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THE SITUATION ROOM

Bush Voices Support For Al-Maliki Despite Snub; Muqtada al-Sadr Loyalists Boycotting Iraq Government; Bill Clinton weighs In On Iraq And Afghanistan; Pastor Rick Warren Criticized For Inviting Barack Obama To AIDS Summit; John Kerry Interview

Aired November 30, 2006 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou. And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.
Happening now, the president comes up short in the search for a solution in Iraq. His talks with the Iraqi prime minister produced more questions than answers. It's 7:00 p.m. here in Washington where some are wondering if Mr. Bush has lost the clout to find a way out.

Bill Clinton is weighing in on whether Iraq is a civil war. The former president has plenty to say about U.S. policy and the prospects for a troop pull-out. It's a CNN exclusive.

And a political super star becomes a lightning rod. When Senator Barack Obama accepted an invitation from a well-known pastor and author it set off an uproar among evangelical Christians. We'll tell you why they are so angry about that right now.

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

President Bush is back in Washington tonight after a high-profile summit with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Jordan. Mr. Bush is publicly backing al-Maliki despite growing concerns about his abilities, detailed in a leaked White House memo. The meeting produced questionable results while raising new questions about what the president can do to try to turn around the troubled U.S. mission in Iraq.

We have complete coverage for you tonight. Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in Baghdad. But let's begin with Brian Todd right here in Washington -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, while President Bush was expressing confidence in the Iraqi prime minister today, his aides were telling reporters that the president had not been snubbed by Nuri al-Maliki the night before. This was part of some real back channel intrigue at this summit that has fueled recent questions about the president's leverage in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Looking frustrated as he meets with reporters, President Bush admits his Iraqi counterpart is frustrated with him.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a prime minister who is saying stop holding me back. I want to solve the problem.

TODD: All week the message from the White House has been about helping Nuri al-Maliki solve his problems, which include a body count that stacks up by the day. But has the president lost his capacity to help? A question raised by recent signals like al-Maliki's abrupt cancellation of a scheduled meeting with the president and Jordan's King Abdullah.

White house officials deny it was a snub. But rarely has an American president been stood up like that. And the reasons may go beyond a leaked memo for Mr. Bush's national security adviser questioning al-Maliki's confidence. One former White House adviser accuses the president of outsourcing foreign policy to the Iraq study group. And analysts point to the growing perception abroad that the war is unwinnable with staunch U.S. allies Britain, Italy and Poland planning pull-outs.

KEN POLLACK, SABAN CTR. FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY: If you add to that the prospect that he is now a laying duck president, if you add to that the possibility that the Iraqi government itself could melt away in the next few years, none of that is going to be helpful to President Bush in terms of pressing his diplomatic agenda elsewhere around the world.

TODD: A once ambitious agenda with an American-led infusion of democracy in the world's most troubled region. Now...

ROBIN WRIGHT, "WASHINGTON POST": The Iraq experience has scared so many people in the Middle East in the Arab world and the Islamic world that they are afraid that the kind of chaos that is obvious in Iraq is what comes along with the democratic process.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But this is a resolute president who again today said he is committed to staying in Iraq to get the job done and as one analyst says Mr. Bush still has tremendous leverage with Iraq's leaders. Whatever semblance of stability there is in Iraq, he says, is because of the American presence there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. The president has got his work cut out for him. At the same time the Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki tells ABC News tonight Iraqi forces will be able to take over security for the country from United States troops, he says, by June. He's made similar remarks before. But many U.S. officials question that assessment.

President Bush did not make any mention of such a timeline after his meeting with al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan earlier today. And with the president now back here in Washington, what is the Iraqi prime minister taking back to his country from this summit? Joining us now our correspondent in Baghdad Nic Robertson. Nic, does it look like Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, has returned to Baghdad with anything substantial that's going to ease this crisis that's unfolding there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it really doesn't appear so. That's the view of most Iraqis here. They say that it was just talk in Jordan that President Bush has offered Nuri al-Maliki. Nothing concrete to bring back here and people are complaining about that. They are disappointed about it, Wolf.

BLITZER: It looks like his government is teetering right now, his base of support. The Muqtada al-Sadr bloc, if you will, in the Parliament threatening to bolt. What happens? Is this government likely to collapse?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, it's not clear, but what is clear is that there is building opposition to Prime Minister Maliki's tenureship in that job. We heard today from Sadr's group that they now have the support of two Sunni parties here and other independent politicians. What's interesting, this is a cross-sectarian political alliance. It's new.

The Sunni parties of the two-named Sunni parties, so it is significant. Sadr's bloc saying they won't get back into Parliament unless the United States sets a timetable for withdrawal of the troops from here. But this really does spread Nuri al-Maliki's leadership with the government. And this is at a time when the United States behind closed doors is doing the same thing, questioning his ability to lead.

BLITZER: Is there any postmortem, if you will, on why Nuri al- Maliki, the prime minister, effectively snubbed the president the other night, refused to go to that dinner with him and King Abdullah of Jordan?

ROBERTSON: That is certainly not something Nuri al-Maliki has discussed openly here. There have been various answers put on that, the Jordanians at one point explaining that it was -- that this was never planned, that the meetings were held separately.

We've heard from people traveling with the president that Nuri al-Maliki had meetings, private meetings with President Bush, two different private meetings. But for Nuri al-Maliki, it plays to his advantage back in Iraq to have stood effectively President Bush up because it makes him look more independent at a time when there is so much criticism of him, not just here in Iraq, but coming from the United States as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: It removes the charge at least to a certain degree that he's merely a puppet of Washington. Nic, thanks very much for joining us.

And we have new details tonight on what the bipartisan Iraq study group will recommend to the president next Wednesday. Sources close to the panel tell CNN the report will call for a gradual reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq. But it will not recommend a specific timetable. Still sources say the group will suggest the president needs to insist that Iraq meet certain benchmarks to improve the situation and to send the signal that the United States troops won't stay in Iraq forever.

This just coming into CNN -- a new warning that al Qaeda may, repeat, may be planning some sort of cyber terror attacks that could be costly if the threats were to pan out. Let's get some details from our justice correspondent Kelli Arena. What are we picking up, Kelli?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Department of Homeland Security found a message on a jihadist Web site on November 27, translated it and decided to send out an advisory to financial institutions. Now a DHS spokesman says that the web site warned that jihadists would launch denial of service attacks against American stock and banking Web sites during the whole month of December through what the Web site called the infidel new year.

The denial of service attacks are disruptive viruses that are sent through e-mail to undermine databases, to disrupt services. Now officials say that there is no information to corroborate the threat, nothing to show that there's any effort under way. So why did they send out the warning? Well that's because they say it's very prudent to alert any industry when there's a threat.

And because the Web site calls for people with special skills to act on their own, Wolf. And officials point out financial Web sites are pretty well fortified against these sort of attacks. It would be very difficult, but nonetheless, the warning, necessary they feel. It was actually put out by the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team. Now that is a partnership between the government and private industry. Everyone on alert, Wolf, watching, waiting to see if anything actually happens.

BLITZER: Let's hope nothing happens. Thanks very much, Kelli. I know you'll stay on top of this story -- Kelli Arena reporting for us.

Let's go to New York. Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, lawmakers who are thinking of committing a felony and hard as it might be to believe some of them actually do, may be putting their retirement on the line if a handful of citizens groups get their way. There are about 20 citizens groups including the National Taxpayers Union and Ralph Nader's Congressional Accountability Project that have drafted a letter to incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and soon to be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

They want to make sure if any ethics reform passed in Congress will prevent lawmakers from collecting hefty retirement checks, their pensions, after committing crimes. Members of Congress are currently guaranteed their pensions unless they are convicted of crimes related to treason and espionage. Anything else you go to prison, collect the money.

Here's the question. What other recommendations would you like to make to the incoming Congress when they go to work presumably in January? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. You suppose if you went out and robbed a bank, Wolf, that CNN would continue to pay your retirement package?

BLITZER: Probably not.

CAFFERTY: Probably not.

BLITZER: Yes. Thanks. Appreciate it, Jack.

Coming up, a CNN exclusive -- President Bush on Iraq -- President Clinton that is on Iraq and the definition of civil war. We'll find out what the former president of the United States thinks about a timetable for withdrawal -- a CNN exclusive with President Clinton.

Plus, blowing off Tony Blair. There's a State Department official who has become very candid. We are going to find out why he says he's a little ashamed of the way President Bush treats the British prime minister.

And religious politics -- evangelical leader Rick Warren takes heat over his alliance with Senator Barack Obama. We'll tell you what's going on.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a major presidential issue, so it's totally understandable when former presidents weigh in on the current commander-in-chief and his handling of the war. Two days after the nation's 39th president, that would be Jimmy Carter, called Iraq a blunder right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the nation's 42nd president is now telling what he thinks exclusively to CNN.

CNN's Carol Costello joining us from New York with details -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Hello to all of you. Number 42 would be Bill Clinton. And let's get this out of the way right now. Yes, President Clinton told us civil war is being waged in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): It seems everyone is weighing in on the president and war -- Colin Powell, George Clooney, Jimmy Carter, Nancy Pelosi, Bono and now Bill Clinton, a sampling of his ideas on the Iraq study group.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I spent two hours with him and all total more than three hours with members of my administration who were also there. And I talked with them, and I talked to the president briefly about what I was going to say to them.

COSTELLO: On the group's recommendations. CLINTON: Some redeployment I think is going to be in order in part to relieve the pressures on the military. And part to make it clear that we are changing policy.

COSTELLO: On the war's status.

CLINTON: There are more and more people who think that they can get what they want by shooting or throwing up these roadside bombs rather than engaging in politics. And when that happens, others take up arms in defense and it just gets worse and worse and worse and that's the normal definition of a civil war.

COSTELLO: On a timetable for withdrawal.

CLINTON: We probably shouldn't set a definite timetable right now because we don't want to lose all the leverage we have to get others in the surrounding countries to work with us and to get the Iraqi political forces to try to get more and more people to choose politics over violence.

COSTELLO: On Afghanistan.

CLINTON: I hope in part to beef up our military presence in Afghanistan. I'm worried about the in-roads that have been made by the Taliban trying to come back and what that might mean for greater freedom of movement or al Qaeda.

COSTELLO: Now Bill Clinton's voice joins the chorus while we await for the country's commander-in-chief to either stay or stray the course.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: An interesting tidbit, Jimmy Carter was pretty darn brutal on his assessment of the Iraq war, telling you, Wolf, it was one of the greatest blunders of any administration. Bill Clinton, as you heard, didn't use that kind of language. His words were more measured. Interesting after the way Republicans went after him during his presidency.

BLITZER: He's becoming diplomatic after that. Thanks very much, Carol -- Carol Costello reporting.

And former President Clinton has much more to say about Iraq, aides, other important world issues. You can see his full interview with our Soledad O'Brien tomorrow morning on "AMERICAN MORNING." That begins 6:00 a.m. Eastern.

Meanwhile, it's a war waged by friends. But could it be creating a divide between friends? Amid the questions over how bad Iraq has gotten, there are now new concerns over how bad the relationship between the United States and one of its closest allies might have gotten itself.

Our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee is standing by with details -- Zain. ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the U.S. has always viewed Britain really as a bridge to Europe, but it seems now that the London Bridge is falling down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): It's supposed to be a special relationship, but some feel it's going sour, surprising the blunt comments from a long-time State Department research analyst, slamming the Bush/Blair relationship. It's one-sided says Kendall Myers. We typically ignore them and take no notice. It's a sad business.

Myers was speaking at Johns Hopkins University, his alma mater, where he's also taught for 30 years. He said he felt a little ashamed at the way President Bush treats his ally Tony Blair, adding the British leader never got any political payback for his unwavering support on Iraq.

And the worst Iraq gets, he says, the more strained the British/U.S. ties become. Warning the role Britain plays is a bridge between the U.S. and Europe is disappearing before our eyes. The State Department quickly distanced itself.

TOM CASEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: They certainly don't reflect the views of the secretary of state or this building. The comments frankly, I think, could be described as ill informed and I think from our perspective just plain wrong.

VERJEE: What's more, they say, Myers is a low-level official who doesn't formulate policy. Even so, the British press splashed his comments across newspapers. The "Daily Telegraph" called Blair a poodle. The "Guardian" newspaper writes it's hard to quarrel with Mr. Myers' assessment, for all Mr. Blair's prodding and cajoling, the Bush administration has not delivered much on two issues the prime minister considers crucial.

Despite backing the U.S., Tony Blair hasn't seen many results from Washington on the Israeli/Palestinian crisis or on climate change. British officials say it's not about what they get in return, but about confronting common challenges together.

Last month, the State Department stood by an official who called U.S. policy in Iraq arrogant and stupid during an Arabic interview on al-Jazeera. State Department officials say the difference here is that Alberto Fernandez (ph) was authorized as someone who can speak to the press and that he apologized for his remarks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: The State Department says they're investigating Myers' comments and they are going to decide whether they'll take any action -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain thanks very much. He was speaking at my alma mater as well, John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, an excellent university and an excellent graduate school.

Still to come tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Senator Barack Obama and Pastor Rick Warren caught up in the culture wars. We are going to show you why they've teamed up and why there's now -- that itself is outraging some evangelical Christians. We'll tell you what's going on.

Plus, British investigators are trying to follow up on a radiation trail as they investigate the death of a former Russian spy. Traces of radiation are now found in a dozen locations. We are going to tell you what's happening on that front as well.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You'd be hard pressed to hear anything but praise these days for Senator Barack Obama, but it turns out the Illinois Democrat and possible presidential contender does have his critics. A well- known pastor and author found that out the hard way when he extended an invitation to the senator.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is joining us now from Los Angeles with more on what's going on -- Thelma.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Rick Warren who preaches to a congregation of more than 20,000 on any given Sunday says that he's not budging on the invitation that he extended to Senator Barack Obama, despite the fact that other evangelicals are now calling on Warren to rescind the invitation for the pro-choice senator to address church leaders from the pulpit tomorrow morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PASTOR RICK WARREN, SADDLEBACK CHURCH: The conference on AIDS and you showed up, thank you. Thank you for caring.

(APPLAUSE)

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): It was a warm welcome for 1,300 church leaders from across the nation.

(MUSIC)

GUTIERREZ: For mega Pastor Rick Warren, leader of the largest church in the country and best-selling author of "The Purpose Driven Life."

WARREN: You can spell AIDS A-I-D-S, avoidance...

GUTIERREZ: The evangelical leaders were invited to Warren's Saddleback Church outside San Diego for a two-day global summit on AIDS. Fifty speakers were invited to address the group, but the mere mention of one of them set off sparks within the evangelical community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has an evil outlook when it comes to the human race.

GUTIERREZ: The speaker at the center of the controversy is Senator Barack Obama, a pro-choice Democrat from Illinois who supports embryonic stem cell research, a man Rick Warren considers a friend.

WARREN: I've never really let critics determine what we do or don't do. We do what we think is the right thing to do.

GUTIERREZ: Warren says he reached out to Senator Obama for the AIDS summit in the spirit of bipartisanship.

WARREN: I've brought people together from every different spectrum, people who would normally not even agree with each other or even talk to each other.

GUTIERREZ: But a leading conservative evangelical, the Reverend Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, says Barack Obama does not represent core Christian values and shouldn't be allowed to speak from the pulpit.

REV. ROB SCHENCK, PRES., NATIONAL CLERGY COUNCIL: His policies on abortion and embryonic stem cell research negate his moral authority.

GUTIERREZ: Schenck says his organization does not want the senator to use his appearance at the pulpit with a well known evangelical like Rick Warren as a political photo-op should he run for president. Warren says that's nonsense and underscore that he and Obama don't see eye to eye on the abortion issue.

WARREN: If you could only work with people you agree with 100 percent, you've ruled out the entire world because I can't even get my wife to agree with me on everything.

GUTIERREZ: But Schenck emphasizes conservative Christians will not compromise on abortion or embryonic stem cell research. He says neither should Rick Warren. He warns if the senator does speak from the pulpit on Friday, Warren will face the wrath of 500 pastors and thousands of laypeople he represents.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUTIERREZ: The Reverend Schenck says the protest is growing. One conservative radio talk show host asked listeners to flood Rick Warren's church with protest calls and a letter is being circulated among ministers who are upset over the senator's appearance -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Thelma, for that.

And this programming note to our viewers. Bill Clinton, Rick Warren and Barack Obama will all be guests tomorrow morning on "AMERICAN MORNING." That airs 6:00 a.m. Eastern. You are going to want to get up early and watch that special "AMERICAN MORNING" tomorrow morning.

Just ahead, does Senator John Kerry think President Bush is a lame duck in the hunt for an Iraq exit strategy? And does he also think Iran should have a role in easing the crisis -- my interview with John Kerry, coming up.

And what happens when an actor goes out to promote a movie and gets plastered? Jeanne Moos will tell us whether it was too much fun or a sobering experience. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, al Qaeda may be plotting cyber attacks on banking and financial Web sites. That according to an advisory coming from the Department of Homeland Security after the uncorroborated threat appeared on a jihadist Web site.

You could be getting graded on your risk of being a terrorist or a criminal. The Associated Press reporting federal agents have been ranking millions of passengers entering and leaving the United States and assigning them computer scores based on their travel history.

Also, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack has his sights set on the White House. He's the first Democrat to formally announce he's running for president in 2008.

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

The top U.S. military intelligence officer has a very sobering assessment of the cycle of violence in Iraq which is killing thousands of civilians each month. He now says the carnage could go on for decades. He spoke exclusively to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

She's at the U.S. Central Command headquarters at an undisclosed location in the Middle East -- Barbara.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as we continue to travel throughout this region with General John Abizaid, an inside look at the latest intelligence assessment on Iraq.

(voice-over): As the Bush administration struggles to find a way out of Iraq, the top U.S. military intelligence officer for the region says sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia now run so deep, it could take generations for the country to become peaceful.

BRIG. GEN. JOHN CUSTER, U.S. ARMY: We're in a self-sustaining cycle of violence is the way I put it. There are demographics within Baghdad that both sides are trying to change, Sunni, Shia. There are death squads on both sides.

STARR: Army Brigadier General John Custer is the senior intelligence officer for General John Abizaid at the U.S. Central Command. He gave CNN a rare interview as Abizaid travels throughout the region. Custer says the violence is at the core of what he calls a revenge society that now is Iraq.

CUSTER: The Shia are trying to move Sunnis out of mixed neighborhoods to turn some neighborhoods into more Shia-based neighborhoods. The Sunnis are resisting, the Sunnis are then coming back at the Shia.

STARR: U.S. military intelligence believes Iran is playing a significant, but perhaps not decisive, role in supporting Shia militias and death squads. Custer says the largest Shia militia, Muqtada al-Sadr's Madhi army, now has an Iranian-controlled element inside Iraq.

U.S. officials say members of the Madhi army have trained both in Iran and Lebanon. Custer thinks Sadr's recent move to pull his crucial support from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki may backfire.

CUSTER: He faces quite a strain there because the network of patronage that he acquires from that is a great deal of his power. So we question how long he can do that.

STARR: But it is the revenge society of Iraq that Custer is focused on. Iran, he says, is not the central issue.

CUSTER: If I could snap my fingers and move Iran out of the picture it wouldn't change -- it wouldn't end the conflict. It wouldn't drastically change the conflict. It's not decisive.

STARR (on camera): But what is clear, General Custer believes, is that the Shia are now willing to spend years getting their revenge against the Sunnis -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right, Barbara. Thanks very much. A very, very sobering assessment from the U.S. military intelligence officer there on the ground in the region.

Tonight, President Bush is back here in Washington without any apparent new action on Iraq to show his critics. He wrapped up crisis talking in Jordan by once again rejecting any timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops and denying that he's searching for what he called a graceful exit from the war. CNN's Anderson Cooper is on the scene for us. He's joining us now live from Amman, Jordan.

Anderson, you heard what Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, had to say. I listened very closely the what he said. He seems to say all the right things. The question is, does he really act to prove that? Can he deliver? You are there on the scene. What was your assessment looking at him up close there?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's certainly a good assessment, and seems to be the assessment that the White House, at least according to the document the "New York Times" first reported on by national security adviser Stephen Hadley, seems to be the White House assessment as well, at least behind the scenes. Though this morning, we heard a very different message from President Bush saying without any doubt that Nuri al-Maliki is the right man for the job in Iraq. Whether or not that really reflects the administration's opinion or not, it's hard to know. But certainly that is the public statement by this president.

If people were anticipating some sort of new momentum, some sort of new direction to come out of today's meeting, they would be sadly disappointed. It doesn't seem that there was really anything new accomplished. Clearly, the kind of conversations that went on behind closed doors, we are not privy to the exact details.

But the public statements about them do not seem to indicate anything really new. The same kind of talk we've heard before about stepping up the training of Iraqi security forces. Maliki saying, and not for the first time, but reiterating today that he believes Iraqi security forces will be ready to take over command by this coming summer, by the beginning of the summer of 2007.

A lot of skepticism about that though, Wolf, as you know, about the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces and whether they'll really be ready by then.

BLITZER: Anderson, thanks very much. Anderson on the scene for us in Amman, Jordan. He's going to have a lot more coming up later tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360." That starts at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. His exclusive reporting from the region. You are going to want to see that.

Meanwhile, Democrats are trying to hold President Bush's feet to the fire on Iraq as they prepare to take control of both houses of Congress. Earlier right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, I asked Senator John Kerry if Mr. Bush is a lame duck when it comes to fixing the Iraq problem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D) MASSACHUSETTS: I don't think any sitting president of the United States is a lame duck when it comes to foreign policy. There's too much power in the presidency, and the interests of our country are too great.

If the president reaches out to us in the Democratic Party and really tries to work together, he has a chance to have a legacy here that could be important for our nation and, obviously, for him personally.

I've offered to be helpful to Condoleezza Rice. I've called her. I hope we can all work together, but we've got to be tougher in our approach. I believe personally -- and I've said this publicly -- that you have to set a date for the expectation of when the Iraqis will take over their responsibility. And if you don't get tough and have those kinds of benchmarks, then they have an excuse to avoid it altogether.

BLITZER: All right. KERRY: Six months ago -- six months ago, Wolf, General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad said they have about six months to make these decisions. They haven't made the decisions, so what is going to make them do it?

I believe the thing that makes them do it is a clear schedule. It's what has made them, you know, take a certain step of behavior every single way, and we have to do it now.

BLITZER: What about talking to Iran? The president of Iran, Ahmadinejad, is a guy, he denies that the Holocaust took place. He says Israel should not exist. He's virulently anti-American. Should the U.S. be talking to a leader like this?

KERRY: I think that it's good policy to always have some kind of discussion, absent being at war or something, egregious that's happened, very specifically -- to be -- having some kind of dialogue.

You know, Jim Baker said "sometimes you have to talk to people you're not friendly with." Ronald Reagan sat down with the entity that he called the "Evil Empire," and he came to an agreement with Gorbachev. Richard Nixon send Henry Kissinger to China and opened up a dialogue.

We have to do that as a matter of trying to feel out what's possible, as a matter of putting to test, perhaps, some opportunity diplomatically that can change dynamics.

The American people and the people of the world want adult leadership. They want statesmanship. The want statecraft. They don't want this sort of arbitrary, isolationist, shut-the-door, ideological rigidity. And I think it's important to talk to Syria. I think it's important to talk to Iran.

BLITZER: All right.

KERRY: I don't trust, necessarily, what they say to you, but there are ways to put to test what they say to you, and that's what good diplomacy is about.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Senator John Kerry speaking with me earlier right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Still ahead tonight, the investigation into who poisoned the former Russian spy is now taking a startling twist as more commercial airliners are being checked for radiation. Can investigators trace the source of the poison that killed the former spy?

And Danny Devito plays phone tag with Barbara Walters after his loopy appearance on "The View." One co-host jokes he was drunk as a skunk. Jeanne Moos checks it out. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Several British Airways planes are grounded tonight and officials now say traces of radiation have been found at a dozen sites as they investigate the death of a former Russian spy killed by a radioactive poison. CNN's Matthew Chance is in London with the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two contaminated British planes remain grounded in London tonight, a third aircraft is in Moscow, awaiting clearance to fly back. British Airways says it's trying to contact everyone who may have been exposed. Tens of thousands may be at risk.

The British government insists the risk of contamination is low. And reaction has been calm, even among passengers who traveled on some of the flights in question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went on the 28th, which according to the BA Web site is one of the affected flights. So, yes, I mean, they did have a phone line. I haven't used it yet.

CHANCE: Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian agent who defected to Britain in 2000, died a slow and painful death after being poisoned with high doses of the radioactive isotope Polonium-210. A fierce critic of the Kremlin, even from his death bed he accused the Russian leadership of having him killed.

A British police investigation has been trying to retrace his last steps. Britain's home secretary spoke to parliament today, a sign of how seriously the government takes this investigation.

JOHN REID, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: To date, around 24 venues have or are being monitored. And experts have confirmed traces of contamination at around 12 of these venues. Police continue to trace possible witnesses and to examine Mr. Litvinenko's movements at relevant times.

CHANCE: This radioactive trail still being followed in London now appears to have taken a decidedly international turn. Flight connections to Moscow around the time of Litvinenko's poisoning are falling under especially close scrutiny. Police say their investigations are inclusive so far, but the spotlight may fall on two Russians who met Litvinenko on the day he fell sick.

Andre Lagavoi (ph), pictured on the left, is a former KGB officer known to have traveled to and from London on the contaminated flights. British officials say Moscow is promising full cooperation. The Russian government denies any involvement in Litvinenko's killing. But friends gathered at the inquest into his death say latest revelations all point to the Kremlin.

ALEX GOLDFARB, LITVINENKO'S FRIEND: The police is looking at the planes which were flying between London and Moscow. Five days prior, Alexander was contaminated himself. So he couldn't be the source of this radioactivity. CHANCE: And British officials vow that politics or the niceties of international diplomacy won't stop the police from finding the truth. Matthew Chance, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton. She's tracking online the latest details on those radiation concerns -- Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, at the British Airways Web site, the pages and pages of flights that these three aircraft took over the last month or so. No destinations here in the United States. Mainly short destinations around Europe.

And more than 50 of the 221 flights effected to and from Moscow. Now British authorities stressing that the risk to public health here is low. They are keeping people updated of what's going on at the Health Protection Agency Web site. Reporting there just in the last hour or two that over 1,700 people have called them out of concern. And 139 of those have been assessed that they should be investigated further.

There's also a number on this site for overseas visitors to the United Kingdom to call if they have concerns. But really the only reason to call that number would be if you were on one of these flights the British Airways Web site or you could also contact the airline or if you were on November 1st in one of those restaurants that Litvinenko was known to have dined in -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you for head.

Still ahead, Jack Cafferty wants to know what would you do to fix Congress? That's coming up. Also, was Danny DeVito drunk on "The View," the TV program? Hear what he has to say about the president after a night on the town with George Clooney. That's still coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack once again for the "Cafferty file" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, several citizens' groups are petitioning the new Congress, the one that convenes in January, to do away with Congresspersons who are convicted of crimes being able to then continue to draw their pensions, their retirements.

We asked what other recommendations you would make to the incoming Congress in January.

Mike in Florida wrote: "Are you kidding, Jack? How about get some meaningful work done and earn their paychecks."

Harold in Alaska: "Impeach Bush and Cheney, get us out of Iraq, secure our borders, reconstruct our crippled middle class. It's more important than the Middle East."

Vicki in Idaho Falls: "I would like the campaign finance laws changed to prohibit contributions from people or corporations outside of a congressman's district and outside of the state for senators. I'd also like to see campaign contributions limited to registered voters. Corporations can't vote, so the only purpose for them giving money is to buy the member of Congress lock, stock and barrel."

I think Vicky might be onto something.

Alice in New Jersey: "I would like Congress to address the issue of illegal immigration. I'm sick and tired of people referring to it as an attack on immigration. My parents came here legally. I have family who are on waiting lists to get here legally. I think it's a black eye on this country that we just ignore the laws for certain groups of people."

Wayne in North Carolina: "The impeachment of Mr. Bush, and all who helped start the Iraq War. Long jail terms should ensure."

Joyce in Mineloa, Texas: "How about having the members of Congress actually work the amount of time that they are paid for without such long vacations? Perhaps if they had to actually earn their money we would get things taken care of in Washington."

You think? Probably not.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and there are more of these of these little gems waiting there for your perusal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour.

Paula, standing by with that -- Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thanks so much.

Coming up just about six minutes from now, the latest details about a terrorist threat that might sound farfetched on its surface, but raises some very disturbing questions tonight.

Plus, the man who will soon be this country's first Muslim Congressman says he'd like to use the Koran instead of the Bible for his swearing in. Well, one of my guests tonight says doing that could destroy the fabric of America. A top story panel will debate it, coming up in the next hour.

BLITZER: We'll be watching, Paula. Thank you for that.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may be the thorn in the side of President Bush, but polls indicate he's likely to win reelection this coming Sunday. And he may be up for another distinction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Using the United Nations as a bully pulpit, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez goes on the offensive and gets a nod as a candidate for "Time Magazine's" person of the year.

ROMESH RATNESAR, WORLD EDITOR, "TIME": I think Hugo Chavez is an important figure because he is a sort of representative of something that we've seen developing over the years that I think kind of in 2006 became much more prominent, which is a real resistance to the established order in international politics. Chavez really has become this kind of godfather of a broader movement beyond his country, Venezuela.

I think you're going to see these developing countries which have resources that believe that they deserve a seat at the table, clamoring for more influence. And I think Chavez is definitely, you know, a representative of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And "Time Magazine's" person of the year will be announced right here on CNN on December 16th. You'll want to see that.

Still ahead, Danny DeVito, tipsy on TV as he lets it rip against President Bush. Jeanne Moos is on the story.

And you're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A couple of drinks before going on TV can lead to foot in mouth. Danny DeVito found out the hard way.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Danny DeVito was able to walk. It was when he started to talk on "The View" that he earned his new tabloid nickname, Danny DeVino, though vino wasn't what he admitted drinking.

DANNY DEVITO, ACTOR: I knew it was the last seven lemon cellos that was going to get me.

MOOS: Got him after a night of hanging out with George Clooney. And there DeVito was midmorning, apparently still smashed, ranting about President Bush, likening him to the three stooges.

DEVITO: The guy who...

MOOS: DeVito came to plug his new movie, "Deck the Halls". Instead, he decked the president, describing how he visited the White House when Bill Clinton was there.

DEVITO: The place was -- had that kind of Clinton feeling.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

DEVITO: You know, I didn't go after, you know, (CENSURED).

MOOS: ABC bleeped what DeVito called President Bush. But it's a colorful phrase, a blend of numb and nuts, a phrase that basically means "numbskull".

DEVITO: Trying to, like, you know, figure out what to do with our country and our women and men in the military.

MOOS: DeVito is far from the first celeb to show up on TV in an altered state. There was Joe Namath threatening to kiss an ESPN reporter.

JOE NAMATH, FORMER NEW YORK JETS QUARTERBACK: I want to kiss you. I couldn't care less about the team struggling.

MOOS: There was Courtney Love barging in on an MTV interview with Madonna.

COURTNEY LOVE, MUSICIAN: Am I interrupting?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no.

MOOS: Barging onto David Letterman's desk. Poor David has had his share of out of it celebs. For years it's been debated whether actor Crispin Glover was on acid, which he denied, or doing a comedy act.

CRISPIN GLOVER, ACTOR: I can kick.

DAVID LETTERMAN, NBC HOST, I'm going to go check on the top ten.

MOOS: And then there was Farrah Fawcett.

LETTERMAN: How you doing, are you all right?

FARRAH FAWCETT, ACTRESS: You know, sort of like, they, well, they receive it in -- I really thought I was looking out the window.

MOOS: Sort of makes Danny DeVito seem lucid talking about spending a frisky night in the Lincoln bedroom at the White House with his wife.

DEVITO: Really wreck the joint.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Yes.

DEVITO: I mean, every place in that bedroom was...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Utilized.

DEVITO: ... utilized!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There you go, Danny.

MOOS: DeVito ended his appearance on Rosie O'Donnell's lap. When the next guest came on, Rosie greeted him with, "nice to see you sober".

And the morning after Danny DeBlotto's appearance, they were still talking about it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was a fun drunk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was a fun drunk.

MOOS: Tell that to President Bush, not that he didn't used to party hardy.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That's it for us. Let's go to Paula in New York -- Paula.

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