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THE SITUATION ROOM

Ernesto About to Make Landfall; Nuclear Standoff With Iran

Aired August 31, 2006 - 19:00   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 Kitty. 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 tonight's top stories.
Happening now, a tropical storm and a hurricane. The Carolinas are getting soaked while thousands are evacuated from a popular tourist spot. It's 7:00 p.m. in Wilmington, North Carolina, which is about to get pounded.

Plus, nuclear face-off. It's 2:30 a.m. in Tehran where the president of Iran is refusing to back down. Find out why the White House has few options for fighting back.

And cancer breakthrough? It's 7:00 p.m. in Washington where a revolutionary new therapy could offer hope to thousands of patients.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're tracking two developing stories tonight on the Carolina coast right now. Ernesto near hurricane strength is just about one hour from landfall. In THE SITUATION ROOM tonight we're bringing in satellite and radar images of the storm as it approaches land. And forecasters are leaving us with this warning, don't be fooled. As inches of rainfall, parts of the mid Atlantic could face life- threatening floods. We have cameras stationed all along the coast and we'll check in with the National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield on Ernesto and on Hurricane John, which is threatening a major tourist destination.

But first another major developing story, the deadline has passed. The defiance remains. The United Nations Watchdog Agency reports that Iran continues its nuclear activities and Iran is daring the world to do something about it.

CNN's Brian Todd and our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux are standing by but we turn first to CNN's Aneesh Raman. He's live in Teheran -- Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Iranian officials are set to go to Europe next week. They hope to jump-start a new round of talks. In Iran tonight, despite the U.N. deadline, despite the IAEA report, there's no sign that Tehran thinks that time has run out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

RAMAN (voice-over): Defiant to the end, Iran's president speaking this morning to huge crowds in northwest Iran left no doubt his country will not suspend its nuclear program.

PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

RAMAN: This nation, he said, will not tolerate tyranny and will not give in to a cruel pressure in violation of its rights even a bit.

People in this agricultural region are some of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's strongest supporters, cheering every phrase. Here for some he is a hero and they reveled in their president's continued challenge to debate U.S. President Bush.

AHMADINEJAD: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

RAMAN: They say they want the public to know all the news and facts, he says, and decide for themselves. But when we offered to debate the world's problems and corruption and let the world judge for themselves they reject it.

But it is Iran's rejection of the U.N. deadline to stop the nuclear program that matters today. And in Tehran as shops opened for business, despite fears of business going down of sanctions, here as well there was defiance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

RAMAN: We have undergone sanctions for 27 years, says Hussein. We are not afraid of sanctions. Iranians can live off a bite of bread and live in cramped dwellings.

There are many here who do fear sanctions outright and while today's deadline was big news in Iran, Iranians have known this day has coming, have known they can do little to effect their government's choices. (INAUDIBLE) runs a reformist newspaper here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): A better response from Iran was possible by opening this issue up to the public and using independent experts like former reformist officials.

RAMAN: That did not happen and now Iranians can only hope against the worst.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

RAMAN: If a military invasion against Iran is a possibility, says Baharm (ph), it's to the Iranians' benefit to resolve the problem peacefully.

A military invasion is not seen as something that will come any time soon. But Iran's government has made it clear through war games that have been ongoing for weeks now that it will defend against any attack. (END VIDEOTAPE)

RAMAN: Iranian officials have dismissed the IAEA report that does raise some serious questions but they have also seized upon the fact that the IAEA cannot conclusively say whether or not Iran has a weapons program. They say that's evidence it does not. And Iran officials, John, will likely use that as another reason to not back down.

KING: As the showdown continues. Aneesh Raman for us in Tehran. Aneesh thank you.

Now President Bush says the world is facing a grave threat from Iran and that there quote "must be consequences for its defiance." Let's check in with our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux for the latest -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well John, there's certainly some White House officials, administration officials who say this is a deadline that has come and gone. It is no surprise and some really kind of saying this and I told you so kind of attitude to this approach. Some believing that negotiations with Iran was a waste of time from the very beginning, but at the very least you have Iran on the record now.

It's defiant from the beginning, now towards the end here. But they are still being rather cautious in their approach to this regime because the administration has tried to buy some time here to get all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, of course plus Germany on the same page with this for tough economic sanctions against that regime. It's something that is far from certain, so President Bush and others are trying to stress that Iran is such a dangerous regime with the possibility of a nuclear weapon in its hand that it has to have some real sanctions with teeth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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)

MALVEAUX: Of course, John, as you know, it is far from certain whether or not they're going to get those kinds of sanctions to change Iran's behavior, Russia and China typically not on board with any kind of real get tough type of response or get tough type of action, the next couple of weeks are going to be critical for this administration and how it deals with those two allies, the diplomatic moves that are going to be made behind the scenes -- John.

KING: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House for us on the difficult diplomatic challenge facing the president. Thank you Suzanne.

And one of the reasons this crisis has so many so worried is because it's so unpredictable, but it's clear this is already clear. Iran has already made itself into a powerful player on the world stage. CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into that and joins us now -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, the most effective counter balance to U.S. influence in the Middle East may indeed reside in Tehran. This is a regime that has the money, weapons, oil reserves and motivations to be a strategic threat to the U.S. for decades to come.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's position against the West may never have been stronger. Start with the nuclear issue. If Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon, experts say the implications are enormous.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: What's Egypt going to do? What's Saudi Arabia going to do? I mean will Saudi Arabia you know appeal to Pakistan for some kind of nuclear assistance.

TODD: But Iran is already a military threat on the ground with one of the largest troop forces and ballistic missile stocks in the Middle East. And by supporting Hezbollah in its fight against Israel, analysts say Iran has become hugely popular on the so-called Arab street where to many it has punctured a hole in the belief that Israel's military is unbeatable. From Lebanon, turn east toward two countries bordering Iran where U.S. boots are on the ground.

AFSHIN MOLAVI, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: In many ways, we in the United States have become Iran's neighbors because we have troops in Iraq and troops in Afghanistan. And Iran has significant influence over these two countries that we view as important fronts in the war on terror.

TODD: In southern Iraq, analysts say, Iran has adopted its so- called Hezbollah model, providing Shia groups with money and social services to essentially compete with U.S. influence the way Hezbollah did after Israel invaded Lebanon in the early '80's. And with the world's third largest oil reserves, serving two of the world's largest oil consumers, India and China, Iran has got undeniable leverage to drive prices. So what does Tehran want?

VALI NASR, AUTHOR OF "THE SHIA REVIVAL": Ultimately they want to drive the point home to the U.S. that you know they matter. You can not just you know isolate them. You cannot change their regime. You have to deal with them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And now many analysts say Iran's leaders are in a unique position to force the West to deal with them. They've emerged with a stronger hand after the Israel-Hezbollah conflict. And they're operating with the belief that few nations want to really punish them over the nuclear issue -- John.

KING: Brian Todd for us on the many cards it appears Iran has to play in this showdown. Brian, thank you very much. Let's check in now with Jack Cafferty, who joins us from New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: John, the new buzz word among members of the Bush Administration is fascism. The public's opposition to the war in Iraq could cost Republicans big time in the upcoming midterm elections, so the administration has begun suggesting the war on terror is really a war against Islamic fascism.

They suggest it's like fighting the Nazis and the fascists in World War II. Really? In World War II we were attacked at Pearl Harbor and drawn into a war against the governments of Japan, Germany, and Italy, nations intent on conquering the world. The enemy wore uniforms and you pretty much knew where you could find them.

We had allies, lots of them. And our government had the unequivocal support of 99 percent of our citizens. Very little of any of that is true today. We attacked Iraq. They weren't trying to conquer anybody. After Great Britain you can count our allies on one hand. The enemy dresses like civilians.

We can't find them. And most of our citizens think invading Iraq was a terrible idea. If there's a problem with fascists, I suggest it might be within the Beltway in Washington, D.C. Oh yes and we won World War II in less time than we've been in Iraq.

Here's the question. The Bush administration says if you object to the war in Iraq you're guilty of appeasing fascism. Do you agree? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- John.

KING: I suspect you've got a busy mailbox ahead. Jack Cafferty, thanks, Jack. And coming up, a potential cancer-fighting breakthrough, a revolutionary treatment that may offer new hope to thousands. Dr. Sanjay Gupta with an in-depth look you won't want to miss.

Plus, a tropical storm and hurricane. Ernesto lashes the Carolina coast and in the West, mandatory evacuations in a popular tourist resort. We're taking you live to the center of both storms.

Also, a Republican senator who is challenging the president on his war plan. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We want to take you straight to Jacqui Jeras in our Hurricane Headquarters for a new development related to Tropical Storm Ernesto -- Jacqui.

(WEATHER REPORT)

KING: Jacqui, thank you. We'll check back in as necessary. Jacqui, thank you very much. And as Jacqui noted, Tropical Storm Ernesto is flirting with hurricane strength, causing many to worry it's also flirting perhaps with disaster. Ernesto is lashing the Carolinas and Virginia with rain and with worries. Landfall is imminent. Let's get more now from Max Mayfield. He's the director of the National Hurricane Center. Max, you heard Jacqui talking about tornadoes. What else do we have to worry about and where is Ernesto?

MAX MAYFIELD, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER DIRECTOR: Well, the center is about 90 miles south, southwest of Wilmington, North Carolina moving toward the north, northeast at 17 miles per hour. There are several of these rain bands here are -- you know you can certainly have some tornadoes in these rain bands as they continue moving in the (INAUDIBLE) Carolinas.

The track actually takes the center on the coast here between 10:00 and midnight, depending on the exact track here, then by tomorrow afternoon up in Virginia and Saturday afternoon in Pennsylvania. I think one of the biggest concerns is certainly going to be the rainfall in this blue area that you see here represents four inches or greater. And that's a large area from northeastern South Carolina all the way up into southern Pennsylvania within the next two to three days.

KING: Going to hit land definitely as a tropical storm or any chance it could accelerate up to a hurricane?

MAYFIELD: There certainly is a chance that it could strengthen just a little bit. We are on the borderline now at 70 miles per hour. It wouldn't take much. We have an Air Force plane out there right that is flying back and forth throughout the storm and so there is some chance. And that's why we put up a hurricane watch.

KING: And now Max, take us out West. Give us the latest on Hurricane John, which is a storm with a lot more punch.

MAYFIELD: That's right. This had been a category four hurricane. It has weakened down to a category two right now. It's headed toward the southern tip of Baja, California. That's a real resort area and all those resorts are out on the water there, so it's going to have a big impact here in the next 24 hours.

KING: Remarkable though what we were talking the other day it was a Cat four. That storm, John, has sort of hugged the coast and forgive the word teased the coast, but went back out before it hit land.

MAYFIELD: Well so far, you're right. It's skirted right along the coast here, you know started out here, just a little bit south of Acapulco and got dangerously close. They certainly had some rainfall and a lot of wave action there, but the main impact I think will the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula.

KING: Max Mayfield for us, the director of the National Hurricane Center. Max thanks so much for your help tonight. Take care.

MAYFIELD: Thank you. KING: We will be checking back in with you over the next few days. Thank you, Max. And for more on Ernesto, let's go to meteorologist Chris Still of our affiliate WBTW (ph). He's live for us in what appears to be windy and a little soggy, Garden City, South Carolina -- hi Chris.

CHRIS STILL, METEOROLOGIST: Yes, we do apologize for that fog forming on the lens. It is raining very, very heavily. We're (INAUDIBLE) one of the (INAUDIBLE) bands out here now. We're in Garden City, South Carolina, one of the lower lying places on the northeast South Carolina coast, one of the first areas to flood when you do have storm surge.

But we did have a best case scenario with this storm. Right now as you can see behind me, we are near low tide and on top of that, the winds are blowing off shore, pushing that water further out. Earlier today we had five to seven-foot waves and the surfers were just flocking out here to enjoy those waves, but (INAUDIBLE) things have flattened out here quite a bit.

Still winds up to about 40 miles per hour, gusting to up around 50, plenty of heavy rainfall. And that will be the big story with this storm, as you heard Max saying just a second ago, four to eight inches of rain. Things should improve here pretty rapidly during the overnight hours here in South Carolina. Of course, that high tide overnight tonight may be important for the folks up in North Carolina. For the most part here in Garden City, South Carolina, where I am near Myrtle Beach, just heavy rainfall and lots of wind over the next few hours -- back to you.

KING: Chris Still of our affiliate WBTW (ph). Chris thank you very much, stay safe, as dry as you can. Chris again thank you.

And still to come here, an experimental cancer treatment that could be a major breakthrough and save the lives of thousands. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has a pioneer of this treatment. We're just ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, a genocide in slow motion. The United Nations finally acts on sending troops to Sudan, but Sudan says they're not welcome.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: An historic move by the United Nations to stop what many label genocide may be in jeopardy. CNN's Zain Verjee is here with the latest new developments in the Darfur crisis -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: John, a vote to save lives in Sudan at the United Nations today, but there is still one big obstacle, the Sudanese government.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

VERJEE: Yes, they're prepared to act. For the first time in history, the United Nations Security Council has voted to send U.N. troops to a country that cannot or will not protect its own citizens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

VERJEE: Twelve to zero the resolution passed with China, Russia and Qatar abstaining. The plan puts thousands of U.N. blue helmets and boots on the ground and in control with the money and the mandate to protect civilians. They will replace African Union troops that have done little to block the bloodshed.

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: It is imperative to implement it fully to stop the tragic events unfolding in Darfur. Every day we delay only adds to the suffering of the Sudanese people and extends the genocide.

VERJEE: Tens of thousands of civilians, killed, raped or maimed in a three-year war in the western Darfur region. Their homes burned and looted. Rights groups accuse the government of backing ruthless militiamen, the Janjaweed to execute and eliminate. According to the U.N. more than two million are displaced.

Aid workers say Darfur is getting worse, more murders, more refugees and the existing peace deal is not working. The official Sudan news agency quotes Omar Al-Bashir's government as saying the Sudanese people will not consent to any resolution that will violate its sovereignty and calls on all Sudanese to strengthen their cohesion and ranks and prepare to face any development. On the streets of Sudan protests against any U.N. deployment, the American flag enveloped in flames amid shouts of down with the U.N.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

VERJEE: We will not allow them to interfere in our affairs says this man and another.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

VERJEE: We reject the decision by the U.N. Security Council, we will fight for Darfur.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: The African Union's formal mandate in Darfur ends on the 30th of September. Now it's not clear when or if Sudan will agree to U.N. troops but the Security Council is hoping that this resolution will pressure Khartoum to agree -- John.

KING: Many of course say too little, too late. Zain Verjee thank you very much. And just ahead, a promising new treatment for a cancer that afflicts 60,000 Americans each year. We'll talk about it with our senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Plus, a senior Republican breaking ranks with the president over the war in Iraq. Congressman Chris Shays will join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk about his call for a timetable for bringing home U.S. troops. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information arriving all the time. Happening now, Tropical Storm Ernesto is moving closer to the Carolina coast, packing winds almost as strong as a hurricane. Landfall is expected soon near the state line between North and South Carolina.

Tonight, the first real success in developing a gene therapy to fight cancer. The National Cancer Institute says it was able to take regular blood cells, genetically alter them, and turn them into tumor attackers. Two melanoma patients who got the treatment two years ago have no sign of the disease.

President Bush is portraying the war in Iraq as part of an ideological struggle against modern day fascists. Some top Democrats are dismissing this latest attempt to rally support for the war as quote "more of the same propaganda."

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

While President Bush today launched a new appeal for Americans to stay the course in Iraq and warned against an early pullout, a key Republican congressman now wants a timeline for U.S. troop withdraw. Congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut has backed the war in Iraq and he's been there 14 times, but he seems to have had a change of heart.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You were as you note a strong supporter of the war at the beginning. You now say there should be a time table.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Just a few weeks ago you said this. Only about 40 percent of Iraq is under the military's control. You have 60 percent still not under control. To have a timetable is absolutely foolish. As you know, as your opponent and other critics would say what in Iraq has changed in three weeks? The only thing that has changed is Christopher Shays' political position running for reelection in Connecticut.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: Yes, thanks for the question. You left out an important part. That people are talking about a time period were saying leave immediately or leave in six months or leave in a year with nothing to do with the capability of the Iraqis to defend themselves.

We attack them. We abolish their army, their police and their border patrol, and it would be an outrage to leave before they have their army, their police, and their border patrol. But the key point is we know how long it will take to train their army, their police and their border patrol and when they have their army, their police and their border patrol then we can leave. But to leave when we only have 40 percent would be an absolute outrage.

My point to you is we need to drive this issue. We need to get the Iraqis to do their job. We need to get them to take action and since January they have done nothing other than create a government and the government has done nothing. The political leaders are now as we speak on vacation, not doing the heavy lifting.

KING: Well, then let me -- I understand the distinction you're making, not immediately, but let's set a timetable. The president says anyone who talks like that is irresponsible.

What do you say to the president of the United States?

SHAYS: Well, I think the president has an opinion, but I think he's dead wrong. It's a timeline not about when a war ends, because who knows when the war ends. The fighting will still continue. It's a timeline to transfer the power to the Iraqis.

KING: Now, the president obviously is making this argument now in an election year context in which you know full well Iraq has soured the mood of much of the electorate. And many say the Republican hold in Congress is in jeopardy because of that.

I want you to listen to something the president said today in his speech to the American Legion in Salt Lake City.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As veterans, you have seen this kind of enemy before. They are successors to fascists, to Nazis, to communists, and other totalitarians of the 20th century. And history shows what the outcome will be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, I know you thought some of the remarks of Secretary Rumsfeld to the same audience earlier in the week were "over the top," in your words. What about what the president said there? And what's the distinction?

SHAYS: Well, I'm not sure exactly the difference of what the president is saying to Rumsfeld. What I did not like about Rumsfeld was his talk about the Nazi party.

I actually believe with all my heart and soul that this is a war we can win provided the Iraqis have the same kind of timelines that they had in '05. They made tremendous success when we transferred power in '04. They had election in January. They created a group to write the constitution.

They had a deadline for the constitution. They had a deadline for ratifying the constitution. They had a deadline for electing the government under the new constitution.

They have had no deadlines since January and they have done nothing. And it is important that we motivate them, because the bottom line is, if they're not motivated, we can do anything we want and we won't succeed.

KING: So the president, in your view, needs to set some firm deadlines for the Iraqi government and a deadline for starting to bring U.S. troops home.

What do you make of the context of this in this political campaign? We're two months from the election. I know it's a major policy debate, but it is the defining political challenge in this country right now.

Should the president -- he's out there giving a series of three speeches. He's out there talking about Iraq.

They think at the White House it is important to talk to the American people about Iraq. Some Republican campaign strategists would prefer they just quiet down and let you run on local issues in Connecticut.

What do you think?

SHAYS: Well, I think Iraq is the primary issue. I think that we're fighting Islamist terrorists. I think it's connected to the war on terror. And I think we need a dialogue.

If we have a disagreement about that as Americans, we need to sort it out. That's what you need in debates.

We had a debate on the presidency last time on whether someone earned three Purple Hearts or whether, in fact, the president has fulfilled his National Guard service requirements. We need debates that are far more meaningful than whether someone is motivated to take a position for politics.

Why not look what that person is saying? What do we do to get the Iraqis to start to do some heavy lifting?

This president should be reaching out to Democrats to say, we need to find common ground as Americans. We need to speak with one voice.

You want a timeline? I think your timeline is too quick. I don't want a timeline, where can we find common ground?

I think the common ground is with what I'm suggesting. A timeline based on what Iraqis can logically take our place.

They know then they have to do the heavy lifting. Americans know that there is some limit to what we're going to do. The Iraqis need to have a timeline on reconciliation, a timeline on the constitution, a timeline on getting the provincial elections to happen.

KING: You're in a tough race, Congressman Chris Shays. This is a White House that is known for playing hardball politics from time to time, and they don't like it that you have drawn a distinction with this president when it comes to Iraq policy because they think it could cause some other Republicans to break when they see a guy who's been there 14 times, a senior Republican in Congress taking issue with the White House.

Has there been any talk of retaliation? Any talk of cutting off money? What has the White House said to you?

SHAYS: Well, let me just say this, they understand my position. But the bottom line is, if we want to win the war in Iraq, we need to motivate the Iraqis to do some heavy lifting.

We need to get them back from vacation, we need to have them make tough decisions. And that, to me, is the bottom line. I go where the truth takes me. Whether or not I win an election or lose an election is irrelevant to me. This war is far too important to lose.

KING: Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut, thank you for joining us today, sir.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Up ahead tonight, CNN's senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us with details of a promising new cancer treatment? Is it the breakthrough thousands of patients are so hoping for?

Plus Jack Cafferty is wondering if you agree with the Bush administration saying people who object to the war in Iraq are guilty of appeasing fascism. Jack is standing by with your e-mails. Stay right here. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Results from a clinical trial should give hope to the 60,000 Americans diagnosed with the skin cancer Melanoma each year. CNN's senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us with the details.

Dr. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey John. I love these stories because this is a good story. Today we get a chance to talk about a new form, potentially, of cancer therapy. It is early. It is in its infancy as you will hear but you almost get a sense that a page has turned in the word of cancer therapy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice-over): Mark Origer shared the dreams of many fathers I had met, to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day. But Melanoma almost took that away from him. He was diagnosed with the deadly skin cancer in 1999. After an operation, it went away. But it came back three years later. And by 2004, his doctors in Wisconsin could find nothing that would slow its spread. It moved into his liver.

MARK ORIGER, CANCER SURVIVOR: I was just pretty much devastated when I found out that I did not respond. Right around that time my daughter got engaged and I knew there was going to be a wedding coming up and there was concern. I wanted to be there.

GUPTA: The chance of that happening wasn't very good. But then Mark's dreams intersected with the dreams of a doctor halfway across the country. Dr. Steven Rosenberg is a cancer fighting pioneer at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. When he was a young doctor in Boston, he saw a patient fight off cancer without any treatment.

DR. STEVEN ROSENBERG, CANCER RESEARCHER: It got me to think about the fact that here, this patient's body had learned how to destroy its own cancer and I've spent the last 25 years trying to figure out how to make that happen again.

GUPTA: Not with a knife, or chemotherapy or even radiation, but by reaching deep inside the body and teaching the human immune system to kill cancer all on its own. A remarkable idea and one that doctors put to the test in clinical trials with Mark and other 16 patients diagnosed with Melanoma.

Doctors took some of their immune cells, called lymphosites, the warriors of the immune system and added the genes of a virus that would seek out tumors, attach to them and destroy them. In 15 patients the treatment didn't work, but in two so far the cancer appears to have completely disappeared. Mark was the first. And this week when we met him, more than a year and a half after the treatment, he found out he's still cancer free.

ROSENBERG: Mark, as you know, is one of the first patients to respond to this new treatment. So we're thrilled. I know he is.

ORIGER: Yes. Absolutely.

GUPTA (on camera): How does it feel to be the first?

ORIGER: It feels unique; it does. It feels like quite an honor.

GUPTA (voice-over): Although the approach is still in clinical trials, the results are published in the journal "Science".

ROSENBERG: This is a highly experimental treatment that we've used in only a few patients. But it represents a proof of the principle for the first time, to my knowledge, that you can actually genetically manipulate the human body and cause disease regression.

GUPTA: And yes, Mark's other dream also came true, as well. On September 17, 2005, he walked his daughter Katie down the aisle, virtually cancer-free.

ORIGER: It's a celebration, a celebration of life. It's the beginning of my daughter's life, new life, beginning of my new life. I think I shed more tears than anybody.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: We've been talking about gene therapy for so long and the potential promise of gene therapy. This is an amazing story, you know. Again, it almost feels like a page has turned, John, in the world of cancer therapy. KING: Quite uplifting. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, you stay right there, because I want your help as we bring in the man behind this promising new treatment. Dr. Steven Rosenberg joins us from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.

Doctor, thank you for joining us, number one. Number two, congratulations on what at least is the beginning of what could quite be something.

I want to ask you a question. And then bring Dr. Gupta back into this and get the layman out of the way so he can ask some smart questions. According to the report, it worked on two patients, didn't work on 15 others. Is there something different about the 15 that didn't work on? Or maybe better put, is there something in the two it did work on that leads you to the next development?

ROSENBERG: It's important to emphasize this is a highly experimental treatment that's still in the course of development. Of course, all of the patients that we treated in this report in "Science" were treated two years ago. We waited to publish it to see if, in fact, the tumors that disappeared would stay away, and they have.

We've used viruses to introduce new genes into cells to make them into cancer fighting cells, and we can do it much better two years later. So, my hope is, as we continue to improve this technology, the response rates are going to go up.

KING: Jump on in, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Yes, Dr. Rosenberg, I mean, what is the sort of next step here? We talk about melanoma, obviously, specifically. What is your vision? Do you think this is something that can be used for other cancers ultimately, as well?

ROSENBERG: The critical finding here was the ability to take a normal lymphocyte out of the blood of a patient -- these are the immune fighting cells, they're white blood cells -- and convert a normal cell that could not recognize the cancer, and by genetic engineering techniques convert it into a cell that could recognize the cancer.

Now in this paper we published in "Science," we showed that we could insert genes that could make these normal lymphocytes recognize melanoma, and when we gave them to patients, they could in some patients cause those tumors to regress.

We have now found viruses that can introduce molecules into normal lymphocytes that can convert those cells into cells that can recognize breast cancer, colon cancer, other kinds of common cancers. But we haven't yet begun to treat those patients. Those are clinical trials that we hope to start in the next several months.

KING: Dr. Rosenberg, it's John King again. I want to jump in. You say clinical trials you hope to start in the next several months. If there's somebody watching right now who has cancer, or a family member who has cancer and they want to take part in those trials or they want to see if there's any experimental treatment available for them, what's the answer?

ROSENBERG: I would emphasize that these are very early studies. This is a highly experimental treatment only available now here at the clinical center for the National Cancer Institute.

When we do begin treating patients with other kinds of cancers it will be in small numbers of patients that will be studied very intensively so we can learn how to improve it. But we'll only be treating a small number of patients, and those trials won't begin for many months.

KING: I ask one more layman's question, then go back to the doctor to close this. But you're in a difficult position, I assume. You're optimistic. You think you're on to something, but you don't want to raise hopes up too much. How difficult is that as a challenge? And what would you say to someone out there who's saying right now am I a year away, maybe, from there being a cure?

ROSENBERG: Cancer patients deserve optimistic doctors. And I'm optimistic. This is an example of how basic scientific research is being translated into findings that can help cancer patients. And it emphasizes how important modern research is in molecular biology.

I think as we continue to learn about the processes that are involved in gene insertion into cells and how they function, we're going to improve this whole area of gene therapy quite dramatically. I believe this is just a start.

It's a treatment very much in the infancy of its development. And I'm quite optimistic we're going to be able to improve upon it in our studies here at the NCI, but by other investigators around the world, as well.

KING: Go ahead, Sanjay.

SANJAY: And this Mark Origer, is he cured now, Dr. Rosenberg?

ROSENBERG: We treated Mark in December of 2004. So he's been a little over a year-and-a-half disease-free. We're going to continue to follow him. It's very hard to talk about cure, since we've only begun these treatments almost two years ago. And so we're going to have to follow Mark very carefully. We see him every three months, and we'll continue to do that for the next five years.

GUPTA: And let me just say, as well, John, I don't know if you know this, but this has been 30 years of Dr. Rosenberg's work. He told me that 30 years ago he met a patient that sort of gave him this idea, and a lot of that's culminated today. So congratulations, as well, Dr. Rosenberg.

ROSENBERG: Thank you.

KING: And one last question, Dr. Rosenberg. As you go forward now, is it a question, do you need more money, more support, more help? Or do you have everything you need right now to see how far you can take this?

ROSENBERG: We're working around the clock to try to improve this. I'm just one member of a big team that's involved in performing these studies here at the National Cancer Institute. We're working as hard as we can. We have the resources we need here at the NCI to perform the work we need to do.

KING: Dr. Steven Rosenberg, remarkable work at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. Thank you, sir.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you for bringing it to us.

GUPTA: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And more with Dr. Sanjay Gupta this Saturday and Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Don't miss his special report, "THE POVERTY TRAP," a conversation with former President Bill Clinton.

And up ahead, if you're against the war, are you guilty of appeasing fascists? President Bush seems to think so. What do you think? Jack Cafferty is taking your e-mail.

And the very latest on Tropical Storm Ernesto. The tropical storm could become a hurricane. It appears likely to make landfall on the Carolina coast within the hour. Our Jacqui Jeras will have the forecast. Stay right here. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The 2008 president election campaign trail as we know it may be about to change. Today one potential candidate, former Virginia Governor Democrat Mark Warner made history as the first politician to hold a public event in a virtual world. Abbi Tatton is here to explain -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, Democrat Mark Warner is embracing new technologies, just hoping he doesn't look like Max Headroom as he does so.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TATTON (voice-over): Former Virginia Governor Democrat Mark Warner as you have never seen him before, taking questions in a parallel universe as a character on the Web site SecondLife -- a virtual online world where users assume a second identity and hang out with 600,000 others. The real-life users, average age 32, over half in the United States. A Warner spokeswoman said the aim is to, quote, "reach these guys by coming into their space."

It's certainly not Warner's only attempt to try something new online, and he's not the only 2008 hopeful to do so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you ever considered facial hair?

JOHN EDWARDS, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I've had it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You've had it?

EDWARDS: Yes.

TATTON: Former vice presidential candidate John Edwards has done interviews with the host of the popular video blog Rocketboom. Users of his Web site are invited to submit their own stories online.

Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana invites users at the social networking site Facebook to join him online. The Web site says almost 3,000 have done so.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TATTON: John, while potential Democratic candidates are leading these efforts, they aren't alone. Last week, the webmaster behind Howard Dean's innovative campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2004 made waves by announcing if Republican Senator John McCain decides to run for president, he wants to help -- John.

KING: Abbi, a fascinating look, Abbi Tatton. Thank you very much.

And Jack is in New York now with "The Cafferty File." Hi, Jack.

CAFFERTY: How are you doing, John? Republican Party is tossing around the word fascism of late when referring to the enemy in the global war on terror. The question is, the Bush administration says if you object to the war on Iraq, you're guilty of appeasing fascism. Do you agree with that statement? We got a lot of mail, as you might expect.

Jo in Nebraska writes: "No, people who criticize the war are stating facts. Appeasement is telling people what they want to hear. Facts are facts."

Todd in Massachusetts: "There has been a total disconnect from the beginning. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, just as there's no connection with objecting to this absolute fiasco in Iraq and appeasing fascism. This is nothing but a PR smoke and mirrors show."

George in Connecticut: "Which fascism did President Bush mean? The growing right-wing intolerance in this country, or the religious intolerance of Middle East fanatics? Neither one is able to tolerate honest differences of opinion."

Bill in Michigan: "The real way to appease fascism is to be afraid to speak out against what you think is wrong."

Christopher writes: "Call it what you will, Mr. Cafferty, there is a group of radicals who believe we are the infidel and should die because of that belief. The quicker we put a label on it and agree to fight it with all the resources and American support we can muster, the quicker we'll end the threat. Those here in the United States who fail to see that danger and, even worse, disagree with our current administration's desire to fight it over there, are part of the problem."

Bob in California: "What happened to the guy who said he was a uniter, not a divider? Now if you don't agree with him, you endorse the terrorists or fascism. If they can't get your support, they call you names."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, we invite you to visit CNN.com/caffertyfile. We've posted some more of them so you can read them online -- John.

KING: Provocative question gets you provocative answers, doesn't it?

CAFFERTY: Indeed it does. Works every time.

KING: Works every time. Jack Cafferty in New York. Jack, thank you very much.

And still ahead, minutes away from landfall. Ernesto is eying the Carolina coast. We will return to the tropical storm and give you the latest just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A quick look now at some hot shots coming in from the Associated Press.

And we begin in Miami. Rattled passengers watch their plane burn after a flight. The Boeing 737's left wheel well caught fire after two tires blew out as the plane was landing. No one was hurt.

Afghanistan, a U.S. soldier provides security at a new school for girls.

Baghdad, Iraqi men kiss the ground after being released from prison, part of the prime minister's national reconciliation plan.

New Orleans, Lexie the Labrador -- cute Lexie the Labrador -- leads a ceremonial groundbreaking at a new animal shelter.

And that's today's hot shots, pictures often worth a thousand words.

Let's check in now with our Zain Verjee with a look at other stories making news. Hi, Zain.

VERJEE: Hi, John. Israel says it's turned over control of a small border area in southern Lebanese to Lebanese and international troops. Officials say it's a symbolic move paving the way for new United Nations forces. Meanwhile, a conference on rebuilding Lebanon has ended with $940 million pledged by governments and aid groups. That's almost double what Lebanon had requested to repair damage from a month of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

Just a short while ago, Israeli commandos stormed a British embassy in Tel Aviv and captured an armed suicidal man, ending an eight-hour standoff. Israeli media report that the man is a Palestinian from Ramallah, and an informant for the Israeli security services who was having financial problems and seeking asylum from Britain.

Art experts in Norway are examining two recovered paintings by the artist Edvard Munch. They were stolen two years ago this month in a bold armed heist at the Munch Museum in Oslo. One of them, this one, is a version of the artist's famous work, "The Scream." Police aren't giving details on how they were discovered. John King often looks like that way in the morning -- John.

KING: I was just going to say THE SITUATION ROOM staff looked like that when they were told I'm filling in for Wolf Blitzer. Zain, thank you very much.

Tropical Storm Ernesto is closing in on the Carolinas right now. CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is tracking the storm and its landfall at the CNN hurricane headquarters. Hi, Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey, John. We just got the 8:00 advisory in, and the status has stayed the same in terms of strength. So close to a hurricane, not quite there. Maximum winds are about 70 miles per hour right now. You've got to get up to 74 for this to become a hurricane.

The winds are coming in off the ocean. We're getting some very heavy rains right now. The center of circulation is about 75 miles away from Wilmington, and about maybe 60 miles from the shore, moving north-northeast at about 18 miles per hour. Do the math. So we're still looking at maybe a couple of hours yet before the center actually makes landfall.

Bringing you out to the sides here to show some of these feeder bands which have been moving in. We told you about the tornado that touched down around Stacey (ph), which is in Carteret County. No damage reported from that, but now since that time we've had a new tornado watch, which has been issued. It's expected to continue to move inland, and we'll watch for some major flooding over the next couple of days across the mid-Atlantic and Carolinas -- John.

KING: Jacqui Jeras, thank you very much, Jacqui. And thanks for joining us. I'm John King in Washington. Up next, "PAULA ZAHN NOW," John Roberts is in for Paula -- John.

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