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THE SITUATION ROOM

Bush Attending North American Summit in Mexico; American Hostage Freed

Aired March 30, 2006 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.

Happening now, it's 6:00 p.m. in Cancun, far from the immigration fight on Capitol Hill, but President Bush brought that burning issue with him to Mexico. Can the Mexican summit offer a solution the standoff back here in the states?

It's 7:00 p.m. here in Washington. He's a key player in the debate over immigration and the debate over Iraq. I'll go one on one with the Republican senator John McCain of Arizona.

And a rare look inside al Qaeda's inner circle. Gripping testimony shedding light on a mysterious 9/11 plotter, and it gives a grisly account on how he trained some of the hijackers.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, a bitter fight over immigration playing out right now on the Senate floor here in Washington, as well as in Mexico. Republicans at odds over efforts to allow millions of undocumented immigrants to stay here in the United States and work here legally.

In Mexico tonight, President Bush is in the midst of a summit where immigration is certainly at the top of the agenda. Just a short time ago he spoke to reporters with Mexican President Vicente Fox at his side. They're both trying to heat up the issue, they want to resolve it while they're down there. A lot of people don't think that's likely to happen.

Let's get a report from our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano. She's on the scene -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Wolf.

And at this hour, President Bush is getting ready to attend the leaders' dinner, along with Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, as well as Mexico's president, Vicente Fox.

Now, their day of diplomacy actually began this morning with the three leaders taking a tour of the nearby Mayan ruins at Chechen Itza. And then afterwards, it was time for the bilaterals with each leader.

Now, President Bush, after his bilateral meeting with Vicente Fox, Mexico's president, said that as Congress is taking up now this highly-charged issue, he wants to see an immigration bill on his desk that includes not only border security, interior enforcement, but also the controversial temporary guest worker program.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't want people sneaking into our country who are going to do jobs Americans want to do. We want them coming in an orderly way which will take pressure off both our borders. And I explained to the president my vision of citizenship issue. And I don't believe somebody should be allowed to come into our country and get ahead of the line.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: Still, the fact that the president is, in fact, still supporting the idea of some illegal immigrants getting in line at all does not sit well with some of his fellow Republicans, conservatives who see a temporary guest worker program as amnesty.

Now, for Mexico's part, Mexican President Vicente Fox said that he understood this problem of illegal immigration was a shared responsibility, that addressing it was a shared responsibility. He said that Mexico is taking steps to crack down on those who facilitate illegal immigration; namely, smugglers.

But as I said, at this hour, some more diplomacy. A leaders' dinner President Bush getting ready to attend tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine, we're going to have a lot more on this story coming up this hour.

Elaine Quijano in Cancun.

Thank you very much.

And this is just coming in to CNN. A tornado touching down in Kansas and already sparking wildfires. There are tornado warnings elsewhere, as well.

We're going to go to Jacqui Jeras at the CNN weather center in a moment.

But first, let's get the latest from Zain Verjee at the CNN Center -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, we have video just coming in from Reno County in Kansas, where officials are reporting more than a dozen wildfires burning. And they say that mandatory evacuations are already in effect. They also confirm that there are homes on fire, as well.

The blazes broke out after a tornado ripped through the area. Officials say that it touched down at least twice, causing minor damage, including downed power lines. And that, actually, may be what sparked some of the fires that are now burning.

We want to go to our meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras, at our weather center for a little more on this -- Jacqui?

(WEATHER REPORT)

BLITZER: Other news we're following tonight.

Eighty-two days after they abducted her on a Baghdad street, the kidnappers of the American journalist Jill Carroll left her on a Baghdad street today, ending her long hostage ordeal. Carroll says she doesn't know why she was kidnapped or why she was released.

An FBI team has been working behind the scenes on this case. Let's get some specific details on that.

Our senior national correspondent, John Roberts, has been working this story -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Wolf.

I spent this afternoon at the FBI training center in Quantico, Virginia, where I had the rare chance to get inside the highly- specialized unit that played a critical role in trying to win Jill Carroll's release.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (voice over): The moment Jill Carroll went missing in Iraq, the FBI's elite crisis negotiation unit was brought in. Special agent in charge John Flood says this was a good day.

JOHN FLOOD, FBI CRISIS NEGOTIATION UNIT: We were all elated, everybody in the unit. And I think we can speak safely for the entire FBI. We were all elated.

ROBERTS: Any time an American civilian is kidnapped or held hostage overseas, the FBI takes the lead, whether it be for ransom, political or ideological reasons. Kidnappings, says negotiator Chris Voss, has become the piracy of our time, and Iraq presents new challenges.

CHRIS VOSS, FBI CRISIS NEGOTIATION UNIT: We haven't had to try to operate in what effectively is a war zone before. Law enforcement is designed to operate in a place where there's -- there's an infrastructure of other law enforcement and there's a functioning government.

ROBERTS: In cases like Jill Carroll's, where officials had no idea where she was or even who held her, FBI negotiators will often counsel victims' families on how to approach the kidnappers.

FLOOD: They'll talk to us, they'll ask us for advice in terms of what to say, what not to say, with the thought in mind that the abductors are probably going to see this.

ROBERTS: One such appeal was made in January, when Mary Beth Carroll went on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING" to plead for her daughter's safety.

MARY BETH CARROLL, MOTHER OF JILL CARROLL: So, I, her father and her sister are appealing directly to her captors to release this young woman who has worked so hard to show the suffering of Iraqis to the world.

ROBERTS: FBI negotiators aren't sure what led to Carroll's release. It could be, they said, that her kidnappers got spooked by last week's rescue of three other hostages, or through back channel negotiations with Iraqi officials perhaps they got what they were looking for.

VOSS: Kidnappers get something out of every kidnapping. No one gets out unless they've gotten something. Now, the idea is to diminish that or to use that against them in some way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: While Carroll has been released, the FBI's role in all of this hasn't finished yet. Now their Office of Victim Assistance will work to reunited Jill Carroll with her family -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, thank you very much.

Jill Carroll spoke out shortly after she was released. She spoke to Iraqi television.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JILL CARROLL, FREED HOSTAGE: All I can say right now is that I'm just happy to be free. I was treated very well. That's important people know that, that I was not harmed. They never said they would hit me, never threatened me in any way.

And I was -- and I'm just happy to be free and want to be with my family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In all, more than 250 foreigners have been taken hostage in Iraq. At least 40 of them have been killed. More than 180 have been freed or have escaped. Three other journalists remain in captivity right now.

We have new details tonight about the 9/11 plot and the 9/11 plotters and their grisly account about how some of the hijackers, those 19 hijackers, were trained.

Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching this story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this account is especially compelling because we're getting new information about one man, almost unknown, but who was very close to Osama bin Laden and central to the 9/11 plot.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): A glimpse inside Osama bin Laden's inner circle. New details about a man so trusted by bin Laden he was only one of only a few with full operational knowledge of the September 11 plot. A man so mysterious terrorism experts don't recognize the name.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It's sort of surprising and interesting because we don't really know anything about this guy.

TODD: The information comes from interrogations of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed read aloud this week in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. The name of this shadowy al Qaeda terrorist, Abu Turab al-Urduni. One U.S. official tells CNN he was a particularly blood-thirsty character.

Court transcripts obtained by CNN show Abu Turab trained 10 of the so-called muscle hijackers how to disarm air marshals and "had each hijacker butcher a sheep and camel with a Swiss knife to prepare them for using their knives during the hijackings."

RICHARD FALKENRATH, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: He was very trusted by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and bin Laden and the rest, and he also was very skilled. He knew how to conduct training for storming an airplane cockpit and for knife work against the flight crew.

TODD: When Khalid Shaikh Mohammed speaks of this obscure figure, so central to the plot, can Mohammed be trusted?

BERGEN: I think Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the operational commander of 9/11, his credibility is very good, because if you look at the 9/11 report, much of what's in there about the details of the plot came from his interrogation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: What became of this top 9/11 conspirator? A U.S. official tells CNN Abu Turab al-Urduni is believed to have been killed by U.S. forces during the first stages of the war in Afghanistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you very much.

Let's go up to New York right now. Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the Mexican flag has become a source of irritation to a lot of Americans during the immigration debate that's heating up in this country. Carried as a source of pride by demonstrators, the idea could backfire.

You see, this isn't Mexico.

Mexican demonstrators blocking southern California freeways and other streets around the country while waving the Mexican flag in the faces of U.S. citizens is probably not going to win them a lot of friends here.

The latest example, a Texas school principal, some guy named Robert Pambelo (ph), was ordered to remove the Mexican flag that was hoisted along with U.S. and Texas flags outside his school in Houston. Reports say he agreed to do this to show support for his predominantly Hispanic student body.

Perhaps Mr. Pambelo (ph) has forgotten that a lot of people died at the Alamo and elsewhere so that people in Texas could fly the Texas flag.

Here's the question: Should a Texas school fly a Mexican flag? Say what?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I think I know how you feel, Jack. Thanks very much for that.

CAFFERTY: You probably do.

BLITZER: Coming up, tornado warnings in the Midwest. We're going to have the latest. We've got live pictures coming in, very ominous, a threat affecting Des Moines, Iowa. You're looking at these live pictures from Des Moines.

Also coming up, my interview with Senator John McCain. I'll ask him about the border battle and what immigration reform means for his state; namely, Arizona.

And Iran today rejected the U.N. Security Council demand that they end their nuclear weapons program. Iran's country -- Iran's ambassador to the United Nations is standing by to join us in an exclusive interview.

And a supreme gesture by Justice Antonin Scalia. Was it obscene or was it not? And what does it really mean? Only Jeanne Moos has the answer.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And now a CNN exclusive. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, along with Germany, are demanding Iran freeze its uranium enrichment program and cooperate with an investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Today Iran formally rejected the Security Council request. It's the latest development in the ongoing and increasingly tense standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Earlier, I spoke about all of this in an exclusive interview with the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Will you stop enriching uranium over the next 30 days as demanded unanimously by the U.N. Security Council?

JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Well, Iran's rights, as I said, are clear under the IAEA, under the NPT, and I believe it is important for people to think about arbitrary red lines. Red lines have been drawn by the United States and others over the years. It is important to see what is the purpose.

The purpose is nonproliferation. Iran is committed to nonproliferation. Iran is also committed to resolving this from -- through a negotiated solution. And we believe our dozens of negotiated solutions that are possible, if there is a political will to pursue negotiations.

BLITZER: All right.

ZARIF: We are certainly ready for it. And we want to resolve this issue through negotiations.

BLITZER: All right. I know there's -- our time is limited, but I want to get through some other important issues, as well, including Iraq.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, has made a very serious charge against Iran; namely, that you are providing not only funds, but serious, sophisticated technology for those improvised explosive devices that have killed so many American troops and a lot of other people in Iraq.

What is -- what is your response to that charge?

ZARIF: They're basically without any foundation. The government of Iraq, the prime minister of Iraq on this CNN program last week made it very clear that none of that is substantiated.

Another government, if you remember, a few months ago made the same allegations, then at the highest level. They had to withdraw those allegations because they are baseless.

It's not good for the stability of Iraq to simply make these kinds of callus statements by whoever that they are made. And we have heard even from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that there is no evidence that Iran is involved in that.

And we have made it very clear that Iran wants stability in Iraq, Iran wants the democratic process to reach a satisfactory conclusion in Iraq, where the Iraqi people could resume charge of their own life and can get out of this misery that has been brought to them by the situation over the past three years.

BLITZER: I'll just read for the record what Khalilzad said. He said, "Our judgment is that training and supplying direct or indirect takes place and that there is also provision of financial resources to people, to militias, and that there is presence of people associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and with the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and security."

You are denying that flatly. Is that what you are saying?

ZARIF: Yes, exactly . And I believe these types of accusations by a country that has 140,000 military troops occupying a neighbor of Iran are simply ridiculous.

BLITZER: Another serious charge against Iran is that you are harboring al Qaeda terrorist in Iran. Are you?

ZARIF: Iran has been fighting al Qaeda probably more seriously and more vehemently, and probably before the United States ever started to understand what al Qaeda was about when the United States was funding these types of organizations in order to pursue a short- sighted interest in the previous decades.

Iran considers al Qaeda to be its enemy. We have fought al Qaeda. On the other hand, you have terrorists operating in the territory of the United States, holding press conferences and making statements.

If some of that was happening in -- anywhere in the world, you would have been up in arms about the possibility of this type of providing safe haven for terrorists and their sympathizers.

BLITZER: Listen to what President Bush said the other day about your government, the government of Iran, and its intentions toward Israel.

Listen to this.

BUSH: The Iranian president has stated his desire to destroy our ally Israel. So, when you start listening to what he has said, to their desire to develop a nuclear weapon, then you begin to see an issue of grave national security.

BLITZER: You understand the concern the president expresses, given the -- several recent statements made by your president that Iran would like to see Israel removed from the face of the earth?

ZARIF: Let me, first of all, state with all due respect that every single word in the president's statement was erroneous.

Iran has never threatened any country. Iran is on the record that it has and will not threaten to use force against any member of the United Nations. Iran's history is clear. For the past 250 years, we have not used force against a single country.

On the other hand, Israeli threats against Iran go back a long time ago, when Israel has threatened to use military force, in violation of the U.N. charter, against Iran.

BLITZER: Let me... ZARIF: The United States' president himself...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt, Mr. Ambassador.

ZARIF: ... has made that threat.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador...

ZARIF: And, unfortunately, nobody talks about that.

BLITZER: Let me interrupt, with all due respect, and read to you specifically what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on October 26, 2005. He was quoting the late Ayatollah Khomeini. He said, "Israel must be wiped off the map of the world."

ZARIF: Did he threaten to take action?

On the other hand, let me read to you -- unfortunately, I don't have the exactly -- exact quote from Mr. Dan Halutz, the chief of the army staff of Israel, who said two months ago that Israel was willing to -- to go 2,000 kilometers in order to destroy Iranian nuclear -- peaceful nuclear facilities.

This is a ridiculous statement coming from a country that is not a member of the NPT, has violated every resolution of the Security Council, and is doing its utmost to agitate the international community about Iran's peaceful intentions.

Threats have been coming from Israel and from the U.S. on the use of force, in violation of the U.N. charter. And I believe, if anybody wants to take action about threats that threaten international peace and security, looking at the record of countries who have used aggression and have taken -- resort to force, it is the United Nations that has to take action against Israel and the United States.

BLITZER: Let me just read two other quotes from that speech he gave at that conference, a World Without Zionism conference.

He said, Ahmadinejad, he said, "Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nations' fury." And he said, "God willing, with a force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism." He is the president of Iran. Doesn't he speak for your government?

ZARIF: Well, the president is an elected president of the country, who has been elected by the people. And he made statements.

But, on the other hand, the government -- the state -- the position of the government on these issues are very clear. Iran has made it clear on the record, and as official document of the United Nations, and the history a clear testimony to that, that Iran has never used or threatened to use force against any other member of the United Nations.

BLITZER: We are going to have to... ZARIF: Statements have been made by others about trying to wipe out the Islamic republic, and these types of statements have been made often and repeatedly.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Javad Zarif, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, speaking with me exclusively.

Still to come tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're following a developing story right now. A ship sinks at sea. The United States Navy now on the scene. We're going to tell you what's been going on.

The border battle raging in Washington and in cities across the United States. What should happen to illegal immigrants? We'll ask the Arizona senator, John McCain. He's always outspoken. He's in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, a gesture by the U.S. Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia, leaves a lot of people wondering, should we be offended? Some say the gesture was obscene, others say it wasn't. We'll show you what he did and we'll find out what it means.

CNN's Jeanne Moos standing by with that.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

More now on our top story. The president of the United States right now across the border in Mexico discussing immigration reform, among other issues.

Meanwhile, a small town in Arizona is now on the border and the front line of this battle over illegal immigrants.

CNN's Dan Simon is joining us now from the scene.

Where exactly are you, Dan?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are in Sasabe, Arizona. And when you hear people talk about broken borders, this is a strong example of what they're talking about.

Over here, this is Mexico right here. Over here, this is the United States. Again, we're in Sasabe, Arizona. And the only layer of protection between the two countries, Wolf, is this flimsy barbed wire fence.

And you can see it's not hard for people to get through. All they have to do is basically just jump over. And you can see people have done it recently because you can see some trash over here. In terms of the number of people coming over to Sasabe, it's really difficult to tell. But when you look at the numbers of people who have been caught, 110,000 people just this year alone. So that gives you some idea in terms of the volume of people coming over.

And again, it's not hard to come over. Once they do get over, there sometimes is a game of cat and mouse with the Border Patrol. They do do some surveillance in the area, so occasionally, people are getting caught. Again, 110,000 people every year getting caught.

And when people talk about building up a wall, this is exhibit A, Wolf, because as you can see, no protection whatsoever.

Back to you.

BLITZER: Dan Simon on very flimsy-looking border over there.

Dan, thank you very mump.

At the center of the explosive immigration debate tonight, Senator and possible presidential contender John McCain. The Arizona Republican has championed a controversial proposal being debated in the Senate right now. It would allow undocumented immigrants to work toward legal status, and it's dividing Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Welcome to THE SITUATION ROOM, Senator.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good to have you back from Iraq. We'll get to that in a moment.

I want to talk, first of all, about immigration. Your leader, Senator Bill Frist, the Republican leader, is being very forceful in disagreeing with you and Senator Kennedy and others on this whole issue of guest workers.

Listen to what Senator Frist says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: The committee bill, by contrast, I believe, goes too far in granting illegal immigrants with what most Americans will see as amnesty.

I disagree with this approach, not just as a matter of principle, but the cost granting amnesty now will only encourage future and further disrespect for the law. It will undermine our efforts to secure our homeland.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He basically says your proposal calling for guest worker status is amnesty. MCCAIN: Well, Wolf, I have great respect for Senator Frist, and I appreciate the fact that he's bringing this issue to the floor so we can debate and vote on it. Let me just say that the definition of amnesty, as I read it in the dictionary, is forgiveness for crime, sin, et cetera.

This is a tough, tough row to hoe for anyone who has violated our laws by coming to this country illegally. There's 11 or 12 million of them. We require them to pay back taxes, criminal background checks, $2,000 fine, work for six years before you're eligible for a green card.

We're talking about 11 years or more in order to obtain citizenship. On the flip side of that is, they are here, Wolf. They are here. And as George Will said, it would take 200,000 busses from San Diego to Alaska to transport them back.

How would you possibly go about sending people back to the country that they came from? Our proposal is to make them earn citizenship, and through a very tough, rigorous procedure, which we don't believe is amnesty, nor by any definition of the word.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting that you, Senator Kennedy, a lot of moderate Republicans, independent Republicans, a lot of Democrats, are basically on the same page, as the president of the United States is, when it comes to this issue of guest workers.

But the base, as they say, of the Republican Party, a lot of conservatives, strongly oppose. Listen to Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, what he says about you. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: Those people in the Senate who are basically watching out for the interest of somebody else other than the American people will have to pay the political price. And I'm sure Senator McCain, when he runs for president, will find that out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Pretty strong words from a fellow Republican, Senator.

MCCAIN: Well, unfortunately, this is a very emotionally-charged issue. I would remind my friends from California that it was Prop 187, in the view of every political observer, that gave the appearance -- and I emphasize appearance -- that Republicans were anti-Hispanic. That cost us dearly politically in the largest state in America.

I'd like to debate this issue in a respectful fashion. I'm not concerned about political repercussions. I have to do what I think is right. Wolf, my state is devastated by illegal immigration. Our borders are broken. We have hundreds of millions of dollars in uncompensated healthcare costs, law enforcement costs, wildlife refuges being destroyed. And we think we've got to address this issue. And we think -- and I think it's certainly in the majority in the Senate now that we need a guest worker program that works and also a way to earn citizenship for the 11 million people that are here. But first and foremost, enforcement of our borders.

BLITZER: We saw some dramatic pictures in Phoenix the other day. Thousands, tens of thousands, of people in Phoenix marching to oppose your colleague, Senator Jon Kyl and his stance, which is very different than your stance. I take it you were with the protesters as opposed to being with Senator Kyl on this issue.

MCCAIN: First, I have to mention -- I forgot to early on -- I'm very grateful for the president's statements on this issue. He understands it. He was governor of the state of Texas. And I think his statements have been very reasoned and mature on this issue.

You know, one of the things that's interesting about those protesters, Wolf, is that so many of them, as you'll notice from the pictures, were young. And that's because many of them, parents and grandparents came here illegally. They are citizens.

They have all the rights of a citizen, because they were born here. But they're very concerned about their parents or their grandparents being sent back to the country and place that they came from. That's very disturbing to them. And when you look at it from their point of view, it's understandable.

BLITZER: Bottom line, will there be legislation passed by the Senate and the House that allows these illegal immigrants to become guest workers and work their way over a number of years toward citizenship?

MCCAIN: I think we will allow a guest worker program that's viable, with a tamper-proof visa. And I think we will work out a way that these 11 million or 12 million people can earn their way to citizenship.

And I would remind you, we have increased border enforcement, increased funding, increased border patrol each year. And the number of illegal immigrants has gone up, too, which argues that this has to be a comprehensive approach.

BLITZER: You just came back from Iraq, Senator. Glad you're back safe and sound from there. Your friend and colleague, Senator Chuck Hagel said the other day -- and he's always outspoken, Republican from Nebraska, "I don't think," he said, "Iraq's going to get better. I think it will get worse." You were just there. What do you think?

MCCAIN: May I say that I have great respect and appreciation for Chuck Hagel, who is one of the smartest men in the Senate. I think things are getting better. I think they are progressing. I think that the Iraqi military is improving. I think the Iraqi police training is improving, but much more slowly. I think that when the Golden Mosque was blown up that they walked to the edge of the abyss and decided to step back. I think it's long and hard and tough, and one of the messages that we had to the Iraqi leaders was, "You've got to form this unity government." Our ambassador is doing a great job urging that. And the president is personally involved.

But these Iraqi leaders have to understand they have to form a government because they had an election. And the people of Iraq have the right to do that. Long, hard, tough. Can we do it? Yes. Will we do it? I'm confident we will. But it's -- the risks of failure are immense.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, as usual, thanks very much for joining us. Good to have you in THE SITUATION ROOM.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And happening now, on the lookout for tornadoes in the Midwest. We're going to have live pictures of the storm front and we'll check in with our meteorologist Jacqui Jeras. There are important developments underway right now on our tornado watch.

And a win for the Massachusetts governor who is contemplating a run for the presidency. And a defeat for same-sex couples. We're going to tell you what's happening in Massachusetts right now. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Many more live pictures coming in from Des Moines, Iowa, right now where severe weather is moving through that area. Let's check in again with meteorologist Jacqui Jeras for the latest -- Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, we've got some reports of some funnel clouds near the Iowa State Fairgrounds. That's on the east side of town. And also golf ball size hail has fallen in the city of Des Moines.

We just got a report in now from Kansas in Bourbon County, trainspotters reporting a tornado near LaHarpe (ph). This is the cell of concern. It's moving up to the north and the east around 55 miles per hour, a very, very quick-moving system.

Here you can see downtown Des Moines, still some storms off to the west. There's also urban and small stream flood advisories in effect for the entire Des Moines metro area. We do look at clear conditions once this latest storm front passes, so the threat will be diminishing we think in the next 30 to 60 minutes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope it does really quickly. Our best to all our friends in Des Moines. We're following another developing story right now as well, dozens of deaths at sea and the United States Navy has been called in to try to help. Let's bring back Zain. She has some details from the CNN Center. What's going on, Zain?

VERJEE: Wolf, at least 48 people died when a passenger ferry sank near Bahrain. About 150 people were on board, including an known number of westerners. Officials in Bahrain say 63 people were rescued.

Bahrain's news agency is saying that the passengers were on an evening cruise and then the boat capsized when it less than a mile off the coast and about a mile from the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. Officials say an investigation into what caused the accident is now underway -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you very much, and as you say, Bahrain, the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf. Always a lot of American sailors in Bahrain. Wish them only the best tonight.

Up ahead, a critical ruling on gay marriage in Massachusetts. We're going to show you why it has the governor there relieved and others outraged.

Plus, the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia raising more eyebrows -- get this -- with a hand gesture. But what exactly does it mean? Jeanne Moos standing by, she's going to show us what she found out. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In the culture wars tonight, a new decision from the highest court in the first state to allow gay marriage. That court now says same-sex couples who don't live in Massachusetts can't get married there. The Massachusetts governor and his possible White House ambitions are figuring in to this latest news.

Our Mary Snow has been following the story. She's joining us now with more -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has strong words for gay marriage as he hailed today's court ruling as a victory and observers are taking note of his tone, saying he's becoming more conservative in a traditionally liberal state.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): As a man considering a run for president, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, has toughened up his position on gay marriage.

GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), MASSACHUSETTS: We feel that this is an important victory for those of us who have wanted to preserve traditional marriage and to make sure that the mistake of Massachusetts doesn't become the mistake of the entire country. SNOW: A court legalized same-sex unions in Massachusetts in 2003. In 2004, gay weddings actually began taking place and, at the time, Romney stepped in. He began imposing an antiquated 1913 state law forbidding out of state gay couples to legally marry in Massachusetts, if their home state doesn't recognize same-sex unions. Gays challenge the law and lost.

MICHELE GRANDA, GAY AND LESBIAN ADVOCATE: This is a bad, flawed and highly complex law. It serves no purpose for anyone.

SNOW: This is the second recent high-profile clash between Romney and members of the gay community. Earlier in the month, Romney backed a bill that would exempt the Catholic Church from having to adopt children to gay couples.

STU ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: Is he attempting to use the issues to define himself, to appeal to certain kinds of voters in Republican caucuses and primaries down the road? Of course.

SNOW: Observers say Romney is trying to shore up his conservative credentials and distance himself from his very blue state.

GLEN JOHNSON, AP POLITICAL REPORTER: When he ran for governor in 2002, he had the endorsement of the Log Cabin Republicans, which is a group of gay Republicans and I think it would be hard to assume that they would also support him now with his pretty staunch anti-gay statements lately.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And the obscure 1913 law in Massachusetts that's in question was enacted at a time when Massachusetts allowed interracial couples to marry and many other states did not -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks for the report.

Now to a moment in American history, many Americans will certainly never forget. Twenty five years ago today John Hinckley Jr. fired shots that struck President Ronald Reagan and three others outside a hotel right here in Washington, D.C. Reagan was nearly killed and his Press Secretary James Brady was permanently disabled. Jackie Schechner is joining us now with "The Situation Online" -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, you can watch that video here from CNN's Pipeline. This is our broadband service and it's free today. Just go to CNN.com. You can see right here the actual video of when Reagan was shot and this is a chronology package that was put together by a reporter named Dennis Trout.

What is also available on Pipeline in regard to this, is the breaking news coverage of Reagan being shot. It's going to take a little minute to load. You'll see the normal footage and if you fast forward, you can see where Bernard Shaw cut in with the news. We'll see if we can maybe get this forward a little bit for you. And you can see where he comes in with breaking news.

Now, we did give a call over to the National Archive to see if they had this raw video available, and they actually told us, Wolf, that it's too current of a current event. So this is where you need to go to get it.

BLITZER: I remember that day very vividly and I remember Bernie Shaw's excellent, excellent anchoring that day.

Up ahead, is it a simple wave of the hand or a Sicilian obscenity? We're going to get to the bottom of a controversial gesture by the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Plus, should a Texas school fly a Mexican flag? It's our question of the hour, and only Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The bottom line, it was a mixed day on Wall Street with the Dow and the S&P down, amid inflation fears. But the Nasdaq rallied for the second day in a row to a new five-year high.

Jack's in New York with "The Cafferty File." Jack?

CAFFERTY: You're getting pretty good in that bottom line thing there.

BLITZER: I know, I've got a future in that.

CAFFERTY: Go right to Wall Street if this doesn't work out. A Texas principal was ordered to remove the Mexican flag that was raised over the school along with the U.S. and Texas flags. It's a high school in Houston.

The question we asked then is should a Texas school fly a Mexican flag?

Norma in Oregon writes: The idea that another country's flag should fly above our schools or any other official buildings sickens me.

Cheri in Tucson: Absolutely not. I'm tired of Mexicans thinking this is their country and they can do what they want with no consequences. This is America. If they want to fly the Mexican flag over a school, they can go back where they came from and fly it there, not here. If the school district allows it, the entire elected board should be removed.

Peter writes: Flying the Mexican flag in Houston is absurd. Why not then fly the Cuban flag in Miami, the Chinese flag in San Francisco, Puerto Rican flag in New York? There will be no end, so don't let it begin. If you want to hang it, do it in your home.

George writes from Pennsylvania: I understand it, the Mexican flag, is flying just right below the white flag. Pedro in New York: Schools that serve children from many different countries frequently display their flags as a way of making them feel welcome. Is our sense of national pride so fragile that displaying the Mexican flag posts a threat to our national identity?

No, but it's just a crummy idea, Pedro.

Phil in Monticello, Illinois: Sure, a Texas school should fly a Mexican flag. And Mexico City should fly a Vermont flag and we ought to teach religion in math class and lower the deficit by cutting more taxes. The world is truly upside down.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, have a good night. Jack Cafferty in New York.

Let stay in New York, Paula is standing by with a preview of what is coming up at the top of the hour. Paula?

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf, just about six minutes from now, we have an absolutely incredible story for you that shouldn't be lost in today's rush of news. It is the climax of a multi-million dollar armored truck heist. A woman who had been on the run for 12 years was in court today, but what happened to her alleged accomplice and to all of that money?

And as the immigration debate rages on across the country, what would happen if all the illegal immigrants here actually went home? Some surprising answers to ponder at the top of the hour. Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll be watching, Paula, thanks very much.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a simple wave of the hand or some sort of obscenity? We're going to get to the bottom of a controversial gesture by the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's a lot of buzz about a hand gesture made by the Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia this week with many people unsure exactly what to make of it. CNN's Jeanne Moos took the question to the experts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is an Italian gesture not normally associated with the Supreme Court, but there he is.

(on camera): This is Supreme Court Justice Scalia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, gee.

MOOS (voice-over): On the front page of the "Boston Herald." UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To call it obscene, I think that's kind of strong. I would say it was being rude.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he was just scratching his chin.

MOOS: Unfortunately, there is no videotape, just this one still picture just as Scalia was coming out of mass when a reporter asked him how he responds to critics who might question his impartiality as a judge given his public worship.

That's when Justice Scalia fanned his way away from his chin.

(on camera): And he supposedly said this world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

MOOS: The photographer says he said this word and he said he didn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Photographer said he said that?

MOOS: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's bad. That's very bad. Forget about it, that's very bad. No Italians talk that way, we don't like that to each other unless we hate you.

MOOS (voice-over): But Justice Scalia cited a book called "The Italians." "The extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin means I couldn't care less. It's no business of mine."

The conflicting interpretations call for expert analysis.

(on camera): Are you guys Italian?

(voice-over): We headed for Little Italy in the Bronx. For some the gesture was too delicate, even to discuss.

(on camera): What do you mean you don't know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I don't know what it means.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not really bad, but it's not quite like the finger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It could be obscene or it could be like don't bother me. I don't want to be bothered. I don't take that as being anything bad because in my family, they did it all the time and they still do it.

MOOS (voice-over): In a letter to the "Boston Herald," Justice Scalia accused staffers of having watched too many episodes of "The Sopranos."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anti-Italian discrimination. MOOS: So the "Herald" ran the gesture, past "Sopranos" cast members. The guy who plays Vito said, "It's not like crabbing your crotch. Not that bad an obscenity, but it's an obscenity."

Even if you can't define it, you know it when you see it or you can see what you want in it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you, I love you.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Only Jeanne Moos can do that. Thanks very much for joining us. Remember, we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekdays 4:00- to-6:00 p.m. Eastern, back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Until tomorrow, I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's head up to New York. Paula Zahn standing by. Paula?

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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