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9/11 Commission Report: No Links Tying Iraq to 9/11; Saudi Kidnapping; Attacks Halt Iraqi Oil Exports

Aired June 16, 2004 - 12:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Unfolding this hour, several important stories we're following including a chilling report from the 9/11 Commission. Among other things, it concludes there was no credible evidence that Saddam Hussein helped al Qaeda target the United States.
Also, the death threat against American Paul Johnson, kidnapped in Saudi Arabia. This hour, an emotional plea from his family to the captors.

And for the second day in a row, terrorists strike at the heart of Iraq's economy, targeting two oil pipelines and shutting down crucial exports.

We'll get to all of that. First, some other headlines.

John Kerry is proposing financial relief to try to aid working parents. At a discussion in Columbus, Ohio, Kerry proposed a boost to the childcare credit. And he said if elected President he'd work to expand aftercare programs as well.

Another sign of the woes of the major airlines. A top Delta officials says his company won't survive without drastic changes to compete in the area -- in the era of Internet ticket and post-9/11 security. But in his speech to financial analysts, CEO Gerald Grinstein denied that Delta is planning to file for bankruptcy.

In New York, an ink expert pleads not guilty to perjury charges that stem from his appearance as a prosecution witness in the Martha Stewart case. Larry Stewart testified he analyzed worksheets kept by Stewart's stockbroker, but prosecutors allege he was consulted only briefly. Martha Stewart's lawyers have asked for a new trial.

Our top story this hour, Saddam Hussein and 9/11. The 9/11 Commission is out today with a finding in the long-standing debate over a possible role in the 9/11 attacks by the regime of Saddam Hussein. Our national security correspondent, David Ensor, is on top of this story. He's over at today's commission hearings here in Washington.

David, interesting findings by the 9/11 Commission.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And a wealth of detail, Wolf, in this 20-page densely-packed report from the staff about what they found out about the plot of 9/11 and how it was outlined and how it was conducted. They said that it cost about $500,000. About $270,000 of that was spent in the United States. Contrast that with what the staff -- what the council -- what the members say was more than $100 million worth of losses for the United States.

They say that the hijackers were in constant contact with each other by e-mail and cell phone. Of course, there are rules against bugging such people unless you have a warrant. So the U.S. wasn't listening in.

They say that there was an argument between the plotters over whether the plane that ended up crashing in Pennsylvania should be used to attack the U.S. Capitol or the White House. The pilot wanted to go after the Capitol. So did Mohammed Atta, the leader of the plotters here in the United States. They thought it was an easier target. Osama bin Laden was interested in hitting the White House.

Now, the -- we also learned that Mohammed Atta almost missed his flight in Boston, which would really have created additional problems for the plotters. They would not have had that extra craft -- aircraft to hit the World Trade Center with.

Finally, we learned that, in the first session this morning, that there is evidence, according to the staff, that the attack in 1996 against a barracks in Saudi Arabia for U.S. servicemen and women was -- was, in fact, not only conducted by Saudi Hezbollah, perhaps with help from Iran, as was traditionally thought, but had also involvement by al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Now, this is new, a revelation that al Qaeda -- there's evidence al Qaeda had involvement in that very large attack that killed 19 service personnel in Saudi Arabia in 1996. It also suggests that -- that al Qaeda has been cooperating, or did in that case, with Hezbollah, a rather disturbing possibility -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interestingly, in that first report that was released this morning, David, they do say there is evidence that in 1994 a senior Iraqi intelligence official met with bin Laden in the Sudan in 1994, but then the report goes on to say -- and I'll quote now -- "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." What does this do to the Bush administration's position?

ENSOR: Well, it pours a little cold water on it, it would seem. The report goes in quite a lot of detail to trying to research any contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda, and it says that there were several. As you mentioned, the one in Sudan, a couple of others as well. Basically, they were talking whether they could cooperate together, but it appears, according to the report, at least, that there was no active cooperation between these two entities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. And they also say elsewhere in the report that there's no evidence. "We do not believe such a meeting occurred," referring to the Mohammed Atta alleged meeting in Prague with another senior Iraqi intelligence official.

All right. David Ensor with that story. Thanks very much, David, for that.

Much more on this coming up. We'll speak shortly with Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director.

But first, the death threat against an American kidnapped in Saudi Arabia. Paul Johnson's captors have posted this videotape on an al Qaeda-linked Web site, where the man identifies himself repeatedly by name. Johnson is a Lockheed Martin employee; he's been missing since last Saturday.

His captors say they'll kill him by Friday unless their demands are met. Johnson's relatives back home are clearly frantic. They've pleaded to the captors for his safe return. CNN's Deborah Feyerick talked to his son and his sister earlier in New Jersey.


PAUL JOHNSON, JR., FATHER HELD CAPTIVE: My father's a loving father. He's a grandfather. He would give his shirt off the back to them if he knew them. And he respected -- he respected the Saudis.


DONNA MAYEUX, PAUL JOHNSON'S SISTER: He's an innocent man. Killing him is not going to solve anything. We would just like his safe return. My mother, his wife, my niece, and my three girls, we would just like his safe return.

FEYERICK: Now, Paul, we know that you've brought your son here. He's three years old. He's never seen his grandfather. I guess the -- Christmas was going to be when he saw him. What is the message that you have for your dad right now?

JOHNSON: I just want him brought home safely.

MAYEUX: We're doing everything we can to bring him home. Everybody's trying to help. We appreciate that.

JOHNSON: I just plead with the Saudis to please, do whatever you take. If you've got to -- we're all human. Just, please, he's done a lot for your country.

I respect your country. I respect -- I respect everything that everybody's done. And I just want to see my father brought home safely. And to the Saudis, you can make it happen.

And I'm just asking you, please, make this happen. He's -- he does not deserve this, and he was just doing his job. And let's -- please, just bring him home. And the group of people holding him, just please -- he don't deserve this.

MAYEUX: We just -- we just ask that they treat him with the dignity and respect that he's often talked about that they have in their culture. Just please don't murder them -- murder him.


BLITZER: Part of our exclusive interview with Paul Johnson's family in New Jersey. Earlier, they spoke with CNN's Deborah Feyerick the last hour here on CNN.

We're standing by to speak with Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director. He's with the president at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. The president just addressed the troops there, as well as via satellite in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we come back, we'll speak live with Dan Bartlett.

Also, another sabotage attack halts Iraq's oil exports. We'll take you live to Baghdad as well.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: We're standing by to speak live with Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director. He's with the president down in Tampa, Florida. We'll get to that shortly.

Also, foreign policy front and center. How does the Bush administration rate on that and domestic politics? We'll have a discussion. Ambassador William Harrop, Danielle Pletka, of the American Enterprise Institute, among my guests.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: The situation in Iraq remains tenuous, at best right now. More political assassinations, more American troops have just been killed. Let's go live to Baghdad. CNN's Jane Arraf is standing by with also the latest on the state of sabotage attacks against Iraq's crucial oil installations.

Jane, first of all, what do we know about these U.S. troops who have just been killed in this rocket attack?

JANE ARRAF, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Wolf, the coalition tells us that two American soldiers were killed and 10 people, U.S. soldiers and Iraqis, wounded when a rocket slammed into a U.S. Army base near Ballad. That's north of Iraq -- sorry, north of Baghdad.

And in attacks in the north and south, sabotage on the oil pipelines has halted exports, the lifeline for Iraq's revenue. These were explosions on the main southern pipeline near the Faw peninsula. Now, that pipeline carries oil to the terminals in the Gulf, Iraq's main export outlet. Huge fire there, and it may take days to fix, causing tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

In the north as well, that pipeline, atheder (ph) pipeline, part of the system that exports oil to Turkey, has also been shut down. And the head of security of the northern oil company, Ghaza al- Talabani, was assassinated on Wednesday as he drove to work.

Another disturbing story, Wolf, the coalition says that six members of the new Iraqi Civil Defense Force have been detained in connection with a homemade bomb near Ramadi, west of Baghdad. In that one, six people, six Iraqis were killed when this bomb exploded, an oil drum that sprayed burning oil on passing cars as it exploded -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Jane, what's the update? What's the latest on the handover of Saddam Hussein by the U.S. to Iraqi authorities after June 30th? Do you have a good understanding of where -- where this sensitive issue stands right now?

ARRAF: Well, the U.S. says that it's discussing handing him over. Iraq says it's negotiating handing him over. The U.S. doesn't like to use that term, but certainly Iraqis would at some point soon like to get him back. And the U.S. would at an appropriate time like to hand him back.

They'd like nothing more, the U.S. government, it would seem then, than a photo-op of Saddam being handed back to Iraqis. But there are some obstacles in the way. One is the legal system, the other one is keeping him safe.

Several things have to be done. Certainly, no one believes he will be handed over immediately after June 30th -- Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Jane Arraf in Baghdad. Jane, thanks very much.

And to our viewers who may have been watching CNN in the past hour, the president is near the Central Command, over at the Central Command, in fact, near Tampa, Florida. He addressed U.S. forces around the world from there earlier today.

The president's last visit to CENTCOM came just six days into the Iraq war. That was March 26th of last year. Much, of course, has changed since then.

Traveling with the president, his director of communications, Dan Bartlett, who's joining us now live, standing in front of Air Force One.

Dan, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Lots of -- thank you. Lots of issues to go through. Let's start off with Saddam Hussein. What's your understanding of when -- and I know it's not a matter of if, but when he will actually be given over to the Iraqis?

BARTLETT: Well, that specific detail, obviously, is being worked out by the interim government with the coalition forces there in Baghdad. But make no mistake, this will be resolved.

President Bush has assured his coalition forces who are directly communicating with Prime Minister Allawi that this is the ultimate goal. And that is a fully sovereign Iraq will take custody of Saddam Hussein. And Prime Minister Allawi has the -- shares the same concern we do. He wants to make sure there's a secure environment to make sure that Saddam Hussein stands trial for the horrific crimes he caused against his own people and the international community.

BLITZER: There's one suggestion out there -- perhaps Ambassador Bremer has thrown out this idea in private conversations -- the U.S. hands over physical or legal custody to the Iraqis, but the U.S. maintains physical control to make sure there's no harm that comes to him or that he can't escape, or anything along those lines. Is there some sort of middle ground? The Iraqis technically have custody, but the U.S. protects him?

BARTLETT: Well, Wolf, I can't rule that out here today. That will be part of the discussions that they're having with the prime minister.

Like I said, they have a shared concern to -- to make sure that they are able to work out the details to see who is the best people to secure him, whether it's Iraqi security forces, multinational forces, or some combination of the both. But no -- make no mistake about it, the two of them -- the two entities will work together to make sure that Saddam Hussein is secure.

BLITZER: I thought the president was very blunt in his speech earlier today at MacDill Air Force Base in warning the American public and the troops, more importantly, that it's going to get worse before it gets better. More suicide bombing attacks, more assassinations, more efforts to disrupt, to undermine this new Iraqi government. How much worse, though, do you believe it will get?

BARTLETT: Well, that's a -- that's hard to predict, but I think it is true, and the president has been saying this for some weeks now, that the stakes in Iraq are high. The enemies know that. We know that.

They know if a stable, free Iraq emerges in a part of the world that needs, is desperate for reform, that will strike a serious blow to the terrorist ideology. So that's why they are in the days leading up to June 30 -- and then we should expect even after that, as we start working and marching toward elections, just like we for Afghanistan, that the enemies will try everything they can to disrupt that.

And that's why President Bush has rallied the international community to come together on this important objective to make sure we defeat him there. And that's why we'll work closely with Prime Minister Allawi as we build up the Iraqi security forces and demonstrate to the Iraqi people that their future is in their hands, and that we'll work hand in hand with them to defeat then enemies of Iraq.

BLITZER: The vice president, Dick Cheney, Sunday night, in a speech in Florida, said there's no doubt there have been long- established ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The president, when he was asked about that yesterday, referred to Abu Musab al- Zarqawi as the best evidence of that.

Today, the 9/11 Commission came out with their finding, and I'll read one sentence from it, a specific sentence that says, "We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." Does that contradict the stance of the vice president and the president?

BARTLETT: Not at all. Just because al Qaeda and Iraq may not have collaborated in a specific attack on 9/11 does not mean that there's not a relationship or past relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. The fact that al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad before the invasion demonstrates that he was given safe haven to al Qaeda affiliates. People have testified to this issue.

Make no mistake about it, Saddam Hussein had ties to terror, both to al Qaeda affiliates and other ones who, for example, he was providing funding, as the president said in his speech today, to suicide bombers' families in the Middle East. This was a very terrible man who did very terrible things to his own people, to his neighboring countries. He had close ties with terrorist organizations. He was a threat, and it was important that we remove that threat.

BLITZER: So I just want to be precise on this, Dan. Are you agreeing with the 9/11 Commission that there's no credible evidence that Saddam Hussein ever cooperated with al Qaeda in terms of plotting 9/11 or other terror strikes aimed at the United States?

BARTLETT: Well, the president's made that very clear when he's been asked about that that there's not evidence saying that there was collaboration between the two on the 9/11 attacks. But again, that doesn't mean that there was not a broader relationship or historic relationship going back. I don't believe those two statements are inconsistent whatsoever.

BLITZER: The report does note that there was a meeting, at least maybe three times in '94, in Sudan between a senior Iraqi intelligence officer and bin Laden. But the report suggests that the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein rebuffed requests by al Qaeda to get more directly involved.

One other additional note. They -- on this controversial meeting that may or may not have taken place between Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of 9/11, and some Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague before 9/11, April of 2000, they conclude, the 9/11 Commission, "We do not believe that such a meeting occurred." Do you agree with that conclusion?

BARTLETT: I can't speak to that very specific meeting. Again, I'm not here to dispute what they're saying about the specific 9/11 attack. But again, that doesn't negate the fact that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime had ties to terror, had ties to al Qaeda, al Qaeda affiliates. And like I said, if -- whether this meeting or past meetings, there's a lot of historical information out there about past meetings, about the Prague meeting itself I can't speak to.

But again, that doesn't take away from the fact of what we're saying. And that is that there's a relationship there. President Bush has made it very clear that there was not direct evidence linking to the 9/11 plot, and never did he make that suggestion. BLITZER: We had a heart-wrenching interview in the past hour here on CNN, the family of Paul Johnson, the American kidnapped in Saudi Arabia. There's a 72-hour demand that the Saudis start releasing prisoners, otherwise he's going to be killed. What do you believe the Saudis should do, speaking on behalf of the United States government?

BARTLETT: Well, Wolf, this is a very difficult time, during a time of war, when you're facing an enemy that targets the innocent, targets people who are just trying to help other people. We found that both in Iraq, we found that with the reporter, Daniel Pearl, and now we're finding this in Saudi Arabia.

President Bush, this administration is working very closely with the Saudi government to do everything we can to hopefully have a peaceful resolution to this situation. We do believe the president is convinced, particularly after the bombings in Riyadh last year, that the kingdom is serious about fighting terror. We're working closely with them, sharing intelligence, cracking down on financing of terror. And we hope to have a peaceful resolution to this.

President Bush is keeping updated on this topic every day. He was briefed on it this morning. So we will continue to work with the kingdom to try to have a peaceful resolution to this awful resolution.

BLITZER: But just to reiterate, are you satisfied that the Saudis are doing now everything that they should be doing to fight terror?

BARTLETT: My understanding is, Wolf, in this particular case they're doing everything they can. And in the broader sense, we do believe Crown Prince Abdullah is working hard to defeat the terrorists in Saudi Arabia.

They are a direct security interest threat to the Saudi kingdom. They're a direct security threat to the broader world. And they're a direct security threat to the American people. And we're working very closely with them to fight the terrorists there in Saudi Arabia, as we are in other parts of the greater Middle East.

BLITZER: Dan Bartlett, standing in front of Air Force One, getting ready to come back to Washington, I assume. When are you heading back, Dan?

BARTLETT: Shortly, hopefully, to get out of this 100-degree weather. I appreciate having time to speak with you today.

BLITZER: It will be caller on that 747. Give our best regards to the president. Dan Bartlett joining us from Tampa. Thanks, Dan, very much.

BARTLETT: You're welcome.

BLITZER: A fight brewing over foreign policy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're here to say there must be a change.


BLITZER: How effective is the Bush administration when it comes to international policy? A policy debate, that's coming up right here.


BLITZER: President Bush traveled today to address some of the people directly involved in the effort to secure Iraq. Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is traveling with the president. She's joining us now live from Tampa.

Suzanne, it was an emotional address, I thought, the president delivered.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly it was emotional publicly. Also privately, of course, President Bush meeting with at least family members of 11 fallen soldiers. This means a great deal to the U.S. soldiers here.

As you know, Central Command is home to those soldiers who are in Afghanistan, also fighting in Iraq. President Bush getting a briefing from the commanders here as well. But you could really tell from the crowds and just the kind of reception that he got when he first walked in, this was a message, a part of a series of messages leading up to the transfer of power to the Iraqi people. It was meant to convey the president's appreciation for the sacrifice, that families of soldiers have made, and also to make the case, the argument here that Iraq policy is the right thing to do.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we can expect more attacks in the coming few weeks. More car bombs, more suiciders, more attempts on the lives of Iraqi officials. But our coalition is standing firm. The new Iraq's leaders are not intimidated. I will not yield, and neither will the leaders of Iraq.



MALVEAUX: And, of course, Wolf, this is a message that was delivered not only here, but across the globe to the soldiers in Afghanistan, in Iraq. And what makes this message even more important, perhaps, is where it is being delivered.

This is Florida. As you know, this is the state that sealed the victory for the president back in 2000. Those 27 electoral votes, President Bush working very hard to win those.

This is his 22nd trip to the state of Florida. The last couple of polls showing that his opponent, Kerry, is slightly in the lead. We expect that President Bush will be coming back here very soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect both he and President Bush, Kerry and Bush, will be spending a great deal of time in Florida in the coming weeks and months. Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much. Have a safe trip back to Washington as well.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

BLITZER: The Bush administration's foreign policy coming under fire.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is time for a change.


BLITZER: A nationwide campaign presses for change in U.S. international affairs. What's going on? A debate coming up. Ambassador William Harrop and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, they'll both be here and they'll join me live.


BLITZER: A call for change in America's foreign and defense policies. It's coming from a group of former high-level diplomats and military officers.

Joining us now, one of the members of that group, the former U.S. ambassador, William Harrop. And Danielle Pletka, who's with the American Enterprise Institute sees things very, very differently.

Mr. Ambassador, you're retired now. Why did you and your colleagues decide to come out with this sharply-worded statement, effectively condemning the foreign policies of the Bush administration?

WILLIAM HARROP, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR: I think it's -- it's something that is not usually done by senior officials of the government. We're used to serving Democratic and Republican administrations alike, and keeping our political views in the ballot box, really. But we all got together in the last few months and decided that we felt the Bush administration had so severely damaged America's international position in security, as well as foreign policy, that we just had to -- had to -- to speak out.

BLITZER: What was the single most significant damage that you believe was caused?

HARROP: Well, I think the -- the diversion of resources from terrorism in the Iraq war was something that many of us were concerned about. And I think, also, I personally was much concerned by the -- by the Pew polls globally, which showed a decline in -- in support for the United States and kind of a fear and distrust of the United States such as we've never had before, I think, in our whole history. BLITZER: Danielle, you've read the report that they've released, the statement that they've issued. Retired foreign service officers, by and large, retired diplomats, as well as retired military officers, and they're condemning the Bush administration's foreign policy; specifically, the lack of international support.

DANIELLE PLETKA, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Well, the United States isn't about popularity. The president is about protecting the national security interests of this country. And so I don't view a popularity contest in the world as being dispositive to our foreign policy.

I think it's much -- it's a little bit misleading to call you a group for change. Really, what you are is a group for a status quo ante. You want to go back to the foreign policies of before the Bush administration.

And the thing that disturbs me about that is that it seems to ignore the advent of September 11th. It seems to ignore the changes that have happened in the world. It seems to ignore that we are living in a different kind of a place, and that the old policies didn't work. They're the ones that led to September 11th.

BLITZER: All right. That's a fair point, Ambassador.

HARROP: Well, I'm not sure it's a fair point. I would say that the -- September 11th caused some change. We've all lived with terrorism for a long time. I've had hostages taken in embassies where I was ambassador before. We've seen this for a long time.

September 11th was a particularly dramatic and particularly horrible event for Americans, but it doesn't change the need for the United States to work with other countries. It doesn't change the need for the United States to have collaboration of the security forces, the police forces, the financial responsible people all over the world to combat terrorism. And I think for us to try to go it alone, without working with the United Nations, without working with NATO, is, in the long term, going to be a very serious flaw in our situation.

BLITZER: Danielle, that's a fair point as well.

PLETKA: You're a great middleman, Wolf. I'm not sure it is a fair point, if I may use your phrase. I don't think we have worked without the United Nations. I don't think we have worked without NATO.

I find it a little ironic to see all of you standing up at the National Press Club within barely a week of the meeting in Sea Island, Georgia, with the G-8. That was a fairly warm meeting with our allies. We just passed in the Security Council 15-0 a resolution on Iraq. Part of that 15 was the government of France, government of Russia, government of China. So, again, I don't think it's fair to assert that the Bush administration has repudiated any of these institutions. I think one of the things that you haven't said that you object to in large part is the tone. And there, I think, there are fair points to be made. There has been a problem with the tone, particularly in the earlier years, and perhaps things could have been conducted differently, said differently. But at the end of day, we cannot allow either the United Nations or our allies and so-so allies to have a veto on protecting our interests.

BLITZER: Well, I think that your biggest concern has been this policy of preemptive -- unilateral preemptive strikes.

HARROP: Yes, it is. But I also would like (AUDIO GAP) U.N. you speak of in Sea Island, Georgia, the group of eight. I think the administration found that trying to dictate the entire operation in Iraq on its own was just as functional. It was not working.

They came back, the United Nations, which they had earlier not been prepared to work with. They made compromises. We can only applaud that. I think it's beginnings in a right direction.

However, I don't believe it shows a change of heart and a change of overall international outlook by the administration. And I would point out that the greatest problem in Iraq right now is the lack of security.

We need more boots on the ground. We need more forces there. The United States is now stretched very thin and moving our forces from Germany, from South Korea, extending the terms of active duty of our reservists, as well as active duty people.

The unanimous vote in New York did not result in one single that I'm aware of promise of more troops to support our efforts to maintain security in Iraq, nor did they work in the group of eight in Georgia. In fact, the big outcome of that was an acknowledgement that NATO was not going to be involved.

BLITZER: All right -- Danielle.

PLETKA: I guess I'm a little bit confused. If it didn't result in additional troops being put on the ground in Iraq, then why is the United Nations so important? If, in fact, countries are not going to be contributing troops no matter what, then why are we going to the U.N. in the first place?

Or are you really saying that if other countries aren't willing to contribute their troops to our efforts, that, in fact, we shouldn't do it? And doesn't that, in fact, give them a veto over U.S. actions?

HARROP: Well, I think if we had gone to the United Nations in a reasonable way at the outset and worked with our allies, and had not insisted on going it alone in what seems to me to be auspicious timing, I think the exaggerations of the weapons of mass destruction intelligence used in a rather -- as one of my colleagues this morning said, a rather casual use of intelligence, the effort to persuade the American public, quite successful effort, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) successful, that Saddam Hussein was intimately involved in the 9/11 attacks, that's what persuaded the American public to -- to follow along.

I think if we had begun with the United Nations as we should have, and with our allies, I think we would have found we'd have forces working with us. It may still come. I hope it will.

PLETKA: Well, you seem to have forgotten that we spent 12 years on Iraq at the United Nations, working with our allies and with our friends. In fact, at the outset of the Bush administration, before 9/11, the main thrust of Colin Powell's Department of State was to try and work to bring other countries into the sanctions regime on Iraq, to strengthen the United Nations process. And they spent a great deal of time and energy doing that in the international community.

I really have to disagree with you that this is -- that this would ever have been different. You can argue, and I think many people will agree, that we should not have invaded Iraq. But to say that other countries would have come along with us had we done this differently at a different time, I think just doesn't hold water.

BLITZER: Let's get back to the issue of preemptive strikes. If the United States has evidence that an enemy, whether a state or a terrorist organization, a non-state group, if you will, is about to launch a strike against U.S. interests or American citizens, or the United States directly, isn't it smart to go and take them out first before they cause that damage?

HARROP: It's the only reasonable thing to do, and we'd have to do it. But I don't know there was any evidence of an imminent threat from Iraq. I don't believe there was any imminent threat from Iraq at all. What was the threat from Iraq?

BLITZER: Was there an imminent threat from Iraq?

PLETKA: I don't think there was an imminent threat from Iraq.

BLITZER: So why go to war?

PLETKA: And I don't think that the president said there was an imminent threat from Iraq. I think in the world after September 11 we need to understand that the confluence of a dictator whom we believed to have weapons of mass destruction and the presence of terrorists -- and surely, you will agree that Zarqawi was, in fact, in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, a member of al Qaeda.

HARROP: Of al Qaeda? I beg your pardon?

PLETKA: Zarqawi is a member of al Qaeda.

HARROP: Oh, there was an individual there, sure.


BLITZER: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, sort of an associate of al Qaeda. Not necessarily a member of al Qaeda.

PLETKA: Right. Well, he is running al Qaeda operations inside Iraq right now.

HARROP: Oh, this is a secular (ph) -- this is not a part of...

BLITZER: Well, that's another...

PLETKA: I have to say...

BLITZER: A separate debate there.

PLETKA: Well, but hang on a second, because it's an important one. These are the kind of conversations we had before September 11th. This was, Osama bin Laden, come on, this is just a guy. Mohammed Atta, he was just a guy.

These are all just guys. But they are our enemies, and they have the capacity to reign great terror upon us. If we allow dictators of the ilk of Saddam Hussein and terrorists to go out there without being met by a challenge from the United States out there, they will come to us. We found out on September 11th, and I think that that's the kind of threat we cannot allow to exist in the world today.

HARROP: Were there an imminent -- an imminent threat at the time, I would certainly agree with you. There is no evidence of which I'm aware that Saddam Hussein had the capability of delivering weapons of mass destruction, even if he had them.

PLETKA: Would you have agreed there was an -- would you have agreed there was an imminent threat on September 10th, 2001?

HARROP: I think that I would say that -- if we should have allowed the inspectors to complete their job. I think Chirac, President Chirac of France, told us that he would be prepared to take part in an attack on Iraq if the inspections were completed and found that there were weapons of mass destruction.


HARROP: But, you know, it just -- we would not allow that to happen. And it's obvious now that had those inspections continued, it would have confirmed the fact that there were not weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

BLITZER: All right.

HARROP: And then you...

BLITZER: We're going to continue this discussion. I want to take a quick commercial break, though. We have a lot more to talk about, including what's happening in Saudi Arabia right now. And I'll ask the ambassador, if he were ambassador to Saudi Arabia, what would he be doing to try to help Paul Johnson, the American who is being held hostage, a kidnapped American in Saudi Arabia.

More of our discussion with Danielle Pletka and William Harrop right after a short break.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're discussing the Bush administration's policies and how they've affected U.S.-international relationships. My guests, the former U.S. ambassador, William Harrop, a member of a group called Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change. And Danielle Pletka, she's with the American Enterprise Institute.

You know, Ambassador, that critics of yours are going to say this is just a group that's a front for John Kerry and getting him elected president. What do -- what does the group say about that?

HARROP: Well, you know, we say first it simply isn't so. And that's a -- it's an -- it's an allegation which can easily be refuted.

I -- you know, I was appointed by three Republican -- presidential appointments for three Republican presidents by Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan twice, and George Bush, Sr. The same is true of others of our group.

I voted for George Bush, Sr., George Bush, Jr. I voted for Bob Dole. I mean, it's a ridiculous allegation.

Some of us, our people, of course, are leaning toward the Democrats. We have General Merrill McPeake (ph), who was chief of staff of the Air Force in 1996. He was the director of Republicans for Dole and Kemp in the state of Oregon.

BLITZER: And you have General Hoar, Joseph Hoar, as well, the former commander of the Central Command.

Do you accept that, Danielle, that these are just retired foreign service officers, retired American diplomats and military commanders who just believe the Bush administration's policies are wrong?

PLETKA: No, of course not. They didn't come out last year. It's an election year, and this is an election season.

You may feel that you're not being partisan, but there's no question that when you say change in a two-party system and one party is in power, change means giving power to the other party.

HARROP: Well, of course we...


PLETKA: I also -- I actually have a question, because one of the things that obviously gives you great credibility is you say you're very reluctant to have come out this way. But what I wonder is, did you make any private attempt as a group to go in and see either Condi Rice or other people in the White House to express your concerns, to tell them?

HARROP: Oh, one or another of us has spoken over and over again.

PLETKA: No, but as a group. You hold so much weight as a group...

HARROP: As a group we...

PLETKA: ... when you came together.

HARROP: ... formed the group because we felt it was time that we had to speak out. There was tremendous reluctance. I did a lot of the kind of organizing of the group, and people were very reluctant to do this. This is -- we're not used to doing this kind of thing.

PLETKA: But if they were so reluctant to do this on a stage, why was there no attempt to use your influence and the respect that you have as distinguished diplomats and military leaders not to try and do this privately if you didn't have political goal in mind?

HARROP: Quite frankly -- quite frankly, we do not believe that this administration is capable of changing the directions that we think it should change. We feel that it's led by a very strong, willful president who's going exactly where he wants to go. We think he's listening to those advisers with whose advice he is comfortable, and we think the only way that this solution -- this problem can be resolved for the sake of America is to have a new administration. And when we say that we...

PLETKA: So what you're really saying is that you're a political group that is supporting John Kerry.

HARROP: No. What we're saying is that we feel that the Bush administration must really not succeed itself and must be replaced. The alternative is John Kerry. Of course, we're for John Kerry. That's the alternative.

PLETKA: And there you have it.

BLITZER: Well...

HARROP: We are completely separate from the campaign.

PLETKA: "Of course we are for John Kerry."

HARROP: Of course, because we are opposed to -- to Bush.

BLITZER: But when you say the Bush administration, the president is incapable of change, in the past few months we've seen some significant changes. He's much more international-oriented, he's gone back to the U.N. Security Council. He's clearly not willing to do another preemptive strike against Syria, Iran or North Korea anytime in the near future.

Haven't you seen a significant change in terms of his stance?

HARROP: There's a -- I think there's a gratifying change, as you just said, in working with the United Nations. I think it comes very late. I don't think it is really a change in world view. I don't think that the administration has -- overall has changed its view of the role of the sole superpower, the authority of military power and economic power, the lack of real obligation to honestly consult with other countries and to work as a team.

BLITZER: Danielle, if the president and his advisers had accepted the stance that these former diplomats, retired diplomats and military commanders now advocate going into the war, a greater international backing for the U.S., making sure the allies, France, Germany, Russia, are all on board, which is what the first President Bush did before the first Gulf War, wouldn't the U.S. be in a better position today?

PLETKA: Well, it's unfortunately a fantasy. The idea that we could have gotten those countries on board wasn't possible.

So what you have to accept is this -- this answer. If, in fact, France, Germany, Russia, China wouldn't have been part of it, then we shouldn't have done it. This is the baseline argument that is being made.

I think that for any president of the United States, John Kerry included, that's going to be an unacceptable argument. The United States has to do its best to work with its allies. It has to do its best to bring them on board. But if at the end of day we can't bring them on board, we cannot allow them to veto the protection of our national security.

BLITZER: Ambassador, your response?

HARROP: Well, I think that that's -- frankly, I think it's foolish to allege that we have made a real effort to get our allies on board.

PLETKA: But...

HARROP: The first Bush administration did that. George Bush and -- and James Baker made a huge and successful effort to get an alliance of countries, including Syria, amazingly enough, in that -- in that operation against Saddam Hussein the first time.

On this occasion, you know, no one would object to -- would feel that the United States cannot deploy its forces and take military action when it feels it in the national interest it must do so. But that must be done in a political context. You must arrange the circumstances to make it effective, and you must work with others.

PLETKA: So what you're really saying is you don't agree. What you keep -- what I keep hearing from you is, well, yes, the president has changed, but I know in his heart he hasn't changed. Well, yes, they made an effort to get those allies on board, but they didn't really try hard enough.

Now, you know, I understand you're a private citizen and you can vote exactly how you choose. But let's be honest about this. What you're really saying is he's done all of the things that I'm saying he has to do, but I don't think he really means it.

HARROP: Oh, come. He has not done all the things I said he should do. PLETKA: And at the end of the day, he didn't succeed.

HARROP: By no means...


PLETKA: I don't think that's fair.

BLITZER: Let's just briefly talk about Saudi Arabia for a second.


BLITZER: An American is being held hostage. If Saudis -- the Saudis don't release prisoners by Friday, they're threatening to kill him. You're a retired U.S. ambassador, you served in the Middle East. What do you do in a situation like this?

HARROP: It's a -- it's a terribly difficult situation. I had a similar thing when I was ambassador to Zaire, and a Chevron oil helicopter pilot was taken hostage by insurgents against the Angolan government.

It's very hard to deal with. And I think that we maintain a position that negotiating with hostage-takers in the long term is in nobody's interest. On the other hand, you have an American citizen who is held. Something must be done to get him out.

All I can say is it's up to the Saudis to resolve that. We can't do it. It's not our territory.

BLITZER: Danielle, what would you do?

PLETKA: I don't know what I would do. My heart goes out to the family. They were just on CNN while we were waiting to talk to you, and it's a dreadful situation.

But I know the great irony that we have, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia who signed on to this statement that Ambassador Harrop was a part of, these are the people who -- who watched Saudi Arabia as they sponsored al Qaeda, as they sponsored extremism, as they sponsored madrasas around the world. This is why, in fact, change was necessary, why we, in fact, needed a new foreign policy.

BLITZER: I'll let you respond very briefly because we're out of time.

HARROP: Oh, come. You don't -- you're suggesting that the -- that the -- that the Clinton administration or the George Bush first administration was responsible for working with Saudi Arabia?

PLETKA: I'm suggesting...

HARROP: Oh, come.

PLETKA: I'm suggesting that Saudi Arabia has financed and supported terrorism and that we should have done something about it a long time ago. Yes, sir.

HARROP: A great deal has been done over many, many years.

PLETKA: And I would argue very little has been done, and that's why we're in the situation we are in today.

HARROP: We're in the situation today because of very unfortunate mistakes in world perception and in policies, and in...

PLETKA: The world is not holding this man hostage.

HARROP: ... behavior of the present Bush administration.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to have to unfortunately leave it right there.

Ambassador William Harrop, thanks you very much.

Danielle Pletka, of the American Enterprise Institute, thanks to you as well.

PLETKA: Thank you.

BLITZER: A good, serious discussion.

The Gore factor: will he help or hurt Democrats in November? A closer look at his role in campaign 2004. That's coming up in the next hour on "LIVE FROM."

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: I'll be back later today, every weekday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, for "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Who's still out there among Iraq's most wanted? And are they still a serious threat? We'll take an in-depth look at the most wanted still out there in Iraq. That's coming up at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

And until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "LIVE FROM" with Kyra Phillips and Miles O'Brien is up next.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: 9/11 Commission hearings continue in Washington. That's taped. They're taking a break right now. The focus: chilling new details about al Qaeda terror plans and the lack of evidence of a connection between al Qaeda and Iraq.


PAUL JOHNSON, JR., FATHER HELD CAPTIVE IN SAUDI ARABIA: He does not deserve this. And he was just doing his job. And let's -- please, just bring him home.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: CNN exclusive: the family of an American held hostage by terrorists speaks out.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By fighting the terrorists in distant lands, you are making sure your fellow citizens do not face them here at home.


O'BRIEN: A Central Command performance for the president, even as an American base is attacked in Iraq.

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