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THE SITUATION ROOM
Mortar Attacks and Bombings Kill 45 Across Baghdad; President Continues Series of Speeches in Salt Lake City; Democrats Finding New Ammunition In President's Iraq Defense; Battle For Congress in Bucks County; California Trying To Make Change In Road to White House; Dan Bartlett Interview
Aired August 31, 2006 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Susan.
And to our viewers, you are 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, Iran defies a deadline on the United Nations' demand. It's 4:00 p.m. in New York where U.N. watchdogs say Tehran is a growing nuclear threat and the United States is warning there must be consequences.
President Bush draws new battle lines against what he calls Islamic fascists. It's 2:00 p.m. in Salt Lake City, where Mr. Bush looked to the past to try to rally support for the Iraq war. Will Americans buy it? Top Democrats definitely are not.
And two coast lines in the eye of storm. A hurricane watch is now in effect in the Carolinas where Ernesto is lashing the shore and Hurricane John is leaving some Mexican resorts under water. We will have an update from our hurricane headquarters. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
New alarms from President Bush today about threats to the United States in Iran, Iraq and around the world. The United Nations reports Iran is continuing its nuclear activities, ignoring today's U.N. deadline to stop or face possible economic sanctions. Iran's president insists his nation's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, not for weapons, and he is vowing he won't give in to world pressure. But President Bush is warning Tehran will pay a price for its defiance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time for Iran to make a choice. We have made our choice. We will continue to work closely with our allies to find a diplomatic solution but there must be consequences for Iran's defiance and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Mr. Bush spoke today in Utah where he launched a new series of speeches defending the war in Iraq. He is now framing the conflict a part of what he calls the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century against Islamic terrorists.
Mortar attacks and bombings killed at least 45 people across Baghdad today, in what has been a particularly bloody week in Iraq. More on Iraq and the president's speech in a moment. But first Iran's nuclear defiance. CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Tehran. Aneesh, what is the initial reaction to this IAEA report, which says Iran is continuing its nuclear program in defiance of the world.
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, a blistering report. Iran in just the past few hours has deemed it illegal and baseless. They have also said that essentially this report makes their argument. No evidence within the report of a weapons program. They say that without that smoking gun, Iran now stands firmer in its stance that it is pursuing peaceful civilian nuclear energy. That report raised some serious questions for Iran, in one instance about highly enriched uranium that was uncounted for.
Iranian officials are unlikely to respond to any of these questions in any public forum. Even in quiet talks, they are going to call for a new round of dialogue and they have said from the start all of these questions can be answered as long as this can be resolved diplomatically. If sanctions are issued, they have warned before, they will kick out the inspectors that are here and pursue this program in secret, John.
KING: Well Iran, Aneesh take us inside your conversations with top Iranian officials. How far do they appear willing to go? Are they waiting to see just what the U.N. does. Do they have a line where they will negotiate further or is this simply a standoff.
RAMAN: At one level it's tough to say because Iran has multiple centers of power and they compete with each other. Iran's president might say something that the supreme leader might then contradict. But you get the sense on the ground from the officials that first, they don't think sanctions are inevitable, that they have laid the seeds of dissent at the U.N. Security Council by calling for new talks, giving fodder to Russia and China to block sanctions and they are traveling to Europe next week to try and do just that.
At the other level this is part of a broader strategy. Iran sees itself as a super power in this region and sees its nuclear defiance as a platform that it can raise its status and international clout. So at the moment it seems that there is nothing that can be put on the table to get Iran to back down. Iran is profiting from this defiance on the Muslim streets, John.
KING: You say profiting from this defiance, snubbing its nose at the world right now. Aneesh, as you travel the streets in Tehran and elsewhere in Iran, do the people support their government?
RAMAN: They do when you talk to them. They support this nuclear program because they say without evidence of a weapons program it is their right. When you turn off the camera, some of them, when you ask is it really a program for nuclear energy or is it a weapons program, they say we don't know but we can only take what our government's says, denial that it's a weapons program. But it will really start to hurt, in terms of domestic support, if sanctions, economic sanctions, come about.
If commodities like gas are cut off, the prices of them go up here. If jobs start getting cut, unemployment goes up further. That's when domestic support could start to wane and that is when Iranian officials might have to draw the line, John.
KING: Aneesh Raman for us in Tehran, a day of confrontation over Iran's nuclear program. Aneesh, thank you very much.
And now to President Bush's latest attempt to rally support for the Iraq mission, amid growing criticism of the war, and a high stakes battle, of course, here at home for Congress. Our White House correspondent Ed Henry traveled with the president to Salt Lake City.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, the president called this a pivotal moment, comparing the current struggle to World War II, saying the fighting in Iraq is sometimes as intense as it was on Omaha Beach and Guadalcanal, an analogy that may resonate with this American Legion audience, as well as older voters heading to the polls in the midterm elections.
The whole goal of this new series of speeches is to put the war on terror into a broader context, connecting Iraq to Lebanon and Afghanistan and Iran. The president saying all of these conflicts are connected in what he calls the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. The president of course though had a sharp focus on Iraq, where he took great pains to stress that he understands how difficult it is for Americans to watch the horrific pictures from Baghdad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: The images that come back from the front lines are striking and sometimes unsettling. When you see innocent civilians ripped apart by suicide bombs, or families buried inside their homes, the world can seem engulfed in purposeless violence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: Perhaps, in part, that was a response to the fact that some Republicans, like Senator John McCain, have complained that the White House initially made it seem like Iraq would be like a day at the beach. Nevertheless, the president was still firm in saying he will not withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq until victory is achieved.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: You know there are some in our country that insist that the best option in Iraq is to pull out regardless of the situation on the ground. Many of these folks are sincere and they are patriotic, but they could not be more wrong for if America were to pull out before Iraq could defend itself the consequences would be absolutely predictable and absolutely disastrous. (END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: The president has said he does not want this series of speeches to be politicized, but immediately after this address the president headlined a fund-raiser for Republican Senator Orin Hatch, where the president said that if America pulls out of Iraq too quickly it will lose credibility all around the world, a reminder that with two months before the midterm election, just about everything the president says and does is wrapped up in election year politics, John.
KING: Ed Henry in Salt Lake City. Now, President Bush delivered his speech today on friendly turf. He overwhelmingly won Utah in 2004 with 76 percent of the vote to John Kerry's 26 percent. But even in this very red state Mr. Bush has his critics. Thousands of anti-Bush demonstrators marched in Salt Lake City just yesterday. They were lead by the city's Democratic Mayor Rocky Anderson, who calls Mr. Bush dishonest and war mongering.
In the battle for Congress, Democrats are finding new ammunition in the President's Iraq defense. Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Dana Bash, Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well you know, John, you could see the Democrats' national security campaign strategy through their rapid response press releases today. First, try to prevent Republicans from achieving their key goal which is linking Iraq to terrorism. Here is what Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader said. She said we must win the war on terror but the war in Iraq is the wrong war today just as it has since the war began. Iraq is weakening our ability to fight the war on terrorism.
Now another dynamic Democrats are trying to capitalize on is polls that show Americans just don't trust the president and his leadership as they once did. Let's look at what Howard Dean said today, the Democratic National Committee chairman. He said, quote, you can't trust Republicans to defend America. Today we only heard more of the same propaganda from a desperate Bush administration, worried more about its party's political prospects this fall than about how to protect America and fight and win the real war on terror.
Now Democrats today are also trying to make the case that Americans trust them more than Republicans when it comes to terrorism. But, in fact, as CNN's latest poll and many others show, that's not quite right, 48 percent say they think Republicans do a better job handling terrorism, 38 percent Democrats.
That's why we are going to see national security dominate the GOP agenda when Congress comes back next week. Meanwhile, John, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer said today she is going to try to introduce an amendment this Fall calling for the president to fire Donald Rumsfeld and CNN has told Democrats in the House plan a similar move to try to put Republicans on the spot when it comes to Donald Rumsfeld, John.
KING: Dana, tough statements there from the Democratic leaders. Tough talk about action here in Washington, but take us out on the campaign trail, how's Iraq playing out there?
BASH: You know, what's really interesting is that it is definitely playing on the campaign trail, no doubt about it.
In fact, a Democratic candidate in New Mexico trying to unseat Republican Heather Wilson there. She has a TV ad running right now that really sums up the Democrat's line against Republican incumbents on Iraq, slamming her for not doing enough to hold the president accountable.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The war in Iraq. Three-and-a- half years, still no plan and America is less safe. Heather Wilson is on the intelligence committee, but she never questioned George Bush on the war and never said a word about how we've spent $300 billion there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Now, you'd think that Wilson's campaign would want to rebut that point by point, but when I called Heather Wilson's campaign for a response, her campaign manager said they didn't have one. Instead, he wanted to talk about what he called her opponent's corruption as attorney general.
And that seems to be rather typical of Republicans right now -- John. Democrats may be talking about Iraq, the president may be talking about Iraq, certainly his legacy. However, most GOP candidates are trying to talk about anything but -- John.
KING: Anything but. Dana Bash for us. Thank you very much. And Dana Bash and Ed Henry, of course, part of the best political team on television. CNN, America's campaign headquarters.
KING: Now, NASA reports the Space Shuttle Atlantis made it through Tropical Storm Ernesto without a scratch, and its launch has been rescheduled for next Wednesday. You might remember, the space agency started to move Atlantis back to the hangar yesterday, but it was brought back to the launchpad as soon as Ernesto weakened and the forecast improved.
Time now for what we call "The Cafferty File." Jack Cafferty, standing by in New York. Hi, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Why do you suppose we call it that, John?
KING: Oh, boy, hmm.
CAFFERTY: Say that -- you know that Ernesto thing? That sort of turned out to be the John Karr of weather events, didn't it? It just never did do what the media thought it might do.
KING: That's why we call it "The Cafferty File."
CAFFERTY: In just about two months, Americans will get a chance to show Washington how they really feel. And you what? They're not feeling so good. According to a recent "Time" magazine poll, 66 percent of Americans say the country is in, quote, "deep and serious trouble." That's a quote.
If the congressional elections were held right now, 51 percent of registered voters say they would elect a Democrat, 40 percent say they'd vote Republican. The Republicans have launched an all-out campaign to try to win back voters by focusing on building support for the war in Iraq. Good luck on that.
Note to Republicans -- there isn't much support for the war in Iraq. The country is awash in sectarian violence that many say has already turned into a civil war. And three-and-a-half years after the United States invaded that country at a coast so far of more than 2,600 American lives, we are a long, long way from mission accomplished. In fact, 54 percent of those surveyed in the "Time" poll say the war in Iraq has hurt America's standing in the war on terror.
So here's the question. What would it take for you to change your mind about the way you plan to vote in the midterm elections? E- mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com, or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile.
Now back to the guy we call John King.
KING: Looking forward to the answers. Thank you, Jack.
And if you want a sneak preview of Jack's questions, plus an early read on the day's political news and what's ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, sign up for our daily e-mail alert. Just go to CNN.com/situationroom.
And coming up, I will speak to one of the president's top advisers, White House counselor Dan Bartlett, about the war in Iraq and the showdown with Iran.
Plus, we know the violence in Iraq is impacting the battle for Congress, but just how much? We'll head out to the campaign trail to find out.
And we're keeping, of course, a close watch on Ernesto. The tropical storm is picking up steam as it closes in on the Carolina coast.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: The United Nations Security Council approved the resolution to form a peacekeeping force for Sudan's Darfur province, but Sudan has not agreed to the plan. The U.N. says tens of thousands of people have been killed in Darfur during the three-year war there.
The war is essentially being fought between the government and the rebels. The rebels say that they want a bigger share of Sudan's wealth and a share in the power as well. More than two million people have been forced to flee their homes.
And it was rocked by a war between Israel and Hezbollah. Now, Lebanon is hoping to raise funds to rebuild. Lebanon's prime minister attended a meeting for potential donors today in Sweden.
At the meeting, representatives of 60 governments and aid groups were there. Fouad Sinoria says Lebanon's resources are depleted, many revenues have been lost, and there's large scale destruction. He hopes to raise about half a billion dollars -- John.
KING: Zain Verjee. Zain, thank you very much.
Now, we are closing in on the two-month mark before the midterm elections. And if you had any doubt that Iraq is a key issue in the battle for Congress, you only had to listen to President Bush's speech today or you could travel to Pennsylvania. That's what our senior political analyst Bill Schneider did.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: John, Bucks County, Pennsylvania is a quiet place. Doesn't look much like the epicenter of American politics, but this year it is.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): This year, moderate Republicans in the Northeast are like the contestants on "Survivor." They have to survive in a hostile environment where anti-Bush and anti-Iraq war sentiment are strong. Case in point, Pennsylvania's 8th congressional district, just outside of Philadelphia, the kind of place where you see Eagles fans at the Just Sports Bar and cheesesteak quesadillas on the menu.
That's where we caught up with freshman Republican Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, who's trying to survive a tough challenge from Patrick Murphy in a district that voted for John Kerry. Fitzpatrick's survival strategy?
REP. MIKE FITZPATRICK (R), PENNSYLVANIA: You know, there's a long history and tradition in Bucks County of having an independent Congressman.
SCHNEIDER: Who is independent, Murphy asks?
PATRICK MURPHY (D), PENNSYLVANIA CONG. CANDIDATE: He's been basically a pawn for President Bush and the Republican Congress.
SCHNEIDER: Oh yes, says Fitzpatrick.
FITZPATRICK: I am one of the members of the Republican Party who has opposed the president more often than most.
SCHNEIDER: Oh yes, says Murphy.
MURPHY: Whether it's the war in Iraq, stem cell research, privatizing Social Security -- the things that President Bush wants to happen, my opponent, he goes along.
SCHNEIDER: Murphy is an Iraq war veteran. That opens doors.
MURPHY: I was a captain over in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division.
I am the Iraq war veteran.
I was a captain in Baghdad with the 82nd Airborne Division.
I was in the military for over a decade.
I was a captain over in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division.
SCHNEIDER: It gives him credibility ...
MURPHY: I have been there. I have seen war.
SCHNEIDER: ...for his anti-war position.
MURPHY: We were misled into that war. I don't think this administration was honest with the American people.
SCHNEIDER: Fitzpatrick's position on Iraq, cautious.
FITZPATRICK: I do vary slightly. I depart from the president's policy on Iraq. I am one of the members of the Republican Party who does not favor permanent bases in Iraq.
SCHNEIDER: But he rules out a timetable for withdrawal.
FITZPATRICK: I don't feel, as my opponent does, that we ought to set a strict deadline for withdrawal.
SCHNEIDER: Murphy's response? I was there.
MURPHY: When I was in Baghdad, we had timetables for everything, we had timetables for the election, we had timetables to pass their constitution.
SCHNEIDER: The Republicans best hope for survival? Keep it local.
FITZPATRICK: I think what the citizens of the 8th congressional district are looking for is not just independence, as we talked about, but also somebody who understands the district.
SCHNEIDER (on camera): This is the spot where Washington crossed the Delaware and saved the American Revolution. You remember the painting. Well, this year, the future of Congress could be determined by what happens right here in Bucks County -- John.
KING: Bill Schneider, body double for George Washington. Bill, thank you very much.
And from the battle for Congress to the race for the White House, will the electoral college eventually become history? We'll tell you about a push to change the way we elect our president.
Plus the Carolinas brace for Ernesto. The storm is picking up strength as it closes in. Our forecast up next.
KING: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm John King in Washington.
Right now California is trying to make a big change in the road to the White House. The state legislature has passed a bill that would give California's 55 electoral votes to the candidate who won the popular vote nationwide, not the candidate who won the state. Could this be the beginning of the end of the electoral system. Our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield has written two books on the subject.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: John, back in 2000, millions of Americans learned that they hadn't voted for Bush, Gore or Nader at all. They had actually voted for presidential electors, whose votes decided who got to be president, even if somebody else got the most popular votes. Well, now there's a plan afoot to change this system and that raises questions old and new.
GREENFIELD (voice-over): It's right there in the Constitution. We the voters actually pick a slate of electors on Election Day. In all but two states, whoever gets the most votes, even if it's just one more than the other guy, gets all of the state's electoral votes.
In practice, this has meant that states that tilt heavily Democratic or Republican -- big ones like New York, California, Texas, Illinois and small ones like Wyoming, Montana, Rhode Island -- are totally ignored by the candidates, while competitive states like Ohio, or Florida or Nevada are flooded with visits and campaign money.
On Wednesday, California's legislature passed a bill to do something about this. The plan would require electors in California, all 55 of them, to vote for whoever got the most votes nationally, not whoever got the most votes in California.
This plan would kick in only if other states -- enough of them to add up to the majority of electoral votes -- also passed the plan. Right now only five others -- New York, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado and Louisiana -- are even considering such a step.
But let's suppose that this change is in effect in a state that George Bush carried back in 2000 ...
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are you ready to win?
GREENFIELD: ...when Al Gore got half a million more votes than Bush did nationally. Gore would have become president.
Or think back to the 2004 campaign. Suppose Kerry had narrowly won Ohio. That would have given him enough electoral votes to win under the current system, even though Bush got three million more popular votes nationwide. But if the California plan had been in effect, Ohio's electoral votes would have gone to Bush anyway, reelecting him.
But that's only part of the problem. First, the Constitution assumed that these electors would exercise their independent judgment even though they don't do that anyway. It's not clear a state law can compel their votes. They may not even be required to vote for the candidate they are pledged to in the first place.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I cast these four electoral ballots for George W. Bush for president of the United States.
GREENFIELD: And can you imagine these electors, loyal party men and women, showing up at their state capitals and voting for candidate they can't stand?
Then there is the small detail of actually knowing who won the national popular vote.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the closest elections in history.
GREENFIELD: In 1960, John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon by 118,000 votes out of nearly 69 million cast, and some Republicans still think that a lot of those votes were creatively manufactured in Chicago.
In 1968, Richard Nixon beat Humphrey by 510,000 votes, out of 73 million cast.
And, in 2000, Al Gore beat George W. Bush by half-a-million votes, out of 105 million cast.
(on camera): So, in any really close election, any system based on popular votes could lead to endless recount battles, not in one state, but perhaps in every state.
From a highly personal point of view, the really attractive thing about this new system would be, it could make for another novel -- John.
KING: Thank you, Jeff.
And our thanks to Jeff Greenfield, and, earlier, Bill Schneider, part of the best political team on television -- CNN, America's campaign headquarters.
We want to get another check, a quick check, on the tropical storm Ernesto and the threat to the East Coast.
Let's go back to meteorologist Reynolds Wolf at CNN hurricane headquarters in Atlanta.
REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey, John.
Here's the latest that we have on Ernesto. It is, as you mentioned, a tropical storm, with maximum sustained winds at 70 miles per hour. Now, there is the possibility this storm may come on shore later on this evening, around 8:00 p.m., as a hurricane, a minimal hurricane.
But, still, the biggest threat is not necessarily going to be those 70-mile-per-hour or 74-mile-per-hour maximum sustained winds. The big threat is going to be the heavy rain that may ensue over the next couple of days, as this storm marches north, into Virginia, into the higher elevations in parts of the Appalachians.
So, that could be a big problem for us. Already, computer models indicate we could see from anyway two to three inches of rainfall in some places. But, I'm telling you, I think it's really a conservative estimate, because in the high elevations, there will be that possibility of anywhere from six to 10, perhaps even as much as 12 inches of rainfall, in the coming days.
That is going to definitely cause some issues in many rivers, any flood-swollen places in parts of -- of West Virginia, into Virginia, and even up into portions of Pennsylvania.
So, it's something we have to watch very, very carefully.
We are going to have more updates on this coming up in a few moments. Plus, we're going to take a look at Hurricane John in a few moments, as well -- back to you.
KING: We will check back with you then.
WOLF: You bet.
KING: ... thank you very much.
And up next here: Is Arnold Schwarzenegger doing something right? We will have a snapshot, a new snapshot, of the California governor's reelection campaign.
And it's being called a breakthrough in the fight against cancer. In our next hour, Dr. Sanjay Gupta will explain what it is, and if cancer patients should be hopeful. You won't want to miss it.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
KING: Our Zain Verjee joins us now with a closer look at other stories making news.
VERJEE: Hi again, John.
The details are developing, yet, the intentions seem clear. Personal groups were bent on bombing banks in southern Thailand today. Twenty-two bombs exploded almost at the exact same time at 10 commercial banks. One person is dead. Eighteen others have been hurt. One official calls it a coordinated operation. Officials say the bombs were homemade and triggered by cell phones.
And amazing grace for a woman said to have enormous grace -- nine years past her death, the world has not forgotten Princess Diana. Today, there were flags and flowers, prayers and praise for Diana, killed nine years ago today. Many paid their respects at Diana's former home in Kensington Palace. Diana and two others died after their car crashed in a Paris tunnel -- John.
KING: Thank you very much.
And, on our "Political Radar" this Tuesday, things are looking up for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. A new poll shows he's now leading his Democratic challenge, Phil Angelides, by 13 points. The survey also highlights Democrats' dissatisfaction with Angelides. And it shows the governor's approval rating is back up to the critical 50 percent mark.
Tennessee health officials say Senate Majority leader Bill Frist probably will be fined for failing to meet requirements to keep his doctor's license active. And the former heart-lung surgeon will have to make up for failing to get the continuing medical education required by state law. Tennessee officials say, additional disciplinary action, such as suspending Frist's medical license, isn't likely.
Senator Conrad Burns' words are raising eyebrows yet again. Yesterday, the Montana Republican referred to terrorists as a -- quote -- "faceless enemy" -- that -- quote -- "drive taxicabs in the daytime and kill at night." He said it while first lady Laura Bush was campaigning for him. Burns got flak recently for referring to a painter he hired as a nice little Guatemalan man.
Coming up: President Bush's latest effort to defend and define the U.S. mission in Iraq. I will ask the counselor to the president, Dan Bartlett, if the administration's strategy is working.
And in our next hour: Is it really the cancer breakthrough that some experts claim? Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is standing by with diagnosis. And you won't want to miss it.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
KING: The Bush administration, in effect, declaring war on Islamic fascists in its latest campaign to sell the American people on the war in Iraq, and, at the same time, Mr. Bush is insisting that Iran must face consequences for what he calls its nuclear defiance.
Joining us now from the White House to discuss these topics, counselor to the president Dan Bartlett.
Dan, thanks for joining us today from the White House.
I want to begin with something the president said today, listen to his speech to the American Legion, laying out what he thinks the United States now must do, now that Iran has essentially defied the United Nations, refused to end its nuclear program.
Let's listen to the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We have made our choice. We will continue to work closely with our allies to find a diplomatic solution, but there must be consequences for Iran's defiance, and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Dan Bartlett, at the moment, most now think that China and Russia, or at least one of the two, would not support tough sanctions in the Security Council. If that's the case, what are the consequences? What are the president's options?
DAN BARTLETT, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, John, we are not going to prejudge exactly what is going to happen in the U.N. Security Council.
As you recall, there was a unanimous vote by the Security Council when it came to the first resolution that was passed. And it was a clear deadline that was put on the Iranian -- Iranian government, and which they have now come back with a negative answer.
So, it's important that the international community come back together to determine what the next steps are going to be. But the president is clear, as was the resolution that was passed by the entire Security Council back a couple weeks ago, where they said that there will be consequences.
And that's where the talk about sanctions will come into place. These will happen on a multilateral basis. They will happen on a bilateral basis between other countries, the EU-3. And we are confident that the international community understands the importance that the Iranian regime not obtain a nuclear weapon, and that we send a clear signal that they can't thumb their nose at the international community.
KING: Are you confident that the president of Iran thinks that, if necessary, there's a military option on the table from the United States? Or do you think that he believes that the president is too weak at home politically, and too stretched thin militarily because of the war in Iraq?
BARTLETT: Well, I don't know exactly what this president of Iran is thinking.
He has shared some very radical ideas with the international community. He is somebody that -- who -- it's very hard to understand what his true ambitions are. But we have to take his word seriously that they are pursuing this nuclear ambition and agenda. They want to destroy Israel. They fund terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah. So, we have to take his words very seriously.
Again, longstanding American policy has always been not to remove military options from the table. This administration, this president has always made that very clear in how he conducts his foreign policy.
So, he would be mistaken in thinking that we would depart from a long-held position by American presidents, going back, both Republican and Democrat, that that would change going forward, regardless of the current fight we are in on the war on terror.
KING: You mentioned Iran's support for Hezbollah.
I want to play something else the president said today, and then ask you what many would consider a context or a timing question. Let's listen to the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: This summer's crisis in Lebanon has made it clearer than ever that the world now faces a great threat from the radical regime in Iran. The Iranian regime arms, funds and advises Hezbollah, which has killed more Americans than any terrorist network, except al Qaeda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: There are some, Dan Bartlett, even supporters of this president, neoconservatives in his own party, who would say that that statement, the Iranian regime funds -- "arms, funds and advises Hezbollah and has killed more Americans than any terrorist network, except al Qaeda," that that was true on September 10, 2001; it was true on September 12, 2001, and, even if you accept that most believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that Iran's nuclear program was more of a threat back then.
And, yet, the president of the United States decided to confront Iraq first, not Iran. What would you say to those critics?
BARTLETT: Well, that they are wrong, that we have to confront all of these threats at the same time. But, if you looked at the situation with Iraq, a country that we had already gone to war with, as a country, back in 1991, the only country in the world that was actively shooting at United States aircraft, as well as British aircraft, was Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
Saddam Hussein also was feared to have been much further along in his weapons of mass destruction development than the Iranian regime, although we found out that may be a different case. They were funding terrorist organizations as well. Saddam Hussein was funding suicide bombers and their families going into the Middle East.
So, to suggest that there was a big difference, with this hindsight, between the threat that Saddam Hussein posed and Iran posed is not accurate.
It is important that we confront all of these at the same time. That's why the president labeled both Iran and Iraq as part of an axis of evil. I'm not saying that they always have pursued the same agenda, but they posed very serious threats.
And that's why this administration has taken those threats seriously, and has actively engaged in a diplomatic framework that is sending a very clear signal that the international community won't tolerate a nuclearized Iran.
And, so, it's very important, as we go forward in the debate at the U.N. Security Council, that we take that, our words, seriously, and we take the words of the Iranians seriously, and we forge an international consensus, because, look, John, as you know, the Iranians want to try to divide the West, when it comes to confronting them.
What we have to show is a united front. And that is what is happening. It's going to take time. It's going to require patience. But, through a persistent diplomatic strategy that this president and secretary of state has pursued, we will achieve the results that we have set out. And that is to make sure that this regime does not obtain the weapons they desire.
KING: Let's move on to the debate, both the policy debate and the election-year political debate, over the Iraq war.
And I want to play a little -- play a little contrast here. The president today addressed his critics at the American legion, those who oppose the war in Iraq. This is what the president had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Still, there are some in our country who insist that the best option in Iraq is to pull out, regardless of the situation on the ground. Many of these folks are sincere, and they're patriotic. But they could be -- they could not be more wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: The president making his case there.
But, Dan, let's listen to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for the same audience just a few days ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I recount that history, because, once again, we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism. With the growing lethality and the increasing availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Which is it, Dan Bartlett? Are opponents of the war patriotic folks who are simply wrong, or are they people who are trying to appease the new fascists?
BARTLETT: Well, I think they are making two different points that are equally as important.
And that is, the policy now being prescribed by most of the Democratic Party is one in which we ought to pull out of Iraq before the job is done, that we ought to precipitously pull our troops out. They say it's responsible on a time frame.
But we all know what will happen, is, if you set a timetable, the enemy will adapt to it, and they will wait us out, and they will strike even with more fury than they have already done so. That policy would be a disaster for the security of the American people. That's the argument the president made.
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is making a historical point, that we have had points in our country's history and the world history where, when a rising threat was coming before us, if we did not confront it and recognize it for what it was, we would only be less secure for not dealing with it.
The point is the same, is that, if we don't understand and appreciate now what we are fighting, then, we are going to find ourselves less secure in the future.
Now, everybody here wants to argue about whether Iraq was or wasn't a part of the war on terror. And we ought to have that debate. But one thing is clear. And that is why President Bush quoted Osama bin Laden himself. He believes it is. He says it's where the Third World War is being waged right now.
Think about that, John. It doesn't matter what we debate on this topic. Our enemies believe it's the central front in the war on terror. So, if we were to pull out, if we were to not get the job done, they will view that as a victory. And that, in itself, will be a huge setback in the broader war on terror. So, while we may argue whether it is or isn't, this president thinks we ought to listen to our enemies, who are speaking very clearly. It's why they are pouring assets and people and suicide bombers. They're trying to foment the sectarian violence, and, in often cases, are being successful at doing it, because they understand the consequences in that country.
They understand that, if we are successful in Iraq, it will be a huge setback across the broader Middle East. So, I think we ought to spend more time focusing on what the enemy is saying, and less time quibbling about whether this was or wasn't a central front in the war on terror.
KING: Well, let me ask you. Time is short, Dan Bartlett, but I want to ask you one more question, because what makes this campaign so different than 2004 and 2002 is that the Democrats seem much more aggressive in engaging in the debate about national security, a debate in which the Republicans beat them in 2002 and 2004. And the Democrats would concede the point.
This is Howard Dean today, reacting to the president's speech, the Democratic National Committee change . He says: "Iraq is sliding into civil war. Iran and North Korea are more dangerous than they were before President Bush took office. The Taliban is coming back to Afghanistan. And Osama bin Laden is still on the loose."
So, Howard Dean says, you have failed.
BARTLETT: Well, if Howard Dean is going to be the national spokesperson on behalf of the Democrats for the war on terror, we gladly engage in this debate.
In 2004, they couldn't really find their position. John Kerry was flip-flopping back and forth between what his position was on Iraq, deeply divided. Now they're coalescing around a consensus that we have to get out, that it's just: Let's throw up our hands. America can't win there. Let's take our defeat there. Let's get out of the way, and hope that things will go better in that country, and it won't have any consequences in the broader war on terror.
That's an interesting debate, John, and it's one we should have. And Howard Dean ought to be the leader of their party in articulating what -- their position on this. And we will gladly have that debate, and we will secure our majorities, both in the House and Senate in November.
KING: I wish we had more time, but, as that debate continues -- a little more than two months to go in this election campaign -- Dan Bartlett, we will have you back.
Counselor to the president Dan Bartlett joining us today from the White House.
BARTLETT: Thanks, John.
KING: Thank you, Dan. And up next here: Is your mind made up about the battle for Congress, or could you still be swayed? Jack Cafferty is tallying your votes.
KING: And Jack Cafferty is back now with "The Cafferty File."
CAFFERTY: Hi, John.
Midterm elections just around the corner now, and the Republicans have started a campaign to rebuild support for the war in Iraq -- well, not the Republicans -- the White House, the administration. A lot of Republicans in the country want to forget that the war in Iraq even exists. It's a bit of a lofty goal, I would think, at best.
So, here's the question: What would it take for you to change your mind about the way you plan to vote in the upcoming midterm elections? We have got a lot of mail.
Ron in Missouri writes: "After several years of hearing the politicians pledge to make me safer, richer, and smarter, I believe they have come up short on two out of three. I am neither safer, nor richer. But I am smarter. I will no longer fall for all the talking tricks. A brain transplant wouldn't change my mind about the November elections. Kick the bums to the curb."
Linda in Arkansas: "My issues are no amnesty, border and port security, and resetting the military. Given the candidates, it's hopeless. So, I will just vote against all the incumbents."
A lot of people said that. They are going to vote against all the incumbents.
Carl in Pennsylvania: "There's no way I can change my mind about how I'm going to vote in November. I'm a registered independent who is against the war. I served my country in uniform. My son served in Iraq, both of us in the U.S. Marine Corps. I speak out against the war because that's how I feel. And that is what our Constitution says I can do. But my government representatives suggest I'm a fascist for doing so. Guess what is not voting Republican?"
Stanley in South Carolina: "A miracle. Bush would have to be impeached, all the illegal aliens would have be rounded up and deported, and Congress be sent to fight in Iraq."
Chris in Virginia: "It would take a strong third-party candidate. There is simply no way I would vote GOP at this point. And the Democrats, as ineffectual as they are, are the only current alternative. A third-party candidate could probably get my vote pretty easily, if their platform was at all compelling."
And finally, G. in Virginia writes: "Nothing will change my mind, Jack. But a Diebold voting machine in Republican hands can change my vote."
KING: Let's just hope they vote. No matter how they feel, let's hope they vote.
CAFFERTY: I think maybe a lot of them will this time around. I hope so.
KING: I share that hope.
Jack Cafferty, we will see you a bit later.
And still to come right here: the presidential campaign trail online. We will tell you how the early 2008 contenders are using the Internet in interesting ways.
And why does Iran's nuclear defiance matter so much? Our Brian Todd will look at the showdown and spell out the stakes -- ahead.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
KING: The '08 presidential campaign trail, as we know it, may be about to change. At this very moment, one potential presidential hopeful, the former Virginia governor, Mark Warner, a Democrat, is making history as the first politician to hold a public event in a virtual world.
Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is here to explain -- Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, this is former Governor Mark Warner as you have never seen him before, walking in here and taking questions at the online parallel universe Second Life. This is a virtual, Web-based community, where users assume a second identity and hang out online with about 600,000 others.
The real-life people behind them, average age, 32, about half of these 600,000 living in the United States. A spokeswoman for former Governor Mark Warner said the aim was -- quote -- "reach the" -- "to reach these guys by coming into the their space."
Now, Warner is certainly not the only person to have tried something new online. And he's not the only potential 2008 hopeful for -- to do so. Former vice presidential John Edwards was interviewed online at the popular video blog Rocketboom. And, also, at his site, at Edwards 'site, he invited users to participate there as well.
On the site Facebook, the social networking site, Indiana -- Indiana Senator Evan Bayh is a member. He invites users to join him there. And it's certainly not restricted to the Democrats. There were waves made online just last week, when the former Webmaster for the innovative 2004 Howard Dean campaign announced that, if Senator John McCain decided to run, he would like to help.
So, how are these politicians embracing these new ideas? A spokeswoman for Warner said he was leery of whether he would look like Max Headroom, but eager to try a new technology -- John.
KING: Abbi Tatton, thank you very much.
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