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Obama Speaks Out As Tensions Build Over Iran Nukes; Interview with Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah; Obama: 'This is Not a Personal Issue'; Secret E-mails Shed New Light on 'Jihadi John'; Police Question Girlfriend of Murdered Putin Critic

Aired March 2, 2015 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, showdown -- Israel's prime minister says he means no disrespect toward President Obama, but he's about to make a fiery speech before Congress.

Is the relationship with America's closest ally hanging in the balance?

Terrorist e-mails -- secret messages sent by the most notorious ISIS killer.

Did he join the terror group out of fear for his own life?

Russian intrigue -- does this model hold the key to the murder of Vladimir Putin's biggest rival?

And missile threat -- U.S. and South Korean War games triggering a test launch and a threat of real war from North Korea's regime.

Is the dictator, Kim Jong-un, under pressure right now to do something very dangerous?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And there is breaking news. President Obama breaking his silence. He's speaking out right now, as tensions build in Washington ahead of an extraordinary address to Congress by Israel's prime minister. Israel's leader invited by the Republican House speaker, who failed to consult the White House or the Democratic leadership in advance.

President Obama tells Reuters that speech is a distraction, although not permanently destructive to U.S.-Israel relations.

Ties between the United States and its closest ally in the region are at a low point right now, marked by the frosty personal relationship between President Obama and the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a dress rehearsal today before a pro-Israel lobbying organization, the prime minister downplayed the differences with President Obama, saying he means no disrespect. He says his speech to Congress tomorrow morning will focus on the proposed Iran nuclear deal, which he portrays as an existential threat to Israel.

President Obama tells Reuters a deal with Iran would be far more effective at controlling its nuclear program than any military action by the United States or Israel.

All of this comes amid word from the United Nations that Iran right now is still failing to come clean about its nuclear program.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz is standing by live. We'll have full coverage from -- involving him and our correspondents around the world, along with our analysts and our guests.

But let's begin with the very latest information coming in from the White House.

Our correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, is standing by there -- Michelle.


Right. So we heard from Prime Minister Netanyahu today. And this was this weird setup of what looked to be dueling speeches, the prime minister and the U.S. ambassador to the UN

But what they did was emphasize the strength of the relationship, the shared values.

However, the tensions still came out. The White House saying that Israel has failed to produce a viable option to nuclear negotiations with Iran and that if Israel leaks information about this negotiation, then that is a betrayal.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted here like a rock star, at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, a crowd of 16,000. Yet on this visit to Washington, he will not share so much as a phone call with the White House, which wasn't even told about the invitation from Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

President Obama, we learned today, did not watch Netanyahu's address, nor will likely watch his big speech tomorrow before a joint session of Congress.

The prime minister right away addressed this strangeness.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: My speech is not intended to show any disrespect to President Obama or the esteemed office that he holds. I have great respect for both.

KOSINSKI: His goal made very clear. NETANYAHU: Iran vows to annihilate Israel. If it develops nuclear weapons, it would have the means to achieve that goal. We must not let that happen.

KOSINSKI: Complete with a chart he brought showing what he called Iran's tentacles of sponsoring terror in five continents.

But America's ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, essentially said the same thing.

SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The United States of America will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, period. We will not let it happen.

KOSINSKI: They seem to agree. Yet the tension still came out even today. The White House, upset that Israel has and might continue to leak out purported details of the top secret nuclear negotiations with Iran, which Israel is worried will be too lenient.

JOSH EARNEST, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The release of that information would betray the trust between our allies. And it certainly is inconsistent with the behavior of trusted allies.


KOSINSKI: The president just sat down for an interview. We're starting to get information out of that now. The president saying that Israel has warned before about working with Iran, negotiating over its nuclear program. And the president says that none of those warnings have come true. The U.S. insists that they have gotten Iran to roll back its program and that progress is viable -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. He used strong words in that interview with Reuters. We're going to play excerpts from that interview momentarily. But he did not mince any words in making it clear he and the prime minister of Israel have a very, very strong disagreement.

Michelle Kosinski, stand by.

The prime minister, meanwhile, is trying to smooth over some differences with the Obama administration. But he's also sticking to his guns on the Iran nuclear threat.

Let's bring in our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott -- Elise, both the White House and the prime minister seem to be softening a bit of the rhetoric on the eve of this speech.

What's going on?

And I give all that with the caveat that we're about to hear very strong words from the president in this exclusive interview he just granted to Reuters.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: And Wolf, we're also going to hear from national security adviser, Susan Rice, later tonight at AIPAC. She is the real critic. You know, the friendly face was Samantha Power. And she definitely, as Michelle noted in her story, tried to lower the temperature, definitely a more positive tone about the breadth and the depth about the U.S. relationship with Israel.

But Susan Rice has been a real critic, as you know. And last week called the prime minister's visit destructive to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

For his part, Netanyahu also tried to lower the tone, talk about his great respect for President Obama, his great respect for the U.S. and his appreciation for all that the U.S. has done for Israel.

But, Wolf, make no bones about it, this prime minister definitely is going to give a very provocative address, laying out tomorrow what he sees as the deal shaping up, asking for more time, because he feels that Congress hasn't been fully informed.

BLITZER: And Susan Rice, the president's national security adviser, she's about to deliver, as you point out, a major speech before AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying organization here in Washington. Samantha Power did earlier, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

What's going to be the thrust, as far as we know, of her speech?

KOSINSKI: Well, I think she's going to try to pre-but, if you will, what the prime minister is going to say tomorrow and lay out the U.S. case for Iran, about the nuclear deal shaping up and why the U.S. thinks this is the best way to halt Iran's nuclear advances.

One of the things that you've heard from the administration is that the prime minister doesn't have any alternative. OK, he doesn't like the deal, but what's the alternative, other than military action?

So I think that's one of the things that she'll try to lay out, more of a technical case on the U.S. policy toward Iran. And, again, she'll try to lower the tone, lower the temperature. There was a lot of divisive remarks last week. And I think this White House has realized that the -- this bickering is only enhancing attention to the prime minister's remarks and enhancing attention to the Iran issue, which is at a critical junction with these Iran talks.

And for the prime minister's part, he also sees this bickering as detracting from the issue at hand, which is Iran. So I think both cases, the relationship is important, but also the message is important. And they want their case to be heard over all of this bickering -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Elise, stand by, as well.

Joining us now, a key voice on national security, the House Oversight Committee chairman, Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah.

Congressman, before we begin, I want you to listen to this little excerpt. This is the president of the United States. He just sat down with, Jeff Mason, the White House correspondent for the Reuters News Agency, and made a strong defense of his posture when it comes to these negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What's the best way to ensure that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon?

Prime Minister Netanyahu thinks that the best way to do that is either through doubling down on more sanctions or through military action, ensuring that Iran has absolutely no enrichment capabilities whatsoever. And there is no expert on Iran or nuclear proliferation around the world that seriously thinks Iran is going to respond to additional sanctions by eliminating its nuclear program.

What we've said from the start is by organizing a strong sanctions regime globally, what we can do is bringing Iran to the table. And by bringing Iran to the table, force them to have a serious negotiation in which, A, we are able to see exactly what's going on inside of Iran; B, we're able to create what we call a breakout period, a time line where we know if they were to try to get a nuclear weapon, it would take them a certain amount of time. And the deal that we're trying to negotiate is to make sure that there's at least a year between us seeing them try to get a nuclear weapon and them actually being able to obtain one. And as long as we've got that one year breakout capacity, that ensures us that we can take military action to stop them if they were to stop it.


BLITZER: All right, the president really going into specific details, making the case why his posture is superior, better in the long-term, than the posture put forward by the Israeli prime minister.

Congressman, your reaction?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, (R-UT), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I don't think we can ever, ever take the chance that Iran is able to achieve a nuclear weapon. They want death and destruction to Israel. They have sent terrorists who have come after us and killed thousands of Americans along the way. There is no daylight -- there is no daylight between our position and what Israel's position is on this. We have not taken a hard enough stance. And I don't think the president has seen any visibility into what's going on into Iran. We've heard that from outside experts and I don't think we know internally what is really happening there, other than their determination, Iran's, to have death and destruction to Israel and to the United States.

BLITZER: But he says that there's really no serious alternative right now to these negotiations, because the other options simply won't work.

I'll play another excerpt from this interview he just granted to Reuters.


OBAMA: But if they do agree to it, it would be far more effective in controlling their nuclear program than any military action we could take, any military action Israel could take and far more effective than sanctions will be.


BLITZER: So what's wrong with giving these negotiations at least a chance of success?

CHAFFETZ. I still think we need to put more sanctions in place. I do think that puts them in a crippling position. I think the price of oil also has a devastating effect to the economy there.

But I do not want to rule out a military use of force because that's --

BLITZER: He's not ruling that out.

CHAFFETZ. Well, but --

BLITZER: He's not ruling out a -- he says -- he says he's not even sure that this negotiation is going to work. What he says is give it a chance. If it doesn't work, there always is the option to go back to more sanctions and there always is the option, the last resort, for military force.

CHAFFETZ. I think Congress needs to have visibility on that. I don't think they should make such a big brouhaha about the fact that the prime minister from Israel is coming to the United States to talk to Congress. You know, when your friends come to town, they come see you. And he's done this in the past. And for him to treat the prime minister of Israel like this is -- it's pretty embarrassing.

BLITZER: But it's only two weeks tomorrow to the day, two weeks before the Israeli election. And he says it would be inappropriate, no matter how close of an ally, to get involved in domestic Israeli politics, especially at a time when Netanyahu is facing a severe challenge right now. He might not get himself reelected this time.

CHAFFETZ. It is appropriate, though, for the prime minister to come to speak to Congress. I'm proud that Speaker Boehner invited him. I think it was the right thing to do. And I look forward to a broad bipartisan support in favor of the prime minister of Israel. We are very united in our support for Israel.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what he says. This is the president of the United States, once again, from this exclusive interview he granted to Reuters, to Jeff Mason, the White House correspondent for Reuters.

Listen to this.


OBAMA: When we first announced this interim deal, Prime Minister Netanyahu made all sorts of claims. This was going to be a terrible deal. This was going to result in Iran getting $50 billion worth of relief. Iran would not abide by the agreement.

None of that has come true. This is not a personal issue. I think that it is important for every country, in its relationship with the United States, to recognize that the U.S. has a process of making policy. And although we have separation of powers, ultimately the interaction with foreign governments runs through the executive branch. That's true whether it's a Democratic president or a Republican president. And that's true regardless of how close the ally is.


BLITZER: Don't you think with hindsight -- and you're a smart guy -- with hindsight, it would have been more appropriate for the speaker of the House to at least have informed the White House or the -- and/or the Democratic leadership, you know what I'm going to do, I know he's got an election coming up -- I don't know if the speaker actually knew that he had an election coming up, but he's got an election -- but I think it's important at this critical moment to give the prime minister of Israel a chance to make his case to the American Congress?

With hindsight, don't you think the speaker should have at least had the courtesy to tell the White House what he was planning on doing?

CHAFFETZ. Well, I think he did do that. I think (INAUDIBLE) --

BLITZER: Only after the invitation was delivered.

CHAFFETZ. the speaker -- we're talking about semantics of --

BLITZER: It's not semantics. This is a --


BLITZER: -- this is a serious issue, Congressman.

CHAFFETZ. We're a co-equal branch of government here, Wolf. He's --

BLITZER: But as a matter of courtesy, why wouldn't the speaker of the House at least --

CHAFFETZ. Get over it --

BLITZER: -- tell the president.

CHAFFETZ. Get over it. He's going to come here and speak to the joint session of Congress in (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: We know that. We know he's speaking tomorrow. I'm looking back, I'm not looking ahead, I'm looking back.

With hindsight, was it a miscalculation?

CHAFFETZ. No, I don't think it's a miscalculation. I think Speaker Boehner did the right thing (INAUDIBLE) --

BLITZER: But don't you think it's hurt U.S.-Israeli relations?


What you're going to see --

BLITZER: When --


BLITZER: -- when 30 Democrats decide to boycott the visit of the prime minister to the U.S. Congress, doesn't that hurt the U.S.- Israeli relationship?

CHAFFETZ: There's 535 members between the House and the Senate. So yes, you have a couple that are not going to show up, which I think is a broad mistake in the context.

Remember, it was just our embassy in Yemen that we had to flee because the Houthis were coming to take over, supported by Iran. Iran has not been a friendly player. You saw the video, out there in the Arabian sea where they're blowing up a would-be gulf carrier there for us. This is not a regime that we can continue to appease and give them what they want, more than anything else, which is time.

And President Obama has given the Iranians time. And that's what I worry about.

BLITZER: But you also worry about another war between the United States and Iran.

CHAFFETZ: The biggest problem that we have on the face of the planet is Iran getting a nuclear weapon. And we have to do anything and everything we can do in our powers to make sure that that doesn't happen.

BLITZER: So you would support a preemptive strike against their nuclear --

CHAFFETZ: Absolutely. We negotiate from a position of strength, Wolf. We do not do this through appeasement and bickering about what time the speaker called the president to say that Benjamin Netanyahu is going to show up. That is a distraction. I think the president miscalculated on that. Get over it. He's coming to speak to us, and we look forward to hearing him.

So you think the U.S. should basically say to Iran right now either completely open up, stop all of your nuclear program, or the United States is going to launch a preemptive strike?

CHAFFETZ: If it was up to me, if I was the president of the United States, I would take out that threat. You have to deal with it in a realistic thing. We believe them. When they say they want death and destruction to the United States, when the ayatollah said that November of last year, believe him.

When he says it to the United States of America and the Houthis are coming in and kicking us out of our embassy, and they're going to take us out, believe them. Yes. You take out that threat.

BLITZER: Congressman, we have more to talk about. I'm glad you're telling us how you really feel right now. These are critically important issues, as you and I well know and our viewers know, as well.

Much more with the Congressman Jason Chaffetz right after this.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. You just heard it here. The president of the United States speaking out in a new exclusive interview with the Reuters news agency about Iran's nuclear program.

The president said all of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's warnings about the dangers of a deal that's being worked out with Iran, he says all of those concerns have been wrong so far, not mincing any words at all.

We're back with Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee. He's a key voice on national security. We know how you feel on this deal that the president, Secretary of State Kerry are trying to work out with Iran, but what's going to happen at the end of this week?

Midnight Friday, once again, funding for the Department of Homeland Security runs out unless you, meaning the House of Representatives, passes what essentially has already passed the Senate, that so-called clean bill to keep the funding going between now and the end of September.

There's nothing clean about it. When they attached on to that this provision that the president 22 times in a row said he thought he didn't have the ability to do, then a federal judge has said that they can't implement, why should we put that in there, and why in the world are we calling that clean, by the way?

BLITZER: But he can't implement it. So you have a free pass right now to go ahead, fund the Department of Homeland Security, not worry about his executive orders on immigration, because a judge, a federal judge, has already said, "That's illegal; that's unconstitutional. Mr. President, you can't do it." If it goes to the 5th Circuit in New Orleans, that's a conservative bench, as you know. They're probably going to kick it to the Supreme Court.

So for months, the president isn't going to be able to implement that executive order on immigration, in any case, so why not at least fund the Department of Homeland Security?

CHAFFETZ: You're making the case that we as the Republicans in the House are making, is yes, let's fund all of DHS except that provision that they can't implement anyway, that a federal judge says they can't do, and that the president 22 times said he couldn't do anyway. Why isn't that the clean version? That's what we want to pass. That's what we've done in the House of Representatives.

BLITZER: But you know what? The House can pass that, but the Senate won't. You've got a problem.

CHAFFETZ: So it is the problem. And it's the Senate Democrats, you have to look them in the eye and say, "Why are you holding up all of homeland security, because you want to fund something you can't do anyway, and that a judge says you can't do anyway?"

BLITZER: Sounds like there's a stalemate, that there's not going to be funding for the Department of Homeland Security by the end of this week.

CHAFFETZ: I'm fed up with House Republicans trying to take the blame for this. It's the Senate Democrats that need to come to the table.

We asked in a very reasonable way, "OK, our bill and your bill, we disagree. Let's go to conference. Let's have a discussion. They won't even agree to come to the table and talk about it. There is something fundamentally wrong with the Senate Democrats.

Bring them to the table. I want to talk to them, but they won't even come to the table to have this discussion.

BLITZER: Jason Chaffetz, thanks very much for joining us. We'll see what happens by midnight Friday night, because lots -- lots is at stake, especially at a time when there are huge terror threats out there facing the American homeland. Appreciate it very much.

CHAFFETZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, we have newly-revealed e-mails from the killer known as Jihadi John, showing what he was thinking before he joined ISIS.

And later, there's new intrigue as Russia investigates the killing of a prominent opponent of the president, Vladimir Putin. Russian police question the model who was with Boris Nemtsov the night he was gunned down.


BLITZER: We're learning new details tonight about the background of the notorious ISIS killer known as Jihadi John. A series of secret e- mails may shed some light on why this Kuwaiti-born Londoner joined the brutal terror group.

Let's go live to our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. He's got the latest in London -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these e- mails have been coming out over the weekend, and they show an even suicidal Jihadi John. They portray him as a victim of the British intelligence services being brutal.

But you know, as you dig more into the facts here, there's a whole lot more to this story than just these e-mails.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ROBERTSON: E-mails from Jihadi John, Mohammed Emwazi: "I'm like a dead man walking, fearing that one day, I will take as many pills as I can so I can go to sleep forever." Sent to a British journalist in December 2010, published this weekend in the U.K.'s "Daily Mail" newspaper.

In the e-mail, Emwazi tells journalist Robert Verkaik that he wants to sell his laptop, that he brings it to the station here to meet a buyer. The buyer pays for it with cash without even checking it out, and then says to him, "Nice doing business with you, Mohammed." Emwazi says he never told the buyer his first name and immediately decided the buyer must have been working for British intelligence.

Islamist activist group CAGE also released a slew of e-mails. It says they're from Emwazi. They, too, paint a picture of a man hounded by British intelligence.

This is an account of questioning by security officials in June 2010: "He grabbed onto my T-shirt and threw me onto the wall. All this was happening to me while the officers sat down casually, not stopping or doing anything. I was having difficulty breathing. He finally let go of my neck."

According to CAGE's e-mails dating to June 2010, Emwazi's problems began on a safari trip to Tanzania in 2009, when British intelligence first questioned him.

RASHAD ALI, DIRECTOR, CENTA: We should be very clear. That's not where the story begins. There are reports of his, people he went to school with saying he was not just very anti-Israeli but very anti- Semitic, very anti-Jewish. So there are signs there that he had more radical and extreme perspectives well before any engagement with the authorities.

ROBERTSON: Rashad Ali works countering radical narratives. He says Emwazi had ties to the failed July 21, 2005, bombings in London, just one of several worrying Jihadi links.

ALI: There are phone call connections with individuals on the day of the attack. Would have been the first sign they would be interested in. But also more than that, that he was traveling with people who wanted to go and join al-Shabaab. That was what the intelligence said, and that's what actually proved to be true afterwards.

ROBERTSON: That's al-Shabaab, the al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia.

Court documents quoted in the British media indicate U.K. officials believed Emwazi was part of a group of radical Islamists known as the North London Boys. They were providing funding and equipment for the al Qaeda fledgling group in Somalia that he was also, according to the British media, part of a criminal gang robbing the wealthy residents here in West London.

Emwazi not the innocent victim his and CAGE's e-mails seek to portray.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROBERTSON: And of course, up until now, the British government hasn't said, confirmed the name of Emwazi. And the indications are that certainly the intelligence services here, British government, know an awful lot more about this Jihadi John than they're making public at this time, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Nic. Good report. Thanks very much, Nic Robertson in London.

Let's get some more now. Joining us, CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd. He's a former CIA official. Also joining us, our national security analyst, Fran Townsend, former homeland security advisor to President Bush; and "The Washington Post" columnist David Ignatius. He's covered the Middle East for a long time, the intelligence community, as well.

What do you make of this whole Jihadi John, that maybe the British mistreated him and, as a result, he became this murderer?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't have a lot of sympathy here. Let's get back to what Nic said about British security services. When you're juggling cases every day in a real world, you've got to look at resources, and you've got to look at legal backing.

The resource to pull somebody aside at an airport, search your luggage, put them up in e-mail or phone coverage, that is not a free item. There is something behind what the British security services did here beyond, "This guy looks funny, and we want to look at him," because you don't spend those resources for nothing.

BLITZER: Fran, you know the news that the ISIS forces, they've apparently released 19 of those 220 Christians in Syria who were being held hostage. I don't know if they got money for them or what their motivation was. But what do you make of that?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's hard to tell, Wolf. There's clearly something going on behind the scenes. We saw the brutal execution and beheading of the Christians on the shores of Tripoli, and so this is not without having gotten something in return.

I'd make one other point to Emwazi. You know, he's not the only person from the school that he attended that joined the fight. There are two others, and the British minister of education has begun an investigation to try and understand what was going on here that there were three individuals from the same school that were extremists who tried to join the fight.

BLITZER: David, let's get to this current crisis -- I'll call it a crisis -- in U.S./Israeli relations right now, this animosity that has developed between the prime minister of Israel and the president of the United States over the Iran nuclear negotiations.

You broke the story, and you've been doing some excellent columns in recent days for a long time, and especially in recent days. That the U.S. now is withholding sensitive intelligence information from Israel because of the leaks coming out against this deal that seems to be in the works.

DAVID IGNATIUS, "THE WASHINGTON POST" COLUMNIST: I reported, Wolf, from Israel that as of the end of January, the U.S. did begin to stop sharing all the details of its private conversations with Iranian negotiators because of concerns about material that was being leaked in the Israeli press.

BLITZER: Is that still the case, as far as you know?

IGNATIUS: I think there's more discussion now than there was. I think the U.S. is trying to make every effort to make the Israeli government feel as part of this process. An Israeli said while I was in Israel, "What hurt us most was the insult that you didn't think we'd find out anyway. Don't you think we have other sources than being briefed by U.S. officials?"

But we'll see. Tomorrow this comes to a head with Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to Congress. The reactions to that will be important both in the U.S. and Israel.

BLITZER: Phil, you heard Jason Chaffetz, the congressman just here in THE SITUATION ROOM saying he would support a preemptive U.S. military strike. Forget about the negotiations, he would simply support a preemptive military strike to destroy all of Iran's nuclear plants, nuclear capabilities. Is that realistic?

MUDD: A strike against what? You've got three options here. Strike a dispersed program that you cannot, in my judgment, destroy. No. 2, step away from negotiations. I believe the inevitable result would be an Iranian nuclear program. No. 3, engage in bad negotiations that will lead to a difficult result that might lead to an Iranian nuclear program. You would think in Washington, D.C., that Republicans and Democrats, both sides have an easy solution. There is no easy solution here.

BLITZER: Fran, what do you think?

TOWNSEND: Yes, no, look, Phil -- Phil's right. There is no easy solution here.

I will say to you it's awfully dangerous to cut off the Israelis in terms of our intelligence, because by the way, we rely a great deal on a real depth of knowledge that the Israelis have in the region generally and in -- about the Iranian program in particular.

And so I have to tell you, I think it's pretty dangerous, the game that's getting -- the bilateral game that's getting played between the administration and Israel right now.

BLITZER: Is that military option at all realistic at this point, David? Remember, the Israelis did blow up the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osira (ph) in 1981. They blew up a Syrian potential nuclear reactor. But is that at all realistic for the U.S. to launch a strike like that?

IGNATIUS: The U.S. could launch a devastating strike that would retard the Iranian program for some years. The Israelis don't have the same military capability. Iran would come back more quickly. This program would be more toxic.

And most worrisome, the international coalition to stop that program would basically be gone.

I think what worries me the most is if Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn't convince President Obama to change his negotiating course, and he won't. And if the U.S. goes ahead and negotiates a deal, then you really do have the U.S. and Israel at loggerheads. The U.S. has done something that the prime minister of Israel says, if he's re-elected, is contrary to Israel's fundamental interests. That worries me.

BLITZER: Elections in Israel March 17. There's no guarantee, and you were just there, he's going to be re-elected. It's going to be tight.

IGNATIUS: It's going to be very tight. And we will see what coalition politics is all about.

BLITZER: What the Israelis have said, you used to work for the CIA, these are details that are well-known not only to the U.S. and Iran but China, Russia, the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. So what the Israelis say is they're going to -- you want to withhold this kind of information from Israel, a trusted ally, but China, Russia and Iran know all these secrets.

MUDD: I think the Israelis know them anyway. Look, there are two tracks. One is the intelligence track, what I used to work on. I suspect those conversations continue. Diplomacy doesn't affect intelligence.

On the diplomatic track, if we think the Israelis don't know what's going on because we're not talking to them in Tel Aviv, I don't buy it. They're going to figure out what's going on here; they're going to try to block it.

BLITZER: All right, guys. I want all of you to stand by. Because this story, the breaking news only continuing.

Also, there is new intrigue in Moscow right now. Does the model who was walking with the prominent critic of Vladimir Putin hold the key to what many see as a political assassination?

And later, new missile tests and war threats from North Korea's Kim Jong-un.


BLITZER: Russia is now lashing out at the west, pointing to what its foreign minister calls politicized, ungrounded and provocative interpretations about the murder of a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin. Boris Nemtsov died in a drive-by shooting as he walked with his girlfriend Friday night.

Our senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, is joining us now from Moscow. He's there at that bridge where it all went down. What's the latest, Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's 1:40 in the morning here, Wolf, and I'm very surprised to know that, in the last 20 minutes, we've seen about a half dozen people come and place flowers here at this impromptu memorial for Boris Nemtsov, basically where he was gunned down. I saw one woman crying at this early hour in the morning, where it's so freezing cold.

Many people asking this burning question: Who killed Boris Nemtsov and why?


WATSON (voice-over): Tens of thousands gathered to honor slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, among Vladimir Putin's highest profile critics.

Nemtsov helped organize a protest rally scheduled for last Sunday and was slated to join the march, but he would not live to see it through. Instead, he was gunned down in the shadows of the Kremlin two days earlier. Attackers shot Nemtsov at least four times in the back as he crossed this bridge with his 23-year-old Ukrainian model girlfriend.

Surveillance camera footage captured the killing. A snow plow approaches and appears to pause next to the couple. Investigators say a man opens fire on Nemtsov and makes off in a getaway car.

The plow driver said he didn't see the murder but saw Nemtsov lying on the ground and stopped to help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got on the bridge, looked into the rear mirror and a man on the ground. I immediately realized he didn't feel right (ph). I turned a little bit further and pulled over.

WATSON: The girlfriend, Anna Duritskaya, perhaps the only other witness to the crime, has been interrogated by police but told Russian TV she can't identify the assailant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where did Boris' killer appear from?

ANNA DURITSKAYA, GIRLFRIEND (Through Translator): I don't know. I didn't see because this was happening behind my back. When I turned, I only saw a light-colored car but I didn't see the make or number of the car that was leaving.

WATSON: Nemtsov, a former Russian deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin, had long been a vocal critic of Putin and of what he called his crony capitalism.

So the question is why now? Ukrainian President Poroshenko said Nemtsov was about to reveal damaging information regarding Russia's involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, saying, quote, "someone was very afraid of that."

ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CNN HOST, PARTS UNKNOWN: Should I be concerned about having dinner with you? WATSON: In a 2014 interview with CNN's Anthony Bourdain, Nemtsov said

he knew he irritated the Kremlin but felt his popularity would actually protect him.

BOURDAIN: There is precedent that critics of the government, critics of Putin, bad things seem to happen to them.

BORIS NEMTSOV, FORMER RUSSIAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I'm a well-known guy and this is a safety because if something happens with me, it will be scandal not only in Moscow city but throughout the world.


WATSON: Now, Wolf, a little bit of news we just got. Anna Duritskaya, the girlfriend of Nemtsov, the Ukrainian girlfriend, we are just hearing from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry's Twitter feed that she has returned to Kiev after three days of questioning, after staying under police protection and security, at the home of one of Nemtsov's political allies.

Separately, it's just important to bring this home. The killing took place on this bridge. Those red bricks there, those walls over there, that is the Kremlin. It's 100 feet, 150 feet away from here. It is perhaps one of the most heavily guarded, most secure places in all of Russia, which brings home kind of what an incredible signal and symbol this is, this killing taking place so close to the seat of the power, and that the killer was able to escape -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Killer or killers. We'll find out hopefully one of these days.

Thank you very much, Ivan.

Coming up, Kim Jong-Un tells his army get ready to tear to pieces the stars and stripes of the United States.

And live during the next hour of THE SITUATION ROOM, President Obama's National Security adviser, Susan Rice, she speaks to the same group that cheered the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, earlier today.


BLITZER: We're following ominous new threats from the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. He ordered his military to prepare for war with the United States, saying, and I'm quoting him now, "tear to pieces the stars and stripes."

CNN's Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He has more on this latest of burst of anger.

What is the latest, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight Kim Jong-Un is angry over joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises near his borders. He has responded by firing missiles, not at those American or South Korean forces. He fired them into the sea. But nevertheless, given the tensions with North Korea recently and the pressure that Kim Jong- Un is now under, there are concerns tonight from U.S. officials and others that the young volatile leader could make a dangerous miscalculation.


TODD (voice-over): Explosions on hillsides. Amphibious landings. Combat troops storming beaches. U.S. and South Korean forces are practicing for war. Military drills that are defensive in nature, a Pentagon official tells CNN. The North Koreans have a different take.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Through Translator): They should be dealt with only by merciless strikes.

TODD: Kim Jong-Un's forces did respond, firing two ballistic missiles 300 miles into the Sea of Japan. Analysts say those missiles have a range that can hit South Korea's capital and beyond. Kim's media arm says the peninsula is, quote, "inching close to the brink of war."

The U.S.-South Korean exercises are held every year. But tonight, there are new concerns.

VICTOR CHA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think Kim Jong-Un's feeling a lot of pressure these days. There is a need to respond on his part to what he's seeing happening in terms of the exercises. It's hard for him, I think, to just sit still.

TODD: Kim has intensified his command posture recently, conducting the first test of a ballistic missile intended to be fired from a submarine. Testing an anti-ship cruise missile. He's visited several military units over the past couple of months, telling them be ready to fight.

SCOTT SNYDER, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: In these exercises, as you can see, he is always in the middle. The focal point is always on him. He is the leader. He is the protector of the nation. He is in the vanguard of opposition to U.S. imperialism.

TODD: But the danger goes beyond Kim's projections. The Sony hack which the FBI says was ordered by Pyongyang showed North Korea can strike Americans where they live. Analysts say Kim may have 100 nuclear bombs in five years. And five years ago as the U.S. and South Korea conducted similar joint exercises, North Korea sank a South Korean ship not far away, killing 46 sailors.

Tonight one U.S. official tells CNN, there's a risk here that the young unpredictable leader could miscalculate.

CHA: These sorts of things happen in the -- most heavily militarized part of the world, this one-mile wide border between North and South Korea. And it's only a stone's throw from where we have 28,500 U.S. troops deployed.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: How tense is it right now? A Pentagon official tells us tonight, they are closely monitoring the situation on the Korean Peninsula. They're calling on North Korea to refrain from provocative action.

When I asked if maybe U.S. and South Korean forces could ratchet down tensions by calling off their exercises, this official at the Pentagon said the drills are done to maintain stability and protect South Korea. And he added they gave North Korea plenty of notice beforehand that these exercises would be taking place.

Wolf, that does not diminish any of the tensions tonight.

BLITZER: Yes. Very tense time on the Korean Peninsula.

Thank you very much.

Coming up, even as Israel's prime minister plans to raise the alarm about Iran before Congress, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog is raising more doubts about whether Iran can be trusted.

And she labeled the Israeli leader's visit to Washington destructive to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Now the president's National Security adviser Susan Rice, she's about to speak before a huge pro- Israel lobbying group.

You'll hear her speech live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.