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THE SITUATION ROOM

Gadhafi Recruiting, Arming Fighters; Dozens Killed in New Syria Protests; Nuclear Reactor Core May Be Leaking; Interview With General Carter Ham; President Obama Confronts Libya Concerns; If Japan's Nuclear Crisis Happened Here

Aired March 25, 2011 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Joe, thanks very much.

Happening now, fierce new battles in Eastern Libya, as Moammar Gadhafi recruits new fighters and NATO hammers out a broad command -- a broader command role in the days ahead.

One week into the coalition air strikes, who's winning right now?

Also this hour, growing fears that Syria could be the next Middle Eastern country to explode. A massive anti-government protest turns violent when security forces open fire. At least three dozen people reportedly are dead.

And it could be the most dangerous development yet in Japan's nuclear crisis. Authorities say there may be a leak in the reactor core, increasing the possibility of a large scale release of radiation.

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

But we begin with Libya. Moammar Gadhafi's forces are facing the powerful weapons of the NATO alliance, like this air strike by Britain. And yet, U.S. military officials concede today that the Libyan regime is still determined to fight and reinforced its positions in the eastern cities, including Ajdabiya. The coalition says Gadhafi is trying to recruit and arm volunteers to fight rebel forces. The Libyan strongman defiant, as NATO moves to take over command of the Libyan mission. The top U.S. military commander of the operation tells me that NATO has now agreed, in principle, to not only take charge of the no-fly zone, but also to protect Libyan civilians, as well. The details will be worked out, he says, over the next few days.

General Carter Ham sending a message directly to Gadhafi.

Here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we spoke just a little while ago.

And I had this exchange with him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: CNN is seen live around the world, including in Libya. And officers -- your military to military -- the officers surrounding Gadhafi might be watching right now. Gadhafi might be watching. His sons might be watching.

Look into the camera.

What would you say to them right now, officer to officer?

HAM: I would say comply with the will of the international community, as outlined in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. Cease attacking civilians. Withdraw your arms and your -- and your troops from areas in which they are -- they are attacking civilians. Serve the people of Libya and not serve this illegitimate regime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: CNN's Reza Sayah is standing by in Benghazi, where the rebels are headquartered.

But let's go to our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, in Tripoli first.

How are they likely -- Nic, you speak to these -- these Libyan supporters of Gadhafi, including in the military.

How likely are they to respond to General Ham when he looks into the camera and says, guys, if you want to survive, this is the moment to give up, lay down your arms and comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 -- Nic, what do you think?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, from the perspective we get here in Tripoli, it seems to me the answer is, it's not very likely. It's not going to happen in the near future.

I know from talking to people here -- diplomats, politicians over the past few weeks -- that they have had differences in the way Gadhafi has tried to run things in the country. And it seems that they're rallying around him. There will be cracks here that can be exploited. Right now, they're not appearing.

What I found interesting, yesterday, I met a man -- what he described to me as a volunteer on the front line in the east of the country, fighting in Ajdabiya, that key town where Gadhafi troops refuse to back off the rebel advances there. He'd come back to the capital.

So it was clear to me there's some people down there who have a choice. He said he was a volunteer -- don't want to get into this fight and are getting away from it. But every indication is that Gadhafi will try to hold onto that town. It's strategically important. It's psychologically important and he's dug in there. And it seems that he's not going to pull out.

And he will do everything he can to keep his commanders' feet to the fire, if you will, to stay in the fight. Because they know one thing is at the back of them -- the tribes here are at the back of them. If they step back from the fight, Gadhafi will bring in the tribes. And, also, the commanders know that he will use them against them, as well, if they don't do what he says right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Gadhafi keeps talking about a cease-fire, Nic, as you well know. The Pentagon says there is no cease-fire. The United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general, says there is no cease- fire. They say the Libyan government is in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution.

But what are you hearing behind-the-scenes about Gadhafi's military movements and all of his talk about a cease-fire?

ROBERTSON: Well, we hear the government sort of maneuvering on the -- their position in Ajdabiya, verbally maneuvering. Two nights ago, talking about -- rather, Misrata -- talking about reconnecting gas supply -- water supplies, electricity supplies, communications. The town they've had essentially isolated and cut off. We know that the coalitions has had an impact there. We know that the opposition is not under such a military threat and advance from Gadhafi's forces as they were.

But Ajdabiya is entirely different. This is a strategic line. And for Gadhafi, the way he and his government see the situation there is they moved in there. They view it as the rebels came from Benghazi, moved in there, moved west, took towns. The government views it that they pushed back, took those towns back from the rebels, including Ajdabiya, which is where they are now. And for them, they see themselves as dug in. They say the rebels are attacking, there -- there are civilians still in the city. The civilians are unsafe, not because of us, they say, but because of the rebels. And they throw it back at the international community.

The rhetoric we get here is, why isn't the coalition protecting the -- protecting the civilians in Ajdabiya from the rebels?

So that's the kind of rhetoric and logic -- the logic that this government is stuck in. So you can see they're really stuck in this brain set, which means they're not going to let hold of Ajdabiya -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic, I should point out, that interview that I had with General Carter Ham, the U.S. military commander of the operation in NATO, that interview will air. That's coming up later this hour and the next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Nic is in Tripoli for us.

Let's go to the eastern part of Libya right now for more on what the rebels are trying to do in their effort to defeat Gadhafi.

Reza Sayah is in Benghazi for us. Lots of military action today.

What are you seeing where you are -- Reza?

REZA SHAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the most urgent and volatile situation remains in the strategically critical city of Ajdabiya. New developments today in that city. A British military official telling CNN that British fighter jets targeted and destroyed Libyan tanks that had been aiming at the city -- a key destruction of these tanks, the rebel forces that are trying to move into the city.

Also, we're getting a lot of disturbing accounts over the past couple of days about tactics allegedly used by Gadhafi loyalists against the civilians. One witness telling CNN that on his way out of town in Ajdabiya, he saw several bodies on the streets -- bodies that no one dared to collect. Other people saying Gadhafi loyalists going house to house, taking suspected rebel fighters, young men, taking them to who knows where.

It's these types of stories, witness accounts, Wolf, that are getting the opposition to raise the volume, to get the international community to step up their help.

BLITZER: You had a chance to speak with some people in Benghazi after Friday prayers today.

What did they say to you?

SAYAH: Well, they're well aware that NATO is now taking over leadership of this operation. But I think like most people, they're not clear on what this means. They're not clear on what this means for the complexion of this operation. And frankly, if you listen to NATO officials, heads of Western states that are involved in this military intervention, they're not really clear on where this is going, either. They say, on one hand, they're going to maintain the no-fly zone. Not clear what it means for air strikes on ground targets.

But one thing that is certain, this opposition not only wants this military operation to stay intact, they want it expanded. Over and over again, we heard today opposition supporters saying we want weapons, we want new weapons, more powerful weapons to take on the Gadhafi forces. And many people even asking for foots on the ground -- soldiers to come into Libya. They don't want an invasion. They don't want an occupation. But they say give us soldiers so we can defeat Gadhafi forces and then they can leave.

It's nothing that's ever been mentioned by NATO officials or Western states, but I think it's important to pass along that many people here calling for troops on the ground.

BLITZER: Well, tell them that General Carter Ham and the interview is about to air here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

He's making it clear -- no U.S. troops on the ground, no U.S. arms for the rebels. A lot of nos. We'll be precise. You'll see it coming up in the interview. I think your -- your -- your -- the people in Benghazi, where you are, Reza, will want to watch this interview with General Carter Ham. That's coming up.

Reza Sayah is in Benghazi for us.

And General Ham is the commander, at least so far, until NATO takes complete control of the U.S.-led operation in Libya. He's going to take us inside NATO's command role and all the things the coalition is ready to do and is not ready to do to help the civilians in Libya. Stand by for my interview with General Carter Ham.

He's reporting -- he's joining us from Stuttgart, Germany.

Also, anti-government protests in Syria -- they're growing bigger and bigger and more deadly. We'll take a closer look at the danger that Syria will be the next Middle East domino to fall and what that could mean for the people in Syria and, indeed, the region and world.

And experts say the most extreme example of a nuclear plant meltdown -- that would be a breach to the reactor core.

And guess what?

It could be happening right now in Japan. We'll go there live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Scene of brutal new demonstrations in Syria today, where dozens of people have been killed. The U.N. now says the situation there has worsened, quote, "considerably" over the past week alone.

This is new video coming into CNN of an anti-government protest just outside a mosque today. We want to caution, we can't independently confirm its authenticity.

Let's bring in CNN's Hala Gorani.

She's joining us from the CNN Center with more. We've both been watching Syria for a long time. This is a major new development.

What's your immediate reaction?

What's your take on what's going on when you see these demonstrations and the government crackdown that follows?

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, we spoke to witnesses in Syria today, Wolf. We spoke to human rights activists in Damascus. The big question yesterday, when the presidential adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban, came on national television and spoke to reporters and to the world promising reform, the big question was, will the demonstrations that have been centered in the south so far spread outside of the southern province of Daraa?

Well, they have. The demonstrations have been small, but we've seen some video of protests in Damascus, in Hims, in Hama. We've seen -- what you're seeing there is a demonstration today in Daraa, where 25 people, we understand, according to witnesses, have been killed, Wolf.

So this is what's significant. In a country that doesn't have a culture of public protest and a repressive regime that does not tolerate open criticism of the leadership, we are seeing demonstrators still go out onto the streets and ask for change. BLITZER: I remember in the early '80s when there was a massive demonstration in Hama, in that city in Syria. The father, Hafez al- Assad, he cracked down brutally on those demonstrations. The Muslim Brotherhood very much involved in that.

The question is this: Is the son, Bashar Al Assad, likely to follow in his father's footsteps in slaughtering thousands of people?

GORANI: Well, I think the environment is different and I think the man is different from his father. Now the eyes of the world, regardless of the fact that journalists aren't easily given visas to enter Syria, are on the country.

We're seeing -- the video we're seeing today is video we wouldn't have seen in 1982 when the Hama massacre happened. Some people are estimating up to 40,000 protesters and opposition figures, including many civilians, were killed in that crackdown. So I think it's going to be very difficult for any leader to go ahead and do something as repressive and as brutal as what Hafez al-Assad did in the early '80s.

That said, even after having promised reform in this country, Wolf, well, the government and security forces in Daraa and other parts of Syria still cracked down, and 25 people at the very least were killed today.

And as you know, Wolf, what happens in Syria is very important regionally. It's important with regards to Israel, with any peace deal that happens. No comprehensive deal can really be struck without Syria.

It's important with regards to the alliance this country still has with Iran, with Hezbollah, with Lebanon. So its tentacles are in many groups and many places in the region. What happens there determines what happens to the entire region, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a good point and we'll be watching it very closely.

Hala, thanks very much.

In neighboring Jordan, rock-throwing and swinging sticks as protesters pushing for change clashed with pro-government loyalists. More than 100 people were injured in the violence in Jordan. Demonstrators vow the so-called sit-in will continue until their demands are met.

Officials close to the palace tell CNN, King Abdullah is working to try to turn the political unrest into an opportunity for reform. We're watching Jordan as well.

A mass exodus from Ivory Coast in the wake of escalating violence and new fears of war. Our Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THIS SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Wolf.

Well, the U.N. Refugee Agency says almost 1 million residents have been forced to flee the troubled country's capital city and scores more uprooted. There's been bitter turmoil in the west African nation since the November elections when the incumbent president refused to cede power. More than 400 people have been killed in those clashes.

And updated economic data today from the last quarter of 2010, and the numbers are looking pretty good. The economy grew a bit faster than previously thought, gross domestic product was revised upward to a higher annual growth rate of 3.1 percent, and corporate profits grew more than 9.5 percent, about twice what was expected. Economists say that's a positive sign for this year.

The air traffic controller suspended for failing to respond to two planes heading into Washington's Reagan National Airport now admits he fell asleep on duty. The National Transportation Safety Board says he was working his fourth straight overnight shift Wednesday night when the incident occurred. Both flights landed safely despite the lack of communication. A government investigation is now underway.

And you know the phrase, "OMG"? Well, it's not just a cool expression anymore, it is now officially part of the English language. The phrase, better known as "Oh my god," joins "FYI," for your information, and "LOL," laughing out loud, as the newest words to be added to the "Oxford-English Dictionary." The dictionary's editor says a word must be widely used and understood to make the cut.

And, Wolf, I'm guessing most people know what OMG means.

BLITZER: OMG. Also, you know, they added the heart -- I heart you, I love you, you know just the heart -- you know, without even a letter, that's now a word in the dictionary.

SYLVESTER: They're going to have a new tweeting dictionary soon, if that hasn't come out already, Wolf.

BLITZER: I wonder if "tweet" has been admitted into that dictionary yet.

SYLVESTER: Good question.

BLITZER: Let's find out.

SYLVESTER: Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa.

A potentially ominous development in the race to prevent a complete nuclear meltdown in Japan. The details, coming up. We're going there.

Plus, much more of my interview with a top U.S. Military commander overseeing the operation in Libya, just ahead. He tells me whether the goal of the mission is to take out Gadhafi.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Nuclear experts in Japan are trying to confirm if one of their worst fears is happening right now. There's evidence that a reactor at the troubled Fukushima power plant may be leaking from its core. Could be a very dangerous development in the race to prevent radiation contamination on a large scale.

Brian Todd is here to explain what's going on.

And it's pretty frightening, when you think of that worst-case fear.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. And the Japanese prime minister had an ominous quote about that. Earlier today, he said the situation at the Fukushima plant is, quote, "still very grave and serious."

Officials at the plant suspect that a breach of the core of the most troubled reactor has occurred there, but they're not completely certain that the latest leak actually came from the core.

Still, this could be the most serious setback yet in the fight to prevent a complete meltdown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A crisis that's raised new concerns virtually every day goes to another level. In the number three reactor at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, authorities say there was likely a breach in the crucial containment vessel, which protects the core of the reactor.

They say contaminated water from that vessel probably seeped out and employees working near the site stepped into water that had 10,000 times the amount of radiation typical for a nuclear plant.

HIDEHIKO NISHIYAMA, NUCLEAR AND INDUSTRIAL SAFETY AGENCY (through translator): I think it is more likely that the water came from the reactor core. As to the root of the leakage, we are yet to know.

TODD: Other significantly contaminated water has also been detected in the number one reactor.

For perspective, we spoke with nuclear expert, James Acton. I asked him specifically about the contamination from the number three reactor, which has been the most troubled.

(on camera): If this is a breach in the core, how serious is this?

JAMES ACTON, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: Well, this is the most extreme event of a meltdown, if there has been a breach in the core. And the radioactive material in the core would now be seeping out of the pressure vessel. TODD: But Acton makes clear, we don't yet know if that containment vessel has gotten cracked or not.

(on camera): That's because there are several potential sources where the contaminated water could have come from. Experts say each of the reactors here at Fukushima has a turbine hall next to it.

I'll show you a diagram.

Experts say the workers who were contaminated were probably working here in a turbine hall next to reactor number three. These are water and steam lines going into and coming out of the reactor core and the containment vessel.

Experts say the leak could have come from the core itself or it could have come from one of these water lines going into or out of the containment vessel and it could have gone down here. That would be serious, they say, but not as potentially serious as it would be if the water came from the core itself.

(voice-over): Acton says it's unlikely we'll see radiation releases on the scale of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

(on camera): Why do you think this would not be nearly as bad as Chernobyl?

ACTON: Well, what we saw at Chernobyl was an explosion in the core of the reactor itself, and that explosion caused both a large quantity of radiation to be released and it caused that radiation to be released over a large area.

I think it is very unlikely there will be a similar explosion at Fukushima, and without that explosion, the amount of radiation released and the area over which it will be released is likely to be smaller, significantly, than Chernobyl.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But one thing that makes this more concerning than Chernobyl is the type of fuel that's leaking out. Experts say the fuel coming from this reactor at Fukushima is a combination of uranium and plutonium, considered to be more dangerous than the pure uranium fuel used in Chernobyl and other reactors, Wolf. Another thing they've got to watch for here.

BLITZER: Those three workers who stepped in that contaminated water, 10,000 the normal rate of radiation, the burns that they sustained, how serious are they wm.

TODD: Well, they've been hospitalized; two have more serious burns than the other.

Experts say that the beta rays given by this kind of radioactive material don't penetrate into the skin so deeply. One expert said it's kind of akin to a bad sunburn. So the immediate burns aren't so serious, but experts are also saying the real danger they face is, of course, the carcinogens, the contamination may trigger some cancers in these men later in their lives.

Another piece of evidence that these workers going in there are doing this at great personal risk.

BLITZER: Brian Todd just came back from almost two weeks in Japan watching this story, you'll stay in touch with us. Thanks very much.

TODD: Sure.

BLITZER: We'll go live to Japan for more on the situation at that crippled nuclear power plant.

And NATO right now preparing to take on a broader command role in Libya. The top U.S. general is making it clear to me that there are limits to what the U.S. and coalition forces will do.

My interview with U.S. General Carter Ham, here in THE SITUATION ROOM that comes up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just 24 hours ago, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the NATO secretary general told me exclusively that the alliance was set to take over command of the no-fly zone over Libya. Today, we have confirmation that NATO is moving forward with a broader command role.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

And joining us now from Stuttgart, Germany, General Carter Ham. He's the commander of U.S. forces now, serving over Libya. He's the commander of the U.S. military's Africa Command, only been in business for a couple of weeks.

You've got your hands full, General Ham. Thanks very much for joining us.

GEN. CARTER HAM, COMMANDER, U.S. AFRICA COMMAND: Well, thank you for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: You're still in command of the U.S. mission over Libya, is that right?

HAM: That's correct.

BLITZER: When does that change? When does NATO take over?

HAM: Well, NATO has already taken over one piece, which is the arms embargo. That's principally maritime. We expect that NATO will take over the no-fly zone this weekend. And then the next piece, the third and final piece, is the mission to protect civilians. NATO -- it is my understanding NATO has agreed to that in principle and will, this weekend, decide on the -- the procedures and the timing of accepting that mission. But I'm -- I think that will probably occur in the very near future.

BLITZER: So when NATO takes overall command of everything, assuming that happens -- and that's still an assumption right now -- what is your job and the job of the U.S. military's Africa Command?

HAM: Well, Libya is -- is one of the 53 countries in -- in Africa for which this command is responsible. So we still have a -- a decided interest in security matters in Libya.

But once NATO assumes responsibility for those missions, then I would have -- I would no longer have a direct command authority relationship with the forces engaged in NATO operations.

BLITZER: Do you have a clear understanding, General, of what the mission is in Libya right now?

HAM: I -- I do. It is threefold; it is execute the arms embargo, it is execute a no-fly zone, and it is to protect civilians.

BLITZER: Is it also to get rid of Gadhafi?

HAM: It is not. It is very specifically not that mission.

BLITZER: Why not, since the president has repeatedly said that the U.S. policy is that Gadhafi must go?

HAM: It is, indeed, U.S. policy that -- that the current leader of Libya should no longer be that leader, that he has lost legitimacy, but it has also been a determination that we will not seek to achieve that policy end through military means.

BLITZER: But you work for the president of the United States. He's the commander-in-chief. You report to the president, and if he says Gadhafi must go, isn't it your responsibility to implement that policy?

HAM: It is the policy. But the president has also stated very clearly, to me and to others, that we will not seek to achieve that policy goal through military means.

BLITZER: How will the U.S. achieve that policy goal?

HAM: Well, I think by other ways. By -- by economic sanctions, certainly by diplomatic effort. There is -- there are a number of ways that -- that the international community can apply pressure on -- on the current leader in Libya.

But we've -- but specifically, to me, it is not a mission to cause regime -- regime change in Libya.

BLITZER: So no regime change as far as your mission is concerned, even though the president has repeatedly said Gadhafi must go. So it's still a little vague, in my mind. How will you know success in Libya when it occurs?

HAM: Well, I think we have achieved, already, a large degree of success. We -- we do have an arms embargo, we do have a no-fly zone, and we have halted a very serious assault by Libyan regime forces toward the city of Benghazi. I don't know how many people we saved in doing that, but I know we saved some. We have an ongoing effort to where we see regime forces attacking civilians, that we take military action to prevent that to the degree that we can.

And we have had some success. Have we had complete success? No. And it breaks my heart that we -- that that's the situation that we're in, because we find these regime forces taking cover inside built-up areas where they know, because of our concern for civilian casualties, that -- that we won't -- we won't strike in there.

So it's a tough, tough situation right now, but I think we have achieved a large measure of success.

A second part of a mission is to -- is, indeed, to transition this to -- to NATO, and we're preparing -- we have transitioned one part of the mission and I think in the coming days we'll transition the other parts of the mission --

BLITZER: Will --

HAM: -- and we'll do that seamlessly.

BLITZER: Will NATO do what the U.S., the British, the French, the Canadians have already been doing, go after Libyan ground forces, attack them from the air?

HAM: It is my understanding that NATO has agreed in principle to accept that mission. And in the coming days, they'll decide exactly how and when they want to execute that mission.

It's important to remember that the United States is a NATO member. We participate in those discussions. And I'm confident that those -- those discussions will, indeed, end with a satisfactory solution for NATO to accept this mission.

BLITZER: But in the meantime, until NATO is fully on board for that part of the mission, the U.S. and the others will continue to pound Libyan ground forces that may endanger civilians, is that right?

HAM: It -- until NATO -- until I am relieved of this mission, that's -- that -- our mission, my mission is to protect civilians, and we will take actions consistent with our imperatives of being precise, being very discrete, being conscious of civilian casualties.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Much more of the interview coming up with General Ham. I'll specifically ask him whether the U.S. mission also includes if they get actionable intelligence with the U.S., and its partners go ahead and either capture or kill Gadhafi. Much more of the interview coming up at the top of the hour. You'll want to hear and see this.

Also, new information about alleged abuse and torture of protesters in Egypt, even after the fall of the embattled leader, Hosni Mubarak. We'll have the details. Ivan Watson is in Cairo.

Plus, inside a nuclear reactor here in the United States much like the one damaged in the Japan earthquake and tsunami. Is it prepared for the same kind of emergency?

And Boston-born actress Eliza Dushku raised $30,000 for her 30th birthday, all for children in Uganda. She talks about the trip that prompted her to get involved in this "Impact Your World."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZA DUSHKU, THARCE-GULU: I'm Eliza Dushku, and we can make an impact on child soldier trauma recover with THARCE-Gulu.

I got involved through my mother. We had gone to Uganda together to meet and hear the stories of former child soldiers. Through sharing stories, there's that chance of recovery. And our center hopes to use things like film and art therapy to help these children rehabilitate and reintegrate into their communities.

Join the movement, "Impact Your World," CNN.com/impact.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama is going to new lengths to explain the U.S. military mission in Libya. He held a conference call with congressional leaders today to address concerns about the command structure, its costs, and the consequences. The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, says the president will speak to the nation about Libya "in the very near future."

Let's talk about this with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

He's got a tough mission right now, to explain the mission, in effect, because there's a lot of confusion out there.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, and that's what he tried to do in this phone call today.

I was told by a couple of sources that Republicans pushed him very hard, Republican leaders, on the scope of the mission and the end game of the mission. I was also told that the president said that it is not the goal of the coalition to militarily remove Gadhafi from power, and that means one way or another, i.e., kill him. And that while this satisfied -- some Democrats felt that they were OK with the way that the president described this, that we saw that Speaker Boehner released a statement saying that he was not satisfied and that said -- and he said, "Much more needs to be done to provide clarity, particularly to the American people on the military objective in Libya."

That's from a spokesman for the Speaker.

BLITZER: Because the confusion arises from what he has repeatedly said, that Gadhafi must go, which means regime change. There's going to be a new regime.

BORGER: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: But the military mission is not designed to remove Gadhafi from office.

BORGER: No. Right. The military mission is a humanitarian effort.

The president has said that the United States' goal is to have Gadhafi leave. And there is confusion there. But, of course, the president came out in March and said that Gadhafi must go, and that has been problematic for him, because the coalition of which he is a part says no, that's not the goal, although we'd like to see Gadhafi gone, obviously.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see how he tries to implement the U.S. policy of getting rid of Gadhafi if the military is staying out of it.

BORGER: Right. And there's another problem here, which is how does the president communicate this to the American people?

I spoke with some people today who said maybe, maybe tomorrow's radio address will be the time that we will hear from the president on this. But he hasn't really wanted to ratchet this up and make this seem like a crisis for this country, that we're leading another intervention into a Middle Eastern country. So he's trying to walk a fine line here, Wolf, with mixed success.

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say there is a crisis right now, and he needs to speak to the American people and explain what's going on.

BORGER: He does, and we might hear tomorrow.

BLITZER: All right. We'll carry it whenever he does. Thanks very much.

A check of the day's other top stories coming up.

Then, does the United States plan to arm the rebels in Libya? We'll have much more of my interview with the top U.S. military commander of the Libyan mission.

Plus, we've seen the damaged nuclear reactor in Japan. We'll take you to a similar reactor in Alabama. Here's the question: Is the U.S. prepared to handle a nuclear emergency?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: An escalating death toll in Japan, more than two weeks after the historic earthquake and tsunami.

Lisa Sylvester's back. She's monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf.

Well, the country's police agency now says more than 10,000 people have been killed and more than 17,000 missing. Those numbers are expected to climb as rescuers continue to search the rubble. In some areas, roads are beginning to be cleared and electricity lines restored, but major building reconstruction has yet to begin. More than 25,000 buildings were washed away in that disaster.

Canada's House of Commons has voted in favor of a no-confidence resolution to dissolve the conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Elections will be held to form a new government.

The leader of the Liberal Party says the government has not provided lawmakers with requested information on its spending plans. The government's House leader calls the motion ill-conceived.

And there is a new plan in the works to keep fans cool during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and it involves giant flying saucers. Researchers at Qatar University's engineering school, they are developing artificially remote-controlled clouds made of high-tech material with the potential to drop temperatures by 10 degrees.

Temperatures in Qatar typically soar to triple digits during the summer, so they have a little bit of time. This is not until 2022. But they're working on that technology right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Looking forward to it. It will be a lot of fun.

I've been to Qatar. Have you been to Doha, Qatar?

SYLVESTER: I have not been there, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nice place.

SYLVESTER: You've been all around the world.

BLITZER: I was at the World Cup games in South Africa. I'll look forward to going to Qatar for the World Cup, especially with those artificial clouds.

Lisa, thanks very much.

SYLVESTER: OK. Keep cool.

BLITZER: Is the U.S. prepared for a nuclear emergency the likes of what we're seeing in Japan? We're taking you inside a similar reactor in Alabama.

And much more of my interview with the top U.S. military commander of the operation in Libya. Here's the question: Is he ordered to take out Gadhafi if he got the proper intelligence? Stand by for his answer.

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BLITZER: As the Japan nuclear crisis plays out, CNN is investigating whether this country could handle that kind of an emergency. Most Americans who live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant think the answer is no.

In our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, 58 percent of those surveyed say they don't think their local officials could handle the situation if the closest nuclear plant had severe damage. Fewer than half, 42 percent, think it's likely that their local nuclear power plant would suffer damage that would endanger their family.

CNN's David Mattingly is over a nuclear plant in Alabama that's similar to the one in Japan. And David is joining us now with more on what he's seeing -- David.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant is operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. It's similar in design to the plant in Japan in that it creates steam to turn the turbines that generate the electricity. But they say that's where the similarity ends in a lot of respects. And right now they're in very big damage control mode trying to avert a public crisis in confidence for nuclear power.

They gave us extraordinary access to the plant today. They took a group of reporters through there to show us what sort of safety features they have, what sort of backups they have, and the backups to the backups.

Specifically, when looking at the Japanese plant and the problem they had when their power went out, they say that couldn't happen here because the building behind me that houses the reactor, they say that that is built to withstand an F-5 tornado, a direct hit from an F-5 tornado. They keep their backup generators inside there, as well as a supply of diesel fuel, so they would not have a problem keeping their backup generators going and their backup batteries going in case those went down.

Also, we got a very close look at the spent fuel rod pool. Remember that pool at the number 4 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor is giving them problems because the water level keeps going down. They've tried to bring in aerial water, dropping it from the air. But now, here, they're saying that couldn't happen because they actually have fire hoses that are brought from the outside, laced through the building itself, so that it can manually pump water back into that pool if the water level starts to go down.

And again, this entire time, the one message they keep driving home is this is going to be a lot safer, and you done have to worry after seeing what happened in Japan, that that would not happen here.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PRESTON SWAFFORD, CHIEF NUCLEAR OFFICER: You can never in our business say ever positively, because I think the Japanese may have said the same thing. But I'll tell you, I don't believe we're going to have a 43-foot high wall of water that's going to hit this interior plant inside the state of Alabama.

And with our watertight systems around, our emergency vehicle (ph) generators, and how most of our switch gears are in the secondary containment building, I think those types of phenomena means a big water event is highly unlikely. And from a tornado standpoint, I think the F-5 has proven to be kind of the biggest tornado anybody has ever seen. I think those are around 300-mile-an-hour-wind type issues. And these structures are designed for that.

So, have we thought of everything? I don't think anybody can ever say positively, but I feel sure that I don't know of any event currently that's making me worry that we haven't got a design that's considered that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: They say this plant is designed to withstand a 6.0 earthquake and a million-year flood. But they are going back to the drawing board, playing a "What if?" to see if there could be possibly a worse disaster than they've already imagined -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Better to be safe than sorry. All right. Thanks very much.

Lessons learned from Japan. Lessons here in the United States that we're learning.

Thank you.

One week into the coalition air strikes in Libya, what will it take for the U.S. to declare mission accomplished? Stand by for my interview with the commander of the U.S.-led operation, General Carter Ham. Much more of that interview at the top of the hour.

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BLITZER: As we watch the unrest in the Middle East unfold, many people around the world see the revolution in Egypt as a success story. But CNN's Ivan Watson shows us it's far from successful. At least not yet.

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IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A young Egyptian, singing a rebel song. In Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt's revolution, Remy Essam raised his voice in protests during 18 historic days and nights which brought down a despot and left many Egyptians full of hope.

REMY ESSAM, MUSICIAN: Everyone now can say anything he wants. Because (ph) I would be afraid.

WATSON: But look what happened to his Essam barely a month later -- beaten, battered and scarred after Egyptian soldiers detained him.

ESSAM (through translator): The torture took four hours. They removed my clothes. They used sticks, metal rods, wires, ropes, hoses, whips. There was also electrocution. There was an officer who would purposely jump in the air and land on my face with his legs.

WATSON: Essam was one of scores of male protesters detained during this crackdown by security forces in Tahrir Square on March 9th. Troops also arrested at least 17 women who were kept for days at a military detainment center.

Amnesty International says these "women protesters were beaten, given electric shocks, suggested to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers, then forced to submit to virginity tests."

One of these women was this 20-year-old hairdresser named Salwa Hosseini.

SALWA HOSSEINI, VICTIM (through translator): They made us sign statements declaring whether or not we are virgins.

WATSON: She says she submitted to the test under threat of electrocution.

HOSSEINI (through translator): During the test, no one was standing except for a woman and a male doctor. Six soldiers were standing behind us and watching the backside of the bed. I think they were there to be witnesses.

WATSON (on camera): A spokesman for the Egyptian military tells CNN some of the 17 women who were detained on March 9th received one- year suspended jail sentences. But he denied any allegations of torture or virginity tests. He also told us this -- the ruling Egyptian Military Council is preparing to approve a new law that would make the kind of protests we saw here in Tahrir Square a criminal offense punishable by jail time or huge fines.

Did you ever think you would be seeing this type of behavior on February 12th after Hosni Mubarak --

RAGIA OMRAN, HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER: No. I'm shocked. I'm shocked because I thought that, you know, that that kind of treatment went down with the regime.

WATSON (voice-over): Military police detained and interrogated human rights lawyer Ragia Omran for hours after she tried to monitor a polling station during last weekend's referendum on constitutional reform. Omran was among many concerned citizens at this recent civil society debate on board a boat in the Nile River.

"What happened to the revolution we began in Tahrir Square?" Omran asks the audience. "What happened to the revolution we created?"

Ivan Watson, CNN, Cairo.

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