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Is Iran Fighting Proxy War With U.S. in Iraq?; Interview With Howard Dean

Aired February 1, 2007 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM and it's happening right now.
As bombs go off across Iraq, the top U.S. military commander, up for a promotion, gets a grilling about the violence he left behind.

Is Iran using Shiite militants to fight a proxy war with U.S. troops in Iraq?

CNN's Christiane Amanpour will tell us what they're saying in Tehran. That's where she is right now.

And Democrats divided -- first, Joe Biden's attack on rival presidential candidates. Now shocking allegations from female members of a Congressional Caucus. I'll talk with the Democratic National Committee chairman, Howard Dean, this hour.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Market shoppers and bus passengers blown up by bombs. Students and teachers shot dead.

As fresh violence ripped through Iraq today, the outgoing U.S. military commander there was in the hot seat up on Capitol Hill, where there's a debate on whether he should get the top job in the U.S. Army.

CNN's Michael Ware is in Baghdad.

Christiane Amanpour is in Tehran.

But let's turn to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, several senators say they have not yet made up their mind if they will vote for the confirmation of General George Casey to be the Army chief of staff. Among them, one of his sharpest critics, Senator John McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I question seriously the judgment was -- that was employed and your execution of your responsibilities in Iraq. And we have paid a very, very heavy price in American blood and treasure because of what is now agreed to by literally everyone is a failed policy.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Casey's critics fault him for failing to adapt as the war took a turn for the worse and only asking for more troops in December, after President Bush ordered an overhaul of Iraq strategy.

GENERAL GEORGE CASEY, U.S. ARMY: I did not want to bring one more American soldier into Iraq than was necessary to accomplish the mission.

MCINTYRE: Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin pressed Casey on President Bush's comment that Iraq was headed to a slow failure until the president himself stepped in.

CASEY: I actually don't see it as slow failure. I actually see it as slow progress.

MCINTYRE: In fact, Casey says he still feels only two brigades of additional U.S. troops are needed in Iraq, not the five the president ultimately ordered. And he stubbornly defended his strategy.

CASEY: It may not have produced the results on the time lines that people expected or wanted, but I do believe that it has laid the foundation for our ultimate success in Iraq.


MCINTYRE: General Casey does not appear to be headed for the unanimous endorsement that his replacement, General Petraeus, got from the U.S. Senate. But he may be confirmed.

Among people who said they would vote for him, last hour on your show, Wolf, Senator Carl Levin said he would vote for him even though he had made some mistakes, because he didn't hold him responsible for what he called the bigger policy mistakes of the Bush administration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Senator Levin is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, so he has some sway.

Thank you, Jamie, for that.

Meanwhile, there's new word today that the troop increase in Iraq could cost $27 billion for a year long deployment. A Congressional Budget Office report says it could also mean thousands of support troops being sent, in addition to the roughly 21,000 combat troops called for in the Pentagon's deployment plan.

In Iraq today, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowded market in the town of Hillah. That's south of Baghdad. Sixty-one people were killed, 150 others wounded. In Diyala Province, the U.S. military says Iraqi troops stopped a suicide truck bomber at the gates of an Iraqi Army compound. The driver was shot dead but the vehicle blew up, wounding 13 Iraqi soldiers.

Police imposed a strict curfew tonight in the southern province of Najaf, where a bloody battle this week pitted Iraqi and U.S. forces against hundreds of gunmen from what Iraqi officials described as a Messianic killer cult. We're now learning new details of that clash.

And joining us now in Baghdad, our correspondent, Michael Ware -- you know, we've seen this phone video now of these bodies from that battle in Najaf the other day. I know you're investigating -- Michael, what went on?

It's very confusing. The only thing we know for sure, there are a lot of dead people there.

What are you picking up?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we do finally know is that on Sunday just gone, there was a major engagement, a major battle just north of the holy city of Najaf, south of the capital, Baghdad.

Now, according to the Iraqi government, at the center of this battle was this apocalyptic death cult. I mean, this group who believe that a messiah was among them and had returned.

The government claims that part of their plan, that this sect's intention was to enter the holy city and assassinate the Shia religious sect leadership. They believed that this was part of a prophecy.

Now, this is what the government says, and they say that this group of about 600 or 700 strong had taken land north of the holy city, dug entrenchments, gun positions. They had heavy weapons and that essentially they were approaching zero hour in their deadly plan and government forces intervened.

Beyond that, what we actually do know is that a battle did took place, that government forces did engage irregular forces north of the capital. We also know that Iraqi Army units with American advisers attached became involved. They were quickly enveloped. The American advisers called in two Apache helicopter gunships, one of which went down during the fight. As the battle raged throughout the evening, F- 16s were called in. A-10 and AC-130 gunships and aircraft were also called in. A Stryker unit and some infantry from the American forces, several hundred troops in total, were also brought in.

Now, according to U.S. officials, at the end of this blazing battle, there was at least 250 dead and they've hauled in 400 detainees or more so far.

Now, the Americans, however, are a little bit more cautious about just who they were fighting. Military intelligence -- military spokesmen described them as a Shia breakaway group.

Now, they're saying the jury is still out on whether it was actually this apocalyptic cult, although some officers refer to it as a David Koresh like organization, the American cult leader in Waco, Texas some years ago.

However, there's other stories, that this is a faction upon faction among the Shia militias; that this was a massacre of anti- Iranian forces; that this was a tribal dispute.

Basically, at the end of the day, Wolf, no one saw this battle. No one really knows how it began. And the facts are still emerging from the ruins of this engagement.

BLITZER: I know you'll stay on top of the story for us, as you always do.

Michael, thanks very much.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And a stunning new report today says that on average, more than 1,000 Iraqis were displaced from their homes every day in 2006, since last February's bombing of a Shiite holy site in Samarra. The International Organization for Migration says more than 330,000 Iraqis have been displaced since that attack, which triggered an all out round of sectarian violence. And it's still raging in Iraq.

Iran today began celebrations -- anniversary celebrations, that is -- for its Islamic Revolutionary, which brought hard-line clerics to power a generation ago.

But is Iran exporting that revolution to neighboring Iraq by aiding Shiite militants?

And joining us now from Tehran is our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour.

A rare opportunity for us to get insight -- what are they saying to you, Iranians, about these very serious U.S. allegations, Christiane, that the Iranians are helping foment this insurgency inside Iraq?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, officially, they're not saying anything, except for veiled comments today on the 28th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution to remain united against "U.S. conspiracies."

Unofficially, sources with very intimate knowledge of the government and government policy have told me that they are really surprised to hear these allegations, that they would not be overtly attacking or urging attacks against American soldiers there, that they want a stable Iraq because it's in their interests. And while they admit that they have a struggle with the United States over issues such as the nuclear issue and regional influence, that they wish they could work with the United States, as they did in Afghanistan, to resolve the situation inside Iraq.

BLITZER: The Americans insist that the Iranians are providing sophisticated equipment, including improvised explosive devices of a new generation, capable of penetrating the best U.S. armor.

Have you had a chance to ask them if they're providing this kind of equipment to Iraqis?

AMANPOUR: Yes, I have. I've asked them. And I've asked them, this is not new, these allegations. And I've asked them over the many times that I've been here and when I've met government officials.

And they always deny it. And their answer is always the same, that our interest is in a stable Iraq, that we want a democratic and free Iraqi government, which there is right now, the Shiite dominated Iraqi government, and that, yes, we would like "occupying forces out of Iraq," but once the conditions are set for them to leave Iraq. Because if not, they say, these sources, then Iraq will Iraq will be in an even bigger mess than it is right now.

BLITZER: What about the Iranian nuclear program that the U.S. and others -- the Europeans -- suspect is designed to build a bomb? How does this tension, the current tension between the U.S. and Iran, play into that bigger issue of Iran and a potential nuclear bomb?

AMANPOUR: Well, it certainly does. And, of course, while the West and many in the media talk about a nuclear bomb, here they are insistent, as they always have been, that that is not what they're pursuing. And they always point to the IAEA, which said it does not have evidence to anything other than a nuclear program.

They said that they are going to be announcing some kind of new development in their nuclear program over the next 10 days. We don't know what this is or whether it will happen. But we do know that they're taking journalists to one of the facilities this weekend. Among those journalists will be me and a cameraman from CNN, Mark Phillips (ph).

So maybe we'll know a little bit more over the weekend.

BLITZER: Our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, inside Iran.

Christiane, we're going to stay in close touch with you.

And will the American people support the Bush administration if it decides to get tough with Iran?

Coming up, I'll speak about that and more with Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns. He's over at the State Department right now.

Jack Cafferty is in New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't get much better than that, you know? You've got Michael Ware in Baghdad. You've got Christiane Amanpour in Tehran. I mean I don't know why you'd want to watch anybody else for news about what's going on in the Middle East, do you?

BLITZER: No. I totally agree.

CAFFERTY: And it isn't in my nature to be sucking up to the management around here, but that's pretty good stuff.


CAFFERTY: $75,000 a minute, Wolf -- that's even more than you make. That's how much money Exxon Mobil earned every minute of last year. The oil giant today reported the biggest annual profit ever for a U.S. corporation -- $39.5 billion.

The company topped its own past record of $36.1 billion back in 2005. That wasn't such a good year.

Keep in mind that last year oil prices did hit a record high of $77 a barrel. Gasoline hit $3 a gallon.

Now, then gas prices spiked, a lot of politicians were quick to start calling for a windfall profit tax on the oil companies. Some of them even suggested breaking up the biggest oil companies, like Exxon.

But the talk died down once gas fell back to closer to $2 a gallon.

Oil company executives insist that oil prices go through boom and bust cycles, so their profit margins are about average compared with other industries. They also say they need to keep their large profits and size in order to compete against big foreign oil companies.

So here's our question -- what's your reaction to Exxon energy $75,000 a minute every single minute for an entire year last year?

E-mail us at or go to

That's a lot of money -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That adds up pretty quickly.

CAFFERTY: Yes, it does.

BLITZER: We're talking billions and billions.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jack.

Up ahead, accusations rocking the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and pitting two California Democratic lawmakers against each other in an increasingly public feud.

Also, the controversy over presidential candidate Senator Joe Biden's remarks about his potential rival, Senator Barack Obama. I'll talk about it with the Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean. And love and politics Italian style. We're going to show you how a marital spat wound up making headlines and captivating a country. You're going to want to see what's going on in Italy right now.

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


BLITZER: New developments in the bomb scares that paralyzed parts of Boston yesterday. Two men have now been charged in what turned out be a promotion for a TV show on a network owned by CNN's parent company, Turner Broadcasting.

But the story took another strange twist in front of the TV cameras earlier today.

Let's go to Boston.

CNN's Dan Lothian joining us with more on this -- Dan.


Well, the two men accused of placing those devices across the Boston area and causing a security scare were in court today. At their arraignment, they're facing some very serious charges. But afterward, they didn't appear to be taking it all very seriously.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Just released on $2,500 bail each, Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky hugged supporters then launched into an odd rant about haircuts and hairstyles.

PETER BERDOVSKY, DEFENDANT: For example, Afro, I think, comes kind of from the '70s. But then again, there's other styles, like the greased up hair, when they actually use grease.

LOTHIAN: Despite repeated attempts by reporters to get serious comments, the two men did not stray from their unusual performance.

SEAN STEVENS, DEFENDANT: I'm getting sort of more due to -- to get a haircut because it's getting in my bangs now.

LOTHIAN: Earlier, not guilty pleas were entered on charges of placing a hoax device and disorderly conduct. The two were conducting a marketing campaign for an ad agency hired by The Cartoon Network, which is owned by CNN's parent company, Turner Broadcasting.

It led to a massive bomb scare across the Boston area. Blinking electronic signs were found under bridges, highways and other locations.

JOHN GROSSMAN, MASSACHUSETTS ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's clear that by placing a bomb like device where they did, the intent was to get that attention, at least initially, by causing fear, unrest, that there was a bomb located in this location. MICHAEL RICH, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I don't think that anybody had -- had any intent to -- to raise fear, concern or alarm.

LOTHIAN: Outside the courthouse, supporters said authorities over reacted.

JAYSON PALM, SUPPORTER: They were just doing their jobs, really. This was part of an advertising campaign. They were getting paid to do this.


LOTHIAN: I asked the defense attorney about the odd behavior of his clients. He said they were "performing." He went on to say that they're still getting over their shock of what has happened to them over the past 24 hours -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I don't think I've ever seen a news conference like that during my years covering these kinds of stories.

Have you, Dan?

LOTHIAN: I have not. It was quite bizarre. I didn't know what was happening when it was happening at the time. And even after viewing it, it was still shocking.

BLITZER: Yes. I was watching it on TV and I was saying whoa, whoa, these guys are something.

All right, Dan, thank you very much.

The Internet, by the way, played a very important role in uncovering the background of those light installations placed around Boston.

let's get some more details on this promotion gone wrong.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, has that -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, these promotional ads weren't just all over Boston and cities around the country, but there were photos of them all over the Internet. It's something that some blogs picked up on yesterday.

We asked the Boston police whether they've got any tips from bloggers, and they said that their investigative unit was monitoring blogs.

We want to give you an example of what has been online. This is Todd Venderlin's photo he uploaded to He took this photograph more than two weeks ago. And it shows right here that promotional ad underneath a bridge in South Boston. You can get a closer up look of it there. And then he took it down and you can see what it looks like on the under side.

There's also another woman named Riga Murthy (ph), who took this photograph and uploaded it on January 21st. She says that she thought, when she first saw it, it was part of a popular street game that somebody posted in the comments, that it was, in fact, a Mooninite from the "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" show on The Cartoon Network.

Now, these things are big fodder online now. They're up on eBay. You can bid on them. This one was a starting bid of $2,000. It's a guy named Jack who says he got it outside a bar in Philadelphia. He was a big fan of the show and was going to hang onto it, Wolf. But he says now he thinks he can make some money off of it.

BLITZER: Two grand, nothing to sneeze at.

Thanks very much for that, Jacki.

Coming up, intra-party warfare leading one California Democrat to quit the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. We're going to have details of an increasingly ugly feud.

Plus, my interview with the Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean. I'll ask him about presidential candidate Joe Biden's controversial remarks about possible White House contender, Barack Obama, and more.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: The Senate has gone forward and raised the federal minimum wage.

Let's go to our Carol Costello.

She's got the latest details -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we just got word a couple of minutes ago, Wolf.

It looks like we're moving closer to an increase in the minimum wage. The Senate just passed, by a vote of 94-3, a bill to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. The Senate's legislation includes tax cuts for small businesses.

Now, before the bill goes to the president's desk, the differences between the House and Senate versions will have to be ironed out. That will happen in a conference committee. Of course, we'll be following that for you.

Infighting spread today in Gaza despite a three-day-old cease- fire. Hamas militants opened fire in a raid on the Fatah Preventive Security Building in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. Elsewhere, in central Gaza, Hamas gunmen ambushed a convoy purportedly carrying arms to Mahmoud Abbas' presidential guard. Fatah says the convoy was carrying humanitarian aid. Today's fighting left five dead and dozens injured. It violates a cease-fire which went into effect on Tuesday. More on that thwarted execution plot in Birmingham, England. British police say they're seeking further detention of nine people arrested in a series of raids yesterday. Under British law, police must apply with Magistrate's Court for permission to hold suspects up to 28 days before charging them. The detainees are suspected of plotting to kidnap a British Muslim soldier then torture and behead him. The soldier has not been named.

And British police are confirming that Prime Minister Tony Blair was recently questioned over allegations that his Labor Party tried to reward political donors with titles of nobility. It is the second time police have interviewed Mr. Blair about these allegations. They say he is not a suspect and cooperated fully. Four people, including Mr. Blair's senior political adviser, have been arrested in connection to this scandal.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They've got scandals all over the world happening right now.

We're going to have another one in Italy.

That's coming up, as well.

Carol, thank you.

Also coming up, when it comes to Iran meddling the United States in Iraq, where is the evidence?

We're going to ask the undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns. He's standing by live.

Plus, my interview with the Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean. We'll talk about politics, what's going on in the presidential race. That's coming up, as well.

Also, details of the feud that's unfolding right now among Democrats that's rocking the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. It's getting very ugly.

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


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, the former top U.S. military commander in Iraq grilled at his confirmation hearing by senators critical of the way he executed the troubled U.S. military mission in Iraq. General George Casey now up for Army chief of staff. He told the Armed Services Committee President Bush's troop increase will give commanders greater flexibility.

The Congressional Budget Office now says that increase could cost up to $27 billion over the next year. Also, sources telling CNN members of Congress will get a look at the latest National Intelligence Estimate tomorrow and that the so- called key judgment section will be made public. But the sources say the rest of the Estimate remains classified.

And scandal rocking San Francisco's city hall. Mayor Gavin Newsom admitting to an affair with the wife of his former reelection campaign manager. The man reportedly confronted Newsom and he then resigned. The mayor is apologizing, saying he's deeply sorry for what he calls a lapse of judgment.

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

A storm is brewing on Capitol Hill within the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and it's getting ugly. Its leader is coming under growing fire from within the ranks.

CNN's Brian Todd is standing by with all the details -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, until recently, Congressman Joe Baca was not well known, even in this town. Now, he is under extreme pressure and may not be able to hold his fractious group of legislators together.


TODD (voice over): The leader of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus now under heavy fire, accused of not treating the six women in that group fairly. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who just resigned from the caucus, goes further, telling the online publication that some months ago, caucus chairman Joe Baca told a California politician she was a whore.

Sanchez would not speak to CNN. Her office issuing a statement saying she resigned because of her "... strong opposition to Mr. Baca's chairmanship..."

"The Politico" reporter who interviewed Sanchez says she confronted Baca late last year about the remark.

JOSEPHINE HEARN, POLITICO.COM: This was a closed-door meeting. There were no staff there. It was just members of Congress. And in that meeting he denied having ever made the remark. But quite an argument ensued, as I understand it.

TODD: We couldn't reach Joe Baca directly for comment, but a statement from his office calls Sanchez's accusation "...baseless..." and "... categorically untrue..."

CNN has tried to confirm this account first hand. Congressional observers and Hill staffers tell CNN there have long been tensions in the caucus over the perception that Baca gives more favorable treatment to the men in the group.

Today, Congresswoman Hilda Solis from California gave a statement to CNN saying she shares Loretta Sanchez' sentiment about "... the lack of respect afforded to women members of the Hispanic Caucus."

CNN asked the Democratic Party leader about this upheaval.

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: This is something that we have made some calls back and forth into the caucus on. They will resolve it. They have good leadership.


TODD: We repeatedly called and e-mailed Joe Baca's office for response to those broader accusations that women are not accorded equal treatment in his caucus. As of now, we have not heard back -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you very much, Brian, for that.

And the race is clearly on for the White House. Democrats are already jockeying for power. But is the party threatened by some new splits among those powerful personalities?


BLITZER: And joining us now, the chairman of the Democratic Party, Governor Howard Dean.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

DEAN: My pleasure. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: It looks like you have got some division -- this is not a surprise -- among Democrats, but let's go through some of them and as chairman, see what you have to say.

First of all, Joe Biden. He had some really blunt comments about fellow Democrats, presidential candidates. First of all, going back, he said of Al Gore and John Kerry, he said, "Democrats nominated the perfect blow-dried candidates in 2000 and 2004... and they couldn't connect."

Now, on John Edwards, he's saying, "I don't think John Edwards knows what the heck he's talking about."

Also some disparaging remarks about Senator Clinton. And, as you know, listen to what he said about Barack Obama.


SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I mean, you got the fist mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy... I mean, that's a storybook, man."


BLITZER: What do you make of this?

DEAN: Well, you know, as you well know, Wolf, there are going be a thousand comments of this kind that are controversial and so forth as we go forward. I'm not going to make a practice of commenting on them.

In this particular case, the principals have talked about it, they have resolved their differences. And so I'm not going to get into it at all.

I'm going to be the referee. We're going to have a fair process. The only time I'm going to get into it is if I think things are going on that are really unfair and below the belt. But the media is going to sort this one, and the principals have already talked, Senator Obama and Senator Biden. So there's no need -- no need for me to get involved.

BLITZER: Well, at what point thought do you make a phone call or do you call Senator Biden, for example, and say, "Joe, maybe you should cut back a little bit on the rhetoric"?

DEAN: You know, I think there's been a lot of people probably giving him that advice publicly. And he certainly doesn't need to hear it from me publicly or privately.

Again, my job is to be the referee. I have to be very careful in this campaign. I want the DNC to be the place where every single candidate can feel they can come to, if they feel something else needs to be done differently and they're going to get a fair hearing.

And so you won't hear me commenting about who's the front-runner and who isn't and who said what last week and who said what yesterday and all that kind of stuff. I'm just not going to do that kind of public analysis.

BLITZER: Because your job is to get Democrats elected, Democrats locally, statewide and in the White House.

DEAN: That's right.

BLITZER: And if you have Democrats fighting each other, that's going to make your job a lot more difficult.

DEAN: Well, there's difference between controversial comments that get resolved in a couple of days and really serious stuff. And I'm going the save my comments and interventions for the really serious stuff that isn't going to get resolved between the principals. If the principals can resolve this stuff on their own, they certainly don't need me to help, and I'm going to be -- look, we had great year in 2006.

We've got all the momentum on our side. This presidential Iraq policy is about to be disavowed by the majority of the Senate, including Republicans.

This presidential race is something that we ought to win. We've kept our promises. I think Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid have done a great job. You know, when was the last time you can remember that people made six promises before they got elected and they kept them on time?

I think it's a great record. And I think we ought to focus -- I want to focus on the positive things the Democrats are doing.

BLITZER: What about the split that the Democrats in the Senate are having now in whether or not they should go along with a modified, a watered-down. symbolic resolution complaining about the extra troops going to the Iraq? You've got Levin and Biden on one side, you've got Russ Feingold on another side saying use the power of the purse.

This another problem you potentially have to get involved in.

DEAN: No, this is not a problem. The Democrats, in fact, are not split. And the resolution is not watered down. They changed a few words.

I think this s a very smart move on the part of Harry Reid. If we can get significant numbers of Republicans to repudiate the Republican president's policy, which is about to happen, then I think that's very, very positive.

Look, we're doing what Americans elected us to do. The American people do not believe we belong in Iraq. The president is going in exactly the opposite direction that the American people asked him to go to. It's not a surprise to me that any United States senator, Republican or Democrat, might want to listen to their constituents before they listen to a president who's taking us in the wrong direction, despite what the American people voted for.

So, I think you're going to see a unified vote. I think you're going to see unified Democrats.

The question will be, which I'm not going to go into and speculate about, but the question will be, what happens when the House and the Senate disavow the president's wrong-headed actions in Iraq, ask him not to do it, and he does it anyway? Then I think you're going to see more discussions about what the alternatives are in addition to this.

But this is first step, it's the right step. Again, I think both Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are doing exactly the right thing on the right timetable, and I think you're going to see overwhelming Democratic support for these resolutions condemning the president's actions in Iraq to escalate the war.

BLITZER: One final quick question. Al Gore, he supported you back in 2004 when you were running for president. Now he's expected to win an Oscar. He's being nominated for a Nobel prize. Should he get back into this presidential race?

DEAN: Again, I'm not going to get into that, but I certainly think he deserves the Oscar and Nobel Prize.

Look, this guy, who is a good friend, a wonderful friend, a courageous friend, has done more to affect public policy than anybody I can think of in the last few years. Al Gore and the people who helped him make that movie -- and it wasn't just Al, but it was others -- have -- have totally changed the way Americans look at global warming.

The president of the United States has tried to pretend that global warming hasn't existed for six years. He has bullied scientists who are concerned about this, as has his administration. And because of the efforts led by Al Gore, we are really doing -- dealing with the issue that may be the most important issue to face this planet as long as humankind has existed on it.

So I think he deserves whatever awards he gets for doing that.

BLITZER: Governor Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party.

Thanks very much.

DEAN: Thanks for having me on.


BLITZER: And still ahead, Italians they're spellbound by a very public airing of lover's quarrel involving one of the country's most powerful couples. We're going to have the report from Rome.

But first, the Bush administration leveling some very serious allegations at Iran. Does the administration have the credibility right now to convince the American people it knows the real story?

We're going to be joined here in THE SITUATION ROOM by one of American's top diplomats. Nick Burns, he's standing by live at the State Department.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: We're getting word now, a statement the president has just issued in connection with the Senate going ahead and passing a federal minimum wage increase. The House did that a couple weeks ago.

"Today, the Senate has passed significant legislation," the president's statement says, "that will benefit America's workers and small businesses. By working in a bipartisan way to match a minimum wage increase with tax relief for small businesses, the Senate has taken a step toward helping maintain a strong and dynamic labor market and promoting continued economic growth. I strongly encourage the House to support this combined minimum wage increase and small business tax relief."

As you know, the House version -- House version did not contain the tax credits for small businesses. The House and Senate versions are going to have to be reconciled in what's called a conference committee before it goes to the president for signature.

The Bush administration has been blasting Iran for aiding Shiite militants in Iraq and for a nuclear program that U.S. officials maintain is aimed at building a bomb. If the administration decides to get tough with Iran, what would it make the case to the American people with given the experience in Iraq?

Joining us now, the undersecretary of state, Nicholas Burns.

Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: What evidence do you have, for example, that the Iranians are involved in killing American troops in Iraq?

BURNS: Well, Wolf, I think there's incontrovertible evidence that the Iranians have been giving very sophisticated explosive technology to Shia insurgent groups for the better part of the last year and half. Those groups have used that technology, some of which is armor-piercing -- to attack American soldiers and British soldiers and to kill them. It's a very, very serious development.

Now, we have warned the Iranian government in past about this. We had not received an adequate response from them. And you have seen now President Bush, over the several weeks, having decided that we will detain those military and intelligence officials in Iraq who are responsible for this.

Obviously, we wish Iran to cease and desist. Iran is not playing the type of role that most other countries are in Iraq.

Most countries like the United States want to see Iraq stayed together as unitary state. They want to see the problems between the Shia and the Sunni be resolved. But Iran seems to be stoking those problems, igniting them.

And so that's the basic -- that's the basic allegation that we're making against the Iranians. And we hope they're going to have a change of mind.

BLITZER: And the State Department, I take it, is putting together a dossier, a full report that will be declassified and made public going through your arguments, your evidence? Is that right?

BURNS: Well, obviously, we have been making the case for the last several weeks and will continue to make the case to the American people and to the international public that this is a problem. There really is no doubt about it.

You saw an interview, an extraordinary interview, when the ambassador of Iran in Iraq admitted that there are Iranian security operatives on the soil. Now, here's difference between the U.S. and Iran, Wolf. The United States military forces are there under U.N. authorization. Iran has no right and no authorization to have its military operatives or its intelligence on the soil of Iraq.

BLITZER: Although yesterday we heard -- we heard Nouri al- Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, yesterday in an interview with our own Michael Ware, basically equate Iran and the United States, saying he wants both of them to fight what he called their proxy out of Iraq.

BURNS: Well, you know, I think, Wolf, there's no question that the Iraqi government has to maintain relations with the Iranian government because they're neighbors. We would just hope that the Iranians would choose to have a positive influence and not a negative influence. And right now they're exercising a very negative influence.

BLITZER: Your former boss, the former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, was here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday. You're a career diplomat. You've served for many years over at the State Department. She says the administration has a credibility problem right now on Iran, the evidence you say you have on Iran, because of the failures of intelligence that now have been evident involving Iraq.

Listen to what she said.


MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: Because of the decision failures leading to the war in Iraq. And basically, that we were told a variety of things and something else was going on. Now, there may be all the terrible things going on in Iran that we are being told by the administration, but who is to say?


BLITZER: You acknowledge you have this serious problem of credibility?

BURNS: Well, Wolf, I respectfully disagree. I have been working on this problem of Iran's nuclear ambitions for the better part of two years. We now have a united coalition, the United States, China, Russian, the European countries, supported by India and Brazil and Egypt. All of us believe that Iran's nuclear research program and its plant at Natanz is intended to give Iran in several years a nuclear weapons capability.

There is no doubt about that in the international community. And there are no states, with the possible exception of Syria and Cuba and Venezuela, that believe that Iran's nuclear research program is benign.

And so, we're not in a situation that is analogous to what we were in in 2002 and '03 in Iraq, when there was a great international debate about the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There is unanimity across the world that Iran should not have a nuclear weapons capability, that it is trying to create one, and that the goal of our international effort should be to stop them from doing so.

You've seen us pass a Security Council resolution just before Christmas. There will be another Council resolution passed in February and March unless Iran agrees to negotiate with us, and that's what we're trying to do, Wolf. We're trying to negotiate this with Iran. BLITZER: So, bottom line -- bottom line, it's diplomatic and economic pressure. You're not planning on going to war against Iran, at least not now, is that right?

BURNS: Wolf, we are on a diplomatic track. We believe that diplomacy can succeed. And we don't believe that a military conflict is inevitable or even likely.

The fact is that the United States is protecting its interests by detaining those Iranian paramilitary officials in Iraq because they're attacking our soldiers. And we're protecting our interests in the Gulf by deploying our carrier battle groups.

We have been in the Gulf since 1949. And we have an historic responsibility to protect the security of the Gulf Arab states.

So we're not acting in a provocative way. We're actually acting for stability and for peace in the region. We have to ask Iran now to adjust its policies and to be willing to meet us at the negotiating table on the nuclear issue. They have turned us down on that issue, Wolf, as you know.

BLITZER: Nick Burns, the undersecretary of state.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for coming in.

BURNS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his program that begins in a few minutes, right at the top of the hour. He's going to tell us what he's working on -- Lou.


Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN tonight, we're going to be telling you about the pro-illegal alien open-border lobby. They're using shocking language, even by their standards, now to blast our federal agents trying to enforce U.S. immigration laws.

They're using words such as "terror" and "ethnic cleansing." And what is the president and the federal government saying in response? Nothing.

We'll have that special report.

Also tonight, troubling concerns that radical Islamist terrorists may be using Venezuela as a base for attacks against the United States, with the full support of Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez.

We'll have that report tonight.

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she apparently believes she has the right to use a military aircraft at taxpayer expense to fly herself, members of her family, other lawmakers in California, all around the country. We'll have that report.

And we'll also be examining the rising Iranian nuclear terrorist threat to this country.

And Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic strategist leading Hillary Clinton's presidential election campaign is among our guests.

We hope you'll join us at the top of the hour here on CNN.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Did you think the undersecretary of state made a good case as far a Iran is concerned?

DOBBS: I don't -- at this point, I thought it was interesting, your discussion about credibility. I think that it's time for a lot of discussion about the U.S. policy in the Middle East, period. And there's very high bar, I think -- I think -- I'm hardly alone in feeling this way -- but a very high bar for this administration to reach in putting forth evidence that would require a direct action against Iran, either diplomatically or militarily, beyond the sanctions that are already in place by the United Nations.

BLITZER: Lou's coming up in 10 minutes.

We'll be watching.

Thanks, Lou.

DOBBS: You bet. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a rising star in the Democratic Party admits to a personal lapse of judgment. Much more on that during our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And in Italy, a very public couple has a very public spat. We're going to tell you what's happening in Rome right now. You're going to want to see this.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: ExxonMobil reported the biggest annual profit ever for a U.S. corporation -- $39.5 billion last year. So we asked: What's your reaction to Exxon earning $75,000 a minute for the whole year?" That's -- if you do the math, that's what it comes out to.

Arlene in Folsom, California, "My reaction to big oil making those gigantic profits happen last year when they made so much dough: I sold my car, began walking and taking public transportation everywhere. I got even for the over-inflated car prices, the insurance prices and the gas-gouging. I save $900 to $1,000 every month and I can now take a vacation."

Mark in Anchorage, Alaska, "Jack, I'm a sourdough Alaskan and to hear that ExxonMobil made $39 billion in profits frosts me as they still owe Alaska billions of dollars for the damage done by the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. Jerks!"

Mark, "Bully for them. It will allow a great American company to remain great. Additionally, the earnings will allow them to conduct further exploration for new reserves of oil and gas."

Linda, "I don't care how much Exxon makes. I care how much the Saudis make. I care how much the Kuwaitis make and how much all the other countries who fund Islamic terrorists make when selling us their barrels of crude oil."

J.B. in Connecticut, "Jack, the middle class in this country will lament the exorbitant (or is that extorted?) profits by ExxonMobil and other big oil, drug. and insurance companies. But the people in this country that control the laws are the upper class and their paid lobbyists who take good care of our elected representatives. And the upper class makes big money when the big companies make big profits."

"So, who's going to fix this problem? No one."

John writes, "Jack, Exxon makes $75,000 a minute in profits. I wonder if they could spare a minute or two for you or me, Jack."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to and read more of these online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know what they say, Jack. Rich or poor, it's good to have money.

CAFFERTY: That's right. On the whole, I'd rather be rich. I've been rich, I've been poor, and on the whole I'd rather be rich.

BLITZER: Good. See you in an hour, Jack. Thanks very much.

Up next, love and politics, Italian-style. A former prime minister and his wife, they're battling it out in public. You're going to want to see this when we come back.


BLITZER: Italy is being riveted right now by a very public spat between former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his wife.

CNN's Alessio Vinci is joining us from Rome with details -- Alessio.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Italian politics is perhaps best known for how crazy it is or, at times, for being plain boring. But Italians witnessed something they have never seen before, an open letter on the front page of a national daily, written by Silvio Berlusconi's wife, fed up with her husband's flirting.


VINCI (voice over): The letter demanded a public apology by the former prime minister for sexist comments he allegedly made to a group of women during a dinner party, telling one of them he would marry her and another he would go with her anywhere.

"These are comments I consider damaging to my dignity," she wrote. "The can be reduced to jokes." Such a bold and unexpected move by a woman known for staying out of the limelight had the nation spellbound for a day.

Newscasts, newspapers, blogs all devoted a huge amount of space to the saga. And by late afternoon, Berlusconi was ready to apologize, saying, "Forgive me. Accept this public display of public pride as an act of love, one of many."


VINCI: Had all this played out in the U.S., the outcome may well have been the end of a political career. But here in Italy, it all ended with a nice family dinner at Berlusconi's estate near Milan -- children included -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Alessio. Thanks very much. Always interesting in Rome.

We're here in THE SITUATION ROOM, back in an hour.

Let's go to Lou in New York.


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