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updated 7/16/2006 1:32:54 PM ET 2006-07-16T17:32:54

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Crisis in the Middle East, and what should the United States do about the so-called “axis of evil”—Iraq, Iran and North Korea? Two men with very different views. For the Democrats: Senator Joe Biden of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and for the Republicans: former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, author of “Winning the Future.” Biden and Gingrich square off.

Then, three years ago, Robert Novak wrote this column naming Valerie Plame as a CIA operative, which led to an investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, resulting in the indictment of Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby. On Wednesday Novak explained his role in the investigation. And this Sunday morning, he joins us exclusively.

But first, day five of the fighting in the Middle East. What happened overnight? The very latest from Lebanon and Israel. In Beirut: Richard Engel of NBC News.

Richard, the Lebanese prime minister went on the air and said that he is considering sending the Lebanese Army into southern Lebanon to try to take control of the situation from the militant Hezbollah. Will that happen?

MR. RICHARD ENGEL: There are grave risks to that. There is no guarantee that his army can actually confront Hezbollah, that it will be strong enough to, to take control, and if they were to go into a confrontation, that could risk reigniting the civil war here. Tim:

MR. RUSSERT: Richard, is there any hope of this ending soon? What could be done? Who could possibly intervene to resolve this? And do you expect Israel to go actually into southern Lebanon?

MR. ENGEL: Everyone here says it depends on the United States and Syria—the U.S. to pressure Israel, Syria to call off Hezbollah. It—the likely scenario here is that Israel will enter the south, will take over a strip a few kilometers wide. Then, as the fighting continues, there will continue to be Israeli air strikes in the south and here in Beirut. Negotiations will begin, Israel saying that it will pull out of that area if the Lebanese government takes control, perhaps with international supervision. But those negotiations and the fighting could take months, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Richard, there are 25,000 Americans in Lebanon. What are the plans to try to evacuate those Americans?

MR. ENGEL: The plans right now are to allow the Americans who want to leave—and all the ones we’ve spoken to certainly do want to leave. The U.S. Embassy here is overwhelmed with calls. They—concerned Americans calling about six or seven an minute, according to an Embassy spokesperson. The plans are still being formulated, but they would bring them out to Cyprus, and then Americans would have to make their way back home after that. We’re told it will take place this week. Tim:

MR. RUSSERT: Richard Engel in Beirut, Lebanon. Please be safe.

Now, let’s go to Haifa, Israel, the third-largest city in that country. We’re joined by NBC’s Martin Fletcher.

Martin, the Haifa train station struck last night by Hezbollah missiles. What is the mood in Israel about this five-day war?

MR. MARTIN FLETCHER: Well, Tim, I think that the Israelis are 100 percent behind the—their government. Every single person we’ve spoken to from the left or right says that. They all say that this is a war waiting to happen. One man graphically said, “How long can we live with a knife to our neck?” he said, and he’s referring to Hezbollah’s 10,000 to 13,000 rockets which are aimed at Israel.

So Israel has always said, “We have to destroy Hezbollah.” When the two soldiers were kidnapped, that was their excuse to go in, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Martin, President Bush said in Russia this morning that Israel has to defend itself, but it should use restraint, “mindful of the consequences.” What are the potential consequences that confront Israel?

MR. FLETCHER: Well, you know, the problem is, Tim, this can go out of control very, very rapidly. Israel’s pointing at Syrian involvement, they’re accusing Iran of, of, of arming Hezbollah, which, of course, all the security services in the world say is true. So, the more Israel punishes Lebanon, the more Israel talks about potentially a ground invasion of Lebanon, even if only for a short term—for a short time, it can spiral out of control. So the consequences could be a very significant escalation of the fighting, even some are warning of a regional war, which is the last thing Israel wants. They don’t want to send in their army, they don’t want to extend the war. They do want to destroy Hezbollah, and they have said they’ll do whatever it takes to do that. Now, the longer this fighting continues, the greater the dangers are that they’ll lose control of it. Tim:

MR. RUSSERT: Hezbollah, as you well know, Martin, kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, which prompted this response. Was this part of the Israeli agenda to look for an opportunity to eradicate Hezbollah?

MR. FLETCHER: I think so very strongly. I mean, they’ve never—they’ll never say that publicly, but don’t forget that when Israel left—ended their occupation of south Lebanon in the year 2000, the deal was that the Lebanese Army would go in and police the border. Well, they never did that. Instead, Hezbollah moved in with all those rockets, and ever since then, about—for that last five years, Israel’s been planning what to do, how to fight Hezbollah, how to destroy them. So this is, this is not a quick reaction to a kidnapping, it’s the implementation of a plan Israel’s been working on for five years with very specific targets. They call it a work plan. They’re going step by step. And incidents like this one here, you see the, the great hole in the, in the roof behind me, eight people died just here just a couple of hours ago. That’s bad for Israel, it, it’s a huge failure for Israel. But they’re not going to react specifically to this killing. They’re going to go step by step, and they made that very clear, and they’ll go step by step until they achieve their goals, or, of course, until someone steps in and stops them. That could only be the United States.

MR. RUSSERT: Martin Fletcher in Haifa, Israel. Thank you for that report, and be safe.

And now, joining us in Washington, Democratic senator Joe Biden, former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Welcome, both.

Mr. Speaker, what are we witnessing in the Middle East?

MR. NEWT GINGRICH: Well, let me, let me offer three observations. First, this is not the fifth day of the war. This is the 58th year of the effort by those who want to destroy Israel. As Ahmadinejad, the head of Iran, says, he wants to defeat the Americans and eliminate Israel from the face of the earth. So we should not see this event in isolation. There is an Iran/Iraq/Syria—I mean, an Iran/Syria—was an Iraq before Saddam was replaced—Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas alliance trying to destroy Israel.

Second, the Israelis withdrew from Gaza to create the circumstance of peace. The Israelis withdrew from south Lebanon to create the circumstance of peace. They now have a thousand missiles fired from Gaza, they’ve had hundreds of missiles fired from south Lebanon. You clearly have Iranian involvement, there are at least 400 Iranian guards in south Lebanon. Apparently it was an Iranian missile fired by Iranians which hit an Israeli warship yesterday. The United States should be saying to Syria and Iran, “South Lebanon is going to be cleared out. We are for Israel and the Lebanese government breaking the back of Hezbollah, getting rid of all 10,000 to 13,000 missiles, and we will decisively stop any effort by Syria and Iran to intervene.”

I mean, this is absolutely a question of the survival of Israel, but it’s also a question of what is really a world war. Look what you’ve been covering: North Korea firing missiles. We say there’ll be consequences, there are none. The North Koreans fire seven missiles on our Fourth of July; bombs going off in Mumbai, India; a war in Afghanistan with sanctuaries in Pakistan. As I said a minute ago, the, the Iran/Syria/Hamas/Hezbollah alliance. A war in Iraq funded largely from Saudi Arabia and supplied largely from Syria and Iran. The British home secretary saying that there are 20 terrorist groups with 1200 terrorists in Britain. Seven people in Miami videotaped pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda, and 18 people in Canada being picked up with twice the explosives that were used in Oklahoma City, with an explicit threat to bomb the Canadian parliament, and saying they’d like to behead the Canadian prime minister. And finally, in New York City, reports that in three different countries people were plotting to destroy the tunnels of New York.

I mean, we, we are in the early stages of what I would describe as the third world war, and frankly, our bureaucracies aren’t responding fast enough, we don’t have the right attitude about this, and this is the 58th year of the war to destroy Israel. And frankly, the Israelis have every right to insist that every single missile leave south Lebanon and that the United States ought to be helping the Lebanese government have the strength to eliminate Hezbollah as a military force, not as a political force in the parliament, but as a military force in south Lebanon.

MR. RUSSERT: This is World War III?

MR. GINGRICH: I, I believe if you take all the countries I just listed, that you’ve been covering, put them on a map, look at all the different connectivity, you’d have to say to yourself this is, in fact, World War III.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, is it our war?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE): Indirectly, it’s our war. It seems to me it’s partially our responsibility. I don’t, I don’t agree with the World War III analogy, but I do believe that here we had Israel get out of southern Lebanon. I was there for that election, I was “an official observer.” All the talk from everyone in the parties in Lebanon, that they had to get rid of Hezbollah. The, the U.N. Resolution 1559 said that the—that as, as Israel got out, the, the army of the Lebanese people were going to move and take over that responsibility, they didn’t.

But I might add that we didn’t do anything to help them. We didn’t do anything at the time to help train them. We didn’t do anything at the time to give any attention to it. And now we are, because of our lack of a prevention strategy, we’re left with no option here, in my view, but to support Israel in what is a totally legitimate self-defense effort. How can they, in fact, sit still when they have all these rockets that are very sophisticated sitting on their border, knowing they’re being—going to be fired at them and expect to stand there and the rest of the world sitting around?

And the last point I’ll make, Tim, is I find it fascinating people talk about has Israel gone too far. No one talks about whether Israel’s justified in the first place. Let’s assume Israel’s overreacting. I want to see the world stand up and say, “By the way, this in fact, is an unprovoked effort on the part of a terrorist organization supported by two countries to undermine the democratic state.” Until they say that, I think it’s awful—I think it’s a secondary question whether Israel’s gone too far.

MR. RUSSERT: Did the president pay enough attention to the Middle East? Or was he, as some would suggest, preoccupied with Iraq?

SEN. BIDEN: I don’t believe the president has a Middle East policy. Three years ago the president announced the “axis of evil,” the implication being he had a plan to deal with that “axis of evil.” The truth of the matter is in every respect it’s gotten worse. You now have in Iraq, you have more of what people worry about in that region, the so-called Shia crescent. The Iranian influence is more profound in Iraq today than it ever was. There’s chaos still in Iraq today. We’ve got a long way to go to get out and leave anything stable behind. North Korea, there is really no red line drawn anywhere, nor any real capability of drawing a red line. And Iran is more emboldened. They eliminate their modulus—that is, their parliament, which wasn’t pro-Western, but it was democratic at its instincts.

And so there—there’s not been a plan. This idea that we go in and behead the monster named Saddam, somehow things are going to fall in place I think was naive in the extreme, and we’re paying a very heavy price for it.

MR. RUSSERT: Speaker Gingrich, President Bush, should he try to intervene in this latest Middle East crisis, seek a cease-fire?

MR. GINGRICH: No. I mean, I think it is explicitly wrong and I think Senator Biden and I are basically in agreement on this. It is explicitly wrong to bring pressure on the victim. I mean, Israel did everything it could to withdraw from south Lebanon, and the result was terrorist missiles. Israel withdrew from Gaza, creating an opportunity for a self-governing Palestinian people to create a place of prosperity, and they’ve created a place of terror. And I think for us to now say—imagine that was Miami. Imagine Miami had missiles being fired at it every day. Remember that when Israel loses eight people because of the difference in population, it’s the equivalent of losing almost 500 Americans. Imagine we woke up this morning and 500 Americans were dead in Miami from missiles fired from Cuba. Do you think any American would say, “Now, we should have proportionate response. We shouldn’t overreact”? No. We would say, “Get rid of the missiles.” And, and John F. Kennedy, a Democrat who understood the importance of power in the world, was prepared to go to nuclear war to stop missiles from being in Cuba.

I don’t, I don’t think that, that any realistic person who’s being fair about this is going to focus on Israel. That’s why I don’t want people to think of this as a five-day war. As Senator Biden said, there has been a continuing failure of opportunity to strengthen the Lebanese government. There’s been a failure of opportunity to train and, and, and reinforce the Lebanese Army. There’s been a failure to say, “Look, we are ultimately going have to get—we’re going to have to defeat Hezbollah, and if that means in the long run we have to do something about Syria and Iran, then we need to face up to this.” Ahmadinejad, as recently as yesterday, the leader of Iran, said...

MR. RUSSERT: What do you mean do something about Syria and Iran?

MR. GINGRICH: I mean do whatever it takes—look, let’s say that tomorrow morning the Syrians decide to engage Israel. Let’s say the Iranians decide that they’re going to reinforce their 400 Iranian guards.

MR. RUSSERT: What do you do?

MR. GINGRICH: Well, the first thing you do is say they’re not going to have any over-flight privileges.

MR. RUSSERT: Isn’t it...

MR. GINGRICH: The second thing you do is you say to the Syrians, we have great capacity to pressure the Syrians if we want to. I gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute three years ago and said that the State Department approach of trying to deal with this dictatorship would fail. I think by any reasonable standard, trying to be nice to the Syrians, trying to understand the Syrians, is a dead loser as long as this dictatorship is there, because the planning meetings with Hamas and Hezbollah occurred in Damascus with the Iranian and Syrian ministers.

MR. RUSSERT: But an attack by Syria or Iran on Israel would be considered an attack on the United States?

MR. GINGRICH: I think it should be, it should be an action that we would reinforce the Israelis and others in doing what is necessary. And I think we have—clearly have the capacity to do something. I’m not describing going—widening a war. I’m saying the first step has to be to understand, this is an alliance- -Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas—and you can’t deal with it in isolation.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, I want to show you the front page of The Wall Street Journal from Friday and here’s the article as written. “The growing conflict [in the Middle East] could become a significant setback for the Bush administration’s vision for the region. Mr. Bush and many of his neoconservative strategists said in the months leading up to the Iraq invasion that toppling Saddam would make Israel and secular Arab states safer ... [by allowing] democratic governments to flourish, while depriving Palestinian terrorists of one of their major sponsors in Baghdad.

“Today, many Middle East analysts say the Iraq war has made Israel significantly less safe. Iran has used the conflict to project its influence across Iraq. ... Al-Qaeda ... has developed a safe haven in western Iraq.” Do you agree with that?

SEN. BIDEN: I agree with it completely, and I said that at the time, Tim, I said at the time that the road- -remember, the, the phrase was “the road to peace in the Middle East is through Baghdad.” My argument is the road is through Jerusalem, it wasn’t through Baghdad, number one.

Number two, look where we are right now. We’re in a situation where we have dug such a deep hole we have 10 of our 12 divisions coming or going in Iraq. Everyone knows the ability of us to mount a significant land war anywhere as a potential threat is not a real threat.

And thirdly, I would point out that we have an opportunity to intervene in a different way. There’s an opportunity now, if we had any credibility in that part of the world, to be able to bring together the Sunni powers that, in fact, with all the money—who are scared to death of Hezbollah and the increased influence of Iran. We should be uniting that part of the world to put incredible pressure and consequences on Syria without us having to go to war with Syria. Syria is essentially an isolated state. Syria can have its water cut off, figuratively speaking, tomorrow. But what are we doing? Are we sitting down with the Sunni powers and saying, “Look, let’s get smart here, Jack, we have a common interest here”? But people doubt our judgment. They doubt our judgment and, as a consequence of that, we have very great difficulty getting anyone to think we have a strategy and, therefore, great difficulty getting them to join us.

MR. RUSSERT: You just made your seventh visit to Iraq. Are we winning the war?

SEN. BIDEN: No, we’re not winning the war because we do not have a political solution to offer. There’s three things that have to happen, and they have to happen quickly. Number one, you have to get a Sunni buy-in. That is, you’ve got to have a reason for the Sunnis to say it makes sense to be part of this united government, and that remeans—means you’ve got to give them a piece of the oil, you got to give them a piece of the revenues. They’ve got nothing else.

Number two, you’ve got to disarm that militia. You’ve—and by the—particularly the Shia militia, particularly Sadr’s militia. I don’t see the will on the part of this new Shia-dominated government to go ahead and do that, and we’ve not offered any plan.

And thirdly, you’ve got to figure out a way, Tim, to deal with the civilian agencies that are moribund. They’re—I, I sat with one of the best generals I’m aware of that I’ve dealt with in my 33 years, Chiarelli, the former commander of the 1st Cavalry, and he says to me, he said, “Don’t ever let me criticize a bureaucrat again. They need a bureaucracy here. They can’t even deliver the paychecks to their soldiers that we’ve trained.” They—we were sitting there with General Dempsey, the guy training the Iraqi forces, and he says, “Well, there’s this brigade out here,” and he described where it was, and he said, “It’s Friday afternoon, I find out there—that the Saudi contra”—I mean, excuse me—“the Iraqi contractor delivering food and water and etc. goes home. These troops have nothing to eat.” He said, “I’m on the phone at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and the whole—and the, the whole”—the—say—they call the MOD, the, the Ministry of Defense has gone home. They, they don’t know how to stand up a government. And we have no plan. We have gone in there without a plan. And so unless those three things happen pretty quickly, Tim, I, I, I, I don’t see how we succeed there. Still possible, but I want to tell you, this administration’s failure to have a, a, a political strategy for Iraq has, has raised the bar higher and higher for our ability to, to call it a success.

MR. RUSSERT: We have Iran to consider, Speaker Gingrich. Richard Perle, a man you know well, wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post a few weeks ago, and this is how he described it. And we’ll put it on the screen. “So, after declaring that a nuclear Iran was ‘unacceptable,’ Bush blinked and authorized the E.U.-3 [Great Britain, France and Germany] to approach Tehran with proposals to reward the mullahs if they promised to end their nuclear weapons program.

“During these three years, the Iranians have advanced steadily toward acquiring nuclear weapons, defiantly announcing milestones along the way. At the end of May, with Ahmadinejad stridently reiterating Iran’s right to enrich the uranium necessary for nuclear weapons, the administration blinked again.” Do you agree the administration blinked?

MR. GINGRICH: Yes. Let me put this in a larger context. The United States said that there would be terrible consequences for Korea—North Korea if they fired their missiles. They fired their missiles. We then threatened that the Chinese would come visit them. The Chinese went and visited them, nothing happened. We then said we’ll go to the U.N., and on your show last week, we were told there was going to be a Chapter Seven very tough resolution. The Chinese said they’d veto it if it was tough. They passed a weak resolution, and within 45 minutes the North Koreans had repudiated the resolution. So there’s no consequence.

Meanwhile, the Iranians are watching. These two countries are watching. The, the Iranians watched the, the North Koreans basically stand us down. The North Koreans watched the Iranians basically get face-to- face talks. And these two dictatorships are playing us like a ping-pong game.

And I think this is part of why I said, you’ve got to see this as a larger global campaign. You’ve got to understand these dictatorships all talk to each other. There’s, there’s public footage from North Korean television of the Iranians visiting with Kim Jong Il the dictator, and a North Korean missile manufacturing facility. The North—the Iranians have now unveiled a statue of Simon Bolivar in Tehran to prove their solidarity with Venezuela. I mean, these folks think on a global basis.

And I half agree with Senator Biden, that we need—we need a plan comparable to the scale of the problem. We need to fundamentally reorganize our nonmilitary bureaucracies to be effective. I mean, part of the reason you don’t have an effective Iraqi bureaucracy is the American inability at the State Department, the Agency for International Development, the Treasury Department, the Justice Department to provide any level of systematic competence is, is almost zero.

MR. RUSSERT: But people are going to ask specifically, what would you do? And here’s what you suggested involving North Korea. “The American public is being reassured we have a ballistic-missile defense that will work. No serious person believes this. ... Instead, we should destroy the missile on its site before it is launched. ... America’s actions must be decisive. ... The time for talk is over. Either they dismantle the missile or the United States should dismantle it.”

MR. GINGRICH: Let me give you two citations for that comment. Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, who served both President Clinton and President Carter, who came out publicly and said the same thing.

MR. RUSSERT: And his deputy, Ash Carter...

MR. GINGRICH: No. And Vice President Mondale, who had been ambassador to Japan, who also said the same thing. And, and they said it for a practical reason. You don’t know where an ICBM is going when it’s sitting on the launchpad, and you don’t know what’s in that ICBM.

MR. RUSSERT: But with the war in Iraq going on the way it is, can we risk taking military action against North Korea, against Iran?

MR. GINGRICH: You know, before the show, we were talking about Seattle and the extraordinary port facility there. Can we risk losing San Francisco or Seattle? Can we risk—I mean, people don’t—if nuclear weapons and biological weapons didn’t exist, we would not be having this conversation. But people have got to come to a core grip here. When, when the Hart-Rudman Commission reported in 2001, it said, in March, “The greatest threat to the United States is a weapon of mass destruction going off in an American city, probably from terrorists.”

The North Koreans today—and I think this has been a totally failed policy. We have been talking to the North Koreans through two administrations, and they have been building nuclear weapons while we talked, and I think we have to confront how really dangerous this is. In Iran, by the way, you’ve had riots in Tehran University, you’ve had 1200 people kicked off the ballot for being too pro-reform. If we had an intelligence system that worked, you’d know the first 1200 phone numbers to call in Iran. But, but that would mean you’d have to—you’d have to be in favor of democratizing Iran and, and replacing the current dictatorship, not finding a way to appease them and subsidizing them.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, the number of nuclear weapons or potential nuclear weapons the North Koreans has has doubled since George Bush has been president. Should we dismantle a missile that they’re about to test?

SEN. BIDEN: The first thing we should do is put this in perspective. We don’t even have the intelligence community saying they’re certain they have a nuclear weapon. They have nuclear capability in that they have fissile material, number one. Number two, the North Korean government’s like an eighth-grader with a small bomb looking for attention.

My worry about them is not that they’re going to be able to hit Seattle; they’re not even close, not even remotely close to being able to do that. What I’m worried about is that this totally isolated regime with a guy who doesn’t seem to understand anything, is going to do something very, very stupid that ends up in a shooting war in the Korean peninsula where they have 30,000 pieces of artillery—or, 10,000 pieces of artillery that can take out a significant chunk of South Korea.

It’d be nice if we went in there knowing that we had South Korea with us and Japan with us. They’re not—they don’t support this policy of Richard Perle, or this administration—talk, the tough talk about it.

The second point I’d like to make is, let’s put this in—again in perspective. What is the nature of the threat? This reminds me of the, of the—several years ago on your program, Vice President Cheney sitting here saying the Iranians have reconstituted their nuclear capability. That was malarkey then. I said it then. It’s malarkey now that they have the capacity to hit us.

Now, there is a value judg—a, a, a, a, excuse me, a judgment made whether or not to take out that missile on its pad based on whether or not it had any real—posed any real threat. A lot of us thought it did not pose a real threat, and it turned out it wasn’t much of anything at all. It’d be nice to know ahead of time that we had a president who is able to have a relationship with the prime minister of Japan and the prime minister of South Korea, so that if we did have to use force, which is a possibility, they’re on the same team as we were.

MR. RUSSERT: What would the North Koreans do if we, in fact, took out, pre-emptively, a missile in their...

SEN. BIDEN: If that—if we had reason to believe that missile was a nuclear-tipped missile—which no one thought it was—then I would not hesitate to take it out and not worry about—I’d worry about the consequences, but I would be prepared for the consequences. The possibility is that North Korea would use its artillery shells on South Korea and start a Korean war. The greater concern, though, is that what’s going to happen here is South Korea—understanding we have no real policy—is going to decide three years from now along with Japan, it need be a nuclear power. And you end up having a Korean peninsula that’s nuclearized, you have Japan a nuclear power, you have China going from 18 to 888 ICBMs, India following suit, etc. That’s my worry.

But let’s put this in perspective here. The idea that Iran and/or, and/or South Korea—or North Korea, presents a strategic threat to us from nuclear weapons now is not real, is not real. We have alternatives and plans—we should have plans to be able to deal with the isolation of them and, if need be, there can come a time when we will have to use all the force available to us. But it would be nice to straighten some things out in the meantime.

MR. RUSSERT: But if we do nothing and in five, six years they have 15--the capacity to build 15 nuclear bombs, they only need 14 for protection. Couldn’t they give one to somebody?

SEN. BIDEN: They could. They could, just like Saddam could have. But it’d make no sense for them. They are more paranoid about themselves and what would happen to them and how it would be turned on them than even Saddam was.

Look, I think we ought to look at a little bit of history here. What, what evidence is there of that? There is evidence that they transferred missile technology. There is evidence that they may transfer some of that material. But, in the meantime, it seems to me we’ve got to put ourselves in the position, Tim, that if and when we do act, we act with the world, if not with us, with their acquiescence. Not be in the position like we are now where we become the isolated party, where our judgment is viewed as having no capability of producing results.

And the concluding point I’ll make to you is this: Does anybody think we’re stronger now because we, in fact, have essentially going it alone around the world? Does anybody think we can wage a war now in—against Syria, against Iran, against Korea, and while we’re still bogged down in Iraq? We’ve got to get real here.

MR. RUSSERT: Speaker Gingrich, a lot of people have suggested it’s easy to talk tough, “Take out this missile.” But, in fact, if the North Koreans then decided to shell South Korea and send their million-man army into South Korea, you would lose a million people within a week. We would have a huge war on our hands. And the lesson from Iraq may be we know how to start a war, but—and it’s a lot easier to start a war than it is to finish one.

MR. GINGRICH: Well, you know, Tim, after 9/11, we had a big commission, you know, they had lots of congressional hearings. They all concluded there was a failure of intelligence, and they all concluded there was a failure of imagination. Now, I’m just sitting here saying, this is a dictatorship we don’t understand. Fewer than 10 percent of our intelligence analysts in Korea actually speak Korean because our intelligence community is so broken. And we’re in a situation where the ability to rely on our intelligence community to explain Kim Jong Il’s next step is virtually zero. If one morning there is a ship sitting in New York Harbor or Seattle Harbor or San Francisco Harbor, and that ship is of Panamanian registry, and it happens to have a nuclear device—because I concede right now, we don’t know whether or not they can build a missile-capable nuclear weapon. But they have more than enough fissile material to build a very simple nuclear device that would fit on a ship.

SEN. BIDEN: Agreed.

MR. GINGRICH: And at that point, we look around and somebody’s going to say, “Oh, my God, we could lose a city.” And they say, “You know, we’re totally insane, and if you don’t agree to withdraw from the peninsula and you don’t agree to turn over South Korea, we’re going to set off this weapon and eliminate Seattle.” My point is—and this is a core difference in how, in how I think we think about foreign policy. When in doubt, I want the United States to be very strong and I want us to be very clear with dictatorships. We’re sending signals today that no matter how much you provoke us, no matter how viciously you describe things in public, no matter how many things you’re doing with missiles and nuclear weapons, the most you’ll get out of us is talk.

MR. RUSSERT: You’re talking about the Bush administration.

MR. GINGRICH: I’m talking about the policies of the United States today.

MR. RUSSERT: But that is such a condemnation of George W. Bush.

MR. GINGRICH: Well, it’s not a condemnation of George W. Bush. It’s a statement that—look what we’ve done in the last six weeks. I mean, I think we are in a very serious crisis in this country.

MR. RUSSERT: But what would you do? What would you do?

MR. GINGRICH: Well, first of all, you would say for North Korea, we are currently broadcasting I think it’s 90 minutes a week into North Korea. We’re currently broadcasting a trivial amount into Iran. You had riots in Iran—at Tehran University for weeks. You’ve had trade union movements that are upset, 49 percent of the country is non-Persian. And the amount of effort we’ve made to help those who would like to be free and would like to replace the current dictatorship is trivial. You have in North Korea a dictatorship with 300,000 people in concentration camps, a dictator so evil that he has literally shrunk the height of the average North Korean by three inches over the last generation through malnutrition. And we do nothing to say, you know, over the next five or eight years our goal is to have two countries we can have good relationships with because they become democracies.

And by the way, the Japanese were far more hard-line about the missiles than we were, and the Japanese were very disappointed that we turned to the Chinese, who failed.

MR. RUSSERT: Has the war in Iraq limited our options on Iran, North Korea?

MR. GINGRICH: Only in, only in our own minds.

MR. RUSSERT: Same question.

SEN. BIDEN: I, I think it has. But let me tell you, let me—a slightly different prescription. That, that bomb in the rusty hull of a Panamanian tanker, that is something that I talked about on your show three and a half years ago. What have we done? We’ve done nothing in terms of homeland security. We have $43 billion that the homeland security—that the 9/11 commission said in December we should be spending on areas we’re getting D’s and C’s. We haven’t spent it at all. Instead—we’ll disagree here—instead we decide to give a $53 billion tax cut to people making over a million bucks a year. Our priorities are backwards, Tim.

Number two, real simple message sent to the Koreans. This is—I worry about this eighth-grade mentality they have up there. “You do something like that, we will annihilate you.” We have the complete capacity to annihilate them, number two.

Number three, we should be talking about how we’re going to proceed here. John Kennedy—quoting a muscular Democrat—John Kennedy said we should never negotiate out of fear, we should never fear negotiation. We’re so big and so strong, the idea that we’re not sitting down having a come to the—an altar call with the leader of North Korea in a private meeting and saying, “Jack, let’s tell you what the deal is here.”

MR. RUSSERT: One-on-one?

SEN. BIDEN: One-on-one. I called for that three years ago. That’s not born out of weakness.

MR. RUSSERT: Should the, should the president invite Kim Jong Il to Washington?

SEN. BIDEN: No, that’s, that’s, you’re, you’re giving him a status he doesn’t warrant. But we should have a high-level negotiator sitting down, saying, “Here’s the deal.” This is what’s in it for you if you behave, this is when it’s not.” You know why these guys wouldn’t do that three years ago? They’re afraid the answer may come back, “OK, we’ll give you verifiable agreement on missiles and on nuclear, but you got to promise not to try to take us down.” That, for a neocon, is like me as a Catholic denying the existence of a trinity. We did that with the Soviet Union...

MR. RUSSERT: Would you give such an assurance?

SEN. BIDEN: Sure, I’d give such an assurance, and agree to—in fact, continue to take them on in every other activity, just like we did Russia, just send them in there. (Unintelligible).

MR. RUSSERT: Would you promise North Korea and Iran that the regimes could stay in place...

SEN. BIDEN: Wait, wait a second.

MR. RUSSERT: Simple question. Would you promise North Korea and Iran the regimes could stay in place if they stopped a nuclear program?

MR. GINGRICH: Let, let me speak for my good friend here, because I don’t think he quite meant to say that. They want an agreement that we will not militarily take them down.

SEN. BIDEN: Yeah.

MR. GINGRICH: They’re not asking—I mean we would never give them...

SEN. BIDEN: Yeah.

MR. GINGRICH: ...an agreement that we wouldn’t try through—exactly as we did in Poland, in Czechoslovakia, in Hungary, in Ukraine, to encourage people to live, live in a free country. We’re not going to give up the right to say that—to North Korea, “You are a terrible dictatorship destroying your own people, and they deserve the right to self government.”

MR. RUSSERT: But you would pledge, you would pledge no military intervention?

MR. GINGRICH: We’re not going to intervene. There’s no prospect of the United States cheerfully, out of the blue, starting a war with North Korea. But let me point out what Senator Biden implied here. If they believed us, and if we looked them in the eye and said, “You put up a missile we’ll take it down, and by the way, you fire one round into South Korea, this regime’s over,” if they believed that, they wouldn’t fire into South Korea. And by the way, if they believed it, they wouldn’t put a missile on the launching pad.

MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. Newt Gingrich, Joe Biden.

SEN. BIDEN: We should tell them that.

MR. RUSSERT: Thank you for an interesting discussion.

Coming next, columnist Robert Novak answers questions about his role in the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation. He’s coming up next, right here, only on MEET THE PRESS.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: Robert Novak, his now-famous July 2003 column and his role in the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation after this station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: And we’re back. Bob Novak, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. ROBERT NOVAK: Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: Here’s your column, July 14, 2003. “[Joe] Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me that Wilson’s wife suggested sending him to Niger.” That identity of Valerie Plame as a CIA agency operative triggered an investigation. Until this week, we did not know whether you had testified before the special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. You now say that in October of ‘03, you talked to the FBI; January of ‘04, to Patrick Fitzgerald; February of ‘04, Patrick Fitzgerald; and February of ‘04, the grand jury. Did you tell those law enforcement officials who your sources were?

MR. NOVAK: Yes, because they already knew. On my first interview, my first interview with the FBI, I had refused to give up the names of my sources. The second interview with Mr. Fitzgerald, I was in a dilemma because he had, as you know, waivers that I could give up the identity from just about everybody in the government. That didn’t cut any ice with me, I didn’t think I could give it up. And then I was told that he had only the waivers from the sources that I had talked to. Only two waivers. When he actually arrived, he had the third waiver from the CIA spokesman. In other words, Tim, he knew who my sources were, and so it wasn’t a matter of me giving them up.

MR. RUSSERT: We were subpoenaed at NBC. We fought the subpoenas. Time magazine subpoenaed, fought the subpoenas. New York Times fought the subpoenas. Why didn’t you fight the subpoena?

MR. NOVAK: Because my lawyer said I did not have a clear constitutional chance of surviving. I had to make this decision myself. I was operating as an independent operator, paying the burden—the great burden of my legal fees. Chicago Sun-Times helped me, but it was, essentially, my decision. And my attorney, Jim Hamilton, a very prominent attorney, believed that there was a high probability that I would lose the case in court, and it would not be good for press freedoms. As a matter of fact, you lost the case. In fact, everybody who went to court lost the case. And the law protecting the rights of journalists, which I feel very strongly about, has suffered by people going—by fighting it, and that’s one thing I wanted to avoid.

MR. RUSSERT: How do you believe Patrick Fitzgerald knew the identity of your sources?

MR. NOVAK: I don’t know. I thought he did it—he knew the identity almost from the very beginning of the, of the case. In other words, he has known for two and a half, for three—for two and a half years who my sources were and decided that no law was broken. And he did not bring any kind of indictment against my primary source, whose identity has still not been publicly made known.

MR. RUSSERT: But he knows it?

MR. NOVAK: Of course he knows it. He gave it—he—that’s—he made it clear to me he knew it my first interview with him.

MR. RUSSERT: When I was subpoenaed, we announced it. When I testified before Patrick Fitzgerald, we announced that and what I had said. And so, too, with Time magazine and The New York Times. Why did you wait almost three years to tell the public that you had been subpoenaed and what you said?

MR. NOVAK: Mr. Fitzgerald asked my lawyer not, not to divulge our, our contacts. He advised that that was good, good advice until his investigation was completed. When he announced that Karl Rove would not be indicted, my attorney went to Mr. Fitzgerald and asked him if it was—if that request now no longer held true, and he said that his investigation had been concluded as far as I was concerned.

MR. RUSSERT: Many lawyers involved in the case have said that your primary source is the same as that for Bob Woodward of The Washington Post. Ben Bradlee, the former executive editor of The Washington Post, said this about Bob Woodward’s source: “That [former Deputy Secretary of State Richard] Armitage is the likely source is a fair assumption.” Is it?

MR. NOVAK: I’m not going to speculate on who the source was. I would’ve said a long time ago if I was going to. I believe that, as far as making his name public on NBC, in my column, on any—for any—on any other means is a violation of the tacit arrangement in which I interviewed him when he gave me the name, when he gave me the fact of Mrs. Wilson’s involvement in this case. So, until he reveals himself—as Karl Rove, through his attorney, has revealed himself, or as Bill Harlow of the CIA has revealed himself—I’m going to be quiet. Now, I am—a lot of people feel this is going to come out sooner or later, probably sooner, but I can’t speculate on that.

MR. RUSSERT: Would it be wrong to suggest Richard Armitage?

MR. NOVAK: I don’t, I don’t make any speculation on who it is.

MR. RUSSERT: What were the ground rules of your interview?

MR. NOVAK: I, I have interviews all—I’m a—I’m a reporting columnist, as opposed to a thumbsucking columnist, and I have all kinds of interviews with people where there is a tacit agreement that, that no—that I will not reveal the name. I sat down with this source, who was not a, as I have said 10 million times, was not a political gunslinger. We had a long talk, an hour-long talk. We were the only people in the room. I didn’t have a tape recorder; I didn’t take notes. It’s the kind of tacitly not-for-attribution interview that I do constantly as part of my work for the last half-century in Washington.

MR. RUSSERT: And what did the source tell you about Valerie Plame?

MR. NOVAK: What, what the source told me, I—we had talked about several things, and I, I got to the question, what I was really interested in was that Joe Wilson had been on MEET THE PRESS the previous Sunday, and I was—I thought he was quite hostile to the—to the administration. And I was curious, why would the CIA send this person, who was hostile, and who was—that didn’t have any background with the CIA, hadn’t been in Africa for a long time, why would they send him on this mission? And he said, “Well, you know, his wife suggested it. She works in the counterproliferation division of the, of, of, of the CIA.” And so that, that, I thought, was interesting. I put it in the middle of the column, didn’t leave the column with it, you read that paragraph—it was just about in the middle of the column. And, and then—I then called the CIA, and the spokesman told me that she didn’t initiate it, she facilitated it. That, that happened to be wrong, because the Senate Intelligence Committee has said that she did initiate the trip and they have a document to prove it.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, the Senate Intelligence Committee indicated that, but they did not conclude it.

MR. NOVAK: The—I believe that the, that the Republican majority concluded it.

MR. RUSSERT: The Republican majority did, but the Democrats did not.

MR. NOVAK: They didn’t, they didn’t take it up and they didn’t dissent from it, either.

MR. RUSSERT: It’s not an official conclusion, but it is in the report as an indication.

MR. NOVAK: And the, and, and there’s a, a document that, that confirms it.

MR. RUSSERT: Did he give you the—her name?

MR. NOVAK: No, he did not.

MR. RUSSERT: Now, Newsday interviewed you a few weeks after your column ran, back in 2003, and quotes you as saying this, “I didn’t dig it out, it was given to me. They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it.”

MR. NOVAK: That was a misstatement on my part. I—I’m—I’ve found I’m much better—I hope I’m not screwing up on this interview because I’m much better interviewing than I am giving interviews. They didn’t give me the name. And of course it was not a “they,” it was one person, which I later checked out with Mr. Rove. They, they—the Newsday article also paraphrased me as saying they came to me, I never said they came to me, because obviously I initiated the interview.

MR. RUSSERT: Newsday stands by that story. And you know if a politician said that, which you said, and contrasted it with what you’re saying now, people would say, “Wait a minute. Something’s wrong here.”

MR. NOVAK: Well, I was wrong when I said they came to me.

MR. RUSSERT: You...

MR. NOVAK: I mean, when I said that they gave me the name, because I got the name from, from “Who’s Who in America.”

MR. RUSSERT: You did say that the column—the story—the disclosure was inadvertent on the part of your primary source. A third party told you that.

MR. NOVAK: A third party close to the primary source called me after the investigation was launched and said, and said that he believed that it was—he believed he had given me inadvertent—inadvertently given me information—this information.

MR. RUSSERT: Have you spoken to your primary source?

MR. NOVAK: No.

MR. RUSSERT: Not since that interview?

MR. NOVAK: No.

MR. RUSSERT: When you were on MEET THE PRESS October of ‘03, I asked you about the Newsday piece, and you did repeat, you said, quote, “What I meant was that the senior official had given me her name.”

MR. NOVAK: Well, that, that was just—that’s just a misstatement on my part. He, he—what he said exactly was his wife, his wife had done it. I got the name—because I, I, I realized I didn’t have the name, and I figured out, how am I going to get this name to put in, in the column? So I said, “Maybe it’s in ‘Who’s Who.’” And I looked it up and there it was.

MR. RUSSERT: In fact, you wrote, “I learned Valerie Plame’s name from Joe Wilson’s entry in “Who’s Who” in America. And here is the “Who’s Who” from 2003, Wilson, Joseph Charles IV, ambassador, married to Valerie Elise Plame August 3, 1998.” Was that the very first time you had seen or head the name Valerie Plame?

MR. NOVAK: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: No one told you?

MR. NOVAK: No.

MR. RUSSERT: But they did tell you “his wife.”

MR. NOVAK: He told me his wife worked in the counterproliferation division of the—they did not say she was a covert operative, didn’t say she was a covered operative. A lot of people say, “Well, why’d you call her an operative in the column?” I call all kinds of politicians operatives. It’s maybe a bad habit, I—but I still do it. I see somebody’s running a congressional campaign in Wyoming, I’d call them an operative.

MR. RUSSERT: But having said twice before that you got the name of a senior official...

MR. NOVAK: Oh, a mistake.

MR. RUSSERT: ...you can understand why people are...

MR. NOVAK: I understand, I understand, but it was—it’s just nota—it’s just not factually correct and I have, I have testified under oath about this.

MR. RUSSERT: You have?

MR. NOVAK: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: That they did not give you the name?

MR. NOVAK: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: Bill Harlow, the CIA spokesman that you called when you were working on this story, this is how The Washington Post characterized his testimony about this situation. “[Bill] Harlow, the former CIA spokesman ... said he warned Novak ... that Wilson’s wife had not authorized the mission and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed. Harlow said that after Novak’s call, he checked Plame’s status and confirmed that she was an undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame’s name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified.” Is that accurate?

MR. NOVAK: No. That was, that was not testimony, that was an interview with reporters from The Washington Post. What, what Mr. Harlow told me was—he asked me not to use her name, did not say she was, she was a covered employee, and I still don’t believe she was engaged in any covert activities, and I do that from talking to other people at the, at the CIA. He said that it was, it was highly unlikely...

MR. RUSSERT: But she was undercover, you, you grant her that?

MR. NOVAK: She—I don’t think she—there’s a difference between undercover and being a covert agent. She was, she was doing analytical work at the CIA. She was not involved in any covert activities.

MR. RUSSERT: But her friends and neighbors did not know that she worked for the CIA.

MR. NOVAK: Well, it was—other people contend to me that it was very widely known in circles in town that she did work for the CIA. Not that that...

MR. RUSSERT: But her official status was not to be publicly identified.

MR. NOVAK: That’s right. There’s a lot, a lot of people like that, but she was a person who went to work every day as an analyst because she—I am told, she had been outed by the traitor Aldridge Aimes many years ago. But the—but the—but as a matter of fact, I’m getting back to Harlow. What Harlow said to me was that if she were to make a trip overseas in the future, it might be embarrassing for her, but he also said before that, he said it is highly unlikely she will ever do—make a trip for the agency abroad. In other words, he was telling me that she was not going to do any covert activities. He never said she was in danger. And I have said before that if he had called me or if he had put George Tenet on the phone, who I’m sure was aware of what was going on, and said, “Please don’t run this, this woman’s life is in danger. We have secret operations going,” I wouldn’t have used—I would’ve knocked the paragraph out of the story. He didn’t do that.

MR. RUSSERT: As you know, Carlo—Harlow works as an NBC News consultant. I talked to him on Friday. He said that he told you, “It’d be really bad if you wrote her publicly.”

MR. NOVAK: He didn’t say that. He never said that. Now he may—he may, he may think he said it, but he, he never—he never said that to me. I don’t know if you know Mr. Harlow very well, he’s a very low-key guy. I like Mr. Harlow. He’s a novelist. He’s a very interesting man, but he’s very low key. He didn’t press me. He didn’t push it very hard and I—you probably have this, too. I have a lot of people in government say, “Please don’t run this,” and I run it anyway. But when they really say it’s a matter of life and death, I don’t run it.

MR. RUSSERT: In hindsight, do you regret writing this column?

MR. NOVAK: I don’t know. I try—I used to try to think about whether I would have put—I would have preferred not to be the center of news. I would have preferred not to be sitting with you and being an interviewee. I like to be an analyst, rather, and a commentator. But it’s very hard to go back and say, “What would you do if you had it to do over again?” I thought it was a valid news story of why in the world he got assigned that thing. I still believe, I don’t think there’s any question, he got assigned that because of his wife. And that was a small part of a very strange assignment. I—the answer to my—to your question, I don’t know.

MR. RUSSERT: But no regrets outing a CIA agent?

MR. NOVAK: I don’t think I outed her. I think she was outed by Aldridge Aimes before. I don’t think she was a, a covert operative.

MR. RUSSERT: Robert Novak, we thank you for joining us and sharing your views.

MR. NOVAK: Thank you very much.

MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: Check out our MEET THE PRESS Web site. Sign up for our weekly newsletter. Each Friday you can find out who’ll be meeting the press on Sunday, delivered e-mail right on your computer. Subscribe, mtp.msnbc.com.

Start your day tomorrow on “Today,” then the “NBC Nightly News” with Brian Williams. He’ll be live from the Middle East.

That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.

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