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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS

Could terrorists cause delay in 2004 presidential election? Bush declines invitation to speak at NAACP convention, Israel's two major political parties looking to team up?

Aired July 12, 2004 - 17:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We were right to go into Iraq.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST (voice-over): Disrupting democracy. Could terrorists cause a delay in this year's election? I'll ask National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Teaming up? Israel's two political parties look to form one new national government. I'll speak with Labor Party leader Shimon Peres.

Thanks but no thanks. The president refuses an offer to speak at the NAACP convention. His opponent seizes an opportunity.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will be a president who meets with the leadership of the Civil Rights Congress, who meets with the NAACP.

ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Monday, July 12, 2004.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Hello from New York today. President Bush fighting back against critics of the war in Iraq saying it was the right decision even though no weapons of mass destruction were found. His defense of the war came during a speech on terrorism in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He's back now in the White House and our White House correspondent Dana Bash is standing by live -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this speech was billed as a speech on the war against terrorism. And it was an effort to regain ground with the American people on how he is faring in that war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): The president's unmistakable message uttered some half dozen times in his 32-minute speech.

BUSH: And the American people are safer.

BASH: Under fresh fire for invading Iraq based on faulty intelligence, Mr. Bush dug in, saying war was about more than Saddam Hussein's elusive weapons.

BUSH: Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction we were right to go into Iraq. In the world after September 11, that was a risk we could not afford to take.

BASH: The president has his work cut out for him. A recent poll shows 55 percent of Americans feel less safe from terror because of the war in Iraq, up 22 points in six months. Mr. Bush spoke at this Tennessee site where officials are studying nuclear materials surrendered by Libya.

He said Moammar Gadhafi got the message because America was so tough on Iraq.

BUSH: Because the Libyan government saw the seriousness of the civilized world and correctly judged its own interests, the American people are safer.

BASH: Some weapons experts say it's not that simple.

ROSE GOTTLMOELLER, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT: We don't really agree that it was Iraq that pushed Moammar Gadhafi into making the decision to give up his weapons of mass destruction. This has been a long, diplomatic process.

BASH: In a refrain reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's "are you better off now than you were four years ago," Mr. Bush insisted Americans are more secure than they were three years ago when the U.S. was attacked. Ticking off relationships and reforms he's initiated, he made this sweeping claim.

BUSH: The world changed on September 11. And since that day, we have changed the world.

BASH: His Democratic opponent pointed to hot spots like North Korea saying he begs to differ.

KERRY: It's not enough just to give speeches. America will only be safer when we get results.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And this -- many of the arguments Mr. Bush made in the speech were repackaged, they were not new. And it is really part of a coordinated White House effort to revive support for what the advisers of the president thought would be an easy sell on the campaign trail and that's his leadership against terrorism -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash at the White House. Thanks very much.

Coming up at the half hour, we'll talk with President Bush's national security adviser, Dr. Condoleeza Rice.

John Kerry was campaigning in his home state of Massachusetts today while he sharply dismissed what President Bush is saying about the defense for going to war with Iraq. Here is more of what John Kerry had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: It's not enough just to give speeches. America will only be safer when we get results. The facts speak for themselves. In the two years since 9/11 less nuclear materials have been secured than in the two years prior to 9/11. The facts speak for themselves. North Korea is more dangerous today than it was before this administration came into power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: John Kerry, by the way, is out in front in the latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll. The survey, the first since Kerry picked Senator John Edwards as his running mate. Found 50 percent of likely voters support the Kerry-Edwards team that compares to 46 percent for President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

One more note. The results would seem to diminish Democratic concerns that Independent candidate Ralph Nader might take a lot of votes away from Kerry. Only 2 percent in this poll of those questioned said they will support Ralph Nader.

There are angry words for President Bush from the nation's largest civil rights group. The NAACP and their leadership are calling on members to work for the president's defeat in November. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with a look at the war behind the words -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a story that has blown up over the past couple of days. It involves a political relationship that often been at the very least strained.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): If what the president calls a non-existent relationship with leaders of the nation's largest civil rights group could actually get worse, then that's apparently what's happening. Leaders of the NAACP say they're furious with the president for refusing to address their convention this week.

KWEISI MFUME, NAACP PRESIDENT: If the president's new mantle and measurement for dialogue is to only talk and to only meet with those individuals or organizations that agree with him, then we are getting closer to the previous regime in Baghdad than we are to a democracy here in America.

TODD: Now the bitterness turns to a full-board attack on the administration on the issues. A pledge of political enmity from NAACP Chairman Julian Bond. African-Americans are, quote, "ready to turn anger into action to work for regime changes here at home." Bond said the GOP appeals to, quote, "the dark under-side of American culture, to the minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality. They preach neutrality and practice racial division."

The White House cited a scheduling conflict as the reason for the president's absence this year. But Mr. Bush, who did speak to the NAACP during the 2000 campaign seemed to go further, describing his current relationship with the group's leadership as, quote, "basically nonexistent," adding, "you've heard the rhetoric and the names they've called me." John Kerry who will speak to the NAACP on Thursday seized on the divide.

KERRY: Friends, I will be a president who meets with the leadership of the Civil Rights Congress, who meets with the NAACP.

TODD: But Democrats have had their own problems with what they have traditionally seen as one of their key constituencies. Last summer, then candidates Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman and Dennis Kucinich initially skipped the NAACP convention, then all three showed up and apologized.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In not coming Monday, I was wrong.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thank you and I honor you for letting me to be here today. And I'm sorry that I was not here the other night. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And Julian Bond himself just complained that the Democrats are in his words, "not an opposition. They are an A-men corner" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brian Todd in Washington. Brian, thanks very much.

The Senate in Washington resumed debate in a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. CNN congressional correspondent Ed Henry is on Capitol Hill covering this story -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf. Senate Republicans scheduled the debate for this week because they wanted to push Democrats that are left on this social issue right on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. But as the debate heats up on the Senate floor, it is becoming a bit more complicated than Republicans thought.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. NICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I can't think of anything more important than the basic social building block of our country. That's what marriage is. That's what the family is. And it is in jeopardy. It is in serious, real jeopardy as a result of what the courts are doing.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I celebrate marriage. I understand the difficulties in working to keep it together but I really believe that this is a waste of time.

HENRY (voice-over): Republicans admit it is unlikely they'll have the votes to pass the amendment. And Democrats gained an unexpected ally in their fight to stop it. Lynn Cheney who has a lesbian daughter said that her husband had it right during the last presidential campaign when he said the federal government should steer clear of this issue.

LYNN CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY'S WIFE: Well, I thought that the formulation that he used in 2000 was very good. First of all, to be clear that people should be free to enter into the relationships that they choose. And secondly, to recognize what's historically been a situation that when it comes to conferring legal status on relationships, that is a matter left to the states.

HENRY: But the vice president said in January he will support whatever position that President Bush takes and the president has flatly rejected the state's rights arguments.

BUSH: If we are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America.

HENRY: Aides to Senator John Kerry charge that Republicans are just trying to rally their conservative base on the eve of this summer's conventions at the expense of more pressing issues.

MICHAEL MEEHAN, KERRY-EDWARDS SPOKESMAN: They want to have a political divisive wedge issue discussion. They can't pass a budget. They can't give us more money for port security or bioterrorism or rail security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (on camera): Wolf, Senators John Kerry and John Edwards will be returning to the chamber later this week in order to vote against the Constitutional amendment. Republicans believe that will hurt the Democratic ticket at a time when values has become a major issue. But Democrats counter that if Republicans push too hard on this amendment, it could backfire with moderate swing voters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, thanks very much for that report from Capitol Hill.

On patrol with Iraq's first elite soldiers. The Iraqi men trained by American coalition members now taking charge of the most dangerous streets in Baghdad. We'll have an inside look. That's coming up.

Plus...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The world cannot trust the word, as the president said today, of a madman. Sometimes you have to act. And with Iraq...

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Defending the war in Iraq and looking ahead to the presidential election. My interview with National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice. That's coming up.

Also ahead --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI LABOR PARTY CHIEF: I'm not afraid of them. I think you shouldn't be afraid when you defend the Democratic system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Shimon Peres considers teaming up with his political rival Ariel Sharon, even though a new partnership could put his life in danger. We'll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In Iraq, the dangerous and often deadly job of military patrols in the cities is undergoing a major change. Now, coalition forces in some areas are in the sidelines as special Iraqi troops under the command of Iraqi officers are hitting the streets.

CNN's Michael Holmes joins one patrol.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Coalition forces coming under fire on patrol is routine. These troops, however, are not Americans. They are Iraqi, all of them; not a single American in sight.

(on camera): This is an area where just a few weeks ago, U.S. troops on patrol faced what one officer said was, "Rocks by day; bullets, bombs and RPGs by night." But in the two weeks that these Iraqi soldiers have been patrolling the same area, not a single shot has been fired.

(voice-over): What is happening in what is still considered a highly dangerous suburb is waves, handshakes, water being offered. One American later said, "No one offered us water." This is an army unit which, literally, speaks the same language as the locals.

MAJ. DAVID LANE, U.S. MARINE CORPS: They understand the people. They understand the insinuations. They understand the cultural perspective.

HOLMES: It's called the Iraqi Intervention Force 2nd Battalion, trained in urban combat, counterinsurgency, and crucial intelligence gathering.

"We are the army of Iraq," says this veteran. "We are proud of what we do."

Their American instructors say this unit has probably already saved lives. Residents here alerted an IIF patrol to a roadside bomb, later destroyed in a controlled explosion.

"Of course, the people were very happy to see us. They showed cooperation by informing about the bad people."

Some of the colonels' men have found weapons caches, arrested high-level suspects, and engaged in gun battles. Two more IIF battalions are about to finish training and hit the streets, a total of 2,000 men. Well-equipped and well-armed, they will have the job of stamping out Iraq's insurgents.

Major Lane is confident they're up to the task. Michael Holmes, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now with his take on the latest developments in Iraq and more, the former Defense Secretary William Cohen. He's Chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group. Mr. Secretary, as usual, thanks very much for joining us.

That report from Michael Holmes would seem to indicate some encouragement that perhaps things are moving in the right direction -- in Iraq, tentative, maybe baby steps. But there's a potential there, isn't there?

WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY, CHAIRMAN & CEO, THE COHEN GROUP: This has always been the case, Wolf, that we tried to put a so-called Iraqi face upon the military. And now having the Iraqis taking a very high and prominent role in the enforcement of the security certainly can pay dividends that the Iraqi people now see it's in their interest to cooperate and support their military and their future.

So, I think there's some positive signs, even though we continue to get bad news on U.S. and coalition forces being attacked and killed.

BLITZER: When all's said and done, though, the Iraqi military -- if, in fact, they are retrained -- might be able to do a better job than outside military, including U.S. military, given the fact that they know the area, they know the language, they know the people involved.

COHEN: I think that's always been the case and to try to expedite that. There was criticism, for example, that too many of the Iraqi military were simply forced out and considered to be dispensable when the -- our military forces went in.

And now, we're seeing if we can't reconstitute that military because of the value of having local people enforcing the local security needs of the Iraqi people. So, this is a very positive development if it can be sustained and expanded throughout Iraq itself, then obviously that will be a very, very positive development.

BLITZER: The Senate Intelligence Committee, on which you once sat, came out with a blistering report last week, 500 pages outlining the intelligence failures.

There have been many intelligence failures over the years, going back to Pearl Harbor, going back to the collapse of the Soviet Union -- which was not foreseen -- going back to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait way back in 1990.

On the scale of things, though, how big was this intelligence failure involving weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

COHEN: I think it ranks right up there. Putting it on a scale of 10, it comes close to that 10 in terms of the quality, the intelligence, and the assessment and analytical skills that were brought to bear on it.

A lot of assumptions were made; those assumptions proved to be either exaggerated or in error. And so, a lot of work needs to be done, and it's going to take a rather massive overhaul of the system of collection and analysis rather than talking about the budget.

Usually when someone says it's not about the money, it's about the money -- this is not about money; this is about collection process analyses and having the right individuals making these kinds of decisions.

BLITZER: Well, maybe it's time -- I know that George Tenet obviously has stepped down over the weekend. His deputy, John McLaughlin, is still there.

Is there a need for basically a wholesale removal of the people in the intelligence community who made all of these false assessments?

COHEN: I think there will be some personnel changes, obviously. This is not to say that this goes throughout the system. We have a lot of great people working at the agency, doing heroic work.

But there's going to have to be some changes, certainly on a systemic basis, which it's clear there've been a number of failures and there are going to have to be some personnel changes. And the whole issue of calling up and appointing a new director, I think, remains debatable.

On the one hand, you need to first have a consensus on what needs to be done and then look for an individual. And I would say a nonpolitical or an apolitical individual who has some political skills, nonetheless, but someone who has either an engineering, military background, someone capable of looking in a large organization and how it may work, but, also, take away the issue of whether or not intelligence is being shaped or influenced or manipulated or in any way subject to political pressure. I think that's going to be the key focus in the future.

BLITZER: Is Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, the man who can do this?

A lot of speculation he may be at the top of the list as the next director of the CIA? COHEN: Well, he is certainly a capable individual. There are a number of people have been mentioned. Rather than rush to judgment in terms of who should be the director, I think some time should be taken. Because I believe that the director should not be subject to serving at the will of the president or pleasure of the president. I think we need something along on the lines of the Federal Reserve, someone who is independent, who has a fixed term. In order to take the perception that politics could never be involved in our intelligence collection, because without good, solid intelligence that's credible and reliable, then we're always going to have questions about whether or not any president, this president or any other president is using the intelligence to achieve a political objective. And that's something we can't afford to have.

BLITZER: Secretary Cohen, thanks very much for joining us.

COHEN: My pleasure.

BLITZER: He defended his decision for preemptive war today.

But will President Bush succeed in convincing the American public, it was necessary?

Up next, my interview with the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice.

Joining forces. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposes a unity government. But how worried are leaders about assassination threats?

I'll ask Israel's Shimon Peres.

Also ahead, democracy on hold? New fears terrorism at home might -- might delay this year's election. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from New York.

Could the presidential election be postponed in the event of a terrorist attack?

The idea has been discussed within the Bush administration, I'll ask the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice.

We'll get to that. But first, though, a quick check of stories now in the news.

Palestinian officials say they'll seek an emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly to consider Israel's refusal to stop building it's West Bank barrier. Last week an international court said the barrier is illegal. Israel says construction will continue. We'll have an interview with the leader of the Labor party, Shimon Peres. That's coming up a little bit later in this program. Fans of Isabel Sanford are joining her friends and family in remembering the Emmy winning actress. Sanford's publicist says she died of natural causes in Los Angeles Friday. She was best known for Louise "Weezi" Jefferson on the 1970s and '80s sitcom "The Jefferson's."

Keeping you informed, CNN, the most trusted name in news.

As Dana Bash reported earlier this hour, President Bush defended the war in Iraq today, and said the war on terror is making steady progress. I spoke just a short time ago with the president's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dr. Rice, thanks very much for joining us. Before we get to the intelligence report, homeland security. How serious is this threat of an al Qaeda attack on the homeland before the election, a threat apparently serious enough that the Department of Homeland Security is asking the Justice Department about contingency plans, if necessary, to postpone the presidential election.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, we are concerned about threats prior to the election. There have been such threats and we are concerned about them. But let me just be very clear. I don't know where the idea that there might be some postponement of elections comes from. But this administration believes that the elections will go forward on schedule, that there is no reason to think about anything else. We've had elections in this country when we were at war, even when we were in civil war. And we should have the elections on time. That's the view of the president, that's the view of the administration.

BLITZER: So even if there's a major terrorist attack along the lines of 9/11 you don't envisage the need of postponing the election?

RICE: No one is thinking of postponing the elections, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Well, I just asked the question because there is this formal request for these contingency plans which has generated some concern.

RICE: Wolf, I don't know where that comes from. The Department of Homeland Security and our Justice Department are not certain where this has come from and exactly what people are talking about. The important point is we believe elections will go on as planned. We've done it before in this country. There is no reason to think anything else.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Senate intelligence committee report which was very, very serious. And specifically some of the comments that you made to me, to our viewers here on CNN before the war in Iraq. I interviewed you in September of 2002. Among other things you said that we do know, referring to Saddam Hussein, that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. And then you went on to say this... (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE: The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you remember that?

RICE: I remember that. And I still wouldn't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud. Look, Wolf, we were talking about uncertainty and trying to gauge when a dictator who was bent on having weapons of mass destruction and where the intelligence that he was actively pursuing a nuclear weapon, when that might happen.

The history of intelligence is littered with underestimations of when somebody is going to gain nuclear capability going all the way back to the fact that we predicted that the Soviet Union wouldn't be able to explode a nuclear weapon until 1954. It was 1949.

When the inspectors got into Iraq in 1991, the Iraqis were much closer to a nuclear weapon than anybody had thought. So that was simply a statement about the difficulty of predicting when someone would have a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: But the intelligence community now says, looking back, that there's no evidence to support the notion that he was even trying to pursue a nuclear weapon on the eve of the war. How could they have been so wrong?

RICE: Well, we looked at the intelligence we had at the time, Wolf. We looked at it. The Congress looked at it. The security council of the United Nations looked at it. Intelligence services around the world looked at it and came to the same conclusion which was that this was someone who had had weapons of mass destruction, had used them in the past, no one knew exactly how far along he was, but nobody was willing to trust the word as the president said today, to trust the word of a mad man.

The fact is that even now we know from the report of David Kay and I'm sure we will find out even more, that Saddam Hussein had the intent and the capability to pursue weapons of mass destruction. He knew how to make them. He had used them before. He was deceiving the world, actively deceiving inspectors. I think it's hard to know what else you were supposed to think.

BLITZER: No stockpiles of biological weapons, no stockpiles of nuclear weapons have been found since the war. What about accountability? Where does the buck stop? Harry Truman once said the buck stops with him in the White House. Where does the buck stop here on these intelligence failures?

RICE: Wolf, I think that, obviously, the Senate Intelligence Committee report has pointed out very serious shortcomings in our intelligence gathering around Iraq. And the president has said that he wants to look at the sum total of these. And he's a believer that intelligence reform is undoubtedly going to be necessary. And we need more human agents. We need better surveillance in terms of electronic means. We're certainly going to have to share intelligence better. And I'm certain that the intelligence craft can be improved. But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that Saddam Hussein's regime was not some pastoral regime sitting in Iraq that was not threatening our interests.

This was someone against whom we went to war in 1991, against whom President Clinton launched military strikes in 1998 because he refused to let inspectors in, who had used weapons of mass destruction against his own population and against his neighbors, who was shooting at our aircraft as they tried to patrol the no-fly zones to keep him from using his military forces, who was harboring terrorists like Zarqawi, who has turned out to be a major terrorist in the region, who was paying $25,000 to suicide bombers to literally try and blow up the peace process in the Middle East.

This was a dangerous man in the world's most dangerous region. And it is very good that the world is rid of him.

BLITZER: But, Dr. Rice, before the war, there were weapons inspectors there. There was a containment policy. There was the no- fly zones that were putting enormous pressure on Saddam Hussein. And there were the economic sanctions.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report says that that process was working and that his military threat to the region, to our friends in the region was minimal as a result of all of that. What was the rush? Why was there a need to go to war with enormous consequences and U.S. lives and expenditure that has followed?

RICE: Well, first of all, Resolution 1441 told Saddam Hussein he had one last chance to really come clean or there were going to be serious consequences. How many times did he have a chance, an opportunity to defy the international community and to damage its credibility by the community not responding to his defiance?

It's also the case, Wolf, that he was gaining enormous resources from the oil-for-food program, from the -- by being able to bust the sanctions. The sanctions were weakening in Iraq. And the idea that somehow you could stay in a perpetual state of sanctions with Iraq is simply belied by the fact that we had kept -- we had such difficulty keeping the sanctions in place.

Let's also think about the Iraqi people, who clearly were suffering at the hands of the sanctions. You're talking about growing rates of malnutrition, growing lack of immunization of Iraqi children. It was time to deal with this dictator. The world is much better without him. And the president today in his speech was able to list a very impressive list of achievements over the last three years since the United States and the rest of the world woke up to the dangers of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, including being able to bring down the A.Q. Khan network, getting Libya to disarm voluntarily, bringing down regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. We've had a really good string of victories in the war on terrorism that give confidence that we're going to win this war.

BLITZER: Dr. Rice, how worried are you about U.S. credibility right now? If there's a threat that you perceive from North Korea or Iran or Syria on WMD or other issues, a lot of people will be skeptical as a result of what we heard going into this war. How worried are you about that?

RICE: Since every intelligence organization in the world, to one degree or another, believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, clearly, there may have been problems in worldwide intelligence.

But, again, it is not as if, just because he didn't have stockpiles, he was not a weapons of mass destruction threat. He had capability. He had intent. He had knowledge of how to build these weapons. He was continuing to try and procure -- to try and procure materials to improve his weapons of mass destruction capability.

I think the world recognizes that, when you're dealing with very secretive regimes and with a lot of materials that are of dual-use capability, that it is hard to get a clear picture of precisely what is happening inside an Iran or a North Korea or, for that matter, Iraq.

But the world cannot trust the word, as the president said today, of a madman. Sometimes you have to act. And, with Iraq, it had been 12 years of defying the will of the international community. It was time to act.

BLITZER: Is the president going to name a new CIA director?

RICE: Well, the president is considering his options. He has confidence in John McLaughlin, who is a very fine professional, who is going to run the agency and is quite capable of doing that in a way that supports our most important priorities, including the war on terrorism.

But the president is considering his options. He also is looking hard at what will be needed for intelligence reform. We've got the 9/11 Commission, the Senate Intelligence Committee report, and, of course, the Silberman-Robb commission that will report in several months.

This is a time for the whole country to step back and to ask how we can improve our intelligence capabilities for the threats of the 21st century. They're hard threats to unravel. They're hard threats to understand, but we do need to step back and look at what kind of intelligence capability we're going to need moving forward.

BLITZER: Would you welcome a national unity coalition government in Israel in which Labor would join Likud in forming that new government?

RICE: It is going to be up to the democratic process in Israel to decide what its governmental structure will be. And we'll work with whatever government is there.

We have said that we believe that the disengagement plan for the Gaza and the four settlements in the West Bank put forward by Prime Minister Sharon is potentially a historic step that could give us a real push on the road to a Palestinian state and to a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But the Israelis will have to decide the structure of the government. That's not for us to say.

BLITZER: One final question on a political note in this political season, Dr. Rice.

John Kerry, the Democratic candidate, is complaining, criticizing the president for failing to show up at the NAACP convention this week that's going on. You are one of the highest ranking African-Americans in the Bush administration. How do you feel about that?

RICE: I know that the president is someone who has tremendous belief in what we are as a country when we are united across racial lines. I know that this is a president who has worked for equality, who has worked for educational opportunities for African-American children because he believes that no child should be left behind.

He does not believe in the soft bigotry of people, some who say that African-American kids can't learn and so, therefore, it's OK if third-graders can't read at third-grade level. I know that this president has appointed African-Americans to some of the highest positions in this government to which they've ever been appointed.

I know that this is a president whose record is impeccable on civil rights, impeccable on the interests of African-Americans. And I'm quite comfortable with the decision he's taken.

BLITZER: And a lot of us remember that speech you delivered before the Republican Convention in Philadelphia almost four years ago to the day.

Dr. Rice, thanks very much for joining us.

RICE: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

trust the word of a madman.

The fact is that, even now, we know from the report of David Kay, and I'm sure we will find out even more, that Saddam Hussein had the intent and the capability to pursue weapons of mass destruction. He knew how to make them. He had used them before. He was deceiving the world, actively deceiving inspectors. I think it's hard to know what else you were supposed to think.

BLITZER: No stockpiles of biological weapons, no stockpiles of nuclear weapons have been found since the war. What about accountability? Where does the buck stop? Harry Truman once said the buck stops with him in the White House. Where does the buck stop here on these intelligence failures?

RICE: Wolf, I think that, obviously, the Senate Intelligence Committee report has pointed out very serious shortcomings in our intelligence gathering around Iraq.

And the president has said that he wants to look at the sum total of these. And he's a believer that intelligence reform is undoubtedly going to be necessary. And we need more human agents. We need better surveillance in terms of electronic means. We're certainly going to have to share intelligence better. And I'm certain that the intelligence craft can be improved. But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that Saddam Hussein's regime was not some pastoral regime sitting in Iraq that was not threatening our interests.

This was someone against whom we went to war in 1991, against whom President Clinton launched military strikes in 1998 because he refused to let inspectors in, who had used weapons of mass destruction against his own population and against his neighbors, who was shooting at our aircraft as they tried to patrol the no-fly zones to keep him from using his military forces, who was harboring terrorists like Zarqawi, who has turned out to be a major terrorist in the region, who was paying $25,000 to suicide bombers to literally try and blow up the peace process in the Middle East.

This was a dangerous man in the world's most dangerous region. And it is very good that the world is rid of him.

BLITZER: But, Dr. Rice, before the war, there were weapons inspectors there. There was a containment policy. There was the no- fly zones that were putting enormous pressure on Saddam Hussein. And there were the economic sanctions.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report says that that process was working and that his military threat to the region, to our friends in the region was minimal as a result of all of that. What was the rush? Why was there a need to go to war with enormous consequences and U.S. lives and expenditure that has followed?

RICE: Well, first of all, Resolution 1441 told Saddam Hussein he had one last chance to really come clean or there were going to be serious consequences. How many times did he have a chance, an opportunity to defy the international community and to damage its credibility by the community not responding to his defiance?

It's also the case, Wolf, that he was gaining enormous resources from the oil-for-food program, from the -- by being able to bust the sanctions. The sanctions were weakening in Iraq. And the idea that somehow you could stay in a perpetual state of sanctions with Iraq is simply belied by the fact that we had kept -- we had such difficulty keeping the sanctions in place. Let's also think about the Iraqi people, who clearly were suffering at the hands of the sanctions. You're talking about growing rates of malnutrition, growing lack of immunization of Iraqi children. It was time to deal with this dictator. The world is much better without him. And the president today in his speech was able to list a very impressive list of achievements over the last three years since the United States and the rest of the world woke up to the dangers of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, including being able to bring down the A.Q. Khan network, getting Libya to disarm voluntarily, bringing down regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We've had a really good string of victories in the war on terrorism that give confidence that we're going to win this war.

BLITZER: Dr. Rice, how worried are you about U.S. credibility right now? If there's a threat that you perceive from North Korea or Iran or Syria on WMD or other issues, a lot of people will be skeptical as a result of what we heard going into this war. How worried are you about that?

RICE: Since every intelligence organization in the world, to one degree or another, believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, clearly, there may have been problems in worldwide intelligence.

But, again, it is not as if, just because he didn't have stockpiles, he was not a weapons of mass destruction threat. He had capability. He had intent. He had knowledge of how to build these weapons. He was continuing to try and procure -- to try and procure materials to improve his weapons of mass destruction capability.

I think the world recognizes that, when you're dealing with very secretive regimes and with a lot of materials that are of dual-use capability, that it is hard to get a clear picture of precisely what is happening inside an Iran or a North Korea or, for that matter, Iraq.

But the world cannot trust the word, as the president said today, of a madman. Sometimes you have to act. And, with Iraq, it had been 12 years of defying the will of the international community. It was time to act.

BLITZER: Is the president going to name a new CIA director?

RICE: Well, the president is considering his options. He has confidence in John McLaughlin, who is a very fine professional, who is going to run the agency and is quite capable of doing that in a way that supports our most important priorities, including the war on terrorism.

But the president is considering his options. He also is looking hard at what will be needed for intelligence reform. We've got the 9/11 Commission, the Senate Intelligence Committee report, and, of course, the Silberman-Robb commission that will report in several months. This is a time for the whole country to step back and to ask how we can improve our intelligence capabilities for the threats of the 21st century. They're hard threats to unravel. They're hard threats to understand, but we do need to step back and look at what kind of intelligence capability we're going to need moving forward.

BLITZER: Would you welcome a national unity coalition government in Israel in which Labor would join Likud in forming that new government?

RICE: It is going to be up to the democratic process in Israel to decide what its governmental structure will be. And we'll work with whatever government is there.

We have said that we believe that the disengagement plan for the Gaza and the four settlements in the West Bank put forward by Prime Minister Sharon is potentially a historic step that could give us a real push on the road to a Palestinian state and to a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But the Israelis will have to decide the structure of the government. That's not for us to say.

BLITZER: One final question on a political note in this political season, Dr. Rice.

John Kerry, the Democratic candidate, is complaining, criticizing the president for failing to show up at the NAACP convention this week that's going on. You are one of the highest ranking African-Americans in the Bush administration. How do you feel about that?

RICE: I know that the president is someone who has tremendous belief in what we are as a country when we are united across racial lines. I know that this is a president who has worked for equality, who has worked for educational opportunities for African-American children because he believes that no child should be left behind.

He does not believe in the soft bigotry of people, some who say that African-American kids can't learn and so, therefore, it's OK if third-graders can't read at third-grade level. I know that this president has appointed African-Americans to some of the highest positions in this government to which they've ever been appointed.

I know that this is a president whose record is impeccable on civil rights, impeccable on the interests of African-Americans. And I'm quite comfortable with the decision he's taken.

BLITZER: And a lot of us remember that speech you delivered before the Republican Convention in Philadelphia almost four years ago to the day.

Dr. Rice, thanks very much for joining us.

RICE: Thank you.

BLITZER: And here is your chance to weigh in on this important story. Our Web question of the day is this: Should Election Day be delayed if there is a terror attack near that date? You can vote right now. Go to CNN.com/Wolf. We'll have the results for you later in this broadcast.

There is an important developing story in Baghdad under way right now.

Let's bring in Jane Arraf. She's on the phone.

Jane, tell our viewers what's happening.

Unfortunately, I don't think we have Jane Arraf.

Jane, can you hear me?

All right, we're going to try to reconnect with Jane Arraf and get back to her, an important story -- the Philippine government apparently reconsidering its earlier insistence that its 50 troops in Iraq will not leave ahead of schedule. They're scheduled to leave about a month from now, August 20, but now apparently a reversal by the Philippine government to go ahead and bring their troops home early in the face of a threat to kill a Filipino worker in Iraq.

We'll try to get back to Jane Arraf on that story coming up, but the Philippine government apparently reconsidering, deciding to go ahead, pull its troops out as soon as possible in order to try to spare the life of a Filipino working, a truck driver working in Iraq.

Can Israel's two political parties form one new national government? That's the goal. But lots could stand in the way, including death threats from Jewish zealots. Up next, my special interview with Shimon Peres.

Plus, singing praise. From piano to politics. Carole King is backing John Kerry for president. Has some of the Hollywood colleagues, though, gone too far?

And on the sidelines. Two former Olympic champions fail to make the cut -- that and more in our weekend snapshot.

First, though, a quick look at some other news making headlines around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Parades of protest. Northern Ireland's marching season is under way with Protestant parades commemorating an ancient battlefield victory over Catholics. Tension and violence have marred past parades. This year is off to a mostly peaceful start.

Problems in Pamplona. Eight people were gored on the sixth day of the annual running of the bulls. Victims include one American and a Spaniard who was gored five times. He's said to be in serious condition.

Hunt for a killer. Australian authorities are looking for the shark or sharks that killed a 29-year-old surfer off the country's west coast Saturday. Officials say the killers were great whites.

And that's our look around the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's been a potentially very significant development, important development in Israel, the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, now courting the opposition Labor Party to join in his coalition government in an effort to pass his controversial plan to withdraw from Gaza.

Earlier, I spoke about that and more with the Labor Party leader, the former Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Shimon Peres, thanks very much for joining us.

You met with Prime Minister Sharon earlier today. Will the Labor Party agree to start negotiations with the Likud government to join that government?

SHIMON PERES, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: If the purpose is to evacuate Gaza and dismantle the settlements and continue the peace process, yes. This will be our overriding consideration. There is nothing more important and urgent to proceed with peace.

BLITZER: What will the price be for Labor to join? In other words, which Cabinet portfolios, foreign affairs, defense, will you seek?

PERES: We didn't tackle that issue, and I don't intend to, before we shall agree on the content and on the lines of the policy.

Labor will demand at least three or four points, No. 1, to have a Palestinian partner to negotiate with, because if you have unilateral disengagement, this is a decision only for implementation with a partner, No. 2, to have fixed dates so we shall know what is going to happen when, and, No. 3, to continue the negotiations in accordance with the road map concerning the West Bank.

BLITZER: Assuming that the Likud-led government supports these decisions, what kind of timeline, time frame are you looking for, for that complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza? How much further down the road?

PERES: I think it should be ended by the next -- by the end of the next year. The problem is when can we start. And our impression is that we can start earlier than the present government has planned.

BLITZER: Why do you think you need at least a year for a withdrawal from Gaza? Why should it take so long?

PERES: The No. 1 question is to have a law of compensation for the settlers that will be out of Gaza. And that should take until October or something like it. And then (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to prepare, well, it's a year or so. I think it can be maybe earlier done. And we shall try to fasten it as much as we can.

BLITZER: As you well know, the security barrier that Israel is building on the West Bank is really a Labor Party idea. You called for it before Sharon accepted it. Do you have any problems with the way the Likud-led government is building that security barrier right now?

PERES: We agreed in principle about having a security fence, but our idea was that the fence will follow the so-called Green Line, namely the border between us and the Palestinians, and any deviation from that line may cause troubles. So, if we shall have a joined government, we shall insist on following the Green Line.

BLITZER: In other words, moving that fence so that it wouldn't include some of the Jewish settlements that are close to what you call the Green Line, the pre-1967 frontier between Israel and the West Bank?

PERES: I think there is one or two problematic areas. And on that, we shall insist.

BLITZER: As you also know, there are some extremists in the Jewish community out there who are threatening assassination of any Israeli leader who is willing to withdraw from Gaza and to deviate from their hard-line demands. How worried are you and other Labor Party leaders about these threats coming from the extremists in the Jewish community in Israel?

PERES: I shall be more worried if the extremists will (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the majority of the Israelis. For me, democracy is part of our land and part of our struggle. And we shall not let a small minority, extreme as it may, to decide, instead of the democratic majority in the country. I'm not afraid of them. I think you shouldn't be afraid when you defend the democratic system.

BLITZER: I ask you that question because of the assassination of the late prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, your friend. There is a historic context to these kinds of threats.

PERES: Well, Yitzhak Rabin, my friend and colleague, would never retreat on doing the right things, even in face of a threat of murder. And so all of us have to do. Nobody will change our minds because of bullets or threats or extreme people.

BLITZER: Shimon Peres, the leader of the Labor Party in Israel, joining us, thanks very much.

PERES: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Is Hollywood getting too political? Just ahead, we'll talk politics and entertainment with Grammy-winner and Kerry supporter Carole King. We'll get to that.

First, though, a quick look at some stories you may have missed this past weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): A wildfire on the edge of the Everglades closed part of the Florida Turnpike for several hours. Smoke covered parts of downtown Miami.

Out on bond. More than seven months after singer Bobby Brown allegedly hit his wife, Whitney Houston, at their Atlanta-area home, Brown turned himself in to authorities to face misdemeanor battery charges. He was photographed, fingerprinted, then released on a $2,000 bond.

Olympic surprise. The world record holder in the 100 meter race won't be on this year's U.S. Olympic team. Tim Montgomery failed to make the cut in yesterday's Olympics trials. One day earlier, Montgomery's girlfriend, Marion Jones, lost her bid to compete in the women's 100 meter, but she still may win the right to compete in other events. Both Montgomery and Jones have faced allegations of steroid use.

And that's our weekend snapshot.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Singer and songwriter Carole King is once again combining her passion for music with a passion for politics, trying to raise support for John Kerry's presidential campaign.

Carole King joining us now from Los Angeles. Carole, thanks very much for joining us.

There's been recent an uproar in recent days, some Hollywood big hotshots, Whoopi Goldberg, Chevy Chase, among others, saying some things about the president, some of those comments, as you well know, rather vulgar. You know these people. You can't justify some of the comments made about the president, can you?

CAROLE KING, SINGER/SONGWRITER: You know what? I can't speak for Hollywood. First of all, I live in Idaho.

And, second of all, you will notice that John Kerry and now John Edwards are running a really positive campaign. They're talking about who they are and what they're going to do for the American people. And a lot of the Republican ads are doing the opposite. They're the ones that are saying horrible things about the other side.

BLITZER: But there's a sort of negative campaign going among supporters from both sides. Everybody recognizes that. What attracted you to John Kerry relatively early on?

KING: I've known him for about four years. And I know his record because he asked me to help him in the Senate in 2002. So I checked him out and I did work for his Senate campaign. And he did win. So we're hoping that happens.

But I like his experience. I like that he is intelligent and thinks things through. I like his leadership and I like his integrity. He is an honest person.

BLITZER: When you speak out and get involved with politics -- I've asked this question to other entertainers -- there's always a risk that you are going to alienate some of your fans. Is this a serious risk?

KING: I don't think it is, because my fans understand that I'm who I am. I believe how I believe. I respect their right to believe how they believe.

And the one thing I ask of all my fans from whatever party is that they don't just respond to ads, but that they actually do the homework, do the research and really think their decision through. And if they vote informed, then I respect their decision as something that they feel is right for them.

But responding to these ads that are designed to manipulate you -- and I know that our American voters aren't easily manipulated -- is not the way to vote. And I would also say to people who say, oh, I'm not going to vote, I don't make a difference, oh, God, yes, you do. You do. Please, do the homework and vote.

BLITZER: Carole King, not only singing, but speaking out, raising money for John Kerry, thanks very much for joining us.

KING: My pleasure, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And we'll have the results of our Web question of the day. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's how you're weighing in our Web question of the day. Remember, we've been asking you this question: Should Election Day be delayed if there is a terror attack near that date? Eighteen percent of you say yes; 82 percent of you said no. A reminder, this is not a scientific poll.

Another reminder, you can always catch us on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS weekdays at this time, 5:00 p.m. Eastern. And this additional note, if you want a little laugh, you can catch me tonight on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" on Comedy Central. That airs 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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