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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Interviews With Shimon Peres, Saeb Erakat; Interview With Michael Griffin

Aired July 02, 2006 - 11:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, HOST: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One thing I'm not going to do, though, is I'm not going to jeopardize the safety of the American people.


ROBERTS: The Bush administration is dealt a setback in the fight against terror. Supreme Court ruling limiting executive power as the world's most wanted terrorist issues a new audiotape. Republican Congressman Peter King and Democratic Congressman Barney Frank weigh in on those issues and debate national security versus a free press.

Iraq's unity government reaches out to insurgents. Can the reconciliation plan end the violence? A conversation with Iraq's minister of industry, Fawzi Hariri.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Iran must suspend uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. That has not changed.


ROBERTS: Eye on Iran. The White House is keeping the military option on the table. But are the Pentagon's top brass on board with the plan? The New Yorker magazine's investigative correspondent, Seymour Hersh, here to tell us what he has uncovered.

Crisis in the Middle East. Is the Gaza standoff permanently derailing Palestinian peace efforts? Perspective from Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.

Space shuttle setback. After scrubbing a Saturday launch, will Discovery lift off today? NASA Administrator Michael Griffin on getting the U.S. space program back on track.

And on this Fourth of July holiday weekend, singer Tony Orlando pays tribute to U.S. troops, past and present.


TONY ORLANDO: (singing) Tie a yellow ribbon 'round the old oak tree.


ROBERTS: "Late Edition's" lineup begins right now. It's 11 a.m. in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4 p.m. in London and 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for "Late Edition." I'm John Roberts. Wolf is away this week.

We're going to talk with investigative journalist Seymour Hersh about his latest expose on Iran in just a moment. But first, let's get a quick check of what's in the news from Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center. Hey, Fred.


ROBERTS: Thanks, Fred. More details now on our top story. NASA is hoping the second time is a charm for the liftoff of the Discovery space shuttle. CNN's Miles O'Brien is keeping watch at the Kennedy Space Center, waiting as well. Miles? Good morning.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Waiting as well. A bit of a Groundhog Day scenario, John Roberts, as we watch the weather very closely. So far, the countdown has gone off without a technical hitch, but we've had some thunderstorms passing through here. You saw Reynolds Wolf detailing that well.

NASA mission managers will be watching the weather more closely than anything today. Of course, it's a vehicle with a million parts. So, there's many other things to watch as well. That picture is -- gives you a little sense of it. A lot of dark clouds on the horizon.

The astronauts nevertheless going through all of the motions they go through on the day of the launch. They've gotten up. They're in the process of suiting up right now. They've had their pre-launch photo opportunity where they sit at a table and pretend to eat. Actually, I've never seen them eat here. They just have a cake, and they apparently eat the cake at the end of the mission.

You see members of the crew, Mark Kelly, the pilot to the left, Steve Lindsay, the commander to the right there, crew of five others as well on their way to the international space station to deliver one crew member, Thomas Reiter of the European Space Agency, filling out the space station crew to three for the first time since the loss of Columbia.

Also dropping off 5,000 pounds' worth of supplies. And in many respects, testing of the issue of the reliability of the shuttle. A lot of debate in advance of this over the safety of flying the shuttle, which is in its closing days. It will retire. Date certain, 2010.

And there is a raging debate still going on inside the engineering community here at NASA as to whether the foam which envelopes that orange external fuel tank is a real risk to future shuttle missions. So it's a tense countdown once again, 3:26 p.m. Eastern is the intended launch. We're watching the weather, and we're watching the shuttle. John?

ROBERTS: Thanks, Miles. We'll keep checking back with you.

Now to Iran, which said this week that it will respond in August to a European Union proposal for suspending its uranium enrichment program. The Bush administration, at least publicly, is staying on the diplomatic track for resolving this stalemate. But what about the military option? The New Yorker magazine's investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, tells us what he has uncovered in a new article. He joins us now. Morning to you, Sy. Thanks for being us with us.


ROBERTS: So the president, whenever he's asked, says the military option is on the table. But in your new article, you're saying military planners have got a problem with that.

HERSH: You bet. One of the real problems, the underlying problem is simply this, that our government, our allies in Europe, even the Israelis have not been able to come up with any specific evidence that the Iranians are doing what everybody thinks they're doing: running a secret program to make weapons. There's no parallel program. There's no sites. There's no evidence that they're doing anything other than what they say they're doing.

ROBERTS: Let me quote from your article, if I could. You say, "The generals and admirals have told the administration that the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran's nuclear program. A crucial issue in the military's dissent, the officers said, is the fact that American and European intelligence agencies have not found specific evidence of clandestine activities or hidden facilities. The war planners are not sure what to hit."

So here we are, three years after the Iraq war. The intelligence gap remains.

HERSH: Son of Iraq. So you have to say, once again, you know, is there -- the problem the military has, and the reason why there's a fight, is the Air Force, of course, has been tasked by the president, by the national command authorities, to come up with a decisive plan for bombing. And they have a huge plan. We're going to hit, you know, 1,000 aiming points, or whatever.

There's a lot of specific plans, but it's a pretty intensive bombardment. And the other services are saying, whoa, what do we have here? We don't know what to bomb. There's no evidence that these guys are doing anything. The only sites we know that are nuclear are the sites that have already been declared by Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the monitoring agency in Vienna. So the only thing we know is what's publicly known.

ROBERTS: Now, in your last article on this, April 17 if memory serves me correctly, you were talking about the nuclear option because of the fact that they didn't know exactly what to hit, and the idea that a lot of these bunkers were very deep under the ground. You say that's now off the table? HERSH: The president -- well, I shouldn't say the president. The White House took it off. All I know is that it's no longer in the option plan. But the Air Force -- here's what has triggered some sort of internecine warfare inside the Pentagon.

The Air Force has said, OK, no nukes. So we're going to come up with another plan to put an awful lot of bombs in certain places where we can guarantee knocking out things underground, et cetera, et cetera. And the other services said, you've got to be kidding, you know. It doesn't work that way.

And here's another problem you illuminate in your article as well. You say, "Intelligence has also shown that for the past two years, the Iranians have been shifting their most sensitive nuclear- related materials and production facilities, moving some into urban areas in anticipation of a bombing raid," which would seem to obviate the idea of what you said, mass bombings to try to hit everything all at once.

HERSH: They're not dumb. They know that if, you know, the idea of bombing a country with which we're not at war, Iran, one of the leading Shiite countries in the world, very powerful, bombing them and causing a lot of civilian casualties, this is a country that produces millions of barrels of oil a day, that could strike the oil facilities in the Gulf, in Bahrain, in Kuwait, Qatar, and cause enormous damage. We can jack the prices up al the way.

ROBERTS: Because the fact is that, even though many rank-and- file Iranians do not agree with their government, there does seem to be a majority of opinion in favor of this nuclear program. And there's also this idea that if the United States were to attack Iran, it would just unify people with a government that they don't necessarily agree with.

HERSH: You're talking the language.

ROBERTS: So, you would throw some casualties in there, what happens to that equation?

HERSH: Well, of course. Also, what happens to our guys in Iraq if the Iranians decide to ask their allies among the Shiites, Muqtada Sadr, that group. Because we know they're close to Iran. Not every Shiite in Iraq likes the Iranians, but some do. What if they decide to squeeze it up on our boys?

And the other issue is, as you've said, John, it's a very popular issue, the nuclear program. Whether it's a weapons program or for peaceful uses, the people there don't want America telling them what to do. And the Bush negotiating strategy is simply this. The Bush strategy right now, the reason why I think we're seeing such a delay by the Iranians is, we're not coming to the table until you promise to give this up. Halt it and stop it for years. And so, essentially we're asking them to concede the main point, their most popular -- you know, we're asking the ruling clerics -- you know, they can't win a population competition because of their human rights policy. But the nuclear policy is their gut issue. We're asking them to give that up in advance.

ROBERTS: Yes, I guess they see Pakistan to the east with nuclear weapons, Israel to the west with nuclear weapons. They've historically been a huge power in the region. They think they should have them too.

HERSH: And what if they really don't have weapons? What if they are really doing it for peaceful purposes? We really don't know.

ROBERTS: You mentioned retaliation. Let me grab one more quote from your article here. You say, "What is the capability of the Iranian response" -- this is quoting a senior defense official -- "What is the capability of the Iranian response and the likelihood of a punitive response like cutting off oil shipments? What would that cost us?" Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his senior aides, quote, "really think that they can do this on the cheap, and they underestimate the capability of the adversary," he said.

Do it on the cheap. That is one of the major criticisms of the Iraq war.

HERSH: Well, we can't put armed forces in there. We don't have the troops. So the idea is, go in and bomb, and that'll, you know, Valhalla. We'll bomb, and the other side will say, "We give up," and there will be peace, and a new government will come in. They see a regime change coming if we bomb effectively. And they just could be wrong again, as they were in Iraq.

ROBERTS: As always, interesting reading. Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker, thanks for being with us this morning.

HERSH: Glad to be here.

ROBERTS: Appreciate it. Always good to see you.

Just ahead, will Congress overhaul the U.S. legal process for terror suspects? We'll hear from the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King, and Democratic Congressman Barney Frank.

Plus, a conversation with Iraq's minister of industry about that country's new reconciliation plan.

And the latest roadblock to peace in the Middle East. Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on what can be done to end the standoff in Gaza.

"Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTS: Live pictures now from the Kennedy Space Center. There are the astronauts of the Space Shuttle Discovery suiting up. They'll soon be getting into a vehicle and driving out there to the launch pad, where they'll enter the shuttle.

It's scheduled to go up at 3:26 Eastern time this afternoon. However, the weather looks like it's not cooperating. A 70 percent chance against launch today, which means only a 30 percent chance that it will go up. It was scrubbed yesterday because of weather. If it doesn't go up today, the likelihood is that they won't make another attempt until Tuesday. And there you can see the dark weather over the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Here's "Late Edition's" Web question of the week: Should Iraqi leaders grant insurgents amnesty if it will advance the political process? Cast your vote at We'll have the results at the end of the program.

And for more on the situation on the ground in Iraq, join me and CNN reporters for a special report, "Iraq: A Week at War." It's coming up right after "Late Edition" at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, 10:00 a.m. Pacific time.

You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to "Late Edition."

The deadly insurgent attacks aren't letting up in Iraq, despite the new unity government's efforts to foster national reconciliation.

Earlier I spoke with Iraq's minister of industry, Fawzi Hariri, about the government's outreach to insurgents and attempts to get a handle on security.


ROBERTS: Mr. Hariri, let me ask you, first of all, about a piece of news out of Baghdad. It's our understanding that the body of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been buried in an unmarked grave there. What can you tell us, if anything, about that?

FAWZI HARIRI, IRAQI MINISTER OF INDUSTRY: I have heard similar reports, John, but I can't verify it as yet. However, the Islamic religious rules indicate that the dead body should be buried according to Islamic religious beliefs, and I would have expected that from the authorities.

ROBERTS: This would seem to indicate too, Mr. Hariri, that there never existed any plan to send his body back to family members in Jordan.

HARIRI: I believe that the Jordanian authorities indicated that they will not be allowing the body to be received, based on reports last year or earlier this week. Therefore, the right thing was to have the body buried, one way or the other.

And Iraq is an Islamic country, and therefore the law does apply here. And we, although with so many crimes he'd committed and so many people he had murdered, the government is still committed to providing a decent burial for his body.

ROBERTS: We have another week and apparently another U.S. investigation of alleged wrongdoing by U.S. forces, this time in Mahmoudiyah. The allegations are that an Iraqi woman was raped and murdered, set afire in fact, and then three members of her family were killed to cover it up.

What do you know of this, if anything?

HARIRI: Well, we heard the same reports. And the media, certainly, in Iraq is playing that a great deal, for good reasons. If these reports are verified -- and, as you know, they are still being investigated -- then we would expect the authorities within the multinational force or the U.S. authorities to take every legal action to bring those perpetrators to justice, as well as providing the families of the victims with adequate compensation.

But I reiterate that these are reports, and we are yet to receive any concrete information and evidence of that incident.

ROBERTS: Yes, so far, there is no concrete evidence of it over here in the United States either. But if these allegations are true, what are the possible consequences?

A former Marine lieutenant who knows that area told me that he thought that this could potentially be very damaging to U.S. forces, perhaps one of the most damaging incidents of the war.

HARIRI: It's possibly -- I mean, it certainly will have ramifications. As you know, in Iraq today, there are different and differing views with regards to the status of the multinational forces in Iraq. That will definitely not help those supporters of the presence of the multinational forces. It will give the government even more obstacles in its way to develop stronger ties and communications and cooperation links with the forces.

But again, I reiterate, these are purely speculative reports, and we would rather wait until concrete evidence emerges.

ROBERTS: Would the violation of a Muslim woman carry with it special significance?

HARIRI: The violation of any civilian by a military force carries very heavy consequences. Absolutely, it will be taken in many ways out of context by enemies of Iraq and certainly enemies of the friendly relations between Iraq and the United States. So that is a possibility.

ROBERTS: Mr. Hariri, let me move on to the issue of reconciliation, because it does seem as though this will be a key in trying to achieve peace and stability in Iraq. Where do the negotiations with these 11 insurgent groups stand at present?

HARIRI: Well, at the moment, there are still negotiations going on. What we need is a period of developing trust. This is an area that has been lacking recently and over the past year, because of the increased level of violence and the Samarra incidents that resulted in many sectarian attacks. Therefore, those negotiations continue.

The government, on its part, has been extremely open in its means by setting up a commission to look at how to deal with some of the demands of these groups, by review the process by which it conducts the de-Baathification program, which was highly criticized previously by being politicized, as well as its commitment to release hundreds of innocent detainees, predominantly from the Sunni group.

So these steps are being taken by the government to normalize the situation, but negotiations continue, and they are not easy. They are somewhat difficult.

ROBERTS: One of the demands from these insurgent groups is a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces. They want them out of there in two years.

In your estimation, Mr. Hariri, should there be a timetable for U.S. withdrawal?

HARIRI: Well, as you know, I mean, there are many quarters, many areas within Iraq are looking for that timetable. And Iraq is a free country, and therefore different people are presenting and expressing different views.

However, the official government policy is that we do not believe we need to identify a timetable. We should be concentrating on developing our own security capabilities. Once that is done, then then will be the time for the U.S. forces and the multinational forces to depart, not a day earlier. And therefore, we are not going to give in to this demand, and we are not going to announce to the terrorists the date by which the multinational forces plan to leave our country.

ROBERTS: Now, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser, did say, quote, "Iraq's ambition is to have full control of the country by the end of 2008. In practice, this will mean a significant foreign troop reduction. We envisage the U.S. troop presence by year's end to be under 100,000, with most of the remaining troops to return home by the end of 2007."

That sounds a little bit like a timetable. Do you believe that is a viable timeframe for a drawdown of U.S. forces?

HARIRI: Well, I think Mr. Rubaie is basically giving his own wishes, and it's an ambitious program, but I would like to be able to advise the U.S. families of soldiers that we can get them to leave our country tomorrow, but that is not realistic. Our vision is to develop our security capabilities. It is far worse for a timetable to be agreed upon by which these forces will start leaving, without us being ready to defend the territorial integrity of the country, as well as provide security for our people.

Therefore, Mr. Rubaie may well be right that at some stage, but I would not be able to commit to when these forces will leave. We would it to be sooner rather than later, but only when we're ready to take over the security responsibilities of the country.

ROBERTS: As you know, there's been a couple of messages from Osama bin Laden in the last couple of days. One is directed toward Iraq and Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the new leader of Al Qaida in Iraq, and to other militants in your country, saying, quote, "Stay steadfast. Don't leave Baghdad, otherwise all the capitals in the region will fall to the crusaders."

Are you concerned that this message from bin Laden may help to embolden militants there? What's the state of Al Qaida in Iraq presently?

HARIRI: The state is in tatters. They are in disarray, based on the security reports that we have been getting. And this was a die- hard attempt by the terrorist leader to rally his terrorists in Iraq to pull together and stay together. Because, at the moment, they are on the run, and some of the ruthless attacks that have taken place in civilian areas indicate the desperation of these people to stay and to continue grabbing terrible headlines in the press.

Therefore, I see that as an indicator to the weakening of the resolve of Al Qaida in Iraq, not strengthening it.

ROBERTS: To quote Rubaie again, he said today that Iraqi forces are closing in on al-Masri. Do you know that to be true?

HARIRI: I believe so. And I believe that the capability of the intelligence services and, more importantly, the cooperation of the ordinary Iraqi public with the security forces will, sooner or later, bring that individual to justice, one way or the other.

ROBERTS: Mr. Hariri, let me just come back around again to this idea of reconciliation. It has been suggested in some quarters that, because of the disparate ethnic and religious makeup of Iraq, it will never be able to fully reconcile and that it may have to split into at least semi-autonomous regions, if not fully autonomous regions.

Do Kurds still long for a separate state?

HARIRI: The Kurds' vision of the leadership of the Kurds in Iraq has been to have a federal state within the Republic of Iraq. That is their stated vision. That is their stated policy. And they actually act upon that state.

The views of Iraq becoming integrated into smaller countries, we do not entertain that vision at the present circumstances, because it will not bear good to the region as a whole. Therefore, it is in everyone's interest in Iraq, all religious and national minorities, to pull together and develop a level of trust to be able to live together.

We did it in the past, under very, very totalitarian circumstances. I believe we have the opportunity to do it again under democracy.

ROBERTS: Well, there are a lot of people in this country, Mr. Hariri, who are looking very closely at Iraq and certainly keeping their fingers crossed that you can do something there to end the violence and bring together a functioning government.

Fawzi Hariri, the minister of industry for Iraq, thanks very much. Appreciate your time, sir.

HARIRI: Thank you very much, John.


ROBERTS: And straight ahead, the Supreme Court deals a legal blow to the Bush administration. Is it a setback for the war on terror? We'll talk with two key members of Congress.

But up next, a check of what's in the news right now, including the Shuttle Discovery.





ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Certainly, what this decision has done is it's hampered our ability to move forward with a tool which we had hoped would be available to the president of the United States in dealing with terrorists.


ROBERTS: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales responding to this week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling which struck down military commissions established by the Bush administration to prosecute terror suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm John Roberts, in for Wolf Blitzer.

What will Congress do in light of the court's decision? Joining us from Long Island to talk about that, New York, is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Republican Congressman Peter King, and in Boston, Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

Gentlemen, thanks, both, for being with us. Happy 4th of July weekend to you, by the way.



ROBERTS: Let's take a quick look at what the Supreme Court said about this. Reading from the majority opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens, quote, "The executive is bound to comply with the rule of law that prevails in this jurisdiction. The military commission at issue is not expressly authorized by any congressional act."

Congressman King, a slap in the face to the White House?

KING: I think it was a mistaken decision. For instance, Justice Stevens seems to be saying that the Geneva Conventions or the Uniform Code of Military Justice should apply. But, to me, the Geneva Conventions apply to soldiers of established armies, of established governments, not to terrorists who are on the run, who are basically rag-tag operations and do not swear allegiance to a particular country. They do not deserve -- because if we apply the Geneva Convention to them, that means all you ask them is their name, rank and serial number. And that would be absolutely (inaudible) in this type of war.

As far as the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to me, there's far more rights given to a defendant there than should be given to defendants in these cases.

I think Congress will have to step forward now and come up with something in the middle which recognize this is a war different from any other war and that set certain procedures in mind. But we can't be turning over evidence of and discovery and giving, you know, the benefit of the doubt to terrorists in these cases. This is different from other wars. This is not like capturing uniformed soldiers in World War II or the Korean War or even Vietnam.

ROBERTS: All right. I want to explore that a little bit more in just a minute.

But, Congressman Frank, what do you think the Supreme Court was saying to the White House?

FRANK: That the president of the United States is not an emperor, that he does not have unlimited power.

They made one very important point here. When we voted, as I did and almost everybody did in Congress -- one dissenter in both Houses -- to authorize the use of force in Afghanistan against Afghanistan as a terrorist haven, which we all did, the administration has interpreted that authorization of the use of force to mean unlimited presidential power, not simply in Guantanamo, but they have literally said that, under that, they can arrest any American citizen, anywhere, any time, and hold that citizen without the citizen having a chance to defend himself. Now, the court has already said no to that. That's the basis of them saying they can wiretap people without a warrant. And what the court said is, look, we have a system which is present in Congress. I do believe that it is appropriate to come up with a particular set of rules that takes account of these circumstances. Understand that it was the White House that refused that. Members of Congress have been willing for some time to work out the kind of proposal that Peter King talked about, and the White House, led by Cheney and his view of imperial presidential power, has refused to do that until now they're forced to.

ROBERTS: OK. So the question is, what's next? Here's what President Bush said about that on Thursday.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will conform to the Supreme Court. We will analyze the decision. To the extent that the Congress is given any latitude to the...


ROBERTS: Well, unfortunately he didn't get to finish there.

But, Congressman Frank, do you believe that Congress needs to give the president the power, the latitude, if you will, to prosecute these prisoners who were being held at Guantanamo Bay?

FRANK: Of course. And, in fact, again, I want to stress, many in Congress have wanted to do that. The administration has taken the position that because -- and this is literally all they've got. Article II of the Constitution says the executive powers of the United States are vested in the president. And then they had that authorization of the use of force in Afghanistan. And they have argued that, based on that, they don't need any other sets of rules.

Yes, we should have rules.

By the way, the notion that the court system doesn't work here is unfair to the American court system. Moussaoui was convicted. John Walker Lindh was convicted. The shoe-bomber, Reid, was convicted.

On the other hand, we've made mistakes. It is already known there were people -- look, the fog of war is a very good phrase. There were people caught in Afghanistan who had done nothing wrong. Unfortunately, we did not have good procedures for getting innocent people a chance to get out while we went after the guilty.

And Congress had been willing, from the beginning, to deal with it. But the vice president, in particular, who apparently said that things started to go bad during Watergate when the Congress started impinging on the president, they have refused to accept any congressional collaboration in setting forward the kind of flexible and effective system that we ought to have.

ROBERTS: Congressman King, what do you think the appropriate course of action is here is? There is some belief that maybe Congress brought this on itself, as well, by not adequately demanding oversight of what the president was doing.

KING: No, I disagree with that. And I have an honest disagreement with Barney on this. I don't believe there's any type of imperial presidency here. The president has found himself in the most unique challenge any president has ever had to face, as far as both foreign policy and domestic policy. It's a coming together of international terrorism. I believe he has attempted to do the very best he can.

As far as Congress, Congress sometimes wants to get involved, sometimes doesn't. Congress, I agree with you, John, has been willing to let the president, I think, do a lot of this on his own. And I think the president is doing a good job. I mean, I agree with the dissent of Justice Thomas and Justice Scalia.

I think that this is within the president's power, that you can't be treating these terrorists as ordinary criminals. And having said that, you know, there's a certain irony, because I know of a number of foreign countries who have been demanding that they get their prisoners back, but don't want them.

Publicly, they're saying send them back, privately saying, you know, to hold them as long as you can, because they don't want them back on the streets in their countries, either.

ROBERTS: Let me move on to the other big topic of the week, and that is the fight between the White House and The New York Times over the disclosure of this Treasury Department program to monitor bank accounts. Congressman King, you've said some pretty serious things about The New York Times. Let me just quote you here. You said, "The government should go all out against those who did the leaking. And one way to get them is to put The New York Times reporters in the grand jury, ask them to reveal their sources."

You've said in the past that you believe they should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917. You've had a few days to think about that. Do you still hold on that position?

KING: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, we are in a time of war. We have a situation where The New York Times has repeatedly released confidential top-secret information. They've done it with impunity. And the only way you're going to stop the leaks is go after the leakers, number one. And you do that by, if we have to, put the Times reporters and the editors in before the grand jury and cite them for contempt and put them in jail until they agree to disclose their sources.

But having said that, in addition to that, I do believe that the 1917 Espionage Act and possibly the 1950 Comint Act have been violated by The New York Times here because they have taken classified information and disclosed it. They've made it known to the enemy. And Barney and I can have a debate about whether or not the enemy should have known about this or did know about it.

The fact is, the Times can't have it both ways. They can't on the one hand say there's no harm in releasing this. Everybody knew about it. But on the other hand, so we had to put it on page one because it was so top-secret.

ROBERTS: All right. Congressman Frank, the suggestion has been made that the White House and, to some degree, Republicans have been just trying to get political mileage from this. Where do you come down on that?

FRANK: Well, can I just say one thing before -- when Peter said we have to treat terrorists a certain way, we're talking about people accused of terrorism. And that's always the mistake. Yes, people who are terrorists, we want to be very tough with. But we make mistakes. And having no procedure whereby you can sort out and give an innocent a chance is a mistake.

As far as that's concerned, clearly, let me give an example of the partisanship. In the Republican resolution, which they put through the House, not allowing us to amend it, not allowing us the kind of democracy that we're fighting for in Iraq and Afghanistan, they cited a 1998 leak of how we were tracking Osama bin Laden. A terribly damaging one.

They didn't mention who did it. Apparently it was The Washington Times. Now here's the story. When The Washington Times, a very conservative paper, during the Clinton administration leaked apparently information or printed leaked information about how we were tracking Osama bin Laden, I don't remember a resolution. I don't remember a demand for going after that. So, apparently, when a conservative paper does it under a Democratic administration, ho-hum. Now, six years later, when a more liberal paper does it in a Republican administration, you get this.

I honestly, at this point, don't know how serious the leak was. But I will say this. I have heard for some time now that we have been bragging about how we were tracking the terrorists' financing. And I find it hard to believe that the terrorists, having read that we were tracking the financing, didn't understand that banks were involved. Did they think we were sneaking in their caves at night and going through their pockets?

ROBERTS: Some of it does seem to be a little bit obvious, according to some critics. Hey, we want to be back with more conversation with both of you in just a moment. Still to come, countdown to a major launch. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin tells us whether the space shuttle Discovery is ready for liftoff later today. "Late Edition" will be right back after this.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm John Roberts in for Wolf Blitzer. We're talking with Republican Congressman Peter King of New York and Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts. Gentlemen, I just want to put a button on this New York Times/Treasury Department controversy by asking Congressman King, Congressman King, is it fair to say that Republicans are using The New York Times as a proxy for Democrats, this whole soft on terror idea?

KING: No. I think this is a legitimate issue in time of war as to how far we're going to go. Because we saw last December. We've seen it as far as several stories in The Washington Post. Now The New York Times again. And to me, I find it a very, very legitimate issue to be discussing. And I thought we had a fairly good debate on Friday with Barney leading it on the Democratic side. No, I'm not making any accusations against any Democrat at all. Certainly, I never would against Barney Frank, that's for sure.

ROBERTS: Sir, the Fourth of July coming up in a couple of days. Of course, thoughts turn to patriotism, waving the flag. And last week, we saw the flag burning amendment fail in the Senate by one shy vote. It was 66 votes as opposed to the 67 that it needed. Congressman Frank, what's this all about? Has there been an epidemic of flag burning in this country that needs to be addressed?

FRANK: No. And I think it's a great mistake. It's a failure to understand a very important principle. Support for free speech means allowing obnoxious people to do despicable things. And I'll tell you, I can't think of a rationale for arresting people who burn a flag that doesn't cover those Muslims who wanted to arrest the Danish newspaper for running a cartoon that defaced and abused Mohammed.

I mean, are we saying that, well, it's OK to degrade important religious symbols, but not a flag? You know, by the way, it's often when people who burn a flag illegally, it's got to be your flag. In Massachusetts, you can't burn leaves out in the open because of purity in the air. So you certainly can't burn a flag.

But the fact that burning a flag, that we would make that criminal, well then what is the difference between that view and those Muslims who wanted to shut down Danish newspapers? I mean, this notion, people said, well, free speech has limitations. Yes, you can endanger the safety of others. You cannot impugn, specifically, someone's reputation with lies. But speech being offensive, that's what free speech means. It's very easy to be for the free speech of people with whom you agree.

ROBERTS: Right. Congressman King, this amendment passed the House a year and a month ago. The Senate version of it certainly wouldn't prohibit burning of the flag, but it would allow Congress to make laws about that. So, other than firing up the base, what was this really all about?

KING: Well, this actually goes back, you know, to the Supreme Court decision of about 15 years ago, which, actually, in that decision, I think Justice Stevens wrote one of the dissents in saying that there should be laws against flag burning. Justice Rehnquist wrote a very well-written dissent.

I believe it's an appropriate amendment. Obviously it's not the most important issue facing the country. But again, almost two-thirds of the Senate voted for it. More than two-thirds of the House voted for it. That does represent the will of the American people.

And I believe, as Judge Rehnquist said in his dissent at the time, the government does have the right to separate one thing out which is immune, which is distinct. And I think the American flag does fit into that. The country's not going to come to an end. But I, you know, voted for it in the House. If I had been in the Senate, I would have voted for it, and if Barney had been in the Senate, he would have voted against it. But again, this is a debate that's going on. It's critical, I think, just as far as the country expressing itself and setting one institution or one symbol separate from all the rest.

FRANK: Can I just say, since Peter wrapped himself in Justice Stevens and I want to take advantage of my rare opportunity to align myself with Justice Scalia.

ROBERTS: Go ahead.

FRANK: Who was on the other side.

KING: OK. You're right. Absolutely right.

ROBERTS: Congressman King, Chairman King of the House homeland security committee, what do you make of these new bin Laden messages?

KING: I think, first of all, that bin Laden has been very much weakened. Al Qaida has been weakened. The real threat we face today is from the homegrown terrorists. But bin Laden is still a force. There's no doubt about it.

And he is trying to, I think, re-establish himself or affirm himself as the international leader of al Qaida. And we should capture him. Until he's captured, he's a very potent force. But nowhere near as strong as he had been.

Al Qaida internationally has been dramatically weakened, but they are still very powerful as far as having these franchise organizations around the world. The arrest we saw in Canada last month probably the most dramatic example of that. And also, last summer's attacks in London were carried out by local groups, who are home-grown and not specifically allied with bin Laden. So he is a very potent symbol, but his actual directional power from day to day has certainly been weakened.

ROBERTS: Congressman Frank, last word to you. Do you believe that, that bin Laden is more of a symbol?

FRANK: Yes. And I think we can take credit for that. And I appreciated your question before and I appreciated even more Peter's very decent response that no, he wasn't accusing me or others of being soft on terrorism.

But we do get that from some, frankly, on the Republican side, and I guess people want to ignore the fact that we all voted to go to war in Afghanistan. And that's the major reason that we have weakened -- that was the beginning of the end -- not the end, unfortunately, but the beginning of the diminution of bin Laden's power. That vote to go to war in Afghanistan was virtually unanimous. And I voted for it.

And I have to tell you, you know, I sat in church yesterday for an hour, watching a grieving family whose relative, whose son had been killed in Afghanistan. Having voted to go to war and that young man was killed there, that's a very weighty responsibility.

But we did it to go after bin Laden. And I guess that's -- what I want to say is this. I regret the tendency of the administration in particular to divide us when we could be united. We were united about Afghanistan. We could be united about how to deal with the terrorists that we've captured. We could be united about a lot of these things if the administration would stop trying to do it all on its own, impugn the motives of people who disagree, and, instead, let us work together as our Constitution calls for.

ROBERTS: We're going to have to leave it there. Congressman Barney Frank in Boston and Representative Peter King on Long Island, always good to see you. And thank you, Congressman Frank, for today's lesson that the First Amendment allows obnoxious people to do despicable things.

Happy Fourth of July to both of you. And up next, in case you missed it, our wrap-up of Sunday morning talk.


ROBERTS: You're looking at a live picture there from the Kennedy Space Center. The crew of the Shuttle Discovery making its way out to the launch pad. Scheduled liftoff at 3:26 this afternoon. But again, bad weather threatening to scrub the launch. If they don't go today, it likely won't be until Tuesday.

And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the other highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. On all of them, the Supreme Court's ruling against the Bush administration on military commissions was the hot topic.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The Geneva Convention aspects of this decision are breathtaking. The question for this country, should Al Qaida members, who do not sign up to the Geneva Convention, who show disdain for it, who butcher our troops, be given the protections of a treaty they're not part of? My opinion, no.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: What's happened here, because there is such a view that the president's power is infinite and unchecked by anybody -- first time ever a president has had those kinds of views -- they keep running into brick walls. In this case, a Supreme Court that has generally been sympathetic to executive power. And so we're going to have to not only look at this issue. We're going to have to go back to the other issues as well.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The administration is under direction by the Supreme Court, and they're the final word. The Judiciary Committee had hearings on Guantanamo last June. And I made a trip there. It's been apparent to us for some time that the Supreme Court was going to impose some restrictions. And we had legislation ready to go. And I think that we should now have hearings in the Judiciary Committee.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I think the Republicans will rue the day if they politicize this. This is the time for the Congress to come together, both political parties, and we can do this, and the president, and work out the parameters of whether it is a special authorized commission, whether it is a military tribunal, but that gives the detainees the rights that the Constitution provides. And this is our strength; it is not our weakness.


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

Much more ahead, including the stalemate in Gaza. Perspective on both sides of this latest Middle East conflict from Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.


ROBERTS: And welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm John Roberts, in for Wolf Blitzer this weekend.

And there you're looking at live pictures from the Kennedy Space Center of the Shuttle Discovery crew just doing the last bit of suiting up before they get inside the orbiter. A scheduled launch time of 3:26 this afternoon, but some question as to whether or not the shuttle is going to fly. And there's the reason why: all those low-hanging storm clouds over the peninsula out there in Florida.

We'll get an update on the Shuttle Discovery from NASA administrator Michael Griffin in just a few minutes, but first, a check of what's in the news right now from Fredricka Whitfield. She's at the CNN center.


ROBERTS: The Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to lift off in about 3 hours and 20 minutes from now, but will it? CNN's Miles O'Brien is at the Kennedy Space Center on the shuttle watch.

Good afternoon, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Hello, John Roberts. We're here at the Kennedy Space Center watching very closely the dark storm clouds on the horizon. There are thunderstorms off to the east and off to the west and down to the south. And frankly, there's not a lot of optimism that the weather will be good enough for a launch.

But nonetheless, the astronauts are going through the ritual that is all part of a launch day. Take a look at the live pictures there. You see the launch pad, and you see some of those towering, kind of, cumulus clouds, some of them developing into thunderheads off in the distance.

That's launch pad 39B. The Space Shuttle Discovery pointed in the right direction. The question is, will they be closer to space by the end of the day?

The slated time when the space station will be overhead and, thus, the precise time for launch, they can rendezvous, 3:26 p.m. Eastern time.

Take a look at some pictures now of the crew as it begins its effort to strap itself in. The commander of the space shuttle mission, Steve Lindsay, is already in his seat there and getting strapped in by other astronauts who are helping them out. They call them caped crusaders, astronaut strap-in crew. There you see him adjusting his communication gear and getting ready.

As we say, the weather a big concern here, and that's a concern not just for the flight crew, of course. Just about everybody focused on getting the Space Shuttle Discovery ready is looking up at the skies today, hoping for a launch.

The chief weather officer for the Air Force here, Kathy Winters, does not offer us much hope. But nevertheless, the people in charge of making Discovery ready for fly, they are hoping for the best.


STEPHANIE STILSON, SPACE SHUTTLE DISCOVERY'S VEHICLE MANAGER: Really, from my perspective, if weather's the only problem we have, then I'm feeling good, because that's out of our control. We live in Florida, we launch in Florida. Afternoon thunderstorms are there. Kathy Winters and her team are doing a great job to keep us informed of the changes in weather. We only need a little bit of time with good weather.


O'BRIEN: All right. So we'll be watching it here, John Roberts. So far, the countdown has been technically clean, as they say. As we say, weather the big concern, and we'll be watching it here.


ROBERTS: All right. Miles O'Brien, live from the Kennedy Space Center. Thanks, Miles. We'll keep checking back with you.

And don't forget, live coverage of the anticipated blastoff of Space Shuttle Discovery on CNN, beginning at 3 o'clock Eastern.

In the Middle East, an escalating crisis, as Israel steps up its military offensive in Palestinian-controlled Gaza. CNN's Paula Hancocks is following the story. She joins us now from Gaza.



Well, the military wing of Hamas, this Sunday, has threatened to target schools, infrastructure and also power plants in Israel, if the Israeli offensive against Gaza does not end. Now, this has been going on for five nights now, airstrikes and also strikes from the ground and from the land. The Israelis trying to find their kidnapped Israeli soldier, who was taken a week ago today.

Now, also, overnight, we saw an airstrike attack on the offices of the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Hanieh. He said he was disgusted with the attack and said that it was obviously political, and they were trying to target him because he was a symbol of the Palestinian people.

Now, earlier today, we did see President Mahmoud Abbas meeting Ismail Hanieh at the remnants of his office. They had a meeting inside to discuss whether or not all the diplomatic routes to try and release this Israeli soldier had been exhausted.

Now, also, the shelling has been ongoing all this Sunday, in northern Gaza, also in southern Gaza. The Israeli tanks and troops are still on the northern border. They haven't come into Gaza yet, even though the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, had threatened that this could happen if this soldier is not released.

And we also know that in a cabinet meeting this Sunday, Ehud Olmert did say that he had given the green light to the military to give everything necessary and do everything necessary to make sure this soldier is released safely.

Now, on a humanitarian side, they have started to open the crossings, the Israelis have, to let some emergency food and medicine through.


ROBERTS: Paula Hancocks in Gaza for us. Paula, thanks very much.

Back to our top story, NASA is counting on the Space Shuttle Discovery to help put the U.S. space program back on track. Earlier today, I spoke with NASA administrator Michael Griffin about the chances for liftoff later on this afternoon, the dangers of this mission and more.


ROBERTS: So how is the weather looking for a launch today?

MICHAEL GRIFFIN, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: Well, the weather guys are saying 70 percent probability of no-go, so 30 percent probability of going, which actually is very, very typical for a Florida afternoon in the summer.

ROBERTS: If not today, when?

GRIFFIN: Well, we have another shot -- we could theoretically try for tomorrow or Tuesday, but then we'd have to stand down after that. So we might stand down tomorrow and then try for Tuesday and Wednesday. The weather forecast is supposed to improve on Tuesday.

ROBERTS: Michael Griffin, some people are wondering why this mission is going at all, considering you still have that problem with foam shedding off of that external fuel tank.

GRIFFIN: Well, we're always going to have foam shedding from the tank. The trick and the issue is to make it in small enough pieces, released at times which do not concern us.

The reason we are going at all is because we want to finish the International Space Station. It's half-built. It's a project that's been going on for a decade and more. And we've got 15 international partners counting on us to do our part.

ROBERTS: Your chief engineer, Chris Scolese, and your chief safety officer, Brian O'Connor, both voted no-go on this mission. Scolese said, "I remain no-go based upon potential loss of the vehicle." O'Connor said, "I am no-go based on loss of vehicle risk."

One would wonder, if your chief engineer and your chief safety officer are saying no-go, why you would make the decision to go ahead with this.

GRIFFIN: Well, because we had a lot of other people, frankly, who thought it was good, including me. I judged the odds to be very low that we're risking the vehicle. I've kind of steeped myself in this problem over the last month, and I'm quite confident that we've got a very good chance of flying and flying safely.

ROBERTS: You talk about the odds. An official from the NASA inspector general's office, Larry Neu, suggested that, quote, you're "rolling the dice on this." Do you risk the entire program by pushing the schedule for this launch?

GRIFFIN: Well, I think if we continue with a grounded program that can't fly after spending billions of dollars per year, that we also risk the program, and that that's a legitimate concern.

We think we're in good shape. We're in solid shape to go.

I want to point out that what you're hearing here is a good thing. NASA had been criticized in the past for adhering to groupthink, for enforcing a needless conformity in decision-making. And while I'm not sure that that was always true, nonetheless that was the accusation.

ROBERTS: Yes, it is interesting...

GRIFFIN: Since joining NASA...

ROBERTS: I was just going to say, it is interesting to hear these dissenting views.

GRIFFIN: Well, that's exactly right, and I think that's what you want to hear. We have difficult, technically complex and subtle decisions to make. And they are not improved if we foster a climate that says everybody lines up behind one view. I think the decision is improved when we get all the opinions out on the table, we've discussed them thoroughly -- and we've discussed this one for weeks and weeks -- we do the best analysis we can, and we make a decision. And I'm comfortable with that.

ROBERTS: Let me ask you something about the overall shuttle program. The Columbia accident investigation review board said, "NASA met the intent of 12 of the 15 recommendations, but not the other three," and that was eliminating debris shedding from the external tank, hardening the orbiter so that it can better survive debris impact, and developing an on-orbit method of repairing the shuttle's thermal protection system. Why haven't those three recommendations been enacted?

GRIFFIN: Well, because we don't know how to do them. As I've said on a number of occasions, I've been on failure boards and I've run failure boards. And failure boards make recommendations. But not all of them can always be implemented. We quite literally don't know how to, taking the literal interpretation of the words, eliminate debris shedding from the external tank. We don't know how to make the orbiter any more resilient than it is, and we've been spending money and time on tile repair techniques for use on-orbit, but so far they're just rudimentary.

ROBERTS: And what is your backup if there is damage to the orbiter in this launch?

GRIFFIN: Well, the backup is, if there is damage to the orbiter -- which, again, I consider to be very unlikely -- but if there is damage to the orbiter, then the crew will be safe on the space station, and we can get them off either with the launch of a shuttle with a minimal two-man crew to come up and rescue them, or through extended use of Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

ROBERTS: And would the shuttle that was damaged be lost?

GRIFFIN: Well, that's a separate question. We do have a means by which we can make -- allow that shuttle to re-enter automatically and land, and we might very well try to repair it on orbit and recover it automatically without a crew. So it's not clear that the orbiter would be lost. You know, it might be. We just don't know.

ROBERTS: You are hoping for 16 more missions before the shuttle is eventually grounded in the year 2010. But some people are questioning whether or not this program should continue to go forward.

Here is an editorial from Thursday's Los Angeles Times. It says: "The shuttle is an unsafe, expensive way for humans to explore space just a few hundred miles above Earth. The problem with the shuttle isn't chunks of foam, it's the shuttle itself. NASA should mothball the program and put the nation's scientific and technological expertise to better use." What's your response?

GRIFFIN: Well, the folks who wrote that editorial are living two years in the past. That debate was held. It was held on a national level. It was extensive. And at the end of all that, two years ago, following the loss of Columbia -- three years ago -- the president decided to continue with the space station program and to allow the shuttle to fly out to an orderly retirement in 2010.

Congress of the United States held hearing after hearing. I've participated in several of those, to be honest with you, and debated the issue, and finally resolved the issue as the president had proposed.

It is not that the debate is not useful, but it was held. And we have decided to take a certain amount of risk in fact, and to go forward, and complete this program in an orderly way. I think that's the best thing to do at this point, and that's what I'm about.

ROBERTS: Well, we wish you a lot of luck today. We wish you good weather, and we're hoping for, if it should go up this afternoon, a nominal launch. Michael Griffin, NASA administrator, thanks for being with us.

GRIFFIN: Thank you, John.


ROBERTS: Coming up, Israel's crackdown in Gaza. Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres talks about his country's heightened tensions with the Palestinians. Then, perspective on the show of support for the Hamas-led government from chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm John Roberts, in for Wolf Blitzer today. It's been one week since an Israeli soldier was kidnapped by Palestinian militants. The Bush administration is expressing strong support for Israel, saying the soldier's release is the key to ending the current standoff in Gaza.

Earlier today, I spoke with Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres.


ROBERTS: Shimon Peres, thanks very much for being with us. Can you describe, sir, the current state of Israeli operations in Gaza?

SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI VICE PREMIER: Our impression is that Hamas launched an undeclared war of terror against Israel. It's being expressed in two major events. In fact, they've become responsible for the firing of rockets on Israeli settlements out of Gaza and endangering the lives of innocent people.

And secondly, they took hostage an Israeli soldier while penetrating our sovereignty and our land, in spite of the fact that we have left Gaza completely. Now, we feel that we have to defend ourselves, and we cannot have a government in war against us.

ROBERTS: Mr. Peres, the Israeli defense minister, Amir Peretz, said on Thursday of Hamas, "The masquerade ball is over. The suits and ties will not serve as cover to the involvement and support of kidnappings and terror." Do you agree with that?

PERES: Yes, but it is without masks. They do it in the open daylight, because once they took hostage our soldier, they want to be paid for it. Why should they? It's illegal. It's against all agreements. It's against any peaceful relations. And we don't feel that we have to turn our head and say that we don't see it.

They continued day and night to fire missiles against the settlements, as I have said. And we decided to bring an end to it, which any other government would normally do it.

ROBERTS: The offices...

PERES: By the way, we are very careful....

ROBERTS: Go ahead.

PERES: We are very careful not to hit any civilian life. The operation goes on almost for a week time. No single Palestinian civilian lost his life. It's not by accident.

ROBERTS: The offices...

PERES: We are very careful not to...

ROBERTS: Sorry, I was just going to say, the offices of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Hanieh were attacked yesterday by Israeli forces. What was the purposes of that?

PERES: To warn him. It was attacked in the middle of the night, where we were aware he won't be in the office. So it was not an attempt on his life, but it was a clear warning to stop this double behavior. Either/or he is a government with all the responsibility of a government, or it's a terroristic organization with all the consequences that stem from it.

ROBERTS: Prime Minister Hanieh claims, Vice Premier, that you are trying to topple the Hamas government. Is this operation solely about returning Gilad Shalit, or is there something more to this?

PERES: It is more than that. I mean, what sort of a government is it? If it's a government of terror, it's not a government. They were elected properly, but they behave like a terroristic organization. So the fact that they were once elected doesn't give them a license to shoot, to kill, to endanger, to kidnap Israeli people.

ROBERTS: So you are trying to topple the Hamas government. Is that what I'm reading from you?

PERES: We are trying to topple down the policies of this so- called government, which are policies of terror. It's not a normal government. As I have said, it's a government that was elected properly, but behaves like a terroristic organization. So we didn't disturb the elections, but once we see the way they behave, we cannot consider them a government. ROBERTS: The other day, Vice Premier, Israeli forces detained a number of Hamas officials, including some cabinet members. Here is what Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Hanieh had to say about that.


ISMAIL HANIEH, PALESTINIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): When they kidnapped the ministers, they meant to hijack the government's position. But we say no positions will be hijacked, no governments will fall, God willing.


ROBERTS: Mr. Hanieh is standing firm that he is going to resist those attempts, but I'm wondering, what was the reason for kidnapping government officials? This has brought criticism even from the United States.

PERES: They were government officials. Then they became partners to terroristic attack. They will be put to trial. They will go through the criminal procedure. They weren't hijacked. And they will be accused of participating, supporting terroristic acts against the civilian government. The court will decide.

ROBERTS: Do you expect that there will be more seizures?

PERES: If there will be more people participating in acts of terror, yes. We are not going to take anybody who is innocent or doesn't participate in acts of terror. We don't have any reason to do so. We didn't arrest them until now. We didn't arrest them until now, because until now, they were careful.

ROBERTS: Vice Premier Peres, you opened a border crossing today to allow food and some medicine through, but the situation is still sounding pretty dire there. Let's listen to Riyad Mansour. He's the Palestinian observer at the United Nations. Here's what he had to say.


RIYAD MANSOUR, PALESTINIAN OBSERVER AT THE U.N.: The situation is extremely grave, and there is a lack of food, lack of medicine. Of course, there is no electricity. Water pipes being damaged. There is serious shortages of water. It is a huge crime against humanity, endangering 1.3 million Palestinians of really serious, serious humanitarian catastrophe.


ROBERTS: Vice Premier Peres, the question is, is this operation harming the Palestinian people as much or more than it's harming the Hamas government?

PERES: Well, they can get rid of it in one moment. If they would release the soldier, the operation will be over in a moment's time. It is up to them. But they cannot keep the soldier as a hostage and then complain.

By the way, when it comes to electricity, we checked beforehand. If the hospitals have generators to supply the necessary electricity to the people who are in hospital, we wouldn't bomb otherwise. But if they want to change the situation, it's in their hands. They don't have to complain.

ROBERTS: There has been a split in the Palestinian leadership between Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement and Hamas. Are you concerned that the Israeli military actions in Gaza could actually serve to unify Palestinians against you?

PERES: Well, Abbas took a very clear position, and I don't think it's different from our position. He called upon Hamas to release the soldier. He called upon them to stop the shooting of the missiles. So I mean, we are on the same view. But we have the strength to do so in order to defend our people if we have to.

But I believe that Abbas -- Abu Mazen, as we call him -- is completely aware and is responsible and we appreciate his position. Then President Mubarak tried his hands too to bring an end to this story diplomatically. He also suggested that they will release the soldier. If they don't want, they carry their responsibility.

ROBERTS: A couple of days after the soldier was kidnapped, Israeli jets buzzed the home of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syria is denying any involvement in this. Here is what Syrian ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, said on Friday.


IMAD MOUSTAPHA, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Syria is not involved whatsoever in what's happening there. The only reason that the violence is taking place there is the continuous occupation by the Israelis and the daily killing of Palestinians.


ROBERTS: Do you buy that, Vice Premier Peres, that Syria has no involvement whatsoever in this kidnapping?

PERES: Nothing whatsoever. They keep in Damascus Khaled Mashaal, who is the commander of this kidnapping and this shooting. He does it fully. It was declared by the Palestinians themselves. So if Syria wants to be out of it, they have to out the headquarters of terror and of shooting and of hijacking.

It's well-known -- I mean, the Syrian denial is not very impressive, not now and not in the past. They have to show in fact they are detached from this support of a terroristic organization which is in their capital.

PERES: And they know it. They are aware of it. They know exactly what Mr. Khaled Mashaal does. And just by putting on a face, they won't change the situation. ROBERTS: I also want to ask you about Iran, Mr. Vice Premier. When Ehud Olmert was on this program recently, he said that Iran was months away from the technological threshold to be able to begin the process to make a nuclear bomb.

However, in The New Yorker magazine, Seymour Hersh writes in a new article, quote, "Israeli intelligence, however, has also failed to provide specific evidence about secret sites in Iran. The Pentagon consultant said what the Israelis provided fell way short of what would be needed to publicly justify preventive action."

The question is, do you have specific evidence, specific intelligence about what's going on at these suspected Iranian nuclear sites?

PERES: Well, Iran rejected openly and publicly the request of the Europeans and the United States to stop the operation of the centrifuges which are producing the nuclear material, and they did it openly again. I mean, you don't need to hear any secrets and we don't have to give any evidence.

They were offered a fair deal, with some support and some demands. Whatever they were offered in their favor, they have accepted. Whatever was demanded from them, they have rejected. So the situation is very clear. Why should Iran run (ph) behind the scene, if it's all done again, publicly and openly and clearly?

ROBERTS: And we're certainly waiting for Iran's response to the offer from the United States and the European Union.

Vice Premier Shimon Peres of Israel, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

PERES: Thank you.


ROBERTS: And still to come, the Palestinian response. We'll talk life with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat. Stay with us.




ROBERTS: A quick update for you now. The CIA, just moments ago, confirming to CNN that, in fact, this latest tape reported to be from Osama bin Laden has been checked, it has been run through voice identification, and it is, indeed, the voice of Osama bin Laden. Not that there was a lot of doubt about that, but it would make two tapes in three days coming from the terrorist leader, hiding somewhere perhaps along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

That's a picture of the Web site that released the message. So, again, the CIA confirming that the latest audiotaped message is, in fact, the voice of Osama bin Laden.

And now for the Palestinian perspective on the standoff in Gaza, we turn to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, who joins us from Jerusalem.

Good afternoon to you, sir. Thanks for being with us.


ROBERTS: You heard what Shimon Peres had to say in my interview with him: his charge that Hamas was elected properly, but behaves like a terrorist organization. Your response to what you heard from the vice premier?

ERAKAT: Well, what I heard from Mr. Peres today just reflects the difficult situation and the difficulties and the complexities we, as Palestinians and Israelis, are facing at this moment of truth for both of us.

As a matter of fact, last week, President Abbas, along with Mr. Hanieh, have exerted maximum effort in order to be able to locate the Israeli soldier and get him out alive.

Have the Israelis, John, known the whereabouts of the soldier, they would not have waited for you or me. They would have gone in, got him out. Had Abu Mazen known his whereabouts, he would have done the same.

Unfortunately, now, as Palestinians and Israelis, actually, this is the first time since '67 that we're facing such a difficult situation. Usually when Israelis are taken by Palestinians, it's either the Israelis will kill both in half an hour or Palestinians will kill him in an hour.

Now, this situation is a very complex one. A difficult one. We have a third party's intervention, the good offices of Egypt. The Egyptians have been doing a wonderful job. But at the same time, when you begin, you know, bombarding the electricity and water and the bridges and the institutions, and abducting parliamentarians and ministers, what I'm afraid this is doing is undermining the efforts to acquire the release of the soldier.

It's not weakening the government of Hamas. Ironically speaking, John, three days ago, these people were sitting in their offices, not being able to do anything. Now, they're jailed. They have the sympathy of the Palestinian people, and they'd have been looked upon as heroes. So what are the Israelis trying to do? With such actions, they're undermining President Abbas. They're undermining the government. They're undermining the Palestinian Legislative Council.

And at the same time, when they threaten with a military invasion of Gaza, are they going to go and look house-to-house? It's a needle in a haystack. It's 1.3 million people. It's six persons to a square meter. So I believe maybe the situation is out of hand now. I just don't want to sound that pessimistic. But I'm really afraid that every hour that passes, in this line of thinking, this line of action, I'm afraid that we're going to lose the ability to solve the crisis, diplomatically and politically.

The focus, now, should be on trying to end this crisis peacefully. Can we? I really don't know now.

ROBERTS: Right. You mentioned problems for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, that this is creating. It would appear as though the Israeli government doesn't have a tremendous amount of respect, currently, for Abu Mazen. Here's what Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, said about that, on May 21st here on "Late Edition." Take a listen.


EHUD OLMERT, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: I'm afraid that President Mahmoud Abbas doesn't have even the power to take charge of his own government. He is powerless. He is helpless. He is unable to stop the minimal terror activities among the Palestinians. How can he seriously negotiate with Israel?


ROBERTS: So, that's the Israeli prime minister on Mahmoud Abbas. It seems that Israel is taking matters into its own hands here, Mr. Erakat. Do you believe that Israel is trying to take down the Hamas government?

ERAKAT: Well, I don't think it's about the Hamas government. I think it's the whole concept of the Palestinian Authority. I think whether the Israelis would seek to have a partner, leading to transforming (ph) President Bush's vision of a two-state solution, or they're wanting to dictate the solution by -- with the so-called unilateral steps.

You have to keep in mind that President Arafat was sieged, and was considered a non-partner for four years. Then when Abu Mazen was elected before the Hamas government, I've heard Israelis say he's irrelevant, weak and so on. And to Mr. Olmert, the question is, if you describe Abu Mazen the way you describe him, and my question, did you give him a fair chance?

Abu Mazen, his command centers were destroyed by the Israeli army. His communication centers were destroyed by the Israeli army. He doesn't have a single dollar in his presidency. He has no economy. No army. No navy. No air force. And then, you just say that he cannot function.

Is this a fair chance to this president, who was elected by 62 percent of the vote? Is this fair to the man who has more commitment than any of us for a peaceful solution between Palestinians and Israelis on the basis of a two-state solution? Is this fair to the man who has denounced violence and refuses violence, as a way to Palestinians that he wants to do things peacefully and through negotiations with Israelis? Look, I cannot stand guard on people's lips. I cannot tell people what to do. But when you're angry, and I believe that now Israel is acting with anger, anger leads to political blindness. Political blindness leads to desperation. And desperation leads to desperate acts.

Do they think that they can solve the problem of Gaza by taking the water system out, the electricity system out, the institutions, and by making a full-scale invasion? Are they willing to find the soldier alive with such a military invasion? Or is this the act of teaching the Palestinians a lesson by knocking them on their heads? And will this produce peace and security for anyone?

ROBERTS: Well, you heard what Shimon Peres had to say about it. He said that Israel is fighting an undeclared war of terror against Hamas. Did Hamas bring this on themselves by kidnapping this Israeli soldier? Was this a miscalculation on their part, which is now affecting Mahmoud Abbas and the rest of the upper echelon of the Palestinian Authority?

ERAKAT: As Mr. Shimon Peres said, you know, from day one, President Abbas had nothing but to focus and to stay the course. And trying to acquire, to locate this soldier, and to bring him out alive. That is the truth. I was told by Abu Mazen that Mr. Hanieh is doing the same.

And the fact that we were doing this and the fact that Egypt was brought in, I think people who try to solve this crisis diplomatically in this situation should be given the chance. Now. My question, do you support the efforts of the president by taking out the electricity power plant, the water system, the bridges, the roads, the institutions? Abducting ministers and deputies?

Or do you, by doing this, undermine the efforts to have a peaceful situation to the crisis? Now, things are slipping outside our fingers like sand. I'm really very worried tonight. I have a lot to be concerned about.

If the Israelis, as I expect, expand and escalate the situation in Gaza by going in with tanks and planes and F-16s and so on, I'm afraid this will not only widen the cycle of violence and counter- violence and extremism in this part of the world between us and the Israelis. But this will translate and transmit to the region.

The last thing the region wants is more extremists. We have enough extremism. And fighting this extremism, you need peace. You need sanity. You need wisdom. You need courage. You need far- sightedness. You need to give diplomacy a chance. And that's not so much to ask from the Israelis.

ROBERTS: Well, certainly, no one wants any more extremists. We're going to have to leave it there. But Saeb Erakat, thanks very much for being with us. Always a pleasure, sir.

ERAKAT: Thank you. ROBERTS: Up next, from a chart-topping song to a symbol of hope. We'll talk with singer Tony Orlando about why "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" still resonates in America. We'll be right back.


ROBERTS: Ah, that old chestnut. It topped the music charts more than 30 years ago, but as the United States prepares to celebrate its 230th birthday, and with tens of thousands of troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" still resonates in America's cultural psyche.

I had the chance to speak with singer Tony Orlando about his hit song and new book of the same time.


ROBERTS: Tony, it's so good to see you, particularly on this holiday weekend.

Let's ask you a little bit about the news of the day here, because you're heavily involved with the veterans cause. Should we be setting a timetable for a withdrawal from Iraq? What are your thoughts?

TONY ORLANDO, ENTERTAINER: Oh, I don't think so. I don't think there's any reason why we should be tipping off the enemy over there. I don't think there's a soldier on the front line that would appreciate that one. No, I don't think we should...

ROBERTS: So, you fully believe that if the U.S. were to set a timetable, that would just give the insurgents a chance to lay low until troops started to come out and then they'd renew the attacks again?

ORLANDO: I think it's just common sense that that would happen. I mean, if you were to tell -- if you were going to have a street fight tomorrow and you told the guy down the street that I'm going to be there at 4:00, and he's either going to show up or he's not if you give him a timetable.

So, I mean, basically, why give anybody an advance notice to do some further damage? No, I don't agree with that at all.

ROBERTS: Well, your opinion...

ORLANDO: I think what's important is to be able to be there for -- you know, you cannot back the mission and back a soldier.

ROBERTS: Right. Your opinion puts you in the majority. A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll found 51 percent of Americans said that there should not be a timetable versus 47 percent who did.

What about your opinion of the war itself? Was this the right war at the right time? ORLANDO: You know something? I don't think any war is one that can be appreciated or complimented or given any kind of grandiose compliments on any level. War is war.

I know one thing. I know that Saddam is in jail, and I know that Zarqawi is dead, and I know that bin Laden is in a cave somewhere. So, to me, we're doing OK.

I think that this is an important -- a different kind of war than what this country is used to, John. I think that we're looking at guerrilla warfare like we saw in Vietnam on a global level. We had trouble with the guerrilla warfare in Vietnam. Your Vietnam guys will tell you that.

It's a tough war to fight, guerrilla warfare. And now to see it on the global level, I think all of us have to try to understand that it's a different style, and that we're going to have to comply with what's going on.

ROBERTS: On Memorial Day, you came out with this new book, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon While We Are Apart." Of course, it's rolling off of the theme of "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Ol' Oak Tree," which is, what, 33 years old now.

Proceeds are going toward veterans from this book. What's your involvement with them? How are the proceeds used?

ORLANDO: Well, the proceeds are going to all veterans' causes. I've been working for veterans' causes since 1973. My first time was in 1973 when I did a show at the Copacabana in New York City...

ROBERTS: With Bob Hope?

ORLANDO: No, no. Bob Hope's show was at the Cotton Bowl.

ROBERTS: Oh, yes, that's right.

ORLANDO: When we welcomed home our prisoners of war, but after that show was over, I was so moved that my only way of paying them back was I had a few of them fly into New York and I took care of their hotels and brought them to the Copa. And that was my first time that I'd ever really done anything with veterans.

Well, it's been a life-changing experience for me. It's 33, 34 years, and, you know, working on the board with the VFW and working with the American Legion and U.S. Vets, which replaces homes for homeless vets -- which most of the homeless people you see on the street, unfortunately, as you know, John, as veterans from Vietnam and Desert Storm. That's appalling.

And if I can do something in my own way, if this book can make a soldier feel a little bit happier about someone sending it to him in Iraq -- you've been to Iraq. You know what it's like to be over there. And if they can get a little love letter like that, and the proceeds go to something to help veterans, whether it be a van for a disabled vet in some small community somewhere in the country or however small, nothing is too small when you're helping a veteran, in my opinion.

ROBERTS: We mentioned the Bob Hope show at the Cotton Bowl. That was the first time that you sang "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" for troops, right? Because the song was originally written about a fellow who was getting prison.

ORLANDO: Yes. Irwin Levine and Larry Brown wrote the song, and they did not write the song as a war song. They wrote the song as a love song. I mean, the girl put 100 yellow ribbons instead of one to welcome a guy home.


ORLANDO: And it just happened -- the American people made this a symbol of homecoming and hope. And certainly it started with Bob Hope at the Cotton Bowl, 580-plus of the greatest people I'd ever met in my life and the POWs. Their eyes hadn't even adjusted to daylight yet. 70,000 Americans welcoming them home. And I was singing "Yellow Ribbon," and they knew the chorus already.

And that was the first indication that I knew that something different was going to happen. But you know what was interesting? Bob Hope knew. Bob Hope...

ROBERTS: Oh, yes. He said to you, "You'll be singing that song for the rest of your life."

ORLANDO: And he said, because the opening line, "I'm coming home, I've done my time," is every mother's prayer and every soldier's wish. I'll never forget him saying that to me.

ROBERTS: Even though it was written about a fellow from prison, it could be applied to POWs, it could be applied to hostages in Iraq.

ORLANDO: Well, certainly. Bruce Langdon's wife, Penny Langdon, first put that yellow ribbon out there for -- it has been a symbol of hope and homecoming for over 30 years now. I'm very proud to be part of that, by the way.

ROBERTS: What do you want people to think about on this 4th of July?

ORLANDO: That we really do live in a great country, that we do -- there is no such thing as "waving the flag," that it's OK to wave the flag. In fact, it's more OK to wave it than to burn it.

ROBERTS: So where do you come down on that amendment?

ORLANDO: I think there should be an amendment to -- I know the point of view of fighting for the freedom in the Constitution of having the ability to do it makes us different than the rest of the world. I understand that.

But, you know, that flag has become a symbol -- I mean, if this little ribbon becomes a symbol that's important to some mother who's waiting for their sons and daughters to come home, and they end up wearing it on their chest, or even someone who's been kidnapped, as Lacy Peterson's mother wore it for all those weeks, it's just taken on many different symbols here, this yellow ribbon. Imagine what the flag is like. Burn a yellow ribbon? Burn it. But, you know, burn a yellow ribbon. Don't burn the flag. The flag represents the blood that was shed in this country from every war we've ever had. And I just think it's a slap in the face to veterans. I just don't think it should be done.

ROBERTS: Tony, it's great to see you.

ORLANDO: It's good to see you, too.


ROBERTS: Tony Orlando, a very nice guy.

We'll be right back.


ROBERTS: The results of our online poll: 61 percent of you said, yes, you do believe that granting insurgents amnesty will advance the political process in Iraq.

And that's "Late Edition" for Sunday, July 2nd. Wolf Blitzer will be back next week. You didn't think he'd take two Sundays off, did you?

I'm John Roberts in Washington.

For our North American viewers, "Iraq: A Week at War" is up next. But first, a check of the top stories.