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THE SITUATION ROOM

"Croc Hunter" Steve Irwin Killed by Stingray in Australia; Democrats Say Bush Administration must change Iraq Policy; Gunman Opens Fire on Tourists in Jordan; Iran's Former President Criticizes President Bush While in U.S.

Aired September 4, 2006 - 17:00   ET

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


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

Happening now, a man many thought invincible meets an untimely end. Australian "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, after repeatedly snatching good fortune from the jaws of death, a wild act with wildlife ends in tragedy.

The former president of Iran's strong message to President Bush: current U.S. foreign policy is to blame for the hate and terrorism in the world.

It's 4:00 p.m. in Chicago, where Mohammad Khatami sat down for an exclusive interview with CNN.

And it's 5:00 p.m. here in Washington, where some Democrats say President Bush should wake up to Iraq's war realities. Democrats say staying the course would put the United States on a collision course to an all-out Iraq civil war.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Neither fear nor fright nor the fangs of snakes and crocodiles could stop him from entertaining his fans, but today the man who so often cheated death met an untimely end. Wildlife warrior Steve Irwin is dead.

Our John Vause is watching this story, has the latest from Australia.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, for many Australians, it just doesn't seem real. The man who built a global reputation wrestling crocodiles and playing with deadly snakes, who courted death with enthusiasm and a broad smile, well, he seemed invincible.

Even harder for many is the way he died, swimming in shallow waters on Australia's Great Barrier Reef while filming a segment for a TV show he was making with his 8-year-old daughter Bindi She wasn't there at the time, but those who were say that Irwin was killed by a stingray, normally a defensive animal which rarely attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN STAINTON, STEVE IRWIN'S PRODUCER/DIRECTOR: He came over the top of a stingray, and a barb hit the -- the stingray's barb went up and went into his chest and put a hole into his heart. It's likely that he possibly died instantly when the barb hit him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Irwin's crew made a 30-minute dash to a nearby island and a waiting medical chopper, but no one, it seems, could save his life, making this only the third fatality in Australian waters from stingray attacks.

And those who know him best say the man who turned "crikey" into a catchphrase, who spent a lifetime trying to make crocodiles, snakes and sharks loveable, died doing what he loved most of all -- John.

KING: John Vause for us in Australia.

And are stingrays typically tame or a threat? Coming up this hour I'll ask an official with Discovery Cove, an Orlando tourist attraction where families can actually interact with stingrays.

Now, though, to Iraq. With innocent civilians dying almost every day and American troops caught in the middle of a death match between Sunnis and Shiites, some Democrats in Congress say the writing's on the wall. They say the Bush administration must change its policy.

Twelve Democrats have penned a scathing letter to President Bush. Among other things, they write, "With daily attacks against American and Iraqi troops at close to their highest level since the start of the war, and sectarian violence intensifying, we can only conclude that our troops are caught in the middle of a low-grade civil war that is getting worse."

Today's letter is just one of the many issues concerning the Iraq war the White House is dealing with.

More now from our White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, that's right. You know, the fact is, the president is going to be tomorrow having part two of his latest series of speeches on the war on terror. Today he was giving a speech on the economy, but he's turning back part to national security because this clearly is the leading issue in the upcoming midterm elections, this being the kickoff day for those midterm elections.

Now, the White House is insisting today that in fact this letter from Democratic leaders does not affect them. Dana Perino, the deputy White House press secretary, saying, "We refuse to quit and withdraw our troops before thb job is done," calling this letter from the Democratic leaders another cut and run effort. We have heard that from the Republicans before, but what is worrisome for this White House that they cannot deny is the fact that there are more Republicans now coming forward and attacking the administration's Iraq policy, and specifically singling out Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

We saw that over the weekend with Tom Kean, Jr., the Republican Senate candidate, but there's another school of thought around town, which is that it's not so bad for the president to have all of this pressure on Secretary Rumsfeld. Every minute the Democrats, every minute Republicans candidates spend on Secretary Rumsfeld in complaining about his job is a minute they don't spend complaining about the president -- John.

KING: And Ed, the Democrats are making this argument not just because of Secretary Rumsfeld and Iraq, but they're trying to get to their broader theme, saying that this has been an incompetent Republican administration, an incompetent Republican Congress.

Does the White House think that has any legs?

HENRY: They really don't, and I think the White House, as you'll see again tomorrow from the president, what they want to frame this as is what you heard from Dana Perino, that there are only two choices. It's either cut and run or stay the course.

The challenge for the Democrats, of course, is to find some sort of a third way. Not let the president frame it as such a stark choice and say, look, we're not saying cut and run, we're saying do something different from stay the course. But that's the challenge for Democrats. After all this time, they still don't really have that third way to -- you know, the polls are showing the American people may be willing to hear that sale, that they are frustrated with the president and his policy in Iraq. But the Democrats still have not made the sale themselves on what they would do differently.

This letter is one step towards that. The Democrats still have not found that third way -- John.

KING: Ed Henry for us at the White House.

Ed, thank you very much.

And right now in Jordan a man is being interrogated for allegedly committing a frightening act. In the Jordanian capital of Amman, throngs of visitors were touring the city when a gunman yelled, "God is great!" then randomly opened fire.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Amman with more -- Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this is a spot where the incident took place. A lone gunman, on a shooting spree, in broad daylight, is 12:30 this afternoon -- now, this is a very popular tourist area, a second century Roman amphitheater to my left. And at the time of the shooting there were dozens of tourists walking along this particularly beautiful area, but it did turn deadly today.

Just behind one of those pillars behind me a Jordanian gunman came out shouting, "Allah Akhbar!," god is great, and shooting at six foreign tourists who were walking up these particular stairs. Now one British tourists was killed and five others injured -- two British, one Dutch, one New Zealander and one Australian.

Now they were all rushed to hospital. It's said that they are in stable condition. None of their injuries are life-threatening.

The prime minister went to see them this afternoon, as well, and said that he wants to know during this investigation whether this particular gunman was acting alone or whether he was part of a bigger group. And also, the interior minister saying he wants to know whether this was a mentally deranged man or whether there was thought in this process and whether this was premeditated.

Now, of course this is the first major attack on foreign tourists in Jordan since last November, when that huge triple suicide bombing in three hotels killed 60 people, many of them Jordanians attending a wedding -- John.

KING: Paula Hancocks for us at the scene of that gruesome shooting earlier today in Amman.

Paula, thank you very much.

And Andrea Koppel joins us now with a closer look at other stories making news.

Hi, Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, John.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says Israel and Lebanon have accepted his offer to mediate the release of two kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Annan says that his envoy must be the only mediator, and if any other groups get involved, he said the U.N. will withdraw.

Commercial flights are landing again at Beirut airport. A Qatar Airways plane carrying 142 passengers touched down today, the beginning of daily flights between Doha and Beirut. Airline officials say the plane landed without Israeli permission, but Israel says it did agree to let the plane through.

Israel set up an air and sea blockade of Lebanon when fighting broke out in July.

We could soon be talking about Tropical Storm Flo. The storm is brewing over the eastern Atlantic with winds of 35 miles an hour. Forecasters expected to soon become a tropical storm. It could reach the Caribbean and hurricane strength by Thursday. Tropical Storm Ernesto knocked out power and flooded roads and bridges from Florida to Connecticut last week.

And firefighters in Montana say they are bracing for the worst. Rising winds and temperatures this week are expected to fan the flames of an enormous wildfire in the southeastern part of the state. The 180,000-acre fire has been burning since August 22nd, and hundreds of people, John, have been evacuated -- John.

KING: Andrea Koppel.

Andrea, thank you very much.

And we should note that Jack Cafferty is off today.

Up ahead, Iran's former president is here in the United States and he sits down for an exclusive one-on-one interview with our Zain Verjee. She'll have details of his message to America.

Also, Pat Buchanan says illegal immigration has America in a state of emergency. He'll join us to talk about it, along with Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza.

Plus, more on death of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin. He talked to Wolf Blitzer about why he chose such a dangerous career. We'll have that conversation for you.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Tehran is conducting large scale military exercises around the country that reportedly include the debut of a new air defense system. State-run television show test-firing of at least four surface-to-air missiles. The deputy commander of Iran's air force said they successfully destroyed low-altitude target missiles in multiple locations. Last spring, Iran test-fired a multi-warhead missile it says is invisible to radar.

Iran's former president is in the United States right now, and he's countering many of the allegations being made against his country. He sat down for an exclusive interview with our Zain Verjee.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, he got the green light to come to the United States. Now Iran's former president, Mohammad Khatami, is here and criticizing President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice over): The U.S. accuses Iran of fueling the fires in Iraq, arming Hezbollah with rockets and guns in its war with Israel. Its president says he wants Israel wiped off the map.

Iran has also been blasted for its uranium enrichment program.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The uranium regime is pursuing nuclear weapons.

VERJEE: Iran's former president, Mohammad Khatami, says that's flat out wrong.

MOHAMMAD KHATAMI, IRANIAN FMR. PRESIDENT (through translator): And it has never been the policy nor the mindset of any branch of the Iranian government to pursue atomic weapons. VERJEE (on camera): Why should the West trust Iran?

KHATAMI (through translator): Why should they not trust Iran? That's my question.

You see, at the -- at this moment Iran is a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, has declared many times it has no interest in building the nuclear bomb.

VERJEE (voice over): Khatami, seen as a moderate and a reformer in and out of Iran, says making threats makes things worse between the U.S. and Iran.

(on camera): Could the deadlock, if it does come to that, over the nuclear issue lead to an attack on Iran? Do you worry about that?

KHATAMI (through translator): We are definitely worried and hopeful that such a thing will not take place, such an attack will not take place. And quite frankly, I think the United States has caused itself enough problems in Iraq.

VERJEE (voice over): The former president may be more measured than his inflammatory successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but when it comes to President Bush, Khatami does not hold back.

(on camera): You once said that Osama bin Laden and President Bush are indistinguishable because they both have extremist views. Do you still believe that?

KHATAMI (through translator): Those who start wars, they are the same ones who will bring about violence. I said terrorism and war have one origin, have one spark, one frame of mind. We have to keep ourselves away from this.

VERJEE: Most Americans, though, would be quite shocked, perhaps even appalled, to hear a comparison even in the same sentence between the White House and the policies of this administration and Osama bin Laden.

KHATAMI (through translator): The mindset that brings about war and violence, I condemn it, categorically condemn it. And I definitely believe that the people of the United States are logical enough to think along the same ideals as I do.

VERJEE (voice over): As the violence in Iraq becomes bloodier and deadlier, the U.S. is pointing the finger at Iran, but Khatami denies Iran is fueling the insurgency.

(on camera): So you are categorically telling me that Iran is not fomenting violence or influencing the situation on the ground with regard to violence and terrorism in Iraq?

KHATAMI (through translator): Absolutely. That's correct.

VERJEE: But there have been arguments, too, though, that Iran stands to benefit from the instability in Iraq. How do you respond to that?

KHATAMI (through translator): Why? What would we have to gain? No, Iran would have nothing to gain out of this. Our biggest enemy was done away with.

VERJEE (voice over): Iran's current leader sees Israel as the big enemy now.

(on camera): President Ahmadinejad has said that Israel should be wiped off the face of the map. What are your thoughts on a comment like that? Do you agree?

KHATAMI (through translator): I personally never said that Israel should be wiped off the map. I always said and backed fair and equal peace in the region with the main pillar -- one of the main pillars of which would have to be fair treatment of Palestinians and also the repatriation rights of the Palestinian refugees, and also the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Only in that case we firmly believe that Christians, Jews and Muslims can live side by side in peace and prosperity.

VERJEE (voice over): The lack of peace in the Middle East, Khatami says, is in part because of U.S. policy in the region, which he argues incites extremism.

KHATAMI (through translator): As a result of such wrong policies, such unilateral violent policies, that -- the voice of logic has decreased and the voice of terror, the attractiveness of terror, unfortunately, among the youth has increased.

VERJEE: Muslim leaders, Khatami says, need to step up.

(on camera): It's easy to criticize and attack the United States, the government, the policy, Israel. Don't you think, too, though, that Muslim leaders themselves have a responsibility in addressing policies in their own region that undermind their own security?

KHATAMI (through translator): I firmly believe that the Islamic world's leaders have a wider role to play by showing the true face of the Islamic faith, by showing which is peace and equality, particularly to the youth, particularly to those who act more on sentiments and feelings which are the youth of every society, show them the true and right face of Islam and the Islamic human values that this religion has.

VERJEE (voice over): Khatami says President Bush's stance toward Iran has derailed relations that were beginning to thaw under President Clinton, and he insists only dialogue between the two nations can break the deadlock.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: Khatami goes on to New York and to Washington. He says he wants to promote his idea of what he's calling a dialogue among civilizations, essentially to promote a greater understanding, he says, of people of different faiths and different cultures -- John.

KING: Zain, as you know, the United States government would say that Iran is perhaps the principal state sponsor of terrorism in the world, a major financial backer, someone that sends arms and other military supplies to Hezbollah.

Did Mr. Khatami give any ground on those points?

VERJEE: No, he didn't. We tried to press him on that, but he stuck to his ground, essentially saying that they ideologically support Hezbollah, that it's a resistance group, and that Iran does not back and fund them with either cash or with arms or rockets, for that matter.

And it pointed out also an inconsistency. On the one hand, criticizing U.S. government policy and President Bush for their policy in the Middle East, which he says incites more terrorism and violence but, yet, on the other hand, the U.S. government accuses Hezbollah and Iran of doing the same.

KING: And there are many politicians in the United States who don't think he should be here in the first place. How does he react to that?

VERJEE: Well, he didn't react to that at all. He said that he's here as a civilian, he's just here meeting with students and with scholars, and that he's having a good time doing so. But you're right, there have been a number of senators that have been absolutely outraged that he's been given an unrestricted visa here in the United States to pretty meet whoever he wants and say and do whatever he wants.

They say, how can you let man like this in, whose country backs and supports terrorist groups like Hezbollah, they say, and that it just sends a bad signal -- John.

KING: Zain Verjee for us in Chicago.

Zain, thank you for joining us and for sharing your exclusive interview.

And coming up, the world knew him as the "Crocodile Hunter." Who was the man behind the TV personality?

CNN's Tom Foreman takes a look.

And we'll take you live to Florida's Discovery Cove water wildlife park to learn more about stingrays and just how unusual fatal attacks really are.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And more now on our top story, the surprising death of TV's "Crocodile Hunter," Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin. He died when a stingray's poisonous spine pierced his chest. All this while filming today on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here with more on Irwin's life and his career -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, I think what has shocked everybody is this guy was a genuine original. He had this infectious enthusiasm for everything he did and everyone who knew him said it wasn't just an act. He really wanted to get that close, and he wanted to take his viewers up close, too. That's why even in this day of television, where everybody wants to be more wild and out there, even all of his imtraitors have not even come close to Steve Irwin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice over): Steve Irwin was born in 1962 near Melbourne. A natural showman literally raised in a zoo.

STEVE IRWIN, "CROCODILE HUNTER": My parents actually guided me in the direction that I've gone. They started Australia Zoo in 1970. So I was running around in the wilderness since the day I was born.

FOREMAN: Irwin's path to fame, like his childhood, was unusual. He became the director of the Australia Zoo, married an American woman, and in 1992 the TV channel Animal Planet picked up a small show he was producing, "The Crocodile Hunter."

IRWIN: Oh, crikey!

FOREMAN: The show was marked by Irwin's almost unreal enthusiasm for real danger. He was bitten by his beloved crocks and other animals many times, despite his on-camera bravado.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": You must have fear.

IRWIN: Yes. Yes, jammed back in the back of my brain. I think everyone has got a fear mechanism. But I try and keep it, you know, suppressed, back -- back there somewhere.

FOREMAN: His antics were not always crowd pleasers. Two years ago he raised eyebrows when he held his month-old son near a croc's jaws while feeding the animal raw meat. Irwin later said the child was in no danger, but he apologized just the same.

IRWIN: I was apologizing for scaring people. I never -- that was never my intention. My intention was strictly and only to show people here's my little baby boy. I would never endanger my son, as you wouldn't yours.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: All the people who are giving him tributes today are simply saying the same thing, even in the face of this terrible tragedy, you watch this guy and you can't help but be excited and happy about nature and the natural world and encounters with it. And they say that's the real legacy of Steve Irwin. Not just as entertainment, but the fact that he connected people all over the world with the natural environment and made them care about it a great deal. And his work in conservation, they say, will be remembered long after his TV show has passed from all of our viewing habits.

A great loss to the natural world. A great loss to the conservation world. And to the TV world, as well -- John.

KING: Tom Foreman, thank you. A fascinating, wonderful look at Steve Irwin's infectious enthusiasm.

Tom Foreman, thank you.

And coming up, in light of Steve Irwin's death by a stingray, how safe or dangerous are those creatures? I'll ask someone who works in an Orlando attraction where tourists can actually interact with stingrays.

Also, the debate over immigration reform. Conservative Pat Buchanan squares off on what he calls an immigration emergency with the president of a leading Latino organization.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: More now on death of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, killed when he was stung in the chest by a stingray. Attacks by stingrays are relatively rare, and fatal attacks even more so.

For more, we're joined now by Stewart Clark. He's the vice president of the water wildlife park Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida. And as you can see, he is in the water surrounded by stingrays at this moment.

Stewart Clark, thank you for joining us.

Let's start with the basic question, how rare?

STEWART CLARK, DISCOVERY COVE: You know, the -- everything -- everything here is great. You know, first of, we'd like to just say that we're very sorry, obviously, about the death of Steve Irwin. And our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, to his wife and kids.

You know, though -- for a -- for a stingray to have done that is just amazing to us, because you can see around me. You know, our stingrays here are obviously really into people and hanging out with us. And, of course, here at Discovery Cove, and most zoos, we actually take the barb that's along the back of the stingray and actually trim those off. So they are kept nice and trim.

KING: You trim them off there. I think that is a key distinction.

Steve Irwin was out filming in open waters. Not a place for the stingrays -- for any parent who has taken their children on vacation -- and I have done this -- and you get in a situation just like you are, and you swim and you feed them, in most cases those barbs are trimmed back, if not removed, correct?

CLARK: Right, most -- most zoological places like Discovery Cove here, like Sea World, you know, we trim. We keep all those barbs nice and trim. And that way, you know, it's kind of just like trimming the nails on your dog.

You just keep them nice and trimmed back. We check them every day. We're literally taking a look at them every day and lifting the animals up. And we keep them rounded nice and blunt, and so we really don't have that issue.

KING: Well explain, help us understand the animals. What would it take to get one of those stingrays to get mad at you, to lash out at you even though its barb is trimmed back?

CLARK: You know as far as the animals lashing out at us, that's really rare. The animals really use that barb in a defensive mechanism. So in other words if they just happen to be laying on the sand or laying in the water and a large predatory animal were to come up that would be when they'd use that barb. But as far as swimming after people or using that barb, you just don't hear of that.

KING: You're in a controlled environment where you are in the cove there, where in the beach in the United States could somebody be out at the beach and encounter these out in the open where the barbs obviously have not been trimmed back? Where is that a risk and what should they do?

CLARK: You know you can find that all up and down the coast of the United States, even right here in Florida. And really, what any lifeguard, what any person at the beach will tell you is just make sure you do the stingray shuffle. If you just move your feet as you're walking along through the sand and respect and understand that there are stingrays in the water, that's the safest way to be. And as far as if you are ever stung by a stingray or barbed by a stingray, you know if you just go find the local lifeguards there and seek some medical attention right away, that's usually the worst of it in a foot or a leg or something.

KING: And what do you think will be the result of this tragic death of Steve Irwin? Many would say what is he doing putting himself, even if it's a minimal risk, what is he doing putting himself at this risk and do you think it will affect attractions like yours despite the safeguards and the precautions you take?

CLARK: You know I think people, even guests here today, have already been telling us you know they respect how safe it is here in all of our parks, at all of our Sea World parks and Discovery Cove. And most zoos in the country, very safe and feel a safe interaction and a safe thing to do. As far as being out in the ocean and being around beaches, I think it's still, you know stingrays aren't the sort of the menace that hopefully people might think they are. Truly it's a tragedy and we're very saddened by it in the entire zoological community.

KING: I want to ask you one more time just for any viewer who's watching who might be going to the beach. Because you said the stingray shuffle, explain it in more detail precisely what you mean the precaution anyone in shallow water should take.

CLARK: Well you know, as people are walking through the water, water such as this and you have some of the species of stingrays laying on the bottom, if you just simply take your foot and you're just moving it as you're walking. So you're just kind of shuffling your feet, moving your feet as you're walking along, that lets the animals know that you're on your way and it allows them to kind of swim off and it's a much safer place for you.

KING: And Steve Irwin was pierced in the chest, which everyone seems to think are very rare and the trauma of that is what caused his unfortunate death. If you are stung by a stingray, walk us through the steps someone should take.

CLARK: You know, if you are stung by a stingray, the steps to take obviously is to seek medical attention right away. Most lifeguards and most people near the beach will actually immerse the part of your body that's been stung in very hot water. Their venom is a protein based venom and so that the heat from that hot water will start to break that venom down. But truly the thing to do is to seek medical attention right away and get some help.

KING: Stewart Clark for us at the wildlife park, Discovery Cove, in Orlando, Florida. Stewart thank you so much for your help understanding stingrays today.

CLARK: You're welcome. Thank you.

KING: Thank you and take care. Now Wolf Blitzer talked to Steve Irwin about his career as the Crocodile Hunter back in 2002. Here's some of their conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers who may not be familiar with you and there probably are some, why do you look for crocodiles?

STEVE IRWIN, CROCODILE HUNTER: Oh mate I've been rescuing crocodiles since I was a small boy. In fact, I jumped and caught my first crocodile bare hand when I was 9 years of age. You see there is this conflict between man and crocs. As the east coast of Australia populates, you know people are pushing further and further into croc habitat and so I'm called on to rescue them.

BLITZER: But you really are an expert in this area too. You're not just a comedian even though you are a very funny guy.

IRWIN: Yeah, no mate I'm not a comedian. That's certainly not my forte. My forte is crocs and I reckon I'm a product of my parents and my environment, you know. Dad started Australia Zoo in 1970 and that zoo was established on the basis of wildlife rescue. So I'm virtually a wildlife warrior and I try and work the cold face where there is conflict between man and beast. I'm rescue kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, crocodiles is my forte and venomous snakes.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take another caller from White House, Tennessee. Go ahead Tennessee.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello. Oh I'm so excited to talk to you guys. For starts I'd like to say thank you for risking your life to entertain us. That's nice of you. And you teach me and my son so much. But I wanted to know do you carry anti-venom with you when you are running around chasing all these snakes? What about your staff? And thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for entertaining me and my son.

IRWIN: Thank you, you make me very proud. And no, I never take anti-venom with me anywhere. You know I catch the most venomous snakes in the world, in Africa, of course in Australia the top 10 most deadly snakes. The United States of America, Southeast Asia, all over the place. Mate I'm playing with cobras, black (INAUDIBLE). The trick, the secret that I use is don't get bitten. I have never been bitten by a venomous snake. Never been hospitalized, never needed anti-venom. And it's because of my techniques, you know. I'm a product of my dad's herpetological skills. He was the greatest wild snake wrangler in the world. He used to do scientific study on them, he used to collect snakes, to milk them for the anti-venom. And by crocky he taught me well. He taught me that if you love the snake and if you sincerely love it and it will ooze out through your hands. And when you grab it, if you can avoid getting hit in the first 30 seconds, pretty soon the snake will understand that you're not trying to kill it and then they'll settle down and you are able to bag them up or get them off the road, whatever you want to do.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Steve Irwin talking there to Wolf Blitzer back in 2002. Now online we're seeing a huge outpouring of sadness, shock, even some questions in response to Steve Irwin's death. Our internet reporter Jacki Schechner standing by with details. Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John when the news of Steve Irwin's death broke, people flooded Australian news sites online to try to get any nugget of information they could from his home country. And the Australians reporting that those sites actually overwhelmed in many cases with so much traffic. He had his own site, crocodilehunter.com. That's been down all day today, it seems to have been taken offline, you can't get on it at all. What you can get online are plenty of tributes, these are showing up on flicker.com, the group photo blog. This one coming from Hong Kong. Another one from Poland. I'm just showing you too of pages and pages of tributes that are pouring in, are also plenty of reaction online on blogs. Much of it just recounting the sadness that people are feeling.

Also here at CNN we're getting plenty of iReports, this is where you too can be a reporter for CNN. We're asking people to send in their memories, their thoughts, their related experiences. This is so interesting. Adam Davis had a stingray experience in 1997, he was pulling a stingray out of the water. You can see the scar here where the barb went into his stomach. He said it took 5 1/2 hours of surgery to get that out. We have the medical bills to prove it, $25,000 it cost. He said it was the worst pain he ever felt John, like being hit with a bullet.

KING: Jacki Schechner, Jacki thank you very much. Those are frightening pictures. Still to come, mad as ever and not wanting to take it anymore. Pro immigration supporters use their day off to protest over immigration reform. Our pro immigration supporters right in their views or are immigrants a threat to the United States as one leading conservative says? We'll have a debate between Pat Buchanan and the president of a leading Latino organization. Stay right here, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: For many American workers it was a day of rest, yet for others a day of protests. Crowds took to the streets in several cities for pro immigration rallies. In Los Angeles many argue for what they call sensible immigration reform. While in Houston, Texas, hundreds marched and pledged to make their voices heard. With President Bush urging congress toward compromise over immigration reform, how should any final immigration solution look? Joining me to debate the pros and cons are two leading experts. Janet Murguia is president of the National Council of La Raza, she's in Kansas City and here in Washington is Pat Buchanan, a leading conservative and author of the new book, "State of Emergency."

Janet Murguia, let me begin with you. We had Pat on the program last week to discuss his new book. You weren't happy with the way that interview went, I thought I was fair but you wrote this letter to CNN saying this. "Mr. Buchanan's comments on your program went well beyond the immigration debate into territory that mischaracterizes and demeans all Hispanic Americans and our place in our great nation. Tell me Janet where you think Pat Buchanan goes over the line, whether in that interview or in this new book?

JANET MURGUIA, PRES., NATIONAL COUNCIL OF LA RAZA: Well across the board in the interview and in several interviews he's been giving. But in his book in particular I think there is just a lot of non supported information in there and they're very outrageous statements that are being made that just aren't true about the Hispanic community or about immigrants. And I just -- I think he needs to be challenged on every statement and comment and I really question where he's coming from on this. I'm very concerned about the fact that he has said that he believes in the San Francis philosophy that only whites have the appropriate genetic endowments to keep America from collapse. And I want to know if he really believes that's true because that's very troubling.

KING: Well let's have Pat Buchanan, do you believe that, sir?

PAT BUCHANAN, AUTHOR, "STATE OF EMERGENCY": That's a -- Ms. Janet here has not cited a single fact that she has challenged in mine even though I have apparently made all of these mistakes and blunders in the book. She's not challenged one fact. My late friend Sam Francis had views, many of which I disagreed with. I did quote Sam Francis and I said it was wrong to persecute him and drive him out of his job because of politically incorrect statements. My view about immigration is this. Illegal immigration is a mass threat to the security and survival of this country when you have more illegals here than all of the Jews, the English and the Irish who ever came to this country. And most of them are coming from a country 58 percent of whose people claim that our American southwest belongs to them. People are marching today for what? For the rights of citizenship despite the fact they have broken in line, they've broken the law and they've broken into the country. I give a simple answer to that, I say no.

KING: Pat, let me jump in and Janet hold on just one second, I'll give you time, I promise. I want you both to listen to something Pat said during the interview last week when I was asking him about this issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUCHANAN: I would say simply this. I'm an American, if you're coming here to be an American, fine. That's the immigrants we want. But if you're coming here simply for a job and you don't give a hoot about the United States of America, I would say stay home because there are millions of people all over this world who want to be Americans.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Pat, are you saying most of the Latinos, the Hispanics coming across from Mexico don't give a hoot about America?

BUCHANAN: Well I'm saying an awful lot of them come to this country for one reason. I understand it, they come to work. 75 percent of Mexicans in a survey I believe it was Zogbee, said Americans are racist. These people, many of them, are proud Americans. I mean excuse me, proud Mexicans. They don't want to give up their citizenship, they don't want to give up their nationality. John I think as I said, if you and I or our parents were driven across the border by economic circumstances and the depression and you had 10 million Americans there, they wouldn't become Mexicans. They would be Americans in exile. I understand why the Mexican folks are coming here to work but we want immigrants who want to be part of our family, a part of our homeland, who want to embracing our nationality. Most of the folks in the southwest or an awful lot of them don't. They've never indicated any desire to.

KING: Our time will run out eventually, so let me let Janet in. Janet, you just heard him make pretty strong statements. Go ahead.

MURGUIA: Yeah, Mr. Pat makes blanket statements about most people in the southwest don't want to believe or don't want to stay in America because they contribute to America. Well that's a hunch of hooey Pat. We really understand that many people come here because they come to work. But they stay because they believe in America and they believe in the American dream. And many work very hard every day to sustain America's great economy and to make sure that they're making contributions in jobs that many people will not do. So they add to the economic vitality and to the energy of this country. And we have a long history and legacy in this country of receiving so much from immigrants and those contributions have made America. Pat is offering tired and pessimistic views about America and what immigrants can contribute. Immigrants contribute to the positive and economic vitality and energy of this country.

BUCHANAN: Pat is offering a lot better history than Pat is hearing. The people who came to Ellis Island came legally. These are folks who are breaking in line when other people are waiting in line. They are breaking into our country --

MURGUIA: Well let's talk about that.

BUCHANAN: They have a failed government in Mexico which is pushing millions of people into this country and as a pug bug policy and we ought to secure our border and put a stop to the invasion.

MURGUIA: John can I get in here, you've given Pat a lot of time.

KING: Let me earn my meager pay. Pat time-out one second. Janet, please jump in. Address this question because many Americans are more angry about this issue than in year's past because of that word illegal. There are millions coming into this country illegally. Address Pat's point.

MURGUIA: Well there are two issues here. But Pat's talking about something else, about America's demise and collapse. That's not, you know that's a pessimistic view about the future of America. The real issue should be about solving a crisis in immigration and we should be talking about practical, reasonable, fair and just solutions to the immigration problem. We need comprehensive -- John can I talk here. Pat has had a lot of time.

KING: Time out Pat.

MURGUIA: Mr. Buchanan, please. We need a comprehensive solution to immigration reform and that's the issue. We need to fix a broken immigration system and we need to do it in a comprehensive way. And that includes making sure that our borders are secure, no one is proposing open borders, certainly not me or my organization. And I want to be very clear about that. But we need to have a comprehensive solution that allows for those folks who have been in this country working very hard. We need to make sure that they go back --

KING: Time-out, time-out, time-out. Until Wolf gets back, I'm in charge. Pat hang on just one second. I want to close on this point. You're both talking about a solution. I want to read from page 251 of Pat's book, "State of the Emergency", this is one of his solutions Janet and I want you both to talk about this in closing. "The first imperative is an immediate moratorium on all immigration. While the moratorium lasts we should debate and decide whom we wish to come and whether we wish to alter or preserve the ethnic religious composition of America. After all, America belongs to us, not the world." I want you both to have a chance to comment on that. We're probably going to run out of time, so Janet, you go first and let's try to be polite about it.

MURGUIA: Of course, I've been very polite. I just want to make sure he understands that when people have a different point of view, we can be respectful about it. But Pat's trying to sell a book here. He has a lot of self-interest in creating a lot of acrimony over this issue. Instead of focusing on sensible, reasonable solutions, and so he's throwing a lot of hate mongering language out there when we really should be talking about a reasonable sensible comprehensive approach to solving this immigration problem. And that's what we're doing in congress, we're trying to get a comprehensive coalition bipartisan that supports that, including John McCain and Ted Kennedy. They have a real proposal that will solve this immigration problem and that's what we ought to be talking about.

BUCHANAN: Let me talk now. Let me talk about a sensible solution. The people of Pennsylvania who have helped Rick Santorum reach a point where he's only six points behind now, John, 79 percent of them in Pennsylvania does not have a high illegal immigration population, 79 percent of them say no to amnesty. 82 percent of them want a wall on the American border. The American people understand this is an illegal invasion of this country and they want it stopped and the senate bill of McCain and Kennedy is a sellout of the sovereignty and independence of this country and that's why nobody in this country is talking about it enthusiastically because they know America has turned against it.

KING: I need to call it a day for this discussion right there so that CNN can earn its pay and I can earn mine today. Pat Buchanan thank you for joining us. Janet Muguira of La Raza, thanks for joining us. And I would urge you both to come back on this program and other programs and I heard you talking before we came live on television, maybe even get together, we can continue this debate in the weeks and months ahead. Thank you both today.

BUCHANAN: Thank you John.

MURGUIA: Thank you.

KING: And up ahead here, police vow to find a fugitive after a manhunt turns deadly. We'll have the latest details on the search and the officer killed in the line of duty.

Plus, countdown for a Wednesday launch of space shuttle "Atlantis". But what are the odds of an actual liftoff. Our internet reporters will show you the situation online. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Weather permitting the six-member crew of the space shuttle "Atlantis" will lift off this Wednesday at 12:29 p.m. Setbacks prevented an earlier launch. What are the chances "Atlantis" actually gets off the ground? NASA officials just completed a pre- launch briefing. Our internet reporter Abbi Tatton is standing by with details. Abbi? ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: And John they said that conditions are favorable for this Wednesday launch, only about a 20 percent chance of weather preventing the liftoff there. This is a shuttle that has suffered a couple of setbacks in the last couple of weeks. Look at this video here from the NASA website. This is from August 25th, that's when the lightning struck the top of "Atlantis" as it sat there on the launch pad. This video shown on repeat there. After that tropical storm Ernesto forced the shuttle to move from the launch pad but now the mission is back on and you can track what's going to be taking place at the NASA website. Here after day one on Wednesday hopefully the takeoff, two days after that it's going to arrive at the international space station where "Atlantis" is going to be delivering a major new section. Crew members will plan on three space walks during this mission. John?

KING: Abbi Tatton with the latest from NASA. We'll continue to watch conditions for the launch. Thank you Abbi. And up next, a check of the day's big headlines. And also coming up in our 7:00 p.m. eastern hour a "Labor Day" showdown in Connecticut between political rivals Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont. We'll show you how emotions flared between some of their supporters, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" is just ahead but first let's get one more check of the headlines with Andrea Koppel. Hi Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN ANCHOR: Hi John. His fans are mourning his death. Crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, the man many thought was invincible today was killed after a stingray stabbed him in the chest. Tonight CNN's Larry King will look back at the life of this very entertaining figure. "LARRY KING LIVE" will re-air an interview with Irwin tonight at 9:00 eastern right here on CNN.

Grieving and searching police in New York are mourning the death of a state trooper while conducting a massive manhunt. Joseph Longobardo was one of the two officers who were ambushed on Thursday. He died yesterday afternoon at a hospital in Buffalo. Police say they believe he was shot by 44-year-old Ralph "Bucky" Phillips who escaped from a correctional facility in Buffalo last April. Forecasters are tracking what could be the next storm to threaten the United States, tropical depression six is churning across the Atlantic Ocean right now. And forecasters say it could be a hurricane by Thursday. New data just out this hour shows sustained winds of 35 miles an hour, with the system moving northwest at 12 miles an hour.

And new details are being reported about last ditch talks between the European Union and Iran on that country's uranium enrichment program. The "Associated Press" is now reporting the EU foreign policy chief will meet Tehran's senior nuclear negotiator in Vienna on Wednesday. Our own Zain Verjee talks about Iran's nuclear program in an exclusive interview with former president Mohammad Khatami. You can see it right here in THE SITUATION ROOM tonight at 7:00 eastern. John?

KING: Thank you Andrea. That's just one hour from now. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

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