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AMERICAN MORNING

Bush To Meet with Baker-Hamilton Group To Discuss New Plans For Iraq War; Thousands Gather To Break Ground on King National Memorial

Aired November 13, 2006 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: The lame duck Congress goes back to work today. Republicans have a long to-do list. Won't be easy to get everything done.
And a dream delivered, groundbreaking today for the new memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on the National Mall, design details straight ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning. Monday, November 13. I'm Miles O'Brien in New York.

S. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien. I'm in Washington, D.C. this morning.

In just a few hours President Bush is going to join civil rights icons and many others at the groundbreaking for the monument for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is going to be situated on the National Mall, between the Jefferson Memorial and Lincoln Memorials.

Also at the White House today, big meeting to find solutions for the fight for Iraq. Here's what's new this morning. President Bush and his foreign policy team will meet with the Iraq study group today. The group is led by the former Secretary of State James Baker. He, of course, is a trusted adviser to both Bush administrations. And Lee Hamilton, the former co-chair of the 9/11 Commission.

There's talk this morning of involving Iran and Syria to try to help solve the region's problems. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is backing that idea in a speech today. One idea that the administration is rejecting is a phased withdrawal of troops over the next four to six months. That plan coming from incoming Chairman of the Senate Arms Services Committee Carl Levin. CNN's Kathleen Koch at the White House for us this morning.

Good morning, Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning, Soledad.

Yes, and Levin is one of the many Democrats who saw the vote Tuesday as a referendum on the Iraq war and to that end, he's saying that the U.S. needs to let Iraq know that the U.S. deployment of troops there is not open ended and that a phased withdrawal needs to begin in the next four to six months.

The White House, though, has long insisted that setting a timetable in Iraq is a very bad idea and that U.S. forces cannot pull out until the Iraqi troops are ready to take responsibility for their country's own security. Over the weekend, Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, here at the White House, acknowledged though that the administration is looking for new ideas in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSH BOLTEN, CHIEF OF STAFF, WHITE HOUSE: Everybody's been working hard, but what we've been doing has not worked well enough or fast enough. It's clearly time to put fresh eyes on the problem. The president has always been interested in tactical adjustments. But the ultimate goal remains the same, which is success in Iraq . That means a democratic Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, defend itself, and be an ally in the war on terror and not a haven, a failed state, for more terrorism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOCH: President Bush meets later this morning, as you mentioned, with the Iraq study group, getting an early readout on their direction, on their ideas. Robert Gates, the president's pick for Defense secretary, will not be part of that group. He resigned Friday to be replaced by Lawrence Eagleburger. Some say he was picked because of his role on the Iraq study group, and his perceived ability to implement its recommendations, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: There's another meeting Kathleen to talk about as well; President Bush meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Olmert. What are they going to be talking about?

KOCH: Soledad, they'll certainly be talking about U.S. policy on Israel in the final two years of the president's administration. Also, Israel's very pressing concerns about the Iranian nuclear threat. That certainly will make them none too keen about the suggestion, to come later today, by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He's going to be proposing in a speech, that both Iran and Syria be brought into talks to figure out what to do about the war in Iraq.

President Bush himself has long opposed approaching both Iran and Syria about the issue. But, again, Bolten is saying the White House is saying they're open to new ideas. That could be one coming from the Iraq study group today.

S. O'BRIEN: Kathleen Koch at the White House for us this morning. Kathleen, thanks.

More violence to tell you about in Iraq. A suicide bomber wearing an explosives belt blew himself up inside a bus in northeastern Baghdad. Ten people were killed there. This is after Iraqi police found 22 bodies on the streets of Baghdad on Sunday. A high-ranking Iraqi official is telling CNN that nearly 1500 bodies were taken to Baghdad's central morgue last month.

To the west, in the Anbar Province, three American soldiers were killed over the weekend. That means that so far this month 29 members of the U.S. military have been killed in Iraq. And it brings 2,847, the number of servicemen and women who have died since the war began -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Democrats preparing to take the reins of power in the House already in the midst of a tug of war over who will be the new majority leader. The speaker to be is supporting the anti-war congressman John Murtha, who was considered an underdog. Dana Bash joining us from Capitol Hill.

Dana, good morning.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning, Miles.

Many of our viewers probably first became familiar with Jack Murtha about a year ago when he became really the first hawkish congressman, somebody with strong military ties, to come out to say it's time to get out of Iraq. Back then many Democrats thought that perhaps he was leading them on a dangerous political path.

Now, that is one of the key reasons why the incoming speaker, Nancy Pelosi says she wants him to be her number two, the next majority leader in the House. In a letter that she wrote to Jack Murtha, last night, she says, "With respect to Iraq in particular, I salute your courageous leadership that changed the national debate. And helped make Iraq the central issue of this historic election. It was surely a dark day for the Bush administration when you spoke truth to power."

Not exactly a welcome letter, if you are Congressman Steny Hoyer, the person who is currently Nancy Pelosi's number two; somebody who has been working for months to secure the position of the next majority leader. But Pelosi is somebody who is, her aides say, very loyal. Jack Murtha has been a friend of hers for 20 years. Actually lead her two leadership campaigns successfully in the past.

Exactly a point that Steny Hoyer recognized in a statement that he put out in response to this. He said Nancy Pelosi told me some time ago she would personally support Jack. I respect her decision, and the two are very close.

Now, Miles, it certainly sounds like an intra-party, inside the Beltway fight, but this is, perhaps, the first test of not only who will lead the Democratic Party and their new majority in the House, but what direction it will take, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Dana Bash on the Capitol. Thank you very much.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Happening this morning, a summit at the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to meet with President Bush. Kathleen Koch was telling us about this just a moment ago. Among the items on their agenda, America's post-election Israel policy and how to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. It is Iran's president who said that Israel should be wiped off the map.

The FBI says that letters containing white powder sent to celebrities and politicians, including "The Daily Show" Jon Stewart and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, have been traced to a man in California. His name is Chad Costania (ph), according to officials. And he's going to be in court this morning on charges that he sent numerous letters containing what turned out to be harmless powder.

Two Los Angeles police officers are not on desk duty as the FBI investigates a video taped police beating. The home video tape first surfaced on YouTube and it's raising allegations of police brutality in this case.

Traffic back to normal on a major interstate in Connecticut. It was shut down after a massive pileup. The chain-reaction crash happened on I-84 in Hartford; 21 vehicles involved, including three big rigs. Several people suffered minor injuries. The road, though, we from rain, was closed for two hours.

In just a couple hours, President Bush, former President Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and dozens of civil rights leaders will gather right here in Washington, D.C., for the groundbreaking of the Martin Luther King National Memorial on the National Mall.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN (voice over): Almost 40 years after his death, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is about to become the first African-American with a monument on the National Mall.

Ambassador Andrew Young, who worked closely with Dr. King in the '60s, is co-chairing the effort.

AMB. ANDREW YOUNG, CO-CHAIR, KING MEMORIAL: When you go to Martin Luther King's memorial, it should not be because he was black and he's the first black person to get a statue there. It should be because he made a significant contribution to the world.

S. O'BRIEN: Ten years ago President Clinton signed legislation to launch the project. Major corporations, like General Motors and Tommy Hilfiger, are donating much of the $100 million needed to put King in the same park as Jefferson, Washington and Lincoln.

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: I have a dream that one day --

S. O'BRIEN: The memorial stands just a few hundred feet from the exact spot where Dr. King delivered his famous "I Have A Dream" speech to 250,000 marchers in 1963.

KING: Free at last, free at last, thank God All Mighty, we are free at last.

REP. JOHN LEWIS, (D) GEORGIA: The Washington Mall is the front door to the capitol of America. Martin Luther King, Jr. role has changed America, not just liberating a people, but liberating a nation.

S. O'BRIEN: Congressman John Lewis was just 19 years old when he met Dr. King. Five years later they would march together here in Washington.

CROWD SINGING: We shall overcome --

S. O'BRIEN: More than anything else, Dr. King led with the power of his words, and it's those words that will be the central focus of his memorial. Dr. King's quotes will be inscribed on each of the stone walls.

LEWIS: People will be inspired when they feel and touch the words, the letters that will be etched in stone. And hopefully it will inspire a generations yet unborn.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: Well, I'm sorry to say the weather here not so great, but they are expecting 5,000 people today. The price tag of this memorial is $100 million.

Yeah, the little white rain outfits is kind of a tip-off there, Miles. You can see they're going to cover up the center where they're going to actually doing the speeches.

Price tag, $100 million. They've been able to raise two-thirds of the money. I'll be co-hosting the ceremonies along with Tavis Smiley this morning. We begin at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time. And CNN is going to carry it live.

M. O'BRIEN: I think you will probably be undercover. Congratulations, Soledad. That's really a high honor.

S. O'BRIEN: You know, I am thrilled to be part of this.

M. O'BRIEN: You should be.

S. O'BRIEN: The lineup is going to be amazing.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: So, yes, I am really honored to be a part of it. It should be great.

M. O'BRIEN: Well deserved.

S. O'BRIEN: Even in the rain. We're waterproof.

M. O'BRIEN: A wonderful event. I'm glad you're part of it.

Still to come on the program, Southern California, once again, in the line of fire. Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: I'm Chris Lawrence in Lakeland Village, California, where another wildfire has temporarily forced families out of their homes. I'll bring you the latest details.

Another major CEO bites the dust. We'll tell you why in about 10 minutes.

And old man winter's early arrival in the Pacific Northwest. Wet and chilly from the Weather Center and Chad, just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Top stories we're following for you this morning: President Bush meets with his bipartisan Iraq study group. On Capitol Hill, the lame-duck Congress back to work today. It's the first session since Democrats won the back the House and Senate in last week's elections.

This morning in Southern California, firefighters trying to get a handle on a raging wildfire; it's burning near Lake Ellsinore. That is about 75 miles east of Los Angeles. So far about 100 homes evacuated because of that fire. CNN's Chris Lawrence joining us from Lakeland Village, California with the latest.

Chris, good morning.

LAWRENCE: Good morning, Miles.

The most important thing about this fire right now is nobody's been hurt and no homes have been destroyed.

And we just got an update on those evacuations. About 100 families did have to evacuate their homes earlier. We were just told a few minutes ago that the situation was deemed to be safe enough, and those families have now been allowed to come back in the area if they want to do so.

You can take a look over my shoulder, you see just over the mountain, where that fire is really burning. You can see some of the smoke coming up over the mountain. It's now burned close to about 300 acres.

Several agencies have men up on the mountain. They've got the fire about 30 percent contained at this point. And I was just told they really hope to have a handle on this fire and encircle it by about 6:00 tonight. They'd be even further along than they are now, but at some point the fire dropped into a drainage area. There was with a lot of thick brush and oak trees, just made it very difficult to get to.

The fire did start just after the cut off time when the planes could fly, so the first air support they're going to get will be a little bit later this morning, when the sun comes up. Once the planes start getting out there, and being able to fly, they'll not only get a lot of air support, but they'll also get a better handle on what may have started this fire -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Chris Lawrence, thank you very much.

(WEATHER REPORT)

S. O'BRIEN: Republicans here in D.C. are coming back to work today. And the landscape has changed dramatically from their last day on the Hill. They're now running a lame duck Congress dealing with the newly empowered Democrats. Republican Michael Steele, is Maryland's lieutenant governor, lost his race for the Senate. Might have new plans though. He's with us this morning.

Lt. Governor Steele, nice to see you.

LT. GOV. MICHAEL STEELE, (R-MD): Thank you. Good morning.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks for joining us.

STEELE: Nice to see you. Great to be with you.

S. O'BRIEN: Big losses, obviously, including your bid to be the next senator from the State of Maryland. What's the message that you take away? That the voters delivered.

STEELE: The voter was very straight up, listen to us. Listen to us. For over a year I've been saying that the voters had a palpable consternation with the way things were going in Iraq, and just the general feeling in the country. They wanted the leadership to listen to them. They said, all right, fine, you won't listen, we'll teach you a lesson. And they did.

S. O'BRIEN: Right after the election, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld resigns. Do you look back and say, well, why wasn't that done the week before?

STEELE: Well, you know, I understand the president's position in saying that he didn't want to politicize that move, or make it --

S. O'BRIEN: Which doesn't make any sense. I mean, the election was about --

STEELE: The election is politics, it's about politics, it's Iraq.

(CROSS TALK)

S. O'BRIEN: Would it have helped a race like yours?

STEELE: Would it have helped? It probably would have been, because it would have taken a little bit of the steam out of the Democrats' engine when it comes to changing the course in Iraq, and so forth, and so on. And that's really what the people wanted. They wanted to see a demonstrative change in the direction of the war, and it starts at the top.

S. O'BRIEN: At the end of the day, your numbers were good. Not good enough to win. Harold Ford, Jr., also had good numbers.

STEELE: Yes, yes.

S. O'BRIEN: But still 40 years after Martin Luther King message and his death --

STEELE: We still have a lot of work to do.

S. O'BRIEN: Still one senator serving in Congress right now. Does that surprise you?

STEELE: It does and it doesn't.

S. O'BRIEN: One black senator, I should say.

STEELE: Yes, right. It does to the extent that, as you just said, you've got 40 years all of this progress has been made in the African-American community, politically, socially, economically. But it doesn't to the extent that you can still run certain ads, you can still say certain things, and people retreat to well-worn positions that, again, have been a problem for African-American advancement.

S. O'BRIEN: I know you're interested in being the next chairman of the RNC, Ken Mehlman announced last week is not going to seek the job again. What would you do differently?

STEELE: I don't know. I think probably just engage the base a little more and broaden the base. You've got.

S. O'BRIEN: Bring more black people in maybe?

STEELE: Absolutely. You know, for me it's always been about bringing the party back to the African-American community, which is what I wanted to do with my campaign. We went into neighborhoods and we established beachheads there. We talked to people on the ground, in the barber shops. You take your lumps, you know, because people have some very hard attitudes about the GOP.

But in order to overcome that, you're going to have to show up. You've got to post, you have to get in someone's face and look them in the eye and give them your best shot, as they give you theirs.

S. O'BRIEN: In 2004, I think 11 percent of the black vote is what the president got, to Kerry's 88 percent

STEELE: Yes, right. It's a lot of work. It's going to take a lot of work. It's a constant engagement. It's constant engagement. You just can't do it in election years.

It's those out years. It's that down time in between elections where you really get on the ground and you establish a basis, which is what I did for four years as lieutenant governor. I was in the community. People got to know me and saw I didn't have horns and tails. They saw someone who actually was concerned about their issues, and shared some of the same issues they did. You know, raising kids and all of that type of thing.

So, I think the more engage on a human level with folks, and the more we have to work to dispel the image of the GOP as detached, uninterested, not concerned about the African-American experience. And, of course, Katrina is an example again, which didn't help, which sits at the forefront of that. I think we can make the difference, but it's going to take time, a lot of time. S. O'BRIEN: Maryland's Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele. Nice to see you.

STEELE: Nice to see you. Very good to be with you. Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Appreciate it, pleasure.

Israel's prime minister is here in Washington, D.C. as well. As we're talking this morning, he's going to meet with President Bush. They're going to talk about election results and what all those could mean for U.S. policy in Israel. We'll have more on that straight ahead this morning.

Federal agents say they have figured out just who was behind those threatening letters that had the white powder that was sent to some famous Americans. We'll bring you details on that story. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Another one bites the dust. We're talking options, once again. Cheryl Casone is here with more.

Hello, Cheryl.

CHERYLE CASONE, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Another CEO, another one gone, effective immediately.

M. O'BRIEN: This is like a full employment act for business reporters.

CASONE: I'm telling you, there's so many years I've been doing this and I'm doing yet another. A CEO that did something he should not have done, and he got caught.

M. O'BRIEN: They just don't get it, do they?

CASONE: They just don't seem to get it.

Bruce Karatz, KB Homes, CEO, there he is, gone as of the weekend. He was caught backdating his stock options.

You know, stock options, you get a preset price on your options, on a certain day. You buy it at what it traded at, that day. He and the director of HR, pretty much caught, giving another date for those options. He made himself and extra $13 million.

M. O'BRIEN: Yeah.

CASONE: He's giving that back to the company.

M. O'BRIEN: This is like -- all the boys were doing this, kind of thing. This seemed to be the thing. In all the -- you know, company after company this comes to light.

CASONE: And he was a really this very well-respected CEO. He'd done a lot for the company. So for someone like him to get caught doing something like this, kind of shows you that this is somewhat of a problem in corporate America.

M. O'BRIEN: You might say. All right, let's talk about alternative fuels.

CASONE: Well, I'm going to credit "The Wall Street Journal", my buddies over there. They have this story out today. Rand Corporation came out with a study saying that renewable fuels are actually going to become -- are becoming cheaper. And that by 2025 U.S. consumers can actually have more renewable fuels than they do now; think like, wind power, ethanol, it's getting cheaper. That's better for the environment. That's a good thing. And it's better for the economy.

M. O'BRIEN: So, it's getting cheaper and as oil prices continue to go up, all of a sudden this becomes a real business, doesn't it?

CASONE: Right.

M. O'BRIEN: And there are a lot of companies out there that are trying to do that.

CASONE: There is. And a lot of other countries have come up with ethanol production and ways to make it cheaper, safer. Now the U.S. seems to be following suit. It's good. Gas prices going up, this is a nice alternative.

M. O'BRIEN: We've got lots of corn in this country. That's for sure. What do you have next?

CASONE: Coming up, bank customers in the United States, not feeling the love from their banks.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, there's a news flash.

(LAUGHTER)

CASONE: Yeah.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. We'll hear how bad it is in just a little bit. Thank you, Cheryl.

M. O'BRIEN: A meeting today that could change the course of the fight for Iraq. Some of the best minds in the U.S. are now working on a new plan, and they will brief the president today. A progress report is ahead.

And history today at the National Mall; groundbreaking this morning on what will become the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

That, and more, when AMERICAN MORNING continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Big day at the White House. President Bush meeting with a group that's trying to find a new way forward in Iraq. M. O'BRIEN: Make way for ducklings. The lame-duck Congress back to work today. Plenty to do, but accomplishing it all will be a tall order.

S. O'BRIEN: And honoring Dr. King, civil rights leaders and celebrities in Washington, D.C. for a sweeping new memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. We're live on this AMERICAN MORNING.

M. O'BRIEN: Good morning. Monday, November 13th. I'm Miles O'Brien in New York.

S. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien. We're coming to you from Washington, D.C. This morning. Just about in an hour and a half, dozens of civil rights icons are going to attend a groundbreaking for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monument, which is right on the National Mall. I'll be cohosting, along with Tavis Smiley this morning, and our coverage right here on CNN begins at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time. We're going to carry that for you live when it happens.

(NEWSBREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: A new direction for Iraq is on the table at the White House today. The president is meeting with the highly influential Iraq Study Group. AMERICAN MORNING's Dan Lothian has more on just who's in this group, and they're backgrounds and maybe more importantly what their plans might be for Iraq.

Good morning to you, Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Well, the group was set up at the urging of several members of Congress. Their work has been in private, but the independent body could help chart the course for the next move in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): The war in Iraq, as Donald Rumsfeld now admits, is not going well enough. And the pressure is mounting to find a solution, staying the course no longer seen as an option.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS (RET.) U.S. ARMY INTELLIGENCE: We can't, No. 1, go catatonic and freeze in the headlights. And number two, we can't just do an about-face and march out of the country and say adios, my friend; this is your problem.

LOTHIAN: James Baker and Lee Hamilton heading the 10-member bipartisan Iraq Study Group, have been meeting since April to find a strategy for moving forward in Iraq, consulting with military and political leaders in the United States and Iraq.

CNN's military analyst, retired Army General James Marks says options such as more troops on the ground or pulling back forces into Kuwait should be part of a broader policy.

MARKS: It has to be about the greater southwest Asia. And the key player, clearly, is Iran in terms of how we move forward in southwest Asia.

LOTHIAN: In addition to Baker, a former secretary of state, and Hamilton, a former longtime congressional expert in foreign affairs, the group includes other prominent figures who have been working behind the scenes, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, long-time civil rights leader and Washington power broker Vernon Jordan, and secretary of defense nominee Robert Gates, a former CIA director poised to take his homework from the study groups to the Pentagon.

LINDA ROBINSON, "U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT": He's been getting the full range of briefings, but he's also been reaching out to some people. Some of the sources I've been talking to, he has been talking to them privately to try to get more understanding of exactly where the Iraqi players are willing to go and not willing to go.

LOTHIAN: Gates and other members recently visited Baghdad to get a closer look, trying to develop new options for ending a complicated war.

ROBINSON: There is no panacea, and this Baker Hamilton Group is not going to magically come up with a solution that solves all problems tomorrow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Robert Gates resigned from the study group when President Bush nominated him to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary. The study group is expected to make its findings public sometime next month.

S. O'BRIEN: Any guess what they're going to come up with? I mean, we have stay the course, we have cut and run, to sort of use colloquialisms. Do we know where they're going to fall in that range?

LOTHIAN: There really is no guess right at this point. I mean, this group, bipartisan group, so it could be anywhere from, you know, withdrawing the troops. As I mentioned, they're pulling back to Kuwait. So we really don't know. We have to wait until that study comes out, and then, you know, whether or not the president will go along with it. The president has said that he's awaiting this report, and the White House says it is open to any good ideas.

S. O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian for us. Thank you, Dan -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Soledad.

So what are the chances the Iraq Study Group will find a face- saving way to bring the troops home quickly. Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He joins us now. Good to have you with us this morning, Mr. Haass.

RICHARD HAASS, PRES., COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: One of the things that has come out this morning, which is interesting, is the British Prime Minister Tony Blair saying it's time to engage Syria and Iran. The White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten responded to that yesterday. Let's listen for just a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSH BOLTEN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF I've heard that. Our problem with Iran and Syria in the past, I don't believe, has been a lack of communication. In fact, during the first term of this president, we spent a lot of time trying to talk to the Syrians to no effect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

M. O'BRIEN: Doesn't sound like they're too interested in talking to Syria and Iran. Do you think it's a good idea?

HAASS: I do think it's a good idea. Clearly people from al Qaeda and other such groups have come into Iraq off the Syrian border. Iran is probably, along with the United States now, the most influential country in Iraq. It makes sense to talk to them, because neither of they, by the way, want to see Iraq come part. We do have some overlap in our interests.

M. O'BRIEN: But the theory that engaging them, engaging Iraq -- Iran in particular, with its nuclear ambitions, would somehow reward that country. Is that a flawed bit of thinking?

HAASS: I think it is a flawed bit of thinking. Engagement is now reward. Diplomacy is not a favor. We have real a problem in Iraq. Clearly the alternatives are not looking good. Talking to these neighboring countries makes sense. We ought to set up a regional forum. It just may add something to the mix.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Soledad, just said from stay the course to cut and run, somewhere -- if that's the outlying parts of the spectrum, somewhere in the middle is perhaps where this is headed.

But I noted with interest yesterday Senator John McCain on one of the programs. Let's listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I believe that a withdrawal or a date for withdrawal will lead to chaos in the region, and most military experts think the same thing. I believe that there are a lot of things that we can do to salvage this, but they all require the presence of additional troops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

M. O'BRIEN: Additional troops -- do you think this study group will come out with a recommendation to send additional troops to Iraq?

HAASS: We've already put additional troops in Iraq. We're now up to 150,000. I don't see any evidence, Miles, that additional troops should go in and do the trick. Also, quite honestly, I don't think the U.S. Army can sustain an additional presence for long. So at the end of the day, I think the Iraq Study Group is going to come out with a third way, something between more of the same or additional troops on one side, and pulling the plug on the other. You're likely to see some sort of a call for reductions, not withdrawal, but reductions, some sort of a repositioning of U.S. forces out of the center to get them out of the middle of a civil war and what we were just talking about a minute ago. I do think they will call for greater emphasis on diplomacy.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, it's interesting, looking at the group that is in this Iraq Study Group, James Baker, Lee Hamilton, sort of of a different era, more hearkening back to first Bush presidency, pragmatist. The neoconservatives, who were early advocates of invading Iraq, is their voice silent at this point?

HAASS: Their voice is clearly muted. It turned out to be orders of magnitude more difficult than they forecast. This has become in some ways the centerpiece of Mr. Bush's foreign policy, but not in the way he anticipated. The hope and the promise was that Iraq was going to become something positive, was going to become an example; the rest of the Middle East would follow suit. What we've seen instead is it's bogged down American forces, it's cost hundreds of billions of dollars and taken the energy out of U.S. foreign policy.

M. O'BRIEN: It's clear there is no silver bullet solution right now. Was there ever a silver bullet solution for Iraq? And was an opportunity missed along the way?

HAASS: If you ask me, no. I thought from the get-go, and I was in the government at the time, that there was no silver bullet, it was going to prove more difficult, more expensive, and at the end of the day, any success of going to be limited.

Clearly, though, the administration made it worse than it needed to be by a series of decisions, not putting in enough troops, getting rid of the Baath Party, getting rid of the Iraqi military. So mistakes were make along the way.

But I do think you raised the first-order question, whether this was ever doable. I have my doubts.

M. O'BRIEN: Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Thanks for being with us this morning -- Soledad.

HAASS: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: On the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made one of his most memorable speeches, maybe his most famous speech, there is a memorial about to be built. Take a look at these live pictures, a groundbreaking today. Not far from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, they're going to put a monument to the first African-American on the National Mall. The price tag, $100 million. It's a four-acre site.

And this is kind of the animation of what it's going to look like. You enter through that wall, and they'll have a wall of water, and they're going to try to syncopate it to the actual rhythm of Dr. King's voice. It looks like it's going to be amazing.

In the middle the stone of hope that he talked about in that famous 1963 speech, and a ring of trees. And where you get the water there is the tidal basin as well. And people will enter through that rock. It's quite remarkable looking, at least the artist's rendering at this point. We're going to be there for the groundbreaking this morning. We'll have live coverage. I'm going to be co-hosting, along with Tavis Smiley. The ceremony begins just before 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time. We're going to bring that to you live when that happens.

And much more to come on the stories we're following, including that wildfire raging east of Los Angeles. Folks have been told to get out of the way. We'll update you on the progress they're making there.

And of course it's back to work today for the lame duck Congress. First time back in the Capitol since the election. That election put many members out of a job. We'll update you on what they've got ahead.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Some of the stories we're following for you right now. What is the plan? President Bush meets with the Iraq Study Group today as they try to find a new strategy in the war.

And the dream becomes reality. Ground about to be broken on the memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Stay with us for more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Here's another good question for you. What sounds better? Do-nothing Congress or lame duck Congress? Members now have a chance to improve their legacy, try to finish out the term before the Democrats take charge in January.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOSH BOLTEN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We go into this new season of politics in Washington D.C. with some cautious optimism.

S. O'BRIEN (voice-over): With the Democratic majority waiting in the wings, the current Republican-led Congress is back for a lame duck session. There's plenty to do, and some of the president's priorities for the session could put the new spirit of beltway bipartisanship to the test. They include reauthorizing the domestic eavesdropping program.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MINORITY LEADER: I believe we have to do everything within our power, including wiretapping, to get these bad people, these evil people, these terrorists. But in the process of doing this, we can't have the American people think that every telephone call they have that the government is listening in. We must do it within the confines of the Constitution.

S. O'BRIEN: Then there's the renomination of U.N. ambassador John Bolton.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: There's no overriding reason not to reappoint John Bolton. I strongly support him.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: He doesn't even have the votes of the Republican-controlled committee today. We're going to have a hearing on him. There's going to be a vote on him. He's going to lose.

S. O'BRIEN: The president hopes to get his new choice for defense secretary confirmed. A Senate hearing is scheduled for the first week of December on the nomination of former CIA director Robert Gates to succeed Donald Rumsfeld.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The No. 1 question I have of Mr. Gates is, is he going to really entertain different points of view. When you talk to the generals, even those who are on duty now, it was known that Secretary Rumsfeld never wanted to hear a point of view that was different than his own. He was not likely to want to entertain facts on the ground that didn't square with his own little narrow viewpoint.

S. O'BRIEN: There's also a number of overdue spending bills, worth some $460 billion. Iraq, of course, will be a big issue in the lame-duck session, and a bigger one for the 110th Congress when it convenes in January.

BOLTEN: Everybody objective here is to succeed in Iraq. I think that's true of Democrats as well as Republicans. What the president has said is that we need to get fresh eyes on the problem. We need a fresh perspective.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: The president's meeting with the members of the Iraq Study Group gets under way in just about seven minutes. They're meeting at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time. And of course time is running short for Congress. Congress is in session this week. Then they go out again next week for Thanksgiving break.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" airs weeknights at 10:00 Eastern of course.

Let's take a look at what's on tap for tonight -- Anderson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Soledad, tonight on "360," portraits of the men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. How did the war change them? How are they adapting and reconnecting to loved ones? How are some of them piecing their lives back together? It is a long road back. We hope their stories will move and inspire you the way they have us. Coming Home a "360" special report tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Anderson, thank you very much.

Also ahead this morning, more on this Iraq Study Group. Who exactly is in the group? And what are the next steps in the war in Iraq? We'll bring you that story.

Plus, the midterm election. Could it change the relationship between the U.S. and Iran. Those stories and much more straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BUSINESS HEADLINES)

M. O'BRIEN: The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING begins right now.

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