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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer - Transcript

Location: Unknown



HEADLINE: Interview With Senators Biden, Hagel; Interview With John Snow; Interview With Richard Gephardt

GUESTS: Joseph Biden, Chuck Hagel, John Snow, Dan Christman, George Joulwan, Rick Stengel, Dr. Abdullah, Terry McAuliffe, Ed Gillespie

BYLINE: Wolf Blitzer, Caroline Faraj, David Grange, Bruce Morton

Interview with Senators Hagel and Biden. Then, interview with Treasury Secretary John Snow. Finally, interview with presidential contender Richard Gephardt.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington, 11:00 a.m. here in Chicago, 8:00 p.m. in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 9:30 p.m. in Kabul, Afghanistan. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for LATE EDITION.

We'll talk with two leading members of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the war on terror, the mission in Iraq and more in just a few minutes. First, though, let's go to Washington for a quick check of the hour's top stories.


Joining us now, two key members of the United States Senate. In Delaware, Senator Joe Biden. He's the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. And in Nebraska, Republican Chuck Hagel. He's also a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

Senators, welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Senator Biden, let me begin with you on this development in Saudi Arabia, this bomb blast, this car bombing. From what you can tell, what is going on?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: What's going on is what's been going on for the last five years. Everybody forgets that al Qaeda's original target was the Saudi royal family and the Saudi kingdom.

And your reporter from Qatar pointed out that they didn't expect this to be used against, basically, Arabs and Saudi civilians.

The truth of the matter is, maybe this will wake up the Saudi regime one more click and then stop the indirect support of al Qaeda, stop building those madrassas and get serious about it, understand this is about international terror against nation-states, not just about the United States.

BLITZER: There was a similar car bombing incident in Riyadh, earlier this year in May, Senator Hagel. I thought that was supposed to be the wakeup call for the Saudis.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA: Well, once again, Wolf, this reflects on the scope and depth of terrorism around the world. There's no question that the Saudis and our other friends in the Middle East are going to have to do more to deal with this, not just in the short-term focus, but as to what Senator Biden is referring to, in the madrassas and the other extensions here that create radicalism and fundamentalism.

I think because of what's been going on, especially the last six months, with the Saudis, we are seeing far more cooperation with the Saudi government in intelligence gathering, intelligence sharing and cooperation, many areas.

But I think it also reflects on one other thing here, Wolf, is this is a global challenge, a global threat—terrorism. And if we are to win—and we will win, we must win—it's going to take this seamless network of cooperation of intelligence sharing and gathering and humanitarian and force structure, diplomatic efforts, all working together to deal with this, and this is just another example of that.

BIDEN: Hey, Wolf, could I say one other thing?


BIDEN: The earlier car bombing, the Saudis convinced themselves that was about us. They convinced themselves that was about the West.

They still haven't convinced themselves, become aware of the fact that they are the target as well. And they have been trying, through policy, for years to essentially buy off the radicals, keep them out of their country, building those madrassas in other places, supporting indirectly these guys.

And now, I think, this is a different kind of call. They're stunned. This is not an American target, not a Western target. This was a Saudi target.

BLITZER: You know the players in Saudi Arabia. Senator Biden, Prince Bandar, for example, the Saudi ambassador in Washington, he's been around for a long time in the United States.

Are the Saudis part of the problem or part of the solution with this war against al Qaeda?

BIDEN: Well, up to now, they've been part of the problem. And I don't mean to suggest that they have been intentionally going out to support the al Qaeda, do something bad against us. But the have been engaged in the sleepwalking.

They have refused to acknowledge that, originally, al Qaeda, and bin Laden specifically—he started his whole quest, it was about Saudi Arabia. It wasn't about us until after Gulf I.

And so, I think that they continue to sort of—an old expression, Wolf—whistle by the graveyard. They thought if they build 7,000 more madrassas that spew hate and Wahhabism in other parts of the world, that satisfies the radicals and so on.

But this is coming home to roost. And I think Prince Bandar is a very sophisticated guy, and other Saudi leaders are going to figure that out pretty soon and realize this requires an all-out war on their part against the radical, extreme elements of Wahhabism.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, amid all of this, this past week, we heard President Bush unveil a new initiative, perhaps a revived initiative, to promote democracy throughout the Middle East, the Arab world, the Islamic world, referring specifically, at least in part of his speech, to Saudi Arabia.

I want you to listen to one excerpt, Senator Hagel, from what the president said.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.


BLITZER: That sounds a little bit like a criticism of previous administrations, not only the Clinton administration but his father's administration, as well.

But as far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, Senator Hagel, this is a country where women can't vote, they can't even get driver's licenses. Is there any prospect that the Saudis are going to move towards any form of democracy, real democracy?

HAGEL: Wolf, as you note, and I think you've noted before, but over the last couple of weeks, the Saudis have announced that there would be local elections taking place. Now, that, in itself, is not what is going to be required to deal with this.

But I think what's happening here is, yes, we can blame 60 years of neglect, and we can put the responsibility on past administrations. But the fact is, we are now in a place where we must deal with it.

And it doesn't do much good to reflect back on what we didn't do. The fact is, we need to address this on the basis of what we are now going to do.

And that's going to take a remarkable set of leadership skills from all of us, including the president and our allies, to deal with it. Saudi Arabia has been at the heart of this for many, many years. Yes, we've not paid attention to it, but now we've got to move forward and connect words with actions.

And one of the first places we start is the Middle East peace process, and until the Arab world starts to see more activity, more focus in that area, then I think we're going to continue to have these kinds of problems.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, the president also made democracy in Iraq a key part of this new initiative he unveiled. But even as he was speaking, the body count, the death count, casualties in Iraq were continuing. Let me put the latest numbers up on the screen for our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Three hundred ninety seven U.S. troops have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, both before and after May 1st, when the president declared an end of major combat operations.

You think the United States doesn't have enough troops on the ground to get the job done. The question is this: How many more troops does the U.S. need, and should NATO take over?

BIDEN: One, the war is not over, Wolf. The war is not over. And I don't know how the Pentagon proposal out of Rumsfeld and company is going to win that war by prematurely turning over the obligation of winning that war to a ragtag bunch of Iraqis who haven't been trained yet, and they're capable. I'm not talking about—this group is not trained nearly enough to win this war.

Secondly, it should be, must be a NATO operation.

And, thirdly, people who tell me, Joe, you know, why would NATO come in? There's been no genuine negotiation with our European friends and the great powers about getting them in. They've made it real clear, they want more say in the outcome. They want the military commanders reporting to the NAC, to the European leaders, not just to Washington, and they want a high commissioner under the U.N., like in Bosnia, reporting to the Security Council. We have been unwilling to even countenance that.

That's necessary now, Wolf. I believe the rest of the world, the great powers, understand what's at stake for them. That's why I think it's now possible, if we're willing, to literally call a summit and get down to seriously agreeing to the prospect of multiple responsibility of whoever is in charge on the ground, civilian and military, to not just us, but to NATO and to the Security Council.

BLITZER: So basically, when you say the NAC, the North Atlantic Council...

BIDEN: I'm sorry, yes, I apologize.

BLITZER: ... that's part of—that's the political arm of NATO.

BIDEN: Yes, it is.

BLITZER: You want NATO to take over and for the U.S. to step back formally as the overall...


BLITZER: For example, Paul Bremer should retire as the chief U.S. administrator.

BIDEN: Well, Paul Bremer—on your program of two months ago, Wolf, I suggested Paul Bremer, to use the term of art, could be double-hatted. That is, he could be the high commissioner reporting to the Security Council, including us.

Look, we keep asking these fellows to get in the deal in a thing that looks like it's failing, and the fact of the matter is, they've said from the beginning, they want to have some say in the outcome here.

And our whole effort here—Chuck and I and Lugar and others have been talking about it—we have to change the complexion of this force structure, so we don't become an Algeria figure like the French did, liberate and then occupy. We don't want to be the occupiers.

And so, we're not giving up any command of U.S. forces to blue helmets. It would be a NATO operation, an American general, and we would not be giving up control, in terms of the civilian side. We would be sharing that responsibility with the rest of the Security Council. That's what it's going to take to get them in.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, this past week, the Pentagon announcing a new rotation of troops for the U.S. forces in Iraq; 128,000 troops have been notified that they should get ready to go over perhaps for a year. That includes 43,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve.

But in the overall—over the next several months, the administration would like to bring down the overall number, the current number from 130,000 right now down to a little bit more than 100,000.

In the new Newsweek poll that's out this weekend, 54 percent of the American public want to reduce the number of U.S. troops, as the administration is attempting to do. But you just heard Senator Biden, Senator McCain, others say the U.S., in the short term, is going to need more troops, rather than fewer troops.

Where do you stand, Senator Hagel, on this?

HAGEL: Well, Wolf, as Joe Biden knows, I've been one of the first, a long time ago, to call for more troops.

But let's face the fact here. We are not going to win in Iraq with just more troops. This is not going to be decided by just a military victory, if we ever get that. If we lose the people in Iraq, we lose.

So yes, the military force structure is an absolutely critical component. But so are other things like probably putting in place a provisional government like we have in Afghanistan, rather than this silly centralized kind of committee, kind of making decisions whenever they show up, called the Governing Council.

Let's get real with some of this. Yes, we are going to need more force structure. We started something here. The United States invaded Iraq. We're going to have to finish this. We're going to have to get more help in there. I was calling for this before we ever got into Iraq, that this was going to take a long time. It was complicated, dangerous. The resources that were going to have to be committed. And the sustaining consensus that the American public was going to have to have to support our staying there and finishing the job.

All these things coming together have to happen. And I think John McCain, Joe Biden, others have been exactly right the last two weeks when they've said you surely can't go out and give a great, illuminating, inspirational speech about democracy in the Middle East and then two hours later announce a force structure downturn, that you're going to pull more troops out next year.

Now, come on now. There is a gap in credibility here. The guys who were trying to intimidate us out—the Baathists and the terrorists and other sources in there—that's what they want to hear. That's what they want to do, to intimidate us so that we'll make that announcement, so we say to the Iraqi people, "Well, we're kind of in, but we're really not in, and we're coming home on a schedule here that is going to fit our accommodations and our needs."

This has to be thought through a lot clearer. But I think, fundamentally, you must put a Karzi kind of provisional government in place there, because the military of Iraq, the military police, the allies, are all anchored through government. And then write the constitution.

You know, we've got a lot of problems in Afghanistan, but we've made progress there, and we're continuing to make progress.

BLITZER: All right. Unfortunately, Senators, we're going to have to leave it right there.

BIDEN: I agree with him.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, Senator Biden, two very thoughtful members of the Foreign Relations Committee. Always good to have you on LATE EDITION.

BIDEN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

HAGEL: Thank you.

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