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Leaked White House Memo Reveals Doubts About Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Ability to Control Violence in Iraq; Wild West Weather

Aired November 29, 2006 - 08:00   ET


VELSHI: The history of making sandwiches since the Earl of Sandwich in the 18th century, you start with bread. The bread is the base and then you put your stuff.
S. O'BRIEN: Right.

VELSHI: What they'd doing is they're putting stuff out there first, bread on top, flipping it, closing it.

M. O'BRIEN: I think that's how they do it in Australia. It's upside down, right? Isn't it?

VELSHI: That's exactly that.

S. O'BRIEN: I don't think you could patent that.

VELSHI: It's a good question. This is a question...

M. O'BRIEN: We will find out. All right.

Ali, what you got next?

VELSHI: I'm going to talk about another trademark issue. The Greatest Show on Earth is upset that someone's using the name.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh. That's us, right, the greatest...

VELSHI: That's right. They're going to sue us.

S. O'BRIEN: Who's using our name?

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Ali.

S. O'BRIEN: Ali, thank you.

The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING begins right now.

M. O'BRIEN: Crisis talks. President Bush leaving any minute now to meet Iraq's prime minister. It comes amid a new bombshell report about the prime minister's ability to achieve peace in Iraq.

S. O'BRIEN: Wintry blast. Ice and snow turn deadly out West as dramatically colder air is moving east.

M. O'BRIEN: And a chill in the house. New real estate numbers spell some pain for people selling their homes and some relief for those buying.

S. O'BRIEN: And life imitating art. The teenager who is playing the Virgin Mary is due now for her own blessed event.

That story and much more ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

And welcome back, everybody. It is Wednesday, November 29th.

I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien.

We're glad you're with us.

We begin with the latest developments on Iraq. Here's what's happening new this morning.

President Bush on his way to a summit with Iraq's prime minister in Jordan today. The president carrying questions and suggestions about Nouri al-Maliki's plan to get Iraq under control.

A newly-revealed secret memo shows the White House has doubts about Prime Minister al-Maliki and his ability to control the violence in Iraq and truly lead a unified government there.

Another report says the Pentagon is considering moving troops out of the Al Anbar Province and sending them back into Baghdad. That comes from ABC News.

And the Iraq Study Group meets again today, trying to work out how many troops should be in Iraq and how long they should stay there.

We have three reports this morning. Suzanne Malveaux traveling with the president. Ben Wedeman in Amman, Jordan. And Bob Franken in Washington.

Let's begin with Suzanne and the president -- Suzanne.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The NATO summit is wrapping up here in Riga, Latvia, but all eyes on a once-classified memo, five-page, that was leaked to "The New York Times," authenticated by senior administration officials, which reveals impressions about the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley had a meeting with Maliki in late October, wrote a memo, shared it with the president in November, gives his impressions, and indicates some serious doubts, questions over whether or not Maliki has the capabilities to control the sectarian violence in his country.

This memo highlights -- saying that "Maliki's intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he's trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change. But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggest Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action. There are steps that Maliki could take, including bringing his political strategy with Muqtada al-Sadr to closure, shaking up his cabinet, and announcing plans to expand the Iraqi army."

Some steps the Bush administration could take: "Let Maliki take more credit for positive developments, continue to pressure Iran and Syria to end their interference in Iraq, and also step up our efforts to get Saudi Arabia to take a leadership role."

It also talks about the possibility of increase in American troop levels, saying , "We might also need to fill the current four-brigade gap in Baghdad with coalition forces if reliable Iraqi forces are not identified."

Now, senior administration officials who do not like to publicly talk about Bush and Maliki discussions, they say that the president remains confident in Maliki's intentions. It is the abilities, the capabilities of this government that have been called into question. Those are the kind of questions that are going to come up between the meeting between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Riga, Latvia.


S. O'BRIEN: And that summit is expected to begin about 1:30 this afternoon Eastern Time.

Prime Minister al-Maliki is in Jordan now. CNN's Ben Wedeman is live for us there in Amman.

Good morning, Ben.


Well, Prime Minister Maliki has already arrived in Jordan. President Bush is expected later today.

He's going to meet briefly with Maliki and then have dinner with Jordanian King Abdullah. And it's tomorrow when they will hold their substantive talks.

Now, what we understand is that the United States is really trying to bolster Maliki, bolster the Maliki government, and also trying to encourage the Iraqis to take more responsibility for the security in the country. Now, that would involve training more Iraqi troops.

Now, one of the underlying themes of this summit, however, is increasing worry in the United States and also among major Middle Eastern Arab powers like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, about the growing strength of Iran, not only in Iraq, but throughout the region, in places like Syria, in places like Lebanon where, of course, Iran backs Hezbollah. So that's going to be really the subtheme to President Bush's visit here. But also, regional leaders are worried about other things.

They have long been pressing the United States to play a greater role in trying to make progress on the peace talks between -- or getting the peace talks started between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We heard the Jordanian king the other day say that that really is -- that's his main concern -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Ben Wedeman in Amman, Jordan, for us this morning.

Thanks, Ben -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: In Washington today, the blue ribbon panel studying U.S. strategy in Iraq meets once again, facing its own set of challenges before making final recommendations.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Bob Franken joining us live from Washington with a preview of what's in store.

Hello, Bob.


And the biggest challenge is the one that it's had all along: what to do about the question of when to bring U.S. troops home. And this is a bipartisan panel. It has been extremely difficult to reach a consensus. Some would call it a fig leaf.

Miles, they're talking about something along the lines of bring them home in connection with the increased levels and training of Iraqi forces. Well, that's going to sarcastically fall into the, "Gee, why didn't I think of that category."

The other thing they're talking about is engaging other people in the region. Many are saying that is also the same kind of solution.

The big thing is going to be the expectations that this august group of Washington insiders is going to come up with something remarkable in a context of the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the deteriorating political situation for the administration -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: A lot of hopes being pinned on this panel, and the criticism levied at the Bush administration is that, in essence, they're outsourcing foreign policy.

FRANKEN: Well, that is one way of looking at it. The other one would be, however, are that the people who are most intimately involved and have the most to gain or lose from what occurs in Iraq -- that is to say, the countries in the Middle East -- are the ones that really have to take more of a leadership role.

A big concern is, is that that outsourcing might go to people who do not really have the interests of the United States at all in heart. But the administration is hoping that the neighbor interests, the regional interests of Iran and Syria are going to overtake any animus toward the United States.

M. O'BRIEN: Bob Franken in Washington.

Thank you very much.

Those controversial CIA flights to capture and question top terror suspects in Europe were apparently not a closely-held secret. Eleven European countries knew what the CIA was up to. ABC and BBC news reporting the CIA conducted about 1,200 secret flights in Europe.

A draft report to the European parliament lists flights in Germany, the U.K., Portugal, Spain and Italy. The report contends some European governments were fully aware of the so-called rendition flights, even though they're against European law. President Bush has acknowledged CIA held terror suspects in secret prisons -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Snow, ice and dangerously cold weather across the Rockies to tell you about this morning. The roads turning deadly for at least five people, including a 10-year-old girl in Colorado.

CNN's Rob Marciano is in Breckenridge, Colorado, for us this morning.

Good morning, Rob.


This storm, as you know, started in Washington a few days ago with unbelievably low snow levels around the Seattle area, and it has moved east with a vengeance, a lot of cold air. It's one degree right now.

Take a look at this -- what's going on in Breckenridge. You know, it is pretty, let's face it. Especially around the town here, during the holidays here on Main Street. They have the Christmas tree all lit up, and it's adorned not only with lights, but with a tremendous amount of snow. It looks pretty, but all of this snow, even at the ski resorts, is not all good news.


MARCIANO (voice over): Falling snow and icy roads made for a deadly combination across Colorado. At least four people died on Interstate 70 when their van ran off the road. This storm brought a burst of cold Canadian air. Cold even for this time of year. The National Weather Service issued snow advisories and winter storm warnings out for the Northwest and the Rocky Mountain states.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the most we've had in a couple of years. The last couple winters haven't really been that harsh.

MARCIANO: That harshness could also be felt in Salt Lake City, where snow reached the valley floor and piled up high in the mountains.

In Seattle, the snowfall follows a month of heavy rain that drenched the city, edging it closer to its all-time monthly record of 15.3 inches set back in 1933, while in the Colorado Rockies, the same storm brought up to two feet of snow, and more is expected today.


S. O'BRIEN: It looks like we're having a little weather difficulties with how cold it is, affecting Rob's shot there. We'll check in with him again. But a lot of bad news with the weather out there.

President Bush this morning is going to be coming face to face with Iraq's embattled prime minister. We'll tell you about that meeting. There's already news, though, about what the U.S. thinks of Prime Minister al-Maliki and how he's doing his job, and that could affect the summit.

We'll tell you the news about this -- this memo recently revealed.

Plus, home sweet home. Fresh numbers on the real estate rebound and the prices for your biggest investment.

Those stories and much more when AMERICAN MORNING returns.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

The day's top stories.

A mixed bag for the real estate market. New numbers from the National Association of Realtors show that home sales were up last month. The prices, though, dropped, just about 3 percent.

And President Bush is on his way to Jordan right now. He's going to be meeting with Iraq's prime minister to discuss the plans for peace in Iraq.

Thirteen minutes past the hour. If you're heading out the door, let's first get a quick check of the traveler's forecast for you. Chad's got that.

Hey, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Soledad, Miles.


M. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Chad.

The president will soon be making his way to Amman, Jordan, for that high-stakes summit with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The meeting comes as a secret memo leaks out of the White House expressing deep misgivings about Maliki's ability to lead Iraq out of the morass.

David Ignatius is a "Washington Post" columnist and editor. He joins us from Washington.

David, good to have you back with us on the program.


M. O'BRIEN: I just want to share a brief excerpt of this memo which is out this morning. This comes from the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, to the cabinet, and ultimately the president.

And he says this: "Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his intentions into action."

The fact that this memo is leaked out in advance of this summit, do you suppose that is deliberate in some way on the part of the White House?

IGNATIUS: Well, I don't think it's deliberate on the part of the president's top advisers. It's hard to imagine that for me.

I think that this does show the kind of undisciplined, uncertain situation in the White House as they grope for Iraq policy options. It's hard to imagine something that would be more disruptive to a presidential summit meeting than a document like this, but it does state clearly this strategy premised on Prime Minister Maliki isn't working. Something must be done to change it.

And I think everybody has to understand that the White House rhetoric, which tends to be, you know, still things -- things are going to work out, let's stay the course, let's be tough-minded, behind the scenes, Stephen Hadley, the president's top national security adviser, is seeing fundamental weaknesses in the people and strategy we're using.

M. O'BRIEN: So could it possibly be a shot across the bow to Maliki saying, you know, the U.S. really means business here, we could withdraw support for you and your government?

IGNATIUS: Administrations don't tend to do that. It's obviously possible this was a deliberate leak, but I think it's more likely to be a subordinate who feels strongly that that message needs to be sent, acting independently. It's very unusual in this kind of high- level summitry to send a public message.

It's insulting, it's offensive. One can only imagine what Maliki is thinking as he reads an Arabic translation of this prior to the meeting.

M. O'BRIEN: It certainly could taint the conversation.

How tenuous right now is Maliki's position? He has the prospect of Muqtada al-Sadr, the leading Shiite powerbroker, bolting from the government, and someone who is responsible for Maliki rising to power in many respects. And in the meantime, he's sort of had to make a choice between Sadr and President Bush. He's meeting with President Bush, taking a big chance.

What are the consequences?

IGNATIUS: Well, Maliki is an Iraqi sectarian politician, as the Hadley memo makes clear. The problem for Maliki, which really is the problem for the United States, is that to the extent he sees America as on its way out of Iraq -- and certainly looking at our election results, it would be hard to conclude otherwise -- he has to make his own arrangements. So he looks to his own internal Iraqi sources of power, thinking about a future in which the United States will play less and less of a role.

President Bush goes and tries to lean on him, but, again, if we're a wasting asset in Iraq, if we're on our way out, that makes it very tough for the president to convince him to break with his longtime -- his longtime political allies.

M. O'BRIEN: So with that said, what can really come out of this meeting, or is this meeting more about show?

IGNATIUS: I think it's too delicate and difficult a moment to say that it's theater. I think that the United States is getting to the point where we have to make fundamental choices about strategy.

I think President Bush will ask for some very specific things from Maliki and will tell him we need to see results within a very specific and limited time period. And then puts -- puts a choice for Maliki.

Will he move to try to break or reduce the power of Shiite militias? Will he try to do things to speak to Sunnis and say, you're part of this government too? Those are the things that come through clearly in the memo.

If he doesn't do them, it's clear that we are on -- beginning to think about a different course that could mean redeployment of U.S. forces within Iraq, that could mean different troop levels. All the things talked about in our national debate I think President Bush will be suggesting to Maliki, may flow if the changes he's asking for aren't made.

M. O'BRIEN: David Ignatius at "The Washington Post."

Thanks for your time.

IGNATIUS: Thank you, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: We've got this news just in to CNN. Some tragic news from the University of Missouri in St. Louis.

A student is dead after an early morning fire at a fraternity house. Our affiliate KSDK is reporting that the Pi Kappa Alpha house went up in flames just a few hours ago. Look at these pictures. It took firefighters nearly a half hour to douse the fire, and then just to get inside. And once they did get inside, they found the body of a young man. No report at this point of any other injuries. The fire, it appears, started in a couch.

Just ahead this morning, the star of a popular sitcom arrested, charged with drunk driving.

And a bad situation may have gotten worse on the political front. Is Hezbollah training anti-American forces in Iraq?

We'll take a look at those stories straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: In America today, New York City, another drunk driving charge for Tracy Morgan. The former "Saturday Night Live" cast member arrested last night. He faced a similar charge about this time last year in Hollywood and again in February. Morgan now co- stars in the NBC show "30 Rock."

Left coast now. Snoop in the dog house again. Police in California arrested Calvin Broadus, AKA Snoop Dogg, last night after he was on the Leno show. Police say they seized a handgun and some illegal drugs. He's out on $60,000 bail.

Kentucky, good news in horse country. Derby winner Barbaro on the mend. Vets removed the cast that's been on the horse's hind leg since surgery in May. He's said to be gaining strength. Barbaro injured his right leg in the Preakness stakes in July and later developed a foot condition.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, it's just a few days before the deadline. Thousands of Ford workers are accepting the buyouts.

Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Good morning, Ali.


I was just trolling through some newspapers. In Detroit, the newspapers there tend to get a lot of the information about these announcements from the automakers a little bit early.

So, on "The Detroit News" front page today, which I think we've got a picture of, there's a story about how Ford has offered buyouts to 75,000 of its hourly workers. They announced in September they were hoping 30,000 of the workers would take the buyouts, which means they would leave the company by September with up to $140,000 -- September of next year.

"Detroit News" reporting now that more than half, probably about 35,000 at least, have taken those buyouts. The deadline is Monday. And then workers at Ford have a week to change their mind about the whole thing.

But this is good news for Ford because it gets these workers off its payroll. Pretty good news for the United Auto Workers, because it doesn't have to fight to defend the -- you know, the benefits of these workers. So, more than 35,000 workers going to be taking those buyouts, 14,000 additional workers -- or white collar workers, they're not included in that bunch.

Now, we were talking about trademark violations a little earlier. We have another one to talk about.

The Ringling Brothers Circus, as you know, since -- I guess it was 1890s, they have been using the phrase -- you know the phrase, right, "The Greatest Show on Earth"? Well, somebody else is using that, apparently.

Sephora, which is a division of the French-based Louis Vuitton LVMH conglomerate, has been using that in their advertising campaign. You can see here, they're calling it "The Greatest Show on Earth" and other plays on that in their books, in their coloring books, and their playing cards.

Ringling Brothers is suing them. It's Barnum & Bailey's operation suing them for the use of the name. And we'll have to see what comes of that.

I'm not sure. I don't know. We were talking about whether you can patent a sandwich. Can you patent the -- can you trademark "The Greatest Show on Earth"?

S. O'BRIEN: Well, but they're pitching it as a circus thing, right?

VELSHI: Yes. Yes. No, they're...

S. O'BRIEN: So I can see where...

VELSHI: ... definitely playing on -- it's not like they just figured they were the greatest show on Earth.

S. O'BRIEN: Right.

VELSHI: Like if we called AMERICAN MORNING the greatest show on Earth, then we would have to prove it in court.

M. O'BRIEN: But that would just be true, so it would be OK.

VELSHI: Right.

S. O'BRIEN: With a circus theme it might be a problem...


VELSHI: Right. Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: I think they have a problem there. That's my guess. S. O'BRIEN: Yes, I think they do.

VELSHI: If I put on a hat and started, you know, dealing with animals.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's not imagine, shall we?

VELSHI: Let's not. We've already done the hat once today.

M. O'BRIEN: Ringmaster Ali Velshi.

Thank you very much.

VELSHI: All right.

M. O'BRIEN: Santa has got a special gift for you this holiday season, a new house. Buyers are smiling and sellers, well, they're getting real. We'll tell you what is moving where and for how much.

The story ahead.

And life imitates art for the teen star of "The Nativity Story." The twist to the greatest story ever told on the greatest show on Earth ahead.


S. O'BRIEN: Power summit. President Bush is heading to meet Iraq's prime minister and develop a plan for peace, but one group outside of Iraq may have plans to keep fanning the violence.

M. O'BRIEN: A rebound for real estate, and even better news if you're in the market to buy. The numbers are straight ahead.

S. O'BRIEN: And imitating art in life. The young actress playing the Virgin Mary in a new film is due for her own blessed surprise.

Those stories and much more ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

M. O'BRIEN: Good morning to you, Wednesday November 29th.

I'm Miles O'Brien.

S. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien.

Thanks for being with us.

Happening this morning, President Bush is going to fly to Jordan. He's going to be meeting with the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al- Maliki, tonight, and tomorrow, too. They're going to discuss possible plans for peace in Iraq.

A new White House report is casting doubts, though, on that possibility. The report says that al-Maliki may not be capable of ending the unrelenting sectarian violence. It's a memo that was leaked.

Pope Benedict is on the second day of his fence-mending trip to Turkey. The pope celebrated mass this morning in Ephesus, one of the holiest Christian sanctuaries in Turkey. He's already scored some big points with the Turkish government because he said that Turkey should be included in the European Union.

Those controversial CIA flights to capture and question terror suspects, well, apparently not so secret after all. In a new report, the European parliament says 11 countries knew what the CIA was doing.

ABC and BBC news also reporting that the spy agency conducted about 1,200 flights in countries that include Portugal, Spain and Italy. The flights are illegal in Europe.

Cars and climate change on the agenda at the Supreme Court today. Justices will hear a case that could require the government to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, which of course are linked to global warming. Several states are suing to enforce the 1970 Clean Air Act, which calls carbon dioxide a public health threat.

M. O'BRIEN; Iraq now. Muqtada al Sadr's Mehdi militia, is a potent, well-armed fighting force, perhaps 60,000 foot soldiers. And there's growing evidence it got that way with outside help from Iran, via Hezbollah with safe passage through Syria. CNN's Brian Todd takes us down a shadowy road toward civil war.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The enemies of U.S. and Iraqi forces may now have another dangerous ally, aside from al Qaeda. A senior U.S. intelligence official tells CNN, members of the Mehdi Army, a lethal Shia militia led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, have been trained by Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.

Hezbollah deemed a terrorist group by the U.S., with a long history of attacks against Americans and their allies. U.S. officials say they don't have indications this training involves large numbers of Mehdi fighters, but they say this reinforces their belief that Shia militants, like the Mehdi Army, like Hezbollah have powerful supporters.

MAJ. GEN. BILL CALDWELL, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: There are extremist elements that we know are being trained by different elements within Iran, and there are reports that they could possibly being trained also over in the Syria area.

TODD: The U.S. intelligence official says al-Sadr's militants training with Hezbollah went through Syria to get to Lebanon. Contacted by CNN, an official with the Syrian embassy said they have no information on these reports. Iran denies supporting Shia militias in Iraq. And the head of al-Sadr's faction in the Iraqi parliament says the charge that his followers are training with Hezbollah is quote, "a big lie created by U.S. intelligence." What would a military alliance between al-Sadr and Hezbollah mean? MAJ. JEFFREY BEATTY, FORMER CIA, FBI COUNTERTERROR OFC.: Both groups have made good use of explosives, improvised explosive devices vehicle-born, as well as roadside bombs. There are things that they can learn from each other on what is the most effective way to use those weapons.

TODD: Al-Sadr has already made a political threat through his followers in parliament.

SALIH AL-AKEILI, IRAQI PARLIAMENT MEMBER (through translator): If the prime minister goes ahead and meets with the criminal Bush in Amman, we will suspend our membership in the Iraqi government.

TODD (on camera): Some U.S. officials and Iraqi observers say al-Sadr may not carry out that threat and likely won't leave the government entirely. But with his control of 30 seats in parliament and six government ministries, even a disruption could be devastating.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


M. O'BRIEN: Nouri al-Maliki defying that threat. He arrived in Amman, Jordan this morning. The president is due just a few hours from now. Their first meeting expected shortly after Mr. Bush gets there -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: One of the ways the world community is trying to reign in North Korea, is going to make it harder for Kim Jong-Il to his get I-pod. The U.S. is trying to use trade sanctions to keep electronics like i-pods and those plasma TVs and the Segway scooters out of North Korea. The new plan is reportedly being coordinated with the United Nations.

And attention big box store shoppers, in San Diego -- good luck finding your favorite giant retail store. The San Diego City Council just approved a ban that would prohibit stores bigger than 90,000 square feet that use ten percent of space to sell groceries and other tax-free merchandise. It's a huge blow to Wal-Mart's potential to expand in San Diego. Now the mayor in San Diego says he's going to veto the ban.

Good news/bad news for the housing market. Home sales rebounded a little bit last month. But not so good news though if you're a seller, prices are not what they used to be. AMERICAN MORNING's Dan Lothian is live for us this morning in Waban, Massachusetts with more. Good morning to you Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. Well, this house has been on the market for about five months. It's a five- bedroom house. The asking price is about $1.6 million. They've had to drop the price since they put it on the market.

Overall in the state of Massachusetts, the real estate arrow has been pointing down in terms of sales, in terms of the median price. But, in other parts of the country, there's just a little bit of good news.


LOTHIAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Dennis and Anne Ogan (ph) recently bought a home in the uptown section of New Orleans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we got a pretty good deal. And from what I'm seeing now, I'm even happier with the deal that we got on the house.

LOTHIAN: They moved from Colorado after more than 12 years, something they had planned to do before Katrina.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just wanted to be closer to family. We wanted to be closer to our parents and back with our friends.

LOTHIAN: They Ogans paid more than they wanted to, but less than the asking price, and they negotiated some extra repairs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's pretty much a motivation of the seller. If they're really motivated to sell, then you can have more negotiation.

LOTHIAN: Like New Orleans, a half dozen other cities, from Albany to Houston, are showing signs of life, helping an overall shaky real estate market.

After seven straight months of declines, the National Association of Realtors says existing home sales in October edged up by a half a percent. The reason?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Buyers now are getting off the sidelines, they're coming back into the marketplace because sellers are more flexible.

LOTHIAN: In other words, they're lowering prices. Anne Ogan says nearby homes that had been idling on the market are suddenly being snapped up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would lead me to believe that there's a lot more negotiations going on.

LOTHIAN: And that's where the bad news come in if you're a seller. The median home price dropped last month to $221,000, down 3.5 percent from a year ago. Experts say prices in some markets will go lower before they rebound.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are going to see expansion, but certainly we're going to need a little more price correction for that to happen.

LOTHIAN: For people unwilling to drop their asking price any lower, it's a waiting game. Massachusetts resident Robert Burnham (ph) says his life is on hold.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many people my age, they can't get out of their home to retire. (END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Experts say that they really want to take a good look at the numbers over the next one to two months to get a good sense of which direction the market will be going next -- Soledad.

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

M. O'BRIEN A federal judge ordering Uncle Sam to come up with a new way to make the benjamins. We're talking about your money now and the way we all deal with paper bills. Whether it's a $1, a $5 or $100, that's a benjamin -- you knew that. They're all the same size and feel. The judge ordered the Treasury Department to come up with a way for blind people to tell different bills apart as is the case in most other countries.

In America, a student at the University of Missouri in St. Louis is dead after an overnight fire in a frat house. Our affiliate KSDAK reporting the fire started in a couch at the Pi Alpha kappa house. No other injuries reported.

Authorities in Colorado investigating a deadly highway accident near Denver -- four killed, at least 10 injured when a mini-van ran off Interstate 70 in the heavy snow there.

In New Mexico, new security concerns at the Los Alamos nuclear weapons lab. A government-ordered review called security seriously flawed there. The review was ordered after police found classified documents at a former lab worker's home.

S. O'BRIEN: Coming up this morning, postcards from the edge. We're taking a trip to Mars. That's straight ahead. Miles will love that. Get a view of the red planet's spectacular landscape.

And the story of the teenaged star of "The Nativity Story" has a little something in common with the woman she's playing, Mary. AMERICAN MORNING is back in a moment.


M. O'BRIEN: Still going, those intrepid Martian rovers Spirit and Opportunity still at work on the surface of Mars. Now approaching three years -- three years. They're gathering data, taking pictures that have changed the textbooks and wowed us all. he man in charge of the cameras is Jim Bell and he is out with a book of some of his favorite shots from the red planet. It's called, appropriately, "Postcards from Mars" and he joins us now with a little bit more on the wonderful images we've all been marveling at. Jim, good to have you with us.

JIM BELL, AUTHOR "POSTCARDS FROM MARS": Thanks, Miles. Great to be here.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's go to the book first and talk about some of the images. The first one we want to show you is -- we'll do three Spirit images first. Spirit was the first to land, so we'll give it it's first go. And this looks like Spirit was a teenager doing some doughnuts, having some fun there and tearing up somebody's lawn. What do you like about this image?

BELL: This is from early in the mission right after Spirit landed. Panorama showing some of these volcanic rocks and dusty soils. You can see where the tracks where the wheels have gone over the soils. They expose this darker stuff underneath. And in that pirouette that the rover did there, we often do that at the end of the day to align the communications antenna so that we get the best possible signal at the Earth.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Let's take another look now. And let's take advantage of our big screen here for just a moment.

BELL: It's a beauty.

M. O'BRIEN: And what we've taken is a high-resolution panoramic image captured by Spirit. And this is called longhorn. Why don't you describe what we're seeing here. I sort of feel like we're on Mars.

BELL: That's exactly what we were trying to convey Miles. This was really exciting for us because it was the first time we saw outcrop, you know, what a geologist would call outcrop. Rock formed in place, altered in place. Very, very exciting as the rover was scrambling up that hill.

M. O'BRIEN: This one is called winter home. It's kind of important where you park the rovers. Once again, I'll point out for folks here, in the foreground there, you can see a little piece of the rover. You see, once again, too, the tracks and the rather erratic driving patterns of Spirit and its handlers. Tell us what is significant about this one.

BELL: A lot of things going on here. This is where Spirit is today, Miles, at this position. That hill off in the horizon is the hill we were climbing in the previous panorama. We came over the back of that hill to this side, down the hill past some spectacular sand dunes and other deposits. And as we were traveling, the sun is getting lower in the skies becoming winter at the landing site. Now, Spirit, and Opportunity are solar powered, so we have to worry about keeping the solar panels tilted into the sun. We had to get Spirit actually parked up the edge of a hill to tilt those panels into the sun like a lizard basking in the sunlight.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's go to the next one. This is another big, wide animation. This one from Opportunity as well. You call this rainbow dunes. And this is a spectacular image. I don't know how much scientific value it has necessarily, but it's just one of the more beautiful images you'll see of Mars.

BELL: It really is. And this is taken with our infrared filters, so it's false color. This isn't what our eyes would see, but it's processed using our infrared filters. And that point that you made is really one that resonates with me, Miles, because one of the things we've done, of course, is great science in this mission, but we've also taken a number of really beautiful pictures, really captivating views like this one and I really wanted to capture those in the book as well.

M. O'BRIEN: So finally, I want to share with viewers some pictures, not the most spectacular as far as the visual imagery that you;re going to see, but meaningful in a tremendous way. These are the first images you saw on that night in January when Spirit first landed. What was that like, seeing them come down? Particularly as you see them -- they were just fresh off, hot off the presses. Hot off the bits and bytes whatever they are. What was that like, seeing those images as they came down?

BELL: Yes, and you're seeing some of my colleagues there, incredibly exciting. You were there that night. The world was watching. NASA really need a pick me up, of course, in 2004. It was a huge success and it's a testament to the hundreds of thousands of people, the jet propulsion laboratory, Cornell, and other places around the world who were involved with this. You're seeing big, burly engineers weeping. How often do you see that in your life, right? I mean, a lot, a lot of pressure went into this and it was just a fascinating experience.

M. O'BRIEN: The book is "Postcards from Mars" and I suspect who knows how many more years we're going to see Spirit and Opportunity. They're still going, maybe they'll never stop.

BELL: Let's keep them going.

M. O'BRIEN: OK, thanks for joining us.

BELL: Thanks Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: You can think of Jim Bell as kind of a tourist who's been to Mars, sort of, kind of, with a lot of pictures to prove it.


M. O'BRIEN: These days every school kid takes it as an article of faith that a killer asteroid or comet hit the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs. There it is. Well, recreation of it anyhow. According to a new study, it was a meteor impact that triggered the mass extinction. A single meteor impact.

Some scientists over the years have suggested it might have been a series of impacts. But a new study out today says the single impact caused massive earthquakes, tsunamis, and kicked a lot of dust into the air. That was key. Extreme temperature changes ensued, wildfires, acid rain, basically a doomsday scenario. So, one big rock can ruin your day in a big way -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Understatement there.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: CNN "NEWSROOM" is just minutes away. Tony Harris is at the CNN center. He's got a look at what's ahead this morning. Good morning, Tony.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Soledad, good morning to you. We have got these stories on the NEWSROOM run down for you this morning. President Bush in the air this hour, headed for a critical summit in Jordan. He and the Iraqi leader looking at strategies to stop the violence. A report on CIA renditions due out in minutes, despite denials, it's expected to show 11 European governments knew about secret CIA prisons.

And Snoop in the dog house. The rapper arrested after an appearance on Jay Leno's show. Join Heidi Collins and me in the NEWSROOM. We get started at the top of the hour right here on CNN -- Soledad, Miles.

S. O'BRIEN: How many times have we said that? Snoop in the dog house.

HARRIS: In the dog house. I love your lower third though -- that was pretty good. Snoop ...

S. O'BRIEN: I like that too. Thank you, Tony. We'll see you at the top of the hour -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Need to get him one of those invisible fence, you know, keep him under wraps here.

It's been called the greatest story ever told. But, this time, there's a real life twist. Life imitates art for the young star of "The Nativity Story." That's a story you'll see if you stay tuned.



S. O'BRIEN: "The Nativity Story" is Hollywood's latest version of the greatest story ever told. It's getting rave reviews from the Vatican, and now there's a real-life twist for the teenaged star who is playing the Virgin Mary. CNN's Sibila Vargas has our report.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do not be afraid Mary. You have found favor with God. You will give birth do a son.

SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When Hollywood decreed it would take on "The Nativity Story," Catholics the world over heralded its 21st century arrival.

KIERA MCCAFFREY, THE CATHOLIC LEAGUE: This is a film explicitly about the birth of Christ. We don't see very many of those these days.

VARGAS: A major studio backed the movie, New Line Cinema, a sister company to CNN. And enlisted director Catherine Hardwicke, and Oscar-nominated star Keisha Castle-Hughes as the Virgin mother. Filmmakers even got approval from on high -- the Vatican would host the movie's world premiere - a first for the holy see. But, then, this fall, after filming wrapped, Keisha Castle-Hughes had some news. The 16-year-old actress announced she and her boyfriend were expecting a baby.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know how much disgrace you have brought upon yourself?

VARGAS: The parallels were striking. Un-wed teenaged actress gets pregnant deciding to keep a baby. That alone is unusual. The fact that she also happens to be the actress playing the most famous un-wed teenager of all time -- what are the odds.


VARGAS (on camera): You must have, at some point, it has to cross your mind that you know, it just crossed all of our minds, this is amazing.

HARDWICKE: I know. And her boyfriend is in construction, too, he's a carpenter too, but he's not named Joseph.

VARGAS: Castle-Hughes was a no-show at the L.A. premiere and has been absent from all of the film's publicity events including the press junket. Filmmakers say that's only because she's busy shooting another movie in Australia and not because they feared religious fallout as had been speculated.

VARGAS (voice-over): On Sunday, one important world premiere put the religious fallout rumors to rest. 7,000 gathered and cheered at the Vatican's screening, including a number of high-ranking Cardinals.

MCCAFFREY: She isn't the blessed mother. Although she's portraying her. She did a job. She did a very good job in this film acting. Now she finds herself in this spot. It's something that people understand.

VARGAS: And Iit certainly adds an unusual twist to the story of the nativity.

Sibila Vargas, CNN, Hollywood.


S. O'BRIEN: That young woman who is a star is Keisha Castle- Hughes, who of course, was nominated for an Oscar for "Whale Rider."

M. O'BRIEN: Great performance, great movie.

Here's a quick look at what's happening in the CNN NEWSROOM today.

HARRIS: See these stories in the CNN NEWSROOM. President Bush and NATO. Major European allies declined to put more troops on the front lines in Afghanistan.

NYPD shooting investigation. The groom's father talked to CNN about the 50-bullet barrage that ended his son's life.

Heavy snow, plunging temps. Denver to St. Louis, near-record warmth turning to brutal arctic cold today. You're in the NEWSROOM at 9:00 eastern, 6:00 Pacific on CNN.


S. O'BRIEN: That's it for us on AMERICAN MORNING.

M. O'BRIEN: "CNN NEWSROOM" with Tony Harris and Heidi Collins begins right now.


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