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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

President Bush Keeps Plans to Meet Iraqi Prime Minister; Bleak Situation Between Sunni & Shiite Factions; Mexican Drug Cartels Terrorizing Border Communities; Poisoning Death of Former Russian Spy Bad For Russia's Image

Aired November 24, 2006 - 18:00   ET

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


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the White House condemns deadly attacks in Iraq, and President Bush prepares for his Mideast meeting with Iraq's prime minister.
The worst violence in the war takes an enormous toll. The cycle of killing and revenge grows unabated, and U.S. troops could be caught in the middle.

All that and a great deal more straight ahead.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Friday, November 24th.

Sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening, everybody.

Revenge and reprisals in Iraq tonight. Shiites take revenge for attacks in Iraq that killed more than 200 people. And the U.S. forces may be caught in the violence.

And President Bush heads to the Middle East to meet with Iraq's prime minister. Topping the agenda, the worsening security situation and how soon our troops could leave.

Suzanne Malveaux reports tonight from the White House on the Bush administration's plans to deal with the increasing carnage in Iraq.

Kathleen Koch, at the Pentagon, on U.S. military concerns about the rapidly rising rate of violence in Iraq.

And Michael Ware reports from Baghdad, where a day of bombings that killed more than 200 is met with a rampage of revenge.

We begin with Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kitty, of course Baghdad security really is the top priority for President Bush and, of course, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki when they meet in just a couple of days. This comes amid growing doubts that Maliki will actually be able to prevent his country from deteriorating into civil war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX (voice-over): Iraq's bloodiest day Thursday in Sadr City. And today's violent aftermath is giving the president's talks next week with Iraq's prime minister a new sense of urgency.

A deputy White House spokesman condemned the violence, calling it "deplorable, a brazen effort to topple a democratically-elected government that would ultimately fail." The White House is now engaged in an all-out diplomatic offensive.

Vice President Cheney is headed to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for talks with King Abdullah. Wednesday, following the NATO summit, President Bush will travel to Amman, Jordan, for a face-to-face meeting with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Top on the agenda, White House officials say, is Iraqi security. While publicly the Bush administration is still expressing confidence in al Maliki, privately there is frustration and concern that Maliki may not have the will or political weight to bring peace to his country.

The White House strategy is to try to bolster the Maliki government on two fronts -- from the outside in, by looking to Iraq's neighbors, namely those friendly with the U.S. to become more directly involved in Iraq's future. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Kuwait. On the other front, working from the inside out, by looking at various options that will help Maliki train Iraqi forces, crack down on militias, and reconcile warring groups.

Those options are expected to be presented to the White House in the next couple of weeks by a bipartisan commission, the Pentagon, and the Bush administration's internal review.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And CNN has learned that that bipartisan commission, the Iraq Study Group, will be meeting at the beginning of next week for three days to continue with deliberations, try to come up with a consensus how the Bush administration should proceed next. CNN has also learned that they are far from close -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much.

Suzanne Malveaux.

Well, the Pentagon is looking for new ways to deal with the increased violence in Iraq. Pentagon officials are meeting with officers who have just returned to the United States, and they are preparing a new review of the military plans from the region.

Kathleen Koch reports from the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More sectarian violence in Baghdad as U.S. forces make airstrikes taking out rocket launchers in the Sadr City enclave. Tasked with finding a new way forward in Iraq is something Pentagon officials call the Strategic Dialogue Group. Rather than a full-scale review of options, say officials, the 16 members are engaged in a largely secret brainstorming exercise.

Some just back from Iraq, the top officers are giving the joint chiefs of staff insights, advice, and an unvarnished reality check.

GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I think what is important is that we look at the objectives that we have set for ourselves in this nation, and that we in the military take a look at what is going right and should be reinforced, what's going wrong and should be changed.

KOCH: The president now speaks frequently about the internal review under way.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you know, General Pace, who's the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is in the process of evaluating a lot of suggestions from the field and from people involved with Central Command, as well as the Pentagon.

KOCH: Some lawmakers have insisted sending more troops should be one option. And the top U.S. commander in the Middle East does want more U.S. troops to train and back Iraqi forces, but General John Abizaid has told Congress that sending 20,000 more would only help temporarily and would be something the military could not sustain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOCH: It's unclear precisely when the Pentagon recommendations will be ready, but as the U.S. incursion into Sadr City today certainly does illustrate, as Pentagon planners face this pressure for change for new ideas, they also have to keep their eye on the prize, and that's winning the war on the ground, that only seems to be getting worse by the day -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much.

Kathleen Koch.

Well, a deadly cycle of violence continues in Iraq today. Violent rampages in reaction to yesterday's slaughter of over 200 Shiites in the Sadr City section of Baghdad.

Michael Ware reports from the Iraqi capital tonight.

And Michael, the Iraqi government and the U.S. military in Baghdad keep saying this is not a civil war. What are you seeing?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, firstly, let me say, perhaps it's easier to deny that this is a civil war, when essentially you live in the most heavily fortified place in the country within the Green Zone, which is true of both the prime minister, the national security adviser for Iraq and, of course, the top U.S. military commanders. However, for the people living on the streets, for Iraqis in their homes, if this is not civil war, or a form of it, then they do not want to see what one really looks like.

This is what we're talking about. We're talking about Sunni neighborhoods shelling Shia neighborhoods, and Shia neighborhoods shelling back.

We're having Sunni communities dig fighting positions to protect their streets. We're seeing Sunni extremists plunging car bombs into heavily-populated Shia marketplaces. We're seeing institutionalized Shia death squads in legitimate police and national police commando uniforms going in, systematically, to Sunni homes in the middle of the night and dragging them out, never to be seen again.

I mean, if this is not civil war, where there is, on average, 40 to 50 tortured, mutilated, executed bodies showing up on the capital streets each morning, where we have thousands of unaccounted for dead bodies mounting up every month, and where the list of those who have simply disappeared for the sake of the fact that they have the wrong name, a name that is either Sunni or Shia, so much so that we have people getting dual identity cards, where parents cannot send their children to school, because they have to cross a sectarian line, then, goodness, me, I don't want to see what a civil war looks like either if this isn't one.

PILGRIM: That is the starkest description I have yet heard, Michael.

The political overlays are deteriorating rapidly. We have Muqtada al-Sadr threatening to boycott the meeting, boycott the government of al-Maliki if he meets with President Bush.

What do you -- how do you assess the political situation right now?

WARE: Well, you have to look at Muqtada's move here politically as a very, very savvy twisting of the knife. I mean, he lays claim to Prime Minister Maliki just as much, if not more so, than the U.S. military.

Maliki has no popular base. He lacks the currency of political power in this country, which is an armed militia. So he's had to beg and borrow for political capital.

He found that the U.S. military desperate to put any kind of reasonable face on this apparition that they call the Iraqi government. And meanwhile, in real political terms, he's had to draw on Muqtada's militia and its political faction to actually put him into place.

So this is a man in a terrible predicament, who is unable to deliver. And yet, we have Muqtada in this time of crisis just turning that screw.

He has threatened to withdraw -- well, his people have threatened to withdraw participation in the parliament and the government if he meets with what they call the criminal Bush. Nonetheless, he is so acute, his political advisers and Muqtada himself. This was a statement made by his leading parliamentarian. It didn't come from his mouth himself. So he can use this as very convenient leverage this week in the leadup to the Maliki-Bush meeting, and at the last minute, he can pull away from it. And nonetheless, he still wins.

PILGRIM: That's desperately deteriorating in your description, and it seems in reality, too.

Thanks very much.

Michael Ware.

WARE: Thank you, Kitty.

PILGRIM: Coming up, another Middle East country faces the threat of sectarian violence after the assassination of a powerful government figure.

Violence by Mexican drug gangs is now threatening the U.S. side of the border, and police are cracking down.

Then, a very suspicious death in Britain. A former Russian spy investigating the killing of a Russian journalist is poisoned.

We'll have a full report.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: The prospects that Washington will do something about illegal immigration may improve when the Democrats take over Congress in the new year, but achieving immigration reform may prove impossible. And that's despite chilling new evidence that border security is more critical than ever.

Casey Wian reports on Mexican drug cartels terrorizing border communities.

Lisa Sylvester reports on an increasing number of Democrats in Congress who won't accept an amnesty program.

We begin with Casey Wian in Los Angeles -- Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, a plot to kidnap Americans and the assassination of a police chief, just another week on the violent U.S.-Mexico border.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN (voice-over): The border city of Guadalupe, Mexico, is under a virtual military lockdown. Mexican troops are patrolling the streets, manning highway checkpoints, and searching cars. It's their latest attempt to reclaim control of Mexico's northern border from warring drug cartels. That violence is again spilling over to the U.S. side. Sheriff Arvin West of neighboring Hudspeth County, Texas, ordered extra patrols and checks of cars heading into Mexico this week.

SHERIFF ARVIN WEST, HUDSPETH COUNTY, TEXAS: It's kind of ironic, because we're doing the same thing on southbound traffic going into Mexico just to make sure that people that are going, that are traveling into Mexico, are doing so on their own free will.

WIAN: That's because deputies received information that Mexican drug gangs plan to kidnap Americans, take them across the border, and kill them. This Texas high school student says she heard of the plot from classmates living in Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They said there was, like, drug dealers in Mexico that were mad. And they were talking about people from Mexico coming to the U.S. to take citizens because they owed some money. Just a little scared.

WIAN: Guadalupe is across the Rio Grande from Fabens, Texas, where border patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean shot a Mexican drug smuggler last year. The area has become well known for clashes between U.S. law enforcement and heavily-armed men, sometimes, witnesses say, in military uniforms protecting Mexican drug loads.

Meanwhile, the police chief of Monterrey, Mexico, and a city councilman were both shot and killed Thursday by a lone gunman who followed them into this convenience store. It was the second assassination of a top law enforcement official in the border state of Nuevo Leon in a week, and the sixth this year.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: The U.S. State Department continues to warn Americans about the dangers of traveling to many border areas in Mexico. And the State Department says 1,500 people have been killed in Mexico in drug violence just through September of this year -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: That's a shocking report.

Thanks very much.

Casey Wian.

Well, Democratic leaders pushing for an amnesty or guest worker program for millions of illegal aliens may be disappointed by members of their own party. Many newly-elected Democrats do not support the so-called comprehensive immigration reform.

Lisa Sylvester reports from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Representative- Elect Heath Shuler of North Carolina looked visibly relieved on election night. One battle was over, but a new one is about to begin. Shuler is one of several conservative Democrats who won over voters in his district by promising to buck some of his party's positions, including on immigration.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you a Nancy Pelosi Democrat?

REP. HEATH SHULER (D), NORTH CAROLINA: You know, I don't like to classify.

SYLVESTER: Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana, recently elected Democratic senators, are also on the record opposing amnesty for millions of illegal aliens. In the last congressional session, Democrats voted with almost a single voice, favoring so-called comprehensive immigration reform that includes amnesty provisions and a guest worker plan.

But don't expect that to be the case next year. The reason? Many Democratic freshmen members of the 110th Congress won by the slimmest margins. Political observers say to be re-elected, they'll have to stay to the right of their party line.

DAN STEIN, FED. FOR AMERICAN IMMIGRATION REFORM: If the Democrats want to retain this majority over the next two years, they are probably going to take as tough an immigration position as we saw many Republicans. Passing a big amnesty guest worker program serves no interest institutionally for the Democrats.

SYLVESTER: Congressman-Elect Heath Shuler and his House colleagues go before the voters again in just two short years. Democrats will likely be pressured by congressional leaders to tow the party line, but then again, all politics is local.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Only four Democratic senators voted against the Senate bill this year that would have legalized millions of illegal aliens. In the next Congress, should similar legislation be brought up again, that number is bound to be higher -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much.

Lisa Sylvester.

Well, we would like to hear what you think. In tonight's poll question we asked: Do you believe the new Congress will be able to agree on an immigration reform bill? Yes or no?

Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com. And we'll bring you the results a little bit later in the broadcast.

Coming up, the FBI is fearing the worst in the disappearance of two children in Minnesota. We'll update you on the search.

Also, a spy is poisoned to death in London. And a powerful president says he had nothing to do with it. And it's Black Friday in the United States. Stores go for the black on their balance sheets. No black eyes to report in the scramble for reduced merchandise, however.

We'll update you on today's shopping frenzy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Police evacuated "The Miami Herald" building today after a disgruntled employee barged in with a gun. Now, the employee was a cartoonist for "The Herald's" Spanish-language newspaper. He demand to see his editor, saying the paper was a pigsty and made fun of Miami's Cuban exiled community.

Jose Varela gave up peacefully after a two-hour standoff with police. No one was hurt.

The FBI has put up a $20,000 reward for information on two missing brothers in Minnesota. The boys, who have been missing since Wednesday, were identified as 4-year-old Tristan White, and 2-year-old Avery Stately.

Well, they were last seen playing outside their home on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. Hundreds of volunteers have combed the forest, and a dive team was planning to check the lakes.

Today is Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, so-called, because of the high-volume sales, and for some retailers it marks the day when they go into the black for the year. Many stores opened their doors early, very early, hoping for pre-dawn raids by holiday shopaholics.

Jonathan Freed reports.

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, we have seen a steady stream of people here all day. When we arrived in the pre-dawn darkness, there were hundreds of people waiting outside, and the first people in line actually spent the night in a tent. They had their Thanksgiving dinner in that tent in order to be here this morning. They wanted to buy a couple of laptops computers, which together only cost them about $700.

When the doors opened, there was a real rush to get inside here and everything that was on special sales flew off the shelves. Come with me now. I'm going to give you an example of what we mean by that.

Right over here, there used to be a display of MP3 players. So not only are the players gone -- they flew off the shelves -- but the shelves themselves are gone. I wouldn't be surprised if somebody actually made an offer on those.

Now, we spoke to the store manager a little while ago, and we asked him, "How did this year compare to others?" And he said he's been with the company about eight years, and this is the best Black Friday that he has seen, and he feels that going forward, that's a good sign for the holiday shopping season to come -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much.

Jonathan Freed from Skokie, Illinois.

Time now for some of your thoughts.

Ray in Virginia, "Calling an illegal alien an undocumented alien or immigrant is like calling a burglar an unwanted house guest. In both cases they are committing crimes."

John in New York wrote to us. "Did somebody say 'leadership' from this White House? You've got to be kidding. The only kind of leadership coming out of this White House is fattening up the coffers of the oil industry and giving billionaires tax rebates so they can go on vacation overseas where all the jobs are heading."

And Wayne in Pennsylvania wrote to us. "Good going, George, giving a presidential pardon to two turkeys and doing nothing about two border patrol agents that are protecting our country. Who are the real turkeys?"

Well, e-mail us at LouDobbs.com, and we'll have a little bit more of your thoughts later in the broadcast.

Each of you whose e-mail is read here will receive a copy of Lou's new book, "War on the Middle Class."

Coming up, is the Kremlin killing people outside the Russian border? A poisoned spy accuses the Russian government of murder shortly before his death.

Plus, some Lebanese vow to spill blood. A shocking assassination is turning the -- Lebanon into a potential powder keg.

Here at home, Democrats say the voters gave them a mandate for change. But is that really so? Our Bill Schneider, along with a team of the best political analysts, will share their thoughts.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Tonight's top stories.

A deadly rampage in Iraq. Shiites take revenge for attacks in the Sadr City section of Baghdad. An attack killed more than 200 people yesterday. And U.S. forces are caught right in the middle.

President Bush heads overseas. He'll go to the Middle East and meet with Iraq's prime minister about the deteriorating security situation there.

And Lebanon risks being torn apart by sectarian violence. That's in the wake of the assassination of a powerful anti-Syrian political leader. Hezbollah supporters are expected to demand more of a say in Lebanon's democratically-elected government. The United States has voiced support for the Lebanese government and its efforts to limit the influence of Syria and Hezbollah.

Brent Sadler reports from Beirut.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRENT SADLER, CNN BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): A possible return to violent sectarian strife looms over Lebanon's divided street. Tensions are boiling in a country reeling from political free-fall and murder.

Hundreds of thousands gathered for the funeral Thursday of assassinated government minister Pierre Gemayel, a Christian and a staunch opponent of Syria. An outpouring of anger and sorrow was turned into a potent political weapon aimed at Syria and its still powerful allies in Lebanon. Chief among them, Hezbollah.

Anti-Syrian Lebanese leaders, Christian, Sunni-Muslim and Druze, support the embattled government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, also a Sunni Muslim. They intensified attacks on Hezbollah, the armed Muslim Shiite military group. Anti-Syrian leaders are challenging Lebanon, numerous Shiites, a third of the country, to back down in a vicious power struggle.

Amin Gemayel, father of the murdered minister, also a Christian and a former president, receives condolences from Sunni-Muslim clerics.

Hundreds of Shiites who follow Hezbollah spilled onto the airport road to demonstrate, just hours after the funeral, vowing they are ready to spill blood.

AMIN GEMAYEL, FMR. LEBANESE PRESIDENT: They have to be very careful. Everybody should be very, very careful not to take the country to a new war, (INAUDIBLE) civil war. So it's in the interests of Hezbollah to remain calm and not to go into (INAUDIBLE) process.

SADLER: To pull back from threats to paralyze affairs of state, says Gemayel, unless the weakened government resigns.

(on camera): The Gemayel murder disrupts Hezbollah's plans to bring down the western-backed government by mounting their own show of strength at street level.

(voice-over): But Hezbollah's grassroots support, it seems, is determined to stand its ground. Beirut's southern suburbs, Hezbollah's stronghold, were pulverized by Israel in the recent war. Many who live here feel they have little more to lose. "Nothing will work or ever succeed," he says, "unless the Siniora falls, and it will fall, God willing."

It's Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, who may call the next shot by responding to the mass anti-Syrian rally with a mobilization of his own.

Brent Sadler, CNN, Beirut.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: A former Russian KGB spy is spreading shocking accusations tonight. He died only hours ago, a slow death from radiation poisoning. In a statement dictated in London before his death, Alexander Litvinenko accused the Russian president of murdering him. Vladimir Putin today brushed off the accusations.

Jim Boulden reports from London that British officials are investigating what could be the first Kremlin assassination carried out in the West since the end of the Cold War.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM BOULDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There had been a great deal of speculation over what substance transformed this former Russian spy from a healthy man to one who died painfully in a London hospital late Thursday. On Friday afternoon, the speculation ended. British health authorities confirmed Alexander Litvinenko suffered from a heavy dose of highly toxic radiation.

PAT TROOP, BRITISH HEALTH PROTECTION AGENCY: We're here because what we've had is an unprecedented offense in the U.K., that someone has apparently deliberately been poisoned with a type of radiation.

BOULDEN: Then police confirmed the same radiation had been found at his London home, a local hotel, and a sushi restaurant in central London. After Litvinenko had met some Russians at the restaurant on November 1st, he fell ill. Friends and family of Litvinenko say they have no doubt he was a target of the Kremlin.

WALTER LITVINENKO, FATHER OF VICTIM (through translator): This regime is a mortal danger to the world. Sasha fought this regime. He understood it. And this regime got him.

BOULDEN: The Kremlin denies any involvement in the death of its former spy. Alexander Litvinenko was an agent for the Kremlin but turned away from the regime and defected to Britain. Had he made serious allegations against President Vladimir Putin.

ALEX GOLDFARB, FRIEND OF VICTIM: We know that the Russian regime has evolved into a kind of a authoritarian dictatorship by now, with no checks and balances, with no civil society, with no bounds or accountability to the Russian secret services.

BOULDEN: One former KGB agent who also fled to Britain first assumed the Kremlin could not be involved.

OLEG GORDIEVSKY, FORMER KGB AGENT: I thought no. The Russian authorities, intelligent enough not to commit assassination attempt on foreign soil, particularly a big a country like Great Britain because it's suicidal.

BOULDEN: The British police have said little about its ongoing investigation into the matter. They have yet to call it murder.

(on camera): Now that it has been confirmed that the former Russian spy was exposed to heavy radiation, it's no longer just a criminal case. The British Foreign Office says that it's taking his death as a very serious matter.

Jim Boulden, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: This is not the first time that the Kremlin is accused of attacking its enemies or even political murder. More than a dozen journalists have been killed since Russian President Vladimir Putin came to power six years ago. Some of Russia's mean are languishing in jail or in exile. Now, is this part of an ominous trend in Russian politics?

Ryan Chilcote is in Moscow with a closer look at Litvinenko's death and the danger of speaking out against those in power.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This fall, Russia's president was forced to deny accusations that he ordered the assassination of a critic.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I hope the British authorities won't fuel any groundless political scandals that have nothing to do with reality.

KOCH: The Kremlin freely admits to killing its opponents abroad in Soviet days. One of the more notable hits: Leon Trotsky, who broke with Stalin, got a pickax in the head in Mexico in 1940 -- the last one acknowledged by the Kremlin, Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist sprayed with poisoned in Germany in 1959.

A spokesman for Russia's spy agency, granting a rare interview, tells me the Kremlin's agents abandoned that practice half-a-century ago, and wouldn't even consider such a move for someone as insignificant as Alexander Litvinenko.

SERGEI IVANOV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE: We had nothing to do, because we have no reason to do it. That's simple.

CHILCOTE (on camera): And no reason because he was a nobody?

IVANOV: He was a nobody.

CHILCOTE (voice-over): Litvinenko was among a growing number of Kremlin critics to wind up dead, disfigured, or otherwise disposed of.

Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist and fierce Putin critic, was shot dead in Moscow last month. Russian agents were convicted of blowing up Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar three years ago, and claimed responsibility for the recent poisoning death of an Arab militant in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya.

Add to these a long list of Kremlin opponents who have ended up behind bars or fled the country, and the mysterious poisoning of disfigured Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, all of this has given Russia an image problem, and this, says former KGB spy Stanislav Lekarev, makes the Kremlin an unlikely suspect in this latest killing. Lekarev says it's more likely Russia's being set up.

STANISLAV LEKAREV, KGB VETERAN: I'm about 80 percent sure that this was planned by the people who don't like Russia, who hate Russia, who want to change the regime in Russia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHILCOTE: And that KGB veteran is not the only one here in Russia that thinks that Mr. Litvinenko was actually murdered just to make Russia look bad. In fact, virtually all of Russia's politicians today are saying the very same thing.

They say that not just -- not only was Mr. Litvinenko killed to make Russia look bad, but they see this as part of a larger conspiracy, if you will, a well-orchestrated conspiracy, where Russia's critics, where the Kremlin's critics, are being systematically killed in order to discredit the Russian president and the Kremlin -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Ryan Chilcote -- stand by, Ryan.

I want to bring in our senior political analyst into our discussion, and Bill Schneider joins us from Washington. He's reported extensively on U.S.-Russia relations.

But first, Ryan, I'd like to ask you, the question is, how will all this play out in relations between Moscow and Washington? It speaks to a larger issue. There's an image problem, but even more than an image problem, there's -- based on legitimate concerns about curtailment of the press and other infractions. How will this play out?

CHILCOTE: I don't think this will play out well. There are a lot of people out there that will tell you that Russian-American relations are at their worst point in 20 years, that they have been going downhill for the last couple of years.

And that is precisely why President Bush visited the Russian president and spent an hour-and-a-half at the airport with him when he was traveling to the APEC summit in the southeast -- in Southeast Asia just a couple of weeks ago, even though he was going to see the Russian president in a couple of days.

The U.S. is trying to improve this relationship, trying to mend fences, and they are very concerned that there seem to be some pretty large issues standing between the United States and Russia.

You know, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia put it, I think, quite succinctly. He said that there's an issue of a values gap between Russia and the West and specifically with the United States. The United States is very concerned about what it sees as Russia backtracking on democracy, backtracking on progress it had made on the Democratic front in the last 10 years.

It is also very concerned about Russia's foreign policy, concerned that perhaps Russia doesn't share the same kind of world view that the United States has. These new allegations that the Russia -- that Russia and the Kremlin are perhaps behind the assassination of Mr. Litvinenko, look, they are just a further -- they are another irritant in our already very stressed relationship, so I can't see them playing out very well at all -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Bill Schneider, why don't you weigh in here on your observations on the situation?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, we've got mysterious assassinations, we've got jailings of critics, we've got paranoia in Russia. This is all very familiar, and it looks like Russia is lurching back into the past.

Ryan put it very well, a values gap. Values between American espousal of Democracy and Russia seeming to go back to authoritarianism, that's creating this enormous conflict between the United States and Russia at a time when, in the war on terror, Russian interests and American interests are supposed to bring these two countries together.

Both are on the same side in the war on terror. Both countries are fighting terrorists. And the United States needs Russia for influence within Iran and North Korea and in the United Nations Security Council, so while interests may be bringing the two countries together, that values gap is really pushing them way apart.

PILGRIM: Very interesting, Bill.

You know, Ryan, we hear confirmations, $700 million of arms are delivered to Iran. That was against U.S. wishes. The Iranian part of this equation really makes the stakes very high, doesn't it?

CHILCOTE: Yes, I think it's ironic. I think Bill pointed out that despite this values gap between Russia and the United States, the United States really needs cooperation from Russia when it comes to countries like Iran. And there are two issues really right there, there's the weapons deal that you just mentioned.

Russia just confirmed that it has begun weapons sales to Iran, basically providing air defense systems to Iran. This is something that the United States had asked Russia not to do. Russia's going to go ahead to do it. That's a source of tension between the two countries.

And there's not the only issue right now when it comes to Iran, there's also the issue of the U.N. Security council resolution, the United States would like to see a very, a very strong-worded security council resolution that would allow for sanctions against Iran if it continues with its enrichment program, and Russia, and to a lesser extent China, is really the only stumbling block at this point.

So the United States would like to see assistance from Russia there. It is not getting it at this point. And it's ironic and perhaps very difficult for the U.S. and Russian relationship that these new issues are coming up that are putting more and more stress on the two countries' ability to get along and cooperate in these very important issues where their foreign policy objectives really should coincide -- Kitty.

Thanks very much, Ryan Chilcote from Moscow and Bill Schneider in Washington.

PILGRIM: And coming up, we'll have more with Bill Schneider, he'll be weaning in on the mid-term elections and what may have looked like a mandate for the Democrats, however the public, may not agree on that. Our political panel of experts will also discuss the implications of the latest violent rampages in Iraq. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Democrats have been in the news often since the election, touting various programs they want to pass in Congress. Now, Democrats say the voters gave them a mandate for change to pass their agenda. Is this really the case?

Here's our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Was the Democratic victory this month a mandate for Democratic policies or a rejection of Republican policies? We asked the voters. By better than 2 to 1, Americans considered the election a rejection of Republican policies. Republicans felt very differently when they came to power in 1994. Including the House Speaker-to-be.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: If this is not a mandate to move in a particular direction, I would like somebody to explain to me what a mandate would look like.

SCHNEIDER: Well, surprise. 1994 wasn't a Republican mandate either. Just after that mid-term, only 18 percent of Americans thought they had given Republicans a mandate for their policies. So much for the Contract with America.

Sounds like the public voted for a Democratic Congress that will stand up to President Bush. Uh-oh -- could be a recipe for gridlock, which is what most Americans expect. They don't want it, but they expect. Can Democrats defy those expectations.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Voters gave Democrats a rare opportunity to help govern the country, to share the political agenda and the policies staged with President Bush.

SCHNEIDER: Share? That's what some Republicans are afraid of. TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, HUMAN EVENTS: If President Bush is going to move to the left in the next two years, he's going to try to drag the Republicans in Congress with him.

SCHNEIDER: Speaker to be Pelosi starts out with a more favorable image than Speaker to be Gingrich did in 1994, perhaps because she's being careful not to over interpret the voters' message.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER-ELECT: The American people spoke with their votes and they spoke for change and they spoke in support of a new direction for all Americans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Americans vote on the way things are going, continuity versus change, and in this case, change won, and if the Democratic Congress can't deliver the changes people want, you know what? The voters will let them know -- Kitty.

PILGRIM. I expect they will, thanks very much, Bill Schneider.

Joining me now is Michael Goodwin from the "New York Daily News," Thomas Edsall, special correspondent for "The New Republic," and Miguel Perez, syndicated columnist. And thanks for being with us. OK, so we'll start -- mandate or rejection of old?

MIGUEL PEREZ, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, definitely a rejection. The Democrats didn't get a mandate here. People are, you know, are not worried about gridlock. Why should we be worried about gridlock when gridlock is what we've already had, that Republican Congress has done nothing, so, you know, if people are concerned about gridlock? I don't see it at all.

PILGRIM: OK. Tom?

THOMAS EDSALL, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": If you look at who voted and why the Democrats won, it basically was moderate centrists voters who are not voting for the Democratic Party, they were voting to reject what the Republican Party, the corruption, Iraq. It was not an affirmation of the Democratic Party, and they don't have a mandate to work with in that sense.

PILGRIM: Was there a clearly defined Democratic strategy even?

MICHAEL GOODWIN, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Well, I think that's the point. There can't be a mandate, because the Democrats didn't run on anything, except Bush is no good, so it's hard to say they are voting for something, except Bush is no good, which the country kind of united around, but the Democrats didn't offer a plan.

PILGRIM: Let's take a look at another poll. And they asked will the Democrats do a better job of running Congress than the GOP did -- and 46 percent said better, 14 percent said worse and 39 percent said no difference. It was actually surprised me that it was that high. Miguel? PEREZ: And that is what's significant. A lot of people will say, believe nothing is going to change, the Republicans and the Democrats are both do-nothing, and unfortunately, the Democrats didn't come in as, Michael said, with a plan, with an agenda. They didn't really promise anything. We really don't know what they can do, because, again, they didn't -- it was all Bush, Bush, Bush, Bush, something's wrong with Bush. But what do they have to offer? We still don't know.

PILGRIM: You know, is the system broken? I mean, this does not speak well for this system as it's functioning. Tom?

EDSALL: Well, in fact, the Republicans came in, in 1994, as Bill pointed out, they did not have a mandate, but took a mandate -- they really pushed legislation, and it ultimately got them into trouble, and you had a real reaction against Newt Gingrich when they shut down government. But it's possible the Democrats will try to turn victory into a mandate. They are not really precluded from trying to do that, and we'll see what they do.

PILGRIM: It is worrisome that we may spend the next two years just waiting for the presidential election.

GOODWIN: Well, I think really that's what mid-term elections often are about, is the presidential election that follows, and I think what the Republicans tried to do in '94 was throw out Bill Clinton in '96 and it backfired and Bill Clinton was re-elected. And I think right now that's the Democratic gameplan is to set up for '08 and if they are careful and play their cards right, they really could help the party in '08, otherwise they could effectively hand the White House back to the Republicans again.

PILGRIM: Let's show you another poll that actually speaks to the issue we've just covered. The Democratic-controlled Congress will lead to, 56 percent said gridlock, more gridlock, less gridlock was 15 percent, and the same amount, was 28 percent. Really not a ringing endorsement of what we look forward to for the next two years.

Let's move on to policy, and Lisa Sylvester reported earlier there seems to be division in the Democratic Party as to how to handle border security and the illegal alien crisis is a topic that we cover extensively on this broadcast. Do you believe that we'll make progress on this, Miguel?

PEREZ: Well, I hope they do, because otherwise the Democrats are going to find themselves on the same boat that the Republicans have been in. And the Republicans just complained about immigration and did nothing about it, and the Democrats now have an opportunity to do something, and if they don't, and especially, I'm an Hispanic American, and the Hispanic Americans have been won over to a certain extent by the Republican Party. Bush made great strides and he lost it all in the mid-term elections and if the Democrats don't deliver now with a -- with a true program of, you know, comprehensive immigration reform, they are in trouble.

PILGRIM: Do you believe that this is a critical issue for politics these days, Tom?

EDSALL: I think it's a real tough one for Democrats. On the one hand, the Hispanic vote is crucial especially in presidential politics and the Democrats want to get back what they lost in 2004 and keep it. At the same time, there are white working-class voters who are really angry and opposed to immigration. That's what the Republicans played to in the last election. The fact that it didn't pay off is likely to give a real boost to those who would pass immigration legislation along the lines proposed by the president and supported by most Democrats.

PILGRIM: Yes. A real litmus test.

GOODWIN: Well, I think is one area, though, where Democrats could overplay their hand very easily. Because I think the midterm elections were basically about Iraq, and I think any -- to read any other message into them is tricky.

I think Bush right now, you know, looks like he's on the side of most of the Democrats in Congress with his plan, this comprehensive plan that he wants, but I think it could backfire, too. So if I were -- in either set of shoes, I would bring up slowly on this one.

PILGRIM: All right. Well, you bring up Iraq, we'll get to that in a just a minute. We'll take a break.

We'll have more from our panel in just a moment.

First to a reminder to vote in tonight's poll, "do you believe the new congress will be able to agree on immigration reform bill? Yes or no." Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com. We'll bring you the results in just a few minutes. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: We're back with our panel. And gentlemen, we stopped at Iraq. Let's talk about this horrifying level of sectarian violence. And we had a really hair-raising report from Michael Ware earlier in the broadcast. The Pentagon has a sort of new approach: go big, go long, go home -- increase troops, perhaps. What do you think, Michael, of this?

GOODWIN: Well, I think the events on the ground are moving much faster than events in Washington. And we may find ourselves with having an agreement in Washington with the Iraq study group, with the president, with the Congress, but, in fact, it may not matter because it's so quickly unraveling in Iraq.

Now, if this government falls, I think that really was our last chance. And six months ago, four months ago the American ambassador said we have to secure Iraq. We have maybe five or six months. That time is about up and things are getting worse. Events are moving so quickly, it's just looking worse and worse for the American plan.

PILGRIM: Tom? EDSALL: It has also got partisan problems, because this is happening, as you point out, so fast. The Democrats are going to be able to place the blame for this on the president. It's not something the president's going to be able to say, the Democrats caused this by their, whatever they are going to do in the future criticizing the war. This is really moving like a snowball, and it's going to be very hard for the administration to deflect on to the Democrats responsibility for this collapse. It's going very quick.

PILGRIM: Miguel?

PEREZ: For someone like myself who believes that we should really finish the job we started, it's shocking to me to see what was happened in the last couple of days, because when you find out that the Iraqi police and the Iraqi military stood idle as this carnage was going on, I mean, that is shocking to me, and I'm sure to all the American people. It's -- it shows how untrained they still are, how unwilling to take sides in the sectarian violence. So I'm becoming more and more skeptical that we can do something there.

PILGRIM: All right. We end it on that note. And it's a sad note to end on. Michael Goodwin, Thomas Edsell and Miguel Perez, thank you all for being here.

Still ahead, the results of our poll, and more of your thoughts. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PILGRIM: Now, the results of tonight's poll -- 69 percent of you do not believe the new Congress will be able to agree on an immigration reform bill.

Time for more of your thoughts.

Kay in Pennsylvania wrote to us, "as a military daughter, wife and mother, I have to say hallelujah regarding Representative Rangel's call for reinstating the draft. Finally someone in power is demanding that all Americans share the responsibility and the sacrifice for this war."

And Jeanne in D.C. writes, "Rangel has a point. If we had a mandatory draft, you know the opposition to the war would be a lot louder. By forcing people to enlist, you're going to force an administration to think a hell of a lot harder about strategy and signing this country up for a war."

Jean in Texas writes, "what is the definition of political mumbo jumbo? Sign for a border fence, but don't fund it, agree to withdraw troops from Iraq, but send more troops in. Applaud the excellent state of the economy while jobs for the middle class are disappearing. The list is too long to mention."

And Charles in Colorado wrote to us, "when will the fugitive from justice and illegal alien Elvira Arellano be arrested? Or is being an illegal alien a free pass to ignore American law? We love hearing from you. Send us your thoughts at LouDobbs.com. And thanks for being with us tonight. Join us tomorrow and Sunday for Lou Dobbs This Week. That's at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on Saturday and Sunday night right here on CNN.

For all of us here, have a great weekend. Good night from New York.

THE SITUATION ROOM starts right now with John King -- John.

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