right.
BLITZER: So you totally disagree with those in the Republican party, the so-called base, the conservative base -- Tom Tancredo, and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, James Sensenbrenner, and others -- who say that this guest worker program is nothing more than amnesty and rewarding those who jumped ahead of the line and didn't play by the rules?
HAGEL: No, I was the first to introduce comprehensive immigration reform legislation, bipartisan three years ago with Tom Daschle.
I know amnesty when I see it. And amnesty was what Jimmy Carter gave those who fled this country and decided not to fight in Vietnam. That's amnesty: unconditional, come back, all is forgiven. That's amnesty.
The bill that I have, the bills that have been introduced, what came out of the Judiciary Committee, that's not amnesty. This is criteria that they have to comply with.
And the other question I would ask back to that group: how are you going to address this? You realistically think that you are going to get 12 million illegal immigrants to come out of the shadows? Many have been here over five years, now well into the fabric of communities, paying taxes, raising families, going to church on Sunday.
And you think they're going to load up on a bus and go home? Come on. Let's get real with this.
They don't have an answer. And we've got to understand what our options are in the interests of our country.
So yes, I do disagree with them because I don't think they're enhancing the debate. I don't think they're providing any solutions. And we're looking here at solutions.
BLITZER: I suspect, Senator Bayh, you pretty much agree with Senator Hagel on all of this, but correct me if I'm wrong.
SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: No, I do agree, Wolf. I think we'd be a lot better off if we had more Chuck Hagels and Dick Lugars involved in this debate.
We've got to be both honest and practical with the American people. And it is true that we have a security problem along our border. It is not right for our country to have hundreds of thousands of undocumented people coming and going. We've got to do more to secure those borders.
BLITZER: Should there be a wall, a fence, a 700-mile fence, as the House passed?
BAYH: Well, I said both true and practical, Wolf. I don't know (inaudible) a wall's going to work. So we have to do things to secure the border, to stem that flow but in a more practical way.
And dealing with the guest worker issue, I think Chuck is exactly right. We've got about 12 million people. That's close to double the population of my state: every man, woman, and child.
We couldn't track these people down and expel them from the country if we wanted to.
So we have to find a way, without rewarding violating the law, to bring them out of the shadows, impose fines, criminal background checks, paying back taxes, learning English, those kinds of things. Make them go to the back of the line.
But then have some kind of regular status here because the truth is that's in our national security interest, too.
BLITZER: Let's switch gears and talk about Iraq. The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, made a surprise visit there today with Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary. Clearly, they're trying to get a government of national unity in place.
The sense is that Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the man selected by the Shiite majority, is not the guy to do it. How forceful should the U.S. be, the Bush administration specifically, Senator Hagel, in trying to get this new government of national unity in Iraq off the ground?
HAGEL: Well, there's no question that the future of Iraq will be decided by the Iraqi people. This election took place almost four months ago, and we still do not have a government. Yes, we would want to see -- hope to see, and I think it really is dependent on whether the Iraqis can form a national unity government.
But to your question, we have limited influence. You can't have it both ways. We have been in fact the de facto government of Iraq the last three years. We've put into position all those who have essentially governed the Iraqis. We took great pride four months ago as the president and others have said the Iraqis have had a free, fair election, a constitutionally based election, they have elected 275 members of a national assembly, they will choose their own prime minister and their cabinet.
And so we have to accept the end product of that. If in fact we really believe in democracy.
So to go in now and to try to forge a different outcome from where the 275 members are is going to be difficult. There's a backlash we're seeing right now in Iraq for that.
And we cannot be seen as again trying to insert a puppet government or however way that's perceived. Just the fact that we had to have the secretary of state and British foreign minister make essentially an emergency visit to Baghdad tells us an awful lot.
BLITZER: How concerned are you, Senator Bayh, and you're privy to the most sensitive information, that this country is on the verge of a civil war?
BAYH: Well, I'm very concerned, Wolf. One or two more atrocities like the bombing of that mosque, and we could have something like a civil war there. And it's very violent as it is today.
We have to put the pressure on them not to choose who we want as their leader but to get their own political act together, to form a unity government where the Shia will not just seek to have payback against the Sunnis.
The Sunnis will reconcile themselves to the future, not attempt to go back to the past, and the Kurds will realize they can have some autonomy but not a quasi-independent state. If they get their act together, Wolf, we can help them. If they don't, if they're not willing to make the tough compromises to live in one country together, no matter what we do, this is not going to work out and a civil war may be likely.
So picking their prime minister? No. But telling them, look, the time for decision making is now? Yes, that's absolutely what we should do.
BLITZER: We've re-established contact with the President of Mexico, Vicente Fox. I want to bring him in.
Mr. President, once again, our apologies for some of those satellite problems that have occurred. Two senators, prominent Senators Evan Bayh and Chuck Hagel, are here in our Washington studios with us. We're talking about Iraq. I want to get back to immigration in a moment. But any regrets that you have that you didn't support President Bush when he asked for your support on the war in Iraq three years ago?
FOX: I think they are completely two different subjects that have different considerations. What we have on our agenda today is several bilateral issues, specifically and most importantly the migration issue, which we're working out together. We have worked hard for five years, listening, getting the facts, understanding the problem and coming up with proposals or solutions.
And basically, there are two that are key. One --
BLITZER: Unfortunately, there he goes again. We apologize to the President of Mexico, Vicente Fox. We're going to try to fix that and bring him back on "Late Edition" on another occasion.
But once again, we're sorry for those technical problems.
BAYH: Let him know it happens to us too, Wolf.
BLITZER: It's nothing anti-Mexican. I can assure our viewers. These things happen in live television.
Let's continue this conversation about Iraq. Senator Hagel, you said, and correct me if I'm wrong, you think the country's in worse shape now than it was three years ago. I'm paraphrasing. But what did you mean by that?
HAGEL: Well, I think if you look at the measurement of progress and where we are today in Iraq versus three years ago, whether it's oil production, whether it's corruption, whether it's government, whether it's just the basic needs of the people, more illegality, illegal acts, murders, criminality, when you look at the scope of where we are as you measure progress in any country, I think it is worse off, Iraq, today than it was three years ago.
And I would add to that, the region. I've always believed that you can't deal with Iraq in an isolated test tube. It is part of a regional dynamic. Is the Middle East more stable... BLITZER: So what I hear you saying -- let me interrupt for a moment. What I hear you saying is it was a huge mistake to go in and get rid of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. should have just left him there, tried to contain him, continue that status quo, with hindsight you believe it was a mistake?
HAGEL: Well, you know what I've said about this over the last three years, and I've questioned it every step of the way.
History will decide whether it was a mistake or not.
But the fact is where we are today I think the Middle East is more unstable, more complicated, more dangerous than it was three years ago.
Now, historians will figure out whether we made a mistake or not.
But certainly every tactical, every strategic decision right from the beginning was a mistake in my opinion. Try to invade a country the size of Iraq with 130,000 troops and occupy it? That was insane. The chief of staff of the army, General Shinseki, said it was. He said it would take hundreds of thousands of troops. Secretary Rumsfeld and others said, well, that was just fantasy.
So, yes, I think we are in worse shape today than we were three years ago.
BLITZER: Senator Bayh, you agree?
BAYH: We're nowhere near where we need to be, Wolf, that's for sure. And the level of incompetence that has characterized this venture has been tragic and breathtaking.
As Chuck mentioned, never enough troops, no plan for the aftermath, complete de-Baathification, that policy was described to me in Baghdad this last January by one of the administration's top people there as, quote, "insane."
So this whole thing has been just a tragedy from the beginning in terms of the incompetence...
BLITZER: So what do you do at this point?
BAYH: Two things. Number one, one of our to be generals told me in our last visit, there's no military answer to this; there can only be a political answer to this. So keep the pressure on the Iraqis to reach the tough decisions they have to make to make a political go of it. Then there may be some possibility for extricating ourselves in a reasonable way.
If they don't make those tough decisions, then this is never going to work out, and we should leave sooner rather than later.
The final thing, though, is then security. Benchmarks for progress, a timeline for reaching those benchmarks, accountability for making them. One final point, Wolf, it's not helpful when the president says, "Well, this is going to be for my successor to decide. We're there for at least three more years."
That's not the way you keep the pressure on the Iraqis to make the hard decisions they have to make...
BLITZER: He said future presidents would have to decide on the extent of the U.S. deployment in Iraq.
HAGEL: Wolf, if I could add one thing to Evan's list of things we have to do. We must recognize this in a regional security way. We must bring in the countries of that region in some established regional security format, concept, because this is a regional issue.
And the only way you do that is you've got to buy them in over there. And to let Iraq flap around out there, as has been the case the last three years, is going to produce a very unstable and dangerous world.
And that has to be done. To regionalize this in some security mechanism, whether it's a regional NATO or whatever it is, as soon as this government is formed that has to happen, it seems to me.
BLITZER: Senator Bayh, listen to what Secretary Rice said on Friday and then her subsequent clarification on Saturday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them, I'm sure. This could have gone that way or that could have gone that way. But when you look back in history, what will be judged is did you make the right strategic decisions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICE: I meant it figuratively, not literally. All right? Let me be very clear about that. I wasn't sitting around counting. I also said a little later on that I've done this a thousand times. That probably was also figurative.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: When she said that the U.S. has made thousands of tactical errors looking back, she didn't mean it literally. But she is acknowledging that there were a lot of mistakes that were made.
BAYH: It sounds, Wolf, like they were for candor before they decided to be against candor. I mean, finally -- and I think the American people will understand that mistakes have been made.
What they don't understand is the inability to learn from those mistakes, to do better, to move on and get to the place where we need to be. So I think it was -- I think she should have stuck with her first admission, which was look, mistakes have been made. Now we need to learn from them and go on and bring this to a better conclusion.
BLITZER: Senator Hagel, you served in Vietnam. You're a combat veteran. A lot of parents of troops, men and women, are serving in Iraq right now. When they look at the current situation, should these young men and women be in harm's way, as they clearly are, it's a very dangerous situation, knowing what you know right now? Or should the U.S. simply declare a victory, if you will, and get out?
HAGEL: Well, our brave young men and women who have put their lives on the line for this country are there because they're committed to a cause greater than their own self-interest. And the cohesion of that commitment to our country, to our policy, must stay strong.
And yes, the human dynamic of this as parents look at their children, is that worth it? Is my son or daughter's life worth what's going on over there?
Again, I think we can't in these particular times get bogged down with that one question because this is a large concept of a policy. We're trying to deal with not only terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, our national security, but the fact is we do overlook and we did overlook at the beginning that human dynamic. Somebody has to fight these wars. Somebody dies in these wars and is maimed. And somehow we tend to disconnect that from the policy.
BLITZER: Because -- I ask you these questions because both of you have widely been considered potential presidential candidates.
And I'm going to take a break, but I want to ask both of you before we do, if you were president, could you look an American parent in the eye and say I want to send your son or daughter over to Iraq right now because this is critical to the American national security?
HAGEL: Well, I would never say that because I never believed it when we went in. I said before we went in that we are in a situation in Iraq that Iraq does not present an imminent danger to the United States of America.
Now, we can't have thousands of presidents and secretaries of state and other senior officials. We have one president. We have one Congress. And they make the policy for this country.
But no, I would not have said that because I didn't believe it. I would never send a troop anywhere in the world unless I believed, and the president I'm sure believed and still does, his policy is the right policy.
And I'm not questioning the -- or impugning his motives. But I don't agree.
BLITZER: You want to just quickly respond?
BAYH: Two things, Wolf. I think it is right when we stand for freedom, it is right when we stand for democracy, and it is right when we stand against dictators like Saddam.
Knowing what we know today, we wouldn't have made the same decisions that we've made. We would have tried to displace him using other means.
But we are where we are, and it is in the national security interests of the United States of America to try and keep this from devolving into a civil war that will destabilize the region and come back to hurt us.
If the Iraqis get their act together, we have a chance to prevent that. If they don't, then we should leave much sooner rather than later because there is nothing we can do for them if they are not willing or capable of doing for themselves.
BLITZER: All right, Senators, stand by.
We'll take a quick break.
Much more of our conversation with Senators Hagel and Bayh right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're talking with Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel -- he's a member of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees -- and Indiana Democratic Senator Evan Bayh. He's also a member of the Intelligence Committee as well as the Armed Services Committee.
There was a front page headline, Senator Hagel, in the Washington Post that said this, "Attacking Iran May Trigger Terrorism: U.S. Experts Wary of Military Action Over Nuclear Program."
Should the U.S., assuming diplomacy fails, try to militarily take out the Iranian nuclear facilities?
HAGEL: Well, first of all, I think we have to recognize that this Iranian issue does represent a real threat to the United States.
BLITZER: Unlike Iraq, you mean.
HAGEL: Unlike Iraq. This is a real legitimate issue.
And I think, before we charge off in going off to another war -- we're in two of them now, in Afghanistan and Iraq -- we'd better think through this one carefully and clearly. I think it's going to require an engagement directly with the Iranians.
BLITZER: You mean direct conversation?
HAGEL: I think the United States, not just on Iraq, but an entire package of interests -- I don't know how you conduct diplomacy; I don't know how you deal with these great complicated, dangerous issues of our time unless you talk to people.
We really do not have good intelligence on what's going on there. That story in the Washington Post, I think, is quite accurate.
BLITZER: The story, Senator Bayh, was that if the U.S. were to take military action, the Iranians would respond through Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad with worldwide terror attacks against Americans.
BAYH: Wolf, they probably would. They would probably also try and disrupt our petroleum supply from the Persian Gulf. So there are all sorts of practical and adverse consequences to using military force.
But the consequences of a nuclear armed Iran, the foremost sponsor of terrorism in the world, are just, if not more grave.
So what we need to do today, Wolf, is very much like John Kennedy did with Cuba when there was an attempt to put nuclear weapons there: seek to make Iran a pariah state with an economic, financial, political embargo of that country, summoning all the other nations that have the capability of doing that to let them know that there are adverse consequences to continuing to pursue this nuclear path.
That, really, at this juncture is our best hope of avoiding two unacceptable alternatives, a nuclear powered Iran or using military force against them, which has very difficult consequences.
BLITZER: We only have a little time left, but very quickly, if you could give me your quick response. Senator Feingold's motion to censure the president because of the warrantless domestic surveillance; do you think that's a good idea?
BAYH: Look, I understand the frustration and the anger at the direction this country has taken the last five years. Those are emotions that I share as well.
But we owe it to this country to do more than just vent our frustrations or to engage in symbolic actions. We have to change our course.
That means rewriting the FISA statute and ultimately winning November's elections so that we can have more checks and balances. I just don't see how that helps us get to either of those outcomes.
BLITZER: What do you think?
HAGEL: I'm opposed to it. I don't think it's a wise course of action.
I disagree with the president on his interpretation of FISA and his authority to wiretap without warrants. But the best way to handle that is the way we're doing it now.
I was one of the four Republicans who rewrote that bill, introduced that bill. That's the way to do it. I don't think the president lied to America. I don't happen to agree with his interpretation. But I think his interests were right and his motives were clear.
So to say we ought to censure him because we disagree with him -- I don't think that's the correct way to approach it.
BLITZER: Do you want to be president of the United States?
HAGEL: Well, I'll make a decision on my political future after the election this year.
We need a lot of good people like Senator Bayh and others in this business. And I think we do have a lot of great people who are going to come forward for the 2008 election. America needs them, both Democrats and Republicans.
BLITZER: What's your answer? Do you want to be president of the United States?
BAYH: I want to help lead this country in a better direction, Wolf. We need that. What capacity that will mean, I haven't decided yet. I hope it won't harm our friendship if I don't announce that on your show here today.
BLITZER: It won't harm our friendship. Thanks to both of you. Appreciate it very much.
HAGEL: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: And there's much more ahead on "late Edition," including the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. We'll ask him about his proposal to address the uproar over illegal immigration. "Late Edition" continues, right at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We are a nation of laws, and, therefore, must enforce our laws. And that includes enforcing the laws of people coming into our country illegally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: From the immigration battle to the war in Iraq, President Bush goes on the offensive, but is the U.S. public buying his message and how worried are Republicans in Congress about slumping poll numbers?
We'll ask Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICE: It is not the international community that is isolating Iran. It is the Iranian regime that is isolating Iran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Iran gets a new warning about its nuclear program. Will the country defy the world? Iran's representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, speaks out in an exclusive interview.
Welcome back. We'll speak with the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in just a moment.
First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Sophia.
In Iraq a bit of diplomatic muscle today, the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her British counterpart, the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, made a surprise visit to Baghdad.
Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is in the Iraqi capital. He's joining us now with the latest details. Nic?
ROBERTSON: Well, Wolf, they met with a lot of politicians here today. But the first one they met with, the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, thanking him for his efforts in trying to form a new Iraqi government for holding meetings. And they stressed to him the importance that whoever leads the new Iraqi government needs to be someone who can bring Iraqis into the fold.
They then met with Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the current prime minister in Iraq, the man who is widely seen here as a stumbling block to forming that new government. He wants to be the next prime minister of Iraq.
Sunni politicians, secular politicians, Kurdish politicians all oppose his nomination by the dominant, large Shia political bloc.
The discussions there very diplomatic, but the message coming across loud and clear to Iraqi politicians from both Jack Straw and Condoleezza Rice, that the Iraqis need to form that new government quickly. The reason they need to do it quickly is because the vacuum is allowing the insurgency, is allowing the sectarian violence to really get a hold here in Iraq, Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic Robertson on the scene for us in Baghdad. Thank you very much.
Back here in the United States, Iraq certainly a high issue as is the immigration reform debate. And it's drawing some unusual battle lines with members of the president's own party opposing key parts of his proposal for reform.
Joining us now to talk about immigration, Iraq, lots of other issues, the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.
Senator, thanks very much for joining us.
SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: Wolf, nice to be with you today.
BLITZER: Let's talk about Iraq, first and foremost. This is an issue that hovers over this presidency over these past three years. It will define, I think most experts agree, the Bush presidency.
How concerned are you right now that this whole adventure in Iraq may turn out to be a waste, if you will, or it may turn out to be nothing that really justified the enormous cost in lives and treasure?
FRIST: Well, I'm not concerned about the justification because I believe that we were justified initially, we're justified today with the war on terror being a war that it is incumbent upon us to address aggressively. That's what we're doing in Iraq, Afghanistan, indeed around the world.
I do think it's going to be a critical week this week. The president has laid out a very clear plan for Iraq in a political sense, in an economic sense and in a security sense. We've made security progress, we've made political progress last year with the three free elections with a turnout greater than here in the United States.
Economically growth there is around 3 1/2 percent to 4 percent, projected to be 9 percent.
The focus this week will be on that civil society, government, political end of things that we have to have a government that is broadly supported in Iraq. Right now the focus will be on al-Jaafari and the prime minister over the next week. And I'm sure that's what the secretary is talking about today.
BLITZER: She and the British foreign secretary clearly trying to get the Iraqis, shake them up, if you will, and try to get them to form this government of national unity.
Let me read to from you the editorial in today's New York Times, one paragraph: "Iraq is becoming a country that America should be ashamed to support, let alone occupy. The nation as a whole is sliding closer to open civil war. In its capital, thugs kidnap and torture innocent civilians with impunity, then murder them for their religious beliefs. The rights of women are evaporating. The head of the government is the ally of a radical anti-American cleric who leads a powerful private militia that is behind much of the sectarian terror."
The editorial goes on to say, "Unfortunately after three years of policy blunders in Iraq, Washington may no longer have the political or military capital to prevail."
That's about as gloomy as I've read as far as an assessment of the current situation in Iraq is concerned.
FRIST: It is a gloomy and it is pessimistic, and I just disagree with it wholeheartedly.
If you look on the security front, the tremendous progress that has been made with now 100 Iraqi battalions, have stood up. The fact that we have over 225,000 security forces that weren't there, Iraqi security forces. The fact that there is economic growth and the Iraqi people, as we have all seen as we traveled around Iraq on our repeated trips, are industrious people who do want to focus on their family's lives, their small businesses and grow that economic development.
And now politically the tremendous progress that has been made in the elections I just talked about last year.
BLITZER: But these murders -- the dozens of bodies turning up, tortured. It really does not necessarily bode well, the sectarian violence that we see.
FRIST: And I'm as concerned about the sectarian violence, the regional violence that we've seen...
BLITZER: Do you see any effort on the part of the Iraqi political leadership, whether Shia, Kurd or Sunni, to rein in these militias that are running out there independent of the Iraqi international military?
FRIST: You know, Wolf, I think that's exactly why it is so important. I'm sure that's why Secretary Rice is there in part today, why our United States senators who go there and come back will reflect the importance of putting pressure on the Iraqi government today, which has been duly elected, to come together to formulate specifically behind the prime minister and with a cabinet in the next several weeks. If so, I'm confident coupled with the security and standing up the Iraqi forces and the economic growth, which will be allowed with that security, that if we can just finish this last component with a government that's representative, that is open, that is transparent, broadly representative and broadly supported, that we will see the success that we all had a goal to achieve and we can achieve.
BLITZER: It seems like a lot of American officials, from the president on down, have lost confidence in Ibrahim al-Jaafari in part because his alliance with Muqtada al Sadr, this anti-American cleric leader. Have you lost confidence in this man?
FRIST: It's up to Iraqi people. And it's one thing that we shouldn't come in and dictate. But our force, our power, our authority should be to say, you need to decide as the Iraqi people.
The government should be broadly representative, it should take into account the Kurds, the Sunnis as well as the Shiite, but it is up to you to choose the person. Let's get on with it, let's get on with it, let's give that structure, and if so we can achieve that goal of a nation under law operating under the rule of law, a good neighbor and a people that is respective of the human rights in that country.
BLITZER: We just heard your Republican colleague from Nebraska, Senator Hagel, say that unlike Iraq, where he doesn't think the U.S. really had national security interests in going in to begin with, he sees a real national security interest in dealing with Iran right now and its potential nuclear capability. There was a very disturbing story in The Washington Post today saying if the U.S. were to take military action to deal with Iran's nuclear facilities, Iran would respond with terror attacks against Americans all over the world using Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and other groups.
How concerned are you as the Senate leader on this -- as a result of this suggestion in the Washington Post?
FRIST: Yes, well, a couple things. First of all, I respectfully disagree with Chuck in that I think, whether it was Afghanistan or Iraq or now focusing our attention on Iran, it is absolutely important, critical, that wherever there is a threat to security of a region that is important to us here at home that we need to address those issues.
I do agree that Iran is a huge threat to the United States today. I think we need to address it in a diplomatic way, using political sanctions, using diplomatic sanctions, using economic sanctions if necessary and also keeping on the table the military option. And it is a threat that we need to address and I believe we are addressing.
BLITZER: Does Iran have that capability to launch such a worldwide terror assault against Americans?
FRIST: Well, it's why I go back and say the region is important. The war on terror isn't against one person, against one state but it is against an entity that can appear anywhere in the world.
And that's why, when you hear us in the United States arguing to have a strong Patriot Act here, to have a strong terrorist surveillance program here, which applies anywhere in the world so that we have those tools wherever it arises to fight and fight aggressively.
BLITZER: Let's talk about immigration reform. You've been outspoken in recent days and weeks on this issue.
Listen to what the president said this week. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: My judgment is you cannot enforce the border without having a temporary guest worker program. The two go hand in hand.
There are people doing jobs Americans will not do. Many people who have come into our country are helping our economy grow. It's just a fact of life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president says any immigration reform legislation must include a guest worker program. You disagree.
FRIST: No. Let me tell you right where we are, what my beliefs are. First of all, we are a rich nation of immigrants. And we know that; we need to show respect to that in terms of our culture, in terms of our economic growth.
Secondly and equally as importantly, we're a nation of laws and that law must be upheld.
I don't think we should give amnesty where the law has been broken. But the only way to address an immigration system which is flat out broken -- our entire immigration system, and we see it today -- is to have this three-legged stool addressed.
Number one, border security -- we've got to have that border tight, strongly enforced. That second leg of the stool has got to be the interior enforcement, employer enforcement.
And third has to be a guest worker program in the sense of a temporary worker program here that looks to the future, people coming here to work legally, and, secondly, addresses the real challenge out there and that's the 12 million illegal immigrants who are here today.
BLITZER: Well, should those 12 million or 11 million, 10 million, whatever that number is, should they be able to stay in the United States and apply for guest worker status, enabling them to get documents, stay as legal workers in the United States and eventually, as the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended, let them apply for citizenship?
FRIST: Wolf, that will be the fundamental question over the next six days on the floor of the Senate.
BLITZER: You support that?
FRIST: And let me tell you right where it is and I'll answer your question specifically. I am opposed to amnesty. Now, that word is thrown around here all the time.
BLITZER: Everybody says they're opposed to it. So the question is guest workers...
FRIST: Let me tell you what my definition of amnesty is. Amnesty is where you give somebody who has broken the law, entered this country illegally, a leg up in applying for citizenship in this country.
You put them ahead of three million people who are outside our borders today who legally are waiting for citizenship today. And to me that is amnesty. And I'm opposed to that.
I don't think that we should legislate a track that gives a privileged status to people who have broken the law.
BLITZER: So you disagree with Senator Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee?
FRIST: I do because that bill, the way it is written at the floor -- again we need a strong temporary worker program that addresses the twelve million people -- but that bill specifically gives a privileged path to citizenship for people who have broken the law.
BLITZER: Listen to Senator Specter. I want to play this sound bite from him. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA): It is not amnesty because the undocumented aliens will have to pay a fine. They will have to pay back taxes. They will undergo a thorough background investigation. They will have to learn English. They will have to work for six years. And they will have to earn the status of staying in the country and the status of moving toward citizenship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What's wrong with that?
FRIST: Well, I think that list is good, but that's just common sense. It's what we expect of everybody in this town, everybody in America today.
So it still goes back to the fact that people came to this country illegally and that, if you give them a privileged path to a Green Card into citizenship that is ahead of the three million people who are waiting today outside of our borders in a legal way, that is amnesty.
Now, what I think will happen is that we'll address border security. Right now, a sovereign nation has as its first responsibility to a secure border. Everybody agrees.
We will have the interior enforcement, the work site enforcement. We need to give our employers the tools they need to enforce the laws that we put on the book.
And then thirdly, with this temporary worker, the 12 million workers who are out there -- and the debate has matured. We don't have to give them amnesty, but a period of time here.
And we're going to have to compromise and recognize that that 12 million people is not a monolithic group. It's not a uniform group. Some have been here ten years; they're assimilated to our society and they may have a road to a green card.
But some of those 12 million people here -- in fact, 40 percent -- have been here for less than five years, need to be dealt in a different fashion.
BLITZER: So you would kick them out?
FRIST: Well, I think we'll have to work with that. That will be the debate on the floor. If somebody is here and they're a felon or multiple misdemeanors or somebody who is not working, someone who has been here for a year, somebody who has intentions other than staying here, yes, I think they'd have to go back home.
Right now, if we give them -- amnesty is not the answer. Right now, to have them all go back home is literally impossible today.
So it is incumbent upon us in the Senate to compromise in a way that is fair, that is equitable, that recognizes this 12 million is not one monolithic uniform group.
BLITZER: So do you believe -- and you're the leader of the Republicans in Senate -- do you believe there will be legislation, work done in the Senate and then a compromise worked out with the House, that will allow immigration reform to go forward, a piece of legislation the president will be able to sign into law?
FRIST: Wolf, I do. And it will be comprehensive in the sense that it will address each of the components I mentioned, strong border security, interior enforcement...
How long will that take? When do you think that will happen?
Well, I believe that the United States Senate, and I laid this out in October, that we would address comprehensive reform starting with strong border security up front, that we would finish it over this two-week period.
So I hope, by Friday, that we will have a bill on the floor that is comprehensive that addresses the issues we've been talking about.
BLITZER: And then you'll try to work out in the joint House/Senate Conference Committee because the House version is dramatically different than the Senate version.
FRIST: It is. And I'm very hopeful -- and one of the reasons I've driven it as leader, this whole issue is because there are three million people every year coming across our borders illegally, three million.
We don't know who they are; we don't know what their intentions are. And it's growing. That problem is growing at a rate of 25 percent a year. So yes, it is incumbent. We absolutely must address it.
And the only way to effectively address it is looking at all three of those legs of the stool. Anything short of that is simply not going to work. We saw that in 1996.
BLITZER: Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein has a very devastating piece about you that's in the new issue -- just came out.
Let me read a paragraph from there: "Frist will leave the Senate at the end of the year and start his presidential campaign. Quote, 'He'll disappear,' said a Republican consultant. 'He's not built for heavy weather. He's just not an instinctive politician. And when you're a light candidate, every maneuver seems naked and tactical. With Frist, it's been college Republican sort of stuff.'"
Those are tough words. I don't know who this unnamed Republican consultant is -- clearly someone who doesn't like you.
FRIST: No, no. Listen, I think all the political pundit are going to be trying to frame everything that's done over the next eight months in 2008 -- the framework.
I came here as a citizen legislator, 20 years in the healing profession of medicine, 12 years as a United States senator.
My commitment and my focus is on governing, trying to move this country to a stronger, more prosperous, a healthier nation.
And that's where I'm going to stay focused. And that's why we take on the tough issues like immigration, a real problem out there that America cares about, that Washington in many ways says, let's don't focus on it at all; let's move on.
But that's why, as a leader, I'm bringing it to the floor to address it. It will make us safer; it will make us healthier; it will make us more secure.
BLITZER: You want to run for president?
FRIST: I don't know. I'll decide when I get back home to Nashville, to live in the home that I grew up in in 2007. My focus, 100 percent, right now, is on help leading this country and this Senate in a way that makes us more prosperous and healthier and safer.
BLITZER: What's the status of that stock investigation, your company, your family company. Where does that stand right now? Because it seems to be a shadow that's following you.
FRIST: Well, I don't know. It's an inquiry that I participated in and given all the information itself. I'm very confident of the outcome. I acted properly at every step along the way.
BLITZER: And where does it stand? Has anyone from the SEC or any federal investigators asked you to do things you don't want to do?
Not at all. And you know, all the information has been provided. I acted properly every step along the way. So I'm confident in the outcome.
That's why I think that all the focus us on the sort of issues that are important to this country, securing America's borders, making this country safer and making a healthier and a more productive country.
And that's where my focus is and that's where the focus should be.
BLITZER: Senator Frist, it was kind of you to come into our studio. Thanks for joining us on "Late Edition."
FRIST: Great to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
And coming up next:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALI ASGHAR SOLTANIEH, IRAN'S AMBASSADOR TO THE IAEA: The Iranian nation will be threatened and any harm will come to the Iranian nation, then we will defend it to the last moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Iran defiant over its nuclear program. My exclusive interview with the country's representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh. That's coming up.
And in case you missed it, our highlights of the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. "Late Edition" continues right after this.
BLITZER: There's still time for to you weigh in on our web question of the week: Should illegal immigrants have a right to apply for U.S. citizenship? You can cast your vote, go to cnn.com/lateedition.
Straight ahead, Iran tests a new ballistic missile. Is the move threatening world security? We'll hear directly from a top Iranian nuclear official.
You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture of this Lufthansa aircraft that has just landed at Boston's Logan Airport. Jill Carroll, the American hostage has spent three months in captivity in Iraq, is on that plane. She's going to be walking off that plane momentarily to freedom, to meet her loved ones here in the United States.
It's been a long ordeal for Jill Carroll. We'll watch this story for you to see if Jill Carroll makes any statement. But this is the Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt that has brought Jill Carroll back to the United States, home, after being held hostage for three months.
Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Now to the tensions between the Iranian government and the Bush administration over Iran's nuclear program. So far both sides are refusing to back down.
I spoke with Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, about his government's nuclear intentions.
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, welcome to "Late Edition." Thanks very much for joining us.
Even as we speak, there are reports now that Iran has test-fired a new ballistic missile that has stealth capabilities to avoid radar and can hit multiple targets. Can you confirm those reports?
SOLTANIEH: Yes, it was confirmed by one of the military officials in Tehran.
BLITZER: How worried should the world be that you've developed this capability?
SOLTANIEH: The world should not worry because any country has its own self-defense, conventional military activities.
BLITZER: Can these new missiles carry a nuclear warhead?
SOLTANIEH: No, that is not right.
BLITZER: When you say that, that means the missiles are not theoretically capable of carrying a nuclear warhead? Is that what you're saying?
SOLTANIEH: Well, I said no, to the best of my knowledge, that is not the case. But of course I'm not in position to do it because this is not my field and responsibility.
I was assuming that we are going to talk about the latest development regarding the nuclear activities and the IAEA matters. That is what I'm responsible for.
BLITZER: Well, that's what we're about to talk about, but I wanted to ask you about that news involving this missile.
The United Nations Security Council has now issued a unanimously- approved statement urging Iran to stop enriching uranium, and saying the clock is ticking, you have 30 days to comply. Will your government comply with that Security Council request?
SOLTANIEH: Well, this is the first reaction, I can say is that we express our regret for such a hasty decision because the wisest decision was no action.
The best action of United Nations Security Council is no action, merely just to take note of the documents which have been sent to United Nations Security Council and let the IAEA to do its own job because the IAEA is the only pertinent technical international organization to do its responsibility. The more U.N. -- United Nations Security Council is engaged and involved, the situation will be further deteriorated. And we have to prevent confrontation.
BLITZER: So does that mean you won't comply with that request from the Security Council? Is that your response?
SOLTANIEH: If the request is to continue our cooperation with the IAEA, the response is affirmative.
If the question and expectation is not to withdraw from NPT, we are not going to withdraw from the NPT, and we are going to continue our obligation under the NPT safeguard. Since last resolution of the board of governors, the inspectors have continued their activities in Iran.
And for you information also, next week there will be another group visiting Iran and enrichment facilities. Therefore, that which will be in direction of our obligation under the NPT safeguard, that will be affirmative, and we will have to continue our cooperation with the IAEA, and we will do so.
But if it is beyond our legal obligation, and if your expectation, which could not be applied, and it is forcing Iran to take measures beyond its legal obligation and discriminative approach, that will not be acceptable, of course.
BLITZER: I want you to listen, Mr. Ambassador, to what the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, said on March 7th. Listen to this:
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States is keeping all options on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the regime.
And we join other nations in sending that regime a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's a very forceful statement from the vice president, Dick Cheney. What's your response to that threat?
SOLTANIEH: The response is, first of all, Iranian great nation cannot bow to, and will not bow to, any threat or intimidation. Second point is, the notion of nuclear weapon is a wrong notion. We are in nuclear activities, we continue to be. It is more than 40 years that we are in this field and we will continue, and we will not stop our activities, in the nuclear activities.
But at the same time, I want also through you, to pass this message to the American nation that it is enough that the present administration are threatening different countries with military aggression, and thousands of American young people have been killed in Iraq and other parts of the world.
Enough is enough. Let's work for peace, rather than confrontation.
BLITZER: Here's what the president said the other day, as well. Listen to President Bush:
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BUSH: The Iranian president has stated his desire to destroy our ally, Israel. So when you start listening to what he has said, their desire to develop a nuclear weapon, then you begin to see an issue of grave national security concern.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: When the president of the United States says, "This is an issue of grave national security concern," the vice president makes that direct threat -- you must be worried, given the U.S. behavior, given the U.S. support for what has been described as "preemptive strikes" against potential threats.
SOLTANIEH: Well, I have to draw your kind attention to the fact that there have been a selective, usually, reflection of the statement and position of my country.
The supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran has announced, more than two years, and few cases, the Western media have reflected to public of the world, that if the divine religions -- followers of the divine religions, Jews, Christians and Muslims, in that area follow a referendum, democratic referendum, and are one (ph) with homeless Palestinians, Iranian government and Iranian people would respect their decision.
Therefore, these are fabricated news that they are threatening and using this as an excuse for the military aggression or the aggressive policy.
I just want to say that, regarding the nuclear installation, this is of course a serious concern from my country, and of course we have tabled these continued threats by United States in the United Nations.
And I want to draw the kind attention of your viewers to the fact that, in the IAEA in 1990, the resolution has been passed which indicates and says it will, any military activities against nuclear installations, constitute violation of United Nations charter, the statute of the IAEA international law and will immediately call for the United Nations Security Council to act immediately afterward.
Therefore, this will be violation of all international laws, and it is better, rather than using the language of threat, to talk about the peaceful settlement of all issues, including the nuclear issue.
We have always invited our European friends and others to come to the negotiating table, rather than pushing the issue to the confrontation and battlefield.
BLITZER: Your colleague, though, at the IAEA, Javad Vaeedi, said on March 8 -- and let me read to you what he said.
He said, "The United States may have the power to cause harm and pain, but it is also susceptible to harm and pain. So if the United States wishes to choose that path, let the ball roll." That sounds like a direct threat from your government.
SOLTANIEH: Well, I have to ask you to read it again, and then you will notice that this was a matter of a policy of defense, as any nation has. It means that if Iranian nation will be threatened and any harm will come to the Iranian nation, then we will defend it to the last moment. And therefore we will not tolerate any threat or any aggression.
That happened during the eight-year war of imposed war by Saddam, which was fully supported by United States and Europeans and killing over 100,000 of Iranian innocent people with chemical weapons and shameful silence of United Nations Security Council, as well as the Western countries, that they were witnessing this disastrous situation and yet continued supporting Saddam. And they were keeping silent.
BLITZER: Still ahead, more of my interview with Ali Asghar Soltanieh. I'll ask the Iranian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency about allegations that Iran is playing a direct role in the violence engulfing its next-door neighbor, Iraq.
Also coming up, we'll have a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the former hostage, Jill Carroll. She's now back in the United States.
This is a live picture you're seeing from Logan Airport in Boston. This Lufthansa airliner brought Jill Carroll, the 28-year-old American journalist, back to the United States.
Much more of our coverage right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
I spoke with Iran's representative to the IAEA, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, about his country's nuclear program and more. Here's part two about that exclusive interview.
BLITZER: The president of the United States is also accusing Iran of helping the insurgents by providing sophisticated technology to improve their improvised explosive devices, which have killed so many U.S. and coalition forces, as well as Iranian troops.
Listen to what the president said:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Tehran has been responsible for at least some of the increasing lethality of the anti-coalition attacks, by providing Shia militia with the capabilities to build improvised explosive devices in Iraq. Coalition forces have seized IEDs and components that were clearly produced in Iran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is that true?
SOLTANIEH: With due respect, I requested you to confine your question and this issue that we have to discuss within the IAEA matters and nuclear issue because this is my own responsibility.
But, however, I have to draw your kind attention, and your viewers, to the fact that Iran has made tremendous effort, cooperating in order to have a stability in the region, particularly in Iraq, and we have received admiration from the whole world.
It is a pity United States will not and is not listening to the whole world how much Iran has contributed for the peace in this region.
This is a regretful assessment. It happened also in the case of Afghanistan -- despite of all cooperation that Iran made for a stabilizing democratic government in Afghanistan and combating the Taliban regime, after that, Iran was called a member of "axis of evil."
This immature, unjust announcement deteriorated the situation, and I'm sure the international community will condemn this kind of aggressive statement and reiterated statement by United States administration.
They have to correct and reconsider that this kind of language and methodology is not acceptable. And being in the civilized world, I think that this is a pity that the administration is not correcting their approach.
BLITZER: I have to wrap this up, but I want to get your response to this issue of Israel because it's become such a prominent issue in this whole discussion over nuclear plans that Iran may or may not have. This is what the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said on October 26 at that World Without Zionism conference.
He said, "Israel must be wiped off the map of the world, and god willing, with the force of god behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionists."
You understand why people in the West, especially here in the United States, are so concerned about your program, your nuclear program, given those kinds of direct threats against Israel, which happens to be a strong ally of the United States. SOLTANIEH: I want to very briefly remind you that the policy of Islamic Republic of Iran and according to spirit and letter of our constitution is against any sort of school of thought or regime such as apartheid, Zionism, racism, and this is a matter of principle.
Therefore, what you are talking about as apartheid was disappeared and it could not be accepted by civilized world, this Zionism and aggression of racism is also condemned.
That is the message, and I'm sure that we are -- this message is shared with all the international community and peace-loving people of the whole world.
And as regarding nuclear activities, I have to say that we are determined to continue our full cooperation with IAEA for peaceful activities. We are well prepared to remove any ambiguities of our nuclear activities to prove that it will be exclusively for peaceful purposes. And we spare no effort to invite other countries, European and Western countries, Russia and China, to come to the negotiating table and to find a solution.
Therefore, I advise that United Nations Security Council will not do any action, and leave this issue to the IAEA, and let this nuclear dossier of Iran, which has been taken as a hostage by American unilateral policy, to come back to the multilateral atmosphere and environment, and to be settled on.
And I assure the whole world that Iran is for peaceful activities and will try to continue it, and we spare no effort to assure that these activities will be peaceful and will not threaten any country, and we want peace in the Middle East and the whole world.
BLITZER: Does your support for the removal of Zionism mean you want to see Israel destroyed?
SOLTANIEH: I have already explained to you and reflected to you the policy echoed by our supreme leader.
It means that if in that region, the divine religion followers of the Jews, Christians and Muslims, that all three are very respectful -- and we have Jews in Iran, which are peacefully living and they are represented in our parliament, they are fully respected -- if they come with the Palestinians, homeless Palestinians, to come and through following the democratic process will decide on a government and live in peace as they were living a thousand years of coexistence of these divine religions, Iran will support because we are looking for and we support peaceful settlement of the whole issue and peaceful coexistence of these divine religions in the Middle East. Let's hope for the peace.
BLITZER: But should there be a state of Israel?
SOLTANIEH: I think I've already answered to you. If Israel is a synonym and will give the indication of Zionism mentality, no.
But if you are going to conclude that we have said the people there have to be removed or we they have to be massacred or so, this is fabricated, unfortunate selective approach to what the mentality and policy of Islamic Republic of Iran is. I have to correct, and I did so.
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thank you for spending some time with us, giving Iran's position to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."
SOLTANIEH: I wish you all the best, and hope for the peace in the region, strategic region, of the Middle East, and in the whole world. Thank you very much.
BLITZER: And coming up next, in case you missed it, "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show roundup.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.
On CBS's "Face the Nation," the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, James Sensenbrenner, said enforcement has to be the top priority for immigration reform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R-WI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The first thing we have to do to fix our broken system is to stop illegal immigration because if we don't stop illegal immigration by securing the border and cracking down on those employers that do hire a lot of illegal immigrants, there just will be more illegal immigrants coming across the border and flooding our schools and causing a collapse in our health care system.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But on ABC's "This Week," Democratic Senator Barack Obama had a very different view.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D) ILLINOIS: The notion that somehow these 12 million people are going to get on a bus and go back across the border just isn't realistic. And I think that what we have to acknowledge is that these are people who came to this country for the same reason that most of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents came to this country, in search of a better life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On NBC's "Meet the Press," the former head of the U.S. military's Central Command, retired U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, offered a tough assessment of the current situation in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI (RET.): This is classic insurgency. They need either fear, apathy or support, sympathy.
If they get a combination of those three -- and right now they have a combination -- if there's a viable government, there's an opportunity for jobs, if there's a program that shows hope for the future for their children, they're going to turn against these people. We haven't given them that in three years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
Up next, the results of our Web question of the week, "Should illegal immigrants have the right to apply for U.S. citizenship?" We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Our "Late Edition" Web question of the week asked this, "Should illegal immigrants have the right to apply for U.S. citizenship?"
Here's how you voted. Check this out: 45 percent of you said yes; 55 percent said no. Remember, though, this is not a scientific poll.
And that's your "Late Edition" for Sunday, April 2. Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
I'm also in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, as well as 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Until tomorrow, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. For our North American viewers, "On the Story" is next.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com