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CNN PRESENTS

Showdown: Iraq -- The Azores Summit

Aired March 16, 2003 - 20:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN SPECIAL REPORT.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, I'm Aaron Brown. President Bush is on his way home tonight after a very brief summit in the Azores. The president wrote his own lead for the meeting. "Tomorrow," said Mr. Bush, "is the day we determine whether diplomacy can work in Iraq." Mr. Bush along with his so-called coalition of the willing, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Spanish Prime Minister Aznar concluded the one-hour summit in the Azores today with the familiar refrain -- Iraq must disarm on its own immediately -- underscore immediately -- or there will be war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We cannot simply go back to the Security Council for this discussion to be superseded by that discussion to be superseded by another discussion. That's what's happened for 12...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: So tomorrow is a deadline, but a deadline for what? Does it mean there will be a vote at the U.N. and if so, a vote on what exactly? And if no vote, what are the implications of that? Much of this hour will be an attempt to answer those questions, looking beyond today to the important days ahead.

We start at the White House and our senior White House correspondent, John King. John, good evening.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Aaron. By this time tomorrow night, we should have the answers to those questions. In the meantime, still a great deal of uncertainty.

As you noted, Mr. Bush due back here at the White House in about an hour or so. We are told some telephone diplomacy aboard Air Force One, more in the early morning hours tomorrow. At some point tomorrow, he will have decide with his allies whether to seek a new vote at the Security Council or whether to withdraw a resolution and prepare to go to war without any new blessings from the Security Council. White House officials say they can't answer many of your questions, but they do say this about tomorrow, it will be the final day for U.N. diplomacy no extensions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): The bottom line of Sunday's Azores summit is that a decision on war is just hours away.

BUSH: We concluded that tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world.

KING: British Prime Minister Tony Blair has perhaps the most to lose politically, but once again stood firm in saying the United Nations security council must issue an ultimatum to Iraq or stand aside.

BLAIR: We cannot simply go back to the Security Council for this discussion to be superseded by that discussion to be superseded by another discussion.

KING: Allies, Portugal, the United States, Spain, and the United Kingdom agreed to give the Security Council one last day and to work furiously to seek support for a new resolution clearing the way for war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (through translator): The Security Council cannot one year after the other wait for its resolutions to be implemented.

KING: But they will not seek a vote if they do not have majority support. And Mr. Bush made no effort to conceal his scorn for those who want to give inspectors and Saddam more time, especially France.

BUSH: They say they won't veto anything that held Saddam to account, so cards have been played.

KING: This summit and this picture was designed to show that the coalition for war goes well beyond Washington and London.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If there is a conflict, I want to repeat it once more, Portuguese will be next -- side-by-side with his allies.

KING: At the U.N., chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, once again angered the White House by saying the U.S.-British resolution offered Iraq too little time. Undecided Council members also have appealed for more time, but the White House says that would leave U.S. troops in the region vulnerable to Iraqi or terrorist attack.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: We need to get on with the business of solving this problem and eliminating this threat.

KING: Mr. Bush's flight home included more telephone diplomacy, a final post-summit push for U.N. support.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And Prime Minister Blair said on his way home he would make one last effort to try to persuade the French president, Jacques Chirac, to come around to the way of thinking shared by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. Here at the White House, they are quite skeptical France will back away from its veto threat. Aides say early this week, perhaps as early as tomorrow tonight, President Bush, from the White House, will deliver an address to the American people that includes an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein -- leave the country of face war within days -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well, I -- they tell me I get one question. I want to put about four in it. Is there any talk at all that on this day tomorrow, this last day for diplomacy, the United States and the Brits and the Spaniards and whoever else are willing to deal or is it simply up or down, take the resolution we put out there two weeks ago or not?

KING: They would have to deal somewhat because the resolution now on the table has a March 17 deadline for Saddam Hussein. That, of course, is tomorrow. So if they come up with a new resolution, they will have to pick a new deadline. White House officials are telling us though that the president is not prepared to move, they say, anything past three or four days, so the middle of the week just ahead of us. If they could get all the votes, there's no question here, they would perhaps agree to one more week. But France, today, said 30 days. The White House said that is unacceptable. So will they deal? Yes, but they don't have -- they say they won't deal anything more than a few days, perhaps a week at the most.

BROWN: John, thank you. It's a long day for you. Senior White House correspondent, John King.

Vice President Cheney described today's Azores summit as the end of the diplomatic phase on Iraq. You heard him a moment ago speaking today on the Sunday morning talk shows. The vice president said that with every day that passes, the greater the odds to come that Saddam will strike first. He says decision time has come.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are rapidly approaching the point where having done everything we can diplomatically, the president clearly has, I think, managed to convey it to the American people that he's taken every possible step that was conceivable before he resorts to the ultimate use of force. That -- having done that, having worked as aggressively as we know how with the international community that time is not on our side, that if we allow additional time to lapse here Saddam Hussein is likely to continue to try to develop nuclear weapons, for example, may, in fact, try to mount terrorist attacks of the worst kind against us. And we need to get on with the business of solving this problem and eliminating this threat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: So tomorrow and perhaps for the last time in this saga, attention will again focus on the United Nations. But the option seems limited -- agree to a resolution that entourages a war or don't. The Germans, for their part, see the writing on the wall. The German foreign ministry is urging German citizens to leave Iraq. A spokesman says the German embassy staff in Baghdad will help out any Germans who wish to leave the country and that within the next three days; the embassy itself is expected to close.

How the day will play out tomorrow at the U.N. and clearly, things here are not written in stone right now, we turn to CNN's Michael Okwu, who is at the U.N. tonight.

Michael, good evening.

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, good evening to you. Right through the day tomorrow we imagine that the U.S., the U.K. and Spain will be working the phones feverishly trying to secure those nine votes. We understand from an administration official that if the U.S. has its number then they will push for a vote as soon as possible. If they do not have its number, then the game is over.

Now, we know that the Security Council will be meeting behind closed doors tomorrow. It's a previously scheduled meeting asked for by the Germans along with France and Russia, who would like to discuss a ministerial meeting on this issue. One of the things they want to focus on is that chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix's, work program for Iraq that would include a dozen disarmament tasks. All of this, however, given the president's effective deadline for the Security Council, may, in fact, be moot. Here's the chief weapons inspector.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HANS BLIX, CHIEF U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: I didn't feel there was an ultimatum. That is what -- for a certain time, you should do something. But I think he talked about the character of the regime and the weapons of mass destruction (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the liberation of Iraq and so forth. I did not read an ultimatum into it, but I certainly felt that the situation was very, very tense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OKWU: It's ironic after weeks of arm-twisting, verbal jousting, counter proposals. There's an eerie simplicity, Aaron, about all of this. The two factions on the Security Council, each with different agendas, but the president has made it very clear on Tuesday morning the diplomatic window will be closed.

IN the meantime, there -- Aaron, the U.N. weapons inspector is telling us that five of his helicopters have been taken back. Contractors say that the insurance provide for this helicopters will no longer provide for them. It's going to make the chief weapons inspector and the inspectors on the ground, their job, a lot more difficult. These helicopters used for transportation as well as for aerial surveillance -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well, perhaps, the Iraqis will offer up some of theirs. Talk me through briefly the mechanics of the moment. Can there, according to Security Council rules, be a vote tomorrow?

OKWU: There can be a vote tomorrow. Is it likely? That remains to be seen. The fact is the president of the Security Council is Guinea. The Guinean ambassador has to approve of this. He would likely go in front of a -- or at least consult with other members of the Security Council and try to work out some sort of a schedule. However, U.S. officials will tell you, Aaron, that they have had the Security Council on notice for quite some time now that whenever they were ready for a vote they would ask for it and that the Council should be prepared for it. But the possibility still exists, Aaron, that regardless of whether the diplomatic window is closing, that the president of the Security Council would ask for that vote the following day, on Tuesday -- Aaron.

BROWN: OK, Michael, thank you. Michael Okwu outside the U.N. in New York tonight.

The White House reportedly now has drawn up a list of Iraqi officials it wants tried for war crimes or crimes against humanity after a war with Iraq. Reports today in "The New York Times" and elsewhere say the list includes Iraqi President, of course, Saddam Hussein as well as two of his sons, Saddam Hussein's deputy commander- in-chief, Izzat Ibrahim, is also named, five other senior Iraqi officials on the list as well. Administration officials say they had planned to send the list to Baghdad with a delegation from the Arab League to convince Saddam and his men they could avoid war and war crimes trials by leaving the country. But that trip by the members of the Arab League was called off.

Well, there are still acts to be played out, not many it seems, but some. It is clear on this Sunday night at least that the United States stands on the very brink of war. In the Gulf, there are a quarter of a million troops, most of them American, some British. They are all there to -- in an attempt, rather, to quickly; if they can, overwhelm Iraqi forces, get into the Iraqi capital in a matter of days. It is an audacious plan and it is not without risk. Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pentagon sources war is at least two days away even longer if there are last minute visits to Baghdad by U.N. inspectors or perhaps a special envoy who might try to convince Saddam Hussein to accept asylum. War could be triggered early; sources say, by a chemical or a biological attack against U.S. troops, detonation of oil fields or a SCUD missile strike on Israel or other neighbors. While a real worry at the Pentagon, analysts think it's unlikely Saddam Hussein would strike first and thereby validate the U.S. case against it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is nothing in the world that would really international support around the Bush Administration going to war with Iraq like Iraqis attacking first and especially, if they used weapons of mass destruction, making clear that they had been lying all of this time.

MCINTYRE: Another worry is that Saddam Hussein will make hostages of U.N. inspectors or U.S. and British citizens, especially journalists. COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Each person in Baghdad, whether a newsperson, an inspector or in some other capacity has to take a look at whether or not he has enough time to leave.

MCINTYRE: While the U.S. military insists it's ready now, the Pentagon is still hoping for last minute permission from Turkey for over flights, use of strike aircraft already in Turkey and basing for small numbers of U.S. Special Forces. Sources say it's too late to send the Army's 4th Infantry Division to Turkey as originally planned. That means the Army's only division equipped with the latest high-tech metal management system remains sidelined by a key NATO ally.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Now to replace the 4th Infantry Division, the Pentagon dispatched the entire 101st Airborne Division to Kuwait. And originally, it appeared that they would be part of a team to secure the northern portions of Iraq along with the 82nd Airborne. But tonight, Aaron, sources tell CNN that the 101st has been assigned other objectives, including possibly in Baghdad -- Aaron.

BROWN: All right, two things. First, just to help people with the geography a bit, Kuwait is to the south of Iraq and so, whoever takes the north has to go basically the whole length of the country.

MCINTYRE: Right. They'd have to fly in. And the assumption was that because those troops were sent, essentially, to make up for not having the 4th Infantry Division coming in from the north -- and they were airborne or air assault troops -- that they would simply fly up. It looks like that role will be performed by the 82nd Airborne, which will drop -- air drop some of the equipment and tanks in along with another regiment of airborne troops. And it looks like the 101st could get, as I said, a dangerous assignment that could involve urban combat.

BROWN: And we heard John talk about -- John King talk about a timetable. The president goes on television, issues an ultimatum, makes it clear to those who want to get out of Iraq, the time is here. How much notice do you expect the Pentagon to get that the time has come?

MCINTYRE: Well, I -- you know, I think they'll know. Obviously, when the president issues an order, it'll have a timeframe with it. That is it'll have a D-day to launch the invasion that can be adjusted even at the last minute depending on political events or even things like the weather. For instance, if a sand storm were to blow up, it could delay the start of an invasion. On the other hand, if Iraq makes a move that the U.S. thinks puts its troops in jeopardy, that could set the whole timetable off as well. So I'm not sure we're going to know exactly here when the war is going to start.

BROWN: Jamie, thank you. Jamie McIntyre, we'll talk to you later this week, I know.

As we go on here, in hopes of gaining some Arab support or at least in the hopes of blunting anti-American feelings in Arab and Muslim countries, both the administration and Prime Minister Blair have made a point in recent days of saying more attention must be paid to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. This is a huge issue for particularly the Arab countries. Mr. Bush has said that the elimination of Saddam will make a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians more likely. Mr. Blair said again today as he said on Friday that the Arab world is entitled to an evenhanded approach not the pro-Israel approach that many Arab countries currently see. CNN's Kelly Wallace has more on this. She joins us live tonight from Tel Aviv.

Kelly, good to see you.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, Aaron. Well, President Bush did not specifically talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at that summit tonight, but the British and the Spanish prime ministers did. Both men facing tremendous opposition in their countries for their stance when it comes to a possible U.S. led war against Iraq. What the leaders together -- the three leaders along with the Portuguese prime minister did following the summit, they issued a statement calling for the creation of a Palestinian state and also a Palestinian prime minister who has enough authority to end terrorism and implement real reforms.

Now, Prime Minister Blair, who appears to be fighting for political life, appeared to be trying to send a message to critics at home and aboard who argue that the U.S. should be spending as much time on the Israel-Palestinian conflict as it is spending on Saddam Hussein.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAIR: It's important to demonstrate that particular at this time that our approach to people in the Middle East, in that troubled region, is indeed even handed. And all of us will work to make sure that that vision of a Middle East two states, Israel competent of its security, a Palestinian state that is viable, comes about, has made reality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: And things appear to be moving on a bit of fast track. Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, has selected his No. 2, Maqmoud al- Fas (ph) also known as Abu Madan (ph) as his choice for prime minister. On Monday, the Palestinian parliament is expected to finalize legislation creating the post of prime minister. A big question though remains -- just what powers will this prime minister have. In fact, Abu Madan (ph) has not yet said whether he will take the job. He's waiting to see what authority he will have.

The United States has said once a prime minister with -- quote -- "real authority" is confirmed, then that road map for Middle East peace will be presented to the Israelis and the Palestinians -- Aaron.

BROWN: In the meantime today, Kelly, I know that it was yet another difficult day. An American died in the region today. What can you tell us about that? WALLACE: A difficult day indeed, Aaron. Her name is Rachel Corrie of Olympia, Washington. And she was run over by an Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza Strip as she was protesting the demolition of Israeli home -- of Palestinian homes by Israeli forces. You see here there. She has been protesting Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip. She actually appeared recently in a televised mock trial in which students were trying U.S. President Bush for war crimes, for his support of Israeli actions.

Witnesses say the bulldozer driver definitely had to see Rachel Corrie. The Israelis, for their part, are saying it is a regrettable incident. They say that Corrie and other protesters were acting irresponsibly, endangering themselves. Palestinians and Israelis -- the State Department, for its part, is calling for a full and complete investigation -- Aaron.

BROWN: Kelly, thank you. Kelly Wallace, who is in Tel Aviv for us this evening.

So what if anything did Tony Blair have to gain from this day of more travels than talk? We'll take a look at that question as his political problems at home mount. But could a good war keep America's best pal from having to at least give up the job if not change his address? We'll talk to some people with thoughts on that. Later in the hour, inside the Iraq, the Kurds commemorate a difficult and dark day for them and prepare for more trouble ahead. CNN's Ben Wedeman has that story and much more as this special report continues. A short break first.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: President Bush has one thing in his corner that neither the British prime minister nor the Spanish prime minister have and that is political support for the war. The majority of Americans, not a large majority, but a majority of Americans today at least are ready to launch a war with or without the U.N. That is not true for the others. Prime Minister Blair, in particular, has problems both within his Labour Party and among the British population at large. Only about 25 percent favor a non-U.N. backed war.

In some respects, today's summit was seen as a chance for Mr. Blair to show his countrymen and women that he is still trying to resolve diplomatically. We're joined tonight by Robin Wright, the chief diplomatic correspondent for "The Los Angeles Times" and Julian Borger, the U.S. bureau chief for "The Guardian," one of the major newspapers in Britain.

Good to have you both with us. Robin, let me start with you. What changed today?

ROBIN WRIGHT, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, I think that you see in the very decisive language an ultimatum both to the rest of the world -- stand with us or stand aside. At the same, you give -- they had given notice to Saddam Hussein that the time has come and that he has a choice as well, to disarm or to face the consequences.

BROWN: Anything you heard today surprise you at all?

WRIGHT: No. I was a little bit surprised; in fact, that they even allowed another 24 hours. But I think that the -- this is an effort to regain the diplomatic initiative and to a certain degree that the momentum that has dissipated in the last couple of weeks since Colin Powell gave his dramatic presentation at the United Nations. The United States had expected that to be the turning point, that to be the moment that everyone would sign on. And now, in the intervening two weeks, you've seen that momentum move to the -- in the other direction, on the side of the naysayers, so to speak. And this is it.

BROWN: Yes. Julian, anything that you heard or saw today that you think will make life any easier for Mr. Blair politically?

JULIAN BORGER, "THE GUARDIAN": No, I think Tony Blair was putting down two important markers for him if he doesn't get a second U.N. resolution, which is really vital to him. One was the fact that oil and the other Iraqi national resources would be under the control of the U.N. in the post-Saddam Iraq. And the other was linking very firmly the Middle East peace process and the campaign in Iraq. The White House had tried to disassociate them, say they weren't linked at all. It's very important for Tony Blair that they are seen to be linked and he is seen to be evenhanded in British intervention in the Middle East.

BROWN: And you think he -- that in any way significantly helps him or just mitigates a really bad political position?

BORGER: I think the absence of another U.N. resolution it's really a question of damage limitation now. As a photo op, I think it did George Bush more good than Tony Blair. It's important for George Bush to see -- to be seen to have, at least, some people from the other side of the Atlantic with him. Tony Blair's problem is that he's been seen in Britain as being too close to George Bush, so simply by appearing along side him once more doesn't do him that much good from that point-of-view.

BROWN: As a -- to both of you. Robin, let me start with you, but the same question. As a practical matter, all of this political stuff will quickly wash away if the war goes well, that both for the president and the prime minister, a good, quick and I guess, a war with as few casualties as possible will solve all of the political problems -- Robin.

WRIGHT: No, in fact, they won't solve all the problems. The United States and Britain must be proven right in what they both find in Iraq afterwards. If they don't find those weapons of mass destruction, there will be a lot of questioning about the expenditure in human life and in the cost of waging a war.

BROWN: Do you believe -- I'm a little bit stunned because I think there's almost a given here that you're not buying, which is that he does have these weapons.

WRIGHT: I suspect he does, but it also will have to be in the kind of quantities that the United States has implied. You know there's no question that he probably has a good deal of material. But again, it -- there are a lot of people who believe out in the rest of the world that this is really about oil, about American presence in the region, a domination, about creating a pro-American regime in a geostrategic country, that there are other things besides weapons of mass destruction.

BROWN: Julian, can a good quick and relatively clean war get Mr. Blair off the hook?

BORGER: I think it will help a lot if they people of Iraq are seen going out to the streets and welcoming British and U.S. troops into Iraq. But I agree with Robin. There's a lot more that has to go right for Tony Blair. It has to be proven that they are -- have been weapons of mass destruction being hid. And I think the standard of proof will be fairly low. He just needs a couple of people to turn up on television and say, "Yes, we were producing this and we had it hidden." And -- but it's one thing playing well to domestic audiences, another thing to play well in the Arab world. And there the bar will be set much higher.

BROWN: What is it that the Arab world in that -- what will they want? What is the proof they want?

WRIGHT: Well, the Arab world really wants it for the United States to go in and get out quickly, as you pointed out. And it also wants to get a sense that this was about Iraq; this was about opening up political systems throughout the Arab world and not about American interests. And this, again, is where the United States still has a lot to prove.

BROWN: Julian, where -- go ahead.

BORGER: I was going to add and they will want to see some progress, some real progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. And they would want to see an attitude form the White House that it will proceed as even more evenhanded.

BROWN: Julian, thank you. Robin, always good to see you. Thank you both. I hope you come back and join us as what I'm sure is going to be a difficult and interesting week starts to play out. Thank you both.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

BORGER: Thank you.

BROWN: It has been an emotional day in lots of places; I guess it's fair to say. It's certainly been an emotional day in northern Iraq. This is the 15th anniversary of Saddam Hussein's devastating chemical weapons attack on Kurds living there. Next, how they are honoring their dead and planning for their future. Also today, Saddam is talking once again the fight we'll all never forget. We'll have his comments. We'll talk with General Wesley Clark too, and more as this Sunday night special continues from Atlanta.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Tomorrow is the day that we will determine whether or not diplomacy can work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: At about half past the hour, here is where we have been, so far, on this most important Sunday. The United States, Britain and Spain are working the phones. Ahead of tomorrow's 3:00 Eastern time Security Council meeting. They are desperately trying to muster enough votes to pass the U.N. Resolution that authorizes war against Iraq. The feeling is that if the votes are not there, that resolution will be withdrawn.

Saddam Hussein says Iraq is ready to fight the United States anywhere in the world. He's ordered the country divided into four military zones in anticipation of an imminent attack.

And if the United States does go to war against Iraq, New York city will go on a heightened state of alert. Operation Atlas will increase the number of policemen on the street and boost fighter jet patrols over the city of New York.

Amid all the talk of war, today brought a reminder of one of the reasons Saddam Hussein has so little support in the world. The world may or may not be ready for war, but that is a far cry from embracing the Iraqi leader.

It happened 15 years ago today in an area of Iraq populated by the Kurds. The Iraqi government launched a chemical attack. It was horrible, and we warn you, now, the pictures are horrible, as well.

The story is reported by CNN's Ben Wedeman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Street performers in the Kurdish stronghold of Erbil cry out a name that stirs the deepest of emotions within Iraq's Kurds.

Sunday, the 15th anniversary of the single most traumatic day in modern Kurdish history. On March 16, 1988, Iraqi aircraft dropped and mustard and nerve gas on the Kurdish town of Halabja killing around 5,000 civilians, injuring more than 10,000.

"I wanted to save my son," says this actor, "but my dream went to the grave and, today, I am dying."

The price of disloyalty to Saddam Hussein then engaged in a long grinding war with Iran. The massacre left a permanent and deep emotional scar and has come to symbolize the plight of the Kurds and the indifference of the West, which, at the time, was backing Iraq against revolutionary Iran. The scars of Halabja are more than psychological. Doctors say many of the survivors are chronically ill and that congenital birth defects are common in the ill-fated town.

According to Human Rights Watch, Iraqi forces attacked more than 20 Kurdish villages with chemical weapons during the 1980's, part of Baghdad's Anfal campaign, an attempt to uproot Iraq's rest of Kurds and to break their resistance.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN: And as if this anniversary weren't difficult enough, many people here are worried that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in one final act of spite and revenge could unleash his chemical weapons once again on the Kurds -- Aaron.

BROWN: Ben, just take a minute and explain that the part of Iraq that you're in, and you're in Iraq, what degree of control do Saddam's forces have over it, if any.

WEDEMAN: Actually, none whatsoever on the ground. This is an enclave of three northern provinces which are protected under the no- fly zone, the northern no-fly zone which is patrolled by U.S. and British planes.

But in fact, Iraqi tanks are not far from here, just about 35 minutes by car down the road. And it's well-known that the Iraqis have a lot of intelligence people on the ground. But here in Erbil, for instance, it is very much out of the control of the Iraqi president much to the relief of the residents -- Aaron.

BROWN: Ben, thank you. Ben Wedeman in Kurdish controlled part of Iraq, tonight.

With a quarter of a million troops camped out on his doorstep, Saddam again, today, vowed still resistance. The Iraqi leader saying Iraq will fight the Americans everywhere and anywhere with anything, even daggers and sticks.

He's already divided the country into four military districts under the command of his most trusted lieutenants, including two of his sons. In another show of military display, Saddam met with 30 top army commanders in a televised broadcast in which he called charges that Iraq has been keeping weapons of mass destruction quote "a great lie."

We talked earlier about the strategy and the challenges that U.S. and British forces face should war come. Former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, General Wesley Clark, knows about those sorts of things all too well. And General Clark joins us, now, from his home base in Little Rock.

Good to see you, sir.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Nice to see you, sir. BROWN: The plan, as it's sort of come out, is an almost simultaneous, not quite, but almost simultaneous air and ground campaign. Tell me the risks to the war planners of such a campaign.

CLARK: Well, the first thing is you want to start the ground forces as soon as possible after you've cleared most of his air defense out, so you can provide air cover for the ground forces. So if you start too soon, you won't be able to provide that air cover. If you wait too long, then you've sacrificed some of the initiative, the shock and awe that we're looking for in this attack.

So it's first, get the timing right. Secondly, get the pace of movement on the ground right. You've got to move as rapidly as possible, but you want to balance that with the risk of moving too rapidly, outrunning your supplies, getting out in front of supporting forces or even driving under friendly fire.

BROWN: It seems to me -- I don't know, as you know very well, I don't know a lot about this war planning stuff. But unless the battlefield commanders have an exquisite view of the battlefield in total, there is a greater risk of friendly fire accidents.

CLARK: That's exactly right, Aaron, and we've done a lot of work on that since the last Gulf War. We got some electronics that will really help us and if it all works according to plan, we should be able to know several echelons above where the troops exactly are. They won't all know where each other is, however. But the commanders should know.

BROWN: And those, just so we understand the picture, here, those will be officers at the command center in Qatar sitting there with their laptops trying to keep up on where of Unit A, Unit B, Unit C, on we go, right?

CLARK: That's exactly right. And the subordinate commanders, battalion commanders will know. Brigade commanders will know. Maybe company commanders will know, depending on how low this equipment is distributed.

But the danger, of course, is that engineer truck drivers won't know, and they're liable to get out front and get lost. They won't know exactly where they are. And this is how friendly fire accidents occur.

BROWN: The other challenge, it seems to me, is if you're trying to get to Baghdad -- and in one article I read today, they were talking about a matter of a few days, relatively few days, that you have about a 300, 350 mile supply line from Kuwait to Baghdad that has to be secured. Does it require that the Iraqi population is supportive of the invasion to work?

CLARK: I think that's the assumption, and I've heard Iraqi resistance leaders say that everything south of Baghdad will be in favor of the Americans. There are Saddam's soldiers there. He does have fetayen (ph). We've heard, previously, the reports that some of them will be dressed up as American soldiers and so forth. And there's going to be a lot of Iraqi on Iraqi fighting, I would imagine, when we first start out. But the expectation would be that that will be friendly territory up to and including Baghdad within a few days of the start of the battle.

BROWN: General, do you think we'll be at war by the end of the week?

CLARK: I do. I do. I just don't see any way we can stretch out the diplomacy given the attitudes we've heard abroad, and actually the military can benefit a little bit more from a delay. There's no military reason to go right away.

BROWN: Yes.

CLARK: But I think we've reached about the end of the diplomacy.

BROWN: Well, sir, it certainly feels that way here, as well. I expect we'll be spending some time together this week. Thank you.

CLARK: Good.

BROWN: General Wesley Clark, Former Supreme NATO Commander and a military consultant to us and a very good one.

CNN's Robin Oakley was at the Summit today. He's made his way back to London. He'll be on the phone, next, with a British look at the Summit today. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAIR: Without a credible ultimatum authorizing force in the event of noncompliance, then more discussion is just more delay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Because of his support for the war, Mr. Blair's political reputation and standing has suffered considerably at home. We talked about this a bit earlier. Most Brits strongly against a preemptive strike, any war without U.N. backing, but Mr. Blair stood shoulder-to-shoulder, again today, with President Bush, declaring Monday to be a moment of truth in this showdown with Iraq. But is it a stance at Mr. Blair's own political peril?

Obviously, it hasn't done him much good to this point. CNN's Robin Oakley was in the Azores, traveled back with Mr. Blair tonight, and they are back in London, and Robin's on the phone.

Robin, good evening.

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Aaron. This Summit in mid-Atlantic, today, looked like group therapy for three very frustrated men, and the most frustrated of them all, I suspect, was Tony Blair, who desperately needs the political cover of a second U.N. resolution.

And talking to us on the plane on the way back, he kept coming back to the theme of the difficulties created by the French. He and his officials said, basically, that if there's no movement from Jacques Chirac, the French president, the diplomatic route is dead.

He kept on saying people have got to decide whether they're going to allow any second resolution to have teeth, to make it clear that there's a real ultimatum in it. And that's what they're trying to find out through officials overnight.

They say the time game is dead whether it's 120 days the French are suggesting or 30 days, that just means more talking. What they've got to have, now, is agreement on an ultimatum -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well, I wonder if there are two issues where the French are concerned or where this conflict with the French are concerned. Mr. Chirac suggested, today, that perhaps if the inspectors thought they could get their work done in 30 days, that he would be amenable to that. Now, there's nothing that we heard from either Mr. Blair or President Bush that 30 days would be acceptable, correct?

OAKLEY: Absolutely. Tony Blair was saying on the plane that 30 days doesn't make any difference, if the 30 days doesn't have an ultimatum at the end of it. And he says President Chirac is still saying even on the 30-day formula, that he is not willing to authorize the use of force at that point.

BROWN: OK, then, take the question backwards, then. If -- I know you're going to say it's a hypothetical, and Mr. Blair wouldn't answer it, but I'll ask it, anyway. If the French agreed to the ultimatum at the end of the 30 days, do you have any sense that Mr. Blair would be willing to grant the 30 days, if he got the ultimatum and the resolution and the political cover?

OAKLEY: That was the clear implication of what he was saying to us on the plane, certainly. That if Jacques Chirac was willing to accept the ultimatum, then the whole ball game changes. And then, they could be in business and there could be peaceful disarmament. But it's got to be an agreement with the French and anybody else who's thinking of using a veto that there is an ultimatum, that there is the clear threat of force in any final resolution that goes through -- Aaron.

BROWN: Robin, thank you. I know it's been a long day for you traveling and waiting and, now, reporting. We appreciate your effort, tonight. Robin Oakley on the phone, just back in London.

You can't tell by looking at the crowds in the parks around the country lately, but the fact is that in the United States, at least, support is growing for the possibility of a war with Iraq, despite protests like tonight's candlelight vigil in Washington which took place at the Lincoln Memorial. Peter Yarrow, Peter, Paul and Mary are on the right.

Poll numbers tell of an almost silent majority in favor of taking on Saddam, at this point, with or without the resolution.

We'll take a look at the polling with Bill Schneider, as we continue on a Sunday night from Atlanta.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: As the Bush administration pushes for war, that push gains momentum. So do the voices of dissent in the country. Candlelight vigil underway in Washington, this evening at the Lincoln Memorial. There's Peter, Paul and Mary. They are back doing the same thing during the Vietnam era.

One of the sponsors of this is the anti-Iraq war coalition, called Win Without War. Earlier today in downtown Chicago, a large crowd gathered in protest of what now seems an inevitable battle in the Pershing Gulf region. Protests were held worldwide throughout the weekend, including some in the United States in support of the president and his stand in Iraq. We certainly are not a country of one mind.

Apparently, though, those anti-war protesters do appear, at this moment, to be in the minority in the country. Recent polls, and there's been a trend here, show that most Americans agree with the president when it comes to a war with Iraq with or without the United Nations. There also seems to be some evidence that Mr. Bush's linkage of Saddam with al Qaeda has provided the key motivation for people in their views on this.

CNN senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is in Washington, tonight. He's been looking at the numbers, as he often does.

Mr. Schneider, it's always good to see you.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to see you, Aaron. You may remember that last time we talked, I reported that Americans were saying, let's roll. Well, now, they're saying it a little bit louder.

Just since the beginning of March, the number of Americans who favored going to war with Iraq has jumped from 50 percent to 64 percent. Now, that's the highest level of public support since just after the 9/11 attacks, which were about a year-and-a-half ago.

BROWN: All right, so that's the raw number. Tell me the why in this and can we see in the polling the why of this?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the reason for war that the president gave in his news conference. Let me quote him, here. He said, September the 11th should say to the American people we're now a battlefield. That weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists could be deployed here at home. That's President Bush's argument.

If Saddam Hussein is not disarmed, he says, he will launch another 9/11. And it's also why Americans support something they've never supported or even imagined in the past, which is a preemptive war. Eighty-eight percent of Americans think Saddam Hussein supports terrorist groups that plans to attack the U.S. And, in fact, you see here, 51 percent believe Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11. Aaron, for Americans, they think this is all about 9/11.

BROWN: And that hasn't changed over time. Just -- going back to that 51 percent, what is fascinating about that is that there is no evidence, nor has there ever been evidence to support the argument that Saddam was, in any way, behind 9/11. There's this tangential evidence about whether or not he has al Qaeda connections, whether al Qaeda operatives have come into Iraq, all of that. But on the 9/11 question, it's just bare.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. There is no direct evidence. The administration makes two arguments. One, that there are connections between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Two, that if we don't disarm Saddam Hussein, there'll be another 9/11. But the administration has never said that Saddam Hussein is any direct way responsible for 9/11.

Americans put two and two together, and they say, he probably had something to do with it because, look, al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein have the same objective. They both want Americans dead.

BROWN: Bill, it's always interesting to look at the numbers, as they have shifted over the last month, in particular. Thank you. Bill Schneider with us...

SCHNEIDER: My pleasure.

BROWN: ... from Washington, tonight.

The president has now landed at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington. Air Force One pulling up, as you can see. It's been a long day for Mr. Bush. A long day of travel out to the Azores and back, again. But he's home, now, just a little bit before 9:00 Eastern time and will be back at the White House and, very possibly, in bed by 10:00, as he likes to be. The president safely back on the ground at Andrews.

And our coverage, tonight, will continue a final look at today's summit in the Azores and the days that lie ahead. This special report from Atlanta continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: The president on the ground at Andrews Air Force Base, and they're pulling the ramp up, and the president will walk down those steps, get into the motorcade into the limousine. The motorcade'll head back to the White House.

We've been told by Suzanne Malveaux, who's traveling as part of the pool, that the president, while en route back from the Azores talked to the Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Mr. Howard has committed some Australian troops and has been very supportive of the president, particularly since the terrorist attack in Bali some months back that claimed nearly a hundred, as a I recall Australian lives.

The president, also on the trip back, talked with the Secretary of State Powell. And we don't know the substance of that conversation, but we do know it has been an extraordinary day for the president and for the rest of us, in many ways.

We've heard the phrase, time has run out, an awful lot over the last months. But there is an unmistakable sense it was very clear and, to us at least, somewhat chilling when we heard Wes Clark say that he expects the country to be at war by the end of the week.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair with assists from the prime ministers of Spain and Portugal spent about an hour together, no longer, in the Azores. These are four men who, essentially, agreed on what had to be done. And it didn't take them long to figure out the message of the day, which was very simply, time has run out. It is time, now, for Iraq to immediately disarm.

President Bush even more to the point. He, essentially, said to the United Nations, you have tomorrow, one day, to pass a resolution or don't pass a resolution. Get on board or, essentially, get out of the way.

As the president departs Air Force One, walks down the steps and into the motorcade that will take him back to the White House, whatever you might think of the war and the decisions, these cannot be easy days for any American president. He is about, it seems, certain to commit the country to war. That carries with it enormous responsibility and, surely, Mr. Bush, as he walks with his military aid, feels that responsibility tonight, as the tendency to personalize these sorts of things, particularly if you are against the war, that is unfortunate. These cannot be easy decisions.

As I said, the president would motorcade back to the White House. He will, obviously, take Marine One back to the White House and be there in 10 minutes or so.

Coming up at 10:00 Eastern time, a special edition of "NEWSNIGHT" on this Sunday night. We hope you'll join us for that. Until then, I'm Aaron Brown in Atlanta. Good night for all of us.

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