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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Was Colin Powell's Evidence Convincing? Interviews with Joe Biden, Christopher Myers

Aired February 5, 2003 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: INSIDE POLITICS begins right now.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: The evidence against Iraq. From secret tapes to satellite pictures, was Colin Powell's case convincing?

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. How much longer are we willing to put up with Iraq's noncompliance before we, as a council, we as the United Nations, say enough? Enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think if I had this evidence before a jury that was an unbiased jury, that I could get a conviction.

ANNOUNCER: From Capitol Hill to Baghdad, the world watches Powell and makes judgments about war.

Pieces of the Columbia puzzle: the search covers more ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought, Well, heck. I just touched something that may have come from the shuttle, so I put it back, thought about it a bit, and called the authorities.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to talk to reporters any minute now. We will carry his remarks live. Powell went before the U.N. Security Council today, armed with props and on a mission to offer the most detailed and compelling evidence yet against Saddam Hussein. In the end, his presentation could prove to be a turning point toward war.

In this "NewsCycle," Powell charged Iraq still is trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, posing a grave danger to the entire world. He played intercepted conversations between Iraqi military officers. Powell said they discussed how to hide evidence of banned weapons from U.N. inspectors.

Powell used satellite before and after shots to accuse Iraq of moving biological and chemical weapons facilities shortly before inspectors arrived at those sites. Powell said that U.S. intelligence shows Iraq has at least seven mobile biological weapons research labs, and that Iraq still is trying to develop nuclear weapons. The charge terrorists linked to al Qaeda are being harbored in Iraq with greater awareness by Iraqi officials than previously indicated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL: Given Saddam Hussein's history of aggression, given what we know of his grandiose plans, given what we know of his terrorist associations, and given his determination to exact revenge on those who oppose him, should we take the risk that he will not some day use these weapons at a time and a place and in a manner of his choosing, at a time when the world is in a much weaker position to respond? The United States will not and cannot run that risk to the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Iraq denies all of Powell's accusations, calling the presentation to the U.N. -- quote -- "A typical American show, complete with stunts and special effects."

Well, our correspondents are standing by with reaction from the United Nations, the White House, and Capitol Hill.

First, let's go to Richard Roth at the U.N. -- Richard, was any of this evidence the secretary presented today so compelling that it has changed minds?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: No, it hasn't changed much minds. Of course, these statements, some of them, were written before Powell made his remarks. They were prepared well in advance, and nobody was going to come out and publicly say, Wow, I was so bowled over by this show. Iraq, though, spoke last, but didn't wait long to criticize and rip apart Powell's presentation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOHAMMED ALDOURI, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO U.N. (through translator): There are incorrect allegations, unnamed sources, unknown sources. There are assumptions and presumptions, which all fall in line with the American policy towards one known objective.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROTH: No matter what their opinion on Powell's presentation, all of the other countries said Iraq must cooperate with the weapons inspectors. Russia even said there must be some concrete decisions made this weekend when Iraq meets with Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, the international weapons inspectors. And many of the countries are going to look forward to Valentine's Day, not for some chocolate or candy, but for Hans Blix's presentation here, February 14, on a Friday inside the Security Council, after he is in Baghdad.

France not only wanted to increase the presence of the inspectors there, but he also said, Where's the proof? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER: There is room for enhancing the inspections regime. We believe that in the Resolution 1441, we have the capability of asking more to Iraq. We thinks that if it is necessary to double or triple the number of inspectors...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROTH: Secretary-general Kofi Annan weighed in just a few moments ago, saying war is not inevitable, but he also led off his remarks by calling on Iraq to cooperate, that the ball is in their court. He knocked down any chance of going to Baghdad, as he did in 1998. This was an idea floated by remarks by the Cameroon foreign minister -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Richard, if this evidence wasn't enough to change minds, at least as far as we know right now, could this whole exercise have been a wasted one?

ROTH: No. I think that the U.S. will always be able to say they tried.

They came back to the Security Council, should Washington choose to go it alone militarily, the council resolution that everybody agreed on did say that there should be a convening again of the council.

Of course, everyone will be able to parse the words of the resolution differently, but the U.S. can say they came back, and the inspectors now have new information. There was nothing new about a site to visit at midnight, but the inspectors certainly have a lot. The other countries on the council think Hans Blix should act on it, and now Baghdad may have to account for some of Powell's presentation, at the very least, this weekend.

WOODRUFF: All right. Richard Roth at the United Nations.

And now we want to move quickly to the White House to our senior correspondent, John King. John, given what Richard is saying on the reaction at the U.N., what does the administration feel was really accomplished here today?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, two points on that. Number one, they believe they made a persuasive and compelling case, as senior White House officials put it, that the inspectors under Dr. Hans Blix are being, at a minimum, manipulated and perhaps definitely obstructed, and perhaps even used by Iraq in court of public of opinion. So what the White House anticipates is that when Dr. Blix and his teams go back in, perhaps he will be even more skeptical, and even more critical of Iraq if he does not see forthcoming cooperation quickly in that report Richard just talked about to the Security Council on the 14th. That will be critical.

And yes, the administration acknowledges it did not, at least publicly, change the minds, at least of the French, perhaps a little bit of the Russians today. But what the White House hopes it achieved today was proving to the Security Council that Saddam Hussein is once again snubbing his nose, defying the will of the council, and that in the next 10 days the administration will make the case everyone in that room signed on to 1441; 1441 says if there is obstruction, if there is not full cooperation, you move on to serious consequences.

Secretary Powell saying quite bluntly today that not only is Iraq at test here, but that the relevancy of the Security Council is at test. The administration hopes, especially if Dr. Blix does come back with another tough report that that argument sinks in and that France moves its position.

WOODRUFF: John, whatever the reaction was today at the United Nations, what is the administration's view in terms of how important today was in terms of persuading the American people?

KING: Critical. Absolutely critical, because first and foremost, if you look at public opinion polling in the United States, the American people want this president to work through the United Nations, if possible.

So the Powell presentation, evidence the Bush White House says that this president is doing everything he can to try to get the United Nations to move with him and to try to stay working within the world body, a multi-national organization.

But the administration also believes in the details of the Powell presentation, a case to be made that the United States cannot let its decisions be tied into the hands of other countries, so that if the president has to move outside of the United Nations, the White House believes Secretary Powell laid out the case for military action on Iraq, and left no doubt that this president is at least trying to work with the United Nations, critical.

WOODRUFF: And that could be crucial, if they don't get the U.N. support.

KING: Crucial. They think they have a few more weeks, though.

WOODRUFF: All right. John King at the White House.

And we're going to hear more administration reaction to Colin Powell's address tonight. Condoleezza Rice will be a guest on "LARRY KING LIVE." That is at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.

Now, let's move quickly to Capitol Hill to get reaction. Our congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl, is with us -- Jon, what are they saying?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, senators, especially Republican senators, are saying that they believe the inspection phase is now over, and with Colin Powell's speech, the phase of building a coalition to support military force has now begun. Some of the strongest words of support came from over in the House, from Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who, in praising Colin Powell's speech, took a shot at those who are opposing military action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: I don't think any amount of evidence will convince the appeasers out there. No amount of evidence of chemical warfare, chemical weapons, or militarism or tyrannical crimes against his own people, or the fact that he has connections to terrorist organizations all over the world will ever convince the appeasers that he needs to be taken out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Well, if there are appeasers here on Capitol Hill, they are certainly not out in force. By and large, the reaction to Colin Powell's speech was positive from Republicans and Democrats alike. Typical of a Democratic response came from presidential hopeful John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts who said -- quote -- "I am gratified that the administration finally came to the United Nations and made its case to the world. Secretary Powell made a compelling case."

Many Democrats say the pressure is now on the United Nations, for the United Nations to determine -- to prove whether or not it is still relevant by passing another resolution. Not everybody here was convinced, though. One of the most persistent critics of war with Iraq is Senator Ted Kennedy. He said the Powell speech left many questions unanswered, questions that would still be unanswered, even if the U.N. passes another resolution.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: You are able to get a resolution through the Security Council. I think the American people want to know how we're going to get the -- once we get in there, how we're going to get out, what the loss for American troops are going to be, how long we're going to be stationed there, what the cost is going to be, but the collateral damage is going to be in terms of civilian casualties.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: Now a one very key Democratic senator up here who has been a persistent critic of how the administration has handled the Iraq situation, seemed to have her mind changed by Powell's speech. Diane Feinstein, told reporters that she is now convinced on what Powell said, that further inspections will no longer do any good. The inspections clearly within foiled by Iraq. So clearly, some minds changed here and almost unanimous praise for Powell's presentation on Capitol Hill -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jonathan Karl. Thank you very much, Jon.

The president of the United States also briefed key members of Congress today about Secretary Powell's presentation just hours before that Security Council meeting. Senator Joe Biden of Delaware emerged from the White House suggesting that Powell's evidence would be enough to get a conviction in a U.S. court. The ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee voted for the Senate resolution authorizing President Bush to use force if necessary. But he voted against a similar resolution before the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Joining us "On the Record" now from Capitol Hill, Senator Joe Biden.

Senator, we know what your -- I'm sorry. I was told he was ready and evidently we've got a technical problem, and we'll bring him to you in just a moment.

In the meantime we want to tell you a correction on a story we told you about minutes ago. U.S. counterterrorism officials tell CNN that they believe there is a heightened threat of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. But for now, officials have decided to leave the national threat level at yellow, or elevated. Despite concerns that someone may use a potential conflict with Iraq as a pretext for a terror attack. Earlier we showed you an incorrect graphic, showing the threat level at orange. It should be, as you see now, correctly at yellow.

I'll be talking both to Senator Joe Biden and to Britain's ambassador to the United States when we return. And we will hear from another important audience for Colin Powell's speech, Europeans. Many of whom have demonstrated their opposition to war with Iraq.

And a day after the Columbia memorial, service officials at the space center are gearing up for another briefing at the bottom of this hour. We plan to go to it live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: With us now, Senator Joe Biden.

Senator, did Secretary of State Powell's presentations today prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that Iraq is in violation of U.N. resolutions?

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I was convinced of that a month ago. He didn't have to prove to me. I think he had to make the case to the United Nations, and to the world. And I think he did it, and I also think he did it just in the right manner. He did not exaggerate. He did not use any rhetorical flourishes. I thought it was somber, sober, straight forward and very well presented.

WOODRUFF: Is the proof so overwhelming that the U.S. would be justified in going forward with military action without U.N. backing?

BIDEN: Legally, yes. But, you know, Judy, I don't think we should be going to war just on a legal basis. We ought to have political rationale as well. The political rationale that best serves us is having the rest of the world with us when we go. Because there's going to be a lot of tough sledding after if we go, after Saddam is defeated. And we needy to rest of the world with us in order to lessen the burden on us. That's important.

WOODRUFF: So are you saying another U.N. resolution is necessary?

BIDEN: I'm not saying it's not legally necessary. It is clearly advisable.

Judy, the way I look at it is this. To the degree to which we can, without yielding -- putting ourselves in any greater danger, the degree to which we can take the time to bring along as many of the members of the United Nations as possible, that clearly benefits us. It clearly benefits the whole effort.

And so that is the balancing act that Powell -- that's under way. I believe Powell will get a second resolution. I believe the French will come along. I believe the Germans will not. I think they'll abstain. But I do think that we have now laid out the case, involving some European leaders who did not want to take on their publics who were opposed to say, the case has been made. We have to go with the United States. I think that's a very good thing if we can do that.

WOODRUFF: But if you are wrong and these other members of the Security Council do not come along, you're saying the U.S. would still be justified?

BIDEN: I think so. Absolutely. You know, as you know, Judy, you probably reported already, I apologize I haven't been watching you because I've been doing other interviews. I'm sure it's been mentioned you have somewhere around 12 to 15 European nations already announcing that they support the use of force against Iraq. And so it's not like there is no support out there.

But clearly it would be better under the umbrella of the United Nations Security Council, because after the fact here, Judy, you're going to have 75,000 or so American troops armed in Baghdad and on the borders of Iraq dealing with keeping Iraq together for the next couple of years. And I don't want us to become the poster boy for every malcontent in the world.

WOODRUFF: Are you satisfied with the planning you've seen by the Bush administration for what happens after?

BIDEN: That I'm not satisfied with. There are 2 cases that have to be made.

One is there evidence to justify going to war with others against Saddam Hussein if he does not give up his weapons? I say the answer to that is yes.

Second thing, have the American people been informed as to what is going to be expected of them if we go to war, which I think is an essential criteria for a president taking the nation to war. Inform the people first. I think most people, Judy, think if we go to war that we'll have Johnny come marching home again in a matter of weeks.

Johnny is not going to come marching home again. We're going to be there for a good, long time, and the American people are going to be asked to come up with their treasure and husbands and wives, daughters and sons for some time to come. And they should know that before hand. I think if we tell them honestly and straightforwardly, they will in fact, support what the president and the Congress supports. But if we don't, we're going to have a problem 18 months from now.

WOODRUFF: And that's clearly something we need to spend more time talking about right now.

BIDEN: I think so.

WOODRUFF: Senator Joe Biden, thanks very much, good to see you.

BIDEN: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.

WOODRUFF: When INSIDE POLITICS returns, we'll go live to Paris for European reaction to Colin Powell's address and I'll also be joined by Britain's ambassador to the U.S.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Evidence was compelling. I don't think there was any doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein has violated -- the Iraqis have violated the resolution.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't really see Iraq has being a threat right now. It's kind of like a bee in a beehive, you know. OK, yes, it can sting you, but as long as you leave it alone, it's not going to do anything. That's how I see it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Well, if immediate reactions are any indication, then French and German officials were not swayed by Secretary of State Powell's presentation at the U.N.

For more on the reaction in France and the rest of Europe, we turn to Robin Oakley in Paris.

Hello, Robin.

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN EUROPEAN POLITICAL EDITOR: Hello, Judy.

Well, Colin Powell has long been the European Union leader's favorite member of the U.S. administration. They trust him much more than they do anybody else in the Bush team. They see him as a multilateralist who understands their fears, and motivations and knows how thinks work in Europe. So there was a bit of a predisposition to accept his case. I think he's not altogether succeeded in swaying public opinion in the street on the early evidence to his -- in the reaction to his U.N. presentation.

I think he was trying to make the link between Saddam Hussein and international terrorism and he was very careful to name a whole number of countries where Abu Musab Zarqawi's offshoots have been active. whether there have been people involved trying to use the ricin poison. He ticked off Italy, France, Germany, Spain, the U.K. That was clearly an attempt to make people feel involved. That doesn't seem to have got across altogether.

European leaders, though, and politicians do seem to be, perhaps, shooting up the war drums just a little more as a result of Colin Powell's initiative. They've been impressed by the sheer scale of his case against Saddam Hussein in terms of concealment of the weapons program. We've had the European Union, which is often a critic of the U.S. saying Saddam Hussein must now disarm or face the consequences.

We've had 10 Eastern European countries, several of them fledgling members of NATO saying they'll be signing up to back the United States. And, of course, predictable allies have immediately backed Colin Powell, Jack Straw, the U.K. foreign secretary, saying the U.N. must now act, and he clearly meant in a military sense. And Spain, which, of course, last week led a team of eight countries backing the U.S., saying that the evidence and Colin Powell was compelling -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, we just heard Senator Joe Biden, ranking Democrat on the senator foreign relations committee, say he thinks eventually the French will come around.

From your reporting, based on what you have heard, do you think that's a real possibility?

OAKLEY: I certainly believe it's a possibility. I've talked to a number of analysts here in Paris and they all take the view that Jacques Chirac and the French government are beginning really to trim a little bit. They have, after all, sent the aircraft carrier (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to the Eastern Mediterranean for exercises. There are reports of French war planes getting fancy electronics fitted.

And Jacques Chirac has never actually ruled out the possibility of France using force. He'd only, I think, ever do so with the backing of the U.N. Security Council, specifically for military action. But there's no more talk now of France using its veto in the United Nations Security Council. There's every sign that Jacques Chirac doesn't want to be isolated at the end of the day, and he's likely to come aboard but he'd like a little more courting first -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Robin Oakley reporting for us from Paris.

Meanwhile today, in London, Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, repeated his belief that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction.

With me now to talk more about the British government's position on Iraq, Britain's ambassador to the United States, Sir Christopher Meyer.

SIR CHRISTOPHER MEYER, BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Hello.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for being with us, Mr. Ambassador.

MEYER: Pleasure.

WOODRUFF: You just heard our reporter, Robin Oakley, saying it looks like, perhaps, the French are coming off the position of wanting or being prepared to veto this. What is your sense of this?

MEYER: Well, if you want a really direct answer, you ought to be asking the French ambassador. But let me say this. We believe that Saddam Hussein is already in material breach of that Resolution 1441.

So that, if Mr. Blix comes back to New York on the 14th of February and again reports, as he did the first time, that the Iraqis are not cooperating, then I think it will be extremely difficult for any member of the Security Council, including one who holds the veto, to say that he is not in material breach, and, therefore, that we should move to a second Security Council resolution.

WOODRUFF: So today's -- excuse me. So today's presentation by Secretary Powell in and of itself isn't enough?

MEYER: Oh, but it was a very fine presentation. It was persuasive, it was sober, and it was extremely disturbing. What I would say is it continues to build a very strong case. The Iraqis are not cooperating, and what Colin Powell had to say made that clear beyond any doubt.

WOODRUFF: What do you believe was the most compelling part of his case today?

MEYER: I thought it was very compelling what the secretary had to say about the ways in which the Iraqis are seeking to deceive the inspectors, to hide their weapons of mass destruction, to move, for example, the biological weapons around in mobile laboratories.

All this was very, very telling. And then, on top of that, to have the intercepts. I found that very striking, more striking even than, perhaps, than the photographs.

WOODRUFF: There is still, though, the possibility that the United States and Britain won't get the support of the rest of the United Nations Security Council, that there could be a move to oppose U.N. support. If that happens, are you -- is your government comfortable with the U.S. going ahead here?

MEYER: Well, what we have said, and I must repeat this so there is no doubt about where we stand, if Mr. Blix returns and says these people are not cooperating, this will be yet another instance of proof that he is in breach of that resolution last year.

The people who signed the resolution last year, 15-0, have then to take their responsibilities. I think then, in those circumstances, you would not find yourself in that hypothetical situation which you have just described. The logic of last year's resolution is extremely clear, and all Security Council members must live up to the responsibilities that that resolution and their vote confers on them. WOODRUFF: What about the other point that we heard from Senator Biden, and that is a very real concern about what is the commitment of the United States, Great Britain, and anybody else who is involved in this venture after the fact, after Saddam Hussein?

MEYER: Well, it's a good question, and I can tell you an awful lot of work is going on in London and in Washington and maybe elsewhere to think about the scenarios after Saddam Hussein is removed. A lot of work is going on that.

And that is one of the reasons why we think it important to get another Security Council resolution, because you will need a coalition, not only for the war, but for after the war.

WOODRUFF: Would you agree generally with the characterization from Senator Biden that we're talking about not something that's going to happen quickly, but a commitment that could go on for months and even years?

MEYER: But after the war. Well, nobody can predict with absolute clarity how long the commitment is going to be, but what we're looking for is a better Iraq. A regime that is a significant sea change improvement over that under which the Iraqi people have had to labor. We're going to liberate Iraq if it comes to a war.

Now, I cannot tell you today -- I don't think anybody can -- how long, actually, this is going to take. The international community will, if it comes to war and removing Saddam Hussein in that way, have to be there for the duration, and we'll have to see how long that is going to be.

WOODRUFF: Ambassador Christopher Meyer from Great Britain. We appreciate your talking with us.

MEYER: Thank you very much, Judy. Good to see you.

WOODRUFF: Thank you. We appreciate it.

We'll have much more on this story, including where all the members of the U.N. Security council stand on attacking Iraq. You can head to our interactive online report at cnn.com/Iraq. The AOL Keyword is CNN.

Coming up: new developments in the Shuttle Columbia tragedy from coast to coast. A live report from the Johnson Space Center is next.

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: We may soon learn more about the shuttle Columbia tragedy. A NASA briefing is expected to begin in just about 10 minutes. And CNN will have live coverage when the news conference starts.

(NEWS BREAK) WOODRUFF: On Capitol Hill, the House is moving towards passage of a resolution honoring the shuttle Columbia crew.

And, in Texas, NASA is getting ready, as we just said, for another briefing on the shuttle disaster. We will go to that live when it begins.

Right now, let's bring in CNN's Miles O'Brien at the Johnson Space Center.

Miles, a number of new reports over the last day or two about sightings not only of debris West of Texas earlier in the Columbia flight, but also eyewitnesses on the ground who say they saw what appeared to be something coming off the shuttle. What are you learning about this?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I am learning -- one thing I can tell you for sure, investigators are taking those reports very seriously.

There's a so-called anomaly in the ionization trail. That sounds like a lot of NASA gobbledygook. The ionization trail is like a contrail on a jet. It's just that they're up higher, so it's not really a contrail. And according to some of these amateur pictures we've been seeing and hearing about, there appeared to be a sudden change in that ionization trail.

Now, was it a cause or was it an effect? It's very hard to say right now, but I can tell you this, that investigators are looking at all of these little pieces of data very closely. Now, on to the part of that debris that might have been found in California -- I say might because it hasn't been positively linked to the space shuttle Columbia just yet.

The reports are considered credible. And a team is on the way right now to determine just what it is. It was found in the area around Riverside, California. That's fairly far south of the flight path of the space shuttle Columbia. But given the fact it was about 60 miles in altitude at that point, 120 miles south of the flight path, depending on how the wind was blowing and how aerodynamic the piece was -- and this looks like a light piece -- it could very well be linked to Columbia.

Now, I'm not an expert, but that's possible that could be a carrier panel to a tile. A carrier panel is just a piece of aluminum that attaches to the skin of the orbiter, carries a tile with it, allows them easy access to certain parts of the orbiter underneath the belly, for example, if there's a fitting or something they want to get to or around the hatches, for example.

But, once again, we're going to have to have the experts look at that and give you a sense of where that carrier panel might be, if it is one. In either case, if it is a piece of the shuttle, carrier panel or not, it's apt to have a serial number on it. And that serial number will trace it down right to the spot where it was located on the space shuttle Columbia. A million parts here, they all have a serial number. And so that makes it easy for them, if they should find that piece and that number survives, to link it to the very spot. And since that was very early on in the breakup, that will tell them a lot about where things got started, if you will.

Now, this whole issue of the tiles, a lot of talk about the tiles and the insulation, the tiles on the belly of the orbiter and some other places, 27,000 of them all, there was this whole concern about what happened during launch, when it appears a piece of insulation went right into the -- under the left wing there, perhaps causing some damage.

Now, NASA has been looking at this problem for quite some time, this issue of tiles. The tiles are the single greatest technological development of the shuttle. They are also the most challenging thing for the people processing the orbiter to deal with. They're very sensitive. They are a marvel and they are also a very difficult and challenging thing to work with, because they're so sensitive.

Attaching them is a very rigorous process. It takes a lot of work and has been a thing that's been constantly refined over the 20- year life of the space shuttle program. Now, there was a report back in 1994 by a team of engineers. They took a look at these tiles and they said all tiles are not created equal; 15 percent of these tiles represent 85 percent of the risk.

And one of the big risks is that insulation, which could cause some damage to it.

Let's listen in to one of the principal researchers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL FISCHBECK, CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY: They identified that debris falling off the external tank and the solid rocket boosters on liftoff were banging the bottom of the orbiter and doing damage. And so, they came up with a program to reduce that risk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Reducing that risk.

That means they've constantly been looking at the process using this process called room-temperature vulcanizing. That's just a fancy way of saying a really complicated gluing process to get those tiles on the belly and all across the orbiter. This is not something that NASA leaves static. They've been looking at this all along, constantly improving upon it.

So, it will be interesting to see exactly where that leads, if, in fact, the tiles broke apart, where it happened and what might have caused it right at the core of this investigation -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Miles, I just want to ask you about this notion that the shuttle may have been dropping material after -- at any point before it reaches the breakup point in Texas. We're talking about a huge area geographically. Doesn't NASA really have to rely on just people who may spot something? They can't systematically go out there and look for debris, can they?

O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes, they really do, when you are talking about something -- here, we're talking about something potentially found in Riverside, 120 miles south of the flight path -- there isn't a search team big enough on the planet to take care of all this.

They're going to have to rely on people walking along a beach or a trail and finding something that looks odd and perhaps putting two and two together and calling NASA, letting them know that it's there. We'd discourage people from picking it up. And we would also discourage them from keep keeping a souvenir, particularly on the West Coast.

Those pieces will be so crucial and might very well lead them to the cause of this.

WOODRUFF: Well, the vast area is almost mind-boggling, where any material might have come down, isn't it?

All right, Miles O'Brien, reporting for us again today from the Johnson Space Center -- thank you, Miles.

And, once again, that briefing, NASA briefing, is scheduled to get under way in just about five or six minutes from now.

The Columbia disaster, as we know, has renewed many questions about the shuttle program's value, especially when weighed against the human and the financial costs.

CNN's Charles Feldman reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five, four, we've gone for main engine start. We have main engine start.

CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Columbia roared into space on April 12, 1981, it launched the era of the space shuttle, a reusable orbiter that took off like a rocket and landed like an airplane.

JOHN LOGSDON, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: The last numbers that NASA gave to the White House were, the shuttle would cost about $5.5 million per launch. The launch rate at that point was anywhere between 50 and 60 launches per year.

FELDMAN: In reality, NASA has averaged about five launches per year. And they were way off on the cost, too.

LOGSDON: Most people use a figure like $400 million or $500 million, half a billion dollars, a launch. Any way you look at it, it's a lot of money.

FELDMAN: And the shuttle missions themselves fell into a routine of basic science experiments, with the occasional satellite to deploy.

(on camera): To critics, the billions of dollars spent on the space program is a high price to pay for what they say are missions devoted to floating ant farms and crystal-growth experiments.

(voice-over): In 1998, NASA began assembly of the International Space Station. The cost overruns on the station have been steep. Something had to give in NASA's budget. And among the projects killed was the X-33, the program to replace the shuttle.

So, the space shuttle program, based on 1970s technology, will continue to fly through the year 2020. Unmanned missions are, relatively, much cheaper. Projects like the Galileo mission to Jupiter have been scientific triumphs for NASA at a fraction of the cost of manned space flight. But while robotic probes might be a smart way to pursue space science, they get a relatively low score on the inspiration meter.

DR. NORM THAGARD, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: There certainly is a public-relations aspect to having humans in space. That captures the imagination far more than any robot is going to do.

FELDMAN: P.R., perhaps, but some would argue that imagination is the driving force of all scientific discoveries, the foundation upon which all true advancements are built.

Charles Feldman, CNN, at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Imagination plays an enormous role.

Well, we may soon know a little more about the shuttle tragedy. NASA officials are just minutes away from briefing reporters. And when that news conference starts, CNN cameras will be there.

But next, we return to the standoff over Iraq after a quick break. Secretary Powell has made the U.S. case -- a report from Baghdad for the Iraqi rebuttal in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Well, as you can imagine, Iraq's official reaction to Colin Powell's U.N. presentation was swift and defiant. We've already heard from Iraq's ambassador to the U.N.

Nic Robertson filed this report from Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Judy, a very swift response from Iraqi officials here, saying that it was all lies, General Amir al-Saadi, President Saddam Hussein's top scientific adviser, addressing something Colin Powell had said directly about him. The U.S. secretary of state had said that General Amir al-Saadi's role was to frustrate the work of the U.N. inspectors and indeed try and interfere and eavesdrop on their communications. General Amir al- Saadi said that the only orders he had from the beginning were to tell everything.

He also went on to say that the radio intercepts were something that could have been fabricated, he said, by a Third World intelligence organization. He said the whole presentation by the U.S. secretary of state was a typical American show.

GEN. AMIR AL-SAADI, IRAQI SCIENCE ADVISER: This was a typical American show, complete with stunts and special effect. However, the whole performance is in violation of Security Council Resolution 1441. Paragraph 10 of the resolution calls upon member states to submit all evidence in their possession to the proper authority.

ROBERTSON: He went on to say that Colin Powell's presentation undermined the work of the U.N. inspectors. He said that the notion that some of this important information could have been put forward by defectors wasn't true. He said that, notoriously, defectors have provided erroneous information. He said even the U.N. weapons inspectors knew that.

He said Iraqi officials will provide a more complete analysis in the next 24 hours. And he said Iraqi officials will be writing -- Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, will be writing to Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the United Nations, to outline their specific reply to Colin Powell's statement today -- Judy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: All right, CNN's Nic Robertson, reporting from Baghdad.

We want to take you quickly to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where NASA's Ron Dittemore has started to brief reporters.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

RON DITTEMORE, SHUTTLE PROGRAM MANAGER: And although the days still remain difficult, as I said previously, each day is getting better.

And the fact that we had the memorial and were able to gather together with the families, their loved ones, and be with them, support them, it begin the healing process for us personally and as a community. I understand that there are other memorials that are being planned and will take place this week. And, again, those memorials will help us begin the healing process.

The work is going on. It's continuing to pick up speed. And we are gathering more details. I'm going to talk to you a little bit about our timeline and some progress that we have made. But, basically, our timeline is stabilizing. And I have no new events to brief you with today. What we have retrieved by way of the data and poring over the events and any additional information has roughly been stable over the last 24 hours. Previously, we had talked to you about an additional 32 seconds. We have continued to attempt to retrieve information from that additional 32 seconds and have so far been relatively unsuccessful.

We believe there is information within that timeframe. However, we have not been satisfied with the validity of the data, which means it's going to take us more time to pull out that information. So, I'm hopeful that, in the coming days, we'll be able to understand if there is any new information contained within that packet of time. And if there is so, then I will brief you on those facts.

I talked to you previously about the temperature rise and the loss of sensors on the left-hand wing. We are continuing to review that information and are backing out where we believe the heat source would need to be in order for us to have those indications present. So, we are redoing -- we are performing some reverse engineering, reverse analysis, to try to understand what would be the cause of such temperature rises in the wing.

On the flight-control side, we are doing a very similar reverse- engineering task. And we are modeling the aerosurface positions. We are backing out the drag and the loads that would be required in order to cause the aerosurfaces to react and the jets to fire, as I have indicated to you previously.

We are continuing to build a fault tree. And we have many areas to investigate. We have not narrowed down to any one particular conclusion or any one favorite topic. We have many areas to investigate. The fault tree on the orbiter is tightly linked to the external tank fault tree. And so those two areas are combining their efforts and talking closely with one another so that they have complimentary analysis.

In addition, we are planning to test E.T. foam impact and also tile strength, just so we can have a better understanding of the capabilities of the tile and the foam softness or, depending on which side of the story you are on, how hard it might be.

And, today, I brought with me a piece of foam. And I think we've made some foam available to you, so that you can get an understanding of the composition of this material. It is very lightweight, which is logical. You would want it to be lightweight, because, the more weight you put on the tank, the less up mass that you could launch into an orbit.

So, it's designed to be resilient and be an insulating material to keep the tank cold. It's designed to be on the tank also to keep the structure from getting too hot. And it's also designed to make sure that we reduce the aerodynamic loads in the flow stream around the tank.

Just a couple of features on this particular piece of tile: Tile comes in two different flavors, if you want to think about it that way. This particular tile has a crust on it, or a rind, if you want to think about it that way. Much of the tank is covered with this particular crust.

There are other areas of the tank where we actually machine the top layer of the foam insulation, making it much smoother. And we do that for particular engineering reasons. But when it is smoother, it's more aerodynamically effective and it's actually softer. And so, as you get to handle these particular pieces of foam, try to get an understanding of its consistency, which is not very hard.

In fact, it's fragile. And it is easy to break and it's easy to break up into particles. And it's very lightweight. But I think this will help you understand why our engineers...

WOODRUFF: We're listening to NASA official Ron Dittemore talking to reporters at the Johnson Space Center.

As you could see, he's holding a sample piece of the foam which was on the fuel tank, the external fuel tank, that lifted Columbia at the launch, but which is later suspected of perhaps being the cause of knocking off some of the tiles which led to the disaster last Saturday morning. We did hear him say the timeline -- as they do their research, the timeline of what went wrong is stabilizing and they're doing a lot of research, and much more to be done.

We want to tell you that, if you want to continue to watch that entire news conference, you can head to our Web site. That's at CNN.com.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Now checking the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily": A new "Los Angeles Times" poll gauges support for the president's reelection, as well as the race for the 2004 Democratic nomination; 45 percent of registered voters surveyed said they are inclined to support the president in 2004. When a similar question was asked in December for a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, Mr. Bush received 49 percent.

Among the Democrats, the "L.A. Times" survey found Senators Joe Lieberman and John Kerry in the lead. Former Senator Gary Hart, who is not yet officially a candidate, was tied with Senator John Edwards for third place. Bob Graham and Dick Gephardt were close behind, followed by Al Sharpton and Howard Dean.

Records show, meanwhile, that former New Jersey Senator Bob Torricelli made a campaign donation to just one Senate Democrat in the November election cycle. According to "Roll Call," federal records show Torricelli had $5 million in his account when he abandoned his own reelection race. He gave less than $20,000 to Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, the only Senate Democrat that he chose to help.

In Arizona, a new phone book will not be reprinted despite one glaring mistake. About 160,000 copies put out by the National Directory Company list Republican Matt Salmon under the heading "governor's office." Now, Salmon narrowly lost, however, to Democrat Janet Napolitano. The company says it relied on election returns from just one county, which Salmon won, when it compiled the directory. That's an interesting way to put the book together.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS.

Again, that NASA briefing under way. You can find it on our Web site.

I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for joining us.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com



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