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Special Report Roundtable - March 26

FOX News Special Report With Brit Hume

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I want to get it resolved in an easy and diplomatic way as possible because it's the welfare of the people concerned that have been taken by the Iranian government that is most important. But this is a very serious situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: He's talking, of course -- Tony Blair is, the capture by Iran of, what, 15 marines -- British marines and sailors in what the British insist were Iraqi waters, that this was an illegal kidnapping, really. The Iranians say -- the Iranians say, they no, strayed into Iran's territorial waters and their capture was legitimate.

Analytical observations on this now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, imagine that; and Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, wow; and Bill Sammon, senior White House correspondent of the Washington Examiner -- they're all FOX NEWS contributors. That's, of course, the big title.

BILL SAMMON, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: There's no junior member, that's why I'm senior.

HUME: That's right. That's right. All right, now, so, what is Iran up to here? What is going on? Mort, your thoughts.

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: Well, in 2004 they did the same thing. They seized eight sailors and let them go in three days. Now it's four days, going into four days, and they're threatening -- the Iranians are threatening to charge these sailors and marines with violating Iranian space. So, the question is, you know -- nobody is sure what they're to, I mean...

HUME: What the Iranians are up to?

KONDRACKE: What the Iranians are up to. It could...

HUME: Does anybody think that these sailors -- is there any credibility to the idea that they were in Iran's water?

KONDRACKE: No. No, it was practically the identical place where they pick them up in 2004. I mean, one possibility is that they were retaliating in advance for the Saturday vote in which the U.N. Security Council decided to freeze the assets of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and it was Revolutionary Guards who arrested these people.

Another theory is that they want to trade these military people for something -- for a let up in efforts to destabilize the Iranian regime through the Azaris or some such thing, but they haven't made any demands yet, so we don't know what they want.

SAMMON: But that's clearly why they did this, whether they say that or not. They're clearly -- this is a payback because the coalition forces did grab five Iranians that came into Iraq bringing, you know, weapons and causing mischief, to put it charitably. And also, we just -- it was obvious we were going to go with another round of sanctions through the U.N. and you almost have sort of a proxy war, here, where you...

HUME: Is there a possibility that there's something that -- remember we, of course, captured what we said were Iranians operating improperly inside Iraq -- retaliation for that, perhaps?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we still have five of them...

SAMMON: That's what I'm saying, yeah. And so, I mean, there is some sign that Iran seems to be softening a little bit today, they're talking about: well, now we're going to find out whether this was unintentional or intentional, which is different from earlier when they were saying it's aggression.

But the danger is -- the danger is that this turns into one of these 1979, you know, long, drawn-out hostage crises and you could have somebody over there for a really long period time.

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Now, that would be a huge mistake for this regime.

HUME: Why?

BARNES: Because look, they want to be a part of the global economy and so on, not just a more than just a mere bigwig in their neighborhood and then to provoke something like that where they would isolate themselves, is exactly what they don't want to do.

Why they did this, I don't know, but you have to do -- start with the premise that I think -- I share with both Mort and Bill, and that is the Iranians know perfectly well that there was no incursion by the British. They know that this is a trumped up a thing, so they want something. They want to trade for something; they want to send a lesson to the British and Americans. They want an overreaction that will somehow make them be a victim and get sympathy around the world.

They want something and I think it's been smart, over the next few days, for the British in particular, but the U.S. as well, not to overreact. Let's see what they're going to do. Now, if it turns into another hostage thing, well, that's a different thing entirely. That'll just make it easier for sanctions.

I don't think they're mad about the sanctions, that increase in the sanctions was practically nothing. They're having no trouble with the sanctions so far, they're not at all severe. But if they have -- provoke another hostage crisis, that would be nuts on their part and would be so much easier to get banks to cut off any dealings with them and so on.

SAMMON: But they haven't seem to had a problem -- had any compunction about being isolated by their previous actions where they're pursuing their nuclear ambitions and they know that's going to isolate them and they do that anyway, so it's hard to...

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: There they believe -- there they believe that what they will get, in becoming a nuclear power, is worth it. Well, 15 British marines, that's not worth too much.

KONDRACKE: In the hostage crisis from '79 to '81 they actually did get the unfreezing of $8 billion in assets that we'd frozen and...

HUME: Well, we unfroze them after the capture.

KONDRACKE: Yeah, well, except to hit them back they got their funds back...

HUME: No, but the point was that they had the funds to begin with, they didn't -- in other words, they can't count that as a reward...

KONDRACKE: Right now we are freezing assets. Furthermore, I mean, the House International Relations Committee is set to mark up a proposal -- it's nonbinding -- that Mark Kirk, this congressman for Illinois, has been promoting to embargo the -- or the -- gasoline supplies that go into Iran.

HUME: Yeah, they don't have any refinery capacity to speak of.

KONDRACKE: That is right, they are dependent on imports for gasoline. And he's been floating the idea for a year and maybe and you know, it may be that somebody will finally consider it or get Lloyd's of London, which is in Britain, to cut off the insurance for ships that the gasoline in.

HUME: When we come back with our panel, (INAUDIBLE) takes that funding for the Iraq war, we'll talk about what's in it and that bill's prospects, as well. We'll also take a look at Jim Webb's aide's gun incident. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: The war continues to move in the wrong direction and yet, instead of digging us out of the hole it created in Iraq, instead of stopping this downwards spiral of destruction, instead of taking the fight to the terrorists who attacked on September 11, this White House wants us to keep doing more of the same.

MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: We won't let timelines be used as a tollbooth for getting aid to the troops. And we need to send to the present a bill that doesn't include them so he can sign it without delay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: That's a little taste of the debate that began in the U.S. Senate today over a sort of an Iraq war supplemental funding bill will go to the president. The House passed one last week that had, among other things, in addition to the war funding, it had a lot of other spending in it. The Senate bill presumably will as well. They were for such things as spinach subsidies, aid to shrimp fisherman, and so on up to the tune of something like $24 billion in unrelated -- at least unrelated to the war -- spending.

In addition, of course, it has timelines that are either goals or timelines or drop-dead dates, or whatever you want to call them, for getting out of Iraq. The president has threatened to veto it comes to him in that form.

Before we get to all that, though, let's talk, just for a minute about this unusual incident today in which an aide to Virginia freshman Senator Jim Webb of Virginia was stopped trying to carry a satchel bag or case, that belonged to Webb, into the capitol building and when in the x-ray machines they found that there was a loaded revolver in there -- or loaded pistol in there and two clips. It must have been a revolver -- I mean, it must have been some kind of...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Automatic.

HUME: ...automatic with clips. It's against the rules or the regulations or the law governing the capitol grounds to bring in a loaded weapon. It is also against the law in the District of Columbia to even have one, even in your own home.

Now, apparently, when had been dropped off the airport, had to travel. The aid was unwitting of the fact that the stuff was in there, if he knew, he'd forgot. He has been charged, the full details of whether we was bringing it in because Webb likes to keep it, or what. There he is, that's the aide, whose name escapes me at the moment, but -- his name is Phillip Thompson.

Nice looking young man. And he apparently was not aware, but in any case, the question, you know, what did what have the gun for if he wanted it in the office and does he carry it regularly and all that? We don't know the answers, but what about this incident?

KONDRACKE: Well, OK, look, Webb -- there's a kind of chatter around that Webb would be a good candidate to be vice president on somebody's ticket, red state, Virginia, and all that and you know, it's one thing if he were a known hunter or a target shooter or something like that, then I would think that that kind of publicity would help him with the Democrats because, you know...

HUME: A war veteran who exercises his second amendment rights.

KONDRACKE: Exactly, right, so that would help him. But a loaded pistol into the United States Capitol, I don't think so? I mean I think that's taking the Democratic base a little further than it would go.

HUME: It remains to be seen whether, in fact, he intended it for it to go there, but he, evidently that was the idea.

BARNES: Well, had it in is vehicle, it was parked there, what, outside the Senate office...

HUME: No, I think the aide may have dropped him at his car. Who knows. We'll get to find out more as time goes on.

BARNES: Well, it would be nice if he would step forward and explain what the -- he needed this loaded pistol for -- period.

SAMMON: George Allen is looking pretty good, I mean, all he did was wear cowboy boots and chew tobacco in the press used to be up on him for that and say he was this, you know, rogue cowboy. And here this guy was packing heat.

BARNES: He's an author, you know, he's written about the Scotch Irish moving to the U.S. and being a very violent

HUME: Time.

BARNES: People.

HUME: Yeah, it was a very violent time. All right, let's move on. We'll know more about that in the future. But let's move on to this debate.

What is likely to be the outcome of this? First of all, the question seems to be, do the democrats now have the votes in the Senate to pass it along the lines of the House bill, that is with all the extra spending in it and the timelines?

BARNES: Republicans don't think so, they think that they will be able to strip the part that the president and most Republicans object to, and that is where the timeline for the withdrawal of troops...

HUME: Now, is this a binding timeline or and advisory timeline?

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: Well, at first it is, and then it's not.

KONDRACKE: Yeah, right.

HUME: Huh?

KONDRACKE: Well, here's what it does. It says that within 120 days of passage of the bill, troops have to start being withdrawn.

HUME: Period.

KONDRACKE: The goal being with them being out one year from now...

HUME: But you got to start withdrawing, that's mandatory.

KONDRACKE: That's mandatory.

HUME: I see, OK.

KONDRACKE: So, it is a -- you know, the president would be able to determine the pace, I suppose, but still there's a goal at the end and the Republicans are against this, they're not going to filibuster the bill because the bill contains money that the president, after all, wants. So...

HUME: We'll he's going to veto it, why wouldn't they filibuster it?

KONDRACKE: Well, because they want to -- I guess they want to have a vote on this because they think they can win it. And they did win a previous one on...

(CROSSTALK)

HUME: That was -- they won it by two votes, right?

KONDRACKE: Right.

SAMMON: That's right. And now there's a couple, Nelson and the other guy

KONDRACKE: Pryor.

SAMMON: ...are talking about -- Pryor are talking about flipping the other way. But here's the thing, ultimately, Bush will prevail because let's say the Senate somehow does pass this, Harry Reid's talking about slipping it into the language -- once it goes to conference and not having it in when they vote on it.

It's going to go to the president; the president's going to veto it. There will not be two-thirds majorities, in either chamber, to override that. Then the question becomes, we all go back to square one and money is starting to run out, and the -- the onus will be on the Democrats -- do you now want to start all over and put a funding bill that doesn't have a timetable in it? And the question will be who can portray the other side as leaving the troops high and dry. That'll be a public relations battle at that point.

BARNES: Here's what I think makes the Democrats look bad. I don't know why Harry Reid thinks he has to say the. He says, "The war continues to move in the wrong direction." I mean, can't he say: look, I know there have been some gains in the city of Baghdad, but we're way beyond that and you know, we've lost this war and even those won't make a difference. Now, he's pretending like they haven't happen. And then he says that the president "keeps doing more of the same." He has changed his strategy. Does he -- now there's a counterinsurgency strategy that's going on in Baghdad. It is different; it's not more of the same. Now, Harry Reid could say: Look, I know he's changed his strategy, but it's way too late, it's fruitless, even if he's pursuing this. But he has to pretend that it's not true.

HUME: Hey Fred, I bet if you asked him, he'd say that.

(LAUGHTER)

HUME: Mort.

KONDRACKE: Look, there's a...

BARNES: I'm trying to help.

KONDRACKE: I'm not sure in this game of chicken when it comes to a stare-down over who's going to deny the troops their money, that the Democrats are going to flinch on this. They should, I think, but...

HUME: Well, if they don't what -- how do they come out of it?

(CROSSTALK)

KONDRACKE: Look, do they cave or do they respond to their base and stick and say -- they've got a Pew poll out today saying that 59 percent of the public want a deadline for withdrawal...

SAMMON: They are inching.

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: Fifty-nine percent of the American people don't want the troops to be defunded.

SAMMON: I agree. They're inching towards defunding.

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