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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Bush Offers Warm Embrace to Iranian People, Cold Shoulder to Their Leaders; Case Against Iran; Mutiny in Thailand; Curiosity and Criticism Of Former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey's New Memoir

Aired September 19, 2006 - 17:00   ET

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


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

Happening now, President Bush offers a warm embrace to the Iranian people and a cold shoulder to their leaders.

It's 5:00 p.m. at the United Nations, where Iran's president will soon get his turn to speak.

It's 4:00 a.m. Wednesday in Bangkok. Troops and tanks are now on the streets of Thailand's capital. But who is in control?

And the space shuttle will stay up there longer than planned after space junk is spotted floating nearby. Did it fall from the shuttle? Did it hit the shuttle? Engineers scrambling right now to try to find out.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York, where it's an extraordinary day at the United Nations. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

More warmth, fewer warnings. President Bush toned town the showdown when he took the podium at the United Nations General Assembly today. He assured the world's Muslims that the United States is not waging war on them and he offered people across the Middle East a vision of peace.

The Iranian people were included in that offer. But as for their rulers, there was tougher talk about Iran's nuclear program.

We'll soon hear what Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has to say. We have full coverage coming up.

Our Brian Todd and Zain Verjee are standing by. CNN's Aneesh Raman is over at the United Nations.

Let's turn first to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Bush just wrapped up a meeting, a one-on-one with the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, of course to try to bolster the leader's credibility at a time when things are going so poorly in his country, on the brink of a civil war. But the focus for President Bush today really was another hotspot, and that is Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice over): It was billed as a heavyweight match. In one corner, the man representing what Iran calls the "Great Satan." In the other corner, a leader of what the U.S. calls the "Axis of Evil." But as it turned out, the two were never in the same ring. They did not even bump into each other in the busy hallways.

Anticipating President Bush would single out Iran during his address to the U.N. General Assembly, Iranian's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was in no-show for the public scolding.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

MALVEAUX: But the tone of Mr. Bush's address to the international body and specifically to Iran was noticeably more measured compared to years before. Four years ago, the president warned the General Assembly the U.S. would go to war with Iraq with or without the U.N.'s approval. Today he highlighted the diplomatic track he's taking with Iran.

BUSH: We look to the day when you can live in freedom and America and Iran can be good friends and close partners in the cause of peace.

MALVEAUX: The president's address was the culmination of a series of speeches in a P.R. campaign aimed at taking the focus off the unpopular Iraq war and on to the broader war on terror. Mr. Bush's speech on spreading democracy was targeted directly to the people of the Middle East.

BUSH: We must support the dreams of good and decent people who are working to transform a troubled region.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush specifically called on the international community to support the fledgling democracies in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority. But is the president's audience still listening?

Some political analysts believe the Bush administration's foreign policy, particularly the war in Iraq, has contributed to the chaos in the Middle East. And the president has little credibility on the world stage.

FREDERICK BARTON, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, one of the dangers for President Bush is he has -- has not really established an international audience. And he does not have a group of people who really find him credible. And globally...

(END VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX: Now, Wolf, the focus tonight, of course, is what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is going to be doing. She's meeting with her European counterparts for dinner. They are going to be discussing the way forward when it comes to Iran. And quietly the Europeans have been talking with the Iranians trying to coax them into cooperating instead of focusing or emphasizing what President Bush has been doing, and that is the sanctions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thank you.

New political gains for the president. Today, seven weeks before congressional elections, the new "USA Today"-Gallup poll shows his approval rating up to 44 percent. That's his highest rating in a year. When the three latest polls are averaged together, Mr. Bush gets a 41 percent approval rating.

Tomorrow I'll speak one on one with the president. I'll ask him about the showdown with Iran, the war in Iraq, the war on terror.

And what would you ask the president of the United States? Send us an e-mail at CNN.com/situationroom.

My special interview with President Bush right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, tomorrow, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

At the heart of the Bush administration's case against Iran, an alleged nuclear weapons program.

CNN's Brian Todd is looking into that. He's joining us now live from Washington -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at the heart of that Western suspicion about Iran is the regime's long history of hiding its nuclear program. Tehran now says it's being transparent about what it calls peaceful nuclear development, but the suspicions linger.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): An ambitious leader positioning himself as a major Middle East player. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government says those ambitions don't include a nuclear weapon. His American counterparts disagree.

We took Joe Cirincione, a weapons expert who has been to Iran recently, into THE SITUATION ROOM to look at three controversial facilities.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Natanz is where they have the centrifuges that will turn uranium into enriched uranium. In Esfahan is where they are taking uranium from the ground and turning it into the gas that they can turn into the centrifuges. And finally, over in Iraq is where the Iranians are moving on a heavy water reactor that can be used to make plutonium, the other material for nuclear bombs.

TODD: Cirincione says the Iraq facility is designed to make plutonium quickly. No reason for that capability, he says, expect to make nuclear material for bombs. Then there are the mysterious tunnels at the sprawling Esfahan plant.

CIRINCIONE: In these tunnels near Esfahan the Iranians say they are storing the uranium gas there, again to protect it from possible attack. But they might also have a duplicate facility in those mountains. That's why we need intrusive inspections to ferret that out.

TODD: Inspections that would be difficult to carry out under current rules that Iran has insisted on. But experts say all three facilities could also be used for legitimate peaceful nuclear production, which is Iran's stated intent.

As for evidence...

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FMR. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: There's no smoking gun. And there's no evidence that Iran has made the decision to actually build nuclear weapons.

TODD: A finding backed up by the International Atomic Energy Agency. But the IAEA also says Iran hasn't stopped enriching low- grade uranium and hasn't allowed inspectors to interview key scientists.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: An Iranian official at the U.N. tells me his government has complied with the agency for several years now and will continue to do so. We may know more soon about this, Wolf. Inspectors are on the ground as we speak.

BLITZER: And we're following every aspect of this story, Brian. Thanks very much.

We are also standing by to hear from the Iranian president, Ahmadinejad. He's expected to speak fairly soon before the United Nation General Assembly here in New York.

Other important news we're following, the prime minister of Thailand attended events at the U.N. today. Meanwhile, his opponents back home are trying to take advantage of his absence.

Right now in Thailand, tanks and troops are on the streets. But who they are taking orders from, not exactly clear. Some are part of an angry mob from Thailand's military trying to overthrow the government.

Let's go to CNN's Dan Rivers. He is in Bangkok right now with the latest -- Dan.

DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you can probably see behind me, there are tanks, as you say, on the streets of Bangkok. Soldiers at every intersection in the center of town.

The army has staged what they are claiming is a coup d'etat. They say they have revoked the 1997 constitution. They have sacked Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister, and they are now in charge, effectively.

What we are being told is that senior army officials, including General Santi (ph), who it's believed is now effectively caretaker prime minister here, they met the king a few hours ago. We don't know what was said in that meeting, but it appears that the king gave some sort of tacit approval for this coup d'etat. And now the army has imposed martial law across Thailand.

The streets, as you can see -- it's late at night here now -- the streets are deserted. But so far there's been no violence. There's been no antagonism.

Most people, it appears, are almost thankful that the controversial prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, may have been deposed. What remains to be seen, though, is whether the army will restore democracy.

BLITZER: And he was supposed to speak for the United Nations General Assembly. We are getting word now that speech not going to happen. We're following what he does next.

Dan Rivers in Bangkok.

We'll get back to you. Thank you very much.

Jack Cafferty is here in New York with me.

Good to have you here.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: A busy day you came to town, huh?

BLITZER: Always busy, but especially -- you know, there's a lot of traffic on the streets with all these world leaders in New York.

CAFFERTY: Yes, it's great, isn't it? Instead of taking an hour to get home it takes you two.

A comforting thought, Wolf. A new study shows that radical Islamists are able to move from prison to prison in the United States, preaching what researchers are calling jailhouse Islam.

In some cases, they convert prisoners with the idea of them joining terrorist groups once they're released. Apparently, prisons are an ideal environment for radicalizing people. Muslims who preach violent versions of the Koran get easy access to prison ministries because nobody keeps track of who these people are. Prison administrators are stretched too thin to monitor religious meetings, and many anti-social prisoners tend to go along with radical religions.

Here's what the study recommends: Congress should establish a commission to investigate the issue. There's a good idea, another government commission to do another government investigation.

Here's the question: What does it mean if Islamic extremists are recruiting terrorists in United States prisons?

E-mail your thoughts on that to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

BLITZER: We'll do that. Thank you.

CAFFERTY: You're welcome.

BLITZER: And still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, one problem after another. Not one, but two mysterious pieces of debris floating near the space shuttle Atlantis. Now NASA says the shuttle is not yet ready to land.

And it's a question troops, military families and others are asking, when will we see fewer U.S. troops in Iraq? The U.S. military commanders in the Middle East answering. We're going to tell you what he's saying.

And should two enemies try to talk things over to avoid a confrontation with Iran? Should the U.S. speak directly with Iran's leadership?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Some Democrats are taking a dim view of the president's speech at the United Nations, saying it reveals a fails foreign policy.

Joining us now from Capitol Hill is Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California. She's a key member of the Foreign Relations Committee. She just spent the last day or two here at the United Nations. She's merging together with Republican Senator Norm Coleman as representatives of the U.S. Congress during this current General Assembly.

Senator Boxer, thanks very much for coming in.

I want to play for you a little clip of what the president told the General Assembly earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons. The United Nations has passed a clear resolution requiring that the regime in Tehran meet its international obligations. Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senator, anything in that statement you disagree with? SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I totally agree that Iran should come to the table, should stop enriching uranium first, and try to work this out so that we don't face Iran as a nuclear power, which is unacceptable. But let me just say one thing I think the president seems to forget every time he talks about Iran, is that, sadly, this particular gentleman, Ahmadinejad, was elected by the Iranian people in what is considered a fair election.

So the democratic elections this president touts resulted in this horrible situation for America and the world that we have to deal with him. And so he tries to go -- he goes over the government and he says to the people, your government this, your government that. But sadly, again, they elected this government, and on this issue the Iranians agree with their leaders.

So I wish we could just talk about why it would be better for the world and for Iran if they abandon their ambitions, rather than kind of telling off, you know, the government to the Iranian people that elected them. I just don't know diplomatically whether we get anywhere.

I don't disagree with what the president said. That's not the point.

BLITZER: Well...

BOXER: But we're talking diplomacy here. And I just think he's -- he's not acknowledging the fact that, sadly, the Iranians agree with their leader on this.

BLITZER: But let me point out what your Republican colleague from Ohio, George Voinovich, also a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said earlier today, making a comparison between Ahmadinejad and Hitler. And said because of the fact that Ahmadinejad wants Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth, denies that there was a Holocaust, has conferences promoting cartoons against the Holocaust, and has another competition on the world without the United States.

Here's the question: Hitler was elected democratically as well. Should the U.S. be dealing with this -- with this leader, democratically elected or not?

BOXER: I think we are handling it just right. We are saying, if you say that you are not going to enrich uranium, we will sit down with you. We also, and I support, sanctions against Iran if they don't.

So I think we have a path. I don't know that it helps, you know, to throw out name calling when you are trying to resolve the situation. If you can't resolve it and you go another course, there's a time for name calling. But I really think the American people want us to resolve this as best we can.

Be tough, be wise, and be strong. But it doesn't mean that you have to sort of tell the Iranian people about their government that right now they are supporting if we want to win their hearts and minds.

Wolf, we are in trouble in America in terms of global world opinion. Now why is it important? We are at the lowest point we've ever been at in the eyes of the world.

BLITZER: Well...

BOXER: Why is that important? Because we are in a global war on terror, as the president tells us every day.

BLITZER: Well, Senator...

BOXER: And if we can't mobilize the people of the world, we are in trouble.

BLITZER: What if the Iranians refuse to stop their enrichment program? Should the military option be on the table?

BOXER: Of course. All those options are on the table. But right now, we have a long way to go before that.

And the Europeans are working with us. We need to work hard to get them to stop enriching uranium. We need to sit down at the table and work this out. If it doesn't happen that way, we've got a whole long list of sanctions and things that we can do as a country and as a world.

But again, I think what the president did today is he had a missed opportunity. He basically said and repackaged it, the same things over and over and over again.

And for him to say -- and I, by the way, didn't see the speech, but I read every word of it. I was in meetings all day, read every word of the speech. For him to point to Afghanistan and Iraq as great success stories, the world must just be scratching their heads. People are being blown up every day.

It's not realistic. It's the way the president wants it. He dreams for it to be that way, and we all want it that way. It is not that way.

BLITZER: Right.

BOXER: And so there's a missed opportunity to tell the truth and get the world's help. And unfortunately, it didn't happen.

BLITZER: Different perspective than we heard earlier from the Republican leader, the majority leader, Bill Frist.

Senator Boxer, thanks very much for coming in.

BOXER: Sure.

BLITZER: And coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, will there be fewer U.S. troops in Iraq any time soon? The top U.S. commander in the Middle East revealing that answer earlier. And we are going to tell you what he's saying today.

And stuck in space at least another day. A mysterious object apparently falls off the shuttle Atlantis. Now NASA trying to determine if it's safe for Atlantis to land.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: American forces in Iraq may be there for the long haul. The overall U.S. commander for the region made it clear today that rising violence is dashing hopes far a significant troop reduction this year.

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

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was perhaps the Pentagon's worst-kept secret, the plan to draw down a significant number of U.S. troops beginning earlier this year. But today we learned the new target is early next year.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice over): The top U.S. commander for the Persian Gulf region says the plan to make big cuts in American forces in Iraq is now on hold until spring, the earliest. In fact, General John Abizaid tells CNN troop levels may increase in the months ahead.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: We don't see a need to ask for more under the present circumstances. But on the other hand, this notion that troop levels are static is not true. It never has been true and it won't be true. We'll ask for what we need when we need them.

MCINTYRE: Under the plan, never discussed publicly, American commanders had hoped to cut the number of U.S. troops by 30,000 by year's end, reducing overall force strength to around 100,000 troops. That turned out to be wishful thinking.

The reality is that at the moment, there are actually 20,000 more U.S. troops in Iraq, 147,000, up from only 127,000 back in June. The temporary spike is due in part to overlapping rotations and because one Army brigade had its tour extended four months to help secure Baghdad.

The plan to draw down U.S. troops in Iraq was always conditioned on things getting better. But every day brings fresh evidence. Like this car bomb attack on a Baghdad factory, things are not getting better.

In Washington, a newly-formed bipartisan Iraq study group co- chaired by former secretary of state James Baker and former congressman Lee Hamilton warn the next three months will be critical.

LEE HAMILTON, CO-CHAIR, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: Time is short. The level of violence is great. The margins for error are narrow. The government of Iraq must act.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: And Wolf, while the U.S. strategy remains to stand down U.S. troops as Iraqi troops stand up, some military thinkers think the changing nature of the violence from a classical insurgency to a civil war is just going to make it all that much harder to pull any American troops out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, thanks very much. A comprehensive report.

And coming up, can talking -- can talking repair any bad relationship? Is the nuclear relations issue between the U.S. and Iran in a serious situation right now? And should the Bush administration start speaking directly with the leaders of Iran?

And it's happened again. More mystery objects flying near a space shuttle. This time the Atlantis. It has NASA so worried it's putting off the shuttle's landing.

We'll tell you what's going on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

Happening now, talking about each other not to each other. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, President Bush had some harsh words for the leaders of Iran. Now the president of Iran is getting ready for his turn.

Also, is the shuttle Atlantis in any danger? NASA is worried after not one but two mystery objects apparently fell near it. What they are and where they are from, anyone's guess right now. But NASA is not taking any chances, saying the shuttle is not yet ready to land.

And it's a controversial tell-all. The former governor of New Jersey who resigned after announcing he was gay is out with a new book. And it's revealing details of his once unknown secret life.

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

All that coming up. But for a third straight night, thousands of protesters are squaring off with riot police in Hungary's capital and demanding that the government resign. The violence is the worst since Hungary's failed revolt against communism half a century ago.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is joining us now live from Budapest -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are about 10,000 demonstrators here outside the parliament building. The demonstrations have been mostly peaceful indeed. People have been telling us this evening they want the demonstrations to be peaceful. They say that the angry mob that was seen yesterday around the world storming into the television station, burning cars was just a small element of the crowd.

The reason there is so much anger now is that the prime minister here, an audio tape was release where he said he had been lying to the people of the country for a year and a half. Now the prime minister has been backpedaling on that intensely. Saying all politicians have been lying to the people for the past decade and a half. That he has been trying to introduce reforms to bring down the budget deficit here.

The people in the crowd behind me tonight say they are not going to go until the prime minister steps down. They say that he has lied. They say they want a reelection. He was reelected in April this year. That they want another election now. And they are not going to tolerate him, his party, or his lies. It seems to be heading for a showdown. Indeed, the people here say there will be an even bigger demonstration at the weekend, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll continue to watch it together with you, Nic. Nic is on the scene for us in Budapest, Hungary. We'll get back now to our top story. The showdown right now with Iran playing out at the United Nations. Iran has ignored a UN deadline and U.S. warnings to haul suspect nuclear activities. Should the Bush administration now seek punishment for Iran? Or should it just bite the bullet and talk with Iran?

CNN's Aneesh Raman is standing by at the United Nations. Let's turn first to our Zain Verjee. She's back in Washington. Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, it was former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who once said that we don't need to negotiate with our friends, just our enemies. In America's enemy camp, Iran. So, should the U.S. directly engage Iran?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): The Bush administration is convinced Iran wants to build a nuclear bomb. For Washington, there's only one solution.

BUSH: Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

VERJEE: Iran says it doesn't want weapons, only energy. So it's enriching low-grade uranium, defying the UN Security Council demands to stop. It may be stalemate over at the UN, but there's no checkmate, yet, for either side.

Some experts argue the only way to force Iran to open up further to inspections is to negotiate.

SUSAN RICE, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think we need to talk directly to Iran. Most importantly, we do have incentives to offer Iran. Recognition, resumed diplomatic ties. Greater trade ties. But this has to come as part of a package. We need Iran to stop its support for terrorism, stop meddling in Iraq, and most importantly, relinquish its potential offensive nuclear program.

VERJEE: President Bush has said he will talk to Iran, but only after it verifiably suspends its uranium enrichment program. But, some argue directly engaging Iran at all is a mistake. It would play into their hands. And come back to bite the U.S.

FRANK GAFFNEY, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY: Many people believe there is no cost to talking. I believe to the contrary that when you are dealing with a regime like that in Iran, negotiation actually can pay a very high price. Because it allows the regime to buy time and to become more dangerous even than it is today.

VERJEE: There's concern too, talking to Iran would give hard- line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad credibility. Other options don't seem attractive or promising. An attack on Iran always possible, but potentially disastrous.

The specter of sanctions appear to be running out of steam. China and Russia aren't on board. And France's president is pouring cold water on it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: For now, the administration appears to be banking on talking through Europe. And using political and economic incentives to try to lure Iran off the nuclear path -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you. They've managed, by the way, to avoid each other so far at the United Nations. That would be Iran's president and the U.S. President George W. Bush spoke before the general assembly earlier today. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will soon take his turn at the podium.

And based on his past remarks when he speaks, anything is possible. CNN's Aneesh Raman has spent a lot of time recently in Tehran. He is joining us now live from the United Nations. Aneesh, is there any sense we are getting on what the Iranian leader will say?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, by all expectations, he will have a softer tone. Not one defined by the controversial statements he has made before. I was in Iran just some weeks ago. And there's the deadline that Iran faced by the UN approached, we did hear a softer stance from Iran's president claiming Iran was no threat to the world. At one moment saying Iran was no threat to Israel and actually using the word Israel which he rarely does.

We will likely hear more of the same here tonight. He is speaking to the world audience not to his base of support on the Muslim street that is angry at the U.S. and that is the support he usually tends to have his controversial statements about Israel, for example being wiped off the map.

You mention that Iran's president and President Bush haven't met. Really the only chance they would have had to do so, to be in the same room, was a luncheon this afternoon. Iran's president did not attend. The reason, because alcohol was being served. Of course, within the Islamic republic, alcohol is forbidden. So he opted out of the lunch. Has arrived at the UN a short time ago. Is set to deliver his remarks.

The key thing that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants today is to give reason. To give pause to countries in Europe, for example. To other wavering countries that Iran is eager for dialogue. Is not pursuing a nuclear weapon. And give reason for confrontation to be kept at bay.

Sanctions, Iran hopes kept at bay as well. And Zain was talking about to see Iran not just as a legitimate power. But really on par with the United States with other global powers. Because it represents so many Muslim voices -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you get a sense, speaking with Iranians who are there, that this is a moment -- this is an opportunity Ahmadinejad has to try to score some points? Not with his own people, so much, but with the international community? Especially the United States.

RAMAN: Yeah, that is the goal. He knows he'll be heard by the U.S. audience here. He knows he'll be heard by the world. Ahmadinejad really has given up on the concerns of the Iranian people. He was elected just over a year ago. At that point he was a virtual unknown. He won that election because he promised dramatic economic reform within Iran. A country high with unemployment, high inflation.

He hasn't really delivered on economic reforms. Instead he has turned to the broader international realm to gain clout for Iran. And in this speech he will likely be addressing, not just the Iranians or just the Muslim people that follow him, with faith.

As you say the Americans, the broader world, emphasizing Iran is no threat. Emphasizing that Iran is eager for peace. Emphasizing Iran wants to talk. And giving reason for pause for anyone that suggested Iran should face immediate confrontation by the west, Wolf.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman who did outstanding work for us during his recent visits to Iran, he is at the United Nations today. We'll check back with you, Aneesh. Thank you very much.

And tomorrow, I'll speak one on one with President Bush. I'll ask him about Iran, the war in Iraq, the war on terror. Lots more. What would you ask the president of the United States? Send us an e- mail. CNN.com/situationroom. That special interview with President Bush right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. It airs 7:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow.

And still to come, today, Jim McGreevey is filling in the blanks about his once-secret sex life. The former New Jersey governor announced he is gay is out with a new book confessing some shocking details.

And we have new information about the advisory against eating spinach. There's a growing number of states affected and a growing number of people sick. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: It's not a bird and it's not a plane. What is the mysterious floating abject near the space shuttle Atlantis"? Right now that's what NASA officials desperately want to know. As if that weren't enough, after the first object was seen floating, there was this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, we're not joking about this. But Dan at window one. He looked out and he saw an object floating nearby. We took several pictures of it. It's fairly small.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: All of this is prompting NASA to say it is not safe for the shuttle to land. At least not now. Our technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg is on the phone from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with more. What do we know, Daniel?

DANIEL SIEBERG, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. NASA managers are meeting this hour to assess the imagery that the viewers were seeing there. The first incident happened or was spotted about 2:45 a.m. Eastern Time. They noticed this unidentified object and they are now trying to determine if it's harmless or critical. They are trying to determine the origin of it, the size.

The other incident that happened shortly after noon, when one of the astronauts Dan Burbank apparently took some pictures of another object, apparently a second object that was noticed outside the window. They are assessing all of this right now, Wolf. As far as we know the landing is not going to be tomorrow. At the earliest it would be Thursday morning at 6:21 a.m. Eastern Time.

BLITZER: Any indication of how long they can stay up there?

SIEBERG: Right now we know they have enough consumables, enough food and supplies and so on to keep going until Saturday morning. They would have landing opportunities Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Both here at Kennedy Space Center and also out at Edwards Air Force Base. Of course weather is a big factor in all of this. The weather tomorrow wasn't going to be great anyway. So it's given them this time to look things over.

BLITZER: Let's hope for the best. Daniel, thank you very much. We'll stay on top of this story. Let's bring in Zain Verjee once again. She's watching other important stories making news. Zain?

VERJEE: Wolf, moist ocean breeze is at this hour helping firefighters contain a stubborn wild fire northeast of Los Angeles. The fire is threatening hundreds of homes in the Lockwood Valley. But so far authorities have not ordered an evacuation. About 2,000 firefighters along with helicopters and air tankers are battling the blaze. The fire which has already charred more than 84,000 acres is said to be about 15 percent contained.

The outbreak of e. coli linked to tainted spinach has now spread to 22 states. In just the past few hours authorities in Colorado have reported at least one confirmed case of a person falling ill with the bacteria after eating raw spinach. They are investigating three others.

There are now at least 115 known victims and one fatality. Federal health officials are warning against eating fresh spinach until they can pinpoint the source of the outbreak.

The leader of one of the world's poorest countries had a rare honor this afternoon. At a place where many millions of dollars change hands every day. At exactly 4:00 p.m. Eastern Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Mr. Karzai is in New York for the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Iraq's government is now calling for the judge in the Saddam Hussein war crimes trial to be replaced. In court last week the judge said the former Iraqi leader was quote, "not a dictator." A spokesman for Iraq's prime minister says the judge can no longer be considered impartial -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you. And with tanks and troops now on the streets of Bangkok, images and stories from the military coup in Thailand are pouring in online. Let's bring in our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton. She has been following the story. Since it broke a few hours ago. Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these pictures uploaded to the photo sharing site flickr from Dan Casper's (ph) Bangkok residence of the tanks outside Bangkok's government's house. I just got off the phone hours ago with Dan who said that the atmosphere in the streets is calm. People were a little bit bewildered. But people were out on the streets and some people were treating this as almost a tourist attraction having their photos taken in front of the tanks and in front of the government house there.

Another resident of Bangkok, Parkin Baranarachida (ph) sent this to CNN through iReport. This was his TV screen, international channels. Including CNN had been suspended. Another resident sent this. Patriotic photos - footage placed on the TV replacing normal programming. This from Ian Fuller. I spoke to him as well. Ian said he's just a couple of miles away from government house where the tanks are. Ian tells me at this stage we just don't know what's going on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi. We'll continue to stay on top of this very important story in Thailand. Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour. And standing by to tell us what he's working on. Hi, Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN HOST: Thank you, Wolf. Coming up at 6:00 Eastern we'll be reporting on President Bush's call for democracy in the Middle East in a major speech to the United Nations today. The president also blasting Iran's nuclear weapons program. The Iranian president will be giving his response within this next hour. We'll have live coverage of that. Also, communist Chinese spies stealing our most sensitive military technology. Bill Gertz, the highly respected defense reporter of the "Washington Times" and author of a disturbing new book about foreign espionage joins us here tonight. And troubling new concerns that millions of illegal aliens will be able to vote in our upcoming elections. We'll have that special report tonight and democracy at risk.

We hope you'll join us for all of that and a great deal more at the top of the hour right here on CNN. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thank you, Lou, we will be watching. Up ahead, Jack Cafferty wants to know what does it mean if Islamic extremists are recruiting for terrorists in U.S. prisons? And he led a secret gay life of the governor of New Jersey until it all erupted in scandal. Now the former governor Jim McGreevey tells all. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a tell all about the secret life of a gay man turned governor. Now there's both curiosity and criticism of the former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey's new memoir. CNN's Mary Snow is here in New York with us with more -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

Good to see you in New York. Well, details of his secret double life have turned into a lucrative book deal for the former governor. For the first time with his new partner by his side. Jim McGreevey is talking about his life as a gay man who was married twice with two children and why he came out of the closet two years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MCGREEVEY, FORMER N.J. GOVERNOR: I am a gay American.

SNOW: To promote his book, former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey did his first television interview with Oprah Winfrey saying this man, Golan Cipel, is the reason he came out of the closet. Cipel is an Israeli citizen McGreevey hired far state job as a homeland security adviser. At one point McGreevey appeared embarrassed when Winfrey asked him to read an excerpt about the affair that began when McGreevey's wife had just given birth.

MCGREEVEY: "I wasn't an ordinary citizen anymore. State trooper parked outside. My wife recovering from a difficult pregnancy and a C-section in the hospital. And he was my employee. I took Golan by the hand, led him upstairs to my bed."

SNOW: Repeated attempts by CNN to reach Cipel partner were unsuccessful. But he has repeatedly denied being McGreevey's lover. Denies McGreevey's account and says McGreevey harassed him which McGreevey has denied. Those who cover New Jersey politics say McGreevey's confession isn't healing old wounds.

JOHN MCALPIN, "THE RECORD": There is still a lot of public resentment about -- hey, we don't care that you are gay. We are upset because you put this lover on the payroll. And McGreevey is now saying that his book, he has to be painfully honest about all that detail as a way to explain what happened to people.

SNOW: And he's explaining some of his decisions as governor. Such as opposing gay marriage.

MCGREEVEY: I opposed it because, you know, you are pushing away. You don't want anybody to think that you are gay. We did pass civil commitment. Civil unions in New Jersey. We were the third state in the country. But I was adamantly opposed to gay marriage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And McGreevey says now that he would now support gay marriage -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thanks very much. And this note to our viewers, McGreevey will be a guest on CNN's LARRY KING LIVE. That airs Thursday night. LARRY KING LIVE, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll be a guest by the way tonight on LARRY KING LIVE together with Anderson Cooper among others. Once again LARRY KING LIVE, 9:00 p.m. Eastern every night.

Up next, Jack Cafferty is wondering, what does it mean if Islamic extremists are recruiting terrorists in U.S. prisons? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some hot shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press. Pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow. Seoul, South Korea. Soldiers arrest a make believe terrorist during an anti-terrorism drill.

At the United Nations a bomb-sniffing dog checks the podium this morning before the arrival of world leaders. In New York, 91-year-old Lillian Pollack a member of the so-called granny peace brigade takes part in antiwar protests outside the UN. She walked the entire 12- block protest march route.

And over at the National Zoo in Washington, a sloth bear cub exploring his surroundings. Check it out. Some of today's hot shots. Pictures often worth a thousand words.

I know Jack Cafferty, you like those still photos?

CAFFERTY: I like those pictures. Sometimes we get really good ones. Remember the guy who had 300 straws in his mouth a few weeks ago? That was one of the nights you were off. John King had a guy with 300 straws?

BLITZER: Is that a record?

CAFFERTY: I think it was.

The question this hour to get back on track here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

What does it mean if Islamic extremists are recruiting terrorists in U.S. prisons? There's a report out that says they are doing just that.

Bill in Delaware writes, "Recruiting extremists in prison is the same as recruiting them off the streets in the Middle East. The environments are the same, the recruits aren't going anywhere and they have little hope. Very vulnerable, easy to manipulate."

Scott in Illinois. "Terrorist organizations are run like businesses. They recruit labor from those who have the skill set they need. They look to the prison population for murderers, thieves, conmen and other scum of the earth."

Edward in Phoenix. "This is nothing new. It's been going on for 20 years. What it means is the radical mullahs have figured out how to outsmart the morons who are supposed to be making this country safe but who are more interested in making themselves rich by selling us out."

Paul in Texas. "A reactive measure to the problem would be the creation of an anonymous system for reporting that offers rewards to other prisoners for informing officials of the recruiting of activity. Then problem individuals can either be isolated and interrogated or monitored for potential intelligence value." That's a good idea.

Tor in Huntsville, Texas. "It means Islamic extremists are going out of their way to recruit people too dumb to commit a crime and get away with it. If they've got to recruit someone to be a terrorist, I'd rather they recruit the dumb ones."

And Bob in Pennsylvania. "Look at the potential pluses. We'll already have their fingerprints and criminal specialty on file and perhaps more patriotic but equally radical skinhead gangs may deny them that elusive judicial due process Congress is forever debating." Sort of like watching a scorpion and a spider in a jar.

If you didn't see your e-mail here you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and read more of these online.

BLITZER: I'd like you to stick around for a moment, Jack. Don't leave yet. Because we have another story and I want your sense, your reaction to this. Federal government is using a popular video Web site right now to post advertisements for its drug prevention campaign. But is YouTube the best play to get out an anti-drug message? Let's bring in Jacki Schechner. She is watching this story -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf the White House anti-drug office is putting content now on YouTube.com to quote, "get in the game." And part of that content is nine advertisements that have been running on television since November of 2005. They are part of the above the influence anti-drug advertising campaign

But here are some glitches if you put the stuff on YouTube. Search for the anti-drug campaign using drug-related terminology. And you are going to get video of people actually doing drugs. Also because this is a national advertising campaign, there are plenty of parodies of it online. Now the agency tells me today that they are not concerned because YouTube is free and easy to use. And if they reach just one kid with their antidrug message, it will have been worth it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki, thanks very much. Your tax dollars, Jack, at work.

CAFFERTY: You know what else on YouTube? I bet they have half of all the little rants we've done here on THE SITUATION ROOM since this program began.

BLITZER: You are very popular there.

CAFFERTY: I don't know about that. They have got to fill up the Web site with something.

You are very popular. Stick around we will be back in an hour. Don't forget. Tomorrow I'll speak one on one with President Bush here in New York. I'll ask him about Iran, the war in Iraq, the war on terror. Lots more. What would you ask the president of the United States? You can send us an e-mail at CNN.com/situationroom. That special interview with President Bush right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, tomorrow, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Remember, we are here in THE SITUATION ROOM, weekday afternoons at 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Back in one hour. 7:00 p.m. Until then, thanks very much for joining us. Let's go to LOU DOBBS TONIGHT. Lou standing by here in New York -- Lou.

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