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The Situation Room

Cheney Accidentally Shoots Hunting Buddy; Saddam Hussein Trial: Disorder in the Court; Interview With Kofi Annan

Aired February 13, 2006 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 5:00 p.m. here in Washington, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information from around the world arrive at one place at the same time.
Happening now, the White House peppered with embarrassing questions by reporters after Vice President Cheney peppers a hunting partner with some birdshot. Why did it take so long for word of the shooting to get back to Washington and to reach the American public?

In Baghdad, where it's 1:00 a.m., there's disorder in the court as Saddam Hussein walks in shouting, "Down with Bush!" His co- defendants are dragged in, one of them in pajamas.

And it's 1:30 a.m. in Tehran, which is upping the ante in its nuclear showdown with the world. Can the United Nations do anything about it? I'll speak with the secretary-general, Kofi Annan, in an exclusive interview this hour.

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

We begin with that hunting accident involving Vice President Dick Cheney, who wounded a companion while firing birdshot at some quail this weekend in Texas. Harry Whittington, a Texas Republican activist, was hit in the face, neck and chest.

Now, any shooting involving the vice president is huge news, but this news didn't reach most Americans until almost 24 hours after the Saturday incident.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I personally was informed by the Situation Room that there had been a hunting accident and that it was a member of the vice president's hunting party. But I didn't have additional information than that at this point. Obviously, I asked questions about is he OK and who was involved, and they didn't have those facts at that point.


BLITZER: White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan isn't talking about our SITUATION ROOM, but the White House finds itself in a very delicate situation over the delay in getting the news out to the American public and the manner in which it was released.

Our White House correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by with the story.

What is the White house saying, Dana, about why it took so long to get this word out?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the upshot is they are saying that it wasn't anything intentional -- it wasn't anything that they were trying to hide, I should say. The vice president's office particularly has been saying the same thing since yesterday.

One, that they wanted to wait until they knew that Harry Whittington, that he was in OK medical condition. And also that the vice president himself decided to defer to his host, an eyewitness, Katharine Armstrong. And that is why they let her, in fact, call her local paper in Corpus Christi and get the information out that way. But that was -- the question that you asked, Wolf, was definitely the subject of lots of questions at the White House today about just why it did take 24 hours for this information to become public to most of America and certainly to the world.

We spoke with Katharine Armstrong -- several times I've spoken with her, and essentially she said that they didn't even discuss the idea of making this public on Saturday night, the night that Mr. Cheney shot with birdshot Mr. Whittington. That this did not even come up until Sunday morning over breakfast, that she and her mother -- they're the owners of the ranch where this happened -- decided that -- they knew this was going to be a public story. They went to Mr. Cheney and said, "We're going to call our local paper."

Now, the question now is, does the White House, does -- do they have a responsibility to tell the American people immediately when this kind of incident happens? According to the vice president's office, they felt like they followed a protocol that was sufficient. When you heard the White House spokesman, he made it very clear that his personal protocol in situations like this is different and he would have probably gotten the information out a lot sooner -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash at the White house.

Thank you very much.

Doctors, by the way, say the vice president's shooting victim, 78-year-old Texas Republican activist Harry Whittington, is improving today.


DR. DAVID BLANCHARD, EMERGENCY SERVICES DIR.: There have been no complications, progress is excellent. He is talking, awake, alert, in good humor, actually has made a few jokes here and there at this particular point in time.

So far, everything is following in a textbook case. There have been no complications or problems whatsoever. And we are extremely pleased with the progress that he is making.


BLITZER: Let's go to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's on the scene for us in Corpus Christi with more.

What is the latest, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, his condition is improving so much so that he will be moved out of the intensive care unit here at this hospital in Corpus Christi and moved into another room just on the regular -- in the regular part of the hospital, if you will. The medical checkups will continue routinely because of his condition.

Of course, infection is a concern, but doctors here, as you just heard, are very confident with his situation. Essentially, the wounds that he suffered were -- he was standing about 30 yards away, according to the friend of the vice president. And this is, you know, a shotgun to give people an idea.

This little red part right here is full of these -- of these pellets. The closer you are to the shotgun blast, the tighter and more powerful these pellets are. So obviously if he had been much closer, it would have been perhaps a deadly shot, but at 30 yards away, that gives the pellets time to spray and to widen out as it leaves the shotgun shell like this.

So, Mr. Whittington was hit over a larger part of his body. You mentioned the wounds hit his face, neck and torso area. And doctors here a little while ago told us that those wounds are superficial. So that is a very good sign and that's why you're able to see him, even 48 hours after this wound, these wounds, that he is up alert, talking.

In fact, one of the hospital officials here told us earlier today that he has been joking around with the nurses about becoming a celebrity because he was shot by the vice president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's lucky one of those pellets, though, didn't hit him right in the eye. You could lose an eye like that very easily. I don't know -- have you ever gone quail hunting, Ed?

LAVANDERA: No, not myself. And, you know, the problem with quail hunting and these pellets, you eat the quail and it's full of these pellets. That's one of the reasons why I'm not a big fan of it.

BLITZER: Yes. I have never done it myself either, Ed. So don't -- you're not the only one.

Thanks very much.

Ed Lavandera on the scene for us in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Let's turn now to the storm over Hurricane Katrina and a blistering report out from a congressional panel which rips the government's disaster response as "a failure of leadership." It finds plenty of fault all around, but it hammers the Homeland Security secretary directly. Let's go to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, for more -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the report has criticism for every level of government, the private sector, philanthropies, individuals, but Michael Chertoff is singled out.


MESERVE (voice over): The Katrina response was a national failure, a collection of mistakes, misjudgments, lapses and absurdities, according to the draft report from the House select committee investigating this storm. Noting that the crisis was not only predictable but predicted, the report says, "If this is what happens when we have advanced warning, we shudder to imagine the consequences when we do not. Four and a half years after 9/11, America still is not ready for prime time."

Though the report notes a failure of leadership at every level, it's most withering criticism is directed at Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who it says executed its responsibilities late, ineffectively or not at all. A report from the minority Democrats called for Chertoff's removal from office.

Speaking to emergency managers, Chertoff acknowledged the response to Katrina was unacceptable.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I want to be clear. As the secretary of homeland security, I am accountable and accept responsibility for the performance of the entire department, good and bad.

MESERVE: But he rejected criticism from former FEMA director Michael Brown and others that his agency's single-minded focus on terrorism left it unprepared for a natural disaster.

CHERTOFF: I unequivocally and strongly reject this attempt to drive a wedge between our concerns about terrorism and our concerns about natural disasters. That kind of wedge makes no sense.

MESERVE: Chertoff said he is addressing some of the shortcomings in communications, logistic and debris removal exposed by Katrina and is trying to better coordinate communication and command at the top to avoid what the House committee found in Katrina. As the report said, "Because everybody was in charge, nobody was in charge."


MESERVE: Some on Capitol Hill think it is no coincidence that Chertoff is trying to focus attention on the future rather than the past because tomorrow he appears before the Senate committee probing the Katrina response.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

Jeanne Meserve reporting.

A judge today refused to halt the eviction of hurricane evacuees from hotel rooms funded by the federal government. FEMA has promised that almost 10,500 families made homeless by Hurricane Katrina and Rita will continue to receive some form of housing assistance, but the agency is ending the short-term program in which it rented hotel rooms for evacuees. The judge's action means that evacuees must leave the hotels or begin paying for their own stays.

Let's go back to New York and Jack Cafferty. The man who will save America is standing by -- Jack.


Let's take a look at this homeland security thing. With Tom Ridge we got plastic sheeting and Duct tape. With Michael Chertoff we get Rex the Mountain Lion, this animated computer game from the Department of Homeland Security that is guaranteed to frighten your children.

Now, based on the Homeland Security's performance in the years since 9/11, we probably all ought to be frightened.

There is a congressional panel coming out this week with a report on Hurricane Katrina. The report is called "Failure of Initiative." In it, Chertoff is blasted as being detached during Katrina. The report says Chertoff executed critical responsibilities late, ineffectively or not at all.

A second report on Katrina calls for Chertoff to be fired. A spokesman for Chertoff says it's outrageous to suggest he should lose his job. I mean, after all he's doing so well, isn't he?

But why shouldn't he lose his job? Thirteen hundred people are dead as a result of Katrina. It was an unmitigated disaster on the part of the federal government, despite knowing for several days it was coming, despite a practice drill a year earlier that predicted virtually everything that would happen when the storm hit, and it did.

What if it had been a terrorist took? No notice, no blueprint to follow. How many would have died then?

Here's the question: Should Homeland security Secretary Michael Chertoff be replaced?

E-mail us at

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack. We'll get back to you this hour.

Up ahead, disorder in the court. Saddam Hussein shouting and cursing as his trial resumes. Another defendant literally dragged before the judge. We'll show you what happened.

Also, deadly protests in Haiti. Post-election violence rocking the capital. There is a surprise at who is being blamed.

Plus, the United Nations secretary-general, my exclusive interview with Kofi Annan, fresh from a White House meeting with President Bush. You can see it. That's coming up this hour, as well as 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: There wasn't much order in the court when Saddam Hussein's trial resumed earlier today in Baghdad, but the former dictator provided plenty of drama.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad -- Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Saddam Hussein looking different in court but up to the same antics.


RAMAN (voice over): "Down with Bush!" Saddam shouted. "Long live Iraq!"

Looking unusually disheveled after being ordered to appear at today's session over his objections, Saddam rebuked the chief judge, calling him a criminal and a traitor. The judge shot back.

"You don't have the right to sit in this chair," said the chief judge, "because you ignore the law."

"This is American law," responded Saddam, "and you are a servant of America."

The judge responded, "Be quiet."

Saddam's half brother, Barzan Tikriti, wearing what he said were his pajamas, was dragged into court by two guards, immediately shouting diatribes of his own. And as a symbol of defiance, he then sat on the floor with his back to the judge for more than an hour. Another moment in an ongoing power struggle between the defendants and the court struggling to demonstrate legitimacy, struggling to keep the process moving.


RAMAN: The court now set to resume on Tuesday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman in Baghdad.

Thank you very much.

At least six people were killed and dozens more hurt in an explosion outside a Baghdad bank today. Police blame it on a suicide bomber. The attack took place as people lined up to receive government-rationed payments. Coming up, the potentially deadly avian flu virus is spreading. There's fear of new cases in both people and birds. Some of them in Europe. We are going to show you where it's spread to now.

Plus, the war in Iraq, Iran's nuclear program, the cartoon controversy, I'll speak about all that, lots more, in my exclusive interview with the United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, coming up in a few minutes. Also, part two of that interview in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is joining us once again from the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look at other stories making news -- Betty


Britain's defense ministry says a British soldier is under arrest in connection with a video showing British troops beating Iraqi youths back in 2004. Take a look at the video.

The amateur video seen on British and Arab television shows soldiers pulling several Iraqi protesters behind the wall and hitting and kicking them. Britain's "News of the World" newspaper released the footage. Prime Minister Tony Blair says he takes the allegations very seriously.

Four U.S. troops were killed when their Humvee hit a roadside bomb in central Afghanistan today. They were on patrol with Afghan national army forces. It's the largest number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan since September.

Now, shortly after the blast, militants attacked the convoy with guns and rocket-propelled grenades. U.S. fighter planes responded.

A hard-line Kurdish militant group is claiming responsibility for a bomb attack that injured at least seven people in a supermarket today. The same group has also claimed responsibility for bombing an Internet cafe in Istanbul last Thursday. One person died in that explosion. The group reportedly says it carried out the attack to protest Turkey's policy toward the Kurdish people.

And in Haiti, post-election protests erupted in violence. At least one person was shot to death in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Witnesses blame U.N. peacekeepers. Now, they deny it.

The protesters set fire to roadblocks after voters said presidential candidate Rene Preval may have fallen short of an outright majority. Preval is a former president and protege of ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Betty, thank you very much. Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the World Health Organization confirming 18 human deaths from bird flu in Indonesia. The virus has also spread to poultry in Italy and Nigeria.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, is monitoring the spread of the virus online -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, there's plenty of resources on the Internet to give you a snapshot of where we stand right now with this avian flu situation. And the European Commission has put this map online.

Now, if you look closely at it, you can see the orange triangles. These are animal outbreaks in the region. And then you can see here the orange circles of where it spread to humans, the human infection. Then down here, unfortunately those red dots are human fatalities.

Other resources available online from the U.N. organization that combats world hunger, the FAO. They have a map. And you can see if you roll over it here it will show you the countries infected with bird -- bird flu, where the animals are infected, and then the contrast of those, the countries where there are human infections.

Now, another thing I wanted to show you, as we keep checking in with the World Health Organization ourselves, they have this warning system. We showed you this before.

We actually have not moved from the pandemic alert level of a three. That means there are no or limited human-to-human transmissions to worry about. But this is a wonderful resource, Wolf, to check in on the total numbers. And right now, unfortunately, cases total worldwide, 169 are their latest numbers. Those are human cases; confirmed deaths, 91 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jacki, for that update.

Coming up, deep snow, frigid temperature and lots of travel trouble in the wake of the first Nor'easter of the year. We're going to have the latest for you.

Plus, my interview with the United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, fresh from a White House meeting with President Bush. It's an exclusive you won't want to miss.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

The United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, paid a call on President Bush today. The first time in two years he's been here at the White House.

They discussed the desperate situation in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, Iran's nuclear program, and reforming the United Nations itself. As Kofi Annan approaches the end of his tenure, he certainly has plenty of problems on his plate.

Let's turn to our senior United Nations correspondent, Richard Roth -- Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this may be the final visit to the White House as secretary-general for Kofi Annan. His second term ending January 1. And it's been a roller-coaster ride for the man from Ghana.


ROTH (voice over): It seems like a century ago, but at one time anything Kofi Annan touched made beautiful music. His first term as U.N. secretary-general was capped off by a Nobel Peace prize, plus one for the entire U.N. organization.

A major success in Anna's first term was rallying a swift armed international response from the bureaucratic U.N. following violence during elections in East Timor in Southeast Asia. Annan's personal skills seemed to wow diplomats and socialites alike. The 35-year- career U.N. employee was scene as more open and charming than his predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

But trouble was brewing on the international stage. Annan and much of the U.N. opposed the U.S. war in Iraq. He later called the invasion illegal, outraging the Bush administration.

Then, August 19, 2003, the U.N. compound in Baghdad was hit by a suicide truck bomber. The man Annan had asked to lead the U.N. there for just a few months, Sergio Vieira de Mello, was killed, along with 20 other U.N. experts. A report later blasted Annan's senior management team for failing to provide proper security for the United Nations staff rushed back to Baghdad.

Then came the oil-for-food scandal. The program's director was accused by a U.N.-authorized panel of misconduct. But Annan drew heavier fire because his son Kojo worked for a company that received a lucrative Iraq contract. A report filed by Paul Volcker did not prove corruption by Kofi Annan, but harshly blamed his son for what it said was his failure to tell the truth.


ROTH: Annan is desperate for the United Nations' membership to start changing the way the U.N. functions, starting with a new human rights panel and one-time buy-outs of alleged deadwood on the staff. But he's getting a fight from member countries and his legacy, Wolf, is clouded at the moment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Richard Roth in New York for us.

Thank you very much.

In many ways, Kofi Annan carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. The United Nations secretary-general presides over a world body which seems to lurch from crisis to crisis while caught in its own internal problems. And they are very significant.

Just a short while ago, I sat down here in THE SITUATION ROOM with Kofi Annan. Here is part one of my exclusive interview with the secretary-general.


BLITZER: Secretary-General, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome to our SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: You've come from the White House, directly from the White House. So many issues on the agenda. Let's start with Iran.

Is it acceptable for Iran to develop nuclear weapons?

ANNAN: I think the rules are very clear. Iran can develop peaceful nuclear -- peaceful -- other nuclear energy, peaceful uses of nuclear energy, but not nuclear bombs. And this is what the whole debate is about.

BLITZER: Even as we speak, there are reports today that the Iranians have started enriching uranium which experts believe could lead to a bomb.

What is the United Nations going to do to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons power?

ANNAN: I think first of all, the Atomic Agency in Vienna is dealing with this.

And between now and end of the month, they are preparing a report, working with Iranians, monitoring the situation, and will give a report to the agency at the end of the month.

There will be a meeting in March, where, dependent on the nature of the report, if, indeed, Iran is not meeting its obligations on the NPT, its obligation on the IAEA, it will be referred to the Security Council for appropriate action.

BLITZER: Appropriate action being diplomatic sanctions or economic sanctions? Would that be the next step in the pressure on the Iranian regime?

ANNAN: That would be for the council to decide. But,obviously, the -- the council doesn't -- these are some of the arsenal that the council has. But it will be up to the council to decide what the next step should be.

And I think it will depend very much on the report. If the report is a negative one, then, the council has a -- a tough, an urgent decision to take. If it is a report that indicates that, despite the public pronouncements, the situation is either frozen or it's -- or they see prospects of full cooperation with the agency, the council will have to factor that in.

I hesitate to project what the council will say or project what the report will...


BLITZER: How worried are you, though, that, if these pressures on Iran don't work, there could be military action; there could be action by the United States or Israel, or a combination thereof, other countries?

Just as the United Nations failed to prevent the United States from invading Iraq with its allies and removing Saddam Hussein, how worried are you there could be a military confrontation, a unilateral, U.S., let's say, attack at these nuclear sites in Iran?

ANNAN: I -- I hope we never get to that point.

I hope the international community will be able to work together and with Iran to negotiate an acceptable solution out of this. I -- I -- I don't think, given the situation of -- in today's world, that anyone would want to see further military escalation in the region.

And Iran should cooperate, and cooperate fully. And I have asked them publicly to freeze the nuclear program, to allow for negotiations to resolve this. I do not know why they canceled their meeting with the Russians, and if it is going to be rescheduled, or if it's indefinite. But I would urge them to pursue the option that the Russians have offered, and work with the European troika, and others, to resolve this crisis.

BLITZER: France, Germany and Britain, the troika -- let's talk about Iran. The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, you met with her today. She is accusing Iran and Syria of fanning the flames, if you will, over this cartoon uproar involving the Prophet Mohammed.

Listen to what she said the other day:


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to -- to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes. And the world ought to call them on it.


BLITZER: She says the world ought to call them, Iran and Syria, on it.

You're the world.


BLITZER: You're the United Nations secretary-general. Are you going to call Iran and Syria and tell them, "Don't fan these flames"? ANNAN: First of all, let me say that the violence we have seen is unacceptable. It is a wrong reaction to the offense and the insult that the Muslims -- the Muslim world feels about the cartoon.

I have said, very clearly, that it was insensitive to publish those cartoons. I am for freedom of expression. I am for freedom of press. But that right has to be exercised with some sensitivity, some respect, for religion of others. And it entails responsibility and judgment.

And, so, the fact that -- that they -- they feel offended by that should not allow any country or any group of people to attack innocent people and to destroy foreign legations. And, so, I would urge all governments and all people with influence, secular and religious, to ensure that we calm the situation and do not allow it to get out of hand.

BLITZER: Yesterday, I interviewed the prime minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said he agrees with Condoleezza Rice that Iran and Syria are making these situations even worse.

Do you agree that they are doing that?

ANNAN: Well, I -- I do not have any evidence to go by that. It's what -- you -- you had demonstrations all over the world.

BLITZER: But let me interrupt for a second, with all due respect. When you have no evidence -- you know Damascus.



BLITZER: This is a country where the -- the police rule the day.


BLITZER: If -- if the government didn't want these people to burn down the Danish Embassy, they wouldn't have gotten close to that embassy.

ANNAN: The -- the government has a responsibility to prevent these things from happening. They should have stopped it, not just in -- in Syria or Iran, but all around the world. They should have stopped it.

And not only should they have stopped it. Not having stopped it, I hope they will pick up the bill for the destruction that has been caused to all the foreign countries, which would also be legitimate. They should be prepared to pay for the damage done to Danish, Norwegian and the other embassies concerned.

Yes, one may say that the government should -- I have raised this with the ambassador of Syria in New York. I said, "Why couldn't you stop it?"

Of course, his answer was, "It was so spontaneous, we couldn't stop it."

So, the question has been posed. But, in any event, all governments have the responsibility to stop this, to de-escalate. And in situations where they are not able to protect embassies and people they have the responsibility to protect, there has to be a cost.

BLITZER: The -- a co-founder of Hamas, Mahmoud al-Zahar, said last week -- he said this: We should have killed all those who offend the prophet, and instead, here we are protesting peacefully.

This is the man who's now emerging as one of the key leaders of the Palestinian community, now that Hamas has won this election. This is a serious issue, whether the United Nations and other international organizations, countries, should deal with the Palestinian Authority that is dominated by Hamas.

ANNAN: I think, when the Quartet met, we -- we...

BLITZER: The Quartet is the United States...

ANNAN: United States...

BLITZER: ... Russia, the European Union and...

ANNAN: The United Nations.

BLITZER: ... the United Nations.

ANNAN: We made it very clear that Hamas, now that it has won the elections and is going to assume the responsibility for the government, has to transform itself into a political party.

It has to accept all the engagements entered into by the Palestinian Authority, including the Oslo agreements and the road map. It has to accept the two-state solution, which implies recognition of Israel. And it has to renounce politics.


BLITZER: Terrorism.

ANNAN: Terrorism. It has to renounce terrorism.

And, if it did that, the international community -- and I'm sure Israel -- would deal with them. And it is something that is on the table. There is a transitional government in office, headed by President Abbas, with his -- his team. And they have time to -- to be able to change their policy and accept the requirements that have -- it's not only the Quartet demanding that they do this.

Leaders in the Arab region, President Mubarak and others, are asking them to go to the same direction.

BLITZER: Well, it raises an interesting question. And I know you discussed this with the president today. I assume you discussed it. Was the vice president at that meeting as well? ANNAN: He was there.

BLITZER: All right.

He -- this is what he said on February 3.

ANNAN: Who said?

BLITZER: The vice president, Dick Cheney.

He said: "Their" -- referring to Hamas -- "Their objective, part of their platform is the destruction of Israel. They are a terrorist organization. They need to give up their objective of the destruction of Israel. They need to forswear violence, and I think close down their military wing, before anybody is going to treat them seriously as a legitimate inter -- interlocutor."

Is the United Nations going to treat the Palestinian Authority as a legitimate interlocutor, with Hamas failing, at least so far, to accept a two-state solution and renounce terrorism?

ANNAN: I think the -- if you put it that starkly, I don't think it's -- it's -- we have made it very clear in the Quartet and given them -- and U.N., United Nations, is part of the Quartet.

Yesterday, there was quite a bit of excitement that the Russian federation had invited Hamas to Moscow. What was the purpose of that invitation? In my own discussion with Foreign Minister Lavrov, he made it clear that, we are bringing them to Moscow to reaffirm the three principles that the Quartet has asked them to fulfill, you know, renouncing violence, accepting the two-state solution, and accepting all the earlier engagements entered into.

You need them to press the point home with Hamas.

BLITZER: And, if they don't do that, what will happen to the Palestinian Mission at the United Nations?

ANNAN: Well, that will be a -- a decision for the member states to decide.

It's the member states that offered Palestinian -- the Palestinians an observer status at the United Nations. But I think it's also a question of -- I think the -- the elections are barely one-month-old, where you're talking of transition period of about three months.

First of all, I think Hamas itself was surprised that it won the elections. I never thought they would get more than 40 percent. They have won the elections. They are now trying to get their act together to organize themselves to play a role in the government.

Would responsibility change them? It is one thing to be in a position and -- and criticize and make extreme demands. When you are actually responsible for the day-to-day management and welfare of the people, and you have to deal with the rest of the world, sometimes, people (INAUDIBLE) they -- they may move much faster toward these demands than we think they will. You never know responsibility...

BLITZER: All right.

ANNAN: ... until you have tasted it.


BLITZER: Should the United States send troops to Africa? At 7:00 p.m. Eastern, part two of my exclusive interview with Secretary- General Kofi Annan, including what he told me about the need for U.S. ground forces in Sudan -- plus, Kofi Annan on Iraq, on allegations of torture at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and on his son's involvement in the oil-for-food scandal involving Saddam Hussein and the U.N. -- that, much more, coming up, part two of this interview, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. It's an exclusive.

Still to come this hour, it is being called the blizzard of '06. We will have the latest on the effects from this powerful winter storm that socked much of the Northeast.

Plus, two federal air marshals arrested and facing surprising charges. We're going to show you what is -- what it is all about.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Betty Nguyen at the CNN Center for a closer look at other stories making news -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Hi there, Wolf.

Illinois authorities want to know how six inmates got out of a maximum-security facility. They are now back behind bars, after escaping from the Cook County Jail on Saturday. They overpowered a lone security guard and another guard who tried to help him. The last two inmates were recaptured early today. It is the second escape attempt from the jail since Friday.

Listen to this. Two U.S. air marshals appear in court today on federal drug charges. The U.S. attorney's office in Houston says they were arrested Thursday, after a government informant delivered 15 kilograms of cocaine and $15,000 to one of the marshals.

They allegedly agreed to smuggle the cocaine through airport security and aboard a Houston-to-Las Vegas flight for more than $67,000.

Digging out, that is what people are doing today, all along the Eastern Seaboard, after getting socked by a weekend winter storm. Just look at the video here. A record 26.9 inches of snow fell in New York City yesterday. Boston got 17.5 inches of snow.

After a very warm January, today could be one of the coldest days yet. And many people are still without power. Wolf, did you do your fair share of shoveling?

BLITZER: No, I hired someone to do his...

NGUYEN: That's the way to do it.

BLITZER: ... fair share of shoveling.


BLITZER: Thank you very much, Betty, for that.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou Dobbs. He's getting ready for his program at the top of the hour.

I suspect Lou was not shoveling snow either.

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

And, coming up at 6:00 here, we will have all the day's news, of course.

As well, we have been reporting about the lack of security at our ports around the country and just how vulnerable our ports are to terrorism. Now those operations at those very ports, including security, are on their way to being sold to a company from a country with ties to the 9/11 hijackers, with the full blessing of the Bush administration. We will have that special report.

And, Wolf, many Democrats and Republicans have put down President Bush's unworkable guest-worker program from the start as nothing but amnesty. But now the latest person to criticize the president's proposal is a high-ranking official within the president's administration. We will have that special report, and a debate here on warrantless wiretapping.

We hope you will be with us -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lou. Sounds very good.

Up next, it's our question of the hour: Should Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff lose his job after a report blasts what it calls his detached response to Hurricane Katrina? We will tell you what Jack Cafferty's e-mail is showing.

And, in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, Vice President Dick Cheney missed his mark, but will the late-night TV comics miss their shot? Find out what they are saying about Cheney's hunting trip accident. We're getting an advanced look before late tonight. That will be coming up, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Iran is apparently raising the stakes in its nuclear showdown with the world. There's word it may have started enriching uranium, a step that can produce fuel for a nuclear weapon.

Is Iran committed to developing a bomb? Can it be stopped?

Joining us now, a key member of CNN's Security Council, our world affairs analyst, the former Defense Secretary William Cohen. He's the chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group, here in Washington.

It -- it looks like they're -- they are going step by step by step, but the Iranians seem to be moving expeditiously to ignore these threats.

WILLIAM COHEN, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, there are conflicting reports coming in out of the press.

There are also reports indicating that they intend to abide by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, while other voices say they are going to ignore it, including the president of Iran -- so, hard to say exactly what they are doing. But if, in fact, they are accelerating their development of nuclear weapons, that should be met with a very strong response -- response by the United Nations.

They should accelerate their own plan to get this before the council as soon as possible. Once again, I think China will hold a key. Even though Russia is now offering to enrich the uranium on Russian soil, rather than allow it to be enriched and processed on Iranian soil, China, in my judgment, still holds the key, because if Iran then sees that China and Russia and the E.U. and the -- the U.N. are all opposed to it, it may cause them...


COHEN: ... to back off.

BLITZER: ... China rarely uses its veto at the U.N. Security Council. They often abstain. They don't vote. It -- it's the Russians who have used the vetoes in the past.

COHEN: I think it's unlikely that Russia would use a veto under these circumstances, given the -- the nature of the threat that could be posed by an Iran that is armed with nuclear weapons.

I could be wrong on this, but I think their signals are all that they want to see Iran go forward with a nuclear power development, but not a nuclear weapons production development. So, I think China will be very influential, behind the scenes. Whether it abstains or vetoes would be very important in this particular case.

BLITZER: There seems to be a new prime minister-designate for the new Iraqi government, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who -- his Shiite party selected him by one vote over his challenger. He says, you should console me in this situation. This is a big burden and a position of difficulties. He knows this quite well. He has been the prime minister for the last several months this year.

Is this what the U.S. really wanted, Ibrahim al-Jaafari to be the prime minister? Because a lot of U.S. officials have told me he seems to have been too weak over the past year.

COHEN: That -- that has been the criticism, that he has been weak.

On the other hand, it appears that he had negotiated some kind of a deal with Muqtada. And that remains up for discussion, in terms of, exactly what did he have to pledge in order to get that one-vote landslide that he was elected by?

It's going to call into question exactly what the Shia are going to do, what kind of leadership he's going to exhibit, in order to bring the Sunnis into this process, because, unless they are brought into the process, with him reaching out, then, you are likely to see a continuation of the violence that we see on a day-to-day basis.

BLITZER: A key issue on the U.S. agenda, for the United States ambassador in Baghdad, is whether American officials, military or civilian, should be meeting with insurgents.

The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, told "The Los Angeles Times," "Iraq's leaders must -- must forge an understanding with those insurgents who are willing to lay down their arms, join the political process, and perhaps even enlist in the fight against the terrorists."

Is it appropriate right now to establish a dialogue with Iraqi Sunnis, by and large who, are either part of the insurgency or close to the insurgency?

COHEN: I think the reality is such that someone has to talk to them to see if they can't be persuasive and -- and encourage them to lay down their arms to join the political process.

Simply shutting them out, not dealing with them, not in any way engaging them, is likely to continue to see the -- the violence. So, I think, if some representatives, either openly, or at least covertly, are meeting and discussing ways in which they could bring about a more peaceful situation, that's, I think, a positive step, rather than a negative one.

BLITZER: William Cohen, thanks for joining us.

COHEN: A pleasure.

BLITZER: Up next, should he stay or should he go? -- Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff getting blasted in a soon-to-be- released congressional report on the government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

Jack Cafferty weighing in with your opinions.



BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is back in New York. He has got "The Cafferty File" right now. Hi, Jack.


A Republican congressional panel is coming out with a report this week on Hurricane Katrina. It's called "Failure of Initiative." In the report, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is blasted as being detached during Katrina. The report says, Chertoff executed critical responsibilities -- quote -- "late, ineffectively, or not at all" -- unquote.

So, the question is, should he be replaced, the homeland security secretary? We haven't -- we haven't exactly had a lot of long-ball hitters in that job, as you look back, since the creation of same.

Karl in Morgantown, West Virginia: "So far, I haven't seen anything to show that the Office of Homeland Security has any value whatsoever. It appears to be another place to appoint political cronies to a job that has no accountability."

John in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, writes: "He will likely become the fall guy, so the question becomes when, rather than if, and under what terms. My prediction is, he will -- he will step down, likely under withering media pressure. His job at this point is to protect the president."

Martin in Las Vegas, Nevada: "Should Chertoff be removed? Most definitely yes. The federal response to Katrina was under his watch. And he failed. It's too easy to point the finger at Mike Brown. I say accountability should reach to the top."

Beth writes: "Yes, but what would we get in his place? The Bush administration doesn't have a very good track record in selecting competent people. Can we tolerate another political hack?

Dave in Vallejo, California, writes: "Anyone traveling along the Gulf Coast, as I did a few weeks ago, knows that there is still utter devastation stretching mile after mile that has not been cleaned up. People are still in tents -- no electricity, homeless. What does Chertoff think he has accomplished?"

And Lawrence in Indian Wells, California, writes this: "Chertoff is obviously overworked. I suggest some taxpayer-paid R&R. How about a hunting vacation with the vice president?"


BLITZER: I suspect there's going to be a lot of jokes.


BLITZER: You know, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- our Mary Snow is working on this, getting some advance jokes from later tonight, at 11:35, to be precise, when some of the late- night comics -- comics are going to be talking, I'm sure, about Dick Cheney. You going to be staying up that late, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Well, I might not see those. But I will tell you, we post some of these e-mail questions on the Internet in the afternoon, and I have already gotten 400 or 500 responses to the Dick Cheney one. We're going to do a question about Dick Cheney's little incident. And some of them are hysterical -- I mean, not in very good taste. But that doesn't matter to me, as long as they are funny.


BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

We will see you back here in an hour.


BLITZER: Also, when we return at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, one hour from now, more of my exclusive interview with Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general. We will talk about -- I will ask him about the -- the whether or not the U.S. should send troops to Sudan to help in Darfur. We will also talk about Iraq, including allegations of torture at Guantanamo Bay -- all that coming up, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us.

Lou Dobbs picking up our coverage.