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CNN Larry King Live

The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Aired December 27, 2007 - 21:00   ET


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ...extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy.



I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in for Larry King tonight.

We have an hour of important guests who are following the tragic news -- the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the late prime minister of Pakistan.

Let's get the very latest, though.

Griff Witte is joining us from Islamabad, from "The Washington Post".

Griff, give us a sense of the enormity of what's happening right now, because the uncertainty is widespread.

GRIFF WITTE, ISLAMABAD BUREAU CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it's truly been a major trauma for Pakistan. Obviously, Benazir Bhutto came back to the country two months ago with very high expectations. She was hoping to win back her old job as prime minister. And I think a lot of people in the country expected her to do just that.

And now, with her death today, it leaves a very large void, frankly, in the country. And it's unclear how that void will be filled.

BLITZER: What are you seeing and hearing on the ground where you are right now, Griff?

WITTE: Well, there's a lot of anger out there. There's a lot of shock, sorrow and anger all mixed together. I was at the hospital for several hours, starting a little bit before they announced Ms. Bhutto's death and for several hours afterward. And there was just incredible -- there was incredible levels of anger. People were chanting that Musharraf is a dictator, that he is a murderer, that he is responsible for Ms. Bhutto's death. And there were people, also, really in disbelief. They were chanting "Long Live Bhutto!" and really refusing to believe that she truly is gone. She's a person who had commanded incredible devotion and loyalty from her supporters. And they are having a hard time confronting the fact that she is gone. But she's -- they're also out there in force protesting. And we're, unfortunately, looking at the possibility of violence on the streets.

BLITZER: And, Griff, I take it no one has yet claimed responsibility is that right?

WITTE: No one has claimed responsibility. President Musharraf and his allies have said that this looks to be the work of Islamic extremists, groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Bhutto's top aides and the party's top officials have not said who they believe is responsible exactly. But the rank and file have made up their mind. They have decided they are going to hold President Musharraf responsible for Bhutto's assassination and they are expressing theirselves very clearly through burning police stations, burning buses, throwing rocks on the streets and rioting in a number of different places to express their displeasure with Musharraf's government.

BLITZER: That has enormous ramifications for U.S. interests and Western interests in that part of the world.

Let me bring in Simon Robinson of "Time" magazine, our sister publication.

Simon, give us your sense of the enormity of what has happened today.

SIMON ROBINSON, DELHI BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": I think that Griff is right, that there's a lot of anger. But I would also add that there's -- there's a lot of fear.

I'm in Lahore, which is the second biggest city in Pakistan, and spoke to some people out on the streets last night, within an hour of the announcement that Ms. Bhutto had been assassinated. The streets were really emptying, except for an area in Central Lahore, where people were burning shops and burning buses.

A lot of people trying to get home were just very fearful and said as soon as they heard the news, they called family to make sure they were OK and said -- and a lot of people were making the point that if a very senior and well respected leader like Benazir Bhutto can't be protected, then what hope have ordinary Pakistanis got in being protected against extremists?

BLITZER: And it's one thing for her to have been assassinated, Simon, in, let's say, Karachi or even Lahore, but she was assassinated in Rawalpindi, which is not far from the capital of Islamabad. This is a military garrison, if you will. And if you're not secure -- if you can't stop an assassination in Rawalpindi, obviously, you're in trouble.

ROBINSON: It's true that it is a military garrison. It's also the kind of home to a lot of security officers and military officers that run Pakistan or have run Pakistan in the past and still play a very big role. And but -- but having said that, there have been attacks in Rawalpindi this year. There have been bombings there in the past few months. So it's -- while it should be secure, I think it's probably an indicator of how far Pakistan has slipped this year that the kind of wave of attacks that we've seen, especially since earlier in the year, when President Musharraf suspended the high -- the supreme court justice -- has kind of hit all parts of Pakistan.

Previous to that, it was mostly in the tribal areas up along the Afghanistan border. But now it's certainly coming into Pakistan's cities, including Islamabad, the capital.

BLITZER: And this is a country that has a nuclear arsenal. We can't ignore that fundamental fact.

Griff and Simon, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you.

I want to bring in the Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani right now. He's the former mayor of New York.

Did you ever meet her, by the way, mayor, Benazir Bhutto, over the years?

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't believe so, Wolf. I know quite a bit about her, but I don't believe I've met her.

BLITZER: I had interviewed her on many occasions. A very, very powerful, strong...

GIULIANI: Sure. And I saw many of them.

BLITZER: ...strong woman.

What was your immediate reaction when you heard this morning that she had been killed?

GIULIANI: My immediate reaction, I'm sure, was like everyone else -- shock and tremendous dismay. I mean this woman was a hope for even further movement toward democracy for Pakistan, stability -- a real hope that some real progress could be made next year in moving Pakistan even closer to being a country that has democracy, rule of law. So, right now, I think we have to do everything we can to promote stability in Pakistan and get them back on the track of moving toward democracy as quickly as possible and being very sensitive to, you know, the kind of situation that's going on there right now.

BLITZER: So what are the ramifications, the implications, for the United States in what happened today in Pakistan?

GIULIANI: Well, it underscores, for us, the challenge of Islamic terrorism, right?

I mean, the reality is that this kind of thing affects us in many different parts of the world. Pakistan is particularly sensitive, given the fact Pakistan is a nuclear power. The first objective here has to be to make sure -- working with the Pakistanis -- is there's stability there and that the stability is maintained and that they can move toward democracy as quickly as possible.

And, of course, right on the border with Afghanistan, we did very significant work in 2001 and 2002 in removing the Taliban, routing Al Qaeda. We've got to make sure that, you know, we complete that work and that somehow they don't reemerge. There have been some indications of that. And for some time, I think many of us have been saying that we have to reemphasize that effort in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Should the elections in Pakistan go forward on January 8th as now scheduled -- the parliamentary elections?

Benazir Bhutto was running for prime minister. Obviously, she's dead now.

But is this the time to go forward with elections?

GIULIANI: I mean -- I think that we should do everything we can to help them get on the track to an election as quickly as they can do that, consistent with keeping the country stable. That's a very delicate decision that we should help them with -- the State Department and the president should help them with. I think that determination has to be made based on...

BLITZER: Do you have confidence, mayor...

GIULIANI: stability the...

BLITZER: Do you have confidence in President Pervez Musharraf?

GIULIANI: I think that's something you've got to leave to the president and the secretary of state and those people who are right on the inside that know, you know, what's going on, how far you can push, what direction you should push in. The objective here has to be stability. We've got to restore stability because right now, from what we're seeing, you know, that's -- there's a question about that. And that's got to be the first question that's answered.

And then as soon as you do that, we've got to get them moving back toward a democratic process. And if you can stay on schedule, of course, that would be the ideal situation.

BLITZER: John McCain was trying to make the point that you need a president of the United States with extensive national security and foreign policy experience. He said today: "My theme has been, throughout this campaign, that I am the one with the experience, the knowledge and the judgment. So perhaps it may serve to enhance those credentials, to make people understand that I've been to Pakistan, I know Musharraf, can pick up the phone and call him. I know Benazir Bhutto.

What do you say to that argument he's now making that the American people should trust him...


BLITZER: deal with national security?

GIULIANI: I would say that each of us has our own different kinds of experience. I've had foreign policy experience negotiating with governments when I was in the Justice Department. I was mayor of a city that required a significant amount of crisis management and problem solving, where foreign policy issues are something you had to be familiar with. And then over the last five or six years, I've been on 90 plus foreign trips in 34 or 35 different countries. So I believe I have a full range of experience.

But I don't think tonight is the night to be making a political point on my behalf or somebody else's behalf. Tonight is the night to offer our sympathy and support to the people of Pakistan, to the Bhutto family and to work internally in a very, very careful and measured way -- without a lot of political arguments being made on the outside -- to make sure that we help to achieve stability in Pakistan, get them back to that as quickly as possible, and then get them on a track to democracy, again, as quickly as we can, consistent with a stable Pakistan.

I think that, you know, getting it involved in a presidential campaign obviously -- it's -- questions should be asked about it, but you don't want to make too much of a political point out of this. This is a national security issue for them and it has implications for us, as well, since there's this challenge of Islamic terrorism that has us all kind of united here in understanding that we have to deal with it.

BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, a Republican presidential candidate.

GIULIANI: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Mr. Mayor, thanks very much.

GIULIANI: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up, we'll get a different perspective -- Dan Rather. He's standing by to join us. He's been to Pakistan. He's covered these stories for many, many years, knew Benazir Bhutto quite well.

Dan Rather standing by.


That's coming up.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Crowds took to the streets of Rawalpindi and Karachi, attacking police and setting tires and banners ablaze. Pakistan's embattled president, Pervez Musharraf, called for calm and declared three days of mourning. The casket carrying her body was taken from the hospital, lifted through the massive crowd gathered outside.

Her assassination casts a huge shadow over the prospect of elections next month and even the future of her country.




I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in for Larry tonight.

We're getting reaction to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan.

Joining us now is Dan Rather. He is a global correspondent for HDNet. He interviewed Benazir Bhutto for a special that he did back in August.

What did you think, Dan, when you heard the news earlier today that she had been assassinated?

DAN RATHER, GLOBAL CORRESPONDENT, HDNET, INTERVIEWED BHUTTO RECENTLY: Well, the first thing I thought to myself is no surprise here. And, frankly, I can't speak for her, obviously, but I don't think she was all that surprised.

When I spoke with her -- and I did not know her well, but I had spoken to her over the years and also had spoken to her father, who was hanged by one of his successors.

But she had a real and present sense of the danger of going back into Pakistan. This woman -- and we should pause for a moment. This was an extremely intelligent woman, a mother of three. She was educated in Oxford, as well as Harvard. A terrific debater, which is one of the things that made her so powerful politically in her own country.

But after 9/11, that she had a vision of Pakistan being a player, perhaps a key player, in bringing more stability and peace in the world. And after 9/11, she could have stayed in London. She had lived a very good life. But she was a real patriot -- a Pakistani patriot. She wanted to return to her country.

She saw, perhaps better than most, the depth of the feeling of radical Islamic terrorists and she wanted to do something about it. And that was her vision. That's the reason she went back, knowing that she was in real peril when she went back. You know, one definition of courage is being able to be afraid but go ahead and do what you think needs to be done. And she certainly fits that.

One point I don't think can be overemphasized too much -- and you mentioned it earlier, Wolf -- is that not only is Pakistan a nuclear power, they have nuclear weapons and the missilery to deliver them. But they, of course, are right up against India, which also has those.

This is -- it certainly is a crisis for Pakistan, but of a sort, it is for our own country, in terms of our national security, which Mayor Giuliani and other candidates have pointed out today, that Pakistan -- what you have is there the Taliban is back big time. Al Qaeda is back big time. It's metastasizing not just in those Northwest Territories that border directly against Afghanistan, but there's a line running almost directly from Qatar in Pakistan over to Helmand Province in the southern part of Afghanistan.

And what to do about that -- you know, on the campaign trail, they can suggest this and argue about this or that. You can criticize President Bush or not criticize him. But this situation is not easy to handle, to say the least. And we have to understand that the Taliban is back, Al Qaeda is back, that there are elements in the Pakistani intelligence operation, inside their military, that are closely allied with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

This situation, at least in the short and medium turn, can get nothing but worse.

BLITZER: And I want to play a little clip from that interview you did over the summer with Benazir Bhutto on HDNet.

Let's listen to this excerpt.


BENAZIR BHUTTO, FORMER PAKISTANI PRIME MINISTER: I am nobody. But with the support of the people of Pakistan, I have no doubt in my mind that we can eliminate terrorism, just as we did in Karachi. We have the experience of taking the terrorists on and we have that experience, I think, in part, because people see me as a mother leader who loves them and wants the best for them and not as a military adventurer who wants to keep himself in power at the cost of the real needs of the people of the country.


BLITZER: You've interviewed a lot of world leaders, Dan.

Give us a sense of where Benazir Bhutto stood compared to some of the other world leaders you spoke to.

RATHER: Well, her potential was unlimited before her death. As you know, she had gone back to Pakistan and was the president in 1988 and again in 1993. What was so remarkable about her was this sense of nobility on the one hand and privilege. On the other hand, her basic support is with the downtrodden, with the poorest in Pakistan. So her potential was unlimited.

She had the potential to be somewhat on the order of a Golda Meir, if you will, someone who could help unite the country and pull it together. Certainly two different countries in two different parts of the world. But she had that kind of potential, which is one reason that Taliban, Al Qaeda and those who do not believe in freedom and democracy, as she fervently did, so badly wanted to eliminate her and now have.

BLITZER: And, you know, it was only -- as you point out, Dan, as anybody watched this story unfold, her decision to go back to Pakistan after eight years in exile, it was oh so predictable that this day would happen. Even as it was so oh so predictable, it's still shocking and it's still oh so sad. RATHER: No question about it. But she had a strong sense of destiny. She went back believing, hoping, praying that somehow that she could survive. She was a realist about the chances. She knew it was odds against. But she did think it was her destiny to follow the family bloodline and to bring Pakistan to some stability, to bring it to some freedom and democracy. And she was absolutely determined to do what she could to stamp out radical, violent Islamic elements in the region. And, again, that's one reason they killed her.

BLITZER: And I think all of us are nervous. We're anxious to see what happens in the hours and the days ahead in Pakistan, because this is the kind of situation that can sort of spiral completely out of control.

How worried are you, Dan, about that?

RATHER: Very worried, and I think every American should be.

And, you know, let's also keep in mind, Wolf, that this affects directly the NATO and U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan central government, as we know, President Karzai is doing what he can. I know you've spoken to him. But his power to affect events in Afghanistan is still limited from Kabul. And what's happening in Pakistan undercuts even further the efforts in Afghanistan, which are and have been for some time, hanging in the balance.

The ramifications of what's happened in Pakistan the last 24 hours are going to reverberate certainly throughout this year and beyond. It is, as I think your program tonight at 11:00 Eastern time -- it has become terror central, that part of the world. While we were focused so much on Iraq -- and let's don't get into an argument of whether we should have been or shouldn't have been for the moment -- for better or for worse, focused on Iraq as we were, Afghanistan, in some ways, was going to hell in a hand basket, and Pakistan even more so, with even less attention.

BLITZER: All right, Dan, stand by. You're going to be with us for the hour.

We're going to take a quick break.

Coming up, we're also going to be speaking with Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Mahmud Ali Durrani.

But I want to leave you, before we go to the break, with this excerpt my interview with Benazir Bhutto at the end of September. I spoke with her about her fears of going back to Pakistan.


BHUTTO: Yes, of course, they would like to go against me. There's a lot of threats, because under a military dictatorship, an anarchic situation has developed which the terrorists and Osama have exploited. They don't want democracy. They don't want me back and they don't believe in women governing nations. So they will try to plot against me. But these are risks that must be taken. I'm prepared to take them. (END VIDEO CLIP)



I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in for Larry.

We're watching the fallout from the assassination today of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, 54-years-old.

Joining us now is Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Mahmud Ali Durrani.

It's been a very difficult day for you, Mr. Ambassador. I know President Bush phoned Mr. Musharraf. They had a phone conversation.

Do you have any information on what the two leaders may have discussed?

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI, PAKISTAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: I think primarily President Bush called President Musharraf to condone with him and tell him and ensuring for the U.S. support for the people of Pakistan and the government in Pakistan and that they were with Pakistan in their fight against extremism and terrorism.

BLITZER: As you know, a lot of people are pointing to President Musharraf and military -- the security services -- for not, for not giving her, Benazir Bhutto, the security that she sought, that she wanted, including some influential members of Congress, Joe Biden, among others.

Did they ignore this security problem that clearly she faced?

ALI DURRANI: Wolf, I have said this on previous occasions, too. This is -- unfortunately, this is a lot of misleading information going around.

I think the government of Pakistan went way, way out of its way to provide security to Benazir and all the other candidates. And I think there was a lot of force around, even in Rawalpindi today, and at that time in Karachi.

In Karachi, as I had said earlier, there were about 7,000 or 8,000 security people and an intermittent bubble of 100 top police officers.

The problem is, if you see -- when the person is coming out or when she's getting into the vehicle, there are milling crowds. So in a situation like that, none of these things work very well. And even the best security in the world cannot, you know, stop a terrorist coming when you are into these large gatherings. And I think that was the problem.

BLITZER: She wrote that e-mail -- you're familiar with it...


BLITZER: Mark Siegel, her long time friend in Washington...


BLITZER: ...her spokesman in the United States -- back at the end of October. He shared that e-mail with me, as you know, but he asked me not to report on it unless she were killed.

She's now killed. We're reporting on it. And in that e-mail she wrote, among other things: "I would hold Musharraf responsible."

I'm not going to read the whole e-mail for our viewers, but she clearly believed that if she were to get killed, he would be complicit in that.

I want you to react, because you're familiar with this.

ALI DURRANI: Yes, I am familiar with the e-mail. I am familiar with the security that had been provided to her. She did make this -- sent a letter to Musharraf and she mentioned two or three names, that if something happens to me, these people will be responsible.

I think, as I said, she's not a security person, she's a politician. She made that statement based on some hunches she had. But I do not think they were correct. And to the best of my knowledge, the government provided all the security that was possible. It is very unfortunate, it is a very sad day and a night for Pakistan when one of its leading political leaders has been assassinated. We are not very happy with it. We are very sad about it. Our heart goes back to the family of Benazir, to the PPP. But I can assure you, everything was done to protect her.

BLITZER: The president has declared a three day official period of mourning. Within the next few hours, she will be buried in Karachi. A two part question, and then I've got to take a break.

The first part, will President Musharraf reinstate his state of national emergency?

And, B, will the January 8th scheduled parliamentary elections go forward?

ALI DURRANI: Wolf, I think he has no plans to bring in a state of emergency unless, God forbid, the situation goes out of hand, there's a lot of rioting and killing. But as of today, I'm quite certain he has no plans of bringing in an emergency. And so far, he also has plans on holding the elections as he had promised on the 8th of next month. This is, of course, subject to what the political parties, particularly all the opposition parties, how they conduct themselves. But so far, he's on track.

BLITZER: Mahmud Ali Durrani is the Pakistani ambassador to the United States.

Our condolences to all the people of Pakistan, Mr. Ambassador, on this very, very sad day.

Thank you very much for joining us.

ALI DURRANI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, we'll get the perspective of John Edwards, the Democratic presidential candidate, on what happened today.

LARRY KING LIVE continues right after this.


BHUTTO: To save Pakistan and to save democracy, because we believe democracy alone can save Pakistan from disintegration and a militant takeover. Then we are prepared to risk our lives and we are prepared to risk our liberty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thursday's political rally would be her last -- killed in a suicide attack as she lobbied for democracy in Pakistan and a crackdown on the Islamic extremists she consistently said were trying to kill her.



BLITZER: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York. We're following the fall-out from the assassination of Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Joining us now is Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina. What would you do right now if you were president, senator, given the hand you're dealt with in Pakistan?

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, the most important thing for the president of the United States to do under these circumstances is first acknowledge an incredible tragedy, the death of an extraordinary and brave woman, who went back to Pakistan, risking her own life, to push for democracy and the democratization process. I was actually with Benazir Bhutto in Abu Dhabi, where we both spoke at a conference a few years ago. She spoke then about the path to democracy in Pakistan being baptized in blood.

I think she knew very well what the risk was when she went back, but she loved her people and wanted to help them. This is a terribly tragic day for Pakistan.

What America needs to do and what the president needs to do is be a source of strength and calm in this very volatile environment. I actually spoke with the ambassador who you had on earlier in the program this morning, told him I would like to speak to President Musharraf, who I got to know a few years ago. Would he have the president call me? He did. In that conversation, I urged him to continue the democratization process. He said he would.

I also urged him to allow independent international investigators into Pakistan to have a transparent process that the rest of the world could trust to get to the bottom of this. Why did it happen? He said he hadn't considered it at that moment but that he would consider it. I think it's very important for the international community to attach some credibility to what the actual facts are.

I heard you discussing with others the security situation, the former prime minister's concern about the security situation. I know there are a lot of suspicions about what could have happened. The only way to allay those suspicions and for the rest of the world to be satisfied with the result is to bring international independent investigators who engage in a transparent process.

I also, by the way -- I also spoke to him about the upcoming elections.

BLITZER: Should the U.S. continue these billions in dollars of military assistance to Pakistan?

EDWARDS: It needs to be changed, Wolf. We should have already reformed our aid package to Pakistan. We have about 10 billion dollars invested in Pakistan and Musharraf. Too much of that has been invested in Musharraf, as opposed to being invested in Pakistan.

We haven't had enough conditions attached to this money. They still haven't secured the northwest portion of the country. Al Qaeda is still operating freely there. They have not moved in the way they need to toward open, free and fair elections and toward a real Democratic process. So there's a great deal of work left to be done in Pakistan. America has, and the president of the United States has, enormous leverage with this economic package and this aid package. We need to be using that leverage.

BLITZER: It's one week before the Iowa caucuses. Will this tragedy have an impact on what happens in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond?

EDWARDS: I think that what people are looking for, Democratic voters, Democratic caucus goers, Wolf, is they are looking for at least two things. They're looking for somebody who understands the intricacies of what's happening in Pakistan, understands the leaders, Musharraf, Bhutto, others, understands the dynamics and complexities of the situation in Pakistan, and who's prepared to provide strength and vision and leadership in this -- in this difficult time.

I think, secondly, they want a president who can do more than one thing. They also want a president willing to bring about the change and fight for the change this country needs, to stand up to much of the greed, the corporate greed that stood between America and what the American people deserve. So I think those are the things caucus goers and voters are looking for. Will it be factor? Yes. Should it be a factor? Yes.

Should it be the only factor? It should not. I think they'll be looking to a lot of considerations to decide who the next president should be.

BLITZER: Senator Edwards, good luck on the campaign trail. EDWARDS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's get some analysis on what we've heard and seen today. Arianna Huffington is the founder and editor of "The Huffington Post." She knew Benazir Bhutto quite well. Benazir Bhutto wrote for "The Huffington Post." She blogged for "The Huffington Post." I remember reading those -- what she wrote for you, Arianna. When you heard about this today, what did you think?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, "THE HUFFINGTON POST": Well, the first thing I thought, Wolf, was Benazir Bhutto as I first met her in England, when she was at Oxford. By a strange coincidence, she was president of the Oxford Union and I had been president of the Cambridge Union. So you had these two foreign women heading these two unions, so we found ourselves debating each other around England.

I got know her then. Everything everybody has said was absolutely true. When she was a young woman, before she had entered the world stage, she was eloquent. She was brilliant. She was beautiful. She was full of life. And all of that fearlessness that we saw today went against everybody's advice. She went out to another open rally, having already managed to avoid the first attempt at her life when she first arrived in Pakistan. That was the same fearlessness, optimism that she talked to you about, the belief that god would protect her, the sense of destiny.

That was there from the beginning. I saw her after that at the height of her power, when she was in Washington staying at the Blair House with her youngest child, two-year-old then, as a prime minister then. And I saw her at my home in Los Angeles, at the lowest point in her life, her husband in jail, exiled, separated from her children. And there was always that force of life that she radiated.

BLITZER: She was an amazing woman. I have known her now myself for many years. Arianna, I'm going to have you stand by. We're going to bring you back. We're also standing by to speak with Senator Barack Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate. Much more of this special LARRY KING LIVE, the aftermath of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York, sitting in for Larry. Joining us now, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Senator, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: I'll ask you the same question I asked John Edwards. If you were president right now, you were dealt this hand involving Pakistan, the war on terror, the hunt for bin Laden, a nuclear armed Islamic country, what do you immediately do?

OBAMA: The first thing we want to do is contact the Pakistani government to get assurances from them the nuclear stockpiles are secured and all indications, based on the information I gathered today, is that there is a high degree of confidence that they are.

The second thing is to make sure that Musharraf is sending a clear message to the family of Bhutto and her supporters that he recognizes this is a tragedy and expresses sympathies to try to keep tempers cooled in the capitol cities and the major urban areas.

The third thing we have to do is make sure elections continue. If they're not going to continue as planned on January 8th, then shortly there after. But there has to be a clear message from the Musharraf government that, in fact, this won't be used as an excuse to subvert democracy.

Now, the long-term is that we have to continue to make sure that we are seeing action from the Pakistani government when it comes to going after terrorism. And this is a -- this sad situation, in part, results from a failure on the part of the Musharraf government to actively pursue al Qaeda. This is something I've talked about for many months during the course of this presidential campaign. It's something that we have to focus our attention on, because this is one of the serious dangers that is presented not just for the region but ultimately for the United States.

BLITZER: Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, one of your Democratic presidential rivals -- he put out a statement today saying that he calls on President Bush to press President Pervez Musharraf to step aside and to suspend U.S. military aid to Pakistan. Are you ready to go that far?

OBAMA: I said very early on, when emergency rule was initiated by Musharraf, that we should suspend military aid that is not directly related to going after terrorists until you had full restoration of democracy, including releasing political prisoners, and insuring that there's freedom of expression and freedom of the press during the election period. So that's something that I've talked about for quite some time.

Wolf, it's important for us to look at this in context. We have made a series of poor decision, poor judgments, when it comes to dealing with Islamic militants and the stability of the region in the Middle East as a whole. We went into Iraq when we should not have. We took our eye off the ball with respect to Afghanistan. We did not press to make sure we had rooted out al Qaeda. We fanned anti- American sentiment in Pakistan. We have encouraged, because of our actions in Iraq, the sort of militancy we are seeing all around the Middle East.

Those are the broad, long-term issues we're going to have to deal with if we're going to assure the safety and security of the United States. And that's what I intend to do as president of the United States.

BLITZER: Your chief political strategist, David Axelrod, causing some commotion out there today with his comments about Hillary Clinton, blaming her, at least some are interpreting it this way -- blaming her in part for a series of events that resulted in Benazir Bhutto assassination today. Let me read to you what he said. (CROSS TALK)

OBAMA: I don't need to hear what you read because I was -- I over heard it when he said it. This is one of those situations where Washington is putting a spin on it.

BLITZER: Tell us what he meant.

OBAMA: He was asked -- he was asked very specifically about the argument that the Clinton folks were making that somehow this was going to change the dynamic of politics in Iowa. First of all, that shouldn't have been the question. The question should be, how is this going to impact the safety and security of the United States, not how is it going to affect a political campaign in Iowa.

His response was simply to say that if we are going to talk politics, then the question has to be, who has exercised the kind of judgment that would be more likely to lead to better outcomes in the Middle East and better outcomes in Pakistan. His argument was simply that Iraq has fanned anti-American sentiment and it took our eye off the ball, to the extent that there are those who are claiming now that their experience somehow makes them superior to deal with these issues.

I think it's important for the Americans people to look at the judgments they made in the past. And the experienced hands in Washington have not made particularly good judgments when it comes to dealing with these problems. That's part of the reason we're in this circumstance.

He in no way was suggesting that Hillary Clinton was somehow directly to blame for this situation. That is the kind of, I think, gloss that sometimes emerges out of the heat of campaigns that doesn't make much sense. And I think you're probably aware of that, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know sometimes comments can be taken out of context and you're trying to give us the context. I'll just read to you what he said, and then I'll let you just respond. "She," referring to Hillary Clinton, -- he said, "she was strong supporter of the war in Iraq, which we would submit was one of the reasons why we were diverted from Afghanistan, Pakistan and al Qaeda, who may still have been players in this event today. That's a judgment she'll have to defend."

All right, so I just want to make sure that --

OBAMA: As I said, all he was simply saying -- by the way, in response to a political question about how this would impact Iowa -- he was simply making an argument that, in fact, the war in Iraq has not helped us go after al Qaeda, deal with the terrorists and extremists that threaten America. But again, it's important for us to not look at this in terms of short term political points scoring. What we have to figure out is collectively, Republicans, Democrats, all of us, how are we going to deal with these problems over the long- term. I have already said as president that, immediately upon inauguration, I will begin to organize a summit with all the Muslim leaders around the world and have a direct conversation with them, our friends and enemies, about how we can align the Muslim world against these barbaric actions, against terrorism. I believe that part of that will be to begin phasing out occupation in Iraq, part of it will involve talking to actors like Iran and Syria, to get them to act more responsibly, part of it will be for us to shut down Guantanamo and restore habeas corpus and send a signal to the world that we're doing things differently.

That's the kind of non-conventional thinking and approach that we're going to have to take to reverse the decline in our moral standing around the world that inhibits our ability to actually take on terrorism. That's what it's going to take to make us safer and that's what I intend to do as president of the United States.

BLITZER: Senator Obama, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck on the campaign trail.

OBAMA: Thank you so much, Wolf. I appreciate you.

BLITZER: Thank you. One week to go before the Iowa caucuses. We have a lot more coming up on LARRY KING LIVE. Also coming up at the top of the hour, Anderson Cooper will pick up our coverage.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, tonight on the program, we will dig deeper into the political implications here at home of Benazir Bhutto's murder. Could it reshape the presidential race in both parties with just a week to go before the Iowa caucuses. Mitt Romney talks to us and so does Senator McCain, two candidates slugging it out right now on who has the right experience to handle a crisis like this one. That and all the late details on the assassination itself and the search for who's responsible tonight on 360.

BLITZER: Anderson, thanks very much. Much more of our coverage, including more with Dan Rather and Arianna Huffington, right after this.


BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour is our chief international correspondent. Christiane, this is an awful day. What's going to happen? Give us a little bit of perspective.

AMANPOUR: Wolf, as you can imagine, the United States and the West in its efforts in Pakistan and against al Qaeda has this dilemma; it's this collision between trying to go after the war on terror and trying to promote democracy. Of course, the United States was very heavily involved, the Bush administration, in this power sharing arrangement, trying to promote that between President Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, which led to her return some three months ago.

It was risky. She knew it was risky. But what she had, which Musharraf doesn't have, is a political base. She has a party and she has political legitimacy. That was meant to try to give this war on terror some kind of deeper impact, a deeper political impact amongst the people. Of course, Benazir herself was very outspoken consistently against the extremists. She herself came from a long political dynasty. Her own father, the Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto, was executed by then the Islamist military dictator Zia ul- Haq.

She has had that in her life from very early on. She was a political prisoner under Zia ul-Haq. Of course, while we're talking about her accomplishments, remember that as prime minister, particularly in the '90s, it was under her prime ministership that the Taliban rose to power. So she has quite a mixed legacy in that regard. On the other hand, in the last weeks of her life, she was very vocal and very forceful against the extremists and vowing to combat them. And it appears she paid for that with her life.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour, thanks very much. We'll take another quick break, go around and get some other views, right after this.


BLITZER: Jim Walsh is an international securities expert at the MIT Securities Studies Program. So what does the United States do now?

JIM WALSH, MIT: They're in a tough pickle, Wolf, primarily because both Pakistan and Afghanistan have been declining over these last couple of years, increases in terrorists attacks, increases in chaos and violence. Some have suggested that what we need to do with U.S. aid is not stop Pakistani aid, but begin to divert more of it away from the military and into civil society, into other sectors of Pakistan.

The problem is that the Pakistani military is going to be the ones that call the shots over the ensuing weeks. If violence is prolonged, if the riots and chaos continue, that strengthens their hand. If Benazir Bhutto's party is unable to rally around a common successor, the former Supreme Court chief or a member of her family -- if there's division, that will also strengthen the hand of the military.

It's hard for the U.S., on the one hand, to say make stability, and, on the other hand, to cut aid going to the military. So, I think the U.S. is in for a very difficult position. Essentially, their policy has collapsed and they're starting from square one.

BLITZER: That's an enormously complicated situation, no easy answers right now. I want to thank all of our guests. I'm Wolf Blitzer, sitting in for Larry King. We're going to continue to follow this story. Coming up next, a special "ANDERSON COOPER 360."