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Airstrikes in Libya; Mixed Messages; Criticizing President Obama; Coalition Cracked?

Aired March 21, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Tonight anti-aircraft fire echoes in Tripoli as the United States and its allies press their attacks on Moammar Gadhafi's military infrastructure.


KING: The anti-Gadhafi opposition celebrates the intervention but says it needs more help including more air strikes as it tries to retake Ajdabiya and other key cities in eastern Libya. Traveling in Chile today President Obama says regime change in Libya is his personal goal but the president stresses it is not an objective of the military campaign and he says the United States is already stepping back into more of a support role and letting other countries police the no fly zone.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because it relieves the burden on our military, and it relieves the burden on U.S. taxpayers to fulfill what is an international mission and not simply a U.S. mission.


KING: But some leading members of Congress complain the president hasn't spelled out a clear mission and say they aren't so sure the fight will be as short as the White House hopes.


SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: We ought to declare war. Have a vote. Take responsibility. Because I think the American people are going to find this has a long lasting tinge to it. It has a very expensive tinge to it.


KING: More from Senator Lugar in a minute. This political debate is not limited to the United States. There are tensions within the NATO alliance about what comes next and mixed signals from the Arab League about how long it will endorse the use of military power in Libya. Let's take a closer look. On Monday there were about 80 sorties flown over here. This is the stretch of the no fly zone, started in the east and is making its way to the west. About 80 sorties flow, about half of them we're told by the United States. Let's look cumulatively of how all this has played out.

Remember the military action began on Saturday. That was the first strike. You see some cruise missile strikes and also some air strikes, the stars there, those are air strikes. On Sunday the strikes continued. More air strikes here and some attacks on Gadhafi ground forces.

You see the tank symbol there. Monday now we're up to more than 130 cruise missiles in all. You see more attacks on ground forces, and as the day played out today also more air strikes. Let's go straight to our two correspondents in the key Libyan cities. Nic Robertson is in the capital of Tripoli, Arwa Damon in the opposition stronghold of Benghazi.

Nic, I want to start with you. More than two days of attacks now. Obviously goal number one is to degrade the Gadhafi military, the anti-aircraft weapons, the surface-to-air missiles. But the sub goal is to rattle the regime. Any evidence, any evidence all this fire power is having any impact?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly recognize that this is designed to rattle them. The targeting of the building on his palace compound area on Sunday, Sunday night, that certainly, officials said that's what they think it is, just that, designed to rattle him. But when I asked them, look, this is what -- is the question on people's minds are the -- is the Army going to turn against the leader, is there cracks in the leadership right now. I'm repeatedly told no there aren't.

And indeed the senior government official I met with a little while ago seemed actually quite relieved -- quite relaxed and at ease with the situation. He understood the nuances of what was happening which perhaps even better of predicting than what we are about what they're going to expect in the next couple of days. So I don't get the sense that this is a regime that's about to crack -- John.

KING: Well Arwa, if the regime is not about to crack what does the opposition want now? Obviously they have welcomed these air strikes. They have welcomed the no fly zone. But do they have specific targets in mind now as they try to not only regroup but begin to march and try to retake those cities they had lost?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they want to see a continuation of the air strikes, obviously, because of the simple impact that it has had, at least in this area of degrading Gadhafi's military capability. The air strikes that we saw here Sunday morning brought that military machine to a grinding halt. We counted at least 70 damaged vehicles.

The population here are very grateful. What they are trying to do right now is regroup and retake back those key cities. They are -- we are hearing outside of the city of Ajdabiya, they're trying to swing around, also take control of Brega. They're going to take this to the very end, John. They say that they want to go all the way to Tripoli and bring Gadhafi down for themselves.

KING: And Nic, when the regime hears that and they obviously understand what is happening. The United States and its allies are trying to soften up the Gadhafi military, to create conditions where the opposition has more military force, what is the sense in Tripoli is to have the regime. Is the regime in a sense regrouping to wait for it on that end?

ROBERTSON: No, what they are trying to figure out at the moment is where does the front line become de facto on the ground? That is how far back is the coalition Air Force going to push Gadhafi's Army? Will they target it past Ajdabiya, which is the next town after Benghazi or will they target it after Brega or will they go to the next town, Ras Lanuf, which is another important oil town, or Bin Jawad, the next town, or Sirt, et cetera, et cetera, going along the coastline.

And what we've heard from the British prime minister today is that the government forces have to pull back from Benghazi and Ajdabiya and if that's the case, if that's where the de facto front line between the two sides becomes, I think that's something the government, obviously it doesn't want, but it's something that it can sort of deal with psychologically. What it wants to know is, is the coalition Air Force effectively going to become the air wing of the rebels on the ground, and you will fine them and I think he will find them protesting vociferously if that's what they think is emerging beyond the protest we hear from them already. They'll start to focus on that point and try and make that very clear.

And to that end they are going to be calling on lots of families here to take a walk from, along that road towards Benghazi to see if the coalition will protect them. So I think that's what the government is looking at here. That's their expectation of trying to make -- trying to assess the calculation of how far the international community is going to allow the rebels to go -- John.

KING: And on the question of how far, Arwa, President Obama was quite clear today. There are some critics here who say he's on record saying Gadhafi must go but the president said let's be clear that is his personal opinion and his hope down the road but not the goal of the U.N. authorized military action. Is the opposition OK with that or would do they want this military operation to target Gadhafi?

DAMON: Well, John, we specifically heard from someone exactly on that issue, and they said no, we realize that the U.N. resolution does not go so far as to call for Gadhafi's removal from power or to have him deliberately targeted. And they actually said that they would not want to have that be the case.

Should he end up dying or somehow (INAUDIBLE) the hand of the coalition that would be one thing but they are not looking for him to be deliberately targeted quite simply because they say that that most definitely is their job. They want to be the ones to go after him. They want to be the ones to either kill or capture him. And if they do capture him they want to be the ones that make sure he ends up seeing his day in court -- John.

KING: Arwa Damon in Benghazi, Nic Robertson in Tripoli, stay safe, stay safe and continue your great reporting. Thank you.

And we spent some time last week telling you what the early targets of any military action would be and they are these. The surface-to-air missile sites, and the anti-aircraft sites, the purple circles are the longer range missiles. They go about 150 miles, the smaller circles anti-aircraft weapons and surface-to-air missiles controlled by the Gadhafi regime.

Well the Army general coordinating the U.S. role in this military conflict claims major progress today in destroying the regime surface- to-air missile and anti-aircraft capabilities so, much so, so much progress General Carter Ham says the no fly zone will soon extend all across the major northern major cities of Libya. But General Ham makes clear regime change is not his concern.


GEN. CARTER HAM, CMDR. U.S.-AFRICA COMMAND: I could see accomplishing the military mission which has been assigned to me, and the current leader would remain the current leader.


KING: Our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry is traveling with President Obama in Chile. And Ed, the president took pains today to note his call for Gadhafi to leave power is separate from the United Nations endorsed military operation. Let's listen.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I also have stated that it is U.S. policy that Gadhafi needs to go. We've got a wide range of tools in addition to our military efforts, to support that policy.


KING: Do they really believe in the White House that if Gadhafi can withstand the military barrage, that sanctions will suddenly two, three, four, eight weeks down the road get him to quit?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, technically the president is accurate that there's two different tracks going on as you exactly laid them out. That on one hand there's a military mission, the president is right, it's narrowly defined by that U.N. mandate to just be dealing with the humanitarian crisis, saving the civilians. It's not about regime change.

There's a second track with the sanctions, et cetera, try to tighten the noose around Gadhafi, back him into a corner and hope that the Libyan people will force him out. But as you know, politics it's not about technicalities. And there's a certain bottom line to this and the president by saying early on even before the beginning of the mission that Gadhafi must go has certain -- has set a certain political expectation and they know that inside the White House.

And the bottom line is that if Gadhafi does not go after this bombardment it's going to be difficult for the president, the U.S. and its allies to sell this as a victory around the world if Gadhafi is sitting in power thumbing his nose at the U.S. and its allies -- John.

KING: And Ed, it was also fascinating today and take us in the background conversations. We saw the president have to address this question. He inherited Afghanistan. He inherited Iraq. Sure, he's ordered drone strikes and he's ordered some Special Forces operations, but this is the first time he's ordered offensive military actions against a sovereign nation and in this case the president was overseas when he did it. How does the White House factor that into how it thinks this will go over with the Congress and the American people?

HENRY: You know they know that it's hurting sort of the image, perhaps of the mission because it looks like the president, you know, headed out of town, and wasn't there in the estimation of lawmakers not just on the Republican side but on the Democratic side it wasn't there to fully consult. But they're pushing back hard and saying look on Friday the president was in the situation room with leaders of both parties trying to lay this out.

On Saturday White House aides were phoning up congressional leaders. And there's been intense work going on behind-the-scenes and not all of it has been in the public, but the president has been on the phone with the King of Jordan. Vice President Biden has been making calls to Kuwait and Algeria, et cetera. And also White House officials have been calling the Arab League saying look don't abandon us. They know they've got some political problems out there. They're working intensively behind-the-scenes to fix it -- John.

KING: Ed Henry with the president tonight in Santiago, Chile. Ed, take care. We'll stay in touch.

And still ahead here tonight new images of the radiation emergency at Japan's Fukushima nuclear complex and new contamination in the food supply, but first, is the president clearly defining the mission in Libya and does he need Congress to declare war? Senator Richard Lugar helps us next.


KING: The use of American military fire power in Libya is igniting a long standing and passionate debate about presidential powers. President Obama sent this letter to Congress today saying the use of force was well within his rights as commander-in-chief. As a senator he took a different view arguing that unless the United States was facing an immediate threat, a president, any president should get approval from Congress before using force.

Some on Capitol Hill are making that case now, as well as questioning exactly what the president hopes to accomplish in Libya. Among them, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading GOP voice on foreign affairs for more than a quarter century.

Senator Lugar, let me just start with what I would hope would be a pretty simple question to answer. Do you understand clearly the mission in Libya? When will we have success?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R-IN), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: No, I do not understand the mission because as far as I can tell in the United States there is no mission and there are no guidelines for success. That may will be true with our allies although conceivably they may have other missions in mind and simply trying to get Security Council clearance to proceed.

KING: Well when you ask the White House for clarification, what's the answer?

LUGAR: Well there is no answer. There simply is the thought that the president gave to congressional leaders on Friday that no boots on the ground, no aircraft over, and he said it is days not months. Now that's not an answer to any of these questions.

KING: Do you believe the United States is leading here or is the United States being dragged along by Europeans who might have a more muscular, more aggressive position than the president does?

LUGAR: It would not appear that we're leading. And the fact that President Sarkozy of France called a meeting of the heads of state and gave a major press conference, was sort of an announcement at least that activity was going to occur, and we clearly are in a very supportive role and apparently have decided to have a very limited role.

KING: Your comments, some of your comments about this were run by the chairman of the committee now, Senator John Kerry. And he said "Senator Lugar is a wise, wise, you know, counselor on these issues. But we're not policing Libya. We're engaged in a humanitarian initiative to prevent the slaughter of innocent people." Is that what we're engaged in, a humanitarian mission?

LUGAR: Well that's been one definition of why we sent the 110 tomahawk missiles there.

KING: Have you ever seen 110 tomahawk cruise missiles used in a humanitarian mission?

LUGAR: Only in a broader sense that it would knock out aircraft facilities. And therefore that if Moammar Gadhafi was going to use aircraft to bomb opposition people he would be denied that opportunity. But as it stands, as far as we can tell Moammar Gadhafi is not only alive, but is in control of Tripoli. Likewise, and a great number of cities, apparently the government still in control in other places, so-called rebels appear to be in control.

And all of the people seem to have guns and other armament and they're frequently firing at each other. People are being killed. So the question is how do you stop the killing, I suppose. And furthermore, after you do, who do we recognize? Do we recognize Gadhafi who is still there after all this time or do we take further action to depose him, literally to eliminate his regime? That is not at all clear. In fact, it's hardly been discussed as far as I can tell.

KING: And you don't seem to think that there is a solution, a clear at least political solution in the foreseeable future here?

LUGAR: I think there may be a vague hope that due to the fact that there appear to be allies including the United States of America involved, that Moammar Gadhafi would step aside, would leave with his sons and his people, that by and large then that would emerge a group of people to roughly characteristic of the rebels and the various dissident groups in the various cities, with whom we could (INAUDIBLE) have to sort of organize them so we have someone to deal with at that point. But absent there being a plan for Gadhafi to go, merely calling for him to go does not appear to have been impressive (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Do you consider what's happening now an act of war by the United States?

LUGAR: Yes, it is. The president has indicated he believes he's within his constitutional rights and very limited scope of what he has suggested namely support of other countries in this respect. But nevertheless American armed forces have been at work. We did fire the tomahawk missiles. We apparently offered background support to the aircraft of the French and the British. And in my judgment, if we're not on the edge of an act of war, we are close enough that the president really ought to have a debate in the Congress, ought to have, on behalf of the American people, a very clear definition of why American forces are going to be at risk, what the objectives are so we can claim success on the bases literally of having to find what we're about.

KING: How would you have handled the communications of this differently if at all? I believe it's the first time the United States has launched weapons into a foreign country when the president was overseas. Do you think how it has been explained both to the Congress and the American people could have and should have been handled differently?

LUGAR: Well of course it should be handled differently. I'm not going to criticize the president's trip to Brazil. I think it was very important that he finally make this trip to Brazil and other important South American, Latin American countries who feel overlooked and they are important to us. But I think at the same time it comes with the Congress in recess, the president out of the country, and the fact that the mission was not defined at all as far as I can tell to begin with in terms of its objectives and what we do next in any of the cases try to part from the relationship with everything else going on with governments under fire in the Middle East. So that does require concerted effort by the president and the Congress and the American people to come to grips with this and decide as a matter of fact what kind of sacrifices we're prepared to make over what period of time.

KING: Senator Richard Lugar is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks for your time today.

LUGAR: Thank you, John.

KING: Let's check in with our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. Now Dana you've been talking to members all day, let's start with Senator Lugar. Yes, he was a skeptic to begin with. But no clearly defined plan, no mission, no exit strategy in his view and he thinks this can go on a lot longer than the president has said publicly. Is that view shared across parties and across Capitol Hill?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. There's no question and to be fair as you said, Senator Lugar has definitely been the loudest and most consistent critic of having a no fly zone at all especially under a public inside. But his answer to your first question, John, when he said I not understand the mission because as far as I can tell in the United States there is no mission, there are no guidelines for its success. That's the mantra from Republican leaders and it's what we are hearing more and more from the president's fellow Democrats. Please Mr. President, define this mission, come and tell Congress about it. And tell the American people more importantly.

KING: And so, the administration says we have been briefing you. The administration says this is a trademark tradition. Congress always complained it's not being consulted enough. What specifically do the members want from the president and from the administration now? I know that chairwoman of the House of the Foreign Affairs Committee said you know come up and give a speech to a joint session. What more do they want from him?

BASH: Come up and give a speech to the joint session. Come back from your trip abroad now to do this immediately. You mentioned the letter that the president said this is it that he sent this afternoon. He says that this is consultation. But part of the issue, as you heard a little bit from Senator Lugar isn't just consultation with Congress. It's getting permission.

We heard from probably the loudest war critic in Congress, Dennis Kucinich, saying that he thinks it's an impeachable offense that President Obama used military action without coming to Congress first. Other stark language we're hearing again from the president's fellow Democrats that he dealt a devastating blow to our legislative executive checks and balances. On the issue of whether there will actually be a congressional resolution that's unclear. Really I think that depends, John, on how far and how long this military action goes in Libya.

KING: And I suspect it depends on how it goes in Libya no matter how long it goes, how it goes in Libya -- Dana Bash for us on Capitol Hill.

(CROSSTALK) KING: Dana, thank you. And ahead, what do these new infrared damages -- take a look at these -- tell us about the damage at Japan's Fukushima nuclear complex? And next is the United States leading or following France in the Libya conflict and is this coalition already cracking?


KING: Using force in Libya was not the president's first choice or his first instinct. At the beginning of the crisis the United States was a voice of caution and as France and others suggested military force might be necessary -- let's go back to February 23rd -- the violence had begun in Libya and the president said his number one goal, stop the shooting.


OBAMA: The Libyan government has a responsibility to refrain from violence, to allow humanitarian assistance to reach those in need and to respect the rights of its people.


KING: About a week later though the French president had already called for Gadhafi to go and this echo from the United States.


OBAMA: Going forward we will continue to send a clear message. The violence must stop. Moammar Gadhafi has lost legitimacy to lead and he must leave.


KING: And today in Chile the president tried to make what he says is an important distinction, his personal goal and the goal of U.S. policy is for Gadhafi to go, but that is not the mission in the United Nations endorsed military intervention.


OBAMA: It is U.S. policy that Gadhafi needs to go. But, when it comes to our military action, we are doing so in support of U.N. Security Resolution 1973. That specifically talks about humanitarian efforts and we are going to make sure that we stick to that mandate.


KING: So, how has the president handled this crisis and is this coalition already cracking? David Gergen has advised four U.S. presidents. Nicholas Burns' career as a diplomat includes a stint as the U.S. ambassador to NATO.

Nic Burns, I want to start with you because one of the things the president said today was that there was near unanimous support for this military action. Well we know that's a bit of a stretch. We know that China and Russia, they didn't use their veto power but they are opposed to it and Vladimir Putin harshly criticized it today. The Japanese have criticized it. Turkey is upset about the military action as well. Is this coalition cracking in its early days?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: Oh I think the coalition was cracking last week. You didn't have unanimity at the Security Council. You had Turkey and Germany abstain, Russia and China abstain, but now you've got a situation where Britain and France, they're the ones who wanted us to go in because they have direct economic and political interests there.

The European countries do and I think that the unfortunate aspect of this for the administration is that they made a decision 10 days ago not to go in. They then turned on a dime just mid-last week and decided that really at the instigation of Britain and France and surprisingly ironically the Arab League they would go in, and it hasn't been sufficiently explained to the American people, to the Congress and I don't think, John that the mission has been clarified.

What is it that we're trying to do? The president made this distinction today between our policy to -- that Gadhafi should leave and the U.N. Resolution which is to serve civilians, but look, we've intervened in a civil war. We have attacked armored columns of the Libyan army. We've attacked the personal compound of Moammar Gadhafi. We're an actor in this war. We've chosen sides. We're in effect supporting the rebels. That's the way the Libyan people will see it. That's the way the Gadhafi will see it. That's the way the rebels will see it and that I think is the problem that the administration has right now in explaining what it is that they're trying to do.

KING: Well and David, come in on that point and as you do, address what we just heard from Senator Lugar, who yes was a skeptic to begin with, but he's not a reflexive partisan and he is saying the president doesn't have a clear plan, doesn't have an exit strategy. He thinks this could go on a lot longer than the president says it will.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: As so often the case, Nic Burns I think has described the general problems very well and that was the administration really didn't want to go into this. They were very reluctantly dragged in not only by the British and the French, but by events on the ground and then they made this head- snapping turn in policy and as a result it was cobbled together very quickly.

There's a sense of (inaudible) and there was a lack of clarity as the mission started. I do think we got more clarity today, John, from the president about what the overall goal is and I think the distinction he's making while it is convoluted is one that makes sense.

And that is that the military mission is humanitarian to stop Gadhafi, but the overall long term policy of the United States is to get him out. They see that coming through sanctions and other kinds of squeezes, but then go on to say --- then we really get into the murky part and I think Nick has alluded to this. Do we want the rebels to win? It's not clear whether we would be satisfied if things just end in a stalemate. I think most people would think that was a terrible place to be. Are we going to recognize as Senator Lugar asked are we going to recognize the rebels as a legitimate government?

You know, where is this going to go if we had the stalemate, the country becomes divided. You know, I think that's an unacceptable solution for the United States and most of the other countries on the outside and I don't know what our policy is under those circumstances.

KING: Well, it is a great question and some of the president's critics are starting to say if there's a stalemate and Gadhafi is there in two or four or eight or 10 weeks, what does it say about the United States?

Does it make the president look weak? I want to address that, but first I also want you to listen to this. The president today was almost bragging about look, the United States took a lead in the early days, but now we're going to step back and we're going to let others take the lead. Let's listen.


OBAMA: Obviously, our military is already very stretched and carries large burdens all around the world.

And whenever possible for us to be able to get international cooperation, not just in terms of words, but also in terms ever planes and pilots and resources that's something that we should actively seek and embrace.

Because it relieves the burden on our military and it relieves the burden on U.S. taxpayers to fulfill what is an international mission and not simply a U.S. mission.


KING: Nick, as I was listening to that, I was saying on the one hand, he's absolutely right the American people are tired of war. They're tired of paying for war both in terms of the financial cost and human toll.

And then on the other hand, I don't think I've heard a president of the United States say, well, we're there, but boy are we happy to get in the back seat as quickly as possible?

NICHOLAS BURNS, SENIOR COUNSELOR, THE COHEN GROUP: Well, I think it is certainly laudable the president wants our European allies to do more. They have more direct vital national interest in Libya than we do certainly economic interest, preventing refugees from going into the European countries.

But here's the problem, John. Who has been taking the lead over the last three days? It's been the United States Navy and the United States Air Force. We've knocked out those surface-to-air missile sites, the radar sites. We've constructed principally the no-flight zone and now the no-drive zone.

And for us to just hand this off to our close friends and allies, Britain and France, I think it's going to be difficult because the coalition is going to be challenged quite soon. The rebel army is going to go on the offensive.

We helped them over the weekend. We leveled the playing field. We took away Gadhafi's offensive advantage. When the rebels go on the offensive, they're going to ask for and they are going to expect that the U.S. will fly cover for them, that we'll actually help them from the air.

That's going to be a major policy decision for this coalition. Are we neutral? Do we try to establish ourselves as some kind of umpire between Gadhafi and the rebels or are we for the rebels? It gets back to this lack of clarity on what defines success, why are we there, and how do we get out at the end.

Because if we don't have some established specific sense of what victory and success are, we could be there for a very long time watching a protracted a civil war between Gadhafi and these rebels. It may not end for weeks or months.

KING: Nick Burns, David Gergen, we need to end it there tonight, but we'll continue this conversation in the days ahead. We'll stay in touch with both of you and hope you can come back with us.

And if Gadhafi stays in power, will he retaliate by financing terrorism against the United States? Does the unrest in Yemen help or hurt al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The next in breaking political news and an infrared eye in the sky looks down at Japan's nuclear crisis.


KING: Welcome back. If you're just joining us here's the latest news you need to know right now. It overshadowed by events in Libya and Japan, but on Facebook today, Republican Tim Pawlenty announced he's forming a presidential exploration committee, which one that would allow the four Minnesota governors to start raising money now for the 2012 presidential race.

An English teacher from Virginia, 24-year-old Taylor Andersen likely is the first confirmed U.S. fatality in Japan's tsunami. Her fellow teachers said she tried to bike home after the earthquake. A statement from her parents said searchers have identified her body.

In Japan today, Tokyo power officials say there was no spike in radiation when two of the crippled reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant emitted burst of smoke. You see the smoke right there.

The World Health Organization says there's no immediate health risk from contaminated food in Japan although a spokesman tells CNN radiation in Japan's food supply is quote, "more serious than initially expected." Here to talk over the nuclear crisis Arnie Gundersen. He's is a nuclear safety advocate who consults with the Vermont state government about the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

Mr. Gundersen, thanks for coming back. I want to draw your attention to these infrared images that we have received. The Japanese government put them out. I want to start with reactor one. These are infrared images obviously taken from above.

You see here the casing in the reactor one building and you see the heat signature here, the yellow and red. In reactor one, the government says the Ministry of Defense says the highest temperature 58 degrees centigrade so about 136.4 Fahrenheit the government say, what does that image tell you?

ARNIE GUNDERSEN, NUCLEAR SAFETY ADVOCATE: I don't believe the highest temperature is anywhere near that. It's probably much nearer to thousands of degrees, but -- what it does show me is you'll see sort of like a line, a straight line of hot material.

I don't know anything inside that nuclear containment that's a straight line. It's all curves. So it shows me that the geometry of the hot material is distorted.

KING: What is that -- if it's been distorted, what that mean is happening inside?

GUNDERSEN: It will be -- it will be harder to cool it because it looks to me like the energy is not in the spot where it should be. Looks to me like it's formed a long line and it's not good, but I'm more concerned about some of the other reactor there.

KING: Well, let's close this picture down and move it over. I want to bring up reactor two. Now we don't see as red hot here in reactor two as we did in reactor one.

But the entire, you see heat in the entire building. This is where TEPCO has said there's a possibility of a breach in the core self. What does this picture tell you?

GUNDERSEN: Well, in the words that go with that the Ministry of Defense says that the containment vessel is at 262 degrees and that's 50 degrees above the boiling point of water. That's the containment vessel that's believed to have a crack in it.

So water cannot exist inside it because it's at atmospheric pressure as a result of the crack. It tells me the suppression pool is likely dry, and that's the one I would be most worried about, because it seems to me that what you're seeing there is super heated air with no water in sight.

KING: So, super heated air, a possible breach. What are the risks of trying to going and contain this to get in close what you need to do?

GUNDERSEN: You know, the vessel at 262 degrees, if you spray water, the water won't even get to the vessel. It will begin to vaporize even before it gets there according to the Ministry of Defense. That one is the -- will be the toughest nut to crack out of the three of them.

KING: I want to close this down. You say that's the toughest nut to crack, number two. We'll keep that in mind. I just want to show you number three because of the signatures we did receive from infrared.

This has more of the red. You see the yellow and it seems more scattered throughout. Again, based on your intimate knowledge on how these are built and where things are organized inside here, what does this tell you?

GUNDERSEN: I notice that that they were scattered about. I'm hoping the scattering is fires and not radio activity scattered about.

You know, when those explosions occurred, it's likely that there's oil fires inside there. At best there are oil fires where the radioactivity moved away from where it should be in the core and moved laterally outward.

KING: We showed our viewers, I want to close this one down for us and bring up another picture here. We showed our viewers this satellite image on Friday. I know you've studied it some more as I opened it up.

If you look at these towers right here, you might think their communication towers. They look in some ways almost like an oil dike or something. You took a look at these pictures and these towers, and there was some significance to you. Explain to us.

GUNDERSEN: Yes. When the plants were designed after an accident, you were supposed to exhaust all the radiation up those towers. And you get an elevated release, which allows for more dispersion of the radioactive material.

When the diesels went out, the fans went out and no radioactivity got pumped up that stack then the building blew up and so the impossible to exhaust air anyway.

But what's happening now is that instead of going up those stacks, the 350 feet high, the radioactivity is lying close to the ground. So I would expect you've see more contamination in the local communities and less of it getting lofted out to sea.

KING: Mr. Gundersen, as always appreciate your insights and your experience helping us understand this again. We'll have you back another night as this continues and this could go on for weeks and weeks if not months. Arnie Gundersen, thanks so much.

When we come back here, Yemen, is another Middle East leader about to fall and if so, what are the terrorism risks?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Spending a lot of time on Libya in recent days as we should be because of the military intervention, but if you look at the map here, you see the flashing circles. Those are other places in the Middle East and North Africa where there have been anti-government political demonstrations.

In Morocco, in Bahrain, in Saudi Arabia and in Yemen and CNN is told tonight there are negotiations under way aimed at getting Yemen's embattled president to agree to step down. Now the United States is angry at the Yemeni government's violent crackdown against demonstrators, but at the same time, it's worried about losing an ally who's CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom notes has for the most part helped the United States try to keep tabs on the Yemen based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Everybody knows it's a growing resurgent problem. They are emboldened. If he has to step aside, if there's a power vacuum what happens next.

When I was in Yemen a couple of months ago, I asked the prime minister. The prime minister expressed concern that if there is a power vacuum there, AQAP could step in and try to take advantage of the political turmoil. That's what everybody is worried about right now.

KING: Now a little history. If you forget about al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, we'll bring this up. They were tied to the Christmas Day Detroit plane bombing attempt, to those cargo plane packaged bombs. Remember those back in 2010 last year?

The Fort Hood shooting suspect was doing the readings in some connection to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as well as the Times Square bombing suspect in custody in 2010. So you see just four - these are just four of the - in recent years, attempts linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Let's discuss this further with CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen and senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, Robert Kagan. If the president of Yemen agrees to step down, Peter, let me start with you. Does it help or hurt or do we not know in terms of the fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the devil that we don't know is always worrisome, right? So the president has always been run Yemen for the last 32 years. He's been quite cooperative with staying calm, United States military generally.

We have an agreement that there are Special Forces about 70 Special Forces in Yemen doing, operating pretty low key, obviously. So would that agreement stand in a new Yemen? Who knows?

So the fact is that, with that said, I mean, he's run an incompetent government that allows al Qaeda to exist on its territory anyway, which is why we need to be there.

KING: And so when you look at this map, you know, the president says Libya, Gadhafi is shooting his own people therefore the United Nations should get together. Let's have a military intervention.

Well, you could make the case the Yemenis have been shooting their own people. The Bahrainis have been shooting their own people. Do you have to - if you're the president of the United States, do you have to look at the map and do some of these countries matter more than others when it comes to vital U.S. national security interests so maybe you make different decisions?

ROBERT KAGAN, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think you make different decisions based on the circumstances. It is not clear to me that this is a one size fits all situation. I think the Libya circumstance where you had an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe at quite a large level was really important.

By the way, important not for idealistic or moralistic reasons, but because as we see all these changes sweeping across the region where the United states and others stand on this is going to have a big impact on how we are viewed in that region and will affect policies that occur in Yemen, in Bahrain and elsewhere.

KING: Idealistically, we think of it as an Arab spring. We think of people who have repressed and oppressed for years finally getting a chance to speak their minds, but is there a risk because of the unpredictability of it?

If the Bahraini government falls, you have a Shiite majority not only will that disturb the Saudis greatly, but it probably helps the Iranians across. If the Yemeni government changes, we don't know if al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula gains or losses.

Is there a chance do you think if we have a stalemate in Libya and the opposition takes half the country, Gadhafi keeps Tripoli and still keeps significant oil resources. Will he then try to retaliate by financing terrorism against the United States, against Great Britain and against France, the allies in the coalition?

BERGEN: Alternatively will al Qaeda, which has had some small foothold in eastern Libya, for instance 40 percent of the suicide attackers in Iraq in 2007 came from eastern Libya according to al Qaeda's own internal documents.

Countering that, the Libyan Islamic fighting group versus the al Qaeda affiliate there, has sort of rejected al Qaeda's ideology, but, you know, al Qaeda does thrive on failed and failing states. So any kind of chaos is good thing for them.

KING: Any kind of chaos is a good thing for them and yet this is unfolding, like it or not. What can a president of the United States do? What can NATO as an alliance do to not put your fingerprints on it because that might offend, but encourage and help reasonable moderate voices step forward?

KAGAN: Well, I think that the search for some kind of option where our fingerprints aren't on it, but we get the result we want, that really would be delightful, but I think it's unlikely. I think right now the president has stated very clearly on several occasions including today that Gadhafi must go. He's right because a Gadhafi that stays is going to be the kind of risk that we've talked about. Therefore the United States, NATO, the Arab league and others have to use the influence we have to ensure that doesn't happen. That isn't an acceptable outcome for the United States.

KING: Over the years, Peter, when you've been in here, we have had dark conversations about horrible events in the world and yet you are an optimist at the moment when this unfolding.

I want to read from what you wrote on Why Libya 2011 is not Iraq 2003? Strikingly absent from the protests has been the ritualized burning of American flags. Something (inaudible) was largely pro former in that part of the world that's because Arabs have finally been able to express publicly that their biggest enemy is not the United States but their own rulers. So that's an encouraging sign today.


KING: But there is a question mark about where we go.

BERGEN: But, I mean, there's always question marks about where we go. I mean, continue with the positive note. I mean, Al Qaeda is not an accident that so many people in al Qaeda are from Saudi or from Egypt or from Yemen.

It's precisely in these very repressive dictatorships that revolutionary Jihadism flourish. So you take away these dictatorships, we take away the impulse for revolutionary Jihadism that in the long term I think -- this is the death knell of al Qaeda. No one is carrying his picture. They are not part of the conversation. That's the good news.

KING: Do you have any doubt about that?

KAGAN: That's the most encouraging thing about all this.

KING: The death knell of al Qaeda?

KAGAN: Well, I don't know if it is. That's probably -- I don't know what year that occurs, but it is not good for al Qaeda. We should learn our lesson from this.

Because one thing that we ought to have learned is sticking with the one-man rule dictatorships, puts us out of touch with the people. We are worried about what comes next in part because we haven't bothered to make contact for those people and we're going to have to learn to live with that.

KING: I will ask you each quickly in closing, can the president walk this balance? He wants regime change that is the ultimate goal, but that's not what the bombs are about. KAGAN: Well, look, the bombs could serve many purposes at the same time. I think it would be a mistake for the president now to pull back and say, we have done whatever we are going to do and now let's see what happens.

I don't think we have the option. I think we're going to have to continue to use the forces that we have in place under the U.N. mandate to help the opposition and ensure that Gadhafi doesn't survive this.

KING: Is that right by taking sides, do we have a moral obligation if we are with you on day two, three, four and five do we have to be there on day 200, 300, 400 if it takes that long?

BERGEN: I don't think we want a rerun of what George H.W. Bush said rise in the 1990 time period when he said, you know, rise up against Saddam and then we didn't do anything about the revolution that took place and allowed, you know, Saddam just suppress it. We don't want to make same mistake twice.

KING: Peter Bergen, Robert Kagan, appreciate you coming in. Great insights. Thank you very much.

When we come back, we'll show you. We'll break it down on the map what has happened over the last three days with this military intervention in Libya. What countries are participating and what weapons are being used?


KING: If you hear it frequently, you may know I moonlight a bit. Tonight at 11:00 p.m. NBA TV, "True NBA" it's a magazine program about the NBA. Some fabulous pieces in that tonight if you need a break from the war and nuclear news, go NBA TV for that.

Let's close tonight with a look at just what has happened in Libya over the course of the past few days once the international coalition decided to launch military action. Watch this play out.

On Saturday, the first strikes come, cruise missiles, some air strikes as well here. You see them along on the northern Libya coast. Sunday, more strikes including air strikes against ground forces, Gadhafi's tanks and other troops on the ground. More cruise missile strikes and more air strikes.

Monday, we're now up to more than 130 cruise missiles and also more air strikes, more strikes on ground forces as well. Notice all along here in the key cities, all along the key oil imports and as we told last week, a lot of it targeting the anti-aircraft weaponry of the Gadhafi army. The military things it has made significant en routes taking out those surface-to-air missiles there.

That is one way to look at this as its play out. Now let's pull this map down. Do you want to see the countries that have participated, France, Denmark, United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, all flying flights. You see the different airports that have been used in the region coordinated from the U.S. part from here the U.S. Africa command in Germany.

Again, all of this activity directed enforcing the no-fly zone right there. More on that from us tomorrow right here. "In The Arena" starts right now.