RAY SUAREZ: Mr. President, welcome to the program.
JALAL TALABANI: Thank you very much.
RAY SUAREZ: These have been two very violent days in Baghdad, after weeks where it was relatively calm. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has said he's specifically attacking Shiites, that his is a Sunni army, and almost like he's trying to start a civil war.
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: Well, Zarqawi had said before that he was launching a war of annihilation against Shiites. Zarqawi is not an Iraqi; he's a criminal coming from outside of Iraq. And his forces mainly are not Iraqis. For that there will be no civil war.
RAY SUAREZ: So, the referendum on the constitution is about a month away, you don't think he has the ability or people who sympathize with him have the ability to derail the process?
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: No. He will try his best, but they cannot. The big majority of Iraqis will vote and I think majority will vote for constitution.
RAY SUAREZ: What about the Sunnis?
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: Sunni Arabs in the west part of Iraq -- some of them will [vote] against and some of them will for the constitution. Here the majority will vote against, but there is a big minority among them, which will vote for constitution. Let us see what will be the result of the referendum.
RAY SUAREZ: In these negotiations, have you seen a greater sense of people feeling that they are Iraqis, that we may come from different ethnic groups, we may come from different religious groups, but we're all Iraqis?
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: Yes -- that -- after liberation, for the first time, many, many Iraqis, they are feeling that they are Iraqis; before there was national oppression, religious oppression, all kinds of dictatorship; the people were deprived of all kinds of democratic rights.
Nowadays, Iraqi people enjoy democracy, human rights -- all kinds of freedoms. And there is a kind of equality among Iraqis that Iraqis feel that all of them are first class citizens -- for that they are really proud to be Iraqis.
RAY SUAREZ: One of the people you'll be meeting on your visit to the United States is the new president of Iran. Iran is a neighbor of Iraq -- has been a friend to many of the people who are the new leaders of Iraq -- yet not a friend of the United States, which helped bring down the Saddam regime. Is this an uncomfortable position to be in?
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: You know, the U.S., they did something when they led the war of liberation of Iraq, something indirectly for interest of Iranians also, why the Iranians must be against removing the worst kind of their enemy; they must be grateful.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, can you say anything to the new Iranian president about your ally, President George Bush?
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: I am going to see him after finishing with you. And you know, I am proud to say that we could always keep alliances with the United States in one hand and the other with Iranians in the other hand.
RAY SUAREZ: You're a Kurdish leader in addition to being the president of Iraq; you've been a leader of the struggle there for almost half a century. Are you in the position of telling your own people that staying in Iraq is good for them? Are there many of your own Kurdish brothers and sisters who want to be free of Iraq?
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: You know, before becoming president of Iraq, I always called for Kurdish Arab brotherhood for common struggle, against dictatorship, for having democracy, and democratic federal regime in Iraq.
It is some slogans that we struggled for in the past. Nowadays also I can say to the Kurds stay inside democratic federal Iraq, better for you than asking for a kind of independence which is impossible.
RAY SUAREZ: The newly elected Kurdish assembly is very much in favor of an independent Kurdistan.
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: No. The newly elected Kurdistan assembly voted unanimously for the constitution and for remaining within the federal Iraq.
RAY SUAREZ: President Bush is going to speak to the United States to talk about relief for the hurricane here in America. We're also spending in this country a great deal of money to rebuild your country; some senators have expressed some worries about whether we can afford both things. What would you tell Americans about their investment in Iraq?
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: Well, I had meeting with some leaders of Congress, and in press conference, I think the American people is a great people. They have an international responsibility. The American sacrifices in the First and Second Word War, hundreds of thousands of American sons were killed in these wars to liberate Europe from Nazis and liberating Asia from the threat of Japan.
This is the responsibility of big states; this is the responsibility of big nations in the world. I told the American people, you will have a very good friend and a democratic, federal, secure Iraq will be a very good friend for the United States of America, and when we will be victorious over terrorism, America will be more safe than before.
RAY SUAREZ: But not only is it expensive, most Americans are now telling pollsters that they're not sure it was a good idea and they're not sure that they want to stay.
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: Well, it's up to the American people to decide. I cannot interfere in internal affairs of the United States of America.
RAY SUAREZ: But you're not also ready to say goodbye to American troops?
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: We will be ready to tell them goodbye any time they want to leave. But as I understood that American forces, President Bush has a mind to stay until he will finish the job, until Iraq will be able to train police and security forces, until Iraq will be able to face alone terrorism. I think this is a wise decision and we support this decision of President Bush.
RAY SUAREZ: But would it help Iraq to get on its feet, would it help Iraq to become a more normal place to not have foreign troops on its soil?
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: Well, if Iraq will be able to have forces for defending Iraq from terrorism and foreign interference, then perhaps there will be no need for foreign forces. But it also depends on agreement between the Iraqi government and Americans -- perhaps Iraqi government will see it is in the interest of Iraq to ask some military bases for American forces, even after liberation, liberating Iraq from the threat of terrorism.
RAY SUAREZ: In recent weeks you've talked about specific numbers of troops, you've talked about timetables, and then you've gone back and changed the --
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: No. I didn't tell about timetables. Americans can remove forces if they want. But I think within two years we can be able to have our forces, our security forces, army able to face the terrorism. But the timetable for removal of the forces depends on the relation between the Iraqi government and coalition forces.
RAY SUAREZ: But are you ready? If they came to you this week --
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: I was misquoted. I said at the end of the next year yes, we'll be ready for many kind of replacement of American forces with Iraqis. But the departure of American forces depends on many factors. First, a kind of agreement between Iraq and United States that show that the departure of American forces is not under the threat and pressure of the terrorists; it is not defeat of American forces - to escape from the country -
RAY SUAREZ: So not just leaving, but leaving the right way.
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: Yes, I think so.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. President, thanks for speaking with us.
PRESIDENT JALAL TALABANI: Thank you very much. Thank you very much for liberating me as you liberated our country from dictatorship.