This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," August 2, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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AYATOLLAH KHAMENEI, SUPREME LEADER OF IRAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): All of the powerful and mighty powers of the world, especially the Great Satan, America, should know that the Iranian nation will not surrender to any power.


BRIT HUME, HOST: That wasn’t he, but there’s a new man in Iran. Nothing new, of course, about the rhetoric from the top leader, as you could hear there, and nothing new about the new system in which the new president will operate.

But a new U.S. intelligence report came to light this week on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. So what to make of all these developments? For answers, we turn to Kenneth Pollack, who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, specializing in the Middle East.

Welcome, nice to have you.


HUME: First of all, the new guy, we know that — I guess, he was one of the captors of the Americans who were taken hostage there back in the Carter years, the latter stages of the Carter years. We expect him to be a hard-liner. But in that structure, does he matter?

POLLACK: That’s the $64,000 question, Brit. I think that the way we’ve got to approach it is, he only matters if the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei (search), wants him to matter.

Over the last five years, Khamenei systematically went about taking all of the powers of the Iranian presidency away from the president, because he had a reformist president, Mohammed Khatami (search), who he didn’t like. So that’s the office that this new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (search), takes over.

If he’s going to have any power, it’s only going to be because Khamenei allows him to take back some of the powers that he took away from Khatami. So we just don’t know if this guy is going to be able to play any kind of a meaningful role.

HUME: Well, it would seem, though, that if he wanted to move in a direction that the United States would appreciate, the chances are he won’t have any power.

POLLACK: Well, I think that’s unlikely, just because everything that we know about him — and I’ve got to say, we don’t know a whole lot about him — but everything that we do about him suggests he’s not terribly interested.

HUME: In doing that anyway?


POLLACK: Exactly. That said, the Supreme Leader Khamenei clearly doesn’t have any love for the United States, but he’s demonstrated in his own kind of strange way a degree of pragmatism. He understands Iran is a country with a lot of problems. And he’s been careful to not try to poke the United States unnecessarily.

HUME: Well, certainly, this business with the nuclear program, which I think most intelligence analysts agree is intended to be a nuclear weapons program at some point — how soon or far away we can discuss in a moment — is something the United States doesn’t appreciate.

What do you think now of the prospects of the European effort that the United States has tried to rely on? Does it have any chance, in your view, of bringing about a change in the behavior there?

POLLACK: Well, I think this is a real gut check for the Europeans. This is a key issue. For the last two years, the Europeans have been singing a very different tune on Iran. It’s actually very nice to hear them finally singing it, which is they do not want Iran to have a nuclear program, and they’ve actually gotten tough with the Iranians on a number of occasions.

But I think what we’re now going to see, over the next three or four months, and we’re already starting to see it with this decision by the Iranians to restart their conversion plant, is they’re going to start playing hardball. And it is going to be a real test of the Europeans to see whether they’re willing to really stick with this policy.

HUME: Which would mean going to United Nations, seeking to apply sanctions against them...

POLLACK: Exactly.

HUME: Which the Iranians would care about, I presume?

POLLACK: Exactly. The Iranians are terrified that the Europeans will join the United States in economic sanctions against Iran, because the Iranians are heavily dependent on economic assistance from Europe. And the threat of those sanctions is what keeps the Iranians in these negotiations.

But I think what you’re going to see is some tests from the Iranians, where they’re going to try to get to peel the Europeans away from us. And the question is going to be whether the Europeans are going to be wiling to stick with us.

HUME: Now, let me turn for a moment to the report that came to light this week of a new national intelligence estimate that suggested Iran, rather than being something like five years away from having a bomb or a weapon, is 10 years away.

First of all, just for the benefit of people who don’t know, what is a national intelligence estimate? And why is it so important?

POLLACK: Well, a national intelligence estimate is the consensus view of the American intelligence community. It is drafted by a special group within the intelligence community who go out and seek a consensus from all of the analysts in the community.

So if a president gets a national intelligence estimate, he can look at it and say, "All of my people agree on this."

HUME: Right. And this is supposed to have real policy weight.

POLLACK: Absolutely.

HUME: This is the document you’re supposed to go by, according to the way it’s designed, correct?

POLLACK: That’s the theory.

HUME: You don’t have to, but you’re supposed to.

POLLACK: But that’s the theory.


HUME: All right. So what does this do, then, to the urgency of — I mean, clearly this intelligence must be the same intelligence our European friends have, as well.


HUME: What did this do to the urgency of the effort to try to get Iran to heel here on this weapons program?

POLLACK: Well, I think it does suggest that there is less urgency to the problem than perhaps we thought earlier on, that we’ve got some time to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.

HUME: That’s good news.

POLLACK: That’s the very good news. The very good news is that we’ve got time and therefore we can allow this kind of a diplomatic effort where we’re working with the Europeans on carrots and sticks. We can let it play out.

The bad news out there, of course, is, you need to be very careful with these kinds of estimates, especially estimates about how long or how far away a country is from getting nuclear weapons.

HUME: Yes, because instead being a 70-30 decision, it might have been 51-49, with nobody too sure, right?

POLLACK: Right, who the heck knows? And you know, look, the track record is not a good one. Let’s remember our experiences on Iraq...

HUME: Right.

POLLACK: ... which, you know, I personally had gotten burned on.

HUME: I got you.

POLLACK: In 1991, the intelligence community was certain the Iraqis were 10 years away from having a nuclear weapon. They turned out to be two years away. In 2003, they were certain the Iraqis were five to seven years away. They turned out to be much longer away.

These things are very tricky. And you can’t make real hard estimates.

HUME: Ken Pollack, always good to have you. Thanks very much for coming.

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