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CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN

Blair Says Iraq Could Deliver Powerful Weapons Within 45 Minutes; Iraq Denies Statements, White House Feels Less Pressure to Make Case for Action

Aired September 24, 2002 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, again, everyone.
A friend of mine who is in the financial services business was visiting some associates today and described the whole thing as kind of depressing. It is hard to make money for your clients in a market that is tanking, and the market had another ugly day today. And as my friend pointed out, tomorrow doesn't look like a dandy, either.

The market finds itself at a four-year low, the Nasdaq at a six- year low. Now the stock market is not the economy. Markets move for lots of reasons, but it is hard to imagine the uncertainty about Iraq isn't part of the reason investors are nervous these days. They, after all, have memories.

They remember 1991 and what happened to oil prices, for example, during the first Gulf War. The high gas prices and all the rest. They remember the recession that followed.

Now these are different days. The American economy these days generally is stronger. The country has less debt. Inflation hardly exists.

So, in that regard, the country is better prepared economically. In other ways, though, not so. The Gulf War -- the first one -- cost about $60 billion, but the United States paid only a fraction of that. Our friends, our allies, that grand coalition picked up the rest. It doesn't seem clear tonight if they'll be around to pay this time.

And the price tag will be at least $60 billion, probably more when you add in the costs of nation building that we've promised will come after Saddam Hussein is gone.

Now, having said that, we should add this, and it is important. Just because it may be bad for the economy doesn't, in and of itself, mean a war should not be fought. The long-term safety of the country is more important than any one recession, or any one bare market. But nor should we believe that a war with Iraq will be free of all domestic consequences, which is something the markets may be reminding us of these days.

On we go to The Whip and the news of the day. Much of it has to do with Iraq. The British prime minister, his much anticipated speech before parliament on Iraq. Christiane Amanpour is in London tonight -- Christiane, the headline from you, please. CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, the early morning papers all are full of the headline that Tony Blair said Iraq has a military capability of weapons of mass destruction that could be delivered within 45 minutes notice. That is the headline that is grabbing everybody here. On the other hand, many analysts say that the bulk of what he presented today was convincing but not a compelling case for war and not all new.

BROWN: Christiane, thanks. We'll be back with you in a moment.

The reaction tonight from Baghdad, and Rula Amin is there again for us -- Rula, the headline out of Baghdad, please.

RULA AMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, the Iraqis are saying it's all baseless and no solid evidence whatsoever had been presented. They call it a public consumption campaign, but it won't stand any investigation by independent professional experts -- Aaron.

BROWN: Rula, thank you.

The White House clearly welcomed the support from the British prime minister today. Suzanne Malveaux is following that thread of the story -- so, Suzanne, the headline from you.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, a bit of pressure off the Bush administration as Britain makes the case against Saddam Hussein. You may recall British Prime Minister Tony Blair helped out Mr. Bush once before when he presented a dossier against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. It's a strategy that seems to work.

BROWN: Suzanne, thank you. Back with you too.

Also tonight, Israel. A story on two fronts today. A military strike in Gaza, the siege on Yasser Arafat's compound. Ben Wedeman will report that story for us in a little while.

Also coming up, someone who opposes going into Iraq -- going in alone. Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio joins us.

And a bit more of question time, as they call it in the British parliament for the British prime minister. This is often fascinating and today was no exception. We'll give you a long listen there.

And a controversy tonight over America's number one movie, the movie "Barbershop." And one tough question: Is it ever funny to joke about Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks, heroes of the American civil rights movement? We'll talk with comedian David Chapelle.

And an international incident not quite in the usual sense. The case of the Russian beauty queen versus Donald Trump. Oh, my goodness. All that and more in the next 60 minutes.

We begin with the case against Iraq as laid out in London today by the British prime minister. In the past year, Tony Blair has become president Bush's staunchest ally, first on terrorism, and now on Iraq. In this regard, on Iraq, he is alone among the major European leaders, and in a minority within his own party, the labor party. It is not a comfortable place to be. Prime ministers who buck their party can find themselves out of work. But this prime minister believes he has good reason, and today he went public with it.

We begin tonight with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Mr. Speaker, sir, with your permission I should like to make a statement.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Perhaps the 50-page British dossier was most notable for what it did not contain: no smoking gun. And, unlike the Bush administration, no case for regime change, and no attempt to link Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda or global terrorism.

Prime Minister Tony Blair did lay out a picture of what British intelligence says is Iraq's systematic efforts to acquire and deliver weapons of mass destruction.

BLAIR: He has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own sheer population. And that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability.

AMANPOUR: And trying to buy the necessary material.

BLAIR: We know Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa, though we do not know whether he has been successful.

AMANPOUR: Blair's dossier also said that Saddam Hussein was secretly working to extend the range of his ballistic missiles to deliver weapons of mass destruction. Which, if successful, could not only target all the Middle East, but parts of Europe as well.

ANDREW GARFIELD, KINGS COLLEGE, LONDON: There wasn't anything, any new capabilities. All of the things that were highlighted we suspected. What it did do, it was actually categorically stated that these activities were underway. It gave some idea of how successful he's been up to this point to develop capabilities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am only asking questions unasked.

AMANPOUR: In a marathon day-long debate in a specially recalled parliament many in the opposition and some in the prime minister's own party said he simply had not made a convincing case for war. And they called for a diplomatic solution.

But Tony Blair may be making headway with the British public. A new poll published Tuesday shows support for military action up four points from last month to 37 percent. But significantly, 86 percent said the government should seek support from parliament and the United Nations before going to war with Iraq. Perhaps Tony Blair was trying to leave the door open to war when he mentioned the dossiers newest intelligence: that Iraq is said to already be hiding sensitive equipment and documentation ahead of returning U.N. weapons inspectors.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: So about five hours ago in parliament behind me, this day-long debate ended. And what happened in the end, was that basically, Tony Blair's cabinet came out in support of him, as long as it went through the United Nations. Of 410 MPCs (ph) he has in parliament 53 of his MPs signed a technical vote. Not a substantive vote, but a technical vote opposing war on Iraq.

So right now, Tony Blair is quite comfortable, although has to very carefully (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that goes through the United National according to what his people are saying to him -- Aaron.

BROWN: So is that -- I'm working through this issue going here, Christiane. Is that the most significant difference in the British position right now compared to the American position that the British, at least at this point, are now talking about going at this without the U.N.?

AMANPOUR: Yes, that's one of the significant points. But also one of the clear differences between the U.S. and the British, at least in the way they present it publicly, is that the British, unlike the U.S., have not talked about regime change. They say their goal is disarmament, disarmament, disarmament. And they made no mention of toppling Saddam Hussein, and also there's no link to terrorism in this dossier.

So that was what was going on here. And we talked to Iraqi diplomat based in Europe, who basically said that he felt Saddam Hussein had got the message and that -- they continued to say that they were going to get unfettered access to the inspectors. But he was quite scared about the notion that Blair did say that already documents and equipment were being hidden by the Iraqis, feeling that left the door open to war.

BROWN: And just a very quick one here, if I may. Are they -- is Mr. Blair, the British, any more confident in the inspectors than the American seem to be? The American government seems to be?

AMANPOUR: Well, I think everybody is -- you know has their eyes open. And he repeated that, has -- remembers, you know, the 11-year history, as he said, of cheat and retreat. But I think that definitely over here they are very, very keen to get those inspectors back and give that a chance.

Of course, there is a slight dilemma possible. If indeed Blair says that they are hiding stuff already, what happens if Saddam Hussein is successful in hiding stuff already, but when the inspectors come, gives them unfettered access? For instance, Saddam very cleverly, his people today said, let them come to all the sites that the British had mentioned in the dossier and see what they find. BROWN: That's kind of a catch-22. We'll leave it at that, Christiane. There are many more days of this ahead. Thank you, Christiane Amanpour in London tonight. It comes as no surprise, I suppose. They see things differently in Baghdad.

But along with the predictable denials, the Iraqi government also made what seems at least at first glance to be a bit of real news today. Here's CNN's Rula Amin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMIN (voice-over): Tony Blair simply failed to make his case. That, according to Lieutenant General Amir Hamud Sadi, who is a close adviser to the Iraqi president. He says the long-awaited dossier didn't have any solid evidence.

LT. GEN. AMIR HAMUD SADI: That Iraq is engaged in the production of weapons of mass destruction, simply not true. His allegations are long. His evidence is short.

AMIN: Charges made for public consumption and propaganda, Sadi says, preparing for war.

HAMUD SADI: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and naive allegations, which will not hold after a brief investigation by competent and independent experts in the relevant field.

AMIN: Baghdad now says it wants the U.N. weapons inspectors here to verify Iraq's claim that it has no more weapons of mass destruction. We asked Sadi if Iraq could give the inspectors unfettered access.

HAMUD SADI: Exactly, unfettered access.

AMIN (on camera): Wherever they want to go?

HAMUD SADI: Wherever they want to go.

AMIN (voice-over): This is the first time an Iraqi official has used the words "unfettered access." Words long demanded by the U.N. and the U.S. However, Sadi says Iraq will not deal with any new U.N. security council resolution that would change the guidelines where the inspectors work in Iraq.

The British dossier charges Iraq could be less than two years away from acquiring nuclear weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's s nonsense, absolute nonsense.

AMIN: Charge, counter-charge and denial. The U.N. weapons inspectors say they could be here in Iraq by mid October, perhaps the only ones in a position to sort out the conflicting claims.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMIN: Of course, the United States is pushing for the security council to issue a new resolution regarding Iraq before the end of the month. That is the date set for the Iraqis to meet with U.N. officials to discuss logistics on how the inspectors will go about their job here in Baghdad.

If this resolution is issued before the meeting, then we may expect some trouble at that meeting. And maybe the inspectors won't show up here -- Aaron.

BROWN: Why do you think that he went ahead and used the word "unfettered" today when they had been so resistant to that word, that single word for so long?

AMIN: I don't know if they have been resistant, because off the record Iraqi officials have been saying that they would grant inspectors unfettered access. This is the first time they commit to it publicly.

And it seems that they were trying to be very confident that all these allegations were baseless and that they are up to the challenge to prove they don't have any weapons of mass destruction. It basically also will win them some support among countries like Russia and France, whom they are desperately trying to get on their side at the security council -- Aaron.

BROWN: Rula, thank you. Rula Amin in Baghdad.

On to the White House now. The president again today calling on the United Nations to enforce the existing resolutions against Iraq or the United States said the president would do it for the U.N. The administration is looking as well to introduce a tougher security council resolution on the matter. That could come as early as tomorrow.

There was some hope that the British prime minister's speech today would give it a shot of momentum. We will see.

For the latest on that front, we again turn to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, who is at the White House. Good evening to you again.

MALVEAUX: Well, good evening, Aaron.

Blair's report was very front and center at President Bush's meeting with his cabinet earlier today. The White House saying that these findings were frightening. But, at the same time, aides saying it just bolsters the president's case, what he has been saying all along, that there is more than enough evidence that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the world and that the United Nations must force Iraq to disarm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: And I again call for the United Nations to pass a strong resolution, holding this man to account. And if they're unable to do so, the United States and our friends will act. Because we believe in peace, we want to keep the peace.

We don't trust this man. And that's what the Blair report showed today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now Blair stopped short of calling for Saddam's removal. Really a departure from the U.S. policy regime change. But the White House really downplaying that aspect today, saying the two leaders have worked very closely in crafting a U.N. security council resolution, with tough language to hold Saddam Hussein accountable.

The real test, Aaron, is going to be in the next couple of days to see if those permanent members of the U.N. security council: Russia, France and China have come around and will sign on to such a resolution -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well I think it's fair to say you generally downplay those things that you don't want to highlight. So give me a sense of behind the scenes, at all, if they were surprised that the prime minister didn't call for regime change, overthrowing Saddam, or did they expect it?

MALVEAUX: Well they certainly were surprised about this. Really the strategy has been that the prime minister will go ahead and give the kind of details of intelligence the Bush administration feels uncomfortable giving. They want to protect their own intelligence sources.

You may recall that this happened shortly after 9/11 when President Bush was calling for the war against al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. That it was the British prime minister that came forward with the dossier with all of the details against bin Laden and al Qaeda. This is the same type of strategy that they're using this time around against Saddam Hussein.

BROWN: Suzanne, thank you. Suzanne Malveaux at the White House tonight.

And ahead on NEWSNIGHT, we'll talk with one member of Congress who is still holding out against the president's plan for Iraq. And later, we'll hear some of the tough questions that were asked of Tony Blair by the members of parliament today.

Lots of work to do. This is NEWSNIGHT from Atlanta.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(AUDIO/VIDEO GAP)

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO: ... to deliver those weapons or even the intention to do. So is it an imminent threat? That hasn't been established.

BROWN: Do you think that the -- for example, that the Iraqis could toss a scud missile with a biological weapon into Israel?

KUCINICH: Well, I think we have to be concerned. If we attack Iraq, what follows? I mean in any case, if we attack Iraq, is it possible that they could attack Israel? Of course. And then is it possible Israel would respond?

We're looking at the danger of the whole region unraveling. And that's why we have to work within the international community here to try to come to a peaceful resolution. We need to have inspections in Iraq to be sure.

We need to make sure that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction and is disarmed. But I think that's a matter for international community to enforce global security.

BROWN: So if the U.N. inspectors go in and the U.N. inspectors are thwarted in one way or another, at that point then do you support the notion of a war?

KUCINICH: Well there are steps that are already in the security council, articles 39 through 51, which establish a measured approach. But certainly the security council would have to take that up.

We now have an opportunity, an opening that we should pursue, which is to prepare to have inspections in Iraq. We should not be preparing for war, we should be preparing for inspections.

BROWN: What is wrong -- I'm trying to understand, Congressman, what is -- from your point of view, what is wrong with the president's approach? Was it just I suppose a bit of a carrot and stick? Granted the stick is pretty big in this case. That you go get a resolution that says we get unfettered access, we go in there, the inspectors do what they do or else. What is wrong with the "or else" part of this?

KUCINICH: Well, or else would set America on a new path. Or else would say that America has assumed the right to launch a preemptive strike. That would cause us the loss of the moral authority which we have in the world, and it would set a bad example for other nations such as Russia, looking at Georgia, China, Taiwan, India and Pakistan.

So this principle of war could suddenly be spread throughout the world by other countries deciding they could take the law into their own hands. The United States is best when we lead the community of nations, when we're the light of the world, when we enforce international law. That's how we can solve this.

BROWN: Why do you think you then are such a lone voice? And I don't mean literally alone, as in the only one. But clearly it seems, to us at least, that the majority of your colleagues on both sides of the aisle will support this resolution.

KUCINICH: Well, when you're first learning to sing you may have to wait awhile to sing in a choir. But I think there will be a choir of voices in the Congress raising questions about the inadvisability of the United States pursuing unilateral action about he importance of working through the U.N. to have inspections.

The United States can still settle this peacefully. And I think more and more members of Congress are hearing from their constituents who say, look, we don't want war, but we want you to solve this. And I think there's still a chance.

War is not inevitable here. Peace can still be achieved working through the U.N. and having thorough inspections of Iraq. It's still possible.

BROWN: Well the president is working through the United Nations. Unless you're suggesting that it's a sham, that he doesn't really believe in the U.N., that he really doesn't want those inspections to succeed, that what he really want is to throw Saddam out regardless.

KUCINICH: Well the administration has taken a very strong stand in favor of regime change, even if it has to be by force. That's to be sure.

And I think that what we need to do is to encourage the administration to work with the U.N., to follow international law, and not to have the United States take this lonely path of unilateral preemptive strike. That would really set ourselves apart from the community of nations.

The whole world is organized today around cooperation. The cooperation in transportation and communications and trade. We should have cooperation among nations for global security. This is the wrong time for the United States to have to go it alone in the world community. We can assure our national security working with the entire globe.

I think we have friends all over the world who want to help us do that.

BROWN: Congressman, it's an important debate to be having and it's an important time to have it. And we appreciate very much your perspective tonight. Thanks for joining us.

KUCINICH: Thank you so much.

BROWN: Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, from the Cleveland area in Ohio.

Coming up on NEWSNIGHT, more violence in the Middle East. That story continues and we continue our coverage of it when we come back. This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Sometimes in diplomacy it's what you don't do that can send a very clear message. The United States abstained from voting on a U.N. resolution criticizing Israel's siege of the Arafat compound in Ramallah, when it could have issued a veto.

That is not to say the United States has been subtle in its criticism of Israel. The president today saying what's been happening there was "not helpful." The action against Arafat has been curious in a way; namely, that Hamas and the Islamic jihad, not Arafat's people, have claimed responsibility for the two most recent attacks. So why not hit the stronghold for those groups in Gaza? It appears the Israelis were just biding their time.

We get more on today's strike in Gaza from CNN's Ben Wedeman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the biggest Israeli air and ground operation in Gaza since the outbreak of the intifada two years ago. Nine Palestinians killed in the incursion, which met with stiff resistance from a collection of Palestinian armed factions.

Gaza is a stronghold for the radical Islamic group Hamas, which has claimed responsibility for multiple suicide bombings in Israel.

The Gaza operation may signify that Israel's offensive against Palestinian radicals is shifting from the West bank, now under almost complete Israeli occupation, to the crowded, impoverished Gaza strip, one of the last bastions of the beleaguered Palestinian Authority.

Occupation, however, doesn't guarantee acquiescence. After midnight in Ramallah in the West Bank, hundreds poured into the streets to bang out their frustrations with around-the-clock curfews.

GHASSAN AL-KHATIB, PALESTINIAN LABOR MINISTER: I think and I hope that this is a beginning in a new phase in this intifada where the Palestinians are concentrating more on mass resistance and popular activities against the occupation.

WEDEMAN: This nonviolent protest left Israeli troops puzzled at how best to restore quiet until more familiar forms of confrontation reappeared.

At Yasser Arafat's demolished compound, Israel's bulldozers went back to work, digging holes and then filling them back up again for no apparent reason.

Arafat continues to reject Israeli demands he hand over suspected terrorists Israel says are holed up inside the last building left standing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN: Now the siege of Arafat's compound is now entering into its seventh day, that against a background of mounting international pressure for the Israelis to leave, coming from everyone including George Bush, the U.N. Security Council, the European union and even Pope John Paul II.

But Israel, it appears, doesn't seem to be budging -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well, Israel is not -- this is not new for Israel. Israel has heard this sort of stuff before and tends to operate as it chooses. Talk for a minute about Gaza, and why just the lay of the land makes it so much different for the Israelis to operate in than the West Bank. WEDEMAN: Well, basically because Gaza is the largest contiguous area controlled by the Palestinians. It's very crowded. And really, it is packed with the kind of radicals that you don't necessarily have here on the West Bank. Gaza City, for instance, is a stronghold for Hamas. And until now the Israelis haven't gone into Gaza City, despite the fact they basically have reoccupied the entire West Bank, with the exception of Jericho, for instance.

And therefore, they have had a lot of time to prepare. We've heard, for instance, that Hamas, in the Gaza Strip is saying that they intend to destroy one Israeli tank for every house that's destroyed in Gaza.

So really, the Israelis are facing a whole different sort of military situation on the ground, which explains why, until now, they haven't gone in -- Aaron.

BROWN: And thank you, Ben Wedeman, tonight reporting on both the situation in Gaza and the West Bank.

Still ahead on the program, the controversy stirred up over a scene in a very popular new movie.

And, up next, why the Russians are mad about the Miss Universe contest. My goodness.

This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: This next story has got glitz and controversy and embarrassing innuendo on something that's interesting but, we will acknowledge, not the most important issue on the planet. In short, a perfect storm over a story for the tabloids, a bit of fun for us.

Miss Universe, Oxana Fedorova, was fired today. Donald Trump owns the Miss Universe pageant, and his people were whispering to the gossip mill that Miss Fedorova was a prima donna who wasn't fulfilling her duties, and important functions they are, no doubt.

There was also speculation that she may have been secretly married, possibly pregnant, pure scandal in the pageant world.

Miss Fedorova herself sees this all differently, as you can imagine. And since she's a trained cop and an expert markswoman, we can't afford not to listen to her.

So here is how Russian TV covered all of this, "Their News" from NTV.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Today, Miss Universe from Russia, Oxana Fedorova, had her crown removed. The first runner- up, Miss Panama, Justine Pasek, took her place. If somebody feels a little down over the news, don't rush. Justine's father is an engineer from Ukraine and has Slavic blood in her veins.

Now, let's go to our correspondent in New York, Vasily Arkado (ph), where the ceremony took place.

VASILY ARKADO (through translator): More than three hours ago in the building behind me, called Trump Tower, Miss Panama crowned new Miss Universe after Miss Russia was fired. She will carry the title until June 2003.

Donald Trump, the owner of the tower and also pageant organizer, crowned Miss Panama himself. This is the first incident in the pageant's 52-year history, because as Mr. Trump says, Miss Fedorova couldn't keep up with her travel duties.

But rumors about Miss Fedorova secretly married, that changed her from Miss to Mrs., not true. And, for Donald Trump, he doesn't have facts.

ANNOUNCER (through translator): NTV hero of the day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now, live from NTV studio, my guest Oxana Fedorova. Hello, Oxana. Please tell us: were you ready to see the event turn this way?

OXANA FEDOROVA: The thing is, I'm a very determined person, and to do two things at the same time is not possible for me or anybody. If you chase after two rabbits, you won't catch any. And the most important thing in my life is my studies and my career.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was it easy for you to give up the title?

FEDOROVA: Unfortunately, it wasn't easy for me. But I was determined what I'm going to do, so I didn't give it lots of thought.

And another thing that made me quit my tiara and continue my education was my participation in the TV show, "The Howard Stern Show." That show contradicts my personal philosophy, my personal image, and the image of my country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, what exactly happened in that "Howard Stern Show" that you didn't like?

FEDOROVA: Many people know about that show, how scandalous it is, of course. Nobody warned me about it, and if I knew what that show was about, I would have never participated in it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thank you, Oxana, for talking to us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: It's Howard Stern's fault.

Quickly, a few items making news closer to home -- goodness. Starting with the country's alert level, back down to yellow after two weeks at orange. In other words, the threat is still there, but it's not as much as it was. So back to the new normal we go. A number of reasons for the change, including the arrest of several al Qaeda suspects and certain intelligence reports the administration mentioned today but will not elaborate upon.

Some new worries over fuel pumps inside Boeing airliners. The company's advising airlines to examine all the pumps on all the 747's and the 757's and the newer versions of the 737s. These are the same pumps from the same contractor that had problems last month. An earlier inspection order covered about 1,200 pumps. This one covers more than 30,000: more pumps in more planes, as it turns out.

And Tropical Storm Isidore is over the Gulf of Mexico tonight. It's going to be a big story the rest of the week, building strength and heading north. Forecasters expect it to be hurricane force by tomorrow sometime, by Thursday, when it comes ashore. And again, it should happen somewhere along the Gulf Coast. Best guess: Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama. The storm warnings are up from Texas to the Florida Panhandle. Folks are boarding up homes and businesses, stocking up on emergency supplies, all the things that happen before a storm.

From out in the Pacific, some fishers of a very resourceful sailor, not very lucky, though: Richard Van Pham was trying to get from Long Beach, California, to Catalina Island. That is 26 miles across the sea as the old song goes, when a storm kicked up and broke the mast of his boat, and the outboard motor died and then the radio conked out. And so he's been drifting out there for three months, surviving on rainwater, fish, turtles and seagulls. Coast Guard spotted him 275 miles southwest of Costa Rica. He was grilling a gull.

Again, here we go on NEWSNIGHT, tough questions asked of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Parliament today.

But up next, some things you can't say in the barbershop. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: I want to be careful about not creating a controversy, but merely reporting on one. In this case, the controversy involves the movie "Barbershop," which has been a very big hit. And some civil rights leaders who say it crosses the line when one of the African American characters jokes about Rosa Parks, among others.

Here's a quick look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "Barbershop")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, all I'm saying is that black people need to stop lying. There are three things black people need to tell the truth about: One, Rodney King should have got his (EXPLETIVE DELETED) beat for driving drunk and being grown in a Humvee; two, O.J. did it. O.J. did it.

And three, Rosa Parks didn't do nothing but sit her black (EXPLETIVE DELETED) down. I said it. I said it. UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I'm going to back you on that, cause look, he was in the bus back in the day and he owns the bus now.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Not only is what you're saying not true, it is wrong and disrespectful for you to discuss Rosa Parks in that way.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Hold on here, is this a barbershop, is this a barbershop? This is a barbershop. If we can't talk straight in barbershop, then where can we talk straight? We can't talk straight nowhere else. You know, this ain't nothing but healthy conversation.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You can't talk about Rosa Parks, though.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: There ain't nobody exempt in the barbershop. You know that; there ain't nobody exempt. You can talk about whoever and whatever, whenever you want to in a barbershop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: The movie "Barbershop," the filmmakers say they mean no disrespect to Rosa Parks, or Martin Luther King. There's a joke there on Dr. King, as well.

And a quick look at online message boards shows that most people don't see this as a huge issue. You see phrases like, "not that serious," and "chill."

But we were struck by what one young dissenter had to say. He said this is no joke. "We weren't there for the lynchings, the bombings and having to fight for every single right. We can't even begin to try and understand what our people went through," the young man wrote.

We thought we'd talk to someone who has to tread this delicate line sometimes for a living. We're joined by comedian David Chapelle.

David, good to see you.

DAVID CHAPELLE, COMEDIAN: How are you?

BROWN: Just quickly, what do you think of the flap? Is this a "nothing" or a "something?"

CHAPELLE: I would say it's a "nothing," Aaron. I mean I'm a comedian. As you said, I do this for a living, and I don't think that -- there's very little that's too sacred or above being talked about in this kind of case.

BROWN: Do you think that there's something generational here, that you're a guy in your 30s, it appears to me, or so, and that somebody who is 53, my age, might see it differently?

CHAPELLE: Absolutely. I mean, this is the kind of conversation that I've had at family dinners and stuff, you know. And for them the "N" word is a very painful epithet, and for somebody my age, it's a rap lyric, and I sing quite often. You know, when I watch Cedric and I was watching the clip, I laughed. I thought it was funny.

What I don't understand, and please forgive my ignorance, how did this become controversial? Who brought the issue? Let me guess, Jesse Jackson.

BROWN: Well, you seem to be onto a train of thought here. Go ahead.

CHAPELLE: No, I was asking: am I right?

BROWN: Well, you're not wrong. Actually, in our instance it came up in a meeting. I'm not sure where it actually started.

But, you know, you could look at that a couple of ways. I mean, you could be cynical and say, that Reverend Jackson would like to be talked about, and that might be true or not. Or you can say he was there then, he was with Dr. King and he might be exquisitely sensitive to these sorts of things?

CHAPELLE: Yes, I would say it was probably a combination of both things. I mean, working in Hollywood, I know that a few years ago, there was a big uproar that was led by the NAACP, about getting more blacks in film and television. And then here comes a black movie that's successful, but it was a crossover success. Black people and white people are sitting in the theater, laughing at something that's primarily rooted in black culture, and who's the major critics, black people. I don't understand it.

BROWN: I'm want to ask -- I'm going to talk about that for a second and just get off the Rosa Parks/Martin Luther King thing for a second.

One of the really cool things, I think, about the movie: I think it's been the number one movie for two weeks in a row, it has absolutely a cross-over audience from everything I've read. What does that say to you?

CHAPELLE: I mean, for me, it's some of the best news I've got in show business for years, because I've dealt with situations where, oftentimes, they think that black people in movies are less profitable, because we're the minorities in this country. So here comes a movie that's a black comedy, a black comedy -- excuse me -- and look at it. Number one for two weeks in a row. I think that's phenomenal and I think hopefully that'll start changing the minds of executives; they'll smell money in blackness.

BROWN: And then there's more work for black actors, black comedians and perhaps everyone else?

CHAPELLE: Yes. That's what I'm hoping.

BROWN: Do you run into this a lot? Do people say you don't appeal to a broad enough audience? CHAPELLE: Nobody -- nobody says it. But yes, I think it's the unspoken of the unsaid thing, which is why the NAACP made such a big stink about it.

BROWN: Let me go back: one final question before we run out of time, just to check on everyone's sensitivities here. If that joke, if the Rosa Parks joke had been made by a white person, would you react to it differently?

CHAPELLE: Absolutely. Absolutely. I feel like -- it may offend my sensibility. It's hard for me to imagine, though, a white person making a joke like that in a movie. It's kind of like the old Quentin Tarantino using the "N" word thing, it all depends, man, on how it's done and who does it.

But I feel like in the case of this movie, I found nothing offensive about it. There was a voice of dissent in the same scene, there were several. And no one in the barbershop really agreed with him, and the point that he made was a point that I think is very important. You should be able to say these things somewhere.

BROWN: David, it's nice to talk to you. Thanks for joining us tonight.

CHAPELLE: Aaron, thanks for having me.

BROWN: Thank you, David Chapelle in our New York studio tonight.

Next on NEWSNIGHT: Tough questions on Iraq. America's chief supporter faces questions in Parliament. We'll listen in when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: This is what they call question time in Parliament.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES KENNEDY, LIBERAL DEMOCRAT LEADER: Finally Mr. Speaker, does the prime minister truly believe that on the evidence published today, a sufficient case has now already been made which both clarifies Iraq's present capacity, as well as its intent? This much, of course, Mr. Speaker, which will unfold, that it is vital that the British government maintains its moral authority, the authority of this house and the United Nations and does not at any stage in the weeks and months ahead overlook the decent moral instincts of our country, which deserves to be heard here today.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: And the answer to his last question is: yes, I do believe that the information that we published today shows that there is a continuing chemical and biological weapons program and an attempt by him to acquire nuclear weapons capability. That's what I believe.

BARRY GARDINER, LABOUR MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: Does he agree with me that those MP's who oppose independent action must explain why something they believe to be right and justified when undertaken by many nations together becomes wrong and unjustified if we should act alone?

BLAIR: What I would say to my old friend is this -- What I would say to my old friend is this: that is, the point that he makes is exactly why the United Nations has got to be the way of resolving this issue. That is why I think it was right that President Bush made it very clear to the U.N. General Assembly that the United Nations itself was faced with a challenge.

And that's why it's important that challenge is met and the U.N. resolutions are implemented.

PAUL MARSDEN, LIBERAL DEMOCRAT MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: Ignoring the mini-me performance by the Tory party leader, can I ask the prime minister this? A simple question, yes or no will suffice. Does he actually support regime change without U.N. authorization, yes or no?

BLAIR: Mr. Speaker, I made it clear that the purpose of any action should be the disarmament of Iraq. Whether that involves regime changes is, in a sense, a question for Saddam as to whether he's prepared to comply with the U.N. resolution.

But I do say to the honorable gentleman, the one thing I find odd are people who can find the notion of regime change in Iraq somehow distasteful. Regime change in Iraq would be a wonderful thing.

But that is not the purpose of our action. The purpose is to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. But I can assure him if he studies the Iraqi regime carefully, he will find that it's not very redolent of anything to do with the Liberal Democrats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: That's all for tonight, we'll see you tomorrow. Good night.

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Minutes; Iraq Denies Statements, White House Feels Less Pressure to Make Case for Action>

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