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THE SITUATION ROOM

Marine Corps Recall; Tehran Wants to Keep Talking; Iran's Threat to Israel

Aired August 22, 2006 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And 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 today's top stories.

Happening now, the world wants Iran to give up its nuclear activities. Now Iran gives its answer.

It's 12:30 a.m. in Tehran, where they want to keep talking. Is that good enough though?

Our Aneesh Raman is inside Iran, a report you'll see only here on CNN.

It's 1:00 a.m. in Iraq, where there's a shortage of volunteers. They've done their part, but thousands of U.S. Marines may be involuntarily recalled to active duty.

And it's 5:00 p.m. in Connecticut, where his support for the fight in Iraq has Senator Joe Lieberman fighting for his political life. Is he having any second thoughts? I'll ask him in a one-on-one interview. That's coming up this hour.

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

We begin with a major story coming out of the Pentagon. The United States Marine Corps now says it may need to recall thousands of troops to active duty. That means the Marines who have already done their part could be brought back in some cases involuntarily.

Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.

Jamie, what's going on?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these days U.S. troops know when they hang up their uniform that doesn't necessarily mean their service is over. The Marines involved here are in what's called the Individual Ready Reserve. That means they still have a military obligation, sometimes up to four years. And the Marine Corps said today that up to 2,500 Marines may be called back to active duty in the coming months.

They would get five months' notice before they had to report, and then they would serve a tour of between a year and a year and a half, 12 to 18 months. They would be part of units that would deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan in the spring and summer of next year.

The Marine Corps says it would take volunteers from those reserve members before they call on other Marines. In addition, any Marines who just got out of active duty, in their first year, they would be exempt, and Marines who had multiple combat tours or a recent combat experience would also be the last call.

The critical jobs they're trying to fill are combat arms, military police, communications and intelligence specialists, and engineers. Those are areas that they have shortages in and they need to fill from the ranks of the Ready Reserve.

The Marine Corps insists that this should not come as a surprise to the Marines. They've been told about their obligation once they leave active duty and they could be recalled if they're not in a reserve or guard unit, but (INAUDIBLE) on Capitol Hill are already calling this an example of the wear and tear on the U.S. military. Those were the words use by Senator Jack Reed, who issued a critical press release just a short time ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Does it mean that there are not enough volunteers for the U.S. Marine Corps, young men and women willing to step up and join the Marines? Is that a part of the problem?

MCINTYRE: No, this is not an enlistment or a recruitment problem. The Marines are meeting their recruitment, but what they do need is people in specialties.

And when they're talking about volunteers, a lot of Marines, believe it or not, once they get out of active duty volunteer to come back on active duty status to serve again. But the problem is getting some of those volunteers in the specialties they need during the time they need them is difficult, so they're going to have to ask some of the Marines to come back, even if they didn't volunteer.

Now, if the Marines -- if it creates a hardship, they can apply for an exemption or a deferment, depending on their case.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie. Thanks very much.

And we all know those Marine are special, and we wish them only -- only the best.

Meanwhile, Iran has been offered a carrot, but it may soon be facing a stick. Today Iran responded to the carrot, an offer of incentives aimed at getting the Islamic republic to halt its nuclear activities. Iran's top negotiator says his country wants to negotiate, but there's no word about a nuclear halt, and that could eventually lead to the stick, possible United Nations sanctions.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is standing by in Jerusalem, where they're very, very worried about where Iran and its missiles may be heading.

But let's begin our coverage this hour with CNN's Aneesh Raman, the only U.S. television reporter in Iran right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The world wanted a simple answer from Iran. Instead, it got this, a lengthy written reply.

In it, Iran called for a new formula to end the crisis, called for serious negotiations to begin as soon as tomorrow. But most importantly, gave no sign it would stop its nuclear program by the end of the month.

This was Iran showing itself eager to restart dialogue, and, it seems, eager to change the world's focus. It's no accident that the most direct comments today came not about Iran's nuclear program, but about U.S. President Bush from Iran's supreme leader.

The Ayatollah Khamenei was quoted as saying, "This person speaks as if he's the owner of Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and other Islamic countries. However, if the immense force of the nations is fielded, as took place in Lebanon, the arrogant will be humiliated."

Khamenei made the comments with the country's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sitting close by.

(on camera): Iran's response, of course, made big news around the world. But did it make big news here in Iran?

Today was a day off for people, an auspicious Muslim holiday. They came here to the market to go about their business, and they did voice concern for what might come next.

(voice over): Here, the vendors hawked their fruits. As the people came to shop, the shop owners, like Emir (ph), showed apprehension. "Yes, sanctions will definitely have an impact on the market, on my business. People are afraid. They are anxious."

"We Iranians don't like to have crises," said Mashid (ph). "We like to have a peaceful and tranquil life. We are worried, but we don't make the decisions. We hope whatever decision is made that it ends well for our nation."

Most here support Iran's nuclear program, whether it brings sanctions or not. But as their government shows no indication of scaling back its nuclear activities, the people of Iran can do little now but prepare for the hardships that might come.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman reporting from Tehran. Aneesh is the only U.S. television journalist inside Iran right now.

And given that Iran's president has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," Iran's nuclear and missile programs are taken very, very seriously there. Let's turn to CNN's Chris Lawrence. He's in Jerusalem -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some very senior Israeli officials have put out an immediate warning: if the Iran crisis escalates here, people could be in danger.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice over): Rockets fired from Gaza. Katyushas launched from Lebanon. But senior officials say Israel's ultimate enemy is Iran.

RAFI EITAN, ISRAELI SECURITY CABINET: We should be ready for rockets from Iran.

LAWRENCE: Iran has been refusing demands that it stop enriching uranium. Tensions with the United States have been escalating over its nuclear program. And a senior cleric says if the United States attacks Iran, Israel will pay the price.

(on camera): Rhetoric aside, do you really believe that Iran would directly attack Israel?

ERAN LERMAN, FMR. ISRAELI INTEL. OFFICER: I think Israel has to be worried.

LAWRENCE (voice over): Former Israeli intelligence officer Eran Lerman says Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made his intentions clear, the end of Israel. Iran says its uranium enrichment program is not designed to build bombs. But Lerman says Iran's missiles are designed to one day carry a nuclear warhead.

LERMAN: Shahab series was refitted and -- and made to reach Israel quite specifically.

LAWRENCE: Some Israeli officials believe the Shahab missile could reach as far as Tel Aviv.

EITAN: We have enough anti-missile missiles that we are able to attack the center, but not -- not all of Israel.

LAWRENCE: (INAUDIBLE) test--fired another shorter-range missile. Iranian officials say they're designed to defend the country from an Israeli or American attack. But former spy master Rafi Eitan is warning Israelis to prepare for Iran's aggression.

EITAN: They should put the public on alert.

LAWRENCE: Israelis have been climbing out of their bomb shelters after the Katyusha attacks. Eitan is urging them to immediately reinforce those bunkers for what may be the greater war to come.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Senior Israeli officials say they hope that Iran would agree to the U.N. demands by the end of the month, but they make their plans assuming Iran will not -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence in Jerusalem for us.

Thank you, Chris.

The nuclear stand-off isn't stopping a former Iranian president from planning a visit to Washington. Mohammad Khatami reportedly intends to speak next month at the Washington National Cathedral. And officials say the visa process is now under way.

The reform-minded Khatami served the presidential limit of two terms. He now represents a group promoting dialogue among different cultures.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's in New York.

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

Another example of local governments getting serious about illegal aliens, while our so-called leaders in Washington continue to do nothing and in the process compromise this nation's security.

Voters in the nation's fifth largest city are going to decide if their police can enforce federal immigration laws. Its initiative will be on the ballot in Phoenix, Arizona, that would make the police enter into an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security. The cops would investigate, apprehend and detain illegal aliens consistent with state and federal law. Other city workers would have to check the immigration status of all of those who try to get public benefits.

There's an idea.

More than a thousand illegal aliens are caught every day crossing from Mexico into southern Arizona -- a thousand a day. Backers of this proposal say it's time to get serious about enforcing the law.

The local police don't support this measure. They say it will put an unnecessary strain on their police force.

Here's the question: Should Phoenix, Arizona, police be able to enforce federal immigration laws?

Your thoughts, CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Jack Cafferty.

We'll check back with you.

Up ahead, Joe Lieberman is causing some sharp division within his own Democratic Party now that he's launched an independent run to retake his Senate seat. I'll speak live with the Connecticut senator about his controversial decision.

Hezbollah stunned the world when it managed to outlast a much bigger Israeli force. We're going to take you inside the underground bunkers that may have given it a big advantage.

And John Mark Karr's journey isn't over yet. Where the suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey case is headed next.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The man suspected of killing JonBenet Ramsey could leave Los Angeles as soon as later today. John Mark Karr waived extradition in a brief court hearing just a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Karr, I'm holding up a waiver of extradition. Can you see that?

JOHN MARK KARR, SUSPECT IN MURDER OF JonBenet RAMSEY: Yes, your honor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you read and understand the form?

KARR: Yes, your honor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You understand that by signing this form, your agreement to be extradited to Colorado?

KARR: Yes, your honor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. The court finds that the defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his right to the issuance and service of a governor's warrant. He is remanded into custody without bail and the defendant shall be returned to the state of Colorado.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Karr's next stop, JonBenet Ramsey's hometown of Boulder, Colorado.

Let's go live to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's on the scene for us right now.

What -- what happens next, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what happens next is authorities and investigators are here in Boulder preparing for his arrival. We know that his -- his extradition here to Colorado will be handled by the sheriff's department.

They are not saying anything about his arrival. In fact, we just were told by the sheriff here that we will not be told of his arrival until he is officially booked into the jail here and his mug shot will be released. So, we're not exactly sure if that's going to happen tonight or tomorrow.

Yesterday, authorities here had said that they fully expected to have him in Colorado within 48 hours. So that would be around tomorrow as well.

Meanwhile, investigators here face kind of a deadline, because once John Karr is here in Boulder, they have 72 hours, up to three days, to file the charges against him for the arrest warrant that he was picked up on in Los Angeles. So they say they have been working feverishly and around the clock and all weekend long to put together this case, and they're trying to make sense of whether or not the story that John Karr unraveled and started to tell in Thailand is indeed true, and trying to figure out if he is indeed the culprit of the murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Can we assume, Ed, that if they do go ahead within those next three days and formally file charges accusing him of murder in the first degree that they have the physical evidence, either the DNA or the handwriting samples, that potentially could back up that charge?

LAVANDERA: You know, it's so hard to say. And I'm not prepared to go out on that limb, just because we haven't heard anything officially from the DAs office here since Thursday.

They said they wouldn't be commenting on any of the evidence. But we assume that they have been starting to take a look at he handwriting samples, DNA evidence, and also any kind of evidence that might physically think him to being here in December of 1996. We assume that would, of course, play a huge role into this case, if, indeed, it gets that far.

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera, thanks very much for that.

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, we're going to speak with one handwriting analyst who believes that there is a connection, that there is a connection between what John Mark Karr previously wrote and that ransom letter.

That's coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

Let's check in with Zain Verjee. She's taking a closer look at some other important stories making news -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, a Louisiana man who has invited President Bush to dinner in his trailer has arrived in downtown Washington. And what did Rocky Vaccarella do once he found a parking spot? Well, he started cooking, of course.

He says he wants to thank the president for federal help to the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast, but he also wants to "remind him that the job is not done." The trailer is meant to represent the FEMA trailers, which many victims now call home. Emergency officials now say all 170 people aboard a commercial airliner that crashed in eastern Ukraine are believed to be dead. The pilot of the Tupolev 154 reportedly sent word of a fire on board and heavy turbulence shortly before the plane disappeared from radar screens. The plane was flying from a Ukrainian Black Sea resort town to St. Petersburg in Russia.

A Pakistani scientist responsible for passing nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya has reported be been diagnosed with prostate cancer. A.Q. Khan, once hailed as the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, has been under house arrest for the past two and a half years. A government spokesman says he's had initial medical tests and he's currently undergoing further testing.

Eleven people appeared in a British court today in connection with an alleged plot to blow up airliners over the Atlantic will remain in custody. Eight are charged with conspiracy to commit murder and intent to commit acts of terrorism, while the other three face lesser charges. Eleven other people are being held out without charge in connection to the case -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you.

And coming up, a chilling scene in a Baghdad courtroom today. Witnesses describe a day of terror unleashed by the defendant, the former Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. And they say it still remains vivid two decades later.

And they look just like holes in the ground, but these underground bunkers may have made all the difference for Hezbollah in its 34-day war with Israel. We're going to take you inside those holes.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Excruciating testimony today in Saddam Hussein's genocide trial in Baghdad. Two witnesses described a terrifying ordeal almost two decades ago. They accused the former Iraqi president of unleashing a lethal chemical attack.

Let's go to CNN's Michael Holmes. He's in the Iraqi capital -- Michael.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, of course day two of the Anfal trial. The former Iraqi president and six codefendants in the dock, and first testimony in this trial. Two witnesses giving evidence. The first, a chilling account of the day in 1987 that bombs fell from the sky and, he says, chemicals came from those bombs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALI MUSTAFA HAMA, WITNESS (through translator): Then I smelled a strange smell like rotten apple or garlic. A few minutes later, the people felt their eyes burning and started vomiting. Then darkness fell.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Now, this attack is believed to be the first instance of the Iraqi government using chemical weapons against its own population. That, according to a Human Rights Watch report on Anfal. War lanes bombed the villages, up to 3,000 of them, in fact, and then troops moving in and destroying the communities, moving out survivors, many of whom were never seen again.

The second witness a 41-year-old woman. She said she had been held in detention after the attacks for nine days. Her brother and niece disappeared. And this is what she said.

"During those nine days it was like the apocalypse." "Even Hitler," she said, "didn't do this." She then broke down into tears.

The defendants, for their part, insisted that Iraq's military was attacking Iranian troops. This was, of course, during the bloody Iran-Iraq War -- attacking those troops and also Kurdish rebels. And that's what this campaign was all about.

Saddam himself even challenged both of the witnesses, accusing them of being coached in their testimony.

So, two witnesses have now given their evidence, but, Wolf, this could be a long trial. There could be more than a hundred more witnesses to come -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael Holmes in Baghdad.

Thank you.

And coming up, Iran gives its answer to demands that it give up its nuclear program. We'll get reaction from the White House.

And I'll speak live with Senator Joe Lieberman. His support for the fight in Iraq has him fighting for his political life. Would he do it the same way all over again?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to your top story.

Iran has now given its answer to the incentives offer from the big powers aimed at trying to halt its nuclear program. Still not clear exactly what that answer is. And for now, the Bush administration seems to be reserving judgment.

Let's go live to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Bush administration has officially received the Iranian government's response. But White House aides do not believe President Bush has actually seen it yet.

As you know, he's in Minnesota today at a health care policy event. Safe bet that he will be fully briefed on the flight back to D.C. tonight.

Diplomats, of course, right now from the U.S. and other prominent nations poring over the details right now. So, for now, the White House officially reserving adjustment, as you noted. But White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, traveling with the president, indicating already the White House is not looking kindly on Iranian leaders, basically appearing to reject demands that they stop their nuclear enrichment program, trying to buy more time.

The White House has heard this before from the regime. The president tiring of all this talk because, of course, there's international fear that the Iranian government may just be stalling for time here to try to get closer and closer to getting nuclear weapons.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino telling reporters, "We are aware of the rhetoric that's been coming out of the regime about a nuclear program. The president made very clear to everyone yesterday at the press conference that he thinks that is a mistake and dangerous for the region and the whole world."

The White House, for now, also deferring to the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, which has taken a carrot at stick approach so far. The carrot, of course, being those economic incentives if Iran stops that programs. The stick, though, is something the White House clearly wants as well, which is tough economic sanctions if Iran does not suspend the uranium enrichment program.

But obviously it's going to be an uphill battle to get both China and Russia on board for those tough sanctions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed, thank you very much.

So, is Iran's answer good enough? Or is the Islamic republic headed for a high-stakes showdown with the United Nations over its nuclear program?

Joining us now is Wendy Sherman. She was an adviser to former president Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright.

Wendy, thanks very much for coming in.

WENDY SHERMAN, FMR. STATE DEPT. COUNSELOR: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Do you believe under any circumstances Iran under this current regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is going to give up their quest for a nuclear bomb?

SHERMAN: No, is the simple answer. BLITZER: So why bother with all this talk of sanctions, all this pressure on Iran? If they're going to go forward with that program, and if that program is against U.S. national security interests, what about the military option?

SHERMAN: Well, I think they're determined to go ahead with their nuclear enrichment program and to get nuclear weapons, but we don't know that for absolute sure, even though that's my belief and I think probably most people's and most analysts' belief. So we have to test their intentions, and we ought to do that first through diplomacy, through a very tough negotiation.

But the Security Council is going to have to act, because although I think it's right for the administration to read through this document, indeed -- and sure, it's ambiguous -- it's going to say, well, let's talk some more without saying that they're going to freeze or suspend their nuclear enrichment program. And that is not good enough.

BLITZER: I just came back from Israel doing -- covering the war over there. And what I heard from numerous high-ranking Israeli officials is all the talk is very dangerous because the clock is running, time is running out. And in the meantime, while Iran is playing this game with the West, with the United Nations, they're enriching uranium and they're getting ready to go on to the next level. And once the talk ends they're going to have a bomb.

SHERMAN: I think most analysts believe that in fact it is still a year or two or three or five away from Iran having a nuclear weapon. That said, we have to at least try to do this diplomatically because the military option, although it ought to stay on the table, is not viable at the moment until we get through this diplomacy and see if, in fact, there's any way for them to move back. I think under any circumstances they want to hold on to a research capability, even if they give up a nuclear weapons capability per se.

BLITZER: It's widely assumed the United States and the European powers, Britain, France, Germany will go ahead with sanctions, but what about Russia and China?

SHERMAN: I don't think we know the answer to t hat, it depends upon how many openings there are in the documents that Iran has put forward. And I think the United States always has had in mind ratcheting up the sanctions, knowing that in the first wave they're probably able to get a travel ban, maybe be able to hold on to freezing some assets.

But the very tough economic sanctions that might trigger Iran, the fourth largest exporter of oil, from holding back their oil from the world's economy and creating an economic crisis, that's probably a little bit off. But we are heading towards a confrontation. We'll see how the world community is going to react.

BLITZER: Here's what the supreme leader of Iran, the ayatollah said yesterday, he said, "The Islamic Republic of Iran has made up its mind based on the experience of the past 27 years to forcefully pursue its nuclear program and other issues it is faced with and will rely on God. Be patient and hopefully we will taste a sweet outcome." They seem very confident that when all is said and done they're going to have their bomb.

SHERMAN: Well I think unfortunately because of the way that the Iraq war has been prosecuted, because of the Lebanese conflict, which you know quite intimately Iran is emboldened. I think their answer that they offered today would have been the same even before the Lebanon conflict, but nonetheless, they are emboldened. They're going to go for everything they can. They think they have the leverage here, they think they have the power. And the world community is going to have to respond and take this very seriously.

BLITZER: Let's switch gears to North Korea. You've been there, you went there with the secretary of state Madeline Albright when you served over at the state department. There are war games under way right now, the U.S. and South Korea. The North Koreans insist as they always do, these are very provocative, represent a threat to North Korea. And there is indications, at least some analysts believe the North Koreans are playing an underground nuclear test. What's your assessment?

SHERMAN: My assessment is they might indeed decide that they need some attention. First they fired off missiles on our 4th of July. That got them a little attention but really no greater sanctions, no price was paid, no real consequences except further isolation. But they don't much care.

And so if they see Iran emboldened, if they see other people proceeding ahead, they saw other countries like Pakistan have nuclear weapons and at the end of the day even after tests it didn't matter, they might go ahead and do that underground test. And although it might further isolate them, I don't think it's going to bring the world down on their head in the way we want. There is a lot at stake here and there ought to be a strategy from the White House and we have yet to really see it.

BLITZER: Wendy Sherman, thanks very much for coming in.

SHERMAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: And still to come, a new poll and tough questions about Senator Joe Lieberman's fight to keep his seat in the United States Senate. The democrat turned independent candidate is standing by to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And what's in a name? The Iranian president defies world leaders in more ways than one. Our Jeanne Moos will spell it all out as only she can do. That's coming up in our 7:00 p.m. eastern hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Right now Senator Joe Lieberman is fighting for much more than a fourth term. The Democrat turned independent candidate is testing the power of party ties and the political fallout from the war in Iraq. Senator Joe Lieberman is joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Senator, thanks for coming in.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: Good to be with you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Knowing what you know right now, three years after the start of the war, knowing what is the current situation, the possibility this could all turn out to be civil war, would you have supported it knowing what you know right now?

LIEBERMAN: Hindsight is always clearer than foresight, but in my opinion we did the right thing in going in to overthrow Saddam Hussein. I've said over and over again that mistakes were made by the administration after Saddam was overthrown.

But now we're here, we're there. And the key question before the United States and actually in this campaign is, what do we do now? My opponent has taken a position that was supported by only 13 senators: all of American troops out by July 1st of next year. If we did that, there would be an all-out civil war.

BLITZER: But, Senator...

LIEBERMAN: The place would collapse. Iran would come in and Iraq would become a safe haven for al Qaeda from which it would attack other Arab countries and us.

BLITZER: If you would have known then, before the war, that he didn't have any weapons of mass destruction, that that did not pose any threat whatsoever, why would you have supported sending U.S. troops in as opposed to dealing with him with sanctions, the no-fly zones, the pressure that was clearly working?

LIEBERMAN: Wolf, history is going to be the final judge on this, and I'm really focused on the future. But since you asked, I'll give you the answer. In 1998, John McCain, former Senator Bob Kerrey and I introduced the Iraq Liberation Act. We said in that act -- which passed, and it was signed by President Clinton -- Saddam Hussein is a ticking time bomb; he's a mass murderer. Look what's happening in his trial today. He's being tried for gassing, using a weapon of mass destruction...

BLITZER: But that was in the '80s.

LIEBERMAN: No, no. This man had broken every promise to us that he made after the Gulf War. He had invaded two of his neighbors. He was supporting terrorists and he hated the United States of America. That's why we thought then -- and apparently President Clinton did, too, because he signed our law -- that our policy had to be to change the regime in Baghdad. So no, I think we did the right thing.

BLITZER: Because arguably, a lot of critics point out Iran right now and North Korea right now represent potentially much graver threats to the U.S. and the U.S. is trying to deal with those two issues through diplomatic channels. LIEBERMAN: I wish that we could choose the threats that we had to respond to. This is, unfortunately, a dangerous world. The most significant threat that we face today is from radical Islamist terrorism, the same people who attacked us on 9/11/01, who were going to attack us again from Britain if we had not thwarted that plot. Iraq today -- we have the face where we are today. Iraq today is a battlefield in that war and...

BLITZER: But hasn't the war in Iraq undermined the U.S. effort to deal with that legitimate threat in the war on terror?

LIEBERMAN: It has not. In my opinion, we will undermine our ability to deal with radical Islamist terrorists if we pick up -- as many, including my opponents, seem to want to do -- and pull out of Iraq by a date certain. The majority of Iraqis still want a better, freer, more independent unified future. And I think we owe it to them to stick with them a while, notwithstanding all the difficulties there. Look, my eyes are open. The sectarian violence has been terrible. The inability of...

BLITZER: It's a much greater threat right now to the people of Iraq, that sectarian violence, the potential civil war, than the insurgency.

LIEBERMAN: Well, the sectarian violence is -- I don't think so. And let's talk the truth here. The sectarian violence was intentionally stimulated and inflamed by the terrorists. Zarqawi, when he was alive, boasted that his people had blown up the Shia mosque, holy site, in Samarra, Iraqi, and that was the turning point in sectarian violence. So the question is: Are we going to allow the forces of hate and terrorism to take over that country or are we going to stick with it?

BLITZER: So you don't think there's a civil war yet?

LIEBERMAN: Look, that's a semantical -- a question of words. I'd say there's not technically a civil war because there still is a unity government and there still is what I call a nonsectarian military. There is terrible violence there. But you want to see a real civil war and a collapse of a great country in the center of the Middle East? Pull out by a date certain and that's what you'll see.

BLITZER: Here's what John Kerry, your colleague from Massachusetts, said on this week.

LIEBERMAN: More good news, yes.

BLITZER: Here's what he said. "I'm concerned that Lieberman is making a Republican case and he's uttering almost the same words as Vice President Cheney, and I think it's inappropriate. "The fact is, Joe Lieberman is out of step with the people of Connecticut. I believe that he's just dead wrong with respect to the war."

LIEBERMAN: Look, John's is entitled to his opinion. I think he's dead wrong in what he had to say. And it's up to the people of Connecticut to say in November where they are on the war. But the fact is here John Kerry is seeking higher office. He wants to run for the White House again. I take that to be a politically motivated statement...

BLITZER: So it's just politics...

LIEBERMAN: ... by an old friend. But let me say this: My position on this has not changed. I'm doing what I think is right. I'm not patterning myself after anybody else. I have a responsibility -- and maybe it's part of the reason why I'm in such a tough fight this year -- I have a responsibility to do what I think is right for the security of our country. And that's what I'm doing. I'm a devoted Democrat, but my loyalty to America and my state is higher than my loyalty to my party.

BLITZER: A lot of Democrats are really hammering you right now. Listen to what the vice presidential nominee, John Edwards, said the other day. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC): I don't think it has anything to do with the polls. This is about democracy. He's a Democrat. He ran in the Democratic primary and he didn't win.

(LAUGHTER)

Democrats chose Ned Lamont as their candidate. He should be the candidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: How do you feel when you hear Democrats, lifelong friends, a lot of your friends -- I assume both Kerry and Edwards were good friends of yours at one point -- how do you feel when they say, you know what, you lost the Democratic primary and you should just walk away?

LIEBERMAN: When I decided to run as an independent -- and I decided more than a month ago, because I began the petition circulation to get the signatures to be on the ballot -- I did it expecting that most Democrats would follow the old political, partisan rules and go with the nominee, the person who got more votes in the primary.

I would be less than human, Wolf, if I didn't say that when I saw some of these folks saying the things that they do, it hurts. But you know what? The primary's over. If endorsements mattered and determined elections, I would have won the primary by a lot because I had most of the endorsements.

The great news here is the people decide, the people make up their minds. I think the people in Connecticut are as fed up with the partisanship that has stopped Washington from solving their problems as I am. And I'm running to give them a choice between the kind of partisanship and inexperience -- and I think wrong ideas about national security that my opponent has -- my experience, my ability to work across party lines, my record of delivering results for Connecticut. That's the choice they're going to have in November.

BLITZER: Here's what this latest American Research Group poll that just came out today shows. A lot closer race than the Quinnipiac University poll that came out last week: Lieberman at 44 percent; Lamont 42 percent; Alan Schlesinger, the Republican candidate, at 3 percent. If, in fact, you do win and you're re-elected, what are the chances that you will join Bill Frist, who says he would welcome you to join the Republican Caucus and effectively -- even though you'll be an independent -- side with the Republicans?

LIEBERMAN: I'm a Democrat. I've made very clear that I'm going to organize with the Democratic Caucus. But I'm going to be an independent senator. I'm going to look for every opportunity I can to build alliances, to fix our broken health care system, to make America energy independent, to make our public schools the best in the world, to do something about global warming, to get our federal books back in balance.

We've got enormous problems that we're not solving because too many people in Washington are playing partisan games. They think of themselves as Democrats or Republicans. They forget we have a higher loyalty. It is to our country and our children's future.

BLITZER: Here's the reason I asked the question. Let's say the Republicans retain their majority in the United States Senate and you have a chance of retaining -- if you're re-elected -- all of your seniority and you go with the Republicans, you become the chairman of a powerful committee in the Senate, as you telling us -- can you look into the camera and tell the people in Connecticut once and for all you would not then join the Republican Caucus?

LIEBERMAN: That's absolutely what I've said. Are you representing the Republicans here today?

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I'm asking the questions.

LIEBERMAN: No. The answer is: I've made that clear.

BLITZER: So there's no chance you would side with the Republicans...

LIEBERMAN: No.

BLITZER: ... even though you would become a chairman, potentially, of a committee?

LIEBERMAN: No. I'm a Democrat and I will remain a Democrat.

BLITZER: So you will always be with the Democrat?

LIEBERMAN: An independent-minded Democrat. Incidentally, all the polls that have come out so far have shown me ahead, which is a surprise to me. But as I said when the Quinnipiac poll came out last week, early polls don't determine campaigns. I'm the challenger here. I'm challenging the conventional partisan politics that has dominated too much of our life these days. I'm going to run hard as if I was behind all the way to November 7th. I'm very encouraged by all these polls, because they show that I'm getting support across party lines. And that says to me the people are really hungry for a new politics of unity and purpose. And the purpose is to solve some of our problems and their problems.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, Senator, but this must be painful to see so many of your Democratic friends now siding with Ned Lamont, your opponent.

LIEBERMAN: I've got to tell you, I'm looking forward. And, Wolf, there's no question: I wish I had won the primary. But when I got up the next day, I felt a real sense of mission.

I know why I'm doing this and I feel I have an opportunity, one, to be a better senator for the people of Connecticut than either of the other two candidates can be; but, two, it's time for somebody to stand up and say, as much as I'm a Democrat, there's something more important than being a Democrat. It's getting something done for my state and my country.

And that's what this campaign is going to be all about: a different way forward to solving some of America's problems by working across party lines. That's what our country desperately needs.

BLITZER: Senator Lieberman, thanks very much for coming in.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: We appreciate it.

Coming up, new pictures from southern Lebanon showing a network of underground bunkers. We're going to take you inside Hezbollah's hideouts. Also, a high school yearbook and a ransom note in the JonBenet Ramsey killing. Could there be a connection? We'll ask a hand writing expert to read between the lines. That's coming up in our 7:00 p.m. eastern hour. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. There's no magic wand to make things better in Lebanon. That's the word today from a top United Nation's envoy who says it could take months to put together a peace-keeping operation. Terje Roed-Larsen warns that even accidental cease-fire violations could trigger fresh fighting. Israel's prime minister told the visiting U.N. envoy today, that the air and sea blockade of Lebanon will be lifted after peacekeepers deploy along Lebanon's borders.

Israel wants U.N. troops at crossings between Lebanon and Syria to prevent weapons smuggling. There's new video from southern Lebanon showing the underground hideouts Hezbollah used in its battle against Israeli forces. Our Zain Verjee is joining us with the story -- Zain. VERJEE: Wolf, this is a peek inside a bunker used by Hezbollah during the war complete with left over guns and photos of Iranian spiritual leaders still hanging on the wall.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): This is how Hezbollah lived and hid during the month-long fighting between Israel and Lebanon. Israeli forces say they found a network of bunkers in Rajr Village, a town that sits right on the border partly controlled by Israel, partly by Lebanon, and also home to Hezbollah outposts. A Reuters camera crew entered this bunker on the Lebanese side of Rajr Village. On the bed, a pistol.

On the wall, photographs of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei. A calendar displaying the face of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah also on the wall. Military analysts say none of this is a big surprise.

BARAK BEN-ZUR, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: It's very, very natural that Hezbollah members are a part of the Iranian revolution. They are part of the Cedar revolution.

VERJEE: This sight is part of a system of bunkers and shelters developed by Hezbollah all over south Lebanon. Experts say a bunker like this may have been used as a shield against air raids for Hezbollah forces or as a control center to activate mines and missiles from inside. Such a bunker can lead to others. Possibly connected.

BEN-ZUR: The fact that those bunkers were unknown to the Israeli intelligence. And due to that, they succeeded to pop out from those bunkers to emerge from their hiding places and attack the Israelis from behind.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: A former Israeli intelligence officer who we spoke to says Israel assumed there would be some Hezbollah control center in the Rajr Village area. Now that it's been found, the question for them now is will it lead to other bunkers or to stockpiles of rockets -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you very much. Zain Verjee reporting. Up next, Jack Cafferty is wondering about a ballot initiative in Phoenix. Should police there be able to enforce federal immigration laws. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Zain once again for a closer look at some other important stories -- Zain.

VERJEE: Hi Wolf, it's called tropical depression four right now, but it could soon be called Debby. The storm is churning in the eastern Atlantic and is affecting the Cape Verde islands. The National Hurricane Center says it expects winds to increase enough to become a tropical storm by tomorrow.

Firefighters in northern Greece are at this hour battling a wildfire that's charred 12,000 acres. Authorities say the blaze has killed at least one person and hospitalized 50 others. Several thousand people have been forced to flee. Authorities are investigating whether arson may be the cause of the blaze.

Finland's taking the lead in calling for the cleanup of environmental damage in Lebanon caused by Israeli military action. The Finnish government says that it's donating more than $700,000 in equipment to clean up a major oil spill caused by the bombing of a power plant. 85 miles of shoreline have been polluted by the spill. Finland's environment minister is urging other European countries to follow suit -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much Zain for that. Let's check back with Jack in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: A ballot initiative Wolf in Phoenix, Arizona, will ask voters to decide if the local Phoenix police should be allowed to enforce federal immigration laws, since the federal government doesn't bother.

S. in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, "Once again you're asking the wrong question. The question should be, should the federal government delegate immigration enforcement to the local level where it would be more effective? The answer to that question would be a resounding yes."

Dave in Texas, "Local police are expected to enforce federal laws against bank robbery, drug smuggling and kidnapping. I don't know why they shouldn't be expected to enforce federal laws against illegal immigration."

Jennifer in California, "The federal government has convinced me that they won't enforce the law. I live in Contra Costa County, California, where we are overrun by illegals. Even half the interviewers who call with political surveys barely speak English. I was thinking about moving."

Bill in Virginia, "Come on Jack, stop stoking the fires of racism and ethnic cleansing. That's right, every time you call undocumented workers illegal aliens you inflame the flammable and make matters worse. In terms of your question, no? Local law enforcement should not be burdened with trying to fix the mess the federal government has created over decades of not enforcing immigration laws."

So what do we do Bill, just nothing? Adam writes, "Being a 21 year old college student I can honestly say the cops can suffer the extra burden on the Phoenix police force. If they have enough officers to be able to dedicate three to a drunk guy walking down the street, they can stop illegals and arrest them for being, you know, illegal."

Larry in Yuma, Arizona, "As an American who lives where the illegal aliens cross the border, I know that Phoenix and all cities and towns in the United States should help catch illegal aliens. The crime has doubled in the town where I live because of illegal aliens."

And Samantha writes from Chicago, "I think this all sounds great. When is this measure coming to the Chicago area ballots? I'd vote for it in a minute. We need to seriously do something about illegal immigrants in this country. And I don't mean give them amnesty either."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, and we got a lot of mail on this. You can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and you can read more of them online because we post several of them there that we don't have time to get to during the program -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we know for a fact, Jack, that a lot of people do exactly that. They want to read a lot of the other e-mail that we get. We'll see you back here in one hour, Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. We're here in THE SITUATION ROOM, weekday afternoons 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. eastern. Coming up in our next hour at 7:00 p.m. eastern, an hour from now, a high school yearbook and a ransom note in the JonBenet Ramsey case. Could there be a connection? We're going to be speaking with a handwriting expert who says yes. Kitty Pilgrim is filling in for Lou -- Kitty.

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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