Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview With Dan Bartlett; Interview With Mahmoud al-Zahar
Aired January 29, 2006 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11:00 a.m. in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4:00 p.m. in London, 6:00 p.m. in Gaza. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
We'll get to my interview with White House counselor Dan Bartlett in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Suzanne.
Let's begin in Iraq, where we're following three developing stories, including dramatic moments today in the trial of Saddam Hussein. CNN's Aneesh Raman is joining us now live from Baghdad. He's got the details.
Let's start off with Saddam Hussein first, Aneesh. What happened?
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good morning. Chaos unlike I've ever seen before in a courtroom today. Within the first hour of today's proceedings, Saddam Hussein had walked out, along with three other co-defendants. That includes Barzan Hassan al-Tikriti, his half-brother, who was forcibly removed. Saddam's entire defense team had walked out after one of the defense lawyers was forcibly removed for yelling at the judge. The judge told the defense lawyers as they were leaving that if they left the courtroom, they would be barred from this entire trial process.
That all happened in just the first hour. The reason -- a new chief judge, who embarked this morning on the -- on today's session by listing a set of new rules for the courtroom. The top among them, that none of the defendants could embark on any sort of political diatribe that was not relevant to the case at hand.
Well, Barzan Hassan al-Tikriti immediately almost broke that rule, talking about the fact that he had cancer and wanted better medical -- wanted better medical checkups, and that is what led to him being forcibly removed, and all the other ensuing drama.
So we are at a standstill now for this court, set to resume on Wednesday. The defense team says that it is boycotting and will not show up here, and that until and unless they do, which they're saying is not on the table at the moment, Saddam Hussein will as well boycott the rest of this trial.
Now, to that other important news out of Iraq today that we reported at the top of the show, ABC News saying that ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff as well as ABC News cameraman Doug Vogt, both were seriously injured today as they traveled in an Iraqi army vehicle embedded with U.S. forces in Taji, north of the capital. They hit a roadside bomb. They are being treated at the moment tonight here in Iraq. ABC News says they will update us on their situation as and when is appropriate.
Now, in other news today, violence throughout the country targeting churches, Wolf. Seven bombs at churches, both in the capital and north in the city of Kirkuk. In all seven people were -- sorry, three people were killed, 17 others wounded -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I was there at the Balad air base, Aneesh, last year when I was in Iraq. This is where Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt are being treated right now. It's a huge air base. I assume you've been there as well. But I'm told that they have excellent medical facilities there. What do you know about that?
RAMAN: They do. And that's of course the first question that we've been trying to get answers to, is how is the medical facilities here, whether or when it is appropriate for them to be taken outside of the country. At the moment, we are told that they are being treated there. Again, though, they're in serious condition. ABC News saying both of them suffered head wounds after hitting that improvised explosive device.
But Balad, as you rightly point out, has some of the best medical equipment in Iraq in terms of U.S. military bases has to offer. So tonight, we can only hope that they're getting the best care as they deal with these injuries -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm sure they are, and our hopes and prayers go out to both Bob and Doug. We wish them both a very speedy recovery. Thank you very much, Aneesh Raman, for that update.
On Tuesday night, President Bush delivers his State of the Union address before Congress and the American people. I spoke earlier with the White House counselor Dan Bartlett about the major international and domestic challenges facing President Bush.
BLITZER: Dan Bartlett, thanks very much for joining us. Huge, huge earthquake, political earthquake in the Middle East this week with the Palestinian elections, Hamas winning those elections. Is this a case where the U.S., which has been promoting democracy in the Arab world, should regret what it wished for?
DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: Absolutely not, Wolf. It's very important as we articulate our foreign policy wherever we are in the world, particularly the Middle East, it's critically important that we support elections. Elections are a critical aspect of democracy. But as the president has argued this past week, it's not the only aspect of democracy. Institution building and other aspects of a democracy are just as critical.
But it is a wakeup call, as you said. It was an earthquake throughout the region last week, and it's important that everybody take a close look at why the results came out the way they did. Some will argue it was because the people of -- the Palestinians were basically responding to wanting a better way of life, basic services, honest government. And this is a wakeup call to the established leadership.
But it's also important for those who did well in the election -- Hamas -- that they take some steps themselves. If they want to be an active partner in peace, they have to reject the platform that says for the abolition or destruction of Israel. They have to set aside the armed aspects of their militia or their party. Those are critical, Wolf, for this to move forward in a peaceful way in which all the democracies in the world can advance a common vision of two states living side by side.
BLITZER: Does the Bush administration regard Hamas as a terrorist organization?
BARTLETT: They have long been viewed as just that. We have deep concerns about the agenda they've pursued. It's been a violent agenda often, and it's critically important that if they do become the leaders or the power of that government that they reject those aspects of their party.
BLITZER: If they don't, will the U.S. then stop providing assistance, economic assistance to the Palestinians?
BARTLETT: Well, it's important that we see exactly the type of government they form. But we have a very clear policy in this country that we cannot give aid to terrorist organizations, and that's something that we won't violate.
But there's some active discussions going on. Secretary Rice meeting with her counterparts in what's called the quartet, the group of nations that are helping usher the peace process. We have to speak with a united voice, Wolf, to make sure that the Palestinians know and that Hamas particularly knows that they're going to have to reject violence, they're going to have to be a partner in peace, and the only way you can be a partner in peace is if you reject this call, as they have, for the abolition or destruction of Israel. It's just untenable when it comes to the peace process.
BLITZER: How worried are you that this push for democracy in the Palestinian territories -- we now know what that has resulted in -- that potentially in Iraq, the push for democracy, there could be a Shiite-led theocracy aligned with Iran, democratically elected.
BARTLETT: Well, I don't think that's going to be the case, Wolf, and fundamentally, you have to have a firm faith in the fact that universally, around the world, that people want to be free. They want to have the ability to express their own beliefs. They want to be able to express their own opinion. They want a free media. They want to have active political parties. And we're seeing active political parties unfold in Iraq as we speak. And you are seeing some jockeying, some bare-knuckle politics happening right now as a unity government is trying to be formed. It's important for the West and America to be patient in that effort, to give advice where we can, but they are a sovereign government, and I do believe, at the end of the day, that you're going to see all three factions in Iraq -- the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds -- be able to come together in a unity government. It's going to be critically important for the future of that country.
BLITZER: This week, saw a Pentagon commission study from outside experts conclude that the U.S. Army was overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan. The study said, among other things, "The ground forces required to provide the necessary level of stability and security to Afghanistan and Iraq clearly exceed those available for the mission."
And a day later, after the study was released, we heard from the U.S. military commander in Iraq, General George Casey, who said, "The forces are stretched.
I don't think there is any question about that. They are doing an excellent job, and they are certainly accomplishing their mission." How worried is the president that the U.S. military right now is overstretched?
BARTLETT: Well, Wolf, it would defy common sense not to say after the fifth year of a war on terror in which we're asking so much of our military to say that it is not putting -- that we're asking a lot of them. And it's important for commanders and for the Department of Defense to constantly evaluate how we can manage that during a time of war. And that's something that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, the joint chiefs, Peter Pace -- General Peter Pace and others take very seriously.
But some of the key indicators that we look at as an administration when you look at the stress on the force is recruitment, retention and morale. And in all three areas we're doing quite well.
The other thing we have to look at is that we have to be able, particularly for the army, to transform ourselves, to transform the army to reflect the new reality of the 21st century and the threats we face. And the army itself is going through a massive transformation. It's necessary.
It's happening at the same time we're fighting a war, which is difficult, but it's something that we can accomplish and I think General Casey also made very clear that our troops on the ground are succeeding. The president has made clear that they will have the resources they need to complete the mission. But it's tough business, Wolf. There's no question about it.
BLITZER: Let's move on to some domestic issues that are likely to come up in the president's State of the Union address Tuesday night. The issue of surveillance, of wiretaps without warrants. The former vice president of the United States, Al Gore, had some strong words on the subject the other day. Listen to what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now there's some, even Republicans, who are worried about it. They're not going certainly as far Al Gore did, but the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, is going to be holding hearings on this sensitive subject in early February. He sent a letter saying among the questions he wants answered is this one: "Would you consider seeking approval from the FISA court -- the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court -- at this time for the ongoing surveillance program at issue?"
So I'll ask you the question. Would the president go along with additional congressional authority to allow him to engage in these warrantless wiretaps?
BARTLETT: Well, Wolf, first I must comment, my first reaction after hearing the former vice president is to be relieved that he's not president of the United States during the time of this war of such seriousness. We have direct threats to our country that require us to take extraordinary steps, steps that we never would have really contemplated before 9/11.
But the fact of the matter, Wolf, is the steps we are taking not only necessary. They are absolutely legal. And Al Gore in his own administration -- I'm sure he failed to point out in that speech that he gave was that warrantless searches happened under their own watch, for national security reasons, so I think there's a bit of an inconsistency for the former vice president. President Bush ...
BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second.
BLITZER: There was subsequent legislation that ended that.
BARTLETT: It might have ended that, but predecessors of the president have always established that the president had the constitutional authority as commander in chief and as president, as well as statutory authority in times of war as was passed in 2001, to do the type of things we needed to do to surveil the enemy. But I want to go back to the issues that you talked about on FISA...
BLITZER: Let me ask you -- let me just press you on this. On this question, though, there's a Republican majority in the Senate and the House. Why not ask the Congress, now that this entire operation is out in the open, why not ask the Congress to amend the law to give you that authority formally?
BARTLETT: Well, first and foremost we have advised the top leaders of the Intelligence Committee, both Republican and Democrat, about this crucial program. What we are doing is legal. The fact of the matter is is that it has not all been discussed publicly.
There has been a debate about the existence of the program, but what we have found as we've analyzed FISA and these other issues, there's no way that we can confidently say that by having a open debate about changing the law would not unearth new operational details that would only tell the enemy exactly how we're surveilling them. And that's something that is just unacceptable when we're trying to prevent another terrorist attack on our own soil.
BLITZER: So you will resist any call by Congress to have new legislation giving you this authority?
BARTLETT: Well, as President Bush said this past week, he has a very high level of skepticism that this can be done without compromising the very nature of this program. Of course we'll continue to work with the United States Congress. We will be present at the Judiciary Committee hearings. Attorney General Gonzales will make a very articulate case, I'm sure, about the legality of the program that is underway that has been disclosed.
So we look forward to these conversations, but I think the American people understand the nature of these type of programs to the extent that further discussion or any open discussion about it -- and this is the very conversations that have taken place in the past with some of the top leadership -- about exposing this through a legislative process, and it's something, when you already have a program that is legal, is not something that we're going to do.
And I must come back, Wolf, to something that Al Gore said. He repeatedly said that the president is breaking the law. This may be the first time that the president of the United States decided to break the law but inform Congress about it. It's just inconsistent with his logic, and I think it shows that many of the Democrats are trying to do is make political charges out of this and that's something that we shouldn't be doing with national security.
BLITZER: And just ahead, the White House Counselor Dan Bartlett talks about Congress's investigation into the White House's early response to Hurricane Katrina, and why the president refuses to deliver key documents to Congress. Then the road ahead. We'll ask Senators Pat Roberts and Joe Biden what they expect from the president's State of the Union address.
And later, Hamas's stunning election victory. What does it mean for Middle East peace? We'll hear from Hamas's leader, Mahmoud al- Zahar and from former President Jimmy Carter, who was an eyewitness to this weeks's elections. "Late Edition" continues right after this.
BLITZER: Our web question of the week asks this: What's the most important issue for President Bush to address Tuesday night in his State of the Union speech? Iraq, terrorism, or the economy? Cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results at the end of this program. Straight ahead, more with White House Counselor Dan Bartlett. We'll talk about the president's State of the Union address. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Let's continue our conversation now with Dan Bartlett, counselor to President Bush.
BLITZER: Let's talk about another big story that came up this week. Anger not only among Democrats but some Republicans as well that the administration is not handing over documents on the reaction to Hurricane Katrina, as demanded by various committees.
Listen to what Joe Lieberman, Democratic senator from Connecticut, said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT): There was a general notice and all those specific warnings from Dr. Mayfield at the National Hurricane Center, the LSU folks, the Department of Homeland Security, all sending e-mails to each other.
But yet, the federal government response was pathetically slow in the critical days immediately before and after the hurricane hit landfall on Monday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Why not hand over all the documents to these committees?
BARTLETT: Well, first of all, Wolf, I think Senator Lieberman is making a good point. We - the president acknowledged himself that the response could have been better.
But I also vividly remember, as the storm was approaching, that we had taken some unprecedented steps, a lot of emergency declarations being done in an unprecedented way, the president on the phone with the mayors of the respective states to urge evacuation.
So, there were some positive steps taken. But, clearly, the federal government has a lot of work to do. That's why the president himself has ordered Fran Townsend, his own homeland security adviser, to do a "lessons learned" so we know where we could do a better job.
And we've worked in an unprecedented fashion with the committees on the Capitol Hill. We've had over 15,000 documents handed over. We've had countless briefings by members of this administration. And we'll continue to do so.
Now, we're talking about a very finite point where the Senate or the House wants to have specific internal documentation and advice given to the president as well as having people testify that they know doesn't happen.
If you think about it, Wolf, if the president were to form a commission or an investigative body -- we're not hauling up members of the staff of a United States senator or a House member for testimony. That wouldn't be appropriate...
BLITZER: So, just to get to the bottom line on this -- sorry for interrupting -- the documents that Lieberman, Susan Collins, want, you're not going to make available.
BARTLETT: Well, I think Susan Collins will be satisfied with the type of cooperation we're giving them.
We're making sure that they have all the information necessary while we also protect the separations of government. That's something that everybody recognizes. And I think everybody at the end of the day can be satisfied.
BLITZER: On the Jack Abramoff scandal, he's now cooperating. What's wrong with the White House releasing the photographs of the president with Jack Abramoff?
BARTLETT: Because they're not relevant to the investigation. And one thing that the president argued this past week is that there is an important investigation.
Here is a man who has admitted guilt to some egregious conduct and behavior in the course of several years. It's important that the prosecutors get to the bottom of that case and follow that case wherever it may take them.
But the fact that the president has taken a picture or two or five or however many it may be at fundraisers or other events is not related to the investigation.
And all it will do, in a politically charged environment which we live in here in Washington, D.C., is throw out fodder that is just - won't elevate the discourse in Washington but only denigrate it. And that's something that we're just not going to participate in.
BLITZER: What about releasing the details of his meetings with various members of the White House staff?
BARTLETT: Again, if there is information that people bring forward that is relevant to the investigation, the first people that are going to ask for that information is going to be the prosecutors.
And they haven't done that because they're not relevant. Again, Wolf, it's important that everybody take a step back, let the prosecutors do its work, not try to add fuel to an already politically charged environment. And that's how we're going to conduct ourselves during this investigation.
BLITZER: That raises the issue that Senator Schumer and some of his Democratic colleagues raised this week. Listen to what Schumer said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D-NY): Anyone in law enforcement can tell you that it is just about as important to avoid the appearance of impropriety as impropriety itself.
And it will be hard for the American people to believe that a prosecutor appointed directly by the president who can be fired by the president will get to the top, no matter how good that prosecutor is, should it be warranted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You want to respond to Schumer's call for an independent prosecutor?
BARTLETT: Well, it just amazes me that, without knowing the specifics or the background or the character of a prosecutor that you would question somebody's integrity like that.
We have outstanding prosecutors, career prosecutors up and down in the Department of Justice who are working on this investigation. I don't think that's necessary.
But it's not surprising for the senator who is charge of the Democratic campaign in the United States Senate, Wolf. This is a campaign year. And, of course, they're going to try to throw as much chaff up there as they can to try to gain political advantage.
But we're not going to play their game. We're going to let the career prosecutors do their job. And I bet they'll get to the bottom of it. Look how much progress they have already made.
They have already got Jack Abramoff and others to admit guilt. They are making good progress in this investigation. It's important that the politicians get out of the way and let them do their business.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time, Dan Bartlett. But a quick thought on what you and other top aides to the president hope will emerge from his State of the Union address Tuesday night. What's the main message the president is going to try to convey to the American public?
BARTLETT: Well, Wolf, I think the important takeaway is that we are living in extraordinary times, whether we look here at home or our challenges and opportunities overseas.
And what history has always shown this country is that America always does best when we're shaping events in the world as opposed to being shaped by them. And that means leadership.
And we have some very important issues before us in which we can take a optimistic, aggressive role when it comes to fighting the war on terror and spreading liberty through democracy and what we can do here at home to make sure that everybody can realize the American dream of owning their own home, having health care and raising their standard of living.
And what it really means there is we have to maintain our economic leadership in the world, Wolf. And the president is going to talk about a series of initiatives that can maintain our leadership in the world to make sure not only are we spreading liberty and protecting our security, but we are protecting the prosperity of our own country.
And it's going to be something he'll spend a lot of time on on Tuesday night.
BLITZER: We'll be watching. We'll be listening. Dan Bartlett from the White House, thanks very much for joining us.
BARTLETT: You're welcome, Wolf. Take care.
BLITZER: And coming up, Hamas in charge: Does the militant group's election expose the dangers of democracy?
We'll hear from the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts and the Foreign Relations Committee's top Democrat, Joe Biden.
Plus, we'll have a quick check of what's in the news right now, including an update on ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, injured today in Iraq. Stay with "Late Edition."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States does not support political parties that want to destroy our ally, Israel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Hamas wins the Palestinian elections. What does the United States do now that a free and democratic vote has elected a group still officially termed by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization? Here to discuss what this means for the Middle East, and more, Delaware Senator Joe Biden -- he's the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- and Kansas Senator Pat Roberts. He's the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us.
And I'll start with you, Senator Biden. You were there. You observed the process. I assume you think it was democratic, it was free, it was fair. But Hamas was elected. So what does the U.S. do now to not punish the Palestinians while at the same time distancing itself from this new government that will be led by Hamas?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Well, the Palestinians voted for Hamas. We label them a terrorist group. Europe does. They are. Unless they change their stripes, unless they recognize Israel, unless they change their charter, I think we do exactly what the president says. We do not deal with them. Not a penny.
BLITZER: So all that, it's been $1.5 billion since '93.
BIDEN: That's exactly...
BLITZER: They're in bad straits to begin with. A lot of these people rely on this kind of international humanitarian assistance. What do you do?
BIDEN: Wolf, I think these guys are like the dog that caught the car. They did not think they were going to do this well. Now they've got a very difficult decision within Hamas. I predict to you you're going to see a real debate within Hamas, notwithstanding what the founder you're going to interview later says. I think you're going to find that they're going to have to make a tough choice whether they want to be the government, what portfolios they want, whether or not they want to attract the international community's help. But it's going to be up to them.
BLITZER: Well, Senator Roberts, you're the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. What's the latest thinking? Will Hamas come to grips with the new reality, accept Israel's right to exist, and stop terrorism?
SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: Well, we certainly hope so. I think that Senator Biden really put his finger on it. They have a choice to make. We do provide annual aid to the Palestinians, and a lot of infrastructure work, which we thought would be very helpful. I have mixed emotions about this. I hope that my minority view is correct. I think basically the reason that the victory came about for Hamas, 76 seats out of 142, was because they provide social services to long-suffering Palestinians.
And in addition, I think there was a lot of reaction to the former government, Fatah, where I just think that they -- you know, they felt it was out of touch, it was elite, and so they voted for Hamas. But Joe is exactly right. They are a terrorist organization. They have within their beliefs, one of their core beliefs is to get rid of Israel. Now, they've got to make a choice. They're going to have to govern. They're going to have to use the political process. And we'll see what happens.
But until that time we put that assistance on the sidelines and then we go from there. Let me just say that it is very difficult to put democracy down like so much astroturf on rocky soil, where it never been. Now, I'm glad at least there was an election. I'm not happy with the results. They are a terrorist organization. But let's hope that the people who voted for Hamas did so because of the social services, and that now will work back towards a political process that can solve this problem. BLITZER: Do you want to weigh in on that? Because I'm going to move on to Iraq, Senator Biden.
BIDEN: I think Pat's right. An election a democracy does not make. You need elections for democracy. But we have really been somewhat naive thinking that we could have elections, whether they're in Iraq or whether they're in the Palestinian areas, anywhere else in the Middle East, and form a democracy. Democracy's about compromise. It's a process. You need institutions. We have a lot of work to do.
BLITZER: Let's talk about Iraq. This past week, a huge debate developed, whether the U.S. military was stretched too thin in Iraq right now. You've been there several times. What's your sense, Senator Biden? Is the military overstretched, or can they get the job done?
BIDEN: They're overstretched. They've been overstretched from the time they walked in. I don't want to get in an argument with my buddy, the chairman of the intelligence committee, but you know, Wolf. I've been there six times. It doesn't make me an expert. But every time I've been there, from the first time I was there, the military on the ground thought they didn't have enough forces.
They didn't have enough to get the job done, and they're stretched extremely thin. And now the irony of all ironies is, they're in a position where if we do increase the number of forces there, it becomes counterproductive. It looks more like occupation. If we put ourselves in a heck of a box. So that's why we need to get to train these guys up much more rapidly, but we need a political solution.
And in my view, we're not taking advantage of the rest of the international community, putting political pressure on the various constituencies, Shia, Kurds, and Sunnis, to reach a political solution. Absent that, all the king's horses and all the king's men aren't going to keep Iraq together.
BLITZER: What's your assessment, Mr. Chairman?
ROBERTS: Well, when I've been to Iraq, I visit with General Abizaid, I visit with General Casey, I go out among the troops, especially the Marines, and I know there's been a great deal of discussion as to whether we have enough troops. But the number of troops to me is not as important as the amount of troops who are really trained to do a specific job. And I think that was one of the problems that we've had with many of the specialties -- or one of the specialty occupations that they have to do.
So it isn't so much the number of troops as, let's get the right kind of troops over there. And quite frankly at the beginning of this, I think we had a real problem. One of the good things we're hearing now is even the tribals, the Kurds, the Sunnis, the Shias, the tribals, are getting darn well fed up with Mr. Zarqawi and the insurgents and the outside influence who are killing Iraqis, certainly more so than any Americans did. And I think that's a good sign, and I think that perhaps we can get a lot more support in that regard. I agree with Joe. This is a political process. We have to work through it. This trial of Saddam is a real setback. That's getting to be a real difficult situation.
BLITZER: Well, let me ask you about that, Mr. Chairman. Is this trial of Saddam Hussein -- we saw him storming out today, his legal defense team storming out -- is this whole trial becoming a circus?
ROBERTS: Well, A, yes. But B, if you're going to have any kind of government, you're going to have to have a system of justice, and to have a system of justice you at least have to have regular order. And that's not the case right now. And so I hope that that, too, with American help and with international help, basically they have to do it, but they have to have the wherewithal to do it.
And it gets back to my earlier comment. You know, democracy is tough where we haven't had democracy. As to the level of troops, OK, let's have a level of troops where the generals say, and not only the generals, but also the people in the field.
But let's make sure that they are trained to do the job that they are sent over to do rather than just send numbers.
BLITZER: You're a key member, Senator Biden, of the Judiciary Committee. Senator Specter, the chairman, is going to have hearings starting February 6 on this domestic surveillance program, the wiretaps without warrants.
Do you believe, based on what you know right now, that the president of the United States broke the law?
BIDEN: I don't know enough of the facts. And I'm not trying to -- you know me; I'll tell what I think.
Here we are in a situation where we need more facts. Everyone agrees that he has a right to and he should eavesdrop on suspected terrorists. The question is the privacy of Americans.
We went through this before, Wolf. You remember. I was on the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee when we wrote FISA. I was one of the co-sponsors.
BLITZER: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
BIDEN: That's right. And what we did was we had extensive hearings in the intelligence community to find out what the facts were and then, based on that -- because that's uniquely suited to do this all in secret -- then, based on the report from them, we in the Judiciary Committee wrote the law that we thought would satisfy the needs of the government and protect privacy.
I'm hoping, and I suspect -- I don't know; I haven't spoken to Pat -- that the Intelligence Committee will have very serious hearings like we did before, that we will do the same thing, and we will make a judgment based on knowing what is actually transpiring.
Let me conclude by saying this: Every day, there's a new piece of information coming out of the intelligence community and the administration saying, oh, by the way, we don't have blanket searches; we don't have a dragnet out there; we only have four people making the decision, or seven or whatever, of who to eavesdrop on.
Well, the point is, we don't know what's going on. I don't know. Maybe Pat knows. We don't know.
But the idea the president of the United States can say he has absolute power to eavesdrop on anyone he thinks is a suspected terrorist as long as war is underway, which we all acknowledge will be almost forever now, without any review by anybody, court or anybody, is, I don't believe, consistent with our basic American values and our constitution. But...
BLITZER: All right. Let me bring the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Are you going to have hearings in the Intelligence Committee, Mr. Chairman?
ROBERTS: We're going to have a briefing. We're going to have it next week, with the same legal folks that are going to appear before Mr. Specter's committee and also with Joe.
Other than the four things that he mentioned that I disagree with, what I agree with Senator Biden, I am one of the ones, being the chairman of the Intelligence Committee with seven others, all of the leadership and the foreign members of the intelligence committee that are briefed, I am convinced that he does have the constitutional authority.
And here's what we have. We have a news leak by the New York Times -- and by the way, in the major media today, they make the decision on what is classified and what isn't and there isn't anything. This is a very highly classified program.
This is not domestic spying. This is a highly minimized program to prevent a terrorist attack on the United States.
And it is because, when we know within a terrorist cell overseas that there is a plot and that plot is very close to its conclusion or that plot is very close to being waged against America -- now, if a call comes in from an Al Qaida cell and it is limited to that where we have reason to believe that they are planning an attack, to an American phone number, I don't think we're violating anybody's Fourth Amendment rights in terms of civil liberties.
BIDEN: Nor do I.
BLITZER: All right. We're almost out of time...
ROBERTS: Number one, I think it's legal. Number two, it is a terrorist threat-warning capability.
It is an act of war because we're at war. It's not a crime and not the FISA court. Now, if you want to use the FISA court, that's fine for criminal proceedings.
But the time it takes for the FISA court to act may be time too late in terms of minutes and hours to protect the country from another terrorist attack.
BLITZER: All right. We're almost out of time. We only have a few seconds left.
But I have to ask Senator Biden: Will you join Senator Kerry and Senator Kennedy tomorrow in calling for a filibuster of the Samuel Alito nomination to the Supreme Court?
BIDEN: No, I did not call for a filibuster...
BLITZER: I know you didn't call for a filibuster, but will you vote in favor of a filibuster?
BIDEN: There's actually going to be a vote on cloture. I will vote one time to say that we will not -- to continue debate. But the truth of the matter is, I think this is done.
I think Judge Alito should not be on the court. He's a decent man with wrong ideas, great expansive power for the president, any president, et cetera. But we're going to be faced with a vote.
Do we continue to debate on Monday at 4:30 or not? I will vote to continue the debate for another round. But...
BLITZER: So, this is simply a symbolic statement on your part, which...
BIDEN: On my part, quite frankly, yes.
BLITZER: Because you assume he's going to be confirmed? So why go -- because this is going to divide a lot of Democrats, this whole filibuster issue.
BIDEN: It is. And I, quite frankly -- I think filibusters make sense when you have a prospect of actually succeeding.
In my view, with the number of Democrats that have announced for him, the number of Democrats who have announced they will not support -- that they will vote for cloture -- I think this is an exercise we could have done without.
If I thought it would work, if I thought it would keep Judge Alito off the bench, there was that kind of consensus, then I would support it. But I will vote this one time.
BIDEN: Because it's a matter of giving people an opportunity to go another day and to support my position -- it's consistent with my position, saying he should not be on the bench. But I think it's not the wisest approach to take in terms of deciding to try to do this.
BLITZER: Senator Biden, thanks very much for joining us. Senator Roberts, always a pleasure having you on "Late Edition" as well.
ROBERTS: Yes, sir. Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
And just ahead, anger in Pakistan over a CIA-ordered air strike that targeted Al Qaida leaders but also killed civilians. Is the country a reliable ally in the war on terror? We'll talk with the former Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who's facing some serious legal troubles of her own. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back. Benazir Bhutto was Pakistan's first and only elected female prime minister, but she was eventually forced out of office amid charges of corruption and mismanagement.
She currently lives in exile with her family in London. I spoke with the former prime minister earlier today.
BLITZER: Benazir Bhutto, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."
BENAZIR BHUTTO, FORMER PRIME MINISTER, PAKISTAN: Thank you.
BLITZER: The Pakistani government has asked Interpol to arrest you and your husband on corruption charges. What do you say about that?
BHUTTO: Pakistan has a military dictatorship. They don't like me talking about democracy and visiting Washington. They wanted to undermine my visit. And they resorted to these underhand tricks.
I'm not going to let that worry me. I believe Pakistan's democratization is important.
BLITZER: Are you concerned, though, that Interpol, either here in the United States or in London where you live or in other countries you might visit, might go ahead, some country might arrest you and extradite you to your homeland of Pakistan?
BHUTTO: Well, firstly, I believe that these are not international arrest warrants but these are just notices. I've contacted Interpol and my lawyers are talking to them about rescinding these notices.
In any event, I have to go back to Pakistan one day. And I'm planning to go back before the next elections of 2007.
But I do think that, if General Musharraf spent as much time and energy on getting Osama bin Laden as he does on getting me, we might actually catch the man.
BLITZER: This is what he said the other day on Thursday, in Davos, Switzerland, when he was asked about this Interpol arrest warrant, or whatever we're going to call it, involving you and your husband. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTAN: The government is not acting. It's the National Accountability Bureau who is looking into all of this, all the cases. And I am -- the government is not at all involved. It's a very autonomous party, the National Accountability Bureau, and they are doing -- taking all these actions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BHUTTO: That's a bit of a joke. General Musharraf likes to have deniability. For example, with the recent air strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan, General Musharraf gets quiet, but he let his minister of information and his prime minister say that the strikes were unwarranted, that Pakistan did not know about them, and that Pakistan's sovereignty was violated.
So there is always an ambiguity about his policies. I believe General Musharraf knew about these. These warrants in Pakistan are illegal. They've been challenged before the high judiciary in Pakistan. General Musharraf wanted to embarrass me on a visit to Washington where I've come to plead the case of democracy.
BLITZER: I spoke last week with the prime minister of Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz, and he was very firm in speaking about those U.S. -- that U.S. air strike. Listen to what he told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAUKAT AZIZ, PRIME MINISTER, PAKISTAN: If you see the number of lives we have lost chasing these terrorists, the number of people we've picked up all over the country, including the tribal areas which you just alluded to, it shows that we have a very effective security apparatus, intelligence apparatus, which has delivered results.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And he also flatly rejected this notion that the U.S. had consulted in any way with Pakistan before the air strike on that building along the border with Afghanistan.
BHUTTO: It's correct that Mr. Aziz has rejected the notion that Pakistan was consulted before the air strikes, but General Musharraf has not denied that Pakistan was consulted before the air strikes. I agree, a lot of Pakistani military officials and innocent civilians have lost their lives during the operations in the tribal areas, but I would differ with the prime minister.
I believe that these operations have been unsuccessful, and I am deeply concerned that areas in the sensitive tribal regions are now governed and run by pro-Taliban elements who are ruthlessly killing anybody who stands in their way. And when I see the collapse of the writ of government in the tribal areas, and I see the Taliban running the show, I get worried about what's going to happen to Pakistan.
BLITZER: As you know, the U.S. government, the Bush administration and many members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, are grateful to President Musharraf for his cooperation with the U.S. in the war on terror. If you were to resume power in Pakistan, what would you do differently?
BHUTTO: Well, first of all, I'd restore the writ of the government in the tribal areas. I believe that these areas have become sanctuaries for the Taliban...
BLITZER: When you were prime minister, excuse me for interrupting, did you control those tribal areas?
BHUTTO: Yes, yes. I was told that the drug lords in the tribal areas cannot be captured because the area is ungovernable, and I said rubbish. I sent in the paramilitary forces, not even the army, the police and the paramilitary officers and soldiers, and we smoked out the drug barons, we undid the drug fields, and we established a writ of government.
The area is difficult, but one can make a strategy to gain control, and I think it's absolutely wrong that pro-Taliban elements should use our soil to step into Afghanistan, kill American forces, kill the Afghan government officials, and then run back across the border.
BLITZER: So are you suggesting that President Musharraf is not doing everything he possibly can to find Osama bin Laden, Ayman al- Zawahiri and other al Qaida, Taliban leaders?
BHUTTO: To give General Musharraf the benefit of the doubt, he may be doing the best that he can. But he's a military leader who relies purely on the military. A political government has support amongst the people, and therefore, the essence of a political government can combine both popular participation as well as state force.
BLITZER: Do you plan on going back to Pakistan anytime soon?
BHUTTO: Yes, I believe that I must go back to help Pakistan's democratization process before the next general election. Wolf, I don't want the moderates squeezed out so that the only alternatives in Pakistan are between the Musharraf dictatorship and the Pakistani Hamas. They're already...
BLITZER: And you're not afraid you'll be arrested if you go back?
BHUTTO: Well, I think it's a possibility. But a cause of democracy, the cause of moderation is important to me, and I believe the best way to fight terrorism is to promote democracy. I welcome President Bush's firm commitment to promoting freedom, and I believe Pakistan should not be an exception.
BLITZER: Benazir Bhutto, thanks very much for joining us. BHUTTO: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And don't forget our web question of the week: What is the most important issue for President Bush to address Tuesday in his State of the Union address, Iraq, terrorism, or the economy? Log on to cnn.com/lateedition to cast your vote. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: There's much more ahead on "Late Edition," including my conversation with Hamas leader Mahmoud Al Zahar. How will his group approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the surprise election victory? Plus, special perspective from the former President Jimmy Carter, who was on the scene of last week's historic vote. "Late Edition" continues at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll get to my interview with Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Zahar, in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Suzanne.
Mahmoud al-Zahar, a surgeon in Gaza, was a co-founder of Hamas in 1987. This week, he was elected to the Palestinian parliament in Hamas' upset victory over the late Yasser Arafat's Fatah party.
I spoke to him earlier today from Gaza.
BLITZER: Mahmoud al-Zahar, thanks very much for joining us. I want to get right to a key question right now, recognizing Israel's right to exist.
The U.S., the Europeans, the Israelis say there won't be any dealings with Hamas until you do so. Are you prepared to accept a two-state solution, Palestine living alongside Israel?
MAHMOUD AL-ZAHAR, CO-FOUNDER, HAMAS: First of all, I would like to address that. PLO, in 1988, addressed that they are able -- they are accepting existence of two states.
Since that time, Israelis expanded the borders, occupied '67, confiscated our right in Jerusalem, put a separating wall between the people and their own homeland. And since that time nobody is able to live as a human being.
They accepted that and they signed an agreement already. But, tell me, what is the border of Israel right now? What is the official border to accept this state? Now, the Israelis are putting on their flag two blue lines. That means the river Nile and the Euphrates (ph).
If we are going to say we are accepting the two states, on what border? Border of '67? It is already taken by the big settlement around Jerusalem. Mr. Olmert, just yesterday, said Jerusalem is an eternal capital for Israel. Jerusalem is a united city for Israel. So, about what are we going to accept these argument?
If Israel is ready to tell the people, the international community, what is the official border, after that we are going to answer the question.
BLITZER: So you reject -- you continue to reject Israel's right to exist -- is that what you're saying?
AL-ZAHAR: It's not a matter of rejection. Israel is here, present by power. And it's present by implementation of their interests.
The international community are not able to push them outside the area occupied. Even after the United Nations resolution, whether in the Security Council or the others, Israel is here; it's implementing their policy on the expense of our land.
So, Israel is rejecting our existence. Israel has refused to allow our people to come for the right of return. Israel is expanding their settlement. Israel is still putting more than 10,000 of our Palestinian people in arrest. And still they are threatening our lives as human beings.
So, the question should be answered first by Israel because they are not accepting us, except us minority, not the owner of the land.
BLITZER: The Israeli government of Prime Minister Sharon, now the acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, say they accept a two-state solution. The final borders would be negotiated, but they accept the right of Palestine to be created alongside Israel. Are you willing to allow that?
AL-ZAHAR: This is a fabricated story. This is a political threat. Because if -- they already said that before the Oslo agreements, before Madrid meeting and after Oslo agreements.
And they spent many, many years negotiating with the Palestinian Authority until they convinced everybody on the Palestinian side, including Mr. Arafat, that Israel is unable to give the Palestinians their basic demands.
That was one of the main causes of the last intifada (inaudible) because Mr. Arafat, with the Palestinians, with Hamas, reaching to the conclusion they are wasting our time; they are expanding the settlement on expense of our land; and lastly, they agreed with America that we have to respect the present situation.
That means we have to respect establishment of such big settlements on the expense of Jerusalem and the neighboring area.
BLITZER: What about renouncing terrorism?
Do you still say you have a right to send suicide bombers into Israeli-populated centers?
AL-ZAHAR: I would like to ask you what is the international definition of terrorism?
The American and European side refused to hold an international conference in Egypt, according to the invitation of Mr. Mubarak, to reach a final decision of terrorism.
What is running here is not a terrorism, except by the Israeli side. When they attack houses by F-16, just when they are using helicopters, when they are killing people and children and removing our agriculture system, this is a terrorism.
When the American attacking the Arabic and Islamic world, whether in Afghanistan, in Iraq and they are playing a dirty game in Lebanon, this is a terrorism.
So, we are in need, first, to differentiate between liberating movements looking to live as human beings, at least by voting of the majority of the Palestinian people and terrorism organization, which cannot be applied on Hamas, in particular.
BLITZER: As you know, since 1993 and the Oslo accords, the United States government has provided the Palestinians with more than $1.5 billion in humanitarian and economic assistance.
But President Bush now says that will stop unless Hamas, as part of this new Palestinian government, A, renounces terrorism, and B, accepts Israel's right to exist.
How worried are you that this economic assistance, not only from the U.S. but from the Europeans and elsewhere around the world will dry up, will end, unless you accept those two conditions?
AL-ZAHAR: I think the (inaudible) condition on the expense of the national interest was rejected by the Palestinian people when they voted for Hamas in the last election.
I think that any nation that respects their dignity and respects the will of their own people will not accept conditional reflex (ph) on the expense of Jerusalem, on the expense of the national interest, the right of return and establishment of an independent state.
The second point is that Action Aid (ph) in its report said that 90 percent of this money went into the pockets of the people who are deeply corrupted, who cooperated with Israel, who are accepting this money not for the interests of the people, but for their own interests.
Believe me, if we are going to run, and we are, inshallah, we are going to do this program, to reconstruct our industry, reconstruct our agriculture and reform the administrative process, we'll be able to open a new channel through our other Arabic and Islamic and international community, to help the Palestinian people with those (ph) condition. We are looking for this money, but this money should not be conditioned.
I think it is worth it for the Israelis, for the Americans to ask the Israelis to stop their killing, to stop their detention, to allow the Palestinian people who are living in refugee camps to come back, to live there in their homelands, the lands of their father and grandfather who are living here since many thousand years. Unless that happens, I think no of the Palestinian people will accept the argument of Israel.
BLITZER: Will you accept money, start taking significant sums of money from Iran?
AL-ZAHAR: We are not taking money from Iran, and I think this is -- this is an indicating question that we have a relation with Iran in order to intensify this state of hatred against Hamas when you are speaking about Iran. So, we are not Iranian. We are not Shia. We are not cooperating with this order or that. We are blessed by all the Arabic and international -- Arabic and Islamic countries, without being a card in the pocket (ph) of any country of this side or an Arabic or Islamic (inaudible).
BLITZER: Do you want to work with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, or will you seek to impeach him now that you control the Palestinian legislature?
AL-ZAHAR: We are going to control the Legislative Council, because we are representing the majority. We are going to establish a government. At the same time, we are going to cooperate with Abu Mazen, according to the Palestinian national interests, to help the Palestinian people to live as in a purified system, to fight against corruption, to flourish our economical, social, political bases, and do not denounce the right of the Palestinian inside and outside the occupied territories.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time, Mr. Al-Zahar. What about a future Palestinian state? A Hamas would like to see that as part of an Islamic theocracy as opposed to a secular Palestinian state. Is that right?
AL-ZAHAR: Do you think the secular system is serving any nation? Secular system allows homosexuality, allows corruption, allows the spread of the loss of natural immunity, like AIDS. We are here living under Islamic control. Nothing will change. Islam is our constitution. It's controlling our relationship among the Palestinian society, among the Arabic, and also with the international community.
If you are going to give a hint that Islamic societies will be against the modern life, I think it's incorrect. Please ask Crown Prince (inaudible) the role of Islam as a major constructive system in the human civilization, building hospitals, universities, while Europe in the Middle Ages were sinking in a deep corruption, whether on the church level or on the administrative level. BLITZER: And finally, your long-term goal, Hamas's long-term goal is a creation of a new Palestine, not only in the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, but all of pre-1967 Israel as well. Is that correct?
AL-ZAHAR: The question is, Israel is accepting the area occupied in '48, or they are now (inaudible) Jerusalem, which is occupied in '67. It is a part of Israel. The settlement around Jerusalem is a part of Israel. The settlement in Hebron is also part of Israel.
So the question, is Israel ready to accept the area occupied in '48, or they make an agreement with the American administration that we should respect the present situation. It means after one month, they are going to expand the settlement, on the expense of our national land. So I think the question should be answered first by the Israelis.
BLITZER: But what is your long-term goal? Is it Palestine in all of these areas, a historic Palestine, including pre-'67 Israel? Is that your long-term goal?
AL-ZAHAR: We are here, I'm not speaking about the eventual events (ph). We are not speaking about future; we are speaking now. What is the real attitude of the people who are facing such problems nowadays? Nowadays, tell me Israel is accepting area '67, accepting to give us Jerusalem, accepting to withdraw from the area occupied?
Lastly, I think -- and also at the same time, ask the Israeli about what is the meaning of the two blue lines in their flag. What is the meaning of land of Israel in their concept?
BLITZER: The two blue lines on the Israeli flag that are on top of the Star of David, is that what you're talking about?
AL-ZAHAR: They are indicating -- they are saying that frankly -- it is indicating the River Nile and Euphrates (inaudible). On one coin, the gold shekel, there was -- it was a map, including Palestine, Sinai, Syria, Jordan and part of Saudi Arabia. So they are not denying that. Ask them about this question...
BLITZER: Well, let's just be clear about this. What you're saying is that Israel wants to establish a state between the Nile and the Euphrates, is that what you're saying?
AL-ZAHAR: I'm sorry, I'm not understanding your question.
BLITZER: Are you saying that Israel hopes to establish a state between the Nile River in Egypt and the Euphrates River in Iraq?
AL-ZAHAR: Yes. It is written in their Bibles. They are even -- it is written in the Knesset. That is the meaning of the David Star that was said (ph) as the land of Israel. This is the historical land of Israel.
BLITZER: Let me just wrap it up with one final question, and see if we can get a straight answer. If Israel were to accept a complete withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, including giving up East Jerusalem, would you then accept a two-state solution?
AL-ZAHAR: We can accept to establish our independent state on the area occupied in '67, and we can give a long-term hudna. Israel is not going -- believe me, Israel is not going to recognize a state even on a square meter in the hands of the Palestinians, because they are not accepting except the Jewish state. So at that time, we can give long-term hudna or long-term truce, can be (inaudible). More than that, under certain conditions. And after that, let time heal (ph).
BLITZER: So you're saying there should be a hudna, or a truce, but not necessarily accepting Israel's right to exist. Do you want to establish a direct dialogue, a direct negotiation contact, with...
AL-ZAHAR: All the time, you are describing, you are not accepting Israel to exist. I think it is unfair to speak like that, because we are -- we are not a supreme power. We are a single (ph) people who are living in these occupied territories. Why is our enemy having an atomic bomb? Who is going to destroy the other? Hamas is going to destroy atomic state, or the atomic state is threatening the international security, especially Middle East security?
Why are you insisted to describe us as if we are having the power to destroy Israel? I think it's fair to speak about the ability of Israel to destroy all the Middle East by their 200 bombs (inaudible) can destroy all the Middle East and Arabic countries.
BLITZER; One final question, Mr. al-Zahar, before I let you go. Now that you're going to be controlling the Palestinian government, do you want to establish a dialogue, conversations, negotiations, talks, whatever you call it, with Israeli officials? Will you talk to them?
AL-ZAHAR: Negotiation is not our aim. Negotiation is a method. If the Israeli is ready to give us the national demand, to withdraw from the occupied area '67, to release our detainees, to stop their aggression, to make a geographic linkage between Gaza Strip and West Bank, at that time, and with assurance from other side, we are going to accept to establish our independent state at that time, and give up one or two, 10, 15 years time in order to see what is the real intention of Israel after that.
Because Israel already occupied our area in '56, and reoccupied our area in '67, so we can't trust that the Israeli is going to respect their agreement. The man who is responsible about signing the Oslo agreement was the man stopped (ph) the withdrawal, and after that he was assassinated, because this withdrawal. Mr. Rabin sacrificed the life because the Israeli community refused withdrawal.
So I think we have a big doubt about Israeli intention. If we will be that sure about their real intention, at that time we will answer the question. But now, we are unable to repeat (inaudible) the Palestinian Authority in the last 12 years, and ended by a big deadlock. BLITZER: Mahmoud al-Zahar, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."
AL-ZAHAR: Most welcome.
BLITZER: And just ahead, he negotiated the historic Camp David accord between Israel and Egypt. But will the Hamas victory undermine Jimmy Carter's legacy of peace in the Middle East? We'll get the former U.S. president's assessment of what's ahead for the region. Jimmy Carter, that's coming up next on "Late Edition."
BLITZER: There's still time for you to vote on our web question of the week: What's the most important issue for President Bush to address Tuesday night in his State of the Union address, Iraq, terrorism, or the economy? Cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. Straight ahead, former President Jimmy Carter on the uncertain road ahead for Israelis, Palestinians, and U.S. policy in the Middle East. You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
BLITZER: Our coverage Tuesday night, 7 p.m. Eastern, in "The Situation Room" for the president's State of the Union address. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter beamed as Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin signed a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. This week, private citizen Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, were part of an international team monitoring the Palestinian elections. He was in Jerusalem when we spoke earlier in the week.
BLITZER: President Carter, thanks very much for joining us. The bottom line question to start with, was this a free and fair election in the Palestinian territories?
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, this is my third election, Wolf, in Palestinian Territory, one ten years ago when Arafat and the parliament was elected and last year when Abbas was elected president. Again, the Palestinians have had an election that's honest and fair, open, and completely free of violence. And, of course, this time the results of the election is what's been shocking.
And that is that apparently Hamas has won a tremendous victory, which all of you know. The result of the election, none of us in -- over here in the West Bank in Gaza have any way to predict. The people of, the Palestinian people yesterday were euphoric. It was obvious to most of our observers, and we were all over the Palestinian area. My wife and I were in 25 different polling sites, in Hebron and Jericho and here in Jerusalem and Ramallah, and everybody was very excited about the freedom of the election. So we hope and pray that this will be a possibility at least for a step in the right direction. It all depends on one basic thing, of course, and that is if the new Hamas government, which I understand will now be formed, will be responsible and take a moderate position, recognizing that there is only a two-state solution, that a free and safe Israel can live side by side with a Palestinian state. Of course, it's obvious that the Palestinian side, whether it's Fatah or anyone else, Hamas, will insist that the 1967 borders, the so-called green line, will be the dividing line between Israel and Palestine.
So we hope that they will do -- make this acknowledgment of a two-state solution and we also hope that they will renounce violence. As you know, there has been a so-called hudna, or commitment to peace for the last 12 months. Hamas has honored this peace agreement. They have not committed any atrocities of a terrorist kind in the last 12 months. Their elected representatives at the local level, their mayors and city councilmen have not advocated violence, and they have been free of corruption.
What they'll do now, though, with full authority over the government -- and apparently they'll have all the ministries if they want them, including the prime ministership -- remains to be seen. We hope that they'll take a moderate and peaceful approach. But I don't have any way, obviously, to guess what their decision will be.
BLITZER: Hudna is loosely translated from Arabic into English as a truce. President Bush, immediately after the stunning results were made known, reacted forcefully. I want you to listen to what the president has said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States does not support political parties that want to destroy our ally, Israel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Mr. President, do you see any evidence that Hamas is ready to abandon its bottom-line commitment to a one-state solution, namely Palestine in all of the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, and all of pre-'67 Israel as well?
CARTER: Well, I don't know what they will do. I certainly can't disagree with what President Bush said about dealing with an organization, including the Palestinian government, that continues to advocate the destruction of Israel by violence, but if the Hamas new government, which is going to be formed in the near future, will just accept a two-state solution and acknowledge the fact that Israel is a nation deserving of recognition, provided they live within the '67 borders, that would be a major step in the right direction.
And that's all we could possibly expect from them.
If, for instance, Hamas takes over the responsibility for the interior ministry, which would mean that Hamas, for a change, will be responsible for peace and security and safety for the Palestinian people and to -- it's their responsibility to eliminate violence rather than to be outsiders causing violence, that would be another step forward.
So, I think those are the two things that still have to be decided by Hamas leadership.
It's obvious to all of us here on the ground, who have been meeting with the Palestinians now for the last number of days and who have been involved in the last ten years with the Palestinians, as a matter of fact, it's obvious to us that this new party, in victory, will be responsible for the well-being of their people.
And if they're confronted with a proposition that, if they are irresponsible and totally unacceptable to the international community, not just to the United States, but to the European union as well, then massive flows of assistance, humanitarian assistance for health and education, for food, to pay the salaries of their government employees, will be terminated.
I think that will be a major and very practical factor in Hamas's decision, even if, theoretically, they might want to do something else.
BLITZER: As you know, Mr. President, the United States government regards Hamas as a terrorist organization. The European union does as well.
Would it be your recommendation that the U.S. administration, the Bush administration, the U.S. Congress, suspend economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas is running the show?
CARTER: There are going to be at least three different levels of potential support, depending on the Palestinian promise. If Hamas insists on terrorism and violence and refuses to acknowledge the possibility of living side by side with the nation of Israel, then I don't think they'll get any assistance from any source, except maybe some radical Arab sources.
But if they do take a more moderate stand, then I think the European Union and the United Nations could continue to provide assistance. I think the one that's going to be most difficult is for the United States to change its position on Hamas as a terrorist organization.
As you know, in our country, it's easy to get on the terrorist list. It's very difficult to get off. In effect, you have to prove that you're innocent of any further commitment to terrorism.
So, I think that through united agencies of the United Nations, like the refugee committee or through UNESCO or through other agencies that provide humanitarian assistance, a doubtful policy on the part of a new Hamas government still might permit some aid to flow in.
But, for other things, they would be hurting their own selves and their own people if they insist on a radical and violent policy. BLITZER: Mr. President, was this election outcome more a vote against Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority for alleged corruption and scandals, or was it a vote in favor of Hamas and its bottom-line ideology, the destruction of Israel?
CARTER: As you can well imagine, in the last few days we've talked to literally hundreds of Palestinian voters. My wife, Rosa, and I personally have done this. And, collectively, we had a large group here doing that.
I would say there were three basic inclinations on the part of the voters. One was they were discouraged at the lack of performance of the old line Fatah leaders under Arafat and under Abbas.
They looked upon them as ineffective and also corrupt. And some of those allegations are certainly true.
The second thing was that Fatah has not delivered. And you have to remember that there have been no peace talks at all between the Israelis and the Palestinians for the last three and a half years.
While Arafat was imprisoned in his office by the Israelis, there were no peace talks. After Abbas was elected a year ago, there still has been no peace talks.
So, we're not interrupting peace talks. And I think they recognize that Abbas had not been treated with adequate respect and given authority by the Americans and the Israelis. So, that's another factor.
The third factor was that Hamas has proven, at the local level, that their administrations have been honest and very effective -- this is local elections and the results of those elections have been very good for Hamas.
And I would say the third thing is the one that concerns me most, and that is that there may be some number of Palestinian voters who agree with Hamas'S radical policies in the past as an outside party with no responsibility -- that is, advocating the destruction of Israel and advocating terrorism or violence as a way to achieve their goals.
I think most of the Palestinians, although, did not agree with the radical aspects of Hamas policies but were more discouraged with the lack of effectiveness of Fatah to bring about a peace agreement that's satisfactory or to deal with corruption.
BLITZER: Coming up, more of my interview with President Carter. We'll talk about whether the U.S. push for democracy in the Middle East might have backfired with Hamas's victory.
But up next: a quick check of what's in the news right now, including verbal fireworks today at the trial of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. Stay with "Late Edition." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Let's go to part two, now, of my conversation with former president, Jimmy Carter.
We talked about the future of Middle East peace, now that Hamas, a group dedicated to the destruction of Israel, has won this week's Palestinian elections.
BLITZER: The notion of spreading democracy around the world is a very, very worthwhile cause. You've been involved in it yourself for many years through the National Democratic Institute and other forums.
But is this a case of where you have to be careful what you wish for?
CARTER: Well, I think, you know, as you know, the last inaugural speech that President Bush made, that was the main point that he made was, let's let the people around the world have democracy and we'll accept the results.
And I think he repeated that, to some degree, in his press conference after the election in Palestine. This is the 62nd election in which I've been the leader of the Carter Center delegation.
And we have been overwhelmed with surprise and admiration that, under occupation by the Israelis, with hundreds of checkpoints and incredible restrictions on the Palestinians, that they still had three succeeding elections over a 10-year period, none of which had any corruption, all of which were honest and fair and within which there was never a single instance of serious violence.
So, they deserve a lot of credit. But I don't think there's any way that outside powers can ordain that a nation is sovereign and then preclude them or prevent them from having a democratic election to choose their own leaders.
And sometimes we don't like the ones chosen. We might have to deal with them or not deal with their governments. The president himself, under the Constitution, has a sole right to have diplomatic relations with any country. The Congress is not involved in that. And so, I understand President Bush's concern. But I think the best thing for everybody to do at this moment is to take a deep breath and to say, let's see what happens; let's see how the government is formed and, as far as I'm concerned, hope for the best.
And if we're disappointed, we'll just have to face those facts when they come.
BLITZER: Do you ever think back, Mr. President -- and I was a young reporter, covering the Camp David negotiations, September 1978, when you met with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin.
You worked out an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty but you also worked out a separate deal with the Palestinians that, unfortunately, never got off the ground.
Do you ever look back at that moment and say to yourself, you know, I wish I would have done this or that or maybe things could have turned out differently, or it was just not right at that time to achieve an Israeli/ Palestinian deal?
CARTER: Well, as a matter of fact, at Camp David, we worked out almost a complete solution for the Palestinian plight. We set up the right for the Palestinians to have full autonomy. I proposed the word "autonomy." Begin said, add "full autonomy."
The Camp David accords called for a complete compliance with the United Nations Resolution 242, which calls for Israeli withdrawal.
It specifically called for Israel to withdrawal from the occupied territories their military and political presence except for remote security outposts.
So, we went through all of this back 25 years ago. And this is just another example of the Palestinians' hopes and dreams for self- respect and dignity and peace and independence to be frustrated.
I hope now that we will see some progress made. And you have to remember, Wolf, that, back in those days, Egypt, four times in 25 years, had tried to destroy Israel.
No Arab country recognized Israel's right to exist and so forth. And the PLO, many years after that, were still dedicated to the total destruction of Israel and to the resolution of the differences with Israel with terrorism and violence.
They have changed. So, possibly, we hope the newly elected government in Palestine can change. That's all we can hope for.
BLITZER: The irony, Mr. President, is that it comes at a time when the Israeli government, going back to Ehud Barak and then, more recently, Ariel Sharon, now the acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert -- they clearly are interested.
They have disengaged from Gaza, anxious for more withdrawals from the West Bank. The irony is that, at the time when the Israelis are ready to make some major concessions, the Palestinian community, at least expressed in this election, is moving in the other direction.
CARTER: Yes. Well, I think all of us know that Israel approved this election reluctantly. Abu Mazen Abbas was in favor of the election with Hamas.
The Quartet, including the United States, was in favor of the election with Hamas on the ballot. The Israelis were the last holdout. And, because of intense influence -- I wouldn't say pressure -- from Washington, Israel agreed to let the Palestinians vote in East Jerusalem with Hamas on the ballot.
And we don't know yet what the effect this election outcome will have on the Israeli elections now scheduled for March. It may be that the more rejectionist or the more conservative elements in the Israeli political spectrum will say, see, we told you that you were wrong to disengage from Gaza; we told you that you were wrong to try to seek accommodation with the Palestinians. See what happened; we told you so.
But I think, at this moment, the prospects for Kadima, Sharon's and Ehud Olmert's party, still looks good. But no one can predict the political developments in Israel. We know that from past experience.
BLITZER: I'll let you go on your way and I'll look forward to seeing you on this side of the Atlantic Ocean the next time.
Have a safe trip over there. Thanks, Mr. President, for joining us, very much.
CARTER: It's always a pleasure to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Up next, the results of our web question of the week, "What's the most important issue for President Bush to address Tuesday in his State of the Union speech: Iraq, terrorism or the economy?"
We'll have the results. That's coming up next.
BLITZER: Still ahead on "Late Edition," we'll have the results of our web question of the week, What's the most important issue for President Bush to address Tuesday, Iraq, terrorism, or the economy? First, though, this.
BLITZER: Nicole Kidman, what's her story? She's played a United Nations interpreter in the movies. Now the Oscar-winning actress has a real-life role at the organization, as its newest goodwill ambassador. Kidman will work to raise awareness of women's issues around the world, with a special focus on ending violence against women.
Kidman says she first became interested in the position while filming "The Interpreter" at the United Nations headquarters in New York last year. Kidman joins a long list of Hollywood celebrities, including Angelina Jolie, who have lent their name and fame to highlight the U.N.'s causes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Time now for your e-mails. Ruth in Texas writes, "The Bush administration has defended its dealings with the Middle East with the lofty goal of spreading democracy around the world. Well, Palestinians have now voted to hand their government to Hamas, a well- known active terrorist organization. Is this the kind of democracy President Bush had in mind?"
Nicolas in Maine says, "The Palestinian territories are seriously lacking in basic services, infrastructure and order. Hamas has promised a clean government free of corruption. If it can deliver on this promise, perhaps the region will be better off. Whether it will be a partner in peace, however, remains to be seen."
We always welcome your comments. You can e-mail us at email@example.com. Our "Late Edition" web question asks, What is the most important issue for President Bush to address Tuesday in his State of the Union? Here's how you voted. Thirty-six percent of you said Iraq, 11 percent of you said terrorism, 53 percent said the economy.
Remember, this is not a scientific poll. Let's take a look and see what's on the cover of this week's major newsmagazines in the United States. Time magazine goes inside America's secret workforce. Newsweek magazine looks at genes and family. U.S. News and World Report had a double issue last week.
And that's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, January 29. Please be sure to join us next Sunday and every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. Remember I'm in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern, and please be sure to join us for "The Situation Room" special coverage of the president's State of the Union address. That begins -- Paula Zahn will be joining me -- 7 p.m. Eastern Tuesday night. Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com