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CNN Larry King Live

Interview with Bill Clinton; Interview with Jalal Talabani

Aired September 20, 2006 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, former President Bill Clinton in this scary and troubled world with tension rising between the United States and Iran, and bloodshed rising in Iraq, he's speaking about, about his vision for global change and more.

Then, exclusive, in his only primetime interview since he met with President Bush yesterday, Iraq's President Jalal Talabani on the war that's tearing this country apart and dividing this one.

It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: We are at the second annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative here in New York, and the president -- the former president -- is our special guest.

Before we move into any of this, do you have a comment on what President Chavez said today at the U.N., calling President Bush or likening him to the devil?

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think, you know, obviously, I think he made a mistake to do it. I wish he hadn't done it. You know, he's not hurting us, he's just hurting himself and his country.

It's okay with me if he wants to disagree with the Bush administration's policies. I disagree with a lot of the Bush administration policies. But this kind of personal demonization is the very thing I'm trying to stop. I'm trying to squeeze out of politics in the world today; that's why former President Bush and I, in part, did what we did with Katrina and with the tsunami relief and why I do this climate change.

I think that a lot of people are dying in the world today because of the careless words of people who think they help themselves by debasing other people. And I don't think this is good for the people of Venezuela. I mean, President Bush can handle it. I can handle it. People do that stuff to me. But it's not good for America or the world.

KING: Why -- you've studied people for a long time, and that's part of this initiative here that you're looking into. We want to discuss various facets of it. Why do we have so much of that? It seems more -- maybe I'm wrong -- more of that in the world today. CLINTON: Well, I think that it is the inevitable consequence of a divided world where people are demonized. And, you know, you dish it out and take it, and dish it out and take it, but the point is, it's a spiral. It goes on and it gets worse and worse and worse.

I think Chavez would be much more effective if he would say something that's true, like, whether you believe in trade or not, it doesn't solve all the problems and a lot of people in Latin America are still living below the poverty line, who bought into our democracy agenda and our trade agenda, and therefore I'm going to try to find a better answer that's more equitable for all these hard-working people.

You know, to me, that would be a much cleverer thing for him to do, where he'd really be doing something good, and he could say I disagree with President Bush, instead of calling him the devil. If you call him the devil, it might make you -- the problem with all this sort of divisive politics, wherever it's practiced, is, first, you can never tell where it ends, you know, or what you might be dealing with unstable people.

But secondly, it builds you, because of its emotional content, more support in the short run, you know. You might win a few close elections or, in Chavez' case, just build yourself up among anti- Americans throughout the world.

But in the end, it leads -- it leaves people hungry, because it doesn't do anything to change people's lives for the better. That's what I don't like, and that's why I think he doesn't serve his own people well by doing that.

KING: Now, the purpose of your initiative overall is to make the world a better place, right?


KING: And the four things it covers is to make the world a better place.

CLINTON: That's right.

KING: Is it a better place?

CLINTON: I think it -- well, right now, it is for a lot of us, and it isn't for a lot of us. That's the whole point. You and I, we're doing this program, right and it'll be seen all around the world.

KING: You bet.

CLINTON: So that means that we live in an interdependent world that goes way beyond economic interdependence. And for people like you and me, it's been a great deal. But the world is unequal, unstable and unsustainable. It's unequal because half the world still lives on less than $2 a day, so they're not part of this deal that we like. It's unstable because not only of terror and the threat of weapons of mass destruction but of conflicts like Darfur, and the prospect that there will be more of that. And then it's unsustainable because of the fact of climate change, global warming.

So what we're trying to do is to mobilize the energies of people without regard to their politics; to try to meet these big challenges; to help more people join the global economy by empowering them to work their way out of poverty; to help more people combat climate change in a way that grows the economy, not shrinks it; to deal with the major health challenges of our time; and then to explicitly confront these kind of religious, racial and ethnic conflicts that are exploited by people all around the world for their own gain.

KING: Do you know that the money goes where it's supposed to go?

CLINTON: Oh yes. We have a commitments team, full-time. The people work full-time year-round to first, help people develop their commitments; secondly, see that they finance them; and thirdly, to monitor their results. So we keep up with it.

We can tell you which things have worked best, which things haven't worked so well, where they've made an honest effort and didn't, and in a tiny number of cases where people either never made a commitment or made one and didn't do anything about it. We have very little of that.

But, I guess we should back up and remind people that the unique thing about this meeting is that if you come to this meeting as a businessperson or the head of a non-governmental group or a philanthropic group, you have to promise to make a commitment in one of these four areas and to make good on it in order to come back next year because we don't want anybody here just for talking. This is a doing meeting.

Today, you know, my opening remarks -- what did it take, four- and-a-half minutes? And then I introduced Mrs. Bush and she gave a speech. Her speech, and the nighttime speeches at our dinner tomorrow night by King Abdullah and Kofi Annan, will be about the only speeches given here. Everybody else is part of a panel, talking, working, coming up with concrete solutions.

KING: Anybody turn you down?

CLINTON: That we invited this year?

KING: Yes.

CLINTON: Yes, but not -- mostly because they couldn't come to the U.N. Like, for example, this year Gordon Brown is coming instead of Tony Blair because Tony Blair is in the Labor Party conference.

Jacques Chirac, who is a very good friend of mine, he and I did an announcement yesterday because he set up this program to fund AIDS medicine for children around the world with a modest tax on airline tickets. And he asked me to handle it for him, our foundation. He has to go back for pressing business but there were very few people that just turned us down because they were here and wouldn't come.

KING: Did the first lady readily accept?

CLINTON: Oh yes. She was glad to do it.

KING: What do you make of her initiative?

CLINTON: I think it's good. I think, you know, she's had an interest that Hillary and I both have shared for a long time in all the problems facing kids, especially young girls, in the developing world. And once you get into it, first you start saying, well, I want these kids to get more education. That's self-evident in poor countries. And we particularly have to educate girls.

So then you say, well, but they do need to be healthy, right? So as soon as you get there, you run up against the fact that a billion people in the world never get a clean glass of water, and two-and-a- half billion people have no access to sanitation.

So she has this project that the American government is going to work on with Steve Case and others. It's designed to find a fun way to involve kids in pumping water from clean wells with a merry-go- round but it's a huge problem so, yes, I like it.

KING: We'll be right back with President Bill Clinton. We're at his Global Initiative, second year. Don't go away.


KING: We're back at the second annual Global Initiative, sponsored of course, and the idea born by President Clinton. There are four concepts: poverty alleviation, mitigating religious and ethnic conflict, energy and climate change, and global public health. Concerning the religious aspect, what do you make of what the pope said?

CLINTON: Well, first I think we ought to take him at his word, that he's sorry if it was interpreted that way. I think he really was trying to say what a lot of serious people believe, that the religious aspect of Islam has always had a political and military component.

But I think it was unfortunate, as he said, because right now there are all these moderates, both moderate Muslim clerics, the kind of people that gathered around King Abdullah in Jordan not so long ago to say that Islam is not a bloodthirsty religion, Islam does not condone terror and the killing of innocents.

There are all these people trying to reclaim their religion from those who have a very selective reading and teaching of the Koran's verses about aggression, military aggression. They basically teach, in my view, a distorted view of what is in the Koran and what Islam stands for.

And we -- every time one of us, particularly someone as august as the pope says something like that, we make the task of the moderates in the Muslim world more difficult. That is, these people that are asking young people to strap on bombs or carry liquid explosives on planes or whatever and, you know, engage in murder in God's name are really asking them to practice politics.

The leaders of all these groups are not strapping on the bombs and blowing themselves up. They're trying to talk some kid into doing it. In order to do it, you have to believe two things, normally. You have to believe, number one, you get a free ticket to heaven; and number two that the people you're striking are profoundly evil, are subhuman. But behind all that, it's not about religion at all.

It's a political deal, but there have been sects of Islam that have trained and treated and educated people who were living in poverty, had legitimate grievances, to believe that their faith legitimizes killing non-combatants, including completely innocent civilians.

So we made the task of all those moderates harder, we make it harder, with things like the Danish cartoons or the pope's comments. He did issue an apology, and I think we ought to go on.

I also think that we need moderate Muslims to say look, in the West, people insult each other and their faiths and their politics and their persons all the time. Look what President Chavez just said about President Bush. You know, we -- and we try to teach our children to get over it.

I mean, you've got kids. You know, one of the most important things you can teach a child is that not everything that happens to you will be nice. But you are in control of how you respond to everything that happens to you. You do not have to respond with violence or anger or hatred or bitterness or demeaning conduct and you cannot be diminished by what someone else says about you.

KING: Is Iraq ...

CLINTON: Sticks and stones, all that stuff we teach our kids, we need that lesson over there too.

KING: Everything I needed in life I learned in kindergarten.

CLINTON: Yes. Well, at least sticks and stones can break my bones but words will not hurt me. We need to hammer that home to people.

KING: Is Iraq a religious war?

CLINTON: No, I don't think so. I think Iraq is primarily a -- the conflict there, you have first, as you know, the Sunni, the Shia, the Kurds. Then you have the tribal differences. Then you have sort of the philosophical differences between the Sunni and the Shia. You have some outside influences coming into that Sunni area. But I do not believe it is primarily religious. The religious differences between the Sunni and the Shia, I don't think, are what are driving this violence.

KING: Vice President Cheney said, knowing all he knows, he'd still go back. Would you?

CLINTON: Of course he would. No, I never was in favor of doing it before the U.N. inspectors finished. I had a totally different take on this. I ...

KING: Why would you say of course he would?

CLINTON: Because they didn't -- because the evidence has made clear now that he and the other proponents of the Iraq war did not care whether he had weapons of mass destruction, did not care whether he was involved with 9/11, did not care whether the evidence showed any of this or not, that they had made their mind up in advance that this was the thing to do, that it would help to make a new Middle East, it would strengthen America's leverage against Iran; it would, you know, shake up the authoritarian regimes and increase our leverage to create peace between the Israelis and the Pakistanis -- Palestinians.

And I think they thought it might clean their own skirts a little, since most of what Saddam did that was really terrible he did when he had the full support of the Republican administration of the '80s, of which Dick Cheney was a part.

Now to be fair to them, it was an example of the old adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. After the Ayatollah took over in Iran and events began to go the way they did in Iran, the fact that Iraq was a willing counterweight was seen as a positive thing until he invaded Kuwait.

But much of what he did in using chemical weapons and killing innocent civilians and all the terrible things he did in the 1980s he did it without a peep of criticism from some of the same people that have prosecuted this war. So for whatever reason, they wanted to do this. And I think they would do it again because that's what they thought, what they should do with their mandate.

But I -- my personal belief is -- I had a different take. I didn't like Saddam. It's fine with me to get rid of him. It's fine to try to start a new future. But I thought that we should not invade unless he flocked (ph) the U.N. inspections because I wanted to keep more troops in Afghanistan to make sure it worked and to intensify the hunt for bin Laden, and Dr. al-Zawahiri.

But we are where we are. We got to try and make it work now. And I think -- I still, I believe that the Middle East would be better off if it did work; that is, if they could find some way to have self- governance, keep the country together in some form or fashion, even if they have more regional autonomy, and stop killing one another and stop killing us.

I mean, I just think it would be -- there needs to be before we make up our mind exactly what we're going to do in Iraq, there needs to be, as Tom Friedman of "The New York Times" said, a real big push, one last push to try to get them make a decision about their political future, which would then mobilize the Iraqis in their own defense. It finally happened in Anbar, yesterday, you know, 25 of the tribal leaders said "We don't want the foreign jihadists and we're going to try to kick them out ourselves." That's the kind of thing we need more of.

KING: Be right back with President Clinton. Don't go away.


KING: We're at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. This is year two and there will be a year three and a year four, that's correct right?

CLINTON: I hope so. We wanted to do it for at least a decade to see if we can, you know, at the end of a decade if I'm still around, we'll take stock and see if we changed the world enough.

KING: How's your health?

CLINTON: As far as I know, it's great.

KING: We both have the same doctors in this.

CLINTON: Yes, we've been fortunate haven't we? I still feel good. I think you do, too.

KING: You're sure do.

We have an e-mail question from Jerry of East Meadow, New York, for you.

"With respect to Iran's apparent desire to develop nuclear weapons what decision, if any, do you regret making during your presidency that might have had an impact on this issue?"

CLINTON: I don't know that we could have. We did a lot of work in Iran in an intelligence fashion that actually was -- finally talked about just in the last few months in the run up to 9/11, where we tried to discourage the development of their nuclear capacity.

But I don't think we had any other legal options to do this. What I was trying to do is to strengthen the non-proliferation regime and what -- and moving toward a situation where people could only build -- have peaceful uses of nuclear power and any fissile material that could be made into weapons would either not be produced or would have to be transported out of the country.

But I don't think I had any other options at the time. We did the best we could and I was trying to reconcile with the previous progressive government of the Iranians, because I think that they are, on balance, an entrepreneurial, progressive people, who do not wish to have ongoing conflict with America.

KING: Do you believe the president of Iran when he says that they're not out to make weapons? CLINTON: I'm quite skeptical of that. But I think we're in a different position now than we were in terms of, basically, our only argument against them now, is you can't have them because we don't trust you because we're good and you're bad. Because the United States, in the last five years, look what we've done we've withdrawn from the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

We've basically said we've gotten -- we've created the Anti- Ballistic Missile Treaty. We basically said we don't believe in nonproliferation for a couple of years. We, ourselves, were researching the potential development of two new nuclear weapons.

So, when we go to Iran and say "You can't have nuclear power that has the potential of producing materials that can be turned into a bomb," they say, "Well, why? You have it. The Israelis have it. The Indians have it. The Pakistanis have it. And we're a great country, why can't we have it?" That's where the citizens are, even the pro- western citizens.

And we -- when you're trying to get somebody to give it up, like at the end of the Cold War, 1990 or so, Brazil and South Africa gave up pursuing nuclear power. It was a very smart decision -- nuclear bombs I mean because it's expensive to build those bombs, expensive to maintain them, and real costly to control the explosive and dangerous material.

And, the main problem I have with Iran actually on this is that the more countries that have access to this kind of material, the more likely it is that a terrorist group will get it either by design or theft, or whatever. And, if you have a terrorist group with a small dirty bomb, they are more likely to use it than Iran because it's harder to find them as a target to retaliate.

I mean, the Iranians, even if they had a nuclear weapon would be no different than the Soviet Union and America were during the Cold War. There's a reason we didn't drop those bombs. And, we would have a big deterrent on them. They can talk all they want with all this macho talk about how they can drop these bombs. Their very best day would be the day before they did it and they should be under no illusion as to the consequences.

The danger of Iran having a bomb is that Iran is also a supporter of Hezbollah, a funder of terrorist operations. If we don't have a resolution in the Middle East that involves Hezbollah and others, and we shut this down, or even if we do and there's an al Qaeda out there, there's somebody else, even though the Iranians and al Qaeda are at odds, there's always a chance that you have one more site that can be pilfered and you can make weapons. So, that's kind of why I worry about it. But, I don't know of anything I could have done at the time when I served to slow them up.

LARRY KING: The greatest thing you almost did was peace in the Middle East.


KING: Within a tick and President Bush said that's what he wants before he leaves office. Can he do that?

CLINTON: I think so. I think it depends on a number of things but I believe there is a chance now that I didn't have for two reasons. One is, I think Mr. Abbas, the Palestinian leader, is at this point in his life more willing to and able to make a deal with the Israelis than Arafat was.

Arafat, for whatever reason, had become almost psychologically paralyzed, I think because he told me he was going to do this and he didn't do it. So, I think that everyone knows more or less what the deal would be. I think Abbas can make a deal.

Secondly, I think that there are a lot of very, very troubled people in the Middle East, troubled by the Hamas election and the trouble between the Israelis and the Palestinians; troubled by the shelling by the Hezbollah of the Israelis, and then the Israeli retaliation and all the turmoil and loss in Lebanon; people in Syria, troubled by the fact that they seem to be a conduit between the Iranians and the Hezbollah; people in Iran troubled by the fact they seem to be on a collision course with the United States and Europe, the West.

You've got people in Iraq troubled by the fact that they don't know how to get out of this violence and people in Afghanistan troubled by the fact that the Taliban seems to be coming back and that al Qaeda's leaders at least are still at large along the Afghan- Pakistan border.

So, you've got all this turmoil. And, usually when you break that many eggs, you know, it's not only troubling but you've got a whole lot of people dying to see an omelet made. So, I actually do think there is a possibility that we could have -- starting -- we would have to start with the Palestinians agreeing among themselves, Hamas and the president's party, the PLO, that they're going to send a signal to the Israelis that if they make a peace, they will recognize Israel's right to exist and they will work with them to maintain security in the area.

And, the rest of us may have to agree, through NATO or the U.N., to give a security guarantee not only to Israel but to the new Palestinian state. We could do that and then you just go, you just go one after the other and try to get some accommodation in all these areas. I think we could do it.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with President Clinton. Discuss some of these other initiatives right after this.


KING: We're back with President Clinton. Want to just briefly discuss some of the initiatives at this conference. We love coming here every year. Poverty alleviation. Possible?

CLINTON: Yes, we know how to do that. We just don't know exactly how to take it to scale. But, yes. For example, just one example, small micro-credit loans in places that don't have banks, to people who don't have balance sheets, much less a checkbook. If village people can set up lending operations to make small loans to people based on their skill levels, they have a more than 95 percent payback rate, and you've created an effective de facto banking system. And, lift people out of poverty. The trick is to do it in enough places to lift the whole country up.

KING: Energy, climate change?

CLINTON: Very possible. We know from the U.K. experience, where they reduced their greenhouse gas emissions and increased their jobs, that we can actually create a more stable economy and improve national security by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. That's a huge, huge opportunity.

KING: Did you see the Al Gore movie?

CLINTON: I did. It's terrific. I called him and told him it was great. And, I said you know, Al, my favorite chart was the very last one. You remember, it's about his lecture? So, his last chart is, here's greenhouse gas emissions, here's where they could be, here's all the things you can do. I said, you need to make a second movie out of that last chart. And, he's doing it I think. He's going to make another movie. It's great.

KING: Global public health. Really possible?

CLINTON: Oh, much possible. We know what to do with HTB and Malaria. We know what to do with all these infections diseases, that aren't as well known, but in the aggregate, effect millions of people. We know what to do with basic water and sanitation. Keep in mind, 25 percent of all the deaths on earth are from AIDS, TB, Malaria, and infections from dirty water. Eighty percent in the last category, kids under five. Yes, we know what to do. And, it's not that expensive.

KING: Couple of political things. We know you said the decision about the presidency is up to your wife. But, would you like her to run?

CLINTON: I don't know yet. But, if I did know, I wouldn't tell you because I think it's so important for her to make the decision at an appropriate time.

KING: And, she'll make it without your input?

CLINTON: No. She'll make it with my input. But, I should be giving it to her and not anybody else. I'll say what I've said until I'm blue in the face. I think it would be an error for her to think about this now until she is reelected and has a chance to get a sense of the lay of the land and what her options are for service in the Senate, and what the presidential options are. That's what I believe. So I wouldn't even discuss it with her now.

KING: All right. And were you ...

CLINTON: The second thing I want to say is if she did decide to run, I have no idea if she would win. You know, she would be the immediate favorite, but there's a million things that can happen. I know -- there's only one thing I know with absolute conviction. If she got elected, she'd be fabulous. I don't know if she's going to run, I don't know if I want her to run, I don't know if she'd win if she ran. She would be a magnificent president. I do know that.

KING: Can your party win the House?

CLINTON: I believe so. I'd say we have a better than 50-50 chance of winning it if we talk about security in the right way, which means that we should, as long as people understand that Democrats believe terrorism is a threat that has to be addressed, but disagree with Iraq and that we are determined to re-double our efforts to save Afghanistan and hunt bin Laden and implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission on Homeland Security and most important, get ourselves less dependent on foreign oil.

If they knew we had a serious security plan, and then we could run on all of our other issues, I think that we would be far more likely than not to win the house and I think we about a 30 percent chance to win the Senate. KING: What do you make of the Lieberman race?

CLINTON: It's a complicated thing. There were reasons other than Iraq which caused problems, and now it seems to me that there are reasons other than Iraq which are muddying the water there. But, you know ...


CLINTON: ...most of the independent voters are against our Iraq policy, but most of the Republican voters are for it. So it just depends on how many Republican votes Joe gets, as opposed to the Republican nominee, and how many independent and Democratic votes Lamont gets. It's really sort of an unpredictable race.

KING: Are you supporting Lamont?

CLINTON: I am but, you know, my -- I don't have the same view of this as some people do. My view is Connecticut is an unmitigated blessing for the Democrats because Lieberman has said if he wins he's going to vote with us to organize the Senate.

I'm interested in getting one of these houses back, because that's the only way, I think, we can move away from the philosophical and political and economic direction the country has taken in the last five years. So I'm doing what I can to help the Democrats win the House and the Senate or both.

KING: Continue in good health.

CLINTON: Thank you.

KING: President Bill Clinton. Another president is next, the president of Iraq. Don't go away.


KING: We're in the Waldorf Astoria with President Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq. And before we start, here's a quick overview. Watch.


KING: Three and a half years old now and the war in Iraq seems to have no end in sight -- 2,700 Americans dead, 20,000 wounded. On the Iraqi side, estimates of over 40,000 civilians killed. And with dozens of sectarian killings almost a daily occurrence, the fear now is all out civil war.

President Bush says the war in Iraq is central to the war on terror and he vows the United States will not pull out -- 147,000 troops are already serving in Iraq. Indications are the number will not be reduced. Here in this country, the war has become increasingly unpopular and is expected to be a major issue in upcoming elections.

Meanwhile in Iraq, some big questions remain. Can Iraqis hold their country together? Can the violence be brought to an end and how long will American troops stay there?


KING: Mr. President, thank you for joining us. Figures just out today. Nearly 6,600 Iraqi civilians have been killed in July and August. That's the most in Baghdad. Is that not a civil war?

JALAL TALABANI, PRESIDENT, IRAQ: It's not civil war. It's a kind of terrorist activities that terrorist groups concentrated on Iraq and they are trying by all means through car bombs to kill as much as possible Iraqi civilians.

KING: But, with so many killed and so many insurgents, if it's not a civil war, what, Mr. President, is it?

TALABANI: It is a war of -- against Iraqi people mainly coming from outside the country that crosses the borders and come in. We have now in our present, hundreds of foreigners who are committing crimes and they are now waiting to be in Tehran. Mainly those are committing this suicide and this car bombs are foreigners coming from outside the country.

KING: Financed by whom?

TALABANI: Financed by al Qaeda, financed by those radical groups in the Muslim worlds who believe that this kind of crimes are jihad.

KING: You are a great hero of the Kurdish people, a long-time fellow of Saddam Hussein who had a death sentence on you for years. But, do you see any end to this?

TALABANI: Well, I'm proud that I could participate in the struggle of our people and the Kurds and Iraqis for overthrowing the worst kind of dictatorship and I'm grateful to the Americans, American people, army who came to liberate us from such a kind of dictatorship.

KING: But how long does it last?

TALABANI: Well, it -- we -- I spend all my life, when I'm a child in this liberation, in struggle, I spend more than 40 years in the mountains of Kurdistan fighting against all kind of dictatorships in Iraq.

KING: But do you ever see this, 40 years is a long time, but how long -- how long do you think the Americans will be there?

TALABANI: Americans, I will say as much as necessary for securing Iraq and preventing foreign interference in the internal affairs. I think it's a matter of years, especially now they help us to deal with our armed forces, now 10 division Iraqi forces are well- trained and ready to defend the country against terrorists. But we are -- we need to rivet our forces.

KING: Are you aware, Mr. President, of the dissatisfaction, much dissatisfaction in the United States about the war?

TALABANI: Yes, we are sometimes listening to radio and hearing from the power of public opinion that now the American people are worried about what's going on in Iraq.

KING: Do you worry about a change of administrations that might?

TALABANI: No. I think all -- any kind of American administration will be realistic and will understand that the failure in Iraq, meaning the failure of democracy and the success of terrorism in Arab words.

KING: We'll be right back with President Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, right after this.


BUSH: We're training Iraqi troops so they can defend their nation. We're helping Iraq's unity government grow in strength and serve its people. We will not leave until this work is done.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: The current course in Iraq is not working. Not for our military, not for the Iraqi people, and not for our security.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight on "360," at the top of the hour, my exclusive interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We talked about Iran's nuclear program, his denial the Holocaust ever happened and his comments about wiping Israel off the map. Also, tonight, President Bush defends his decision not to meet with the Iranian president at the United Nations this week. Both exclusive interviews on "360" at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We're back with President Talabani. We're here at the Waldorf Astoria as he visits for the opening of the general assembly of the United Nations. What did you make of the speech last night by the president of Iran?

TALABANI: Well, really, I didn't listen to his speech. I wasn't there when he presented his -- he delivered his speech.

KING: Did you read about it?

TALABANI: No, I haven't heard anything about it. But I am expecting that he will be attacking the United States and the prisoners of America in the Middle East, normal things. We are -- we are hearing it from time to time from Iranian side.

KING: What's the status of the relationship now between your country and Iran?

TALABANI: Well, the last visit of our prime minister, Mr. Maliki, was successful. He went to Tehran to talk to the Iranian brothers about the need that they must support Iraq, they must not interfere in our internal affairs. In contrary, they must stop any kind of interference. So Iran, by al Qaeda or any kind of groups. He got good promises from the Iranians. We hope this will be implemented.

KING: Here's a front page story in the "New York Times" today about questions about Maliki's strength. Is he in any kind of trouble politically?

TALABANI: Well, let me say that our friends and families were always negative to us Iraq. Months ago they published articles calling for a weak prime minister for Iraq. They say it is better than a strong prime minister. Now it is out talking about Maliki. Maliki is not a weak prime minister. Maliki is a strong one. Maliki is a straight man.

He committed himself to implement the program, the common program, which was adopted by all political parties in Iraq. And I think he's doing well. If you look to his achievements from the day he became prime minister, you can see that he had very good achievement first. He could calm down situation in Basra, which is very important place for Iraq. And all are there.

Second, he could stop interference of militia in many place in Iraq and he ordered Iraqi army to stop even by using force, if needed, the militia activities and interference in internal affair in Iraq. He released money, which was decided to be served in different parts of Iraq, in different governates and also at the same time he had very good visits to United States of America, to Saudi Arabia, to Jordan, to Gulf and to Iran.

For that I don't agree with the idea that Maliki is a weak prime minister. He is a strong, but wise man. And he is doing according to road map which was adopted in the political council of the national security. KING: There are so many factors in Iraq and the three principle tribes, when you're asked what are you? Do you say first an Iraqi or do you say first a Kurd?

TALABANI: I'm an Iraqi Kurd.

KING: You're an Iraqi first?


KING: And would all of them say that?

TALABANI: Well those who believe in nationality of Iraq will say the same. We have, of course, different kinds of people. Some of them they say I'm Arab before saying that they're Iraqis. Some will say that we are Kurds before being Iraqis. But I, personally, I believe that a united Democratic Iraq is in the interest of all population of Iraq, Kurds, Arabs, Shias, Sunnis, Turkomans, I say this of all of us. We can get benefit from this united democratic federated Iraq better than anything else.

KING: Back with some more moments with President Talabani right after this.


KING: We're back with President Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq. Great pleasure to have him with us. Have you paid attention to the trial of Saddam Hussein?

TALABANI: (INAUDIBLE) I am not paying too much attention for this trial because I believe in that the court must be independent and they must do what they want to do.

KING: Were you surprised that the judge was removed?

TALABANI: It was removed because he committed, he violated the law. According to the Iraqi law, the judge has no right to commend until the end of the trial. He must be neutral, not expressing his negative or positive views until the end of the trial.

KING: Does Iraq or what is Iraq's position vis-a-vis Israel?

TALABANI: Iraq's position vis-a-vis Israel is very clear. Iraq supported the accepted results of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The proposals of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, asking for implementation of decisions of Security Council of the United Nations, normalization of relations with Israel, recognizing the right of Israel to exist and would normalize with Arab countries, providing the condition that Israel accept the decisions issued by the Security Council.

This is the position of Iraq. We are a part, a member of League of Arabs and we adopted this proposal and still we are believing in it.

KING: Do you expect to put the insurgents down? TALABANI: Yes, I think. I think so because, my dear Larry, there is some good phenomena in our society. First, many groups of rebels are now believing in reconciliation and are coming to us to negotiate with us, to lay down their arms and come to participant in the Democratic process.

Second, there is a new belief among our, among Sunni Arab community that the United States of America are not the enemy. They are afraid from Iran. They consider that the danger is coming form there. For that they are ready to even negotiate with the United States of America, even Baathist, even the remnant of Saddam Hussein, they send message that they are ready to participant in the national conference.

KING: So you're optimistic.

TALABANI: I'm optimistic.

KING: What do you think of President Bush?

TALABANI: President Bush, we consider him hero of the liberation of Iraq and he stood very, very bravely the very thing of Iraqi people. Yesterday I met president Clinton. I talked to Mr. President, we are grateful to you because you signed the law of Iraqi Liberation, published by Congress, but President Bush implemented this law. I think President Bush is now determined to remain with the Iraqi people until they find success.

KING: Do you like coming to this country?

TALABANI: Yes, of course.

KING: We like having you.

TALABANI: This is a big and glorious country. You have participation in liberating humanity many times. This country is the country which started, sacrificed hundreds of thousands of his sons in fighting against fascism and Nazism and for liberating European countries and Asia from Japan.

KING: Thank you Mr. President.

TALABANI: Thank you.

KING: President Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq. Tomorrow night the former governor, Governor McGreevey of New Jersey. And "ANDERSON COOPER 360" is next. From New York, good night.