Transcript: Sen. Pat Roberts on FOX News Sunday

Following is a transcribed excerpt from FOX News Sunday, March 2, 2003.

TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS:  Good morning from Fox News in Washington.

A Pakistani operation yesterday netted one of the top members of Al Qaeda's leadership. American officials have taken custody of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whom they are now holding in an undisclosed location. Mohammed, a mastermind of the September 11th attacks, was apprehended with two other suspected terrorists at a hideout in Rawalpindi.

Mohammed studied at two North Carolina universities. He also was tied to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. His nephew, Ramzi Yousef (ph), is in prison for that attack. Only Usama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri rank higher in Al Qaeda than Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

For more on this, we're joined by Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Senator Roberts recently returned from an intelligence-gathering trip to Pakistan and other nations in the region.

Also here, Brit Hume, Washington managing editor of Fox News.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, what does his arrest do to Al Qaeda?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS, R-Kan.: Big fish. Really a big fish. He's the king fish. He's the operations manager. You just saw in the lineup there that one, two, three, four, five -- I'll tell you what, if there was one person that we wanted to get, it was this man.

SNOW: So this is a man who, in the absence of being able to put him together, this is a man who if we do not -- or if we have him in custody, he suddenly becomes unable to coordinate attacks. What does this do, again, to their ability to mount attacks?

ROBERTS: This is a giant step backwards for the Al Qaeda. This must send a message -- will send a message to the Al Qaeda who is mounting a spring offensive for use in Afghanistan. Now their operations commander is simply out of operations.

We were there in Afghanistan. We knew that we were trying things -- we, basically the Pakistanis -- that would be more bold, more aggressive, and it worked.

SNOW: Now, do you think that it is likely that Usama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri are somewhere nearby?

ROBERTS: It wouldn't surprise me a bit. I think in that no- man's land in between Pakistan and Afghanistan, almost a medieval kind of situation, 12,000 feet high, very difficult to locate people of this type in this terrain.

But the idea behind this program is to go after the top ten. We got the operations manager; more coming. Look out, Al Qaeda. The war on terrorism is succeeding.

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: You said if there was one person we wanted to get, this would be the guy. Do you put him, as a capture, ahead of Usama bin Laden or Ayman Al-Zawahiri?

ROBERTS: Well, that's, you know, difficult to rate. We'll settle for any of the three. But if you've got the operations manager, if you've got the guy who's pulling the strings and saying, "We're going to do this, we're going to do that," and he's been doing this ever since 1980 -- or pardon me, 1993 on the World Trade Center, it's a real coup for us. And I think there will be more coming.

HUME: Since he's been on the run and hiding out, is it your understanding that he's continued to function as the operations chief or not?

ROBERTS: Yes, that's our understanding.

HUME: All right. Now, do you know where he now is? We now have him. Do you know where he is?

ROBERTS: He's in captivity.

HUME: Somewhere in the United States or somewhere else?

ROBERTS: He's in captivity. That's about all I'm going to say about that.

HUME: How aggressive should his interrogators, American interrogators, be in trying to get information from him?

ROBERTS: Well, basically as aggressive as we can be over time. You hope for success. We are not doing anything that would be at odds with the Geneva Convention. That sometimes this takes a little more time, and we will take that time.

HUME: His two sons, I believe, are in captivity.

ROBERTS: That's correct.

HUME: Should their captivity be a factor in how he's questioned?

ROBERTS: Well, I know what you're inferring, but I don't think that would be the case. But the fact that all three are now in captivity sends another message to the Al Qaeda. You know, this has to be a tremendous blow to them just at the time that they're trying to get together on the borders of Afghanistan to conduct a spring offensive.

By the way, there are 500 less Al Qaeda to conduct that kind of operation than there were before, a year ago. Now, that's from the military standpoint from the United States. This is Pakistan, and when we were there, the big question they had, do you have the resolve to stay there? And we insisted that was the case. And many instances, I think that we were involved and we backed away in the '90s and now we're back. And so what we did was to deliver a strong message, "Yes, we will be here. Yes, we have the resolve. Yes, we will back you." And this is the result. And they deserve a great deal of credit.

HUME: Does this tell us anything about the extent of Pakistani cooperation and the willingness of General Musharraf to be fully with us in this continued question?

ROBERTS: General Musharraf is a hero, and I told him that, you know, face to face. I said, "Be safe." Because under some opposition in his country -- and if we go to war against Iraq, there will be demonstrations -- that government will be part of the demonstrations to some extent, but he also realizes the war against terrorism is a separate war that endangers his country. He wants a stabilized Pakistan, he wants our help, so he's being a very courageous individual.

SNOW: You have mentioned a couple of times, there's a new operation, a new sense of aggressiveness against Al Qaeda, and you say, "Look out, Al Qaeda." Does this mean that we have a bead on some of the others in the top 10 right now?

ROBERTS: I don't know if a bead, I think it's an operation plan that we hope to be successful. In this particular case, this is an ongoing plan. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It takes perseverance. But it is more bold, it is more aggressive, and it did work.

SNOW: Do you believe there are links between Al Qaeda and the government of Iraq? In particular, there's been talk of Abu Zarqawi (ph)...


SNOW: ... who has been putting together a camp in northern Iraq, in the...

ROBERTS: Yes, that's the poison center or the toxin center.

SNOW: Do you believe he's got a link with Saddam Hussein?

ROBERTS: I don't think there's any question about it.

ROBERTS: Nothing goes on in that country that Saddam Hussein doesn't know anything about.

SNOW: Even though people say that is a largely ungovernable, independent area, run by the Kurds, you still think Saddam Hussein knows about it and condones it?

ROBERTS: Well, let me turn it around. Do you think he doesn't? I don't think there's any question that he knows about it.

And I think there's a cell in Baghdad, and I think there's -- that's part of the reason why Iraq is so important, is to deny sanctuary. You don't want it to become a new Afghanistan. And so consequently, if you do have a toxin center, and you do have signal intelligence indicating that those kind of toxins could be used, why, I think it's a very dangerous situation.

HUME: That's a place, obviously, then, that the United States forces, should there be war, would want to get on to quickly, to try to...

ROBERTS: Very quickly.

HUME: Yes. How big a blow, then, is the decision or non- decision by the Turkish parliament as to our ability to base there for an attack?

ROBERTS: Well, that's not a good situation, by any means. I understand that they're going to vote again on Tuesday. Sounds like the Senate of the United States and some of the things that we do, but at any rate, next Tuesday.

But when we were there, in Kuwait and in Qatar, in talking to the command, they do have contingency plans via airlift to conduct the same kind of operation, but that's going to be much more difficult.

I hope we can work this out. The main concern, basically, of the Turks is the Kurds, and the main concern of the Kurds is the Turks. But we think, with our troops in the area, it could be stabilized, and that's what we're trying to sell.

HUME: Tell me, if you can, anything you might know about this story that's in the London newspaper, "The Observer," that says that -- it publishes what purports to be a memo from a National Security Agency official -- they're the intercept people, of course -- to his team that says, "Find out all you can about key members of the U.N. Security Council, particularly the temporary members of the Security Council."

ROBERTS: Well, I have no doubt that, on the United States side, that the team in the United Nations probably meet on a regular basis and say, "What have you heard in regards to what you're picking up on the Security Council, where the vote might be?" I think that's perfectly understandable.

I can't comment on the memo, because I haven't seen it.

HUME: The implication of the memo would seem to be that direct intercepts would be the result of this, of the phone conversations, perhaps the e-mail traffic and so on, of these members of the U.N. Security Council.

First of all, is that kind of thing standard, to be expected, or would this be an unusually aggressive way to look into the goings-on of people who we would normally regard as friends?

ROBERTS: It would be very aggressive. But as I say, I have not seen the memo, so I really can't comment on it.

HUME: Well, if it does involve intercepts of their phone conversations, wiretapping and so on, would you regard that as proper or improper?

ROBERTS: Well, I would regard that as a topic of a hearing on the Intelligence Committee which probably would take place in the very immediate future.

SNOW: In other words, if you think there's anything to this report, you will probably meet in closed session and talk about it next week?

ROBERTS: I that I you pretty well summed it up.

SNOW: OK. I want to backtrack a little bit. We were talking about Iraq and the possibility of war. There were also reports in "The Washington Times" this week that Iraqi soldiers are defecting and also planning to defect.

What intelligence do we have on the willingness of Saddam Hussein's own troops to fight for him?

ROBERTS: Well, go back to '91, and basically they laid down their arms. We're not talking about the Republican Guard or his security guard out by Baghdad, but in the south.

And I think, without question, everybody knows, we have people on the ground. We've dropped leaflets. We're conducting psychological warfare. They are estimates. You know, bigger than a bread box. We have estimates in double digits.

SNOW: Double digits, meaning what?

ROBERTS: 11 percent, 12 percent, whatever percent it might be, in terms of people who would defect.

I think the biggest thing is that, when you talk to the tribal leaders, and when you talk to other people in the south, more especially the Shi'as, who have suffered under Saddam Hussein, the number-one question they ask is, "Are you going to finish the job? Are you going to do the job? Do you have the resolve? Don't come in here and tell us that you're going to draw the line in the sand and then back out."

It's their lives at stake, it's their neighborhood. And if it continues to go, with the operations tempo problems that we have already, it seems to me the more Saddam finds out about that, the more they put the tribals at risk.


ROBERTS: So one of the things that the president says when time is running out, that is one of the considerations we have.

SNOW: All right, let's switch to North Korea. South Korea's new president now is extremely concerned because it appears that the Yongbyon nuclear facility is up and running.

ROBERTS: It's about time he's concerned.

SNOW: Why do you say that?

ROBERTS: Well, you know, before that, I'm not saying that it is live and let live, but it seems to me that there is a generation of people in South Korea who have lived next to the tiger with the door open and you just don't think the tiger is ever going to come out. They can't imagine that that's going to happen after 50 years of really living under the umbrella of the United States. I think that's changing as they see the tests and a possible missile launch and what the North Koreans are doing.

SNOW: Do you believe the North Koreans are preparing now to start enriching plutonium in anticipation of creating new nuclear weapons?

ROBERTS: Yes, I do.

SNOW: And how soon do you think they're going to do that?

ROBERTS: Well, that is up to Kim Jong Il. He's hard to predict. But I would say that there would be an initial test, an initial launch. I think he is playing the nuclear card, because that's the only card he has to play.

SNOW: So what should our response be? A lot of people are saying that the United States needs to have one-on-one talks now with his government and get him to back off. Because it's pretty clear that even though we say it is up to the Chinese and Russians, they're not going to do much.

ROBERTS: Tony, how can you have one-on-one talks? I have been in Pyongyang. I have talked to the North Koreans. We were the first official delegation allowed in -- Senator Stevens, Senator Inouye, Senator Domenici, and Senator Cochran. We were trying to arrange a third-party green sale because of the terrible famine at that particular time. And all you get is rhetoric back.

If you go one-on-one with engagement, what is it that you are going to engage? What are the terms?

It would be much better, it seems to me, to have Japan, to have the Chinese, to have the South Koreans and the United States on a joint diplomatic effort. Military intervention, in this particular case, simply does not work.

HUME: Senator, how hard are Republicans prepared to fight, and for how long, to end the filibuster against the judicial nomination of Miguel Estrada?

ROBERTS: That's a pretty sad commentary. It's not only Estrada. You're getting my dander up now. It's not only Estrada; it is a new standard. If this sticks, if the filibuster sticks, it will mean that you will have to have 60 votes for any nominee. We are really changing the constitutional design of what it takes to basically nominate and approve any judge. That's the big issue, as well as Estrada. So, we're going to keep fighting.

HUME: Well, does "keep fighting" mean that you're prepared to keep the Senate in for long hours, perhaps overnight sessions, to make this filibuster a real filibuster? Or are you going to have this sort of genteel...

ROBERTS: Brit, we as them. We as them. All we ask for is a vote. You know, we as them. We're not keeping the Senate in, they are. I'm talking about my good Democrat friends across the aisle.

I know some have a lot of concern in regards to Estrada, that many more of them, in my personal view, are simply marching lockstep. And this is not right.

HUME: Well, Senator, that may be so, but the majority can control what is on the Senate floor at any given moment and how long the Senate stays in session day after day or whether overnight or not.

And there is a difference between an old-fashioned filibuster, an exhausting affair that is difficult for the filibusters to wage, and the more genteel kinds of filibusters that have been conducted in recent years, where you just go on to other things between cloture votes. Which is it going to be?

ROBERTS: I don't think the other side has been very genteel. I think to simply grant us a vote makes a great deal of sense, not only for Miguel Estrada but also not to have a standard that you're going to have 60 votes for any judge that comes down the pike.

I'm not normally a partisan person, but this, you know, this really, this really disturbs me in regards to changing the way that any future judge will be approved. This is a constitutional issue as well as Estrada. It's got my dander up.

SNOW: All right. Senator Pat Roberts, thanks for joining us today.

ROBERTS: Thank you. It's my privilege.

SNOW: Coming up next, Saddam Hussein reluctantly destroys some missiles. Does that mean he's disarming?