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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Al Qaeda in Israel?; Controversy Over Generals' Luxury Accommodations; Obama Takes Trip Overseas

Aired July 18, 2008 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Condoleezza Rice delivers a message to anyone thinking the United States is flip-flopping when it comes to talking to Iran. And she has a firm message for Tehran. She delivers both right here in an exclusive interview.

Israeli officials investigate if some people tried to form an al Qaeda-linked terrorist cell in Israel and if there was an actual assassination plot against President Bush during his trip to Israel this year.

And the world will be watching Barack Obama's major trip abroad. But John McCain is determined to keep your attention. He's talking about something you can't ignore, all that, all that and the best political team on television.

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

An alleged plot against President Bush, that stunning charge today from Israeli authorities, who revealed they're holding a number of Arab suspects.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We begin with the new case in Israel raising fresh concerns that al Qaeda is working to establish a foothold in Israel.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Jerusalem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, announced Friday that six individual, two Israeli Arab citizens and four Palestinians from East Jerusalem, had been arrested on suspicion of trying to establish a cell linked to al Qaeda.

One of the suspects, Muhammad Najam, a student at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, is alleged to have taken cell phone video footage of a helipad later used by U.S. President George W. Bush during his January visit to Israel. According to the Shin Bet statement, Najam raised the possibility of targeting Bush's aircraft on a chat room frequented by al Qaeda supporters. In addition, Shin Bet claimed investigator found bomb- making instructions downloaded from the Internet on the personal computers of several of the suspects.

Earlier this month, Israeli police revealed they had arrested two other Israeli citizens of bedouin origin who allegedly were passing information to al Qaeda over the Internet on military bases and other strategic facilities, including Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Until now, al Qaeda has been unable to establish a presence in Israel, Gaza, or the West Bank.

(on camera): A statement has been issued on behalf of the six suspects, who will be charged with membership in a terrorist organization -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman reporting in Jerusalem.

Let's get to a CNN exclusive right now.

Within only a few hours, the United States government will do something that some Washington hard-liners see as a major sign of weakness.

But, in a CNN interview, Condoleezza Rice smacks that notion down. Tomorrow, in Geneva, Switzerland, a senior U.S. envoy will come eye to eye with a top Iranian nuclear negotiator, this for the first time. And some suggest the Bush administration has reversed its tough stance against meeting directly with Iran.

Secretary Rice is responding to critics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I acknowledge that what we've done is to make a step that we think demonstrates to everyone our seriousness about this process. But what has not changed is that the United States is determined to have negotiations only when Iran has suspended its enrichment and reprocessing. That's when the United States can join.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And that's just the start. You are going to hear the other messages Secretary Rice is sending to Iran, messages she's sending to Iraq as well -- more of my exclusive interview coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's turn to the presidential race. Barack Obama is set for his first trip abroad as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. While he's away, John McCain will stay, determined to compete for the spotlight by talking about things you worry about.

CNN's Dana Bash is working the story for us.

All right, Dana, what's the strategy here for the McCain campaign? How are they planning on dealing with a lot of the publicity that Obama is sure to get when he travels abroad?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I am actually told it's going to be very much like what we saw from John McCain today, a kind of messaging balancing act.

McCain will try to provide a contrast to Obama being abroad by spending a lot of time talking about what voters care most about at home, the economy, but still get his digs in on Obama's foreign policy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): A tour of GM's Michigan Design Center to get a firsthand look at the company's efforts to develop its first battery-powered car.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will do everything that I can to support this industry, to help it develop, to help this new technology in the form of tax credits to consumers.

BASH: John McCain angered voters in hard-hit Michigan during the primary by declaring their jobs won't come back. Now he returns to the battleground state carrying a more delicate message.

MCCAIN: The manufacturing loss here in Michigan has been profound. It's been deep. It's been painful.

BASH: McCain's goal was to beef up his economic credentials with skeptical Michigan voters. But one voter was more interested in matters abroad and asked a pointed question about his plans for Iran and Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We lost Vietnam. You said you knew how to win wars. We didn't win there. And I don't know if winning wars is necessarily something that a president wants to do, or should do.

BASH: She got an eight-minute answer. McCain saw a chance to get some licks in, ahead of Barack Obama's trip to Afghanistan.

MCCAIN: I'm glad he's going to Afghanistan, for the first time. He's never been to Afghanistan. And I'm astonished.

BASH: And Iraq.

MCCAIN: Senator Obama apparently is going to sit down for the first time -- for the first time ever -- with General Petraeus, our general over there.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BASH: That's the kind of thing we heard from McCain all week on the stump. He's trying to prevent Obama from using his trip abroad to burnish his foreign policy credentials. But now McCain is going to pay to do that.

We have a brand-new TV ad that the McCain (AUDIO GAP) in battleground states while Obama is abroad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan. He hasn't been to Iraq in years. He voted against funding our troops, positions that helped him win his nomination. Now Obama is changing to help himself become president. John McCain has always supported our troops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, a spokesman for Obama called that ad -- quote -- "patently misleading and negative." Now, the ad is pretty tough stuff to air while Obama is overseas. But the McCain camp says the Obama campaign slammed him when he was abroad earlier this year, so they insist, Wolf, it's fair game.

BLITZER: Politics, a tough business. Dana, thanks.

And this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now, stunning images of a homemade submarine as it's intercepted while allegedly moving tons of drugs in the Pacific.

Brian Todd here working the story for us.

What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this video and the set of stills we're getting in fascinating, chilling at the same time, a Mexican Navy helicopter hovering over what is called a makeshift submarine believed to be used by drug runners.

We're told this was off Mexico's Pacific coast on Wednesday. The video and stills are from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and from Mexican TV. Now, U.S. officials saw this vessel was first spotted by American surveillance aircraft. Mexican authorities were alerted.

Then in what's described as a daring maneuver, Mexican navy personnel repelled down onto the sub, apprehended several crew members, and seized about seven tons of cocaine. The alleged drug runners are believed to believe from Latin America. What is extraordinary, when you look at these pictures, is how sophisticated this vessel is. You can see it in that still right there.

We're told the vessel can travel on or just beneath the surface, but cannot go completely underwater. Now, U.S. officials say the use of these vessels by drug cartels is exploding, Wolf. They can go anywhere along the Pacific coast of the U.S. or Mexico, drop these drugs off anywhere. They have flexibility. They can stay off the coasts and boats can come and get the stuff. They have GPS. Amazing technology.

You see the video of that makeshift submarine. It's almost as if they built it themselves in their backyard. This is what they can do these days.

BLITZER: And the money that they're going to make from this is extraordinary. So, they're coming up with very creative ideas.

TODD: Seven tons of cocaine on that one vessel can get you millions of dollars.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of money on the street.

All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty has got "The Cafferty File."

Jack, tell me how many years we have been fighting the war on drugs.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I don't know. I'm 65. I think it was going on before I was born. Well, maybe not quite that long. But the point is, we have been fighting it a long time. and I don't know. We live here in New York City. What do you want? Take five minutes, walk out the door and get it for you.

Fifteen million workers in this country say they have a bad boss. A new survey shows 36 percent say they feel pressure to stay with said bad boss because, hey, the economy is shaky. So, if you have got a crummy boss, the economy is in the toilet, what do you do? Nothing. Because a job with a bad boss is better than no job.

All that said, it doesn't mean you have to deal with some jerk eight hours a day five days a week. It's no fun. Unfortunately, though, a lot of people because of the things I was talking about are trapped. In recognizing these workers' plight, an outfit called Working America, part of the AFL-CIO, is running a contest to see who has the worst boss in America. The contest runs through August 19.

There's a lot of prizes. They have already heard from people horror stories. The group says one of the biggest complaints reported by more than one-third of those surveyed, getting time off for illness, deaths in the family or emergency-type issues.

One guys said his boss made him stay at work when he had a bad stomach bug, so the boss could leave early to go play golf. He ended up keeping a trash can next to him so he didn't have to run to the bathroom when he got sick and he could stay there to answer the phone, presumably when the boss called from the golf course.

Other complaints, lazy bosses, mean bosses, clueless bosses. Clueless bosses, you tend to find many of these latter ones in Washington, D.C. But we're pretty sure that they haven't heard about all the bad bosses. And it's Friday. And that's where you come in. The question is this: What's the crummiest thing your boss ever did to you?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog. The bosses in Washington I was referring to, Wolf, are the government bosses. Our bosses in Washington are gems.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Lovely indeed.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Another classic Friday night question from Jack.

Love your Friday night questions, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Good.

BLITZER: Good work.

All right, Air Force generals, they are flying in style. They're adding some luxury features to no-frills transport planes. But are they paying for the upgrades with anti-terrorism funds?

Plus, Barack Obama will be visiting world leaders overseas. But should he stay at home now to focus on issues like the economy?

And my exclusive interview with the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. Is there a U.S. flip-flop when it comes to a direct dialogue with Iran?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE: I am prepared to go and talk to my counterpart anyplace, anytime, anywhere. But there really must be a suspension, verifiable suspension, of their enrichment and reprocessing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now to a CNN exclusive.

There are some new words out of the White House today when it comes to U.S. troops reductions in Iraq. The Bush administration has long resisted the idea of a schedule or a timetable. But now, nudged along by Iraqi officials, U.S. officials are talking about -- quote -- "a time horizon," a time horizon, in talks for meeting goals such as reducing troop levels in Iraq.

Both Iraq and Iran were among the subjects I discussed today when I sat down with the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: The number three diplomat at the State Department, indeed, the man whose office we're sitting in right now, is meeting this weekend with high-ranking Iranian officials. Now, until now, the U.S. position was there would be no such meeting on nuclear issues until the Iranians stopped enriching uranium, which they're still doing.

Why the change?

RICE: Well, let me be very clear that the U.S. demand for a precondition for the suspension of Iranian enrichment and reprocessing prior to negotiations stands. And in fact, what Bill Burns will do is he will go to demonstrate the unity of the P5 plus one, as we call it, Russia, China, and the three European countries. He will go to demonstrate that we are unified. He will go to affirm that the United States fully backs the package.

By the way, I signed the letter transmitting that package. And he will receive the Iranian answer. He will also make very clear that there will be no negotiation in which the United States is involved until there's a suspension of their enrichment and reprocessing.

BLITZER: So is this just a one-shot deal?

RICE: This is. This is.

BLITZER: He will just sit in this meeting, listen, deliver his little message, receive a response, and that will be it?

RICE: Well, of course he will be listening intently to see if the Iranians demonstrate that they are ready to accept the condition, the demand -- and by the way, it's not a U.S. demand, it is now a demand that is enshrined in three separate Security Council resolutions.

And he will listen. And if Iran is ready to suspend, then the United States will be there. But it's very important to recognize that this is to reinforce a position that we have held since 2006.

BLITZER: But you acknowledge this is a change? RICE: I acknowledge that what we've done is to make a step that we think demonstrates to everyone our seriousness about this process. But what has not changed is that the United States is determined to have negotiations only when Iran has suspended its enrichment and reprocessing. That's when the United States can join.

BLITZER: This is what you said back on June 3rd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE: If Iran suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, I will join my U.N. Security Council colleagues, I will meet with my Iranian counterpart. I will do it anytime, anywhere, on any sue.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Now, could you envisage your doing what the under secretary of state for political affairs is now doing? In other words, listening in, receiving, not negotiating, but meeting?

RICE: We have one chance to receive the Iranian response. That's going to be on Saturday, when Bill receives that response. I am prepared to go and talk to my counterpart anyplace, anytime, anywhere. But there really must be a suspension, verifiable suspension of their enrichment and reprocessing.

BLITZER: What about just participating in a meeting, listening in along the lines of what the under secretary is doing?

RICE: I think everybody understands, and we've talked to our counterparts in the P5 plus one, that this is an opportunity for Iran. Very often we hear, Wolf, well, we're not sure that the United States is really behind this.

Well, I signed the letter. Now Bill will go to receive the response. It's a bookend. I transmit it, the proposal, he will receive the response. That should give the Iranians every indication of how strongly the United States supports this package.

BLITZER: So this is really designed as an incentive to them to do, from your perspective, the right thing?

RICE: That's right. That's right. And it is, by the way, a very clear message also that there is complete unity on both tracks, because, of course, we've submitted this proposal to the Iranians, but we've also designated Iranian banks and other entities.

Just a few weeks ago, a couple of weeks ago, the Europeans designated Bank Melli, a major Iranian bank. Major companies are pulling out of Iran, like Total, which has pulled out of gas and oil deals there. And so the world is sending Iran a message on both tracks.

First of all, there are consequences for continuing to defy the will of the international community. Continued economic isolation, continued isolation that is leading to an ever-worsening economic situation in Iran, and on the other hand, a pathway out -- suspend and negotiate.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Iraq right now.

There's word, as we speak right now, of what Bush administration officials are now calling an agreement between the U.S. and the Iraqi government for a general time horizon for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Now, that's an ambiguous phrase, but it sounds like something you've opposed for a long time, which would be a deadline or a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops.

RICE: I think you will find, Wolf, that in anything we talk about with the Iraqis and anything that is agreed, that we and the Iraqis are going to want to be sensitive to the conditions. We certainly have views about how well the Iraqis are starting to do. They are taking over security responsibility in the provinces. The day is coming when American forces will step back more and more from combat roles. The day is coming when we will be doing more in the way of training, and less in the way of fighting.

Those goals are being achieved now as we speak. And so it's not at all unusual to start to think that there is a horizon out there, in the not too distant future, in which the roles and responsibilities of the U.S. forces are going to change dramatically, and those of the Iraqi forces are going to become dominant.

BLITZER: Is this -- is that a euphemism for a timeline for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq?

RICE: I think that you will find that both the United States and Iraq want to be very attentive to what is actually going on, on the ground. And to the degree that you can turn over provinces to the Iraqis, because they are stronger, because their enemies are weaker, because political and economic activities are taking hold, of course you will want to do that. And there is no problem in having an aspirational, if you will, time horizon for doing this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And there is much more of my interview with the secretary of state coming up Sunday on "LATE EDITION" -- the last word in Sunday talk.

Among other subjects, we talk about Pakistan, the Israeli- Palestinian problems. We also get into some domestic American politics, speak about the first African-American presidential nominee. And I raise the question once again about the potential for her being John McCain's running mate.

"LATE EDITION" airs the full interview Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Hillary Clinton, she is out talking about Barack Obama's trip overseas and taking a swipe at Republicans.

Also, a gift from the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, it's been refused in the past. Now some Americans are changing their tune.

And Barack Obama's political machine, it's not old school. It's high tech. We will take you inside.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Apparently, flying on a regular military transport plane is not good enough for some military brass. They want that first-class feeling. So, where is the outrage? Is there an outrage? Should there be an outrage. You're paying for it. Or what's a bigger outrage, that your money meant for fighting terrorism is being used for it? Also, there's suddenly some new talk about U.S. troop reductions in Iraq. But does the phrase a time horizon mean more troops are actually coming home?

And you might not want to admit it, but you can tell Jack Cafferty, what's the crummiest thing your boss ever did to you? That's his question this Friday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Barack Obama's overseas tour, is the timing right? You are going to find out what Senator Hillary Clinton is now saying about it.

And what about John McCain? We will talk about that and more with the best political team on television.

Also, an uproar, as U.S. Air Force generals try use anti-terror funds to outfit their flights with some luxury compartments.

And we're following another crane collapse, this one at a refinery in hewn. Four people are dead, at least six injured.

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

First-class amenities on a military flight. The word is out about demand by some top generals who wanted to pay for luxury accommodations with anti-terror funds.

Brian Todd is working the story for us. He has got some details.

Seems to be some outrage out there. What's going on, Brian?

TODD: Well, Wolf, a key watchdog group calls this an egregious failure of leadership. The Air Force is pushing back on that.

We're talking about special capsules for top brass that can fit inside huge military transport planes. How Air Force officials wanted to pay for them and what they wanted inside them has upset some junior officers and enlisted.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): By definition, this is supposed to be no frills flying -- big, clunky Air Force transport planes that carry troops, cargo and occasionally top brass all over the world. Now, Air Force generals are on the defensive over their efforts to upgrade their own accommodations on these aircraft. They've ordered so-called conference capsules that can be placed inside the massive planes -- pods with comfortable chairs, desks, convertible sofas, sleeping areas.

But a watchdog group is calling the generals out for trying to pay for them with nearly $20 million from the government's counter- terrorism funds.

NICK SCHWELLENBACH, PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: The war on terrorism budget is supposed to be for funding the wars abroad and the troops on the front line, not for generals and their cushy flights around the world.

TODD: The Air Force's funding request was denied by Congress and Air Force officials tell us they've drastically cut down the number of these capsules on order and that it's all now coming out of the Air Force's own budget.

But there are other complaints about the project. According to internal Air Force e-mails provided to CNN by the defense watchdog group, Project On Government Oversight, which also gave us these images, top Air Force generals personally ordered features in the design of the capsules that drove up the cost by thousands of dollars -- things like a full length mirror and aesthetically pleasing wall treatments and coverings.

SCHWELLENBACH: It's just amazing when you contrast what these generals wanted to fly in with the deplorable state of the seating for -- for regular troops and airmen inside the Defense Department.

TODD: Air Force officials candidate provide anyone on camera, but they steered us to a "Washington Post" interview with General Robert MacMahon, who was involved with the project. MacMahon said the goal was to design space where officials could work as they went into the area of responsibility and rest so they could be ready to work for short periods on the ground before leaving again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Air Force officials also tell us they need places for secure communications, places to plug in computers to work during those long flights, Wolf. But The Project on Government Oversight says they already have some of those components, they don't need the souped-up version of it.

BLITZER: I've been on those kind of transport planes. I know you have, as well. If you take a look -- look at those pictures.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: You sit along the sides. It's noisy. You can barely concentrate. If you're on an eight hour flight or a 10 hour flight and you're a commanding general and you've got to get ready for action, it sort of makes sense to have a little privacy.

TODD: It does. And even the critics say they should have something like this. But when you get into ordering things like aesthetically pleasing wall coverings, things that drive up the price thousands of dollars, that's where you run into problems. They've had Air Force -- other Air Force generals and even the contractor that would have gotten paid for some of this complaining about that as being excessive.

BLITZER: Brian's working the story for us.

Thank you.

She said it right here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday. My exclusive interview with the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, calling preside Bush -- and I'm quoting now -- "a total failure." Now, she says, a day after, she was simply being polite.

Let's go to our political panelists.

Joining us right now is CNN's Jessica Yellin and Jack Cafferty and Tara Wall, the deputy editorial page editor of "The Washington Times".

Here's what she said, Jack, yesterday here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: God bless him, bless his heart. The president of the United States -- a total failure, losing all credibility with the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And today she told the Associated Press she was simply being polite. She said she had no regrets about what she said and that the country faces a long way back from the Bush administration policies.

Let me start with Tara. What do you think about that, Tara?

TARA WALL, FORMER RNC PRESS SECRETARY FOR OUTREACH: Well, you know, I don't know how you politely call someone a failure. That's a little disingenuous.

BLITZER: She didn't say he was a failure, she said he was a total failure.

WALL: Yes. How do you -- a total failure, excuse me. So I don't know how you genuinely call someone -- say that you're being polite when you call someone a total failure. It's a little disingenuous, I think, by Nancy Pelosi, and a little over the top even for her.

I think, you know, quite frankly, you know, Democrats -- Congressional Democrats need to sing a different tunes as opposed to just blaming Bush for everything. I think it's a way to kind of take away from the fact that they are in single digit approval numbers themselves, Congress, and they need to start focusing on some real solutions and stop just blaming the president.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, she minced no words yesterday and she didn't back off at all today.

CAFFERTY: Well, you know, Nancy Pelosi has been running her mouth for, what, since she's become speaker two years ago. The list of her accomplishments you could put on the back of a postage stamp and still have room for my home address. We didn't end the war, we didn't cut off funding for the war. We didn't do a great number of the things that she and the rest of the Democrats promised.

She runs half of the Congress of the United States. And as was pointed out, they have a 9 percent approval rating.

The president is no great shakes and I'm no big fan, and a lot of people aren't. But his rating is holding up there around 28. So it's roughly three times higher than the outfit she heads up. So maybe she ought to tidy up her own nest a little bit.

BLITZER: You've covered Congress, Jessica, for a long time. Sort of out of character for her, or in character?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In character, Wolf. I think when she says she was being polite, what she means is she could have said a lot worse. In the past, she's called Bush oblivious, in denial, a disaster. She does not mince words when it comes to criticism of the president. There have been -- the Congressional leadership, the Democrats, their venom toward Bush is truly unchecked these days.

WALL: And it's just rhetoric and it doesn't really solve anything.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

WALL: I mean, quite frankly, name calling doesn't -- it just -- it doesn't get us anywhere. It doesn't move us forward. It's just...

CAFFERTY: Well, it takes attention away from the fact that she's been completely ineffective in her job. That's what it does.

WALL: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, what do you think about -- Jack, let me start with you -- this new line from the White House that they've now agreed with the Iraqis for a general time horizon for getting troops out of Iraq. I don't know what that means, but maybe you do.

CAFFERTY: Well, I don't know what it means either, except that it doesn't sound like they're planning to stay for a hundred years, does it?

And Barack Obama, among others, has been suggesting that getting out of there might not be a bad idea, particularly in light of the situation that's deteriorating over there in Afghanistan.

The U.N. mandate that allows the United States to be in Iraq expires at the end of the year. Any sort of forward agreement about a joint security arrangement providing for our continued presence in the country has to contain some provision for us to leave there. That's the Al-Maliki government. Remember, they are a democratic, sovereign nation. The Al-Maliki government, exercising the voice of the Iraqi people, who want us the hell out of their country. Imagine that.

So it sounds like the Bush administration is finally beginning to wake up and see the reality.

I don't know, politically, if this is so great for John McCain to have the White House saying this stuff right about now, because he was saying we might be there for a hundred years.

BLITZER: A general time horizon, Tara, getting pretty close to a timeline.

WALL: Well, and, remember, though, it wasn't that long ago -- I think it was last year -- that John McCain was criticized for suggesting a "timeline" and folks wanted to hold it against him because they said, see, now he's saying there's a timeline. And I think, you know, the administration and Republicans have left themselves open by saying listen, we're talking about not having a date -- an exact date of pullout. That's the difference. That's the distinction.

All along, you are going to have to have some point where you begin to withdraw the troops. And they are just saying and he is just saying and will continue to say, I think, even in light of this, that what we are talking about versus what Barack Obama is talking about is a concrete timetable -- time date that will get us out of there. That's something that we don't need that will embolden...

BLITZER: Jessica, how is...

WALL: (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: How is the Obama campaign reacting to this?

YELLIN: Well, this is -- plays right into their hands. I mean they couldn't want a better series of events. The White House has just essentially said that while they won't set a date certain, Barack Obama's idea is consistent with what the White House is saying. You know, it's not just on troop withdrawal, but it is also, just as Barack Obama is taking a trip overseas at some point soon we get word that the generals want more troops in Afghanistan. And John McCain agrees.

It looks -- the Obama campaign insists that Obama was prescient on that point. Now there's talk that Iran -- there might be new signs of diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran -- also something Obama was for.

The Obama campaign is saying look, he was prescient on all these points. It might just be good luck and good timing, but, boy, things are playing into Obama's hands right now.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens on his trip.

Guys, don't go away. We've got much more to talk about, including we hear now from Hillary Clinton. She's speaking out about Senator Obama's overseas trip for the first time. She's also taking a direct swipe at Republicans.

Plus, first lady love songs -- now, quite a hit with her fans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Barack Obama's closely watched overseas trip, with so many problems, of course, here at home.

Is it the right time for him to be abroad?

Let's continue our discussion with Jessica, Jack and Tara.

We heard from Hillary Clinton today about Senator Obama's trip.

Let me play the little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is obviously an important trip for Senator Obama to take. And I think it's critical that we keep our attention focused both here at home and around the world on the big problems that he's going to inherit when he becomes our president in January. And I regret that instead of applauding the important work that will be done on this trip, the Republicans are taking potshots.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right.

What do you think, Tara?

WALL: Important work. You know, listen, there's no question that these whistle stops, if you will, are nothing more than, some would say, window dressing, particularly at a time when many Americans believe and have said that John McCain is stronger on foreign policy and as commander-in-chief.

But it does give Barack Obama an opportunity, I think, an opportunity to take John McCain's idea and work toward his advantage right now. I mean he will be the one that's looking like the commander-in-chief. He'll be looking presidential. He's taking a whole team over there. You'd better believe he'll have pictures and video to use in some campaign literature down the line.

BLITZER: What did you think, Jack?

CAFFERTY: I don't think there's a bad time for him to do this. He can't do much about addressing the problems you referred to right now. He has to become the president first.

WALL: Right.

CAFFERTY: The tradition in this country is politics stops at the water's edge. There is a potential benefit in this trip not just for Barack Obama, but for this country, whose reputation has been dragged through a garbage can by the Bush administration for the last eight years.

I mean think about it. There are actually people overseas who are looking forward to greeting and talking with an American politician and official.

When is the last time that happened?

If I was John McCain, I would be a little careful about sharp- shooting Obama on this trip. It could backfire.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jessica?

YELLIN: Yes. Well, we are -- Jack is right. We're going to see these huge crowds, most likely, in his European stops greeting Obama. Look, he does not have a problem as representing change in the economy here at home. His real area of weakness is assuring people that he has the commander-in-chief creds overseas.

And the truth is, Wolf, it's -- he's not going to look disconnected from the story, because the story is going to him. The network anchors are all going overseas with him. The media is playing right into his hands. So he's not going to look disconnected from America, America will be overseas with him.

CAFFERTY: Hey, Jessica?

Jessica, did they go to Colombia with McCain?

YELLIN: They did not. Interesting, huh?

CAFFERTY: Oh, that's right, they didn't, did they?

WALL: No. And that is -- I mean you can question the timing all you want. When else -- some would say when else would he do it?

This is an opportunity to divert attention, change the subject, if you will, right now. And, quite frankly, it is a double-edged sword, both for John McCain and Barack Obama.

For Barack Obama, he is highly favored in Europe, has a lot of popularity, but he's not running there. And, quite frankly, if he's not careful, he could be seen as too European and socialistic.

Whereas John McCain -- listen, it was John McCain that said you need to go over there and you need to look and see what's happening on the ground.

Well, he's doing that. John McCain needs to calm down and let Barack Obama do what he needs to do overseas and not sound like he's whining.

BLITZER: Because, Tara makes a good point, Jack. It was the Republicans and John McCain who were hammering Barack Obama for not going to Iraq, meeting with Petraeus.

CAFFERTY: Yes. BLITZER: Not going to Afghanistan.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: He's now doing it, so instead of hammering him, they should say, you know, good idea.

CAFFERTY: Well, here's my -- here's what I'm willing to wager, that when he gets to the Middle East and goes to Iraq, he'll know the difference between Shiites and Sunnis, which it took Joe Lieberman to tell John McCain the difference when they were in the Middle East.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: And I'll be interested to hear what John McCain has to say when Barack Obama gets to Czechoslovakia.

WALL: Or when he gets to Israel and meets with Israeli leaders and tries to explain what position he stands for now as it relates to meeting with Ahmadinejad, who said that he wanted to wipe Israel off the map.

YELLIN: But McCain has already made it clear he's not going to go easy on Barack Obama while he's overseas. He's released this negative ad, you've played, Wolf. So the attacks will keep up on Barack Obama while he's out of the country.

BLITZER: Is that...

WALL: That's what keeps him the media. He's got to -- he's got to find a way to keep himself, John McCain, in the media as, you know, Barack Obama is, you know, touting across the country with this grand media tour, if you will.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there, guys. A good discussion.

Jessica, thanks very much.

Tara, good to have you in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WALL: Sure.

BLITZER: Jack's got "The Cafferty File" coming up.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour. He's got a little preview for us -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you very much.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff saying our borders are more secure than ever. That's the good news. The bad news -- radical Islamist terrorists are trying to enter the United States from Europe and he says there's no guarantee that we can apprehend them.

Also, drug smugglers and illegal alien traffickers using bold new methods to avoid our Border Patrol, even using submarines. We'll have that story.

And the federal government's bungling and incompetence on the food safety for Americans is simply staggering. More people are becoming ill. Our tomato industry has been devastated. Federal officials saying tomatoes were to blame. They don't know who to blame. They don't know what to do. They don't know what they will be doing.

And, as Senator Barack Obama heads overseas, accompanied by the network news anchors, we'll examine the importance of national security on the presidential campaign trail and we'll try explain why most of the national media will be with Senator Obama, as they ignored just about every word and utterance of John McCain.

Is this a liberal bias?

Join us for all that at the top of the hour and more with an Independent perspective -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: See you then, Lou.

Thank you.

So what's the crummiest thing your boss ever did to you?

We're getting lots of e-mails on this hour's question. That's Jack's question. "The Cafferty File" coming up.

She sings about drugs, ex- boyfriends and her husband, the French president. Carla Bruni's new album now on the charts.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a tragic accident in Texas. Four people are dead and six injured after a crane collapsed at a Houston refinery. The crane was on site assisting in maintenance work. It's not known what's caused it to topple. Several recent deadly crane collapses, including two in New York, have focused attention on the safety and regulation of the crane operating industry.

Residents in the flood-ravaged Midwest might have found a buyer for their damaged properties. Five states are considering the buyouts of properties found in the flood zones. Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri are all considering the option. Some states say it could be up to a year before any buyouts happen.

Pope Benedict is paying a visit Down Under, speaking to thousands at World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia. He said that insatiable consumption is threatening the world's environment. The leader of the Catholic Church also urged all faiths to unite against indiscriminate violence in the name of religion.

You've heard of first ladies penning books. How about recording pop albums?

French First Lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy is apparently quite the singer. The former model's new album is a hit, ranking third on the French music charts. One song is a tribute to her husband, the president, Nicholas Sarkozy. She also sings about drugs and ex- boyfriends. You can hear the C.D. for yourself when it hits U.S. stores next month.

And you might want to be careful walking outside if you travel to Russia. More than a dozen people were killed or injured by lightning in the past two weeks. A weather official tells CNN that he believes the surge in lightning strikes is connected to the increased use of electronics, such as cell phones and iPods.

It's something to keep in mind -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A scary story. And here are some more statistics, Carol.

Lightning strikes the ground approximately 25 million times each year right here in the United States. This year, there have been 18 deaths from lightning in the U.S., seven of them this month alone. Ninety percent of people struck by lightning survived, but many survivors suffer severe lifelong injury and disability.

Let's go right back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

He's got a great question for this Friday evening.

CAFFERTY: The Russians think that the lightning is caused by cell phones and iPods?

BLITZER: What do -- they don't -- they don't know. They just talk about it.

CAFFERTY: Really?

The question is what's the crummiest thing your boss ever did to you?

Carol in Lompoc, California: "My middle-aged male boss told on a Thursday that he was going to take me to dinner on Friday evening because his wife was out of town. I was only 18. I didn't know how to handle it. I called in sick on Friday. He never asked again."

Greg in Lancaster, Texas: "I once had a boss call me into his office. He pulled a shoeshine kit from the bottom drawer of his desk and proceeded to shine his already shined shoes. He then said, 'You know, Greg, the only thing I really hate about integration is that you can't get a good shoeshine anymore. That happened 30 years ago. I'll never forget it." Jack in Minneapolis: "I've been my own boss for 38 years. The crummiest thing I've ever done to me is take it easy on days I should have worked more diligently. Americans have become lazy."

Joseph writes: "The crummiest boss I ever had wouldn't let me go to my best friend's funeral because I was going to need a half day in the afternoon off to attend it. He wouldn't let me go because I had just had my day off the day before. I learned in the future all my friends and relatives' funerals must be scheduled on my days off."

Jax writes: "I had a boss for a summer job in college who made me get her a latte every morning. I would get the latte, run full speed to her office. If it wasn't hot enough when I got there, she'd throw it in the garbage and scream, 'Try again.' Some mornings she would throw out five or six lattes in a row."

A. in Toronto writes this: "My boss forced me to get up before the United Nations and knowingly lie about Iraq's plans to build and use nuclear weapons. Signed, Colin Powell."

And Michael in Destin, Florida: "The crummiest thing my boss ever did was to hire me."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours among hundreds of others.

I was going to put something in about our bosses, but I couldn't think of anything bad to say about them.

BLITZER: No. They -- we have excellent bosses. They're lovely, lovely...

CAFFERTY: Gems.

BLITZER: ...gems.

CAFFERTY: All gems here.

BLITZER: Good work.

I just want to make it clear, that was A. in Toronto, not the real Colin Powell. That was just A. making up a letter from Colin Powell.

CAFFERTY: It was a joke.

BLITZER: Totally.

CAFFERTY: A total joke.

BLITZER: Hey, Jack, have a wonderful, wonderful weekend, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: See you here Monday.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Thank you.

It's an old tradition, but does anyone really know why we vote on Tuesdays?

We go in search of the answer.

Plus, the thrill of victory at the Tour de France -- at least for today. Hot Shots coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here are some of the Hot Shots.

In Afghanistan, a displaced woman speaks with another woman as she looks after her sick baby.

In Cuba, buying vegetables after the government announces private farmers can use unused government land.

University of South Carolina freshman quarterback Reed McCollum (ph) participates in a reading initiative.

And Great Britain's Mark Cavendish wins the 13th stage of the Tour de France.

Some of this hour's Hot Shots.

On our Political Ticker, have you ever wondered why we vote on Tuesdays here in the United States?

One Congressman asked that question with some interesting results.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbie Tatton. She's working the story for us.

Here's the question -- why do we vote on Tuesday?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, that's the question that Congressman Steve Israel was asking around Capitol Hill. And these are some of the answers that he got.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess because once upon a time all the taverns were closed on Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because people would forget to go to the polls on Monday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why would we vote on Tuesdays?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe if Easter falls late on a Monday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: All wrong. He did find, though, one person that did know -- this guy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tuesday.

Do you have any idea?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's because the old agrarian society was -- it was the least busy day of the week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are one of the few people who knew the answer to that question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: Correct. It was an 1845 act that established it -- the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. November was picked because it was good for farmers, Tuesday because it allowed people to travel to the polls.

Congressman Steve Israel says now that that's now inconvenient and it's out of date, he's introduced legislation to move voting to the weekend. He's working with a nonpartisan group, Why Tuesday?

There's similar legislation in the Senate that's been introduced by Senator Herb Cole -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of people think it's a great idea.

Abbi, have a great weekend to you. Thank you.

And coming up this Sunday, the full interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. We'll talk about a lot, including some politics, the potential for the first African-American president, among other things. The interview -- the full interview runs Sunday on "LATE EDITION," 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.

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