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THIS WEEK AT WAR
Week's War Activities Recounted
Aired March 31, 2007 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, THIS WEEK AT WAR: Tensions with Tehran continue to rise as the United States launches a demonstration of raw power of the Iranian shore. Congress and President Bush go head to head over when to leave Iraq and is it finally time for a peace deal in the Middle East. That's next on THIS WEEK AT WAR right after a look at what's in the news right now.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Rick Sanchez. Let's bring you up to date on what's going on right now. We thank you John. President Bush is calling for the release of 15 British sailors and Marines being held by Iran. They were detained last Friday in the Persian Gulf. Mr. Bush says he referred - or I should say Mr. Bush today referred to those sailors and Marines as hostages. Also the Iranian president called Britain arrogant for not apologizing. Iran claims British troops were in Iranian waters when they were detained. Britain disputes that.
Massive clean up is under way right now in Lavaca County. This is in southern Texas after a tornado earlier today hit the area. Four were hospitalized. We understand that they're now in stable condition. I'm Rick Sanchez. Tonight at 10:00, Texas, a love triangle and a loaded gun. But is the right person facing charges in this one? We'll be following it for you but want your responses as well. Let's go back to John now and THIS WEEK AT WAR.
ROBERTS: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Newton's third law of physics, but this week it applies to a lot more. The Senate passed a deadline for U.S. troops to be out of Iraq. The president vowed a veto. In Iraq, a proposed law might bring thousands of Sunnis into the government as truck bombs send Shiites on a door to door murderous rampage.
And in the Middle East, the Arabs proposed a peace plan, while Saudi King Abdullah blasted U.S. policy. We'll examine a week where for every step forward, it seemed there was a step back. I'm John Roberts with THIS WEEK AT WAR. Let's take a look at what our correspondents reported day by the day this week. Monday, Australian David Hicks became the first Guantanamo detainee to plead guilty in a military tribunal marked by accusations of unfairness.
Tuesday, the Senate voted to keep a nonbinding deadline for the pullout of U.S. troops in a bill funding the military in Iraq. Wednesday, the president fired back, saying a specific pullout date would be disastrous. Thursday, Britain asked the United Nations Security Council to deplore the Iranian seizure of 15 British troops. Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was quoted as describing the Arab peace plan as a revolutionary change and saying he believed peace could be reached in just five years.
This week's key questions -- are the streets of Iraq any safer? We'll ask Brigadier General David Grange. Who will back down in Washington's war of words? CNN's Dana Bash on that. And how far will Iran go in its defiance of the west? Former UN Ambassador John Bolton gives us his take. THIS WEEK AT WAR.
General Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told a House subcommittee on Thursday that death squad attacks are dropping in Iraq, but al Qaeda's car and truck bombs are on the rise. Where do we really stand? Are the streets of Iraq any safer? We'll ask CNN's Kyra Phillips in our Baghdad bureau, CNN military analyst Brigadier General David Grange, U.S. Army retired and in Washington, Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, also co- author of "Hard Power," the new politics of national security.
Senator John McCain certainly thinks that Baghdad is safer. In fact, earlier this week he said there are neighborhoods where even Americans can go for a walk. He had to back off that statement pretty quickly, though. Take a listen to what we told Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday and then what he told me the next day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R) ARIZONA: General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee.
ROBERTS: We checked with General Petraeus' people overnight and they say that he never goes out in anything less than an armored Humvee.
McCAIN: I'm not saying that they could go without protection. The president goes around America with protection, so I certainly -- certainly I didn't say that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: The truth is because we checked with General Petraeus' people that he never goes out in anything other than a heavily up- armored Humvee, but General Grange, do you think that things are getting even marginally better in Iraq?
BRIG. GEN DAVID GRANGE, U.S. ARMY (RET): Slowly, things are getting better and I say that only from dialogue with some of those leaders that are serving over there. You're going to see a lot of pushback right now because some of the strategy is starting to work, the new strategy. And so, the opponents of the coalition of the Iraqi government, is going to do some sensational attacks. They're going to continue to try different ways to find the weak points to push back. But I think this oil spot strategy going into these neighborhoods is starting to have some effect. And I also understand a lot of it is some of the opponents are fading away or laying low, hoping that the U.S. will pull out. But I do think it's starting to work.
ROBERTS: Kyra Phillips, give us the perspective on the ground there. Can you walk around the neighborhoods? Can you take a stroll? What about the green zone? Is it still safe? Is it safer there in Baghdad?
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Usually, I agree with the general and we're probably going to get into this when I get back to Atlanta, but I have to tell you, being here now for a couple of weeks, no, it's not safe. Let me just tell you what I go through on a daily basis to go out into the streets and work a story. Put on the flak jacket. I won't give away all our security secrets but we're basically by armored convoy working our way through the streets, weaving through blast walls. You're going over on the other side of the street. There's barbed wire everywhere. There's check points everywhere. You don't know if they're good guys or bad guys in those checkpoints. It's very disorganized. Every time we go out on the street, it's like the wild, wild west, cars driving by, guns out the windows. They fire off warning shots. And I always say to our security, OK, are those good guys, bad guys? Is that private security? You don't know. Just the other day you come into a traffic jam and you panic because you're a sitting duck. Car bombers love traffic because everybody's all in one spot. And they get out of the cars. They start banging on your car. They want you to move, constantly keep moving because everybody's afraid of being blown up, John.
ROBERTS: I've been in that same situation Kyra. Anytime that you get into a little bit of traffic, you want to get out of it as quickly as possible. We mentioned that General Peter Pace at the beginning here. Let's take a quick listen to what he said on Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: The good news is in Baghdad, for example, the death squads that were targeting each other have been reduced significantly. So, that piece has been reduced. The bad news is is that the large bombs going off perpetrated by al Qaeda have increased.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Good news, bad news. Michael O'Hanlon, is it too early to be optimistic?
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: General Grange and Kyra were trying to disagree, but I think they were both right. I think things are a little better and that's a glimmer of hope, but the overall situation is very bad. And if you look at where we were just before the surge began, it was much worse than where we had been let's say a couple years before, so a modest improvement in the last few weeks still leaves us in a very bad place, worse on average than the overall four-year period. I say this, by the way, from the comfort and safety of a Washington, DC, studio with Kyra out there in the field. But nonetheless, I think she's right. It's clearly very, very dangerous.
But there are a few little things happening. General Pace mentioned some, General Grange mentioned a couple others. We've seen on our Iraq index that overall casualty numbers may be down 5 to 10 percent nationwide. Rate of ethnic cleansing may be down 5 to 10 percent nationwide. These are soft figures. I'm more encouraged by the fact that strategy makes good sense. It's consistent with classic counterinsurgency doctrine rather than these numbers per se, but yes, there's a glimmer of hope but there certainly is no proof of progress. And my optimism is very restrained at this moment.
ROBERTS: Retired General Barry McCaffrey had a report this week to the U.S. military academy in which he did note the progress but he also said, quote, Iraq is ripped by a low-grade civil war which is worse than catastrophic levels with as many as 3,000 citizens murdered each month. The population is in despair. Life in many of the urban areas is now desperate. General Grange, how far is there yet to go?
GRANGE: Well, it's a long way to go. And I would never say this area is safe, and it's a great comment just made that being safe back here in the United States and making the comments on the situation. But again, I really trust some of the people I have contact with, and it's going to take a while, obviously, but you know there's some positive things happening and they're starting to have an effect on how the opponents, the adversaries are reacting, and that's the kind of signs that you look at. The streets are dangerous, sure. But things are happening with the adversaries that are indicators that if this track is continued, if the resources are there -- and remember, only two or so of the five brigades of the surge are actually employed right now. They're not all even there yet. They don't get there until May. So, these little, though they're little, they're good signs that show some improvement. But it's going to take throughout this year to get anything really noticeable on the board.
ROBERTS: Kyra, you had the opportunity to ask the man in charge about that earlier this week, an exclusive interview with Admiral William Fallon. Let's play a little bit of it and come back to you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADMIRAL WILLIAM FALLON, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: The country at war with one another. I think it's absolutely not true, but there are some zealots here that will stop at nothing. And they don't care how many men, women, or children they'll kill or maim.
PHILLIPS: You don't think there's civil war.
FALLON: No, I don't think it's a civil war. There are factions that are fighting one another, small factions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Kyra, is that a little bit of a rosy outlook? The national intelligence estimate that was released a little while ago says civil war isn't a big enough word to describe everything that's going on in Iraq. It's civil war plus.
PHILLIPS: Well, it's interesting, you heard the commanders that come there, Admiral Fallon say factions fighting each other. You know what I did John. I went to dictionary.com, I plugged in civil war and guess what it says? A war between political factions. If this isn't civil war, I don't know what is. I mean, the fighting is everywhere. We mentioned the green zone. Mortars coming into the green zone all the time. Just a couple days ago, a couple more hitting a rec area near a pool where the military works out.
ROBERTS: And more than 400 Iraqis killed between Sunday and Friday of this week. But there is an interesting development out in Anbar province. Michael Ware reported on Friday, it has to do with Sunni sheiks who are fed up with al Qaeda. Take a quick look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in Anbar province, America cannot defeat al Qaeda with the troops it has. So, it's turned to the tribes, Baathists and nationalist insurgents of the Salvation Council. The deal is simple. America gives local leaders free rein as long as they root out and kill al Qaeda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Michael O'Hanlon, this has been described almost like the situation in Bosnia where people just got worn out from war. How important a development is this and could it potentially bring peace to Anbar province?
O'HANLON: Well, it could. And I think it points the way to another option we may have to consider which is the fact that if you look at certain areas where the Sunnis live with Sunnis and the Shia live with Shia or the Kurds with Kurds, there is a relative degree of stability. And this does open up the idea that many have resisted so far of whether a Bosnia-type model might be the sort of thing we have to contemplate. In other words, you have the Sunnis feeling they largely control their own area, al Qaeda becomes their enemy. And that's unambiguous. It's already moving in that direction. But if we don't see a whole lot of progress in the surge, a whole lot more than we've seen so far, we may have to contemplate this sort of an idea like a Bosnia model, strong autonomy for the provinces. They share the oil, have a small Federal government and otherwise do what Bosnia did and marginally govern in three different regions on their own.
ROBERTS: Not safer yet but some bright spots out there. Kyra Phillips, General David Grange, Michael O'Hanlon, thanks all very much.
Tensions mounted this week as Iran continued to hold captive a squad of British sailors and Marines. Former UN Ambassador John Bolton has said the only real answer to Iranian intransigence is regime change. Is that a code word for military action? We'll ask him.
And from seizures at sea to nuclear weapons. Iran's leaders appear to be seeking confrontation with the west. Are they and why? What can be done about it? We'll get the inside story.
But first, a THIS WEEK AT WAR remembrance. Army Sergeant Adrian Lewis of Malden, South Carolina was killed last week when his unit came under small arms fire in Ramadi, Iraq. Lewis had previously completed two tours of duty and was due for a two-week leave in July. Lewis' wife, Amanda, said she spoke to her husband the day he was killed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANDA LEWIS, WIFE: He was my best friend. He was my everything. And now I just -- I don't know what I'm going to do without him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Sergeant Lewis was assigned to the first brigade combat team 3rd infantry division at Fort Stuart (ph), Georgia. He leaves behind four children including a three-month-old girl. He was 30 years old.
ROBERTS: Is Iran trying to provoke a confrontation with the west and is time running out before confrontation turns into military action? I'm joined by Danielle Pletka. She is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and John Wolfsthal. He is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Iran that when it comes to the 15 British troops held captive by Iran, diplomacy would only go so far.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I hope we manage to get them to realize they have to release them. If not, then this will move into a different phase. But at the moment, what we're trying to do is to make sure that that diplomatic initiative works.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: So, what do you think Iran was up to in seizing these sailors and Marines?
DANIELLE PLETKA, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Well, from my standpoint, I think the Iranians are going to be constantly pushing the envelope, testing the international community, seeing just what they can get away with, how much more they can get away with, and priming us for when they actually go all the way with having a nuclear weapon, the means to deliver it, sponsorship of terrorism and everything else.
ROBERTS: John, do you think this was Iran saying don't mess with us?
JOHN WOLFSTAHL, CTR FOR STRATEGIC AND INTL STUDIES: Well, I think that's a big part of this, as blatant and distasteful as this act is, we have to put it in context. This comes right after another UN Security Council resolution over their nuclear program. They're trying to rally support around the flag and the president in Iran, who's having some difficulties and they're waving red meat in front of the population. The British colonial experience in Iran is something that's still very much on the minds of Iranians today. This works to their advantage and the trick for us to make sure that we don't lose our eye or take our eye off the main focus, which is the nuclear program.
ROBERTS: Of course this whole situation ratchets up tensions in the region, which are already pretty high. Take a look at what an editorial in "The Detroit News" said on Tuesday. Quote, we saw in Iraq what happens when a few nations weaken sanctions and continue to do business with the shunned nation. It leads to the necessity for more aggressive action. Iran can't be allowed to arm itself with nuclear weapons or take hostages again. By continuing down its current path, Iran is inviting strikes against its weapon-making facilities and perhaps even broader action. Danielle, is time running out for Iran?
PLETKA: Well, I don't want to say that time is running out because I think there remain a lot of options available to the international community. The problem I have is with people who suggest that it's either appeasement or it's war. For me, there are just a whole variety of steps we can take in between, but it's absolutely right to suggest that if we are not strong now, it merely invites the Iranians to do more later. And that may mean war.
ROBERTS: John, do you think that Iran is trying to provoke confrontation? I've heard some theories that Iran looks at what happened last year between Israel and Hezbollah and says, Hezbollah got amazing PR mileage out that. If we could just entice them to launch a couple attacks against us, we could be the heroes and America, Britain and its allies could be the demons of the world all over again.
WOLFSTHAL: I think that Iranians are willing to take risks and play brinksmanship, but I don't think they're suicidal. I think they understand very clearly that the military might of the United States and the international community is more than enough to take care of Iran. The question is how much pain are we willing to absorb in return, and they're trying to test whether or not we really mean it when we say no nuclear weapons program. You have to live up to your obligations. But they are going to try asymmetrical ways to hit back at us. I think we're seeing that with the British sailors. I think we're going to see it and have seen it with Hezbollah and Lebanon and I think we need to be prepared to see it elsewhere in the world.
ROBERTS: Danielle, John Bolton thinks that the only way out of this or the correct way out of this is regime change. What do you think?
PLETKA: I think ultimately if we're going to see an Iran without a nuclear weapons program, an Iran that doesn't sponsor groups like Hezbollah, doesn't try and kill our soldiers in Iraq, we're going to have to see not just a different regime, not just a different Ahmadinejad but a different system of government. That's what the Iranian people want and that's what we should remember as well.
ROBERTS: What does regime change mean?
WOLFSTHAL: Well, I think it's hard to tell.
ROBERTS: From a practical standpoint. Does it mean war? Does it mean political pressure? Sanctions? What?
WOLFSTHAL: I think given where we are in Iraq, the idea of a military-backed regime change in Iran is simply off the table. It doesn't mean that military force is off the table, the ability to try and delay their nuclear program in a final-ditch solution if we don't get satisfaction on sanctions and other means. But we could end up with a different regime that behaves even worse than this regime does. Just because we get rid of Ahmadinejad, doesn't mean that we get a lesser oriented government. It depends on how we go about it.
ROBERTS: So as all these tensions are ratcheting up in the region, we've got Iran on one side exercising more games. We've got the United States on the other side exercising dual carrier group war games, Jamie McIntyre reported on that on Tuesday. Let's take a quick look at how he did.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMIE McINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The decision to conduct a rare dual exercise with two carriers, 100 warplanes and more than a dozen escort ships, was ordered just this week to make a show of resolve to Tehran.
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: They're watching what the United States and our coalition partners are doing and will draw their own conclusions about the reliability of our word and the strength of our commitments.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: So there's a lot of posturing going on in a very small area of the Persian Gulf with a lot of warships. We saw oil prices spike earlier this week when rumors flew around that Iran could fire a missile at an American ship. The fact that you've got so many players in such a small area really increases the possibilities of some kind of accident that could provoke a real confrontation. How worried are you about that?
PLETKA: I think we do need to worry, and I think that's why first and foremost the Iranians need to worry about poking at us all the time and poking at the British and poking at people who ultimately can, in fact, beat them militarily and in many other ways as well. So the Iranians need to stop. They need to step back and they need to understand this is the wrong set of actions for them and the people who they talk to in the region need to tell them the same thing.
ROBERTS: But are war games in that small an area the right thing to do, John?
WOLFSTHAL: I think we have to be willing to show our resolve militarily, but I am very concerned. This is not a situation where you might see in other parts of the world, say with China where we have open communication links. We don't pick up the phone and talk to top Iranian leaders. We don't even speak the same language, I just don't mean literally, but we understand words differently because we have over a 25-year block in our relationship. So, I think the risks for miscalculation and misunderstanding is extremely high, and that's why I think the British and other European allies need to be very much involved in this, to be the conduit of communication should something go wrong.
ROBERTS: Miscalculation certainly something we don't want with a country that's got as big a military as it has and going down the nuclear route as well. Danielle Pletka, John Wolfsthal, thanks very much. Appreciate your being with us. Coming up on THIS WEEK AT WAR, John Bolton wasn't afraid to speak his mind when he was ambassador to the United Nations. Now that he's no longer a diplomat, he isn't holding anything back. Don't miss this interview.
And congressional Democrats go head to head with President Bush over U.S. troops in Iraq. Who is winning this high-stakes political battle? THIS WEEK AT WAR.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have made it clear for weeks, if either version comes to my desk, I'm going to veto it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Even if as expected the president's veto is upheld without a bill, some of the funding for troops in Iraq will run out officially in mid April. In the end, the question is who will back down in this political battle over Iraq? Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill where she's been covering the story all week as has Jim Vandehei, the executive editor of politico.com. Dana Bash, who do you think is going to win in this? Will it be the Democrats imposing some sort of timetable on President Bush or will it be the president saying you've got to send me a bill with no conditions?
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's really too early to tell. Obviously in the short term when you just look at the raw numbers, the votes, the president is almost certain to win because he is -- tends to veto this particular bill and the Democrats just barely passed this in both chambers, and they certainly don't have the votes to override that veto. When you look at the question of the political victory here, Democrats certainly may have that on their side. Just look at the polls. Just look at public opinion, which is increasingly against the war. And the big question is going to be, as we've seen over the past week or so, Republicans, John. Will they continue to pick off Republicans who have just basically had it with standing by the president and standing by the war?
ROBERTS: Yeah. Let me pick up on that in just a couple seconds here, but first of all, the Democrats certainly aren't backing down in the face of a veto threat or any of the harsh rhetoric coming out of the White House. Take a look at what Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday about President Bush's threat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: I would extend a hand of friendship to the president just to say to him, calm down with the threats. There's a new Congress in town. We respect your constitutional role. We want you to respect ours.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Calm down, take a deep breath. Jim Vandehei, certainly the new speaker of the House not afraid to throw her weight around.
JIM VANDEHEI, POLITICO.COM: There's very little friendship going on right now between Democrats and Republicans over the war. We feel like we know how this script ends, that it's going to end with the troops getting the funding with some nonbinding language, but there is a big X-factor out there. There are a lot of Democrats like Representative Murtha, Representative Moran in Virginia who are adamant that they're not going to compromise, that they're going to want binding language in that supplemental bill, that they want to force the end to this war. It's going to be very hard for Pelosi to back down and not do what liberals want her to do because that's what the bulk of the caucus is. On the Senate side, you've got a lot of Democrats on the center side, saying no way, we're not going to go that far. We're going to have to compromise at the end. This is not going to be easy for Democrats. But I do agree with Dana Bash that at the end of the day, Democrats seem to be where the bulk of the American public is.
ROBERTS: President Bush is certainly trying to make the Democrats into the bad guys. Take a quick look at what he said about that on Wednesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: If Congress fails to pass a bill to fund our troops on the front lines, the American people will know who to hold responsible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Basically saying if something goes wrong, Democrats, it's your fault. Dana Bash, is the American public going to buy that?
BASH: Well, you know, it's really unclear. I'll tell you what's interesting about that, John, is that what Republicans -- with the help of the Pentagon, what they're trying to say is, not only do you need to do this, but you need to do this fast because you are going to put troops in battle at risk and that is something that is really -- you know, Democrats, regardless of the policy differences, that is something that is a nonstarter politically for them, obviously. But, you know, what Democrats, what's going to be interesting to watch in terms of the Democrats, John, is that they have been so united, surprisingly so, over the past couple of weeks. But just like Jim was saying, when it comes down to the fundamentals of whether or not ultimately they're going to be able to fund this war, it's going to rip their caucuses apart again because you have so many who not only say, you know, you have to have a timetable but say, you know, let's just stop funding the war and that's really the way we should end this.
ROBERTS: Right. The Democrats got this bill through because they peeled off a couple of Republicans, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Nebraska's Senator Chuck Hagel. Chuck Hagel said there's not got to be bipartisanship here when we're looking at an exit strategy. Listen to what he said on Tuesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R) NEBRASKA: If we fail to build a bipartisan foundation for an exit strategy, America will pay a high price for this blunder, one that we will have difficulty recovering from in the years ahead.
ROBERTS: Jim, what do you think? Is it just a matter of time before there's more erosion on the Republican side, maybe enough that one day they can override a veto?
VANDEHEI: No. I don't think that's going to happen. I mean, look what happened with the last election. The Republicans got trumped and then they come back and they see that the polls are still showing that the war's unpopular. Yet most Republicans still support this war. If you look inside those polls, 75 percent of Republican voters are still very pro war and support Bush on this, so they're not going to back down. Yes, you might lose a few on the margins, especially those Republicans in tough races, but the bulk of the Republican party as we saw yesterday, when all the Republicans went up to the White House, still stand with Bush.
ROBERTS: Well, one thing we can stay for certain is with the House out now for a couple of weeks for the Easter break, it's going to be mid-April before we hear anything much more on this.
ROBERTS: Dana Bash, Jim Vandehei, thanks very much.
Later on THIS WEEK AT WAR, Secretary of State Rice is putting U.S. prestige on the line in pursuit of Middle East peace.
Can she succeed where so many others have failed?
We'll get the latest on that.
And one diplomat who isn't afraid to step on some toes, even cut them off. Don't miss my interview with former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton straight ahead on THIS WEEK AT WAR.
ROBERTS: Iran faces off with Britain over captured sailors and ignores U.N. demands to stop its nuclear program. Is the only solution a regime change in Teheran?
My next guest says yes.
John Bolton was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations until last December and is now a senior fellow with the American Enterprise Institute.
Good to have you here, Mr. Ambassador.
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Glad to be here.
ROBERTS: So you have been critical of nations "tip-toeing around Iran" and you say regime change is the way to solve this.
Put that in English.
What do you mean by regime change?
BOLTON: Well, I think Iran has been pursuing a strategic decision to acquire nuclear weapons for close to 20 years. They are not going to give up that pursuit voluntarily.
So the only alternative is to apply sufficient pressure, either to make them change or, I think more realistically, the regime itself has to change.
There's enormous dissatisfaction inside Iran. There's ethnic tension. I think there are a lot of possibilities we could work on.
ROBERTS: So how do you change the regime? Militarily?
BOLTON: No. I think ideally you have the Iranian people themselves, who are an educated, sophisticated people. They know they have the possibility of a different life. They know they could lead a better life economically if they had some assistance. There is a broad Iranian Diaspora around the world that would help out.
I'm not saying it would be easy or quick, but I think it can be done.
ROBERTS: The U.S. has been trying that for years and it just hasn't worked yet.
BOLTON: I don't think we've tried very hard.
ROBERTS: So what do you need to do to make it work?
BOLTON: I think you need broader support for pro-democracy elements inside and outside Iran. The administration has taken a step in that direction. I think you need to do more to give people inside Iran the feeling that outside people are watching and are willing to help.
ROBERTS: The last time that the United States tried regime change, it didn't work out so well. The whole place kind of fell apart.
So why go down that road again?
BOLTON: Well, I think what we were doing in supporting the shah was trying to help modernize the country. That was precisely...
ROBERTS: I was actually talking about Iraq.
BOLTON: Yes. Well, on -- in the case of Iran, it was precisely the modernization that brought the mullahs to power. But I think now the population is ready for it.
In Iraq -- and, frankly, knowing everything I know now, I think we still did the right thing in bringing Saddam down because of the threat he posed to our interests and our friends and allies in the region.
ROBERTS: Iran's behavior, Ambassador Bolton, with these 15 British sailors, it could be taken a number of ways. It could be seen as saying don't mess with us. Other people might think it's trying to provoke a confrontation so it can win a P.R. war. Other people might think that it's them reaching out to say we want some sort of diplomatic engagement.
Which way do you think it is?
BOLTON: Well, I don't know who's saying the last thing, because kidnapping people as a way of getting diplomatic engagement, that's not a very good way to do it. This is not accidental. This is a deliberate provocation. I think they're testing the British, and more broadly the Europeans, to see if there's weakness in response.
And if they see weakness -- and I think we're verging in that direction -- then I think they will be emboldened in their nuclear program.
You have to see it all of a piece. These two issues are not disconnected.
ROBERTS: So what do you think? Is there going to be some kind of military action against Iran in the next year?
BOLTON: I think...
ROBERTS: If they continue down this path?
BOLTON: I think if they continue to try and project power in the region and the Persian Gulf, if they continue their nuclear weapons program, if they continue their aggressive support of terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, they are seeking a role in the region that can only be detrimental to our interests.
ROBERTS: And would you see military action?
BOLTON: I certainly don't recommend it as the first step or as an easy step, but if the choice is between an Iran with nuclear weapons and military action by the United States to prevent that, yes, then I would favor military force.
ROBERTS: Let me switch to the Arab summit that's taking place this week. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had some pretty harsh words for the American occupation of Iraq.
Let me share that with you. He said: "In our blvd Iraq, the bloods among brothers are shed in the shadow of the illegitimate foreign occupation. And the repulsive sectarianism threatens a civil war."
That seemed to take American diplomats by surprise.
Here's what Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said about Abdullah's statements.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICHOLAS BURNS, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: I will admit we were a little surprised to see those remarks. We disagree with them. They could have been an interruption issue. It could have been misreported.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Ambassador Bolton, what do you think that Saudi Arabia is playing at here? Is that just for consumption in the around the world and -- is the United States saying hey, listen, we know you've got to say these things, but, you know, back channel, we know we're on the same page?
BOLTON: Well, you know, occasionally when people say things they actually mean them. And this may be a case of that. It would certainly indicate a lack of gratitude by the king for having saved him from Saddam Hussein the first time, after the invasion of Kuwait.
Saudi Arabia has real trouble in this country with a lot of people who think its support of the Wahabis, fundamentalist Islam, over the years, well outweigh the production of oil and natural gas.
Those words didn't do a thing to help his case. And I think we're going to come to a time of reckoning here with the Saudis over just exactly what position they want in the world.
ROBERTS: They also have a huge problem with Iran, which is heavily supporting the Shiite population in Iraq.
Does Saudi Arabia need to be seen as just as aggressive in supporting the Sunni population in Iraq to curry favor in their neck of the woods?
BOLTON: That's a possibility. But attacking the United States is the wrong way to do it. And if the king thinks he can get away with that with just a oh, well, boys will be boys attitude, I think he needs to think again.
ROBERTS: One more quick issue. The House and Senate bills, each one of them calling for a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, you have said that the American obligation there is not indefinite.
Do you have a timetable in mind?
BOLTON: No. I think a timetable is absolutely the worst way out of this. If I were insurgent Sunnis who are disconnected, terrorists, others, I'd just wait until we were gone.
ROBERTS: Ambassador Bolton, it's great to finally have you on.
Thanks for coming in.
BOLTON: Glad to be here.
ROBERTS: Appreciate it.
Straight ahead on THIS WEEK AT WAR, it's one thing to get the Israelis and the Palestinians talking, but can Condoleezza Rice get them to make a deal, coming up on THIS WEEK AT WAR.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert have agreed that they plan to meet together biweekly. This very positive development builds on their previous meetings and will benefit both Israelis and Palestinians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jerusalem on Tuesday. But Israelis and Palestinians meeting to talk about day to day issues is a long way from working out the tough realities of a peace deal.
Is this just another dead end or can these leaders actually make it work?
Joining us for some perspective is Daniel Levy. He is a former adviser to the Israeli government and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the Century Foundation.
And Nadia Bilbassey. She is a diplomatic correspondent for the Al-Arabiya television network.
So the Arab League, in its meeting this past week, said to Israel, I think it's time to move forward with the peace plan, the Saudi peace plan of 2002. Ehud Olmert saw that as "a revolutionary change." He came out and said perhaps peace is within our reach within five years.
Is this a breakthrough?
NADIA BILBASSEY, "AL-ARABIYA": Some milestones, I think there's a realistic chance for peace now. We moved away -- or the Arab states moved away from the position that they held in the Khartoum Summit 30 years ago, when they came with the three nos -- no to negotiations, no to recognition and no to peace.
So the fact that they come in and now and they said we're offering Israel the peace branch -- the olive branch, which is peace for land or land for peace.
So you withdraw to the '67 border, which is -- by the way, it's not just an Arab demand. It's an international demand. The United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338 have clearly said that Israel has to withdraw to the '67 border in return for the recognition for Israel's right to exist within secure borders.
So I would say it's a great chance and it should be seized on.
ROBERTS: The Saudi peace plan also demands a return of refugees. But withdrawing within '67 borders and a return of refugees, Daniel, are non-starters for Israel.
DANIEL LEVY, FORMER ISRAELI GOVERNMENT ADVISER: Well, what the Saudi peace plan actually says is a just and agreed solution to the refugee problem. And I think sometimes people intentionally ignore that word "agreed."
To my mind, and for many Israelis, and I think that's why many Israelis see the Saudi initiative as the way forward, agreed means Israel has to agree.
And the deal is basically known. You know the worst kept secret in the Middle East is what the solution of the Arab-Israeli, Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be.
Clinton laid it out. I was in the last negotiations six years ago. We had a Geneva initiative which gave great detail. We know it's '67. There can be land swaps. You can keep some settlements. But you have to trade land.
We know the refugees will be compensated. They will have options. But only Israel will decide who comes to Israel.
Jerusalem -- we know the solutions. The initiative was five years ago. The question now is whether the parties and the U.S. administration can find the political will to carry that forward.
ROBERTS: Now, the Saudis are putting pressure on Israel. They're laying down some markers here. Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal, who is the foreign minister, said in "The Daily Telegraph" in London on Tuesday: "If Israel refuses, that means it doesn't want peace and it places everything back in the hands of fate. They will be putting their future not in the hands of the peacemakers but in the hands of the lords of war."
Now, I know, Daniel, that Israel doesn't respond well to pressure, but can they afford to miss this opportunity?
LEVY: What Israel has been hoping for since it was established in 1948 was to be accepted, recognized, have security and normal relations, not just with its neighbors, but in the entire region. That is the hope that the Saudi initiative holds out.
And, by the way, the president of Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, are all on board with this. It's the wider Muslim world. That's why it brings hope.
The concern has to be that we now descend into a blame game about why nothing happens next.
ROBERTS: Nadia, is this a moment in time or if they don't accept it now, will it be there three or four years from now?
BILBASSEY: I think that it's going to be three or four years down the road. I mean this, say what -- I'll repeat what Dennis Strauss said before, the peace process is like riding a bike. If you stop, you crash. You have to continue.
And what we have seen is the region has more -- moved to more violence and bloodshed and extremism.
So the opportunity might not exist again. And I think it's time -- this part, the fact that we have 20 months left from this administration that they left the peace process for a while and now Secretary Rice is trying hard.
And I believe, as Daniel said, that she's sincere. She's trying to find a solution. But I think that they have to seize the opportunity. I think the time is...
ROBERTS: One of the big questions in all of this is...
BILBASSEY: ... important.
ROBERTS: ... do Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas have the power to be able to craft a peace deal, go through some of these difficult issues?
Our Atika Shubert reported on that on Tuesday.
Take a quick look.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Abbas may be the president, but control of the Palestinian Authority is largely in the hands of Hamas, which refuses to renounce violence or even recognize Israel's right to exist.
Olmert faces record low approval ratings amid harsh criticism of the handling of the war in Lebanon last summer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: It doesn't exactly sound like the strongest position from which to be negotiating these controversial issues.
LEVY: Regarding Ehud Olmert, the only way to relaunch his own premiership may well be to pursue a bold diplomatic move.
Regarding the Palestinians, rather than seeing the Mecca deal between Hamas and President Abu Mazen as a threat, we could see this as an opportunity to bring Hamas inside the process. They have said Abbas can negotiate. They have said there can be a referendum. Maybe this can create better conditions for not having violence, but it will require the kind of American leadership we have not seen for the last six years.
ROBERTS: Well, perhaps this is a moment.
And wouldn't it be great if it was?
Daniel Levy and Nadia Bilbassey, thanks very much.
Appreciate your being with us.
There is an old adage that there are old pilots and bold pilots. But there are no old, bold pilots.
Well, not so. Straight ahead, we'll hear from pilots who break that mold, who are both old and bold, and have the war stories to prove it.
THIS WEEK AT WAR.
ROBERTS: On this program, we follow current cfcs, wars seemingly without end, and wonder can enemies ever put aside hatreds and find peace?
To answer that question, you only need to drop into a Denny's in Oceanside, California, where this week pilots from many wars, some who used to be mortal enemies, reminisced, old hatreds forgotten in the camaraderie of aerial combat.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
LUTE ELDRIGE, WORLD WAR II, KOREA, VIETNAM VETERAN: As we get older, we miss the camaraderie and the nostalgia of the experiences we've been through. This gives us a venue for that. It makes our whole week.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I flew a P38 in combat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A B17.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I flew F4 Phantom 2s.
KURT SCHULZE, GERMAN WORLD WAR II PILOT: I was in the Messerschmitt 110, the Danier 217.
BEN WILLIAMS, VIETNAM VETERAN: Regardless of what war you're in, we can all identify with flying in harm's way and having survived one way or another. NORM ACHEN, WORLD WAR II POW: Chris's father was the one that interrogated me in Germany.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, you didn't know that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
ACHEN: His father actually told me in the interrogation that I had been accused of strafing civilians, and he said this very seriously. And that if we can prove it, we're going to shoot you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really?
ACHEN: He got my undivided attention.
SCHULZE: Then I went back to Germany and commanded the training squadron next to Dresden, where my friend J-bombed in February. That's when I was very close to there.
JAY WALKER, WORLD WAR II BOMBER PILOT: I bombed the night before with firebombs. And then we bombed it in the daytime.
JOSHUA EVANS, AFGHANISTAN & IRAQ WAR PILOT: It's sad that they're disappearing. I mean since I've been here, we've lost probably five guys just the last year, year-and-a-half. I'm sure you talked to Jack Kellogg. He ended up -- he ended up as a POW in Auschwitz. And how many -- how many -- and, you know, there's an ME- 262 pilot who's the first jet fighter ever.
How often can you come and have moons over Miami with a 262 pilot or a guy who was in Auschwitz, you know?
Amazing, amazing guys, guys that were flying Tigers, guys that, you know, lived these incredible lives.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ROBERTS: Stories from old warriors putting aside the differences and enmity of the past.
Is it model for the future?
Coming up, will there ever be justice for the men, women and children killed by Saddam Hussein's deadly poison gas?
But first, a look at some of those who fell in this week at war.
ROBERTS: With Congress out for the Easter break, we're left to ponder the potential effects of the Iraq bills that passed this week. President Bush complains that Democrats are jeopardizing funding for the troops.
Hog wash, say the Democrats.
So who's right?
According to the secretary of defense, funding for the Iraq War officially runs out on April the 15th. However, the Pentagon can simply shift money from other programs to pay for military operations. But if the impasse continues, the Pentagon may have to delay training or put off the purchase of new equipment, and normally that might not be much of a problem. But with the military stretched so thin and desperately in need of new vehicles and weapons systems for Iraq, it could actually affect their ability to provide troops and equipment and also impact military readiness.
If the dispute isn't resolved, eventually troops in the field will feel the impact. What's not clear is how long before we reach that point.
Turning now to some of the stories that we'll be following in our next week at war, on Tuesday, the trial resumes in Baghdad for the six remaining defendants charged with genocide in the deadly poison gas assault against Kurdish civilians in the late 1980s.
And on Thursday, anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and other protesters are scheduled to return to their post outside of President Bush's Crawford ranch, where he is expected to be for the Easter weekend.
Thanks for joining us on THIS WEEK AT WAR.
I'm John Roberts.
Straight ahead, a check of the headlines.
And then CNN Special Investigations Unit: "The War Within," examining homegrown Muslim extremism in the United Kingdom.
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