'This Week' Transcript: Crisis in the Middle East

PHOTO: Syria UnrestAbo Shuja/AFP/Getty Images
Syrian rebels fighting pro-regime forces gather along a road in Syria's eastern town of Deir Ezzor, Aug. 17, 2013.

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday morning, August 25, 2013 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated. All excerpts must be attributed to ABC News "This Week with George Stephanopoulos"

MARTHA RADDATZ, HOST: Good morning from Cairo.

Welcome to This Week.

Flashpoint: Middle East. Breaking this morning, U.S. warships in position for a possible strike on Syria. Accuse of using chemical weapons, has Syria finally crossed a red line?




RADDATZ: Are we on the brink of war?

Plus in Egypt, anarchy on the streets of this key U.S. ally. We're here on the ground and anchoring from the region with all the breaking details.

And 50 years later, remembering a day that changed the nation.


What was at stake that day?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The future of America.


RADDATZ: Was Dr. King's dream fulfilled? The powerhouse roundtable weighs in on that and all the week's politics. It's all right here this Sunday morning.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, a special edition of "This Week" with Martha Raddatz in Cairo and Jonathan Karl in Washington starts right now.

RADDATZ: Good morning. George is off today. We're reporting from a region on the brink, and all eyes are on Syria, where an apparent chemical weapons attack could lead to American military action.

Here in Cairo, we're just 100 miles from the Mediterranean Sea where U.S. warships are now at the ready.


RADDATZ: This morning, officials tell ABC News that U.S. navy destroyers now in the Mediterranean could be used to carry out limited military strikes, cruise missile strikes, designed to deter or prevent another chemical attack by the Assad regime if this week's suspected attack is verified.

OBAMA: This is clearly a big event of grave concern that starts getting to some core national interest that the United States has.

RADDATZ: President Obama has so far been unwilling to militarily intervene in Syria, despite the deaths of more than 100,000 people and a vow he made more than one year ago.

OBAMA: That's a red line for us. And that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front.

RADDATZ: With that line possibly crossed, Senator John McCain fears U.S. credibility is now at stake.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: You can't look at those pictures without being deeply moved. Are we going to just let that go on?


RADDATZ: So how will President Obama respond? The White House is considering a number of options. And for more on that, let's bring in Jonathan Karl in Washington. Jon, what can you tell us?

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Martha, the president has ordered his national security team to draw up options for a possible military strike on Syria. One official tells me there is, quote, a strong suspicion that the Assad regime is responsible for what appears to be a large-scale chemical attack on civilians, including many children.

The intelligence community is still gathering evidence, but the senior official tells me there are already strong indications implicating the Syrian government. The attack was on rebel-held territory and apparently done using rockets, rockets that the rebels do not possess.

But there is a divide in the White House on how forcefully to respond, although an official tells me if there is a strike, it must be timely, done soon enough to prevent another chemical attack.

The White House does not want to act alone. U.S. officials are back channeling through the U.N. to see if Russia could be convinced to agree to a resolution. Remember, Russia has veto power at the security counsel.

If there's no U.N. authorization, the United States would lead any possible strike. But one senior official tells me, quote, "we do not want to do anything on our own. U.S. allies must commit both resources and political will."

We'll have more from here in Washington in a few moments. But first let's go back to the region -- Martha.

RADDATZ: Thanks, Jon.

Let's bring in Colonel Steve Ganyard, a veteran fighter pilot and former Marine Corps commander who flew combat missions in the Gulf War and also saw the policy side of these decisions as a deputy secretary of state.

Welcome, Colonel Ganyard .

I want to get right to the question about these possible cruise missile strikes. The White House has made very clear there will be no boots on the ground. So how would these cruise missile strikes work out of the Mediterranean?

GANYARD: There are a couple ways it could be done, Martha. One is by launching these cruise missiles from ships at sea that would be out in the eastern Mediterranean or they can be launched from submarines. We're got to remember what a cruise missile is, it's a long, 20-foot sort of flying torpedo, and is has wings on it, and a little jet engine that allows it to fly at low altitudes over the sea.

It can fly through mountain canyons and hit with accuracies where you can pick third window on the left. So that kind of accurate is good. But we also have to remember that they're small warheads, and there are not a lot of these missiles. And right up front, if it's going to be low-risk, we know that we're going to be prescribed in the amount of military force we can apply.

RADDATZ: One of the things people we have talked to have said is there might be missions with fighter jets. I know you have gone on these kind of missions before. This would be very different because the fighter jets would not actually enter Syrian air space. How does that work? And why wouldn't they?

GANYARD: So the idea is that the Syrians have created this sanctuary where there's surface-to-air missiles. You can think of it as a dome of sanctuary over Syria. The president has said we want low-risk, which really means that we want low-risk to U.S. personnel. So he does not want U.S. aircraft flying into, penetrating that dome that sanctuary that the Syrians have created. And so we will use our aircraft and our bombers to launch glide weapons, standoff weapons from well outside the Syrian surface-to-air missile threat so that our air crews will not be in any danger and can return home safely.

RADDATZ: Let's talk about targets. Obviously this is about chemical weapons. You can't really go after chemical weapons without creating more danger, can you? So talk a little bit about the targets and what the U.S. and whoever joins in could do.

GANYARD: That's exactly right. You would think chemical weapons, we would go in and destroy the chemical weapons with bombs, but chemical weapons can only be destroyed with very, very sensitive technology that incinerates them or chemically neutralizes them. You can't drop a bomb on a bunker and expect it to neutralize the Syrian chemical capabilities.

In the worst case there, it would be that you would bomb this bunker and you would throw chemical weapons all over the desert and perhaps throw these containers of sarin gas or nerve gas, some sort of agent that could be picked up by somebody and used in a terrorist attack.

So, highly unlikely that we will go after the sites themselves that contain these weapons, but we'll probably attack things that allow them to employee these kinds of weapons, things like airfields, like command and control facilities, military headquarters, perhaps airplanes, airfields, those things that would allow the Syrian military to employee gas against its citizens.

RADDATZ: From what you've heard, does this seem like a symbolic attack, or could it actually do some good?

GANYARD: I think we need to temper our expectations. This is a very limited attack, what's being discussed is a very limited military attack. I think that the best we could hope for is to deter Mr. Assad from using chemicals against his people again.

But it's not going to help with the refugee problem. And worst case, it could lead to, he would shrug off the attack, and we would be -- it would precipitate follow-on military attacks and perhaps drag us into a larger Middle East conflict, which is something that the White House seems quite keen to avoid.

RADDATZ: Thanks so much for joining us, Colonel Ganyard, appreciate it.

GANYARD: Thank you.

RADDATZ: Joining me now here in Cairo is Amr Moussa, the former Egyptian foreign minister and the former head of the Arab League. Thanks so much for joining us. Good to see you.

MOUSSA: Thank you, Martha.

RADDATZ: Let me start with Syria and your reaction to news out of the U.S. that the United States is considering air strikes if those chemical attacks are verified.

AMR MOUSSA, FRM. EGYPTIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, it is a political message. And I don't think that a -- or a warning message, that chemical weapons should not be used. But I wonder whether this region at this juncture could afford to have another war, or a major war. If there is, or there are indications that chemical weapons were used, then the security council should consider the matter first before anything else.

RADDATZ: But you probably know what would happen in the security council with Russia.

MOUSSA: No. No, no, no, this is a very serious situation. And let everybody express his view or their, whether it is the United States, or Russia or Europe. This is a very serious issue.

RADDATZ: You're talking about a war. I think if they were limited air strikes, what would be the reaction be in the region?

MOUSSA: Well, it always starts like that, limited strike, and then it widens, and grows and grows and grows, and then the whole region would be involved.

RADDATZ: But I really would like you, because you were head of the Arab League, to talk about if there were limited air strikes, cruise missile strikes, how do you think Bashar al-Assad would respond?

MOUSSA: Let me put it the other way. First of all, nobody should use chemical weapons against any other party, this is very important point. Chemical weapons are not there to be used against -- against population center, or even against resistance.

RADDATZ: Does it appear to be a chemical weapons?

MOUSSA: Absolutely. And therefore, any possible use of chemical weapons should be condemned.

But we need also a position taken by the security council. The security council should address this issue of the use of chemical weapons or the use of weapons of mass destruction that should be underlined in the security council before any action.

Also information, we are not sure. The United Nations has not really said -- or any other organization, has not really determined whether the chemical weapons have been used or not. This is a very dangerous thing. But things have to be verified in order to take a decision just like that, an air strike or invasion or whatever it is.

RADDATZ: Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate your time.

RADDATZ: And for more reaction, we are now joined by a group of journalists who have covered this region for years. Matt Bradley from the Wall Street Journal. Abigail Hauslohner from the Washington Post, and Ashraf Khalil from Time magazine. Thank you all for joining us this morning.

Matt, I want to start with you, and touch on Syria. How do you think a military strike, if it comes to that, will affect the region?

MATT BRADLEY, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, the thing that U.S. policy-makers really need to think about is that this is a conflict in Syria that's already been seriously internationalized. So we already have bombings in Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, targeting Sunni mosques. That was over the weekend. We have refugee situations in Jordan and southern Turkey.

The regime in Syria is backed by Iran. So the implications for a metastasizing situation are already there. And if the United States interjects itself militarily into this situation, we're going to see what a lot of analysts are already describing as the turning point in a regional conflict between Sunni allied states and Shia allied states. So it's a very dangerous situation that a military intervention could make much bigger and much, much worse.

RADDATZ: I want to turn to Egypt and I want to turn to you, Ashraf. What effect on the region, do you think what's going on in Egypt now will have? What we have seen in the last 10 days in particular. The violence, the political fallout, what will that mean for the region?

ASHRAF KHALIL, TIME MAGAZINE: It affects things on multiple levels. I mean, you've got -- for starters -- I mean, Egyptians have always been -- have always regarded Egypt as essentially like the sun that the rest of the Middle East revolves around. And to an extent, that's been a bit exaggerated, but there's a lot of truth to it. Where Egypt goes, the rest of the Middle East has gone. We went through 30 plus years of stagnation and borderline self-loathing under Mubarak, and the rest of the region kind of got dragged backwards along with Egypt. And then when the Arab spring happened, it was supposed to be this moment where Egypt kind of blossomed, and dragged the rest of the Middle East into the modern era, into some sort of golden age of democracy. And now as that is obviously faltering, it can't help but have very disturbing implications.

RADDATZ: I want to turn to you. I know you were right in the thick of it with the pro-Morsi camp that was cleared out by Egyptian security forces. I interviewed earlier this week Egypt's prime minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, and this is what he said.


HAZEM EL-BEBLAWI, EGYPTIAN PRIME MINISTER: I believe that by and large, the police forces were -- were bound by rules. But in any situation, there are always some exceptions.


RADDATZ: Was that your experience?

ABIGAIL HAUSLOHNER, CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF, WASHINGTON POST: Well, that's certainly the line we've been hearing from government officials this whole time. But I think there's little doubt that the police and Egypt's security forces did use quite a bit of force. Hundreds of people were killed on the day security forces raided the pro-Morsi protest camps and in the days afterwards.

RADDATZ: And you witnessed this.

HAUSLOHNER: That's right. I personally was down there during the raids. I saw police opening fire. I heard rapid gunfire. The whole place looked like a war zone. There was smoke rising from the area. And I ended up being pinned down in an alley with a number of civilians when the fighting basically expanded beyond the protest camp itself. It was very frightening, and the police were threatening not just to the people in the camp, but directly to journalists, to myself, and also to civilian bystanders.

RADDATZ: Matt, I think what's incredible for me being here all week is to hear the support for the military, in spite of what the world witnessed. What is going on?

BRADLEY: Well, you know, the military in Egypt has always enjoyed a lot of support. And we have to remember that the military, unlike really any other institution in Egypt, touches every single family. There's obligatory conscription in this country, and the military is considered the heart and soul and really is sort of the center of Egyptian life. It's almost the symbol of the sovereign nation.

So when the military asks for the public, when General Sisi asked for the public to go down and protest, to show him support, they will do this. And you will see this really -- and what we've seen in the last couple of weeks, an incredible outpouring of just really unquestionable support.

RADDATZ: Abigail, what do you think the future of democracy is here?

HAUSLOHNER: Well, it looks pretty bleak right now. You have to keep in mind, this was a coup, but it is also a widely popularly-supported coup. It was sort of interesting in Egypt, there's this mass popular support for essentially a return to an authoritarian or a military-led regime. A lot of people are really cheering on this crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

RADDATZ: Ashraf, future of democracy?

KHALIL: Very disturbing here in Egypt. I really think one of the big what-ifs for modern Egypt is what if the crowds that came out on June 30th to demand an early end to the Morsi presidency, what if they had also drawn the line and said, and we don't want any military involvement? If they had kept that up for a week, I think we might have seen some major concessions and possibly a total retreat by the Brotherhood in the face of this.

When the people not only allowed but welcomed the military back, I think that really broke the country.

RADDATZ: Thanks for all of that insight. It was terrific talking to you all. We'll be back here in Egypt later in the show. But now let's throw it to Jonathan Karl in Washington.

KARL: Thanks, Martha.

Coming up next, our powerhouse roundtable will take on the debate inside the White House over Syria. And why are some Republicans now bringing up the word impeachment?

Plus, Martin Luther King. Fifty years ago, he went off script to tell us about his dream, and he changed history.


LEWIS: He transformed those marble steps into a modern-day pulpit (ph). He preached, and he knew he was preaching.

BYRON PITTS, ABC NEWS: And you knew he was preaching, too.

LEWIS: Oh, I knew he was preaching.



KARL: The powerhouse roundtable straight ahead. A newly released tape that includes a private conversation between two presidents. Never heard before, what Ronald Reagan told Richard Nixon.



OBAMA: Folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff, that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations. We have to think through strategically what's going to be in our long-term national interests even as we work cooperatively internationally to do everything we can to put pressure on those who would kill innocent civilians.


KARL: Big decisions coming up for the president on Syria. Let's get into it with our roundtable. We have George Will, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, Washington Post chief correspondent, Dan Balz, author of the excellent new book "Collision 2012," and our own Cokie Roberts.

So George, this morning, the White House is saying there is very little doubt that the Syrian government was behind this chemical weapons attack. Does the president really have any choice but to intervene militarily?

GEORGE WILL, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: Well, he does, because we have to read what he has said about this as carefully as he stitched a loophole into what he said a year ago. He said a red line for us is when we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons being moved around or being utilized. I don't know what the metric "a whole bunch of" is, but he can say this is not a whole bunch of.

KARL: But this is the second time Syria would have used chemical weapons, and this is on a wider scale. And after the president said that, he said the use of chemical weapons would be a game changer.

Donna, I mean, what will his red lines -- what will his statements to the world mean if he allows this to go unanswered?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think this is a complex issue. And if we had an easy answer, as Bill Clinton would often say, if there was an easy answer, somebody would have found it already. The president has to still use back channels, not just to make sure this is factually correct, but to get our allies in the region on board with us. Secretary Kerry is meeting with his counterpart in Turkey and Saudi Arabia to ensure that they're on board. Of course, there will be attempts to go to the U.N. where the Russians may once again defeat our efforts.

But the bottom line is, President Obama needs to spell out an Obama doctrine for the Middle East. We cannot simply go in and police that region, because they don't really want us to play in their backyard.

COKIE ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: Except to the degree that they do. And there is a sense that we've abandoned them. And that is a terrible problem for the United States. We can't be in that position.

And, look, is it complicated and horrible? Yes. I mean, we just heard the former Egyptian foreign minister say it always starts off small and then it gets to be big. And he says at some point the whole region would be involved.

That's exactly what everybody is terrified of.

But the fact is we also can't be uninvolved, because if you just leave it to fester and you have people both in Egypt and in Syria feeling like we have abandoned them, that the United States of America is not on their side, that becomes a breeding down for terrorists, and then that becomes dangerous for us in the long run.

KARL: And Dan, with these weekend meetings with the national security team at the White House, with the warships, you can sure hear those war drums beating. just today the Syrians denied the U.N. access to the site. Although now we are hearing just in the last few minutes, the Syrian government saying that they will allow the U.N. inspectors in. They clearly anticipate that this time it's for real.

DAN BALZ, AUTHOR: Yeah. I think that's right.

I mean, what they're looking at inside the White House, and we can all see it, is weighing the price of inaction versus the cost of action. And the question is, has this come to a moment in which the price of inaction is so high that something has to be done?

And you can see the machinery moving in that direction as we heard from Martha earlier. The question is, how much can they stitch together in terms of international support? What do they do about the United Nations?

And the other question is, the options that they're looking at would be in essence symbolic. It would be some kind of a limited strike. It wouldn't change fundamentally the situation that is there. So that's the equation that they're debating in the White House.

And they have been going round and round for days looking at options with people taking different sides at different times.

ROBERTS: But doing something symbolic matters. And it is sending the signal. And the fact that the president did make this very firm statement, even with his loopholes about "a whole bunch of," people are still expecting him to do something.

WILL: The president knows that if Assad reestablishes control over a unified Syria, or if his enemies establish control over a unified Syria, Syria will be governed by people hostile to the United States. That's a given. So there's things worse than a stalemate.

BRAZILE: And it's billions of dollars we're talking about once the United States -- look we are already on the hook for humanitarian aid in Jordan, Turkey and other places. But we're in Afghanistan -- the American people are war weary. So the president will have to explaining it to the American people, explain it to congress before the United States steps into this region once again.

KARL: I mean, given that, Donna, given -- I mean, this is a president who ran against the idea of unilateral U.S. military action around the world. That was one of the central planks of his rise to power. Could you really see him going in another campaign in the Middle East without U.N. authorization?

BRAZILE: I don't see...

ROBERT: Well, it doesn't have to be -- it would have to be international authorization, it doesn't not necessarily have to be the U.N. in the way it was in Kosovo they used the NATO authorization. And to put together an international group, I don't think the United States could or should or in any way go in by itself.

But to have some sort of international sanction is doable without the U.N..

KARL: Although, Dan, what I'm hearing this morning from the White House, is they believe there's a sliver of hope that Russia could actually go along with something out of the U.N. now, that this crossed a red line even for Russia if in fact this is definitely proven as it appears that the Syrian government did.

BALZ: Well, you know, Jon, I think part of the question is how definitively proven and how that might take to definitely prove versus the question of the preponderance of evidence looking pretty clear at this point. And does he feel that something has to be done and do others feel something needs to be done before then? That's part of the equation.

And the issue of should he wait for the U.N. or can he in some other way put together international consensus to do it.

KARL: But what's interesting, George, talking to U.S. officials, you get the sense that the belief is not that military action can be decisive here, that it's really military action because you need to do something because of what the president said.

WILL: And our military is rightly leery of making a gesture. They're not in the gesture business. And they have a feeling that's what they would be doing, throwing -- lobbing cruise missiles, these standoff weapons into a country to make us feel or look good?

The president on CNN this week said the use of gas is going to require America's attention and hopefully the entire international community's attention. Now, some people believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause, the Loch Ness Monster, others believe in the international community. It's a fiction.

KARL: But isn't there a credibility question, though?


KARL: I mean, if the president draws a red line and says this cannot happen...

ROBERTS: It's almost as if Assad is taunting the United States.

WILL: Because Iran is watching this. That's the big thing. Iran is watching this little dance of deadlines and red lines and they're deciding it doesn't mean a thing.

ROBERTS: Absolutely.

KARL: I want to move -- the other big national security story, yet again, the NSA and these surveillance programs. And there were yet more revelations just this past week. The Wall Street Journal reporting that the program covers 75 percent of all Internet traffic in the United States.

So, Cokie, my question to you -- the public has largely been supportive of these programs, but all this drip, drip, drip revelations, are we going to reach a tipping point where...

ROBERTS: It doesn't look like it at the moment. I think, you know, we're going to have Senator Feinstein has said she's going to hold hearings when congress comes back into session. And there will be a sort of libertarian, liberal coalition of people saying we've got to stop this.

But I would be very, very surprised if congress actually does anything about this.

BRAZILE: Well, the first thing they should do is have a little bit more oversight. I mean, when you see the FISA court and others talking about violations, that's a problem. And the president and I think the administration needs to get ahead of some of this dripping and this leaking because more is being revealed each and every day.

KARL: And, you know, when the president came out and he announced he was going to do some reforms and review all of this, he didn't sound like he was really necessarily seeing this as -- this was more like one of those phony scandals. Because remember how he described it, and I've got the sound right here, he compared it being able to prove to Michelle he did the dishes.


OBAMA: If I tell Michelle that I did the dishes, now, granted, in the White House I don't do the dishes that much -- and she's a little skeptical.

Well I'd like her to trust me but maybe I need to bring her back and show her the dishes.


KARL: I mean he was talking about his reforms. So I mean these are not putting a privacy officer at the NSA George, is not exactly fundamentally changing any of this.

WILL: The FISA Court to which Donna referred is not a court in the normal sense in that there's not an adversarial process because only the Executive Branch is represented in this court. And what happened this week, two things, the FISA Court said that three times in less than three years it has been misled by the NSA.

On the other hand Bob Mueller leaving after 12 years as Director of the FBI, and the longest serving director since J. Edgar Hoover said, if we had had the NSA system we now have, then when Khalid al-Midhar made a phone call, one of the 9/11 hijackers, made a phone call from San Diego to a safe house in Yemen, we might have found it and we might have unraveled the conspiracy.

ROBERTS: And that, there you are.

KARL: And that's why he had the support (inaudible).

ROBERTS: That's right. Because, because all the complaints after 9/11 was nobody had done this. And they didn't connect the dots and all of that. And so there is support for it. But there is a problem here.

You know the president says Michelle would have to trust me right? And he had said earlier if you don't trust me, trust me and the Congress and the courts. Well you know, people don't. And that's the bottom line problem. And that becomes a problem for the president in everything that he's doing.

Because he believes in government and he believes in big government. And to have people not trusting the government on any level becomes a big problem for him.

BALZ: I mean one of the things that's happened and there's clear frustration inside the White House I think of these revelations that keep coming up about things they didn't know and the mistakes that have been made. But I mean there is a shift in public opinion, I mean, I think you're right. I mean the public is not tipped in the side of civil liberties versus security.

But there is an erosion and I think that what this has done, when people thought about this in the past they thought, well yeah, we should do everything we possibly can because they're going after the bad guys.

ROBERTS: Bad guys. Right, right.

BALZ: They're not looking at me or you or anybody else around this table or, you know, the average person. Now people are beginning to say, what are they getting from me? And I think that changes it slightly.

KARL: I want to turn to another big development this week. More Nixon tapes, 340 more hours from the most transparent administration in the history of mankind.


KARL: And George I want to play one particular call that was released for the first time. This is the last (inaudible) of Nixon tapes that will come out. Ronald Reagan calling Richard Nixon right after he gave a big speech on Watergate.


RONALD REAGAN: You can count on us, we're still behind you out here and I wanted you to know that you're in our prayers.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: How nice of you to say that.

REAGAN: This too shall pass.

NIXON: Everything passes. Thank you.


KARL: Richard Nixon in April of 1973, saying everything passes.

DONNA BRAZILE: True, everything does pass. It might not be so nicely for him.

KARL: As I went back there was a young rising star, conservative columnist for "The National Review" at the time who was writing some columns about this. At almost exactly the same time of that phone call, George Will, you wrote in "National Review" that the unfolding Watergate scandal, the unraveling Watergate cover-up indicates the moral turpitude of certain staff members has exceeded even their delusions.


BRAZILE: I see why you're not on Twitter.


KARL: -- Ronald Reagan on Richard Nixon.

GEORGE: I became a columnist in January, 1973, just as the Watergate damn was about to break. It was awkward. But the phrase "this too shall pass" if Nixon had burned the tapes, he'd have finished his presidency. There's no question in my mind about that. That that's what cost him this.

The interesting thing in the tapes this week is it dovetails with the NSA story is Nixon saying about Chuck Coulson, one of his aids, go out and say this is a national security matter, butt out.


GEORGE: And people are therefore, even 40 years on, reluctant to butt out.

ROBERTS: Well it is, the tapes always kind of break your heart because at the same time that you have these, you know, scurrilous things about trying to cover up and all that, you have him talking about China on these tapes in a way that is so smart and so interesting. And you just, you know, it's the tragic flaw.

KARL: But the notion that we had virtually everything said in the Oval Office on tape. I mean--

BALZ: In the Oval Office.

ROBERTS: It's quite remarkable.

KARL: What president could survive that scrutiny?

ROBERTS: Well we have Lyndon Johnson tapes that are quite remarkable.

KARL: But not as extensive. I mean this was this was just about everything. All right well we're going to take a quick break. Coming up Martin Luther King's dream 50 years ago this week.


KARL: Up next, remembering the March on Washington, 50 years later. Why did some of Martin Luther King's closest advisers think it would be a mistake?


KARL: Crowds out Saturday commemorating an historic day in the civil rights struggle, the March on Washington. The 50th Anniversary is coming up on Wednesday. President Obama will mark it with a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The very spot where Martin Luther King changed history.

ABC's Byron Pitts takes us back.


PITTS: It started with a press conference that barely made news. But boldly made history.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: We're calling for a non-violent, peaceful march on Washington.

PITTS: The year, 1963. Jim Crow was alive. The sting of segregation could kill. When a 34-year-old Negro preacher had the audacity to dream aloud.

KING: We are determined to be free in '63.

PITTS: Determined perhaps but not fully optimistic. Organizers hoped for 100,000. A quarter million showed up.

(UNKNOWN): Dr. Martin Luther King (inaudible).

PITTS: And on August 28, 1963, not a soul had a clue how it might turn out.

EDITH LEE PAYNE: There was a sense that crossed this area--

PITTS: Edith Lee Payne was 12. She had traveled by bus nine hours with her mother to be there on the mall. A photographer captured her in one of the most famous photos from the March.

PITTS: What did you think of Dr. King?

PAYNE: Well I held on to every word that he said, just like everyone else that was here.

PITTS: It was billed as a march for jobs and freedom. Drawing the faithful, the curious, the famous. And people watched live on television from around the world. Both drawn by what might happen at the Lincoln Memorial and still reeling from what did, on the streets of Birmingham, weeks earlier.

With all the bloodshed and bombings in the South, many of Dr. King's inner circle though a March in Washington might be a waste of time.

ANDREW YOUNG: We felt that this was a picnic on the park and that the real action was in the south.

PITTS: Former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young was one of King's top aids.

YOUNG: I was going to watch it on television. And Dr. King called a couple of days ahead and said you and Jean get on a plane and come on up here.

PITTS: This is important.

YOUNG: Yeah.

PITTS: Congressman John Lewis, back then the newly appointed Chairman of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was already there.

LEWIS: When we met with President Kennedy earlier, he was so afraid there would be violence.

LEWIS: How long can we be patient?

PITTS: Like King, Lewis was one of the March organizers and speakers.

LEWIS: We want to be free now.

PITTS: At what point did you recognize it as an historic moment?

LEWIS: When I stepped to the podium, I saw hundreds, hundreds of young people. And I said to myself, this is it.

PITTS: The civil rights movement was in many ways, a youth movement. Dr. King was 34, Lewis 23. You were still a kid.

LEWIS: I grew up. When you have been sitting on a lunch counter stool and someone walk up and spit on you or pour hot water or hot coffee on you and you say you're committed to non-violence. You have to grow up. To go on the Freedom Rides in 1961, the same year that President Barack Obama was born? And to be beaten. You had to grow up.

So by the time of the March on Washington, I was 23, but I was an older person.

PITTS: An old soul as they say.

LEWIS: I was an old soul.

PITTS: They all were. Old souls pushing for new America. It was now left to one man. The final speaker of the day.

Dr. King was he nervous?

YOUNG: Not at all. He was determined not to speak more than 10 minutes. And he did. He finished his prepared address in just about 9 minutes.

PITTS: But he wasn't finished. Sitting behind Dr. King was famed gospel singer Mahalia Jackson who shouted to her friend, tell them about the dream. It's a theme he'd used before in smaller settings.

KING: I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

PITTS: Why do you think he made that transition to talk about the dream?

YOUNG: As a preacher, there's something we, we call being led by the spirit.

LEWIS: The spirit told him to lay that paper down and just go for it.

KING: I have a dream. My four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

PITTS: And it's a dream that still lives on 50 years later. Edith Lee Payne drove to D.C. from Detroit for this week's commemoration. And she brought her granddaughters with her.

PAYNE: I wanted my granddaughters to see what I saw 50 years ago. To stand up for what's right.

PITTS: The struggles then and those to come, draw John Lewis back as well. You still come here often?

LEWIS: Oh yes.


LEWIS: Because to come here to reflect. To remember.

PITTS: Remembering his old friend and the day that both made history and changed it.

LEWIS: This spot is almost sacred. Dr. King must be looked upon as one of the founding fathers of the new America.

PITTS: Lewis believes America has come far in 50 years. Many issues still exist. Progress he says, just a down payment on the dream. What was at stake that day?

LEWIS: The future of America as one nation, as one people was at stake. He helped hold us together.

PITTS: Is there one moment from that day that sticks out in your mind most?

LEWIS: He started saying let freedom ring. Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain in Georgia! Let freedom ring from every--

KING: ...from Mississippi from every mountainside.

LEWIS: Let freedom ring. And I think people all across America in their hearts, believe that freedom should ring for everybody.

KING: Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last.


KARL: Incredible. Byron joins us on the roundtable now. George this was really one of the defining moments of the 20th century.

WILL: It was. Martin Luther King said rightly, he appropriated American rhetoric saying, I'm not trying to change America, I'm trying to reconnect with the American past. And in that sense he did a wonderful job.

ROBERTS: Well you know the whole idea of forming a more perfect union. And over the centuries we have tried to perfect this union. And this was a moment of really trying to perfect it, mightily.

But there was tremendous fear. I remember it very well. My father was Majority Whip of the Congress at the time, a deep southerner, very close with President Kennedy. And the fear of violence that was palpable and the fear that it would ruin the cause of civil rights. That was the real terror.

BRAZILE: But it was also for a little girl, I was not yet four when I watched it at home with my grandmother who was with us. And to hear those words, "Free at last, free at last" and to believe that at some point life would be better. That things would change.

And to have witnessed the amount of change I've seen in my 50 plus years, it's amazing, it's incredible. And yet if Dr. King were alive, he would still be marching today. To raise the minimum wage, to ensure that workers could organize. He would be marching for the same values that he marched for 50 years ago.

KARL: No question about that right Byron?

PITTS: Oh without a doubt. In talking to John Lewis, he talks about how the dream still lives. That only the down payment has been made. Very focused about jobs. But there was also an optimistic spirit to Congressman Lewis and to Andy Young. Men who were there.

And they talk about, for instance, that while those numbers are real about employment, about poverty, one number for instance. In 1963, there were only 365,000 blacks who had a college degree. Today there are 5.1 million. In 1963 you all could have treated us like dogs, Donna and I, and it would have been OK. Nothing would have happened to you. Well that's changed in America.

And so for those men who were there, who bled, they see tremendous progress.

ROBERTS: And they're right. They're right. You know having grown up in the deep south in the era of Jim Crow, the difference is dramatic. And the fact that Andy Young was Mayor of Atlanta and John Lewis is a member of Congress from Georgia--

BRAZILE: And the fact--

ROBERTS: Is a great testament to the fact that when you do something like pass a voting rights bill, that it makes a difference. Which is why, at the moment, what's going on about voting rights is downright evil.

KARL: Well there are--

ROBERTS: Because it's something that really needs to keep going forward, not backwards.

BALZ: You know, we remember that day for the speech and the size of the crowds and the peacefulness of it. We forget that this was a march for jobs and justice. When "Life" magazine did its cover after this, they didn't put Martin Luther King on the cover, they put Randolph and Bayard Rustin on the cover.

And if you, there has been tremendous progress, there's no question about that, in all the ways we are talking about. But the persistence of the gap between white wealth and black wealth, white income, black income, it's something that has stayed almost constant for the last two decades.

WILL: The (inaudible) to which you refer were foreshadowed by something that happened eight months after the march. Eight months after that a young social scientist from Harvard working in the Labor Department published a report. His name was Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He said there's a crisis in the African-American community because 25% of African-American children are born to unmarried women. Today it's tripled, 72% and that, not an absence of rights, is surely the biggest impediment.

KARL: Donna, it will be incredible on Wednesday to see President Obama giving a speech in the very spot--


KARL: By the way, a dangerous thing to do, (inaudible) overshadowed. But what's interesting is that there is pessimism among Africa-Americans about what's happened under President Obama.

Look at this poll from Pew just this week. 26% of African-Americans say the situation has improved over the past five years. 21% almost as many say its gotten worse over the last five years.

BRAZILE: Well I think we have to look at the Great Recession--


BRAZILE: Of the last few years that has left African-American families devastated. Black wealth has dropped even more because of the deepness of the recession. And the fact that black unemployment is still in double digits while overall unemployment continues to inch down.

There are critical issues that the African-American community must continue to address. Clearly education being the most important passport out of poverty. The criminal justice system that takes too many of our young lives and then they disappear, impacting the black family itself.

But there's no question, 50 years later, with a black, bi-racial president standing before the American people declaring once again that dream remains, that dream is still alive--

ROBERTS: And then--

KARL: We're almost out of town. I do want to ask you, Dan, "The Washington Post" the day after, the one thing about, this was the front page of "The Washington Post" the day after the March. There are a few words you will not see on that entire front page. One of them is Martin Luther King. And another is I have a dream.

ROBERTS: They missed the lead.

BALZ: We blew the story. I looked at the "New York Times" front page the other day from the day after and they had the whole thing right there on the front page and we didn't.

But I think part of it was there was an obsession about the violence.

BRAZILE: Right, yes.

BALZ: And King was the last speaker and we know sometimes the last speaker gets ignored when they shouldn't be.


BALZ: If you don't change signals at the right moment you'll look bad by history.

KARL: And John Lewis is forever grateful that King was the last speaker. Having to speak after that would have been too much. We are out of time. Thank you very much. Byron, really an amazing piece, thank you.

PITTS: Appreciate it.

KARL: Thanks and now let's send it back to Martha Raddatz.

MARTHA RADDATZ: Thanks Jon, we'll be back with the latest from Cairo. Egyptians speaking out, after this.


RADDATZ: And we're back here in Egypt. A country steeped in history and tradition. But where this morning still so much is uncertain. How long will the military hold on to power? Will democracy return? And will crowds of Egyptians again come back to the spot where they sparked all of this change two years ago, Tahrir Square?


RADDATZ: The name means liberation, Tahrir Square. Where Egyptians flock to make their voices heard. Two years ago hundreds of thousands gathered here with a call to action. And after 18 days, the Arab Spring, the yearning for democracy swept President Hosni Mubarak out of power.

It was a new beginning, but one that wouldn't last. Just a year after the democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi took office, the protesters were back in this very square, demanding his ouster and asking for the military to move in once again.

When I came here just last month it was a nation divided. In Tahrir supporters of the military were still cheering the removal of Morsi. But nearby voices of anger, Muslim Brotherhood members outraged at the end of democracy.

The problem for the interim Egyptian government and the military is that these pro-Morsi rallies are not stopping. But Egyptian security wanted no dissent. One month later a bloody military crackdown on the Muslin Brotherhood. As many as 1,000 killed. The same protesters I spoke to in this encampment near Tahrir Square, silenced.

But the debate goes on. This weekend we met a group of college students at a Cairo coffee shop.

Do you still think real democracy is possible here?

MOHAMED ABDEL HAMID: I believe that there are people in this country that are willing to give it all they have to make it happen. But is it going to happen now? I have doubts.

RADDATZ: What is Tahrir Square symbolize for you today?

MIRAL BRINJY: It symbolizes the dream that almost became a nightmare.

KHALED ASHRAF: It symbolizes our dream to come back united.

RADDATZ: And in the Square itself today it is nearly deserted. No outrage over the release of Mubarak. No riots here over the deadly crackdown on fellow Egyptians. The military is once again in charge and hopes for real democracy seem a distant dream.


RADDATZ: And now we honor our fellow American who serve and sacrifice.

This week the Pentagon released the name of one soldier killed in Afghanistan.

That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Join "World News with David Muir" tonight. George is back next week. So long from Cairo. Have a great day.